Cause I need to be writing.

So I have finals and I’m stressed the hell out. So here is a story from my summer.

In early August of 2017 I was finishing a summer of working with the summer camp Avid4 Adventure and getting back to my usual grind behind the bar at Tahona Tequila Bistro. I was working about 65hr a week and doing very little for myself. In fact my self care was so poor it pretty much killed a relationship I was having. Having just taken 6 months off of work though I could not justify a slacking schedule. Having crushed through most of the summer I was close to my goal of dropping the summer camp job, dropping hours at Tahona, and getting back to school. I was beyond excited for school to start, it is my last year after all. The start to August was hot, but stunning. The fires that ravaged the West were yet to really cast a cloud of smoke south and east towards Boulder, and the front range was breathtaking.

I decided that I needed to get up into the mountains and get me some fresh air and stretch the ol’ legs! So I picked one of my favorite local spot, the Brainard Lake Recreation Area (BLRA). Being the ambitiously minded 26 year old that I was I woke up at 5:30am and drove up towards Ward, Colorado the small town just east of the entrance of BLRA. I gotta say I really enjoyed driving up the small pothole filled road in the early morning light following the twists and turns in my newly acquired subaru outback, (Thanks Rita) It’s always fun to drive a new car in the mountains.

Thinking I would just have a mellow day I decided to go hike to Blue Lake, a roughly 4mi hike on the western edge of the Brainard Lake area. Pulling into the parking lot that morning was fantastic! I was one of three cars in a lot that only a week before I hadn’t been able to find a space. Hardly anyone was out which meant I’d be having a blast. Grabbing my pack, and my poles, checking my water, and maybe even retying my laces I started up the dirt track next to the pit toilet.

Now if you’ve never been to the subalpine at 9-10,000ft above sea level you’re really missing out. The smell is probably my favorite part. If cold had a smell that would be what the subalpine would smell like. Not that it was all that cold this time of year at 6:15am, maybe just 45 degrees fahrenheit. I think it might just be the smell of freshly melting snow cascading through the soft topsoil on its way to join on of the many winding streams and into the Saint Vrain drainage. Combined with the soft piney smell of subalpine fir and spruce trees there is nothing else in the world that calms me down so much.

Crushing up the trail dirt and pine needles underfoot I was in very high spirits. The sky was just starting to lose the orange glow that screamed sunrise and was taking on a classic Colorado blue sky. The deep deep blue that I’ve only ever seen here in the summer. And it was only about halfway up the trail before I came upon the only folks I’d see that morning. The owners of the only other cars in the lot, a group of photographers wrapping up a sunrise shoot of the alpine cirque to the west of Blue Lake. Stopping to make small talk and make the required exclamations of not wanting to be anywhere else; two of the photographers asked me my plans for the day. The two fellas asking were older maybe 65 or 70 years old. When they found I only planned on heading to Blue Lake they suggested an alternate route. Above Blue Lake, maybe a 1/2 a mile there is Upper Blue Lake, and if you follow the draining up towards the base of the cirque, there should be a trail. That’s what they said, “should be” a trail. They mentioned it had been a few years since they’d been up to check it out, but that trail used to lead from Upper Blue Lake to the summit of Mount Audubon which is a 13,000ft peak that creates the northern crest of the cirque.

Having no real plans for the day and feeling very good I mentioned to the photographers that I might go check it out. With a quick smile and a nod I was off down the trail again quickly moving towards Blue Lake. The sun was moving higher in the sky as I crested the final little hill and the lake splayed out magnificently before me.

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Blue Lake, Aug 2017

Upon reaching the lake with the sun still far behind me in the east and with the boost of energy that came from crushing an energy bar I decided to keep pushing up to the upper lake. Moving quickly along the outside edge of the lake, soaking in the sun I headed towards a rock shelf in the rear of the glacial cirque where I assumed that Upper Blue Lake would be hidden out of sight. Within about an hour I’d reached the steepest part of the shelf and started to scramble up the rocks on my hands and feet. Quickly breaching the crown of the shelf I looked expectantly for the next lake and saw nothing. Having just traveled off trail for an hour I was a little peeved about the lack of a lake. But I still had my bearing. Mt. Audubon was an obvious and hulking¬† guide for me. deciding to head towards the peak and look for a trail I began moving even further away from the trail and Blue Lake.

30 minutes of walking on rocks while dodging the hopelessly sensitive patches of alpine vegetation, I quickly meandered my way northward towards the massive scree slopes of Audubon. It was just about now when I realized how much larger the cirque was than I had thought. The time it took to cross was only increased by my hoping and skipping across the granite to avoid the sensitive flora. However, its when I made a misstep and my foot went through what I thought was a solid soil surface and into the stream below that I realized that I was walking on loose rocks covered by barrenground willow. This plant grows near water at high altitudes. My attention was then taken again as a very small lake appeared right in front of me as if out of nowhere. I’d found Upper Blue Lake.

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Looking down on Upper Blue Lake. Blue Lake would be just out of frame in the center left of the frame. This view is from the south slope of Audubon.

Upon arriving at the upper lake I began to search for the trail that would lead me up to the summit of Audubon. It was getting later in the morning, right around 10am. The sky was starting to give up a few wispy clouds. Knowing the area is prone to afternoon showers and that the last place I wanted to be was below treeline on an exposed face when a storm rolled in I had a choice to make. Head up to the summit on a trail I was having a hard time finding. Or I could turn back and go down the same way I’d come up.

Common sense would dictate that I turn around and head back towards the car, but I was feeling particularly good this day and decided to push on. Giving up hope on a trail I began searching for a navigable way up the formidable boulder fields and cliff between me and the summit of Audubon. Finally just going forward I soon found myself at about 12,200ft, as according to the altimeter on my watch. The time was 11am and by this time clouds were actually starting to roll in. The dark gray in the west a familiar albeit a very unwelcome site for me at that point. With a few loose rocks tumbling down below me I made my summit bid. A quick 30 minute push up the final 800ft to the summit. But within about 15 min I’d made it to saddle I’d not been expecting. And here on this unexpected saddle I found a trail. A trail that dissipated into the rocky drop and boulder fields I’d just climbed out of.

Jogging along as best I could I pushed fast to summit. The air was obviously thinner and I had to slow my pace several times to catch my breath. The wind was picking up and making breathing even more difficult as it started pressing in on my mouth like a suffocating hand. Sun breaking through the cloud and wind whipping against my jacket strongly enough to support my body weight for a split second I rounded a bed to the last slight slope to the summit of Audubon.

So I’d found my way to the summit. Up a sketchy scree slope and even worse boulder field. Finishing the coffee in my thermos, which was still hot, I enjoyed another energy bar before turning for the trail that would lead me down the eastern slope of Audubon towards the Brainard Lake drainage.

I’d beat the storms. On my way down I passed about nine other folks on their way to the summit but when I was passing them the first drops of the afternoon storms were starting to pepper the brim of my hat. At this point I was booking it for treeline, not out of fear of a storm but more for the feeling of security that comes from being in a familiar place. The alpine is gorgeous. Above treeline the when the wildflowers are in full bloom, there are very few more beautiful places. But when the rocks start to match the color of the sky one begins to feel very exposed.

I made it down to my car before the rain really started, right around 1:15pm. The first clap of thunder reverberated loudly through the plastic panelings on my car door. My seat was reclined all the way back and I began to doze off to the sound of the pitter patter of rain on my windshield.

(I guess thanks for letting me share another story without much of a point. I guess it’s just fun to write sometimes. To go back to these memories helps to keep me calm while I’m dealing with the stress of finals. To put them out into there world, well I don’t really know how that’s gonna make me feel yet. I guess I’m finding out.)

Those moments before something happens.

Think back to the last time you had something stressful arise in your life. Paying a parking ticket? Breaking up with someone? What to cook for dinner? Not making enough money and the bills are stacking up? Life can sometimes feel like a series of stressful moments punctuated by brief moments of easy breathing. I know that is exactly how I’m feeling right now. I’m finishing the semester and I’ve never been this stressed. Today while working on a group project I had to take a few minutes for pushups and deep breathing while I was processing how hopelessly underprepared my group is. This project is due Thursday. Thursday will come whether we are ready or not. Life is like this, the build up to the critical threshold comes at an agonizingly slow pace and once it breaks it seems unbelievable that you were ever worried by “those mundane problems.”

These are my front country problems. But as I pointed out last night, it is the viewing of these moments as the adventure they are that will help lead to a more fulfilled life. Maybe, cause who actually knows.

The funny thing is in the backcountry when things go wrong it usually happens fast. There is not usually this slow buildup of stress that takes you to a breaking point. This slow dragging along of stress and burden seems to be something that is attributed just to the front country. Now in some ways it can exist in the backcountry as well. Let us say your diet consists of food that your find while foraging or hunting. If you struggle to find food this could be a source of stress that slowly builds. But it would also be constant and usually no breaking point, just meal here or there. But that would be your existence then. Subsistence living would probably take all the focus off other issues and require all of your attention on getting by. No longer a build up but a constant pressure for survival.

Now other issues that arise in the backcountry happen fast. Take for example an avalanche. One moment you and your friends are traversing a slope in the early morning sunlight. The wind is light and cold, the sun is filtered through a sky of light gray clouds.¬† Fresh snow covers the mountainside of an area you’ve skied before. Of an area that you know has the potential to slide. You’ve checked the snow. You’ve judged the layers, you’ve watched the weather reports for the last few days, know the freeze thaw cycles in the area, looked for other evidence of an unsteady base. You crest the top of the ridge and get ready to drop in. You test the drop, jumping turns for the first few yards. Trepidation dictating your every move. And just when you think it’s good and safe to drop; a slab right below the top of the ridgeline frees itself from the side of the mountain.

Any way that scene plays out the stressful moment is not in the future its in the moment. Its happening to you. There is no build up or elongation of stress. Just the pure and often unbridled fear and response that comes with disaster.

What the hell is the point of this post? Well to indicate that I’d way rather deal with an avalanche and the crazy moments in the wild places of the world the long slow build up of the academically induced stress I’m dealing with now. So adios for now as I’ve gotta go write a paper on the ability of the Boulder community to be resilient in times of disaster.

 

 

An ode to a good adventure story.

Well shit. That wasn’t what I expected at all. Like not even a little bit. It’s December 4th, 2017 and I’m just 20 day shy of finishing my last fall semester of college. The last time I wrote on this blog I was crushing through some bullshit obligation to posting on here and not actually enjoying the process of just writing. So I’m back up here to just do some writing and fill myself in on what has been happening in the ol’ world of James.

It’s funny how the preconceived notions we all hold of what something is usually ends up dictating our entire relationship with that thing. Take for example alcohol. We all know alcohol has negative health effects, it can make us unruly, rude, loud, funnier, better singers and all the other fantastic and terrible things it can actually do. (Think hangover) The knowledge of all the things that alcohol is capable of inspiring and dictating in us was known to others who came before us. They pass this knowledge down. In my case, I was raised mormon and let us just say alcohol doesn’t have the best reputation among mormons. They tout against any of its positive merits and instead only highly the negative. Now as a bartender you might think that I’ve reconciled any amount of misleading thought passed on to me by my mormon heritage, but they would be quite wrong. As many of my friends know I’m usually always in control when I’m drinking and very rarely if at all do I allow myself to fully indulge in the moment. This hesitation I experience comes as a direct result of the cautionary tales and the sometimes comically wrong lessons I received as I child. But these lesson have gone on to shape the person I am today.

I, we are a product of those who have come before. The stories they tell us help to shape our world view. We engage with the world through the lens of these lessons and ideas. Now that does not mean that we follow them strictly, but it shapes our responses. These lessons and learning moments are a condition that predicate a reaction from us, however that reaction can look 7 billion different ways. In a world of adventure there are several greats and it is these greats that we all strive to emulate in some fashion or another. I know I for one read the story of Chris McCandless and was awe struck at the bravy as well as the brash stupidity exemplified in that tale. I know that when I first heard of the man Che Guevara, not his political self, I heard of a young man who saw the world, lived among people who were diverse and exciting, who had hardships and experienced lows as well as many many highs. When we post epic instagrams or # our favorite hikes and views we quote John Muir. A man who walked countless miles in a land that inspired him, that drove him, and a land which gave his life purpose and meaning. And who could leave off the likes of Lynn Hill the first person to free climb the nose of El Cap? She spent months living the dirt bag life committed to living passionately for brief moments when she was able to do what she loved most.

These four and the countless others who came before are the ones who set our expectations for what adventure is. They challenge the idea of the impossible and in doing so they inspire us to do the same. And since we all have different definitions of adventure or a life worth living these influences shape the lens that allows those who follow to see the world in a slightly different way. By broken rules, records, bones, dreams, hopes, homes, careers… the list goes on.

So we all have different ideas of what adventure is, that’s really the only point I’m trying to make here, you can really just ignore the cliche bull^.

About 15 months ago, I was invited to go on a motorcycle trip to South America by my best friend. I had my reservations and a few incidents and all in all I couldn’t go. But what it came down to really for me, is there was a part, whatever part, of me that really didn’t want to go, otherwise I would have went. No questions asked. This is a little embarrassing to say because the idea of that trip is to me close to the epitome of adventure. To travel 1000’s of miles into new places, have new experiences, and meet new people! That sounds like the perfect adventure. But I didn’t go. Instead I hit a deer in my subaru and moved into a mini-van and drove around for a bit. By all definitions an adventure. By my expectations and reckoning an extended road trip. Granted all the pieces of adventure from the motorcycle trip were there. I drove 1000s of miles into new places and spaces, and I met tons of new people. Not to mention some crazy experiences, some better than others but nonetheless cray. And yet I feel unfulfilled on my adventure front.

Life is an adventure and I’ve been living life. I’ve been working and back in school these last several months. In fact I’m on track to graduate in August of 2018. Finally. Then what? Find a job, get comfortable? I honestly dread that idea. It seems so nice and so easy. But honestly I think what I’m really looking for is suffering. I don’t wanna be in pain I’m no masochist.¬† But I want to but some effort, some blood sweat and tears behind something. Now that could be a career sure. Or it could be a relationship, i agree. But remember how I said that our lives are shaped by the stories and lessons from those who came before? Yeah I’m coming back to that.

My idea of an adventure now would be to blend everything together. You might be thinking James, you idiot that’s what life is! It’s a blend of work, love, boring ups and downs, filled with moments of high paced action! And I agree. So I guess really what I’m saying is I’m changing my perception of what adventure. I’m removing it from the confines of what exist in the wild spaces of the world, with fresh air, far distant lands, new people, exiting languages and food. I’m changing it to mean whatever the hell I’m doing now. I seek adventure. And so my life is adventure. I’ve already found what I’m seeking.

But hey this ain’t no boring old bullshit self actualization message about how I’ve now found contentment. No, this is a dramatic reframing of my life. So the pages that follow here will show case this new frame. The new lens in which I look at the world. Adventure is to come.

 

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Blue Lake, July 2016