I’ve been putting off writing this one you guys, because I think it’s gonna be rough, and I’m gonna cry. But here it is, finally.
I came up with all sorts of wild ideas for my bday this year, but since even the greatest ideas fail sometimes, instead I opted for tried and true. In the grand bday tradition, I dropped a pile of money at Whole Foods, packed up Lu and Hooptie, and off we went.
Lake City was founded in 1873 as a supply center for miners and prospectors in the San Juans (not super successful mining, especially when compared to the other mining towns). Now, it has a population of 400. LC is so awesome because it’s like a teeny town got smashed between mountains, and a river runs through it. As if the natural boundaries weren’t restricting enough (I think they’ve got maybe a four-block width max), the town ends abruptly when it runs into the lake to the south. Incidentally, I always assumed “Lake San Cristobal” was another example of Colorado recreational reservoirs- but it is A NATURAL LAKE, and Lake City’s obvious namesake.
There are so many things I love about Lake City: the coffee shop that advertises their friendliness towards bikers and doesn’t have an actual espresso machine (or actual iced coffee, but they do have 32oz styrofoam cups!)(and I don’t have anything against bikers in coffee shops, I just never knew before that bikers needed a special sign to know they’re welcome), the tiny, sassy grocery store (the sign on the door tells you exactly how far away the nearest Safeway [Gunnison] and Whole Foods [Frisco] are), the old gas pumps with cranks and little plastic numbers that actually flip (that I forget how to use every single time). But mainly, it’s the fact that Lake City is on the slopes of 5 major mountains. I love Leadville, and living in the shadow of the Sawatch, but it would be as if they picked up Leadville and moved it 10 miles onto the slopes of Mt. Massive. Oh! Or into the middle of Missouri Gulch!
Monday morning I rolled into the city, and onto the Alpine Loop. Naturally, it had just snowed (this was on Oct 3rd), because that’s when the first snow always happens in the mountains that I spend my birthday in. The fresh snow made the Wetterhorn road a little more “fun” [terrifying] than usual. As Lu and I got out of the car, I thought ‘we’re turning around when it’s not fun anymore.’
The higher up we got, the harder it snowed. I was just about to turn around when we crested the ridge and found epically high winds that’s slap you in the face and try to knock you over (try?) and amazing views:
Still my bday, we headed next to American Basin to spend the night. Because the storms cleared up (briefly) Lu and I did a quick one up Handies (because it’s short, not because it’s dirty), then settled in to Hooptie for an evening of reading Steve House’s alpinism training book. I sang Happy Birthday out loud to myself, and cut a lemon Miracle Tart in half. (I didn’t think it was sad when I did it, but I later heard that the Mars Rover sings itself Happy Birthday every year, which makes me tear up a little, even though it’s a robot https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxVVgBAosqg&feature=youtu.be I think the song starts around 1:17).
I knew it’d be cold. But that night in American Basin, it was 11 mf degrees. Lu and I got up to pee around daybreak, and the 30 seconds we were outside of Hooptie (and the covers) had us both shivering and shaking until we were fully submerged under the sleeping bag pile once again. I smuggled the bottle of iced coffee I brought, my headlamp, and my book under there with us since none of my skin could be exposed without frost nipping it [that’s not actually true, you might remember from an old post about winter camping that it’d have to be colder than that to frost nip skin that quickly. On that note, CHILLBLAINS!]. I later discovered that all of the water in Hooptie froze (including the gallons) overnight. Which means that the only liquid in the truck that didn’t freeze was the iced coffee. Was it because there’s sugar in the almond milk? Was it the acidity of the coffee? What changed the freezing point? We’ll never know.
Needless to say, we didn’t leave our nest until after 10, when the sun finally filled the valley between [aptly named] Sunshine and Handies Peaks. There wasn’t a lot of snow in the valley, it was just cold. This trip, I should point out, was soon after we got back from the Tetons, and I was still buzzing with the implications of everything that happened there. Just before (quite literally, 1 or 2 days before) we left for the Tetons, I sent out resumes and cover letters to a couple jobs I had been thinking of for a couple months. Grown up jobs. Real jobs. In California, NM, all over. Why would I do such a thing? I’ll call it the Year-I-Turn-30-Rolling-Life-Crisis. All this year, I’ve questioned all of my life decisions every couple weeks or so, and made [occasionally ridiculous] massive overhaul plans to fix everything I thought went wrong. And I thought it was time to move on. I had literally given up everything to move to Leadville and pursue Nolan’s, and after dedicating something like 3000 hours just in training and route finding, and two full years of my life, I had failed again. All I could think was, how could I possibly have gotten here? 30 years? And what have I done with it? I haven’t done anything with my life. It’s over. And I sent out my resumes and prepared to leave Nolan’s behind.
Bear with me with all the jumping around here. So then I’m in the Tetons, and I have that moment where I realize something I’ve known all along: when you fall in love with a line, it is your responsibility to run it or climb it or ski it as fast and flawless as you can, and that is the most perfect thing in the world. That suffering and struggling in the mountains breaks off pieces of your soul that you leave behind there, but they fill you up, and not only is that how the mountains become your home, but further, these mountains are my daemon-a part of my soul that lives outside me. And (as you read in the last post), that was when I knew that I will never be able to go back. That moment was the threshold.
Now, back to Tuesday October 4th, my first full day as a 30 year old. I’m here:
And it is a gorgeous [fucking cold] day in the San Juans. Since I got back from the Tetons, I felt pretty tumultuous. I had those really important realizations consuming me, but I didn’t yet know what to do with them and they were still conflicting with that idea that I needed to DO SOMETHING WITH MY LIFE. That I needed to act like a GROWN UP. 30 is a huge cultural milestone you guys. I think people can get away with screwing up and messing around in their 20’s, but 30 is like for real grown up time. And up here on Redcloud, in the cold sunshine with the wind blowing the day after my 30th birthday, I finally felt at ease. I don’t think I’ve felt completely at ease all year, because it has been in the back of my mind all of the time, and the front of my mind quite a bit.
I felt at ease because I knew the answer to all of the questions. How did I get here? I chose this life every damn day. I worked so hard for this. Mountain running, ultra running, people ask me all the time how you get into them. The answer to that is, you work so fucking hard every day. You run until you feel like you’re going to die, then you hope that the next day you can run faster and higher before you feel like you’re going to die. You revolve your entire life around it, because if you didn’t do 3 hours of yoga every night or massage every inch of your legs, or cut sugar and flour out of your diet because they’re inflammatory, your legs wouldn’t work to run as hard as you can the next day. You get a job that you hardly have to work and live in a town that’s cheap to live in but close to the mountains so you can run more than most people work. I didn’t just magically appear here. I’ve chosen this life every day, every step, and I’ve given up nearly everything else for it. Can you imagine what I could have done with my life if I had devoted it this intensely to something else? I can certainly imagine, I’ve been imagining all year. BUT I FINALLY DON’T WANT TO ANYMORE.
And on to the bigger one. “I haven’t done anything with my life.” WTF! Do my values really align with the standard American culture? White picket fence. 9-5. Arguing with the contractor about the renovations. Pick up the kids from school. Happy hour with friends or coworkers. Going shopping, out to dinner. No, you guys. Those aren’t my values. So why would I define success in terms of things I don’t care about? Living in this society for 30 years, it makes you think you should have those things, or some semblance of them. It gives you all these ideas about what success is, what it should be, as if one definition could be the same for everyone. It is really hard to define success personally because there are so many other factors trying to influence you all the time! And I finally did it. When you are scared out of your mind, and you look at your fear, and you wrap yourself around it, and you move on. That’s it, that’s what success actually, truly means to me. And honestly, I think that is also what freedom means. There’s a famous quote about the mountaineer knowing what it means to be free, and that’s what it’s about. The price of freedom is that you have to be the most intimate with your fear, and then transcend it. Finally, 7 miles west of Lake City, on a Tuesday, I just understood everything. “I haven’t done anything with my life”? I HAVE DONE EVERYTHING WITH MY LIFE. I have always done exactly what I wanted, never what I thought I should. Always what I wanted. And for that, I am deliriously happy and totally fulfilled. There is no substitute for the highest of highs and lowest of lows. All I can ask for is to be scared out of my mind and so happy I’m about to explode.
Finally, I’m done using terms like “grown up” and “real”. This is real life, here in the mountains and the sky. What could possibly be more real? Climate controlled houses? Grocery stores? Museums? Schools? Office jobs? My life is real. My job is real, I get to engage with our little community and be nice to people, and it pays for me to live and eat so I can do what I love the most. And I am a grown up. I don’t need to look like other 30 year olds to prove it.
On Tuesday, October 4th, I felt at ease about all of these things. And I knew that I’m not going anywhere (and that I’m also going everywhere). I’m definitely not going to get one of these “grown up” jobs and moving to a city where I have to go to an office and work more than I run. I’m not giving up on Nolan’s, she is the line of my life (and hopefully one of many). I actually made a 1, 5, and 10 year plan for myself while I was eating the other half of that Miracle Tart. And it is terrifying! And exactly what I want! I’ve never been happier. I think it’s safe to say now, I’m never going back.