Saturday, February 7, 2015

Wanderings and Thoughts of Thoreau Part I

I decided to drive to Colorado Springs, CO last February to support one of my incredible youth climbers from the team at USA Climbing's ABS Nationals.  Long story short, it was to late to find a decently priced airfare, so I had a 'to hell with it' moment and decided I needed some time off anyway and turned it into quiet the adventure.  This was my first major solo trip I had ever been on, and looking back I'm still happy I didn't have anyone else with me.  It was as if I had a chance to press a re-start button.  I only had myself to worry about, which is probably the most selfish statement, but how can you be there for others if you don't have yourself figured out.  Whenever I get a chance to drive more than 30 mins, I find I can process things.  Whether its thinking about a friendship, relationship, work, etc driving has always been my time to just process. This trip gave me the ultimate opportunity to do just that, process.  It was also a chance to just enjoy my surroundings, and appreciate the landscape.  I think many times people forget to stop and look around, if you live in an overly developed place,  I don't blame you, but even then architecture is an amazing thing to observe.

On this ~2500 mile journey I drove through 5 National Forests, 1 Conservation Area, 1 National Monument, and 4 National Parks.  I had ample opportunity to just be and enjoy.  I can't put my thumb on it but there's something about wilderness, it hits me, not in a subtle 'oh this is pretty way' but in an indescribable impact on me.  I want to live somewhere, where the wild landscape dominates, there aren't to many people and I can appreciate the silence and beauty that those types of areas have to offer.

I am currently in an American Environmental History class, while reading one of our assigned books I came across a quote that resonated with me, "Let me live where I will, on this side is the city, on that the wilderness, and ever I am leaving the city more and more, and withdrawing into the wilderness," Henry David Thoreau, may I say one of our earliest environmentalist made this remark.  When I came across this, I stopped and took a minute, Thoreau stated perfectly how I feel so often. I find I'm happiest, not surrounded by people, but by nature and most importantly animals. The relationships you can cultivate with animals don't necessarily mean more than those with a person, but they just have this extra quality about them.  The ability to create a relationship not through words or conversations, but through interactions and understanding that animals instincts and signs makes for a much deeper level of understanding.  I digress, back to the trip.

The first half of my trip was tightly scheduled, I had to be in Colorado Springs by Thursday, February 27th at 6PM.  I started out on Wednesday from Santa Barbara to Zion National Park in Utah.  I arrived in the early evening delighted to find that in the off season you can drive through parts of the park in which normally you're forced to take a shuttle.  It was refreshing to see Zion at my own pace. It was so quiet that I could stop in the middle of the road to take pictures, which is especially useful if you intend to capture wildlife, if you don't have to walk up to them they won't run away before you have a chance to snap the shutter.  In off seasons national parks and forests seem to be reclaimed by the wild.  Native animals roam free again and even take over the developed areas.  I woke up at dawn to deer munching away on the vegetation at my campsite.

Captured a herd of deer along the side of road while driving thought the park.  MMcDermut Photography.
Due to the cold and for safety, I slept in my car.  Here's my set up (this was back when I drove an Acura MDX).  It may look a little messy but it was rather organized.  

Zion National Park. MMcDermut Photography.

Day 2 of driving was a long one.  I woke up around 6AM had a quick breakfast consisting of oatmeal and coffee and headed out.  I decided instead of going up the I-15, I would go up US. Highway 89.  The 89 cuts directly up the middle of Utah, alright a little further west then the true middle.  You drive between the Grand Staricase-Escalante National Monument, Bryce Canyon National Park and the Dixie National Forest.  Needless to say the terrain is incredible, relatively un-inhabited, and the towns you do pass through are teeming with history and are quite alluring.  I have many towns I want to revisit to photograph for a series I have been thinking about for a while. A series about forgotten and decaying places, capturing the beauty not just the decay.

The 89 connects directly to Interstate 70.  The 70 is the most direct way to cut east to Denver.  Admittedly the drive on the 70 through Utah wasn't the most exciting, a lot of desert, a lot.  Right before the state line, the terrain became a bit more inspiring again.

 Once on the Colorado side, it got a bit more interesting, I started to see snow again, and lots of it.  Then I descending upon the White Fish National Forest. Unfortunately I have no photos from this section of the drive.  What makes driving through the White Fish National Forest such an incredible drive?  The interstate is crammed in this canyon meandering right next to and sometimes above the Colorado River.  Many times the east and westbound lanes are stacked instead of laying next to each other, but because of these tight quarters there are not many areas to pull off to snap photos.  This is one of those places you just have to see in person.

This rest of the drive didn't present me with anything overwhelmingly interesting.  Some old historical mining towns, a bison farm, but those are the only things that really come to mind, and Denver traffic.  After driving 12 hours I made it to the hotel at 5:50 for the coaches meeting which started at 6.  I'd say thats pretty perfect timing.  I met up with Mike the other coach, Will, the owner of the gym and then Pablo and his family.  The rest of the night was very mellow, food and then a much needed shower and sleep. The next morning was an early one, Pablo climbed in the first group and absolutely crushed, he easily made it to semifinals. So we had a whole afternoon to kill at this point.

So we went here.  This is Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.  Not the best photo, I snapped this with my phone, but hopefully you can make out the sandstone fins jutting up from the ground.  Such an incredible place.  These fins tower about you and create a maze walking around them.  And they are climbable, there are bolted routes on many of them.  Naturally, being with a bunch of climbers, we took our empty afternoon and filled it with climbing.
 Mike belaying.  

Pablo making fun of the sign keeping non-climbers out. 

Logan on a seemingly impossible 5.12c (if I remember correctly) 

Again, concluding this day with a nice hot shower, some good grub surrounded by great people.  Pablo's mom, Danielle was gracious enough to have me stay with her great aunt who happened to live in Colorado Springs.  I got to stay with the kindest family, they opened up there home, fridge and pantry to a complete stranger with no apprehensions.  When that level of kindness surrounds you, its infectious, in the long term not just the short.

Pablo climbed mid-day Saturday, faced some of the hardest competition climbs he has ever been put in front of, and just missed making it to finals by one place.  Pablo placed 11th in semi-finals and they take top ten to finals.  Even without making it to the final day, this was incredible.  Pablo had never climbed competitively until this season and here he was making it through Regionals, Divisionals, and onto to Nationals, and not just that through the quarter finals onto semi finals.  This was Pablo's first competitive season and my first season ever coaching climbing.  It was an incredible run and an exhilarating introduction to my job of coaching.  

Perseverance.  Without that Pablo would not have gotten to the stage at Nationals.  I not only teach in my role as a coach, but I learn tremendous amounts from my team.  Its inspiring to see someone so young work so hard for something.  I think I had forgotten how much perseverance is required in life, to get through school, and be able to achieve any goal in life.  Perseverance is mandatory.  That isn't the only thing I was reminded of, I learn from my team every practice.  Just working with youth you are forced to learn how to communicate on so many levels.  You must be able to break something down to many different levels for it to be understood.  My role as a climbing coach is not the only thing that has taught me that skill, being a horse back riding instructor gave me the strongest foundation.  I can now make so many analogies to explain anything I need to, a skill I employ with adults as well as youth.  

After a much earned day of rest and fun we went to  Earth Treks Climbing Gym in Golden, CO on Sunday. 

This wasn't just fun because it's a jaw-dropping gym with its ~50ft lead walls and amazing boulder problems, but because it felt like home.  I started climbing September 2012, right after I moved back to Washington, D.C. the gym I climbed at back east was, you guessed it, Earth Treks.  Earth Treks has 3 gyms around the D.C. and Baltimore area, the owner Chris Warner, who has summited Everest and K2 actually lives in Colorado.  Which is why they opened a gym in Golden, CO November 2013. I climbed at Earth Treks in Rockville, Maryland.  Nearly every night after leaving work with the Senate I would take the metro out to Earth Treks.  I cultivated some of the best friendships I have ever had with folks I met at Earth Treks.  I was living in D.C. with a group of 30 fellow Lewis & Clark students during our domestic study program.  Although I lived and saw these people every single day I didn't connect with them at all.  I felt very out of place and lonely whilst being surround by them all the time, this was on the heels of going through one of the hardest times of my life so far, battling with depression and being extremely withdrawn from everything around me.  So I put my foot down and found a place I fit in and felt comfortable in, which was Earth Treks.  I cannot thank the Earth Treks climbing community for being there and helping me find my place and people I connected with, most importantly to my incredible friends Lauren and Gavin  who helped me keep my head above water.  DDT!  

Earth Treks is home and even though this wasn't Rockville, it was Earth Treks.  I even saw a few familiar faces, when they opened the Golden gym, some staff from back east moved to Colorado to help open the new gym and cultivate the same atmosphere the Maryland gyms have. 

If you've made it this far, wow. I did not realize how long this was going to be.  I've decided to split this trip long into two parts as to maintain some audience instead of boring you to death with one gigantic post.  Stay tuned of part II! 

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