Monthly Archives: May 2010

No Place Like Home…My Other Home

At this moment I’m sitting in the San Francisco International Airport about to return to my home back in Colorado. What always seems refreshing about the Bay Area is the fact that I really never feel like I leave home when I come out here.

I love San Francisco and the entire Bay Area. I’ve been here zillions of times, know my way around, have my favorite eateries and always manage to find new ones. Regardless of where I’m staying, I have any number of routes where I can get my daily run in, everything from three miles to fifty miles (yes, fifty). And just like almost every time before, I spent no more than ten minutes in my hotel room upon arriving before I’d changed into my running clothes, had my shoes laced up and was running at a spirited clip along the waterfront. It always feels so good to see some of the usual suspects of landmarks that remind me that I’ve indeed come back to what I consider my California home.

If you’ve read any of my posts over the past two or three weeks you probably already know that I’ve been struggling a bit with reconciling the overwhelming emotional nature of being at that First Descents camp in Moab, and the subsequent withdrawal symptoms I’m now dealing with. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good thing! It can feel myself growing as a person, but there are just a couple of growing pains that I need to work through! However, one of the things I was looking forward to on this trip was meeting up with my friend from the First Descents camp, April, and her friend Ilana who had also attended a couple of First Descents camps in the past. I’d never met Ilana, but if she was a friend of April and had attended an FD camp, then I knew without question that she was part of the “family”.

So with a little bit of emotional weight on my shoulders and some time on my hands, I left my little hotel and set off for a run that would hopefully get me back on track with my normally absurd level of perpetual zen-ness. Well, it worked. In fact, it worked so well that when I got to the point where I initially thought I’d turn around, I wanted to keep going, and did. I continued to run across the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito (but just barely). When I got over there I looked out across the bay and could see where I started way back along the shoreline. Love it! A second or two more of taking in the views and I was on my way back. And just as I was running back onto the bridge, a heavy, blowing mist started to hit me. Instead of running for cover as many of the camera be-decked tourists along the bridge were doing, I just smiled a little bigger and picked up my pace.

Thirteen quick and scenic miles and a warm shower later, I was sitting along the waterfront sipping an Anchor Steam  Ale and drizzling some Tabasco Sauce in a bowl of clam chowder. Those are two of my favorite things and having them never fails to remind me that I’m back in the city I love so much. And even better was that as I sat in this noisy and crowded little “chowderia”, I could hear no less than three different languages being spoken — two from different parts of Asia and one from what I can only guess was of Eastern European origin. That in itself is another reason why I love San Francisco (and New York City) as much as I do. Diversity is one of the greatest treasures on earth and this is one of the best places to experience it!

After dinner I was strolling around the piers to absorb a little more of the smells, sounds and vibe of the city when my phone rang. It was April’s friend Ilana (who I hadn’t yet met). She told me that she was heading to a Farmer’s Market there in her Haight/Ashbury neighborhood and that I should come up and join her. Yeah, okay, that was an easy decision. A very short time later I was parked (in the garage of her building since I couldn’t find a surface spot) and we were walking down the hill on Stansbury Ave. toward the tiny little park where the market was. The rain was now falling steadily, but certainly not a deterrent to our outing.

I sort of expected that Ilana and I would have no trouble finding plenty of conversation, but I had no idea just how easy it would be. It was like we’d known each other forever. We decided it was the magic of the First Descents experience. I wish I could tell you how it works, but I can’t…it just does. Anyhow, we walked, sampled fantastically fresh organic produce, met friends of hers, ordered up more organic foods and sampled some unbelievably delicious bolanis (Afghani stuffed pastries) from another of Ilana’s friends. With our food acquired we sat at some cute little tables (still in the rain) and continued our conversation, one that was reminiscent of two friends reuniting after a long time. Why wouldn’t it be like that? After all, we knew many of the same people, had had similar experiences and now we were in her ‘hood hanging with her peeps. So comfortably familiar feeling…like home.

I spent the next day in meetings and fortunately met some very interesting and very fun people there, something I TOTALY didn’t expect. And after my meeting I was going to meet April and Ilana there in Burlingame at a place called Kabul Afghan Cuisine. Given the deliciousness of the previous night’s samplings of Afghani food, I was anxious to get there and explore more!! But before they arrived I had an hour or so to roam the super cute little downtown area of Burlingame. Incredibly fun little place and filled with super interesting cafes, bistros and boutique-style shops. Definitely not a hard place to hang out while waiting!

The Afghani restaurant blew us away. It was lively, noisy but not obnoxious, was adorned with lots and lots of traditional Afghani art, textiles and best of all, the people who owned it were far and away some of the most genuinely kind and fun people I’ve ever met. And the food!! Wow, I was totally and completely awed by the beauty of the food and of course the rich, sophisticated (yet simple and earthy) flavors. Afghani food has definitely moved up the list of my faves!!! But what was best about the evening was the fact that we talked freely, laughed lavishly, shared stories, and just like the night before, progressed through the evening like we were the oldest of friends re-uniting after a long absence. And let me say again just how amazingly friendly and caring the owner’s were…and not just because they brought us a free dessert to accompany our Gousch-E-Feel (the name of a pastry which means Elephant Ear) that we’d already ordered. They treated us as if we were family in their home, which in a way we were. Again, such lovely people. It was such a shame that April and Ilana were on their way to New York and had to leave after only three hours.

Then, this morning, I went to my favorite little breakfast place called Pergamino’s. It’s just a tiny little neighborhood joint down near the waterfront in the Marina District. It’s here where the funkiness of the place’s decor is only trumped by the funkiness of the staff. And straight away I noticed that the guy standing out front was new, but more about him in a minute. Once I got my table out on the sidewalk and got settled into the “interesting” selection of music, I strolled back into the inside part of the cafe to choose my cup from the vast array of totally random ones stacked above the self serve coffee urns. LOVE IT! Today was a Rice-A-Roni cup, one I’d selected a couple of times prior!

I soon learned that the new guy, who introduced himself as Scott, had recently become the newest Host, Ambassador of Funkiness, Operations Manager, part-time Chef de Cuisine and Karma Director. Georg (pronounced Gay-Org) who was the previous overseer of grooviness had apparently been deported after a bizarre sequence of events — of which I learned about in great detail over the next hour or so. A shame because he was truly a unique individual who brought a lot to the ambiance of the place. However, Scott brought his own level of coolness to the game.

Scott was probably in his late forties or early fifties, tall, rather skinny and sported some rather tragic stringy, dark hair. He was wearing some sort of baggy style canvas pants (by Dickies I think), a silk shirt unbuttoned one button too far, donned well-worn loafer type shoes as well as at the always essential  Members Only flight jacket. Just like Georg, I guessed he was Eastern European given his dark, well pronounced features. I listened intently as Scott told me a lot about his circuitous life path prior to landing his gig there at Pergamino’s. Had he not reeked of funky suaveness/grooviness, I doubt his tales would have been so compelling. However, I found myself intrigued with everything he said, even with the tales of his lucrative stint as a bellman back in Michigan.  No story was more intriguing than his time spent skiing the harrowing hills of Southern Michigan. His stories were only interrupted by the occasional need to address potential customers as they walked down the sidewalk, all of whom where likely from Ohio or somewhere like that. He’d regale them with the history of the establishment and the fact that they baked their own bread daily. It seemed that most people weren’t as intrigued with Scott as I was. Some actually looked a little leery of Scott and his schtick. In most instances the tourists would uncomfortably look at him and try to politely decline his offer to try the “World Famous Waffles” and would briskly move on.

I actually look forward to the next time I’m in the city so I can come back round and catch up with Scott. As funky and odd as he was, he was part of the city I love, therefore he was part of the family now…in a weird uncle kind of way I guess.

After a couple of complimentary refills of my Rice-A-Roni cup, Scott and I bid each other adieu and I went for one last walk down by the piers. I loved smelling the salty air and hearing the seagulls squawking as they battled over what looked to be a rogue morsel of cioppino dropped by a street vendor the night before. The noisy gulls are a quintessential part of San Francisco, as much as the seals and sea lions of Pier 39, so they too are part of the family.

It was nice to see my assorted San Francisco family members for a few of days. I guess it should really be no surprise that it feels so much like home out there.


In the long run….


I'm second back on the ridge. Photo courtesy of Greg Norrander.

In 2009 I did another ultra marathon, a couple of trail marathons, a few 30k trail runs and I can’t even remember how many trail half marathons…and these only count the ones that I actually paid an entry for, not the ones I did on my own. When I run that much, it really doesn’t seem all that hard to train because I sort of just stay in a perpetual state of “trained”. It’s pretty cool (at least to me) that I can wake up any Saturday morning, lace up my Montrail trail running shoes and know that if I want to go out and run a casual trail marathon to start the day, I can, and do from time to time.

2010 started out sort of the same way in that I had a couple of hard, winter trail races on the schedule for January and February. However, I’d decided before the turn of the New Year that I would back off a little from the running this year and maybe ice climb, rock climb, snowboard and mountain bike more. As I said, it started out that way, but something happened along the way and as most of my well-intentioned plans to “take time off from running” go, the plan got derailed.

I did get some awesome ice climbing in this year, been hitting the rocks pretty consistently, ripped some big turns in the deep powder and have even ridden my mountain bike from time to time. Then, all of a sudden, my little world got shaken up in some respects, and I find myself back to what I love, running…running hard.

I have my standby places that I retreat to from time to time to clear my mind…Taos and Moab to name a couple. I can go there and camp for a few days and always get my chi back in order. While I am never opposed to dropping everything and saddling up the Tacoma for an adventurous road trip, this admittedly does take a little time to execute. When I need that quick fix of chi repair though, its trail running that I always turn to. I can do it by myself (which I prefer), I live in the Rocky Mountains (unlimited possibilities) and I can go as long and/or hard as I want within a few minutes of my house (convenient).

In the past few weeks I’ve become so aware that life is short, too short for me anyhow. There is just so much that I want to experience. So much in fact that it overwhelms me (and in turn overwhelms Donna). I always find myself filling my plate with more and more travel and adventures before the next one on the list is even finished. I love living that way! But what made me so much more aware of this brevity of existence is learning and seeing firsthand how randomly cruel life can be.

About three weeks ago I met some amazing new friends at a camp for young adults with cancer, and when I say amazing, I mean amazing in every way. Despite the cruelties that life had dealt them, they truly still live every day to the fullest. I love that so much. And spending a week with them really made me start thinking about my own life and what really makes me happy. Well, what makes me happy (in addition to all the people in my life) is long distance trail running, climbing, snowboarding and mountain biking. That’s why I decided to partake in this crazy trifecta of lunacy that I talked about in an earlier post. Stoked about doing that by the way.

But while I was there I was sort of overwhelmed, to the point of getting out of my personal comfort zone and I couldn’t seem to get my normally “Zenned out” self back in order. Don’t get me wrong, I was overwhelmed in a good way, 100%, it was just that I didn’t have a lot of extra time during the days so I didn’t run, process my thoughts and get my head clear from day to day. I did climb a little, but mostly for the work I was doing (photographing) so I wasn’t really all that dialed in. After a week, I was actually kind of swimming a little mentally and emotionally.

When I got back to Colorado I was absolutely crushed with things I had to do, take care of and figure out. I ran a little that first week back, but not much. There was just too much. And then, wow, then I talked to a very dear friend of mine and she was telling me about some very difficult medical issues she’s dealing with. And when I say difficult, I mean really tough. Fortunately, she is equally as tough and is managing…how is beyond me. But she will get through this, I know. She even told me that despite the difficulties, she refuses to give up the things she loves and still does them. She said, and I quote, “it gives me life”.

When I heard that, everything I learned at the camp the week before started to come clear. We all have a need to escape to the things that make us happy and “gives us life“. The guys at that camp escaped to Utah and were able to push the reset button for a week and hopefully take home a fresh perspective on things. My other friend finds respite from her ordeal in her love of the outdoors. Whether modern science can “prove it” or not, being active and doing the things you love is healing to the mind. I personally live by those words daily and now I’ve seen it in all its glory in other people as well.

After hearing my friend’s news, I have to admit it was completely devastating to me. Like I said, she’s going to come out of this, I know it. But thinking about her ordeal had my head spinning out of control. Once that happened I really had only one option to help get my chi and mind back in order…run. Everything else could just take a number because I was running come hell or high water.

During the following week I ran just a little longer than I normally would midweek, but when the weekend came, I knew that the 12-14 mile trail runs I’d been maintaining wouldn’t be near enough to adequately think things out. So I drove up to my favorite trail, laced up my shoes and I ran…for hours. And when I was done, I felt better and had some answers; answers about my week at the camp and hopefully an answer for my longtime friend.

I love my long trail runs. They can push my physical and mental limits to the max…and often do. I can be alone in remote places for hours and think things out, without distraction. I can immerse myself in the simplicity of nature and revel in its beauty. I can laugh and cry on my own terms. It’s my therapy. It restores my chi.

Deciding to back off from running a little was a mistake.

The answers always come in the long run…

Purging Demons

Recently, I decided to partake in a project that will hopefully benefit an organization called First Descents. They are an organization committed to helping cure young adults of some of the harsh emotional effects of cancer. I attended one of the climbing camps in the capacity of camp photographer, but in the end, the entire experience turned into so much more.

There are three elements to my project, a technical alpine ascent in Bugaboo Provincial Park up in Canada, a tough 17-mile uphill trail run up and over Mt. Werner in Steamboat Springs, CO, and a beefy trail marathon near Ft. Collins, CO. Although these will certainly be challenging endeavors, they are all things that fall well into my range of skills and capabilities. I’ve climbed remote high peaks before, run lots of challenging trail runs and done plenty of physically demanding trail marathons and ultra marathons.

Though I’m totally committed to doing these things for my new First Descents family, I have to confess that I’ll be doing one of the elements to help heal, or maybe a better word is “purge” myself of some lingering demons. Let me back up and explain.

In November of 2009, I, along with my two good friends and climbing partners, Jon and Chris, were climbing up in Rocky Mountain National Park. There is an area up there called Glacier Gorge and at one of the farthest reaches of that area is the Andrew Glacier. Above that, Otis Peak (12,486 feet). I’d been back there a number of times and climbed most all the peaks along that exposed ridge including Hallett Peak, Flatttop, Russell Peak and Taylor Peak, but I still lacked Otis. So that’s why we were there.

Climbing the Andrew Glacier that day was much tougher than any of the previous trips we’d made back there, so we already knew we were going to have our hands full of physical challenges. The grade is only moderately steep, probably no more than 30 or 40 degrees, but with a raging wind and ground blizzard hammering us directly in the face, we were  constantly having to shield our faces and check our balance as we kicked steps into the steep snow and ice. And because it was so difficult, we naturally took turns leading out the ascent to prevent any one person from completely exhausting themselves.

As we topped the small headwall at the top of the glacier, we discovered that the wind we’d been battling up to that point was nothing compared to what was happening on top of that open ridge. We’d seriously have to drop to our knees at times just to keep from getting blown off. We’d even have to wait for lulls in the wind gusts to talk because it honestly sounded like a we were standing next to a freight train. When we could talk, we jointly evaluated the conditions and decided that while it was definitely on the border of being a little too dangerous to continue, we’d push ahead just a little farther and then reassess again. From there we figured the summit of Otis was roughly an hour away.

With the wind now at our backs we were actually able to move rather quickly despite climbing a steep summit ridge filled with large icy, talus. After about half an hour, we stopped to evaluate the weather and we decided that since we were probably no more than fifteen minutes from the summit, we’d just go for it.

Then, when were only about ten or fifteen vertical feet from the true summit, I was scrambling up onto a large rock when a ferocious gust of wind hit me from behind. We later decided that it had to have been a gust approaching 60-70 mph. Since I was mid-step and only had one boot on the rocks, and the one on the rock had a crampon on it, I lost my balance and went down hard. To quickly sum up the result, I fell face first into the rocks and subsequently bounced around in the talus for a few feet.

I was fortunately able to collect myself rather quickly and sat up. The first thing I noticed was that there was a lot of blood flying all around, hitting my goggles and pouring from my face and mouth. I also had an acute pain in my left ankle and foot as well as some curious holes in my pants and gaiters. Chris and Jon were there with me immediately to assess the damage and take control of the situation. And for that, I’m thankful. It was brutally cold anyhow, but given the fierce wind we knew we had to move quickly and get down from that exposed peak where we could get warm and better assess the situation.

Being so damn close to topping this thing out and honestly being a little pissed that this had happened, I quasi-hopped up to the true summit and touched the “official” peak marker.  Given that that was my third try at Otis, I damn sure wasn’t coming back so I wanted to finish the job. Then the real work began. Climbing down through the icy talus was awful. My ankle wouldn’t support my weight unless I hit exactly flat, which was never. I was dizzy from the head shot, I was bleeding like crazy from my face, I was cold and the windchill was absolutely punishing to any exposed skin. It was also super frustrating to me because under normal circumstances I would have flown down that ridge.

Once back onto the glacier, I began to get a little more worried about the situation. My ankle was throbbing like a mutha’ and the blood letting  from my face hadn’t seemed to have abated at all. Chris and Jon were constantly asking me how I felt and up until then I had feigned the truth a little about how dizzy I truly was. Given the steepness of the glacier and risk of falling and possibly taking them out with me, I finally ‘fessed up and mentioned it.  With that knowledge, we systematically worked our way down with each of them keeping a close eye on my footwork and overall balance. Fortunately we got down with no problem other than being painfully slow.

Getting off that higher ridge and out of the direct wind helped ease the misery, but we still had hours remaining to trek out of there. My ankle was beginning to become a concern so Chris tightened my boots for me to keep things as stable as possible. We then wasted little time  getting moving but we were soon post-holing through the deep snow so the misery continued. But I figured that as long as I was still moving, I at least “thought” that I was going to be okay.

Still about an hour or so from the car I had yet, another scare. I starting throwing up blood. I’d been nauseous since about an hour after I fell, but I figure the cold had probably kept me from actually hurling. Jon and Chris both immediately asked if I’d thrown it up or coughed it up (and there was a lot) and fortunately I had thrown it up. Coughing would have meant something completely different! In actuality I had just swallowed so much over the past few hours that my stomach had finally just rejected the invasion.

When we finally reached the car, I was pretty used up. I had waved off the thought of going to the hospital when Chris and Jon mentioned it on our trek out, but when they asked again, I acquiesced. I was not feeling good at all but I think much of that was the fact that I was dehydrated, hungry and still reeling from yacking up all that blood. So off to the Estes Park hospital we went.

After that initial hospital visit, I had to have a few more visits to the medicos and dentists in the coming days “for further evaluation”. In the end I wound up with a concussion, some loose teeth, a bruised jaw, some nasty cuts and abrasions on my face, a fractured ankle, fractures in my foot, a fractured finger, lots of punctures from my crampons and some bruised ribs. I was pretty much a mess.

The funny thing is that I was never really concerned about going back into the mountains, that is until a few days later. I was on the way to Santa Fe to visit some friends for Thanksgiving and it sort of hit me out of the blue just how serious that whole ordeal could have been. Had I not been able to move on my own, the harsh weather would have become a force that could have determined my outcome…and not in a good way. We had no phone service and it was a solid five-six hour walk out to get help. That meant probably 12-18 hours before anyone could have gotten out and gotten back to me…then another 6-8 hours out, minimum. Simply put, I was lucky, very lucky .

However, a few weeks later I was right back in action, ice climbing in Ouray and a week or two after that ran a tough trail race out in Moab. I had no problems with doing those things, other than some lingering pings in my ankle and jaw, but then again, those activities weren’t really in places where remoteness could be a determining factor if things went wrong.

Now here I am, getting ready to head to one of the most remote areas of the Canadian Rockies to climb a 1,500-foot, technically challenging granite spire. Head games? Not really, but I’d be lying if I said that my accident wasn’t still lingering around inside my climbing helmet a little.

I think what trumps everything though, including fear, is that I do find a tremendous amount of inner peace when I’m in remote and solitary places. I honestly feel like I need to go back out there and find that solitude again and not let fear take away what I truly love. I enjoy people and most social situations, I do, but I find something incredibly peaceful within my soul when I’m isolated. And then, when I can physically challenge myself in those remote places, knowing that the consequences could be harsh if I make a mistake, I find out so much about my spirit, soul and inner strength. It definitely brings a nice level of perspective back to all the trivial bullsh#$ that happens in our daily lives.

I am truthfully very excited about climbing in Canada this July and am consequently training like a maniac every day. I know that standing atop that granite spire will give my soul exactly what it needs and that’s the inner peace I crave so much. And I also know that when I’m standing atop that spire, looking out across an ocean of glaciers it’ll probably  purge whatever small demons I have lingering from my accident.

I know a lot of people don’t understand “why”, and that’s okay. But this is who I am and this is what I consider “living”…and not living is, well, it’s dying.

It was experienced, and that’s enough.

As you can probably see, I haven’t written on this blog for a couple of weeks. There’s actually been a pretty good reason, at least one other than something limp like I was busy and didn’t have time. For one of the first times in my life I couldn’t find the words to say what I wanted say. I still can’t find them, but I need to say something.

A couple of weeks ago I went to Moab to work at a climbing camp sponsored by First Descents. In a nutshell, the camp was for young adults with cancer. No specific forms of cancer, just cancer. There were thirteen campers and about that number of staff, so all in all there were about two dozen folks milling around a super cool house for a week. My “job” was to photograph the events as they unfolded each day and basically document everyone’s week of climbing. Since I’ve been climbing for quite a few years, this kind of worked out perfectly because the guys at Colorado Mountain School could do their thing and not worry about me roaming around overhead and/or worry about me plummeting to the desert floor in front of a bunch of horrified campers.

I’ll just say here that I’m going to spare everyone every detail of the week because some of it I simply don’t want to share… it’s just too personal to both me and the people involved. But the one thing I will share, or at least try to share, is what I unexpectedly came away with as a person.

My friend Karen, who works for First Descents, told me about the camps a while back and mentioned that they oftentimes bring a photographer along for the week. So you can probably guess the chain of events that ensued from there. After I “officially” volunteered and as the time for me to go got closer, I admittedly started to get a little nervous. Not because I was afraid of the people or the vibe of a cancer camp, please, you should know me better than that. I was more nervous about whether I could relate to everyone enough on a personal level to capture for them what I hoped they were going to get out of the week. Basically I just wanted to do a good job.

So as I waited at the camp for everyone to arrive, I tried to imagine how everything would go down. Would everyone be friendly? Probably, but then again, I always give everyone the benefit of the doubt at first. Would there be a bond that I wouldn’t connect with because I don’t have cancer (and don’t want it). Would they care about climbing at all and really be into it enough to want to learn more — and give me good photo ops? Would they be pissed about me running around like an out of control lunatic all week snapping their pictures at every turn? And for me, would there be things that were taboo to talk about and should I be careful about hitting touchy subjects if I happened to be curious and ask questions about their experiences?

Well, I got answers to all those questions, and more, much more.

Over the week I had the chance to hang out with everyone, a lot. I was so fortunate at times to talk one-on-one about things I just couldn’t have imagined. I’d share terms related to climbing like locking ‘biner, harness, belay, rappel, toprope, dynamic ropes, static ropes, etc, etc and in return learn terms like breast cancer, ovarian cancer, leukemia, ports, radiation, bone marrow transplants, and various other things. The beautiful thing was that if I was curious, I could ask. I don’t know if they’d talked about things so much that it seemed routine, but some things seemed so personal and I was deeply touched that they would trust me with their words. I was totally blown away with the way everyone opened their hearts and were so willing to share their lives and experiences.

That being the case, my nerves about being able to get into the vibe of the week vanished. It was like traveling to a foreign country for me (one of my favorite things!). I got totally immersed and was so totally “into” the week that taking pictures became personal. Personal in that I had an emotional attachment to everyone and I could now hopefully take photos that reflected their individual personalities. There are certainly some photos that do just that, but they are the final judge. Please be gentle Stiletto.

In the end the photos turned out to be such a small part of my week. Again, without getting into too much detail, I’ll give you just a couple of examples as to why this was likely the most personally influential week I’ve ever had.

Late one night, I was talking to one particular person, and I won’t say who, but I will tell you she is young, energetic, beautiful inside and out and a phenomenal photographer. We talked a lot about life in general, but one thing I was so flattered with was that she shared some of her thoughts about how she felt as if she was sitting on top of the world one day and getting slapped down with a diagnosis of cancer the next. I was seriously so teary just thinking about how that scenario played out. We talked about things like fear, moving forward, how some of her friends reacted and most importantly, how she reacted. Her incredible passion for life was right there in front of me, just waiting to get out and I am so touched that I got to share in a little of that. Mostly I was honored that she trusted me with her words. And if you’re reading this, I will never break that trust. I promise.

Then, on another evening I was talking to someone else and it started to make me think about my own life, the way I live and the things I do. I was telling her that climbing is always scary and I actually kind of like that, but when I get too scared, I can always just lower off, untie and go home. But when you get a diagnosis of cancer, you can’t just walk away and go home. From that point you either choose to fight, or not. There is no lowering off. I have to admit that just thinking about that as we talked made me so sad that she had to face that fear, sad for everyone there, and I couldn’t help but get teary. Then, she looked me directly in the eyes and said, “it’s okay if you cry“.  So I did. Those tears truthfully weren’t solely from sadness and fear, but from the fact that I had been accepted into a family of people who the word extraordinary doesn’t even come close to describing. I was completely and totally overwhelmed with the love that this camp harboured. Thank you so much for everything…and you know who you are too.

The other thing I loved so much was as the week progressed the smiles got bigger and the bond between everyone got tighter with every passing second. I even mentioned this to one person in particular and she seemed surprised that I would have noticed that. Boy, she has a lot to learn about me! But I noticed it in her the most so I thought I’d mention it. Soooo sweet and such an amazing person. She went from being tentative and slightly reserved to, dare I say, aggressive on the rock and was always in the mix when things got crazy in the evenings — which was a lot. She was totally crushing it. And if you’re reading this, please let me know how things are going. I’ve been thinking about you a lot and hope everything is okay. And thanks for the tough love you doled out on me. I loved it!

Okay, I’m getting sidetracked so back to my point. Because I’m pretty much a solitary type person, I had already planned before I got to the camp to sleep out in my truck. If you’ve read through this blog for a while then you’ve seen the pimped out system I have for spending my evenings in the camper shell! So late one night (about 02:00) I was sitting out under the stars thinking about everything that was happening. I was finding that no matter how hard I tried I simply couldn’t reconcile how the positive, loving vibe could be so strong here and why everyone, and I mean everyone, was just spilling love from every pore. It so easily could have been a total bummer of a week, but it wasn’t, not even close. That’s when I started looking around on the internet for my new photog friend’s blog on my Mac (yep, on my tailgate, gotta love WiFi). Fortunately, with very little sleuthing, I was able to find it. In a word, amazing. But that’s not the point here. What is the point is that as I was reading through her personal blog I noticed that she had a few pictures of herself before, during and after her diagnosis.

It was one photo of her in particular that caught my eye. It was one I assume that was taken during chemo. She is gazing out over the city through a window of a hospital, short hair, and she had this amazing “look” in her eyes. It was right then that it hit me what was going on there at that camp and why there was so much love and just so damn much happiness to be shared. It’s the spirit within. I could see it so clearly in her eyes. It was, and is, so clear. She and everyone else there had it. It is honestly one of the most beautiful photos I’ve ever seen and it showed me so much about my own life and journey. It’s the spirit that must perpetually push forward to make life meaningful and she never let it go. I can see where it may have been temporarily put on the back burner during the really scary times, but fortunately the flame never went out, and that’s why we could sit and talk like we did that night. The eyes don’t lie. She has it and I know in my heart it will manifest itself into something beautiful. It’s already evident in her photos and in the people who are fortunate enough to know her. I will never see the world the same because I now have new eyes; the eyes of all those exceptionally beautiful people there in Moab that week. Thank you.

Okay, before I get all weepy again, which I’ve done every single day since I left Utah, I’ll move this along.

During my week in Moab, I saw pure courage like I’ve never seen. I witnesses determination that is unfathomable to mere human beings. I saw sincere care about one another that is rare under any circumstances. I experienced openness of heart and soul like I’ve never experienced. And I saw pure and unfiltered love between 25 individuals that I’ll likely never see again.

One evening on the drive back from the climbing venue de jour, the fellas from CMS and I talked a little about the cool, energetic vibe and how special everything seemed that week. They naturally felt it too. But let me back up and say a couple of things about them. Number one, these are four phenomenal guys, on and off the rock. They conducted themselves so professionally when we were climbing that I couldn’t help but notice that everyone trusted them 100%, without question. I’ve been climbing quite a while and I was blown away with their efficiency, expertise and teamwork. Just amazing. But what I think was most special to me is that they “got it” on a personal level right from the start. They felt the vibe and saw what was transpiring with the human spirit and went with it…and were a HUGE part of it. I wish I could find more words here to explain the energy, but it took every individual to make the week go off and they contributed an enormous amount with their hearts and souls. And I can’t thank those guys enough for hooking me up with some awesome systems to do my work, trusting me with helping them a little from time to time and just being amazing friends who were willing to open up personally and let me do the same.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe everyone brought their individual souls and energy to Moab and when they melded together it formed an energy that can undoubtedly never be duplicated. Maybe this was meant to be for all of us and things aligned perfectly. A syzygy of sorts. I’d love to think that’s what happened. And I’d like to think that everyone there came away with the deep sense of amazement, awe, love and family that I did. I honestly don’t think people can go into anything and expect it to be that magical, it just happens and you have to embrace it and cherish it when it does. Another thing I didn’t expect was to come away with 24 more people in my family…and they are truly my family. I’ve talked to everyone, some daily, since we left. It’s honestly like I’ve known them my entire life. And the funny thing is that when the week started we chose nicknames and I didn’t know anyone’s real name until the end of the week! How cool is that!

I will definitely have more entries about that week in the future, but this one sort of came to me when I was trail running this morning (more of that solitude I need and seek from time to time). It was truly that photo that got me thinking about how all these amazing friends could rally onward after what they’ve been through and spill out the love like you can’t even imagine. Again, I’ll never write the words about some things, partly because they’re private and will only be shared between those of us at the camp, but also because I don’t  want to tarnish the experience by trying to explain or understand it.

It was experienced, and that’s enough.

Mouth, Fridge, Lemon, Stiletto, Cheesesteak, Mutha’, Ceasar, Klang, Slow Boat, Giggles :-), Bubbles, Lucky, Phoenix,  Daryl, Daryl, Mama Ludden, Googley, Boots, Parts, Lil’ Bit, Silky, Again, Gomez, Mortisha, Satori, Wang, Karen, Dizzy…I love you guys.