“This is so rad” I thought as I put on my rental rock shoes. “This is how my mountaineering career is going to begin” I was thinking as I tried to conceal a smile. Then I got up from the cold plastic chair and I couldn’t even get to the top of the twelve-foot wall. When I started climbing I was a chubby, newly sober, kid that couldn’t do more than a pull up. Though I was just as grandiose then as I am now.
I had grown up in the Midwest and heard about “climbers;” having no idea what the sport was all about. I had David Breashears auto biography on tape and I listened to it until I shredded them. He talked about climbing in Eldorado canyon, Yosemite Valley, and mountains in the greater ranges. He talked about working in the oil fields of Wyoming and sleeping behind buildings in the middle of winter to save money. Later in my life I got a copy of Yvon Chouinard’s book; he talked about living in Yosemite Valley out of a car and deciding to drive down to Patagonia, on a whim, and try to climb Mt. Fitzroy.
How were people able to live like this? I couldn’t imagine being so psyched on an activity that I’d be willing to be homeless to do it more. I had done a NOLS course after graduating from high school, and I grew up snowboarding, so I had a passion for the outdoors. Some of my instructors certainly had alternative lifestyles, but I never asked where they lived or how they afforded to go from trip to trip. I’m from south east Michigan and knew I could study anything I wanted, law or business, because I was raised with a certain lifestyle that I had grown accustom to and I needed to be able to maintain it. I didn’t know that anyone broke away from what they knew growing up and did anything different; everyone in my class graduated and like ninety percent of them went onto college, most at a couple of schools in Michigan. I knew I wanted to live out west and so I moved to Utah because the snow was good and I got into a college there. So, I headed out west to make something of myself.
When I got to college I had a similar experience to most other young alcoholics with a budding prescription pill habit. I got wasted… a lot! I moved out here so I could be in the mountains hiking and snowboarding and maybe even rock climb; but the reality of my life was every morning I would wake up not wanting to drink but inevitably I would be intoxicated within a couple of hours. I didn’t do many new things, well I got arrested quite a few times, I certainly didn’t do all things that I had used as the reasons why I wanted to live in Utah. From the moment, I started drinking I thought this was awesome and committed to being as drunk as possible as often as possible. It wasn’t until I moved out west before I wanted to not drink for a day, not to quit, but to go without for twenty-four hours. I could not.
Giving up drinking was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, not just because I had to feel the feelings I had been avoiding, but it was the way that I knew how to connect with people. Not to mention that it was my favorite thing to do for fun. It was totally overwhelming thinking that I would have to find something else to do for a good time, not to mention that my brain was running non-stop. While I was in treatment we were told to meditate, which for me was some super boring fifteen minutes where I tried to sit quietly in a recliner. No one explained how to meditate, I didn’t even know that it was possible to turn off your brain. When I left treatment, I moved into a half-way house; I was scared, frustrated, and resentful. However, there was another junkie kid who had a documentary about the history of climbing in Yosemite and told me that there was a rock climbing gym in town. I was psyched, pulling on the plastic made my brain shut off in a way I had never experienced. I was thinking of nothing other than executing the move; my mind was quiet while I was on the rock like after having a half a dozen drinks but without the loss of control and the making an ass out of myself. After my first gym session, I knew I was hooked I wanted to go climb every chance I could. I left the gym and went to I.M.E. and bought a pair of rock shoes with all the money I had.
Getting sober was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself, the next is becoming a climber. My natural state of being is angry, judgmental, unmotivated, indecisive, and undisciplined. Living in the outdoors has taught me to do things differently. Falling off my projects has allowed me to practice self-forgiveness. looking for partners has made me less judgmental and opened me up to getting to know strangers. Trying hard to send routes and making powder turns have given me motivation. Being on ridgelines watching thunderstorms roll in has made me decisive. And the campus board has made me more disciplined, kinda. I have many great things in my life, I’ve worked hard and made sacrifices… but not really!

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