Wash

Alas my trusty companion failed me at the most inopportune time. No, not that companion (I could hear the proverbial cheering in the background from the naysayers upon reading that sentence – sorry…check back in fifty years folks) – I mean my Olympus 420, the little SLR that could. I love this baby. She's petite, sleek and takes the most beautiful pictures. But after 15 months of hard use – trips through the Wind Rivers, into the hills of Caribou in blinding snowstorms, up Mount Whitney, across the wilds of Ireland and along the Coastal Range of central California…well, she's tired. Needs a cleaning, more than I can give her. Dropped her off at Mikes Camera and hope to have her back soon, but likely not soon enough, for the leaves are spectacular right now and the autumn colors, while waning, are still precious. I'm a bit of a camera snob. Truth be told, I hate how most little digital cameras wash out the entire sky. Maybe it's the journalist training that I've had, but I kind of feel like going in and manipulating this stuff is cheating. But I also dislike the stark white and unmoving sky. So I've been researching some cameras that might be better, but they cost money, and that's not something Elaine and I are dancing in. Maybe eventually, but not right now.

No matter. We went for a walk yesterday. Elaine and Stella and I rambled along the old train line, behind the ranch in a sea of late fall bliss. A place to go to make big decisions like the one facing us yesterday. This is not an entirely new area for me. I wrote about it in a post once, way before the typepad days, on offcamber.com back in 2000 called "Behind the Lines." As part of the idiocy of my attempt last year on September 19th, well, I also ended up deleting, permanently, all the old Off Camber posts. Literally archives of stuff – tons of passion and beauty – obliterated. I think…I didn't want a remnant of myself left. Wanted to erase it all. That was the mindset I was in. I wanted to wipe my slate off the face of the planet.

I regret deleting those posts now. There was much beauty in them, much inspiration. And truthfully, it was more than myself I wiped out. It was the colective energy of a clan.

This blog is more individual now. That clan is gone. In fact, I'd almost say more than gone. When I see the old pilots, the drill is always the same. The angry glance, yet never the guts to actually say anything to me, to ask my side of the story. Got it in Backcountry Pizza the other day from one of the crew while my wife and I were eating a pizza and doing a puzzle together. At Whole Foods earlier in the year. One time, on a ski last winter at the tunnel, I was getting ready to go for a long trek into the backcountry and noticed the Trek car parked next to me – pilots galore in that vehicle. Folks I suffered with in the woods, skied with, biked with for years – and not one of them got out of the car to say hello. The funny thing is, none of them has ever had the guts to ask me my perspective. The silence has been defening. Sometimes, in my darker moments, I think about blowing up the whole truth. After all I know better than anybody the indiscretions of the pilots and honestly a lot of these actions make my little episode seem, well, kind of trivial.  But no, that's not energy well placed, and negativity only begets negativity. So I will stay silent and let the veneer of perfection remain intact. Energy must be channeled to better places. Floyd I will be not.

I write for myself now. Well, not exactly myself. My new family too. It's my love, and now it's what matters. I've learned a lot about the character of people in the past 15 months, and I can't say I like everything I've learned. But then, I've also learned that there are people who are beyond genuine, who not only talk the talk but decide to take steps in it as well (and I will not name you either because you may not want that kind of recognition – you know who you are). For these lessons, I am beyond blessed.

A lot of the past got obliterated. Not the memories of course, but the archives. Time to make new archives, trusty camera by my side or not. The sun rises in 52 minutes. It's time to put on the bike clothes, pump up the tires, ride the bike and wash the world clean.

Perfect snafu

Had a meeting at 9 am today, so got up a half-hour earlier than normal for my ride, which left me smack dab on the top of Caribou just as the sun was rising. A giant orb of burning orange 3/4s up on the horizon, cutting through the 34 degree morning like a hot knife slicing through a giant roast. My breath steamed as I reached into the pack to pull out my camera, cold fingers in contrast to my hard breathing core, warmed by the 1,400 foot thirty minute climb. Hit the switch to the camera to turn it on, to shoot the photo of the month, the amazing, perfectly timed sunrise from 10,000 feet above sea level…when…nothing. Dead battery. Poor preparation grasshopper.

Sulked for a second, and then decided it didn't matter, that the image was ingrained in my brain forever, photographic proof or not. Called to Stella, dived onto a nearby jeep road and headed home, winding through glowing aspen groves and blood orange folliage. A perfect start to another day autumn paradise.

New tracks

A reflective addendum I've been thinking about. When a person goes through a hard time, and make no mistake about it – we all will – where everything is lost, it's hard not to think of the recovery process as "getting back to a good place." Sort of…using past benchmarks as a measure for where we want to be in the future.

Initially this was my goal. But I have learned that this is not practical. When a life crisis happens, it shocks the system to the point that those tracks we were on…well, you get jolted from them, permanently. And that's a good thing, because the tracks you were on were not taking you to a good place.

There are some things from my personal past that were good. Riding a bike for me…that was/is good. The woods, the high from completing a big climb, the views. Undenialbly positive. Writing, something I used to do a ton of, is good for me. It allows me to reflect, it allows me to put pride into something of mine that matters. A dog – taking care of something that relies on you but also forces you to go outside is very good. The dog puts things into balance.

Many things that make life good are new. Marriage for example. If you had told me two, five, ten years ago that I would EVER be married I would have called you a nut job. I didn't believe in it fundamentally, believed it was a compromise of self. Believed I was too free to ever want that. But then, it happened, where I got down on one freaking knee on a rainy morning in Gallway, Ireland and proposed. It felt right, it felt natural and it was a leap I wanted to take. And I have to say, it's been the greatest thing in my life. The depth of it is beyond what I could have imagined, the love, the fulfillment, the caring.

I think if you look at life, there are three major components (at least in modern western civilization). Professional, self and family. I was always really good at self fulfillment, decent at profesional, crappy at family. Honestly, when I viewed my road back to something, anything, I aimed for the professional side first. Figured I would have started a business by now, written the great novel, whatever. Yet interestingly enough, that's been the hardest area to make progress in during the past year. And I suppose that's to be expected. I got majorly derailed in that department, and it's going to take time to get back. 

Self fulfillment has been a little harder in coming too. Only recently have I gotten back to a place where I ride my bike like I used to. And honestly, there has been a lot of up and down on this road to a new place. But I'm seeing daily progress here. I suppose spirituality is part of this, and the events of the past year have left me a little jaded in this area. Perhaps it will come. I suspect, with time, it will. There are other things too that I want to dive into. I want to learn to paint, become an artist. I want to live in a place with a real kitchen so I can cook, everyday, well. I want to be a master craftsmen of something, and I (and a few people close to me) know what that is and the steps I'm taking to do it. But I won't mention that here because I don't want to jinx it. Self fulfillent is an area where some progress has been made, and more is on the way.

The area of the three I'm most happy with is family. Family being my wife, my parents, my sister and a handful of friends. We're closer now than ever. Obviously marriage adds a new level to a person's life, and it's not something I take trivially. Just the opposite really. But there is more than that. The events of the past year have taken a family that was in some ways quite distant – we're all spread on opposite ends of the continent – and made us closer. Enhanced communication, boosted the love. There is a scene in the movie "Legends of the Fall," at the very end, where the bad guys show up to kill the hero, and the family, which had been torn and tattered by a series of dramatic events, came together in defense. The old dad with the stroke knocking out the bad guys with the double barreled shot gun, the long estranged brother doing the same with a long range shot from the distance. Obviously this is dramatized – a wild west example – but I liked how FAMILY came together. That's kind of how this feels. Oddly enough, there is now a new challenge in this area, that being enhanced relations with the family of my wife. They don't like me, to put it mildly. And there is gasoline that stoked this fire and made it worse. No matter. Time is on our side, and time does heel wounds. We'll continue to put the good effort out, I will continue to love their daughter like no other and hopefully that component can also get to a place it needs to be.

One component where I want it to be, but also with a huge challenge ahead. One component progressing. One component still waiting to get off the ground. All things considered, not bad after 365 days. The goal is all three, but moving a big boulder takes time. The effort will yield the results.

A small thing that cracks me up. So last year in the shit storm I lost all my nordic ski tuning gear. My handcrafted wooden waxing form, lots of cools waxes, scrapers, irons, etc. Seems minor, but it was kind of big. Waxing for me was more than just making my skis fast. It was a place to go to dream bigger dreams, to escape. It was the process of adventure, if that makes any sense.

Well, when I lost that, I lost a lot. I don't think it's a coincidence that I did not nordic ski one time last year. And that's not good…that's a part of my past self that was absolutely positive. I never had a bad day nordic skiing, and it always made me happy. Well, cash is tight now, but I decided to rectify this situation. Take something back. I'm fortunate at work to get pro-deals on stuff, which makes it affordable. So I ordered some necessities. A Swix waxing table. Nordic vices, but also alpine vices, because Elaine and I are going to rip up the backcountry this year and this is something essential. A bunch of waxes, two scrapers, an iron and a file. Not an escape this time, but a place to prepare, to smile. It's odd how the prospect of waxing skis makes me so happy, but it does, and I suspect it's a lot deeper than just dripping wax onto p-tex.

Anniversary

One year ago today, in the woods very close to my home, I almost died. The two things that kept me alive were amazing parents who talked me through it and a pitiful fear that I would mess it up and end up crippled, paralyzed or brain dead, but not actually dead. I am not proud of it. I came out of the woods, off of a NOLS course that ended that very day, and I was overwhelmed by the real world. All I can say is when you are in a place where you have totally lost control of life…well, for a brief moment it made me feel powerful again. I had control. Needless to say, it's been on my mind, and when 5:35 pm rolled around today – the exact moment last year that I sent out that note, closed my computer, tidied up the caboose and walked into the woods – well, I couldn't help but reflect on life a little bit.

Today was much better. I woke up early to the sound of an elk buggling through the window. I rode my bike up to Caribou at sunrise with Stella in tow, down Hicks Gulch and RBV and came home. Spent the rest of the morning with my wife and then went to work. Talked about stuff I love – tools for being in the mountains – and hopefully made somebodies day a little bit better. Came home, watched a movie with Elaine and just enjoyed being. A good day. Professional fulfillment. Family fulfillment. Self fulfillment.

I was driving down to work the other day and had this feeling that I had not had in a long, long time. I used to have this thing where I would almost get scared at how good life was, how I felt like I led a charmed life, how I was like…"this is too good. I'm too happy. It's all going to go away."

It was strange. I had that feeling again. Having it a lot recently. It's been a long, long time since that has happened…longer than the past year…much longer. It's shocking and it's wonderful. Happiness, positivity, hope.

One year ago I almost died in the woods near my home, alone. And I have lost many friends because of what happened – and that hurts – but I'm not bitter. The people who matter have been siphoned down to the ones who really matter, and for that knowledge I feel blessed. One thing is for sure. I have the best fucking parents, sister and wife in the world. You don't need much else with that combo.

Alive. It's a good place to be. Happy, loved and with an inner peace…it's even better.

Start the day right

Back up to the ghost town this morning, but brought the camera along to show what it's like here in the Rockies in mid-September. A camera can do a lot, but it can't do some things. It can't describe the feeling of the cold air on the lungs on the first few pedal strokes up the hill. It can't describe the rustling of elk and the smell they leave behind, unseen but present in the woods below. And it can't describe the trickle of a steam that you swoop besides as your bicycle crunches over freshly fallen aspen leaves.

To experience that, you either have to have a vivid imagination, or simply do it yourself.

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