We crossed the Colorado border sometime late on a Friday night. After driving 1,300 miles, we grinned and looked at each other when the familiar state sign (stickered with every gear store logo and adventure sport brand) flashed by.
We made it to basecamp.
With ten days off work, 22.9 million acres of BLM land, and five national parks in front of us, it was time for a great adventure. There are four elements of great adventures: uneven breathing, the written word, suffering, and resolution.
The desert in December is, according to this Minnesota girl, perfect. The sun shines low and warm, the air is a balmy 35 degrees, snow is limited to places of elevation and short bouts of stormy weather.
The tourists have gone home and the towns empty. The flowers are papery and the intensity of summer has burned itself out into dusty colors. We headed straight to Looking Glass Rock and set up a 200′ rope swing. Whether it’s the sharp catch of a beautiful view, panting from elevation gain, or the swift knock of fear in your lungs, no adventure is pushing your normal if you don’t have to breathe harder to enjoy it.
Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts.
Thích Nhất Hạnh
Many Buddhist texts I’ve encountered refer to breathing as a doorway to present consciousness. Meditation is one very disciplined, patient way to prove this. Another is to climb the back of an arch, rig an anchor, and rappel into space. Your breath will sync instantly to your present in an intrinsically human way. It kicks open the door to understanding what is happening around you and who you are at this microsecond. The counterpoint to this is probably found somewhere in the lack of monk-made ropeswings.
Whether you are confronted by the immense art found in the wild places, struggling up the features of the landscape, or testing the limits of your strength and skill, you aren’t pushing your thoughts and your experience if it isn’t causing you to catch your breath. Jumping off the ledge into the bowels of the arch made me stop breathing altogether.
THE WRITTEN WORD
I love geocaching. Not so much that I do it (I don’t, but I happen to stumble upon them a few times a year), and not so much that I think it’s great to stash your gum wrappers and broken shoelaces in them, but I think it’s a brilliant opportunity to leave gifts and words for strangers. Summit logs are a lot like this.
Of course with anonymity there’s a lot of Smoke weed every day! and Two shots of Beam and three stars to the left scratching, but there are gems hidden in them too. It’s interesting how some people use it to reach in, others use it to brag, or to confess, or to reach out. I try to write something a bit more honest and relevant to me because anonymity masks it. Plus, it seems that half the people reading the log are twisted anyway. I found a few of them throughout the trip. I like to see them as a way to connect to others. Something about the written word gets me. Plus, the world is not as large as it used to seem.
There’s something that seems more genuine about the written word. Things you’ve spoken to me, or I’ve said to you, are lost in a moment that hopefully one of us can recall. They are spoken and interpreted through every color. How I felt when I said them, how you were feeling when you heard them, the tone I used and the things it reminded you of factored into the message. Think of your significant other: to be a good spouse, you need to learn to tailor your messages to their ears so they can understand you. I would argue that every loving spouse does this because that is simply how you effectively communicate. The written word plows through that nuance. It stands, sacred and definitive, for interpretation at any time from any mind. Beautiful.
Every great adventure needs this. Remember the details, or leave a connection to others. It doesn’t have to be a summit log (I actually keep a small yellow moleskin for tracking the inside jokes, road names, whatever happened). But it has to be something that is preserved. If you run a 50k and don’t write down anything about it, when you look back you’ll say stupid things like “that was hard and fun.” Remember the anticipation the night before that made you pee eight times, the knee pain at mile nineteen that made you question why you signed up for this, the joy at the bridge at mile twenty-five with the root-ridden downhill, the sixth aid station with the quesadillas…get my point? Trust me, you won’t remember it if you don’t write it.
This feature is called “Mexican Hat,” and it’s a janky-ass old school aid route originally climbed by Royal Robbins (The Bandito Route). I wonder if there is a summit log in the sombrero. Next time.
If you’re not suffering on your adventures, you’re too comfortable.
All the greatest achievements and moments of learning in your life have not been experienced reclined in ease. Guaranteed. We need swift, strong kicks in the butt and shoves off ledges. Kick back and fondly reflect when you’re 80.
The wild and free times come from risk but also from consequences. How good does it feel to peel from a crack and leave a hunk of pinky on the rock? How much do you love finishing back-to-back marathons and feeling like your kneecaps are going to spontaneously pop off? How many ticks did you pluck off for that hike? How many beestings? How many times did you get lost? Caught in the thunderstorm? Blistered toes from river crossings? These things are nothing in the scope of adventure.
You can hop off the bus, walk a quarter mile to the thing, snap an instagram post, and walk back to the gift store. I’m not here to judge. But, I would suggest that your adventure is missing a key element.
Disclaimer: unpreparedness is not the same as suffering.
This was perhaps the most breathtaking sunset, atop a desert spire Bullwinkle. It was cold. I had to belay and then climb in the shadows between a strange off width chimney with bare hands in freezing temps. It’s hard to climb when you are shivering.
But, look what I got to sit in the presence of.
All good adventures need to come to an end. When they drop off unexpectedly or stop abruptly, there is no return journey home or time for reflection.
The way home is always shorter than the venture out, that’s an illogical fact.
We head home. For me, a lot of these trips home are spent oddly awake, even though I’ve usually just run 30 or 50 miles or climbed all day and I am either driving or keeping the driver awake. You talk about everything. You talk about nothing. You look at the stars. You look at things and think about what you’re looking at. You go over all of the details of the day, or days. Everything finally sinks in.
I find myself in a lingering state of wise mind: even though I probably should be an emotional basketcase, hungry, edgy, and brittle. Instead, I am calm and open-minded. Observant. Easygoing. We have had a great adventure.
I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart: I am, I am, I am.