Nearly constantly people are trying to talk me out of doing the things I love. My mom cringes when she hears plans for the next adventure. My aunts and family friends comment on facebook pictures demanding that I come home right this instant. Park rangers warn me of the dangers up above, ski patrol reminds me they won’t rescue me, hikers exclaim how dangerous rock climbing is and how many people die doing it. They’re not wrong to have those thoughts and I’ll admit that to reconcile those sentiments and my own fears with my cravings and love for adventures in the backcountry is a constant struggle. It’s the mountaineers dilemma to balance life at home and family with our own very selfish need to explore.
The disconnect between the risk-avoidant person and the adventurer is one that I think I’ve come to terms with being a divide that will never be bridged. If someone has to ask why I do the things I do, they’ll likely never understand it, no matter how long I spend explaining the beauty and joy I obtain from exploration. I think that’s perfectly okay. I’ll never understand why someone likes to ride horses or have pet birds or eat kale but I’m perfectly content with not knowing and respect that other people have alternate opinions and lifestyles. I respect that I don’t need to understand. But for some reason people feel an utter need to understand and if they can’t, a polarizing judgement of the climber. “What about your family?!”, “Do you have a death wish?!” they’ll ask. No, heck no. I don’t want to die. I probably think about death and how badly I want to avoid it more than most people.
But I love it. I love being out in the backcountry and I often love doing it alone. It scares the bejeezus out of me sometimes and provides me with utter euphoria at other times. When I come home, like I did three weeks ago from an adventure out in Washington, even though I got to sleep in my own bed, didn’t have to worry about avalanches or frostbite anymore, got to eat real food, had central heat, I felt depressed not knowing when my next adventure would be. I immediately scoured the calendar for any two days where I could hop in my car and make a 6+ hour drive to some big walls in North Carolina for some more adventures, but just a couple weeks after coming back pulled or popped something in my hand and have had it wrapped for a week. My adventures have shifted to running and swimming now that climbing is out of the picture, but I can’t help myself but keep moving.
Maybe it’s an addiction, maybe it’s a psychological disorder, an obsession, a plague, certainly a burden, on my future and my family. I’ve chosen 33 hour drives in winter to Newfoundland over spending a week with an ex and enjoying the Thanksgiving holiday with my family. I’m planning a ten day adventure directly over my sister’s due date for my first niece’s birth. I’ll get up and go without a second’s hesitation to head out into the backcountry. Grab the dogs, pack the gear, hop in the car, blast some jams, and cruise. I feel for the family and friends and significant others who I’ve left behind for the selfish trips. Nearly every weekend I’ll get a text, “climbing tomorrow?”, “biking on sunday?”, “hang out tonight?” and I’ll be gone, off in the middle of nowhere with no cell reception, cold, hungry, wet, scared, but euphoric and alive. My girlfriend knows I need this and respects my trips and I love her for that. I’ve never met anyone who has not only tolerated but supported my adventures so unceasingly.
I’m not sure how this will progress as I get older, as I develop a career, and my naivete and youth is making me nervous and attempting to meld all of a lifetime with my current goals. For now, I have my pressing bucket list: kayak across the Chesapeake Bay, speed thru-hike the Benton MacKaye Trail, crush some multipitch trad climbs.