Life and excess

I used to have this irrational fear of ceasing to exist. Not really death, but simply not existing. Like a bubble, once brought to life with one small breath, living in its iridescent and nebulous glory and then suddenly disappearing into nothingness; just gone.

(And does anybody know where it goes, by the way? Do you know the answer to this? Perhaps zero space.)

Irrational fears are kind of a funny thing that we probably joke about too often, and I suppose there’s no real harm in them until they cause you to change the way you run your life. In my adult life, my two irrational fears are still 1. zombies and 2. dinosaurs. I think I’m going to be alright.

My Bay Ridge kids figuring out the magic of soap and water

Friends keep asking why I came back to the northeast when the climbing has been so primo everywhere else in the country. Some asked if I was ending my trip, and the truth is, I have never been more committed to anything in my life.

I just really missed my family, and wanted to kiss and hug my friends goodbye one more time.

12 mile hike in Moab, and even though I am a terrible hiker, I wouldn’t have changed a thing about this day. Photograph by Daniel Kokoszka

When I was in Moab with my New York City friends, Cory joined us from Salt Lake City and we both found ourselves in very similar predicaments: Cory had quit his job in the city, packed everything in his apartment into the car along with Merrill and drove down to meet us in the desert. (Ironically, Cory is back in SLC having applied and been accepted to take an accelerated EMT course. Sometimes you wind up back where you started, which is pretty great.)

We spent a lot of time talking (meaning, I cried a lot in the car to Cory about being a spaz and throwing away my old life) and Cory reassured me that everything was going to be okay. Cory lived off the grid for several winters while he guided ice in the Adirondacks and knew everything about living in a car from bed/storage issues to taking Nalgene baths. And somehow, his words passed through me like a wave of calm as we drove down the empty desert roads, watching mesa after mesa disappear behind us.

And the view is so nice……

Cory didn’t know he was going to apply for school until we got to Ouray, and at the time being he seemed downright jovial with the fact that the road we were traveling down had no name or destination.

He told me that this, in a way, felt like the last hurrah (at least for a little while). I guess that being closer to thirty than I am twenty, I understand this. These January desert days were the coda to an old chapter we were both finally putting to rest.

But a finale doesn’t mean it’s final, right? We aren’t actually BUBBLES; it isn’t just OVER.

Pit stop in PA for family time, origami making, story reading and chocolate peanut butter pie

Amanda and Brian Benoit gave me a little piece of the thing I was missing the most: home (and pie. And burritos. But really, mostly the first one.)

Amanda Benoit told me I was schizophrenically traveling the country, which is probably true. Leaving the west was probably one of the hardest things I had to do, for so many reasons. Exiting 2014 and entering 2015, I learned so many new things; for instance, I finally learned how to use cruise control in my car (for YEARS I didn’t believe cruise control worked. It seemed like wizardry). When I started making my way to the south, I had eighteen and a half hours to meditate on the differences between going places versus running away from them.

Eighteen and a half hours is enough to make anybody come up with new things to irrationally be afraid of. I’ve said it before, that being uncomfortable is a good thing – but I never want to be in a place where I’m afraid, because if I’m afraid, I won’t succeed.

I think that part of being a successful person is also recognizing when you aren’t ready. It better helps you realize when you are.

Staring up at Coffin Crack (5.10b) and By Gully (5.9+) in Boulder Canyon. Guess which one was harder!

Good people get satisfaction out of putting their ex on their first ever two off-widths. Right? (Hashtag not a good person…?)

I’ve literally had dreams of climbing Robinson and Steve Goins’ Fists of Fury (5.12c) since Natal and I first laid eyes on it in the spring of 2014. There is absolutely no reason why I should think that I can climb that thing, and yet I’m so inspired to do it. I’ve stood underneath that roof crack four times now. Andrew Kornyak and I had a wonderful conversation about the great climbing in the south and how much of a burlfest roof cracks offer – which is why the moment of satisfaction is so full.

Q Snyder was looking for a partner on his project at Twall, and we agreed to belay each other. Danny Birchman had posted a picture of Only on Earth (5.11d) and immediately I was infatuated. I’ve been told that if you’re looking for a good introduction to roof cracks in Tennessee, this is the one to throw yourself into. And there was throwing, thrutching, and maybe a swear word or two. Maybe.

Magic in February

One of my favorite parts about crack climbing is how much you have to check your ego at the door. Well, all of the parts are my favorite, really: the bruised bones, scraping off layers of skin, the flared jams and then finding the perfect one. And I’m really starting to get a knack for making tape gloves.

Only on Earth was a perfect hand jam traverse out to an overhung crack to a hanging belay. It was a little bit tricky at the bottom before getting to the traverse, and even though the hand jams were perfect, I was cautious as I tiptoed my way across, holding my breath most of the time until I reminded myself to exhale. Then inhale. Then repeat.

I often get keyed up about routes that are way over my head (both figuratively and literally), like a doe-eyed child in a candy shop. Maybe my eyes are bigger than my appetite can handle, and then comes the nervousness that it might not be as achievable as I’d like. I said this to Francois Lebeau, a friend and amazing photographer from NYC, who told me: “…but you know, you’ll know when you get there.”

And lately, I find myself asking the question: if not now, then when?

I always thought I’d be decent at ows because I just assumed I was small enough to fit in most cracks. I think I was right. Photograph by Nick Lanphier

I’ve decided (and I say this with as much conviction I can muster on a hazy, lazy Sunday afternoon) that when I make my way back to the south, I am going to look up at the Fists’ roof for the fifth time. And then I am going to climb it (no more waiting around for these perfect moments to arrive).

We don’t live parallel lives; we don’t get to. It can be hard to grasp the idea that life is truly short and within it, time moves fast. Spending time at home for a week with my family was a reminder of this. It was so good to come back, spend real quality time over too much sushi and unplug from the social media world. It was hard at first; over dinner in Chattanooga, Q laughed at me after a day at Twall, saying I didn’t always have to be moving so much and sometimes (sometimes) it’s nice to just sit and do nothing. Some days, the disquiet dispels and takes with it my too many thoughts and irrational fears, and I find myself waking up to a world where the mornings are bright skies, clean gray and soft blue and I’m able to remember that the sum of our history will be a blink. In an instant, it’s gone.

Projects for future days. Photograph by Nick Lanphier

I’m alright with that now, even though I spent years as a child and adolescent concerned about where we go when we’re finished. In this lifetime, we hit road bumps and then look to things to revive our souls: friendships, nature, goals and aspirations, human needs, necessities in life…we’re in a constant in and out state of tension. Constantly seeking. That’s good. That mean’s we’re growing, and we’re learning. When things stop growing, they die. Not looking for answers, not questioning everything around me (including myself) means I’m merely existing – which suddenly seems much worse than not existing at all.

The people leading the most fulfilling lives aren’t necessarily the ones that have all of their to-dos checked off and dreams acquired. Being finished means I’m not searching anymore, and if I’m not reaching for new horizons then I’m doing myself a great disservice. We aren’t bubbles! We’re human beings who crave meaning and that’s the kind of thing that can only come with time and experience.

Little dashboard reminders

So, if we can accumulate as many human and life experiences as possible, we start building our own life morals based on that. We may even find a few truths. We might never get to the ultimate truth, but ultimately, that seems to matter less and less to me. I might not be able to take anything in this world with me when I leave, but, to my understanding, mindful living and being (truly) present for myself and for others puts me on a path where I will always try my best.

Be honest and uninhibited and natural. Climb mountains, climb through experiences, and at the end of the ride, if we tried our best, what does it matter what the finish line says anyway? For me, it will always be about the journey and not the journey’s end.

I’d like to leave you with the beautiful words my best friend in Amsterdam wrote to me last week:

“Being lost is what it’s about. Being “figured out” is just a fancy way of saying it’s over. And I’m sorry if you’re tired, because I have a feeling you’re not ever going to be over until some wretched circumstance wrestles your last breath out of your stubborn lungs.” – Laura Guarraci