How I Started Climbing

Visiting Alex and Kalyn years later in Big Thompson Canyon.


Two days in a row have I been asked, “How did you get into climbing, how long have you been climbing, and what do you like about it”. The answers given to each were laconic at best. While giving the polished over version of my reasons for climbing with hints toward it’s deep meaning, I began to delve internally into the significance of climbing for me and searched for a way to express it as honestly as I could.

It was a dramatic beginning for me and I would have it no other way. I was brought to my knees and my life reset so I could stand again. So I could truly learn calmness, understanding, peace, Agape, selflessness, and most importantly for me at the time- the will to live. I wanted to put myself in situations where there was a possibility of death so I had to try and live…or die in the process. Literally climbing over my obstacles because I didn’t know how to deal with why everything happened and why I was around…and at the time, I was okay with the outcome either way.

After a smile and a breath, I look up and smile again. “It started on a bike ride”. My Journey back to myself. As I rode through memories, there were mountains in my soul I was unable to climb, too overwhelming to confront. There was an emotional pain I could not overcome combined with a defiant hatred towards a God that allowed free will to crush me and eventually would not allow me to die. I was defying a “supposed” God to take me or explain why I was here.

I screamed off the side of mountains, “I’m still here!!! I must have a purpose! What is my purpose! All I have to do is let go, why won’t you allow me to let go?” No matter how many times I tested and questioned Him, (staring at my fingers knowing all I had to do is relax my grip and I would have the peace I wanted), there were no burning bushes or an omnipresent voice to assuage my torment. As my father once said in a sermon, “Rarely does God give us a billboard directing us.” It is through whispers and seemingly insignificant nudges that our path is shown to us. I continued to climb higher, more dangerous areas relentlessly trying to provoke His will into fruition to prove to me He was actually there and I had a purpose. I had determined if I was going to die it would be His choice not mine this time. He saved me for a reason; I just didn’t want to be saved at the time and was daring him to finish it.

A freak out and die or not moment.  A refrigerator sized rock shifted while I was on it, forcing me to jump to a small ledge.  I have no idea how much time passed on that ledge.   Lyons, Colorado

I continued climbing and began to notice a quietness take over my soul. Lessons of mandatory calmness of spirit when my choices were to freak out and die or clear my mind and make it to the top, began to change my reasons for climbing. Slowly all of the hatred fueled by my pain transmuted into forgiveness, and the pain lessened. The negative energy in my life began to dissipate the more I climbed. It became a moment of solitude and meditation. A place I could go in my mind without distraction. It became a simple thing. My body, my mind, and the rock.  The obstacles that faced my spirit and my “real world” life were no longer these insurmountable obstructions that would determine my happiness or my path.

There is one specific period of time on my bike trip that lasted one day. During this day there was an hour and a half that opened my eyes to a real love of climbing and gave me a clearer image of my meaning. I was riding through Big Thompson Canyon on my way to Estes Park. The canyon is wonderful with tight granite walls and a river flowing with both beauty and power. I stopped at several points to climb mesmerized by the lines I could see and the faces in front of me. They were wonderful moments that were soon to be trumped by meeting two of the most important people on My Journey.

Alex and I.  Estes Park, Colorado

I had already ridden into Estes Park but had to return to Loveland for a couple of supplies. As I made my way back up the canyon once more towards Estes, a pickup truck pulled off the road directly in front of me. So I stopped next to the driver’s window with a smile. People pulling there vehicles off to the side of the road to talk to me was fairly common, especially in Colorado. The conversation usually started with people wanting to know if I needed help, who I was, where I was going, why my back pack was so big and why on earth I was wearing a pack in the first place. This time however was different.

“David! I’m Alex!” This was a little weird. How did this person know me? “Oh yeah,” I thought, “must be the backpack.” Stories of my pack seemed to precede me. I obviously looked confused because he repeated, “David! I’m Alex,…from couchsurfing.” Alex and I had been trying to contact each other via a website for travelers but we never made any solid plans to meet because internet connections were few and far between for me and My Journey was amorphous and free of an itinerary. I finally put things together and realized who he was. Alex wasn’t even supposed to be there at that time. He was called into work for some odd reason and “happened” to see a fellow with a giant pack and a mountain bike. “I knew it had to be you man”, Alex said with a smile. I put my bike and my pack in the back of his truck, (even though he offered to lift them for me).  I learned that was usually easier because most people struggled to lift the bike, let alone the pack. After hanging out at his work for a short time we went back to his home where I met the love of his life and yet another beautiful soul, Kalyn. We talked and smiled for a while. Music, curiosities, prayer flags, and stories of the road filled a room already bursting with energy. They offered me warmth, a shower, dinner, and some evening climbing with gear. They asked if I liked fish. I smiled and simply stated yes and then began to bellow with laughter. “Hahahahahah!. I love fish. That’s how I have been feeding myself, by fishing”. We had a laugh, ate some fish, and then they took me to a spot I unknowingly rode past the day before.

It was a pink granite slab. Smooth, simple, beautiful, and steep. Alex led two climbs and wouldn’t tell me which one was harder or what they were rated until I finished. He wanted to see which one I thought was more difficult rather than instill any doubt. Alex was intrigued by how I climbed, no gear, with only a pair of pumas that rarely left my feet. The conversation, however, did not go as the rest did. Pure interest and acceptance without judgment. There was not much acceptance in my life at that time and a lot of opinion on what I should be doing. I didn’t speak often of my soloing and didn’t even know the term. It wasn’t a big deal to me. It was simply one of the ways I was coping with my demons. However, I was intrigued by their gear! This was the first time I was going to climb with a harness, shoes, and a rope! I couldn’t contain myself, “A rope? Climbing shoes? A harness? This is awesome!!! Climbing without the possibility of death is so much less stressful.”

As Alex belayed me, offering advice and asking if I was okay, (I do not speak when I climb), I noticed a change in how I felt on the rock. The crucial importance and intensity of every movement that I was used to diminished. I was safe. I could hear their encouraging words, and laughter. My mind began to shift from restrained emotions on the rock to expression and enjoyment. Relishing the movements, the sounds, the emotions and freedom of feeling safe. When I reached the top of the route I asked what I should do next. Alex replied with a smile and light in his eyes, “Brother. Look around and enjoy where you are.”  I tear up every time I think of this moment, and say the exact same thing to everyone that has climbed with me.

My entire trip thus far had been filled with amazing experiences that allowed me to not only understand joy again but also experience it without depression fueled guilt. It was at this moment that I understood exactly why God, Nature, this ethereal force had seen fit to keep me around for a while longer. Through Alex and Kalyn’s simple act of taking me climbing in an environment free of fear and full of encouragement; I realized my passion for climbing and how it fit into my purpose. The purpose I had been searching for so desperately.  I wanted to not only share climbing  with others but help those that were struggling to find their way as well.

Alex and Kalyn. I Love you guys with all of the purity of its meaning. I am forever indebted to you.


A Backpack Full of Memories


No Waking Up

She thought she found someone to rescue her from her misery. She saw a man that could take her away from whatever she was running from and be able to live the life she wanted. She made herself into the woman he was looking for and always wanted. She listened to his heart, his words, his values and said what she needed to.
He thought he had found the one person he had searched for in vain his whole life. He thought he found the one person that he could love with all of his being and be loved, truly loved by her. Blinded by her words, smoke screens hiding the truth, half truths, and lies, he fell. Weak for her, what he thought was her, he could not see what everyone else saw. He didn’t heed his friends and family. He didn’t heed her family’s words. “They just don’t know her the way I do”, he thought.
As time passed his love for her grew stronger and was put to the test by her personality and traits slowly showing through. He thought, “She has just had a hard life. It’s not her fault. I can help her, love her, make her pain go away by showing her there is another way, a loving way”. He left his family and friends to be with her. He loved her.
Arguments arose out of nothing it seemed. Things were said to him, making him feel less than. Pushing, pulling his heart and his mind back and forth, all the while he is trying to convince her he was not going anywhere. He loved her. He was dedicated to her. It was never enough. Just as things were coming to a head, he finds out he is having a son. A life is growing and an even deeper love fills his heart. Her words and actions break him down further. Degrading him in public, embarrassing him, words in private that make his heart sink. She is a new mother, he thought to himself, it’s hard on her. So, I have to be even stronger now for the both of us.”
She had moments of caring sanity that tried to crawl out. It was a side he knew was there and with enough love would become stronger. He kept showing her the way it could be, what his parents had. Two people loving each other for each other, no matter what life threw at them. Those moments were fleeting as she controlled more and more of him. Beating down the man and trying to mold a source to supply her with her wants. His 60 hours weeks along with school and other jobs lasted for years.  “A man provides for his family. Honorable men do not complain.”  Repeating these phrases over and over looking for strength.

His friends wondered how he was, where he was. He was not allowed to contact them. “They don’t really love you like I do. Your family just wants to keep us apart. If you really loved me, you would only need me”.  Her words eventually turn him.  Phone calls home become rare and short. Hiding his calls to his friends and family when he is at work.
Her nights of questionable absence. Scared for her safety only to have her stumble in early the next morning with a barrage of misdirection and deflection.  Accepting her stories, as his questions are turned on him.  It hurt less than the truth.  She will change. Things will get better.  Love is stronger.
He now has two sons.  Beautiful and wonderful.  They are his strength.  He teaches them what his father taught him, what he remembers seeing while growing up.  Always do the right thing.  All the while his beliefs are slowly being buried.  He should have done something.  More nights of question and sleeplessness.

Finally he is able to give her everything she has ever told him she wanted.  Perfect house, perfect neighborhood, perfect school, perfect children, cars she always wanted, more of everything she wanted. He didn’t care about the money but he knew it made her happy. He thought it would help make her happy.  He thought maybe this will finally give her the chance to Love.
He is no longer necessary.  Strange phone calls, text messages, hidden conversations happen more and more.  Yet, hearing how hard her life is with the boys, he feels bad for her.  He Loves her.  She can see it.  He knows she just has to.  All the years of flowers and rose petal baths, candle lit bedrooms, were not enough but now she has the life she wanted.  Now it will all be okay.

He is told to leave.  He is told he is not a man.  He is a bad father.  He could never love her the way the other man can.  He could never be the father this stranger will be to his sons.  He wasted her life.  He is worthless.  Her eyes glare as the words spill out of her mouth like poison.  His heart dies. Slowly rising, with tears filling his eyes he asks her to please leave.  He can not bear for her to stand there watching emotionless.  Exhausted, sick to his stomach, crying, he sits on the floor unable to move. He stares at the walls for hours and days waiting to wake up. There is no waking up. There are no children laughing and playing, no sound of them running back and forth.  Daddy.  Sweetheart.  Honey.  I Love you daddy.  Good morning baby.  The words are now only phantom memories floating through the air of a quiet home and an empty heart.  He is left with nothing but the weight of this inescapable reality.  There is no light, no air, no reason.
There is no waking up.

This unimaginable discarding of the Love I thought existed between my wife and I, disintegrated my world.  The weight of my failure, as I saw it, grew with every moment that passed.  I failed her somehow.  Driving me deeper down was the unacceptable reality that there was nothing I could do, because it had nothing to do with me at all.  My Love was meaningless.  As the sadness amassed it pulled me further into depression, feeding itself, growing more and more powerful until my will for life finally broke.   Why was I not strong enough?  Why could I not deal with this intangible pain?  Why am I not strong enough?!  Why am I not strong enough?!  Why?!  Why?!  My mind wails these words over and over drowning out any sense of goodness left in my life.  I am pulled further down, unable to lift the weight of my soul.  I am a failure.  Please God remove this weight from my soul.

17 July 2010
How can I not write about my pack, my burden-my needs-my failure from before.
They all think I’m nuts all this weight on my back “It’s harder you know, how do you do it, why did you do it” I smile not knowing exactly how to answer. Do I give them a witty response? Most people shy away from the sobering truth of things to occupy their minds with unimportant distractions. Short entertaining stories of adventure is what they crave. So that is what I give them. I paint over the truth with grand gestures, making them actors in my stories until, eventually, they feel a part of my experiences on the road. They laugh and ask questions that start to turn thin with boredom.

Now they too have a story, stranger on a mountain bike riding across the country with a huge back pack…

Black and radiating heat from the sun. It can hold no more inside its seams.
More weight is added strapped tight around it increasing the burden, increasing the weight
Bringing its bearer toward his fate
A tarp and tires, tools and a fishing pole.

…The stories are passed on.  Excited by attention the story teller compels the listeners to ask questions as the laughter thins with boredom.  Like kids around a campfire they ask for more stories.  Tell us more of this man.  Why is he doing it?  But they can’t you see.  They don’t know the answer, the truth of me.

The pole for fishing, tires for his bike
The tools for fixing and the rest I don’t know why.
Maybe all of these wrong.
They are only the glint on your sunglasses that keep you from seeing my eyes.
It is everything that should be nothing
The nothing that beats you to the ground
The nothing that makes you forget why you are around.
It is heavy, it is cumbersome, it stinks of memories and sweat
It slows my progress but I can not let it go yet
Without its weight driving me I would slip into the mud
I dig into every day dealing with its contents, most of which I wary of
A chance not to unpack it, if only for a day
Gives me peace in pretending it’s not there.

Nothing weighing on my body, my soul, my mind for a moment
I can breathe freely and stretch without its bindings that so reluctantly relinquish their hold on me
Standing back, cut away from this giant black tumor of memories and pain.  Starring at it as it began to speak adding yet another reminder
“Why take me off?  I will always be here.  Here for you.  I have food that will sustain you.  I can clothe you when the cold eats at you. You know you need me just like I need you.”

I glare.  I stare.  I yell at the pack on the ground and into the air.

I hate your logic, your manipulation of fact!  I can not argue, not now, not yet.  I need you for another reason you have not thought of yet.  Not even a brief consideration by you.  You will make me strong.  I am stronger every day and see even greater experiences pass me by due to your weight.  Yes.  You weigh me down, but not like you used to.  My body lying on the floor.  My soul strapped down no more.  You grow to compensate. Increasing the load, but you underestimated me from the start.  I chose to take you on

I decide what stays in and what comes out
You weigh more than the beginning because I am hauling you about
I’ve thought about leaving you stranded in your own helplessness but I am not quite done using your torment of me to make me stronger
I will carry more to remind me. It will be harder than before and I will handle it all
The pack sits quietly. I look down at it with a powerful knowing glare.
Quiet. No sound but a creak or a moan from the plastic buckles and nylon straps. I now stand freely with my pack on my back. Perhaps it is best I don’t try to explain the truth to these people. They wouldn’t understand what I live with every day.
That’s fine. That’s okay.
At least I know the difference
From before
First it was weakness
Caring, carrying too much
Now I choose to grow stronger from what I’ve had to do, did, and undone
So I ride a long disappearing road. Slipping into thin air thick with heat
I drink it in.  My lungs struggle to find oxygen in all the memories.  Not wanting to breathe any more because it’s so thick like trying to swallow down medicine that sits in your throat choking you with it’s healing power.  So I drink it in and swallow hard
Trying to disregard
The desert sand in my throat. Sweat pouring out of me like so many tears of a broken heart. I need to replace what I’ve lossed. Hot water flows into me. Hot like the sun that changed its worth.  It stares.  It glares.  This sun wears on me but not like the weight on my back.
So I ride and I climb.  defiantly hauling my back pack full of memories.

My Journey: excerpts

I want to live where no one knows
Where I’m not “him” that guy people used to know
Where they only see the good of my soul
I want to feel home again before I go

There are times like these
When my spirit is shaken and on it’s knees
When I’m constantly reminded of who I used to be
Screaming in silence

I want to be free
Free of the memories
Free of the guilt
free of the sadness and tears spilt

Unspeakable, unthinkable, unbelievable for me
They all move on without me
But not this cat out on a limb
Too afraid to leap into life
I’m “him”
There was no blinding light
There were no fires
There were no angels singing
or agonizing cries
No gates were opened
No gates were closed
Because there were no gates
No lines no rows

So what now that I know the truth? That everything I believed in is wrong, a happen chance existence.

And yet I happened by chance

Confusion fueled by loneliness
Confusion fueled by lingering hate
Hate fueled by sadness and the look in her eyes when I heard her say,
“I hate you! You are nothing! Just go away…

I tried to fight with nothing left inside
I tried to end what had no end in sight
I gave up on this life and rode away
Looking for my grand exit

My weakness confused for strength, .
Met with smiles by those who didn’t know why I was there
They heard stories from the road about me
Confused why a stranger would care
And why they see what they see
It’s just sad me

So I listened to their stories of me, from the perspective of other travelers. “He climbed the bluffs on the Mississippi and then caught bass for dinner”, “His back pack is as big as him and I couldn’t even pick it up”. The latter seemed to be the most mentioned and was usually followed by them asking if they could try and pick it up. I loved listening to their stories and reading their blogs. It was good for me to hear and experience the goodness of others, whom I had never met and knew nothing of the pain…the pain my heart was in.
There were a few amazing souls that looked into my eyes, past all of the fun stories of adventure and saw pain and a struggling soul. I cry as I write these memories down for you. I would love to tell you that a pain and sadness this deep, the one that takes you to your end, will never resurface again. However, it will. It is the nature of our souls. You will remember your happiest and your lowest moments.
But as tears fall from a past long gone, they are not just tears of sadness. There is thankfulness and understanding that it could be no other way. I told a good friend on my trip, “Don’t be sorry for me. If I had to go through what I did so you don’t have to, then it is worth it.” Because it is! Each of us has the ability not only to sense the need of another but more so to want to help them. Especially when we understand their strife.
Many stories were shared on my journey. Many tears. Many embraces and night long conversations. Sunrises that brought me to my knees, in awe how it’s beauty flowed through me and filled my soul. Sobbing because I was smiling! I could feel joy. My heart pounded in the morning air as I seemingly floated over the road yelling into the wind, “I AM ALIVE!”
The deepest pain. The fondest memory.
Don’t be sorry for me and don’t be sorry for yourself. It will take time to see it but you have a beauty and goodness in you that shines through and could save a traveler just like me. Because of others, I am alive and in turn, a few folks that will probably never meet those who helped me are alive as well.

An excerpt of a work in progress

“I told those closest to me that I would see them again in three months knowing that I had no intention of returning.”

On May 1, 2010 I began, what was to become, a five and a half month bike trip across the United States. I set out from Yorktown, Virginia heading West to Astoria, Oregon just as thousands of cyclist before me had done. But, My Journey began to unfold two years before when my world and my life had seemingly come to and end….

I have seen and read and watched several accounts of cross country trips that people have undertaken, which have had some measure of success, failure, and personal growth. Some seemed to be just a line on a map without personal or natural exploration. Each seemed to be lacking in emotional depth beyond momentary inspiration, merely feats accomplished to say, “Look what I did”. I do not want this to be another “hey look how cool I am” story. That is not what My Journey was about.

I hope by reading this you will truly accept that I understand. Which ultimately means that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. If by reading about some of the adventures I had on My Journey you are inspired to search for you own, wonderful! I would hope, however, that it would lead you to strive not only for an adventurous story, but more importantly to strive for understanding of self. This was the true gift that My Journey gave to me.

Every step, every climb, every mile I rode had purpose. I was battling my demons and struggling with memories, and a seemingly endless sadness that had me longing for death, that quiet nothingness I was pulled away from not a year earlier. I was searching for the reason behind why I was still breathing. It was about searching for life when all I could see was the ease and peace to my soul that death would bring.

I hope by reading this you realize that there is someone out there that does understand your pain. Everyone has something that will drain their will to go on. It may be the death of a friend or loved one. You may have a debilitating illness or injury. It may be for you as it was for me, heart ache. Whatever it is, You are not alone. 
I know what it is like to doubt your sanity, your entire world is disintegrating in front of you and there is nothing you can do to stop it. You fight defiantly, using every last bit of your essence until there is nothing left. Your will is gone. There is no happiness, no fight left. You are broken, on your knees, exhausted, and wondering why you are still breathing. The pain and sadness is too much to bear and you can not stand another minute of tears.

This is the point I came to. This is the moment when I gave up all hope, the moment I slipped quietly away into darkness. No sound, no more fear, no more anguish, a mind no longer reeling from my circumstances, and grief. So I sat in my chair, bottles empty, one last tear, hoping only for there to be nothing more to feel.

Have you noticed yourself smiling when looking up to the clouds as the cartoon character of your mind float by, or have you wallowed in your informed defeat? I have wallowed and witnessed my world turn grey, dark with doubt and no hope. I have seen the trees whither and die, and the soil dry and crack beneath my knees. I have looked up and had the reflection of a motionless bleak sky slip into my eyes and draw away the color from the world around me. I have lied on the ground, motionless, emotionless, emptied out, no pain, no happiness, no sadness, just a void shell of a once happy man.

Now when I look up at the sky my soul already brimming, overflows with happiness because I understand the T-shirt behind the window,  “Sometimes getting lost is the only way to find yourself.”