I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out
in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom
of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.
Lately, my ability to squeeze enough satisfaction out of my weekend warrior-ing to keep me content has been waning. Like Jack London, I want to live, though currently I feel as though I am simply existing. Existing between one work day and another, trying to wring out as much pleasure as I can from my brief trips to the mountains as possible.
Perhaps this sounds over-dramatic, but I didn’t always feel like this. In fact my first month here all I wanted to do was stay in the city and explore my surroundings. However, those were some strange times while I was battling changes in life that demanded my mental attention. I also was living in Bishop, CA where I was surrounded by endless outdoor recreation possibilities. Now that life has calmed down a little bit and my scenery has changed, the climbing spark has been reignited. I can trace this back, actually, to a series of weekends I spent sport climbing in the Trinity Aretes.
First, a brief life update leading up to my Trinity trip. For Memorial Day weekend my good friend Corrina came down from Arcata to see the Tallest Man on Earth live at the Fox Theatre in Oakland. He put on an entertaining and talented performance and we had a lot of fun getting lost on BART.
We also went for a hike on Pine Mountain Fire Rd. (looped with San Geronimo Ridge Road for a 13ish mile hike) and saw some really cool plants.. excuse me while I geek out
Okay, back to the climbing. I’ve written twice about the Trinity Aretes so I’ll neglect talking about it in too much detail. I spent one day there over memorial day weekend. I had a route in mind- the classic 12b/c “Whiplash” that I tried on my last trip but wasn’t able to even finish. This time, I was able to get up it on my first go, though with a few falls. I knew I could redpoint it and was suddenly filled with that addicting force that drives me to sport climb in the first place- the desire to move gracefully, powerfully and technically, working with the features of the rock to finish a nicely envisioned and inspirational route while simultaneously achieving the “high” that comes with interweaving and coordinating mental and physical strength. Without one or the other you will fall.
On my second go, I fell at the very last move; I was just too damn pumped to be able to perform the final lock off. It was pretty heartbreaking because it was my last go of the day (I had a 6 hour drive ahead of me). What “Whiplash” did, though, was reignite a dormant yet still very present drive within me to find that sport climber’s euphoria I’ve written about many times in this blog. Lately this was put on hold as I was just trying to stay afloat in light of a lot of life changes that had thrown me for a loop. It seemed, though, that I finally had that energy to pursue perhaps what I needed this whole time…
Unfortunately I live 6 hours from whiplash, and pretty far form any decent climbing in general.
The route tormented me all week, though. I couldn’t stop performing the moves over and over in my head, visualizing each particular crux and sequence. So, the following weekend, I did what I normally wouldn’t- I drove an inordinate amount of hours for just 1.5 days of climbing. I had to try whiplash again.
We arrived Friday night at around 1 or 2 AM, totally exhausted. I threw my pad on the ground, (camped on USFS land) crawled into my sleeping bag, took a moment to appreciate the stars and imagined I would drift into a deep sleep..until I heard the shrieking of a Barn owl. In my deliria I didn’t realize it was a Barn owl for a bit and thought it was some ghoulish creature (bigfoot?) out to come and murder me. This sort of put a dent in my plan to drift away into a luscious sleep that would leave me rejuvenated and revitalized , ready to send Whiplash first thing the next morning. Once I realized what it was, though, I was finally able to fall asleep.
(by the way if you haven’t heard a barn owl – check it out )
4 hours of sleep wasn’t exactly ideal for a send.. but hey- I got it on my first go! I reached the anchors after having executed the upper crux perfectly (though I botched the lower crux which almost exhausted me enough to fall again on the last move!)
For the rest of the trip, I was awash in the “post-send” glow that one gets after trying and completing a challenging route that just barely doesn’t spit you off.
Oh, and of course.. we also saw some other cool plants, including this guy…
The problem with this is, I really like my job. Sometimes I try to imagine how much more battered my mental state would be if I didn’t like my job and it scares me too much to attempt to try to change anything for fear of losing a combination that many would envy. I should be grateful, but I’m struggling. For now, I’m going to settle and stay put here in the city for at least another few months, learning as much as I can from my job and trying to get outside climbing/exploring as much as possible.
Luckily, I do feel blessed with the ability to see beauty and complexity basically anywhere. Here’s some of the things I notice at work..
Some other scenes from work..
A lot of time has passed since I started to write this short blog. Since then, I have been able to escape back out into the mountains for a weekend in Tuolumne Meadows where I climbed Tenaya peak (again, also climbed it last year) and the north ridge of Mt. Conness. What ensued was an epic adventure that deserves (and will get) its own blog post. However, what also ensued was a further deepening of my desire to simply return to these places where the air is a little thinner and the stakes are a little bit higher.
Hoping that maybe this trip would satisfy me for a few weeks, I only found that it did the opposite- strengthen and renew an already existing passion. It reminded me of what’s out there. It caused me to dive head first into vivid and powerful memories I cherish. It was in this place (the Sierra in general) where I feel I spent some of the best days of my life. Now, only a few days after the trip, I am once again bored with daily life and am already feeling numbed by routine. I yearn again for that ephemeral freedom of moving purely within a landscape that humbles you. Craving, even, that exciting and slightly addicting feeling of uncertainty that arises once you cross certain boundaries and push your comfort level. Seeking that moment when you rely only on yourself, your ability and your confidence to see you through what at times can seem like insurmountable challenges. Being a weekend warrior sure can be tough because most of the time it just isn’t enough. The battle which I fight, it seems, is not the climbing nor the adventures.. it’s not bivying outside at 9,000 feet tucked behind some Jeffrey pines or waking up at 4:15 AM to get an alpine start… it is returning to the city with my blood still surging and my thirst not even barely quenched. I have to be a warrior to battle the feeling of being a caged animal, as a friend of mine put it. I need to battle the fatigue of a 40 hour work week, one that is much stronger than that of a 22 hour day in the mountains.
I truly don’t think energy and fatigue is as black and white as we are made to believe. If i sleep 8 hours a day and eat a perfect diet, exercise regularly but don’t feel invigorated in my day to day life I tend to feel lethargic as I am made numb to true experiences. On this past trip I had 3 nights in a row of very little sleep and quite a bit of physical activity. I expected to feel dead on Monday, and while I was obviously a little bit sleepy, I felt no real noticeable loss in energy. I just wanted to go back.
I’m not stupid, obviously tons and tons of sleep deprivaiton or physical exercise will catch up with anyone eventually, I’m just making the point that everyone needs to discover what gives them energy and what sucks it away from them – -and sometimes that isn’t so clear.
A friend of mine inflicted by these same thoughts once sent me a psychology article that highlighted the fact that most people get through the mundaneness of daily life by deriving satisfaction and meaning from small things, like accomplishing a task or pursuing some side hobby. Lately I’ve found this waning, but it is still present in small ways. For example, I loved seeing my snap pea plant explode with vigor (a little bit TOO much vigor, actually..) and the other day I stopped on my normal bike ride home to take in the view around me that I look at every morning and evening, but that sometimes I don’t see. It really is a beautiful bike ride. Above all, I am eternally grateful that I have a healthy body that allows me to do all of these things. (It was almost 3 years ago when I began to have problems with my feet that has forever changed my perspective on how fragile life is, and how quickly one’s passions or pursuits can be taken away; read my past blog about that experience here)
Is it worth it to constantly feel rushed to cram in all of your time doing what you love in two short days? To feel totally behind on life errands during the rest of the week? To play catch up so you can barely make it to Friday in one piece (with enough groceries and at least party clean clothes to last the week) to repeat the process? To neglect things which really should be easy (I’ve been trying to get a haircut for maybe 5 months now)?
I don’t know the answer quite yet but I do know that I am not satisfied with life at the moment. I suspect that the key is in balance. Right now, I don’t feel as if I am in any sort of equilibrium- my life is very much more weighted toward the work-week than toward the pursuit of other pleasures. The goal would be to find a job like the one I have in a place that’s closer to good climbing and outdoor recreation.
Until then, I’ll continue weekend warrioring and enjoying life in the city as much as I can (hey, at least the weather is usually kickass.. except in my little nook of the city where I feel as if I’m constantly in a wind tunnel) Not as if I have to justify my tone on my own blog that basically no one besides my mom even scans, but I do hope this whole post has not been interpreted as me complaining about life but rather analyzing how I’ve been feeling lately. Personally, I think most everyone is blind to how unsatisfied he/she really is because the way our society is constructed keeps us all too damn busy and occupied with mindless tasks to stop, step back, and observe how fucked up most everything really is.
More on this and my adventures in Tuolumne in my next blog post, but for a quick preview to come I leave you with an image…
and an excerpt from one of my favorite songs which I currently identify with particularly strongly..
What’s my name, what’s my station, oh, just tell me what I should do
I don’t need to be kind to the armies of night that would do such injustice to you
Or bow down and be grateful and say “sure, take all that you see”
To the men who move only in dimly-lit halls and determine my future for me
And I don’t, I don’t know who to believe
I’ll get back to you someday soon you will see
If I know only one thing, it’s that everything that I see
Of the world outside is so inconceivable often I barely can speak
Yeah I’m tongue-tied and dizzy and I can’t keep it to myself
What good is it to sing helplessness blues, why should I wait for anyone else?
And I know, I know you will keep me on the shelf
I’ll come back to you someday soon, myself
-Fleet Foxes, “Helplessness Blues”