SCRAMBLES & SUMMITS
Many times I’ve lied – Many times I’ve listened.
Many times I’ve wondered how much there is to know.
The weight of the world?
How much pressure can a spine take? How much can that chain of bones look like a vaulting pole until there’s so much strain that heads come off their shoulders when the spine snaps itself back into place?
Maybe some of us just topple over and die, nothing more than the clutter of bones falling from a dry-rotten sack.
What we carry on our shoulders determines our pace in this life.
Kamani and I did Bull of the Woods Mountain the other day. Like most of the hikes worth pursuing in Taos, it’s steep. (I saw a bumper sticker recently that read: Taos; a four-letter word for steep, which reminded me of Ithaca is Gorges and The Velvet Ditch.) There was an almost constant push of wind as we moved uphill, and I knew it was only going to get stronger and colder once we broke the tree line.
It was 30 degrees when we started, and a little more than a mile into the hike, Kamani and I drifted off to the side to let the two guys and their four dogs pass. I don’t like people walking on my heels, and the unleashed dogs coming up the trail made walking with Kamani tethered to my waist awkward. They’d been following us from the trailhead, dressed in shorts and flat-brimmed baseball caps. One of them was shirtless and wearing those creepy fucking toe-shoes.
“Hey, man,” one of them said as he passed, his long hair hanging out of his hat. “Think we can make it up Wheeler?”
“Do you have crampons?”
“We ain’t got nothing.”
“Oh, yeah. You’ll be all set.”
I said it matter-of-factly, without the hint of sarcasm. And he looked at me like I was an asshole, like he wanted some affirmation or a reaction that I was impressed that he ‘ain’t got nothing.’ In fact, he stood there with his friend for more than a few minutes, waiting for me to say more, it seemed.
Did he want me to be impressed that he had nothing?
Should I have been awed by the shirtless guy with toe-shoes?
Was it stupid of me to wonder if they would make it over the snow-covered, rocky terrain at the Wheeler Peak summit?
I continued to face them, but I shut my eyes behind my sunglasses until I heard them start to walk away. Sometimes, I am an asshole. And this post may certainly prove that.
I thought about the weight of my pack after they’d left, how nice it would be to have a much lighter load. To only carry what I ‘needed.’
I never feel like I’m hiking unless I have a pack but I don’t carry anything overly ambitious. Usually, the weight is between 30 and 50 pounds. I try not to carry too much, but I know I’m always carrying enough to survive.
Pride has a little to do with it as well. The added struggle makes me feel more like I’ve earned the summit. The security of knowing that if my time with the mountain is longer than I expect for some reason, I can make it through the night with what I have on my shoulders.
I also try not to carry too much of the past around with me, which I’m able to do because the past is something I’m often evaluating and reducing the weight of while I’m hiking. Sometimes, the burdens of the past, that added weight on my life, is something I have to carry to know that I could make it through the night, and find my way out the next day.
Some people carry nothing or what could easily fit into a small purse (not a satchel or handbag). If you’ve got nothing on your back, then your speedy achievement of getting up the hill faster than the guy or gal who did, is probably something that you should quietly celebrate. You’re not awesome. You’re just the asshole who’s going to need something that other person has in their pack when you eat shit on the mountain.
And if you don’t, you got lucky.
At some point, everybody eats shit on the mountain.
And I know that some of you who are reading this are thinking, or even saying aloud:
I only carry what I need.
For those of you who are saying or thinking that, you’re missing the point. And if you’re missing the point then you don’t understand that ‘need’ carries a different meaning on the mountain. You NEVER know what you’re going to need, so when you say you only carry what you NEED, you really mean you only carry what you WANT.*
The wind kept pushing, more and more as Kamani and I made our way past the tree line to the Red River Canyon overlook. I put my shoulder into the cold and followed Kamani to the Bull of the Woods summit.
And that reminded me of all the other things people carry–those artificial burdens that demand the sympathy of others, like self-pity. Even more, I was reminded that there’s something else people carry on their shoulders all too often. It’s the one thing that people choose to carry that they ALWAYS expect someone else to take off their shoulders.
If there was ever a poutier, cunty way to express dissatisfaction, I’m not aware of one. A cold shoulder is just a pissy way for you to make someone else figure out what your problem is because you’re entitled and too emotionally fucking vapid to figure it out on your own, to accept the fact that you’re blaming someone else for not getting what you think you deserve.
You’re trying to make someone else carry your bullshit because you can’t, and you’re too weak to admit it.
My hike into the wind made me think of all the time I’d ever spent wondering what I’d done or why someone was giving me the cold shoulder.
I sat in the wind for a while at the summit, thinking about the moments I’d rushed to respond or obligated my time to someone else over matters that weren’t time sensitive simply because I was afraid that they might get upset.
Now, I’ll lean a little deeper into the wind, just to duck a cold shoulder.
Cold condenses, and if you want to leave it on your shoulders until it tightens around your goddamn throat, well…
For the rest of the hike, I made myself slow down. I noticed that Kamani had more fun at that pace. She ran laps, yanked on trees to show off or, whatever.
When she ran too far ahead, I’d whistle her back and tell her:
“You don’t have the keys, you silly bitch. How are you going to get into the car?”
Thank you for taking the time to read:
SCRAMBLES & SUMMITS Episode #3
Please like, share and follow my adventures with Kamani on Twitter @ProfessorOpiate or Instagram @joericker.
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*For you wispy, sensitive types who call yourselves survivalists, this doesn’t apply to you.