In those days, there was nothing in the world to do except climb and get stoned. Day or night, the old glassy gaze. The future came slowly then, like a steamer through the fog. Neither it, nor I, was in any hurry. The impendingness of it all was immaterial. Meaningless. Irrelevant. Time would come when it came.
When Nick took the long ride down the flanks of Rainier, I had to grow up a little. I’ve always been hesitant to ascribe to individual events more meaning than is warranted. We hadn’t been best friends. I hadn’t felt devastated. But even before Nick’s death, I had felt an itching inside of me. Working as a climbing ranger had been the realization of a dream. But somewhere along the way, the dream had changed. Maybe losing Nick was simply the excuse I needed to move on. Just a catalyst for what was already fomenting inside of me.
All through the Seattle summer I worked my ass off. Roofing, landscaping, painting; a stint refinishing window trim on the side of the city’s third tallest building. I’d come home from work, and go back to work—writing for various gigs, and scouring craigslist for better jobs. I climbed rock to stay sane. Every chance I got, I rallied Aldo—my 87 VW Golf with an 82 Diesel Vanagon engine—out to Index. I’ve never loved stone so deeply, before or since. I came to realize that the walls themselves were alive. Covered in a black substrate of lichen that actually aided friction instead of impeding it. The living blanket conspired with my fingers and shoes to pull seemingly impossible moves. I could feel the forest in my bones. The river in my veins. On my 29th birthday—9/11/13—I climbed 29 pitches. There was no better day.
Winters I’d head south to Cochamó. I’ve written about that place more, I think, than anywhere else I’ve ever been. I still don’t know what to say about it. Imagine what it would be like to hold, in the palm of your hand, something lustrous and shining. But the longer you hold it, the more tarnished the thing becomes. You want to do something to forestall the fading. Want to keep it the way you found it forever. But you realize, like Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, that even by observing it, you have forever altered its course. There is a sadness. There is a guilt. And there is a feeling of inevitability. Of constantly playing catch up with the world we are ourselves creating. That place is in the furrows of my brain. I can’t stop thinking about it, even though it’s so far away.
Coming out of college, I had felt like a pent up spring ready to explode. I was sick of living the life other people wanted me to live. I went years without thinking of another soul. That changed with Megan. I was hanging off a fixed rope on the side of Lookout Point when I got the call. I left the place I loved most dearly a few months later to return to a place that never felt like home. I backed out on the biggest climbing opportunity I’d ever had to be with Megan and her family in Maryland for her father’s last months in this world. Cancer ultimately took him, one day before my friends flew south without me. It was one of the few times in my life that I’ve known with crystalline clarity that I was doing precisely, and undoubtedly, what I was supposed to.
After that came ambition. Ten to fifteen thousand dollars a year is fine when you’re living in a minivan, eating out of dumpsters, and there is nothing in the world to do except climb and get stoned. But when you want to buy a house, start a family, you need something more. Except, all of that is a smokescreen. A story I tell myself to absolve myself of my current depression. The truth is, I wanted to actually try at something. I didn’t try in high school, didn’t try in college, and in honesty, had never really tried with climbing. At least I’d never dieted or hangboarded. Each time I plateaued I changed disciplines. I was sick of halfassing my whole life. I had words inside of me. I wanted to get them out there.
At first, my writing career was little more than a leaky faucet. Sporadic paychecks like irritating drips in the night. But I applied pressure for years. Now the water comes in a steady stream. Not enough to bathe in, but enough to keep me alive. Here I am on a Wednesday night at 10:45. Eyes bloodshot from too many hours in front of the screen. Still torquing the old wrench, hoping for something greater than this.
It’s the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done. Day in, day out, trying to make a go of this. Trying to create something out of nothing. Magazines fold, publishers draw inward, writing—everyone tells me—is dead or dying. I wish I were less hellbent on proving everyone wrong. What I yearn for now is to yearn for nothing. My only ambition ambivalence. A crew cut and a 401k. A job, a lawn, and a cold one before a glowy screen at the end of the day. Paradoxically, the closer I grow with age to death, the more I feel there is to live for. There’s a bit of reckless flame that is gone out of me. I don’t get stoned hardly ever anymore. Screws with the work day.
This past winter in Cochamó, I was through the business. Had reprieve within my grasp. But instead of forging upward, I downclimbed through madness fifteen unprotected meters to the anchor, and bailed on gear I might have bootied before. From the slab below, I looked up in horror at where I had been, and what I had almost done. I was riding Au Cheval, so to speak, on the knife edge that separated my past from my future. The drop on either side looked precipitous, vertiginous, and clean.