I’m relieved finally to be going. It’s time. The preparations that intrigued and amused me for much of the last two months have become tiresome. The tipping point is here: enough with the preparation, I want to be doing. I am ready to get on the road, and even readier to get my hands on Red Rock sandstone.
I’m excited at the prospect of an adventure the likes of which I haven’t had in many years. Driving cross country is something I thought I had left behind in 1973 when I started law school. It’s tied up in my mind with all the epic travels of American history, from Lewis and Clark finding their way to the Pacific Northwest and the wagon trains of settlers crossing the plains, to the Okies packing their jalopies to head west out of the dust bowl to the “Garden of Eden” they thought they would find in California and life “On the Road” as chronicled by Jack Kerouac. I won’t be hitching (unless, of course, Ezzy breaks down), or walking or driving a wagon. But I still feel some connection with all the continent-crossers who’ve gone before.
And the climbing! I’m planning to spend a little over two weeks climbing those beautiful, long trad routes I’ve been reading about all winter: Johnny Vegas, Birdland, Solar Slab, and more. Some are over 1000 feet long. I haven’t spent as much time climbing continuously or climbed routes as long or exciting since 1972, my last summer in Yosemite. As recently as two years ago I could not have imagined making this trip. Now it’s about to happen.
As the moment to begin arrives, however, so do doubts. Some are trivial or silly. Will I be able to sleep in the bed I built into Ezzy? Can I find campgrounds? Others seem more serious. Can I really climb those routes I’ve been studying? Will I get along with my climbing partners? Can I stay awake to drive 6-700 miles a day? None of these doubts is rational: I have good reason to believe I can do all of the things I’m planning. Nothing I am going to do on this trip is as implausible as it was for me to take my race car out on the track for the first time or to go to the Gunks with daughter Karen to lead a climb for the first time in 35 years. I was right to doubt my ability to do those things. But everything I am expecting to do on this trip is a reasonable extension of what I have been doing for the last 18 months.
Having a solid basis for confidence reassures me at a rational, decision-making level. But at a deeper, more primitive place in my psyche, it doesn’t seem to matter. That child-like part persists, despite all contrary evidence, in claiming that I will fail. It tends to emerge shortly before any stressful activity: taking a final exam, trying a case in court, lecturing before a large audience, taking a climbing trip. Last night it reared up in the form of a dream in which I was back practicing law, trying but failing to get things ready for a big case.
Does everyone have such a doubting place? Maybe. Mountaineer Joe Simpson, author of Touching the Void and The Beckoning Silence, describes his as a hooded crow that perches on his shoulder at night whispering doubts. But, it’s hard to imagine William the Bastard lying sleepless, tormented by self doubt, the night before he crossed the Channel to conquer England in 1066, or Napoleon having a crisis of confidence before he launched the invasion of Russia (although, as it turned out, he had reason to fear the outcome).
In any event, I’ve learned from years of experience that the antidote for my doubts is action. Once engaged in the task, whatever it is, I focus on the reality of what I am doing and my ability to do it. The irrational doubts recede. I’ll be OK once I get on the road and even better once I get my hands and feet on sandstone.
Yesterday, as I was sitting in my favorite chair re-reading an article in Alpinist magazine about the climbing history of Cannon Cliff in New Hampshire, another emotion hit me: loneliness. I’ll miss that comfy seat, the view into the trees out my back windows and my little orange cat, MARRS. But most of all, I will miss my wife Lois terribly. The month I will be gone on this trip will be the longest period we have been apart in 32 years of marriage. She is everything. I must see her, talk to her and to touch her. No experience is real until I tell her about it. My day isn’t complete until I’ve heard about hers. There is so much that I share only with her; so many parts of me that only she knows, that only she can understand. I have a cell phone and will call her as often as possible. But it won’t be the same as being with her.
I am planning to post occasional reports on my trip to this blog. So, my computer connections willing, there may be updates here if you care to check back.
Photographs (from the top): Ezzy in forn of our house; Ezzy almost all loaded to go; My home ofr a month; MARRS; Lois.