New Challenges

September 4th, 2004 1:16AM

Not quite a year ago, I threw a gauntlet down at my own feet. I challenged myself to make a change….to seize the fire and passion that drives me up mountains and down rivers and mold it, bend it towards the things that are truly important. Reading those thoughts surprises me now, for when I wrote them I hardly thought it possible. Yet now, I feel a change sweeping over me like the cold wind that blows in a summer storm.

I am still thoroughly taken by wilderness. Few things surpass the high that comes from pushing through the self-doubt and fear to reaching a difficult summit, creating an incredible meal by the single burner of a tiny campstove, then afterward sipping hot chocolate as the setting sun spills its brilliant paintbox all over the highest summits or the shimmering ocean, or bombing down a clean line through piles of furious whitewater, stopping here and there to surf and play, flitting between eddies like a hummingbird from blossom to blossom. But I am finally realizing that there is truly much more out there. Those sensations are incredible and will always be a part of who I am, but are not all there is in my life.

I have a college degree. I have a job that I can just about live on. I love my life, and I have the freedom to do as I please. Now though, my mind drifts to thoughts of family….my own family….and where I want my next twenty years to take me, instead of fixing firmly on how to finance the the next grand scheme.

The mountains are out there, waiting, the simplistic escape that I will sometimes flee to. For now I am content to let them wait. The rivers, they hold my attention as way now to spend good time with good friends…being close because our lives depend on it.

“Perhaps it is these bonds, formed of success and failure, that make mountaineering expeditions – like all ventures of men into the heart of nature – such a rich, emotional experience.”

Nothing has changed dramatically in my life. I still yearn for a good weekend at Seneca, and am easily talked into a quick trip down the Youghiogheny. The focus is changing though. Life is becoming more about my friends and family and future than my next big expedition. I refuse the oh-so-common mountaineer’s folly of swearing off expeditions forever….but I will say that I don’t need to go away for seven months again for a long, long, time.

So this weekend, I’ll opt out of a climbing trip and spend Labor Day making applesauce with my grandmother, building a shed with my dad, and trying to explain why on earth anyone would want to camp on a glacier to my grandparents. My friends will almost certainly convince me of the merits of an afternoon kayak later this week, and you had better believe that the next time a free day and trusted friend are available I will be once again high in the West Virginia hills…but maybe, just maybe, I am finally beginning to appreciate the importance of the other fine things in life as well.

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