Men come and go, cities rise and fall, whole civilizations appear and disappear- the earth remains, slightly modified. The earth remains, and the heartbreaking beauty where there are no hearts to break. Turning Plato and Hegel on their heads I sometimes choose to hink, no doubt perversely, that man is a dream, thought an illusion, and only rock is real. Rock and sun.
Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
For almost a year now I have been working in the national parks surrounding the Bay Area- the Golden Gate National Recreation Area- in one of our world’s most beautiful cities, San Francisco, with a supportive, passionate, highly knowledgeable and all around quirky and fun crew.
During that same year I have endured some pretty crazy commutes to try to squeeze in as much time on rock as I could over the weekend. In the beginning it was hard, in the middle it was slightly manageable and towards the end I just gave up. For me the prolonged discomforts of traffic jams, the nocturnal search for a place to sleep and eat and the long drive home to make it to work on time the next morning was more intolerable than being cold on a belay pitch or hiking up a talus slope at 5 AM at 12,000 ft. No podcast or music playlist could make it acceptable in my head. My back ached from all the sitting, my eyes hurt and I probably put myself in more danger driving while tired than I have while climbing. I also was a bad version of myself. Feeling that I was investing so much time and energy into such little time on the rock, I stressed myself out trying to ensure that every minute was worth it. If I couldn’t find a route, or the conditions were crap or something else went wrong, I took it way too seriously and became a not very fun person to be around. I didn’t like witnessing this transformation. Shouldn’t the pursuit of my passion be something that gives me joy and life, not something that turns me into a selfish climber and stressed out individual?
I knew though that the job was worth it. I was gaining invaluable experience in a supportive environment and having a hell of a lot of fun during the work week, something which is a rare treat in our over-stressed world that prioritizes work over play. My work is a type of play for me, so in that field I was lucky and I seized the moment with gusto. I was (and am ) passionate about the work, as well as the place. In all honesty, the last few months were some of the most fun.
But, I knew I could not neglect the rock, the mountains, the sunshine, the wilderness and the outdoors unburdened by throngs of people trying to escape for some meager hours of recreation over a two day period. For this, to me, is the ultimate type of play and is where I draw my life’s energy. It is my support line, and without it I could not be passionate about work, or anything else for that matter. It is quite simply something I need, as is a job that motivates and engages me. I cannot exist happily in one state without knowing that soon I will revert back to the other.
So, I began to scheme. I told myself that I would work this job and try to absorb every learning experience I encountered like a sponge. I would be energetic, eager and attentive. Happily working until the neglect of climbing caught up to me and the gym just wasn’t cutting it anymore. I calculated that to be a year of work. This is where I predicted the perfect balance of me learning as much as I could and me wanting to take off to adventure would manifest itself.
So, let me tell you about how I came to be sitting on my friend’s futon in Bishop, writing this blog post at what is the culmination of a 3 month long trip. I will start with yet another Edward Abbey quote (sorry I’m currently enthralled with Desert Solitaire so this blog may have an absurd amount of quotes from him) where he expresses his feelings on what he coins “industrial tourism,” or what most people these days call “weekend warrior-ing.”
“Hard work. and risky. Too much for some who have given up the struggle on the highways in exchange for an entirely different kind of vacation – out in the open , on their own feet, following the quiet trail through forest and mountains, bedding down when and where they feel like it, at a time when the Industrial Tourists are still hunting for a place to park their automobiles”
too much, indeed.
As of two weeks ago, I am tethered to no obligations. This, though, will change soon. I spent the entire fall making sure that this would change. I spent hours researching graduate programs, studying for the GRE and looking into summer field jobs to craft the plan for – what I thought- would be an ideal spring, summer and fall. The idea was to work until February, quit and then travel from February- early May when I would *hopefully* start a seasonal field job that would transition me nicely into starting a graduate program in the fall. Sounds peachy, right? Right. but it was sure as hell not easily planning all of this. I will spare the details but will say- because I am proud of myself- that it was a very stressful and difficult task to ensure that everything lined up as I wanted it to so that I could go on this trip without hesitation. That I could ease into every moment of the present because I knew the future was more or less taken care of (at least for the next few years or so). While nothing has been guaranteed yet, I have received some offers for graduate school and a job seems likely over the summer. Reflecting now on that entire process, I’d like to give myself a virtual high-five. That, culminated with alot of stress about where to go, with whom to go with and with what vehicle (my car is pretty damn old) brought it home yet again that planning for tips is difficult. “it will be worth it” i told myself time and time again. In the meantime I managed to do a few trips here and there.
I’ve crossed the hurdles (*fingers crossed my car doesn’t break down*) and I have a rough agenda/outline of where I want to go , what I want to do and what I want to see. All of it, though, is framed under one over-arching goal – to grow as an individual, naturalist and an outdoorswoman. To seek out experiences that would assist in my goal to one day be a very confident, self-sufficient natural enthusiast. With this comes my other goal of simply visiting places and landscapes I haven’t seen before. Appreciating the natural beauty of the Southwest and – above all – to not take anything too seriously. To follow my motivation and my friends to different corners of the Southwest.
It has been about two weeks, and here’s what I’ve seen and done so far.
After around two weeks in Bishop I am off to Red Rocks for the next leg of my journey. I hope to focus on improving my trad climbing and multipitch ability while out there all while keeping the goal of becoming a more self-sufficient climber and outdoorswoman on my mind. On the rest days, I will be going to Death Valley to gaze at the wildflowers and enjoy nature without fumbling with ropes and carabiners. After Red Rocks I will likely head over to Northern Arizona to get scared some more and maybe pay a visit to the Grand Canyon.
I feel myself sinking into the landscape, fixed in place like a stone, like a tree, a small motionless shape of vague outline, desert-colored and with the wings of imagination look down at myself through the eyes of the bird, watching a human figure that becomes smaller, smaller in the receding landscape as the bird rises into the evening- a man at a table near a twinkling campfire, surrounded by a rolling wasteland of stone and dune and sandstone monuments […] the Rockies in dusk, the Sierra Nevada shining in their late afternoon, and father and father yet the darkened East, the gleaming Pacific, the curving margins of the great earth itself, and beyond earth that ultimate world of sun and stars whose bounds we cannot discover.