Twelve months ago today, I was ready to snap. I had just filed my divorce papers a few days before, and my mind was awash in a contradictory slurry of regret, exhilaration, and doubt. A small part of me wanted to quit my job and fly to Patagonia or the Ruth Gorge to climb until my money ran out, but the majority of me (the part that acknowledged that I was broke and out of shape) was content to sit slouched at my desk, tapping idly on my keyboard. The trick was to mope internally in a pool of self pity while looking busy so no one would bother me. No one at the office knew yet, and I wasn’t about to tell them and open up another can of unwanted advice and superficial empathy.
Instead I ran. I flew out to Washington and spent a few days away from it all with my brother in Port Townsend. We hiked, drank, talked, and climbed a pretty little mountain named Middle Peak. The climbing itself was easy – not much more than a scramble really – but that snowy, windy minute on the summit was one of the defining moments of my life. In those few seconds, I made the decision to become a climber again and vowed to never again let go of that part of my life.
Saturday, February 8th will mark exactly one year since that day, and what a difference a year can make! In the past 362 days, I have:
- completely rebuilt my stockpile of technical clothing/shells/footwear, climbing rack, and backpacking/camping gear
- dropped about ten pounds of superfluous weight and rebuilt a solid base of fitness for climbing
- climbed in the Cascades twice
- climbed Devil’s Tower twice, once as the fulfillment of an entry on a climbing partner’s bucket list
- gone on an extended climbing trip that covered the Beartooth Mountains, the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River, Gallatin Canyon, and Devil’s Tower
- camped out and climbed ice for eight consecutive days in the South Fork Valley and Hyalite Canyon
- climbed countless little rock and ice routes in Minnesota
- comfortably led multiple WI5+, M7, and 5.10 pitches
- free-soloed a couple 5.9 routes
In short, I have become a climber again. Not a great climber, or even a good climber compared to what I’d like to be climbing in my twenty-eighth year of life, but at least it’s a place to start.
362 days ago today, I felt pretty hopeless, directionless, and mired in a mountain-less Midwestern state with a huge pile of debt to pay off. I would be surprised if any of you were stuck in the exact same set of circumstances, but I think it’s safe to assume that a few readers aren’t having the easiest time of it right now. A job you despise, a toxic or abusive relationship, loneliness in a new city, a debilitating illness, a complete lack of passion for life…there’s a myriad of legitimate external forces and factors that can press in on a person until it feels like there is no escape from the crushing weight. Sometimes the easy thing to do is to succumb, stop pushing back, and bitch about your unfortunate circumstances to anyone who will listen. They might not even care, but the sympathy and pity feels good.
I would encourage you with this: fight through the adversity. Don’t give up, and don’t back down. Don’t worry about progressing perfectly; some days, just digging your heels in and not going backwards is enough. Fuck the negative opinions of others, because giving a shit about making everyone happy and listening to their bigoted advice is a sure road to insanity. Align yourself with a few truly positive people that you can trust completely. Get a dream – a big, powerful vision for your future that gets you out of bed in the morning and makes you feel alive – and chase it down with everything you have. Protect that dream, and stop listening to anyone who belittles it or tells you it’s not worth your time or effort.
Get yours, because no one is going to hand it to you.
You know the instructions the flight attendants give you for the oxygen masks in an airplane? Put your mask on first so you don’t pass out, then help the little kids, right? That principle applies in real, everyday life too. If you’re lost, depressed, and living without purpose, how are you supposed to inspire others to rise above mediocrity, to achieve more than they are currently settling for? You are ultimately responsible for YOU, so take care of you first. No matter what you’re going through and dealing with, battle through it. Survive and thrive, and watch the ripple effect change, inspire and lift up others in your life.