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Where not all roads less traveled are roads...

Header Photo: Table Mountain, Golden, Colorado, with views of downtown Denver.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Life on the Gritty Edge of Uncertainty…Thoughts on Quantity versus Quality


"I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the center."(Kurt Vonnegut)  
There is anxious edgy, and there is gritty edgy; same word, two oppositional meanings. Some of us are challenged to turn the former into the latter. It's not like a switch that can be flipped; it takes time, a great deal of courage, and miles and miles of experience.

Our last Sunday in Zion I want to ride the 29'er up Flying Monkey—get him off my back, so to speak. It's a punishing ten percent grade best suited for Imbecilic Jocks with a death wish, and, for reasons most wouldn't understand, it pushes a few buttons I need pushed in order to clear my head. 

It's  early—still cold and breezy—and I'm about to re-wage a losing war with last years much regretted "End of the Season...50% Off Sale "No Returns!" purchase of super-spandexed "hip hugger" winter cycling pants. You will recall that they turned out to be "Women's" pants, and that the waistband hit me just about mid pubic zone. Having no perky ass to hold them in place like the fem fatals they were designed for, I ride the thin line between indecent exposure and lewd and lascivious butt-crack in public. 

My computer bongs. It's an email from Suzanne. Turns out she's got a "monkey" to get off her back, too, and she's made a decision to pull the trigger on a long-put-off assault on Angels Landing. It's the final day of the Thanksgiving weekend... she's understandably anxious about attempting this airy precipice climb with a massive audience—the imagined "chicken-out," followed by a pitiful scenario of a grown woman, hyperventilating, arms locked in a death grip around the exposed root of a cedar tree—a wide eyed look of sheer panic—and mumbling, "Sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry..." 

Fear is a funny thing...not ha ha funny, but peculiar funny. How is it that the most reasoned and rational species on the planet ends up plagued with the most unreasonable and irrational fears?  There is an edge to the darkness that separates reality from nightmare, and every single time one crosses over that threshold, a mind-body response in the form of sweaty palms, shaky knees, pounding heart ensues. 

If one never ventured out, never climbed a ladder—let alone a mountain—never got in a car or took public transportation, never went out after dark, never risked a negative outcome, chances are they would live a longer life. But there is an inverse qualitative tradeoff for quantity—if you don't believe me, go ask anyone in a nursing home. Thus, we must eventually come to grips with personal fears in order to live a fuller, "no limits" life. This doesn't mean we have to climb Everest, just do from time to time those things that make us uncomfortable, whether it be standing up in front of an audience or on a precipitous ledge.

It took a lot of argument, but Suzanne eventually relented and allowed me to go along on her quest for Angels Landing. At this sensitive juncture of her newly acquired taste for outdoor adventure, I feared a failure would not only set her confidence back, but very possibly water the seeds of acrophobia, which could make for a long detour on her journey to bucket list summits she wants to conquer and claim. 

It was both interesting and gratifying to observe her battle of mind over matter… the gradual metamorphosis from, "I can't," to "I'll try," to "I did," from "Grasshopper" to "Rockhopper." And to hear her say that this victory is something she will never ever forget? Well, fuck you, Monkey!

































20 comments:

  1. What a fabulous hike, love the photographs.

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  2. a hike I wanted to do but my "fear of heights" wife said no way in hell we were going to do that one... thanks for taking me along virtually

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  3. Fabulous postcards. Congratulations to Suzanne, who started her stay in Zion not liking up.

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  4. Done it too and it was really narley...............three times over a span of 35 years. Congratulations to Suzanne as it is not an easy thing to do even the third time.

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  5. Oh holy moly...no wAY I could do that hike w/ my height fears. Gives me the hibby jibbies just to see the pics. Very impressed with both of you!

    Nina

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  6. So proud of Suzanne. I don't have a fear of heights, as such, but definitely a fear of edges. I attempted Angels Landing a couple of times, but as you said, fear won out. Your pictures of her along the edge had my stomach tightening up. We drove the truck to the top of Flying Monkey last May. Can't imagine doing it on a bike.

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  7. So nice of you to guide Suzanne up Angels Landing. There was never any doubt that she could do it.
    Suzanne got to do her first mountain bike ride today on Jim's bike. She loved it!
    Gayle

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  8. How wonderful of you to go along for moral support and to document her climb with such fabulous pictures. I've done the climb and loved it but my pictures aren't nearly as wonderful or as complete. Congratulations to Suzanne!!

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  9. Congratulation Suzanne! Feels great to get close to the edge, touch the sky and ponder Mother Earth.

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  10. AWESOME! I love seeing Suzanne come alive with the hiking bug! Hans and I did not complete Angel's Landing, I am in awe of those who do!

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  11. oh oh...amazing Suzanne! sigh. I really really really want to do this hike...but that thing FEAR...is eating away at me as I look at the photos. I'll be 70 if we make it to Zion next November as I am hoping....I wonder....maybe I can at least try...then again...oh my goodness...those photos, Mark! You captured the essence of what it must have felt like so perfectly.

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  12. Rational or not. Sane or not. My god, get away from the edge. That photo of your feet would have me hyperventilating if I were with you. In fact, it might even kill you because, in panic, I would jump to reach you and pull you back and probably push you off.

    Congratulations, Suzanne. You're a better woman than me.

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  13. oooh, those pictures give me "sweaty palms, shaky knees, and pounding heart" all over again! Whenever I look at them, I say "Holy CRAP!" because I didn't see any of that on the way up or down. Just a pair of size 14 shoes in front of me. LOL! Had you not been there to tell me when to look and when NOT to look, I would have surely looked! And then I would have frozen in fear. What a lucky hiker I was go get to do this not only with the best guide in Zion, but also the best photographer! ;-)

    Thanks, Sensei, for helping me take my fears to the edge and beyond. It really is an experience I will never forget, and the perfect ending to an incredible Zion experience! You and Bobbie both are such kind, generous, inspirational people, and I am so fortunate to have you both as friends.

    Thanks everyone for the kind "Congrats!" It felt good to complete a hike that had been haunting me for weeks. But also a whole lotta fun! I was "flying high" that day for sure!
    Suzanne

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  14. It was my pleasure…I wasn't going to let you get off that mountain without a summit. Thanks for making my last day in Zion "memorable."
    Keep flying high, and never land except to take on fuel!!!
    Mark and Bobbie

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  15. Love this, but it made my hands sweat a bit!

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  16. It is great that Suzanne was able to summit Angels Landing, something that at my age, and condition, I probably will never attempt.

    But what I think about every time I see pictures of that climb is what effort it took to carry all those metal posts up the route, set them in the sandstone and then carry those big segments of chain up there so others could experience the climb. It was the people that did that who are the champions of Angels Landing in my opinion. But maybe it was all done using a helicopter and I am giving too much credit.

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  17. Mark, we summited Angels Landing a couple of years ago, Three guys each challenged the other to get to the top without using the chains. We made it, but it was a hairy ascent. When we reached the top there was a wonderful tribute to a young boy who had recently passed away left behind by his father-quite touching and I can send you the pic I took if you are interested.
    On the way down there were two young girls sitting, getting ready to head back down without going to the top. My friend sat down with them and explained that the longest lasting memory they will have for this day will be that they didn't finish the climb. He even offered to go back up with them. They thanked us and as we descended we could see them struggling to get to the top.
    A week later we climbed to the top of Gothic Mountain in Crested Butte at a little over 14,000 feet.
    I really miss the Southwest, and we are gearing up to return after spending a few years sailing the Maine Coast along with the Maritimes.
    Dick

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  18. All I can think about when I see your terrific pics ... is the hell-on-hips-and-knees descent ... it would hurt ... a lot. Sure looks like a great hike, tho!

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  19. You go Suzanne! I too am very afraid of heights but when exploring will at least try to push myself to my limits. Sometimes the rewards are amazing. Fantastic photos!

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  20. Congratulations Suzanne! I too have a fear of heights and conquered Angels Landing last month. Like you, I stared at the ground in front of me most of the way. I had my GoPro strapped to my backpack which I posted on YouTube "Vertigo Inducing Video of Angels Landing in Zion National Park". When I watched the video later I almost got sick to my stomach watching it and thought "I really did that!"

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