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Thursday, September 25, 2008

REPLAY: The Rock That Changed My Life

I posted this blog last October on my related blog site. It's a re-hash of old material for your entertainment. Enjoy.

I was raised to embrace the outdoors as my religion. Instead of dressing in our best clothing and making the walk to the Methodist church a few blocks away in my small hometown, our family donned our most rugged clothing, packed ourselves and our 2 big black lab mixes into my dad's old Land Rover, and took off for another new trail, road, or high mountain lake somewhere in the wilderness.

I grew up in a small town in Rocky Mountains. The local range was full of gentle giants, towering mountains that held us in their embrace like loving mothers do their own children. Growing up like this, I didn't learn my morals by being told from a preacher at a podium what was right and what wasn't. I learned by being humbled by views that few people were ever going to see in their lifetimes. I discovered, no matter how badly I wanted to stay home and play with friends and neighbors, that I would always regret the part of the day where we had to turn around and head back to the truck. I was inspired, as a young adult, to continue chasing these dreams, exploring these places that had the ability to expand my view of the world around me and deepen the view into myself.

Through friends and family, I have been led to places I didn't know existed. These places had a way of transcending everything I thought I understood about reality. The journey to and from my geographic destination ultimately became a spiritual voyage into new realms of serenity and passion that made my brain feel like a bomb with a lit fuse. A few days ago, my close friend and most-trusted climbing partner Ryan led me to one such place, except at this place, the bomb in my psyche exploded, shattering my reality once again.

The sun rose on a terribly windy Saturday morning in our camp south of Moab, Utah. We set up camp after midnight the night before, our bodies rested but our minds aching from the five-hour-drive to get here from Denver. Ryan, his family, and our friends Dan and Melissa were all in attendance, making the preparations for what was to be a challenging climb in significantly gusty wind. We all drank some coffee and piled in my van, heading steadily towards our destination inside Arches National Park.

The sun had been up for a while, and we stopped at a few places along the way to admire the huge rock cathedrals that seemed to have been made by Mother Earth for God, or maybe vice versa. This alone was a very deep experience, but was only a glimpse of what was around the corner.

We continued to drive, and turned into a small viewing point off one of the main roads in the Park. There, we saw our climb: Owl Rock. "The Owl" is a modest sandstone spire, but I only say modest because, compared to the other towering monuments in the park, it's eighty foot summit isn't exceedingly remarkable. I should correct myself here and say it WASN'T remarkable at first sight, being limited to walking on flat land. I remember thinking to myself, half-seriously, "This is it? It looks like a giant wang! Where's the glory in this?"

The wind howled, and Ryan, bravely yet nervously, led the route up the large crack on the west face. I ran around taking pictures of this feat, knowing that someday, I was going to be doing the same thing on some other rock. He took his time, placing the correct gear into the correct place so that it would protect us, should we fall. He was graceful yet bold as he approached the summit, and when he got there, he tied into the chains bolted near the top, scrambled to summit, and stood, the wind at his back, the rising sun behind him. However he felt then will never be completely known to me, but how I felt seeing him there was overwhelming. He had become more than a simple human, but also less than a human at the same time. He had become part of the rock, part of the earth, part of a force that is bigger than I can even begin to know how to comprehend.

Ryan set up his belay spot on the Owl, and Dan was next up. Dan made this climb look easy, taking out the gear that Ryan had set on his way up, and trusting the top rope that held his life at bay. Dan easily grabbed holds, crammed his feet into the crack, put his toes on little pebbles that one wouldn't think capable of holding even a child's weight, much less a grown man's. The summit in his grasp, Dan made the final pitch, reached the top, and sat there for minutes, taking it in. Another god-like image burned itself onto my brain, another climber bonded with some unexplainable Chi, and I waited patiently for my turn.

Dan came down, and I roped up, ready, willing, and eager to have my chance to climb a rock. Climbing mountains had been my single goal at this point, but this small tower held more inspiration for me than the tallest mountain I had ever climbed. Slowly but surely, I started my trek. It was an amazing sensation as I crammed my hands, arms, legs, and hips into the large crack that now felt more like a cradle than a part of a sandstone tower. I inched my way up, and got to the crux of the route. Still 20 feet below Ryan, I stopped climbing. This crux was more difficult than anything I have ever encountered before. I was nervous and excited, and I had to talk myself down. I had to breathe.


Calm and collected, I easily moved over the crux and found the rest of the route to be like a ladder to heaven. Meeting up with Ryan, I checked my ropes, got my instruction, and began my Buddhist-like hands-and-knees crawl to the summit. And there I sat, quietly, happily, humbly, and feeling so many other wonderful emotions that I can't write. The wind swept over me, like God was holding me in Her arms, and I never wanted to leave. I cried as I thought of the most important things to me and how those things were now redefined. I smiled as I saw the clouds in my own life give way to a clear view of things that maybe weren't so beautiful, but were a part of me. I felt pride. I felt honor. I felt changed.

In the days after the Owl, I found myself thinking about these climbs and escapades into the wild. I felt like I could train and learn as much as I could, but would I morally be ready to climb? Are all of my sins and my bad karma going to allow me to accomplish what I'm setting out to do? I think, in retrospect, the only thing we can do is trust that there is a general idea for what we are supposed to be in our lives. Having the courage to follow what our ideas for ourselves is the tricky part. That courage gives us the moral compass necessary to have a passion for something bigger and better than what we know to be real. That courage allowed me to climb the Owl. That courage allowed me change my life.
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