Friday, August 29, 2014

My "Next" Adventure, and The Things I'm Not Telling...

Several times this past month I have been asked what my next adventure is. I offered a few suggestions, like running an ultradistance race, but really I have nothing explicitly planned at the moment. Oh I have plans and ideas for things I would like to try. But here is the thing, I have failed so many times, planning trips, preparing to do something, not finishing what I started, quitting after years of work, that I don't like to announce things until I'm about 80% of the way there. Maybe that sounds ridiculous, so hear me out.

Mt. Everest has been a goal of mine since 2004. I remember going to Colorado that summer and using my crampons and ice axe, doing some backpacking, and responding well to altitude again (for like the fourth time), that I thought, 'yeah, I'd like to take a crack at the highest mountain in the world.' In 2005, the next summer when I was taking rock climbing lessons on Lumpy Ridge, the guide asked what some of our goals were, I said, "Mt. Everest" and he said, "You could probably do that within 10 years or so..." Then rattled off a series of mountains to climb before Everest and skills necessary. I hadn't even told him I was already on a ten year deadline. That was about the most encouragement I had in the early days.

When I announced one Thanksgiving (2004 I think) at my friend's house I wanted to climb just Mt. Washington in New Hampshire in winter, my friend's dad who was an experienced backpacker said it was too dangerous. The next Thanksgiving I climbed it with a biology professor, without crampons because it was so easy.

Similarly, I taught myself how to climb. Oh I've taken paid climbing instruction from five different people/groups, but that pales in comparison to reading Mountaineering the Freedom of the Hills in its entirety (6th edition) and practicing everything. When I led my first traditional lead climb (putting gear into the rock) in August 2005, I didn't tell the guy climbing with me it was my first time until we reached the top and finished. I only had a set of nuts and a set of hexcentrics back then. (Side note: The Green Route at Crow Hill is one of the greatest routes to practice new techniques on. I climbed it with only tri-cams, I've climbed it in January, I've done it with only a hip belay...) In short, I didn't even announce I was getting into lead climbing, until I was already a lead climber.

Similarly, my second time ice climbing that biology professor handed me the ice climbing rack on the second pitch and told me to lead, it was WI 2, so pretty easy, still I hardly considered myself an ice climber.

In 2006 I tried to climb a mountain every month. February was one of the closest times I have ever come to frostbite, in a -50F windchill at treeline on the north side of Mt. Adams in New Hampshire. That year I would send emails and try to plan day trips to New Hampshire or to go rock climbing, and often times no one would bite. I ended up doing a lot of driving and hiking alone, even, or especially, in the middle of winter. When I try to plan something and then people, criticial people to the plan, drop out often the plan would fall through. I tried to plan an Orizaba trip to Mexico one New Year's that fell through. So when I announce something, I want to make sure it is likely to actually happen.

I still plan crazy things and come up with ideas that most people won't even imagine, I've had the idea of rowing across the Atlantic recently... But when I formally announce that I "have a plan" chances are I already have plane tickets booked and a schedule organized. So if racing my first ultra run or a weekend trip to Colorado or simply going canoeing don't seem like my "next" adventure because they are too small, well big things are built out of a lot of small things. The truth is, I am on my next adventure. I'm working on several of my next adventures, right now, this week.

We see the romance of a wedding, an anniversary, or climbing Mt. Everest, we don't see the questions, the arguments, the challenge of compromise, the 40 foot rock climbing fall, almost getting struck by lightening, being broke, being unemployed, or falling on a snow slope the second time using crampons. Yet those challenges are kind of the point. My moto recently in my head has been '60% the next step' because that's how anything gets done, one little insignificant uninteresting step at a time. What is my next adventure? The one worthy of other people thinking of it as a "real adventure", well I don't exactly know, and if you are still thinking an "adventure" has to be something big and dangerous, you missed the point of this post.

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