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Searching for a line in the sand

Open Space
Derek Franz
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

We sat on a rock, sun shining on our cheeks, as we gazed up the 400-foot sandstone wall.

As the crow flies, the car wasn’t far away. But we were going to have to climb out of the desert canyon in Colorado National Monument one way or the other. Our hands were already bloody from climbing a 300-foot spire, and now we were contemplating another climb to get back to the car. Truth be told, I didn’t want to go anywhere at that moment.

It was warm on the canyon floor, amid the dry, red dirt and silence. Deliciously out of reach from “reality.” Yet here I was, preparing to exert more energy and skin to get back to everything I was trying to escape in the first place.



Climbing out would be harder, but it would prolong the raw sensation of being alive in that place. The faster option was boring and required ascending a fixed rope we had left dangling from the top.

We ended up doing the latter. We decided we didn’t have enough gear to enjoy the endeavor on a recreational level. Had we done the climb, Jay and I likely would have been fine but utterly exhausted at the top.



Now I wonder, did we bail because we didn’t know enough or because we knew too much? Our decision, after all, was rationalized by Internet descriptions of the route. Instead of having a sense of adventure, we knew what awaited us and decided it would be too much work.

We are in the age of convenience, and the standard of convenience is rising faster than the birth rate. People like to be comfortable. In general, we will choose laziness when given the option, and it’s hard to blame us.

My question is, where does it end? Death? It seems like we’re trying to take all the life out of life while prolonging it at the same time.

Life is hard because it presents us with unknown threats and surprises. There are no guarantees, and a person has to stay on her toes to survive. But adventure – that’s life. And that’s what I used to think I lived for.

Now I know better. After years of climbing epics, I’ve learned it’s better (and safer) to just stay on the ground in the first place instead of straining my ability. That usually leaves ample time to enjoy beer while updating Facebook before bed. I’m not talking about reckless risk here, mind you. I’m talking about an aversion to trying hard.

What amount of effort is necessary for personal growth? I think the more gadgets we incorporate as a standard of living, the less capable we become – dependent on calculators to do all our addition.

Why go anywhere when we can see anything we want on the Internet without leaving the sofa? It’s like we already have access to anything we might want to “know” about our surroundings. There’s less inspiration to try, to see for ourselves.

As Jay and I hiked out of the canyon, he talked with his girlfriend on the phone, a device that is now considered a staple for backcountry survival kits (“just in case”). Those kits used to be very basic, geared toward self-reliance. Now you’re criticized if you don’t have a phone and/or GPS as well. The list keeps getting bigger. What happened to competence and faith in yourself?

At first it does seem responsible to utilize every technological advantage available when engaging in “dangerous” activities. The more we learn about the world, though, the more forbidden it becomes because it is dangerous. Consider that the game of tag has been banned at some schools because it involves contact and inertia, and kids bump their heads and fall down while playing.

You want to stay safe and live long? Experts say stay inside, wear a helmet while walking down stairs and you’ll live so long you’ll probably drink yourself to death before anything happens to you. Best not to drink, either.

If too much food and drink – and just about anything else – is bad for a person, what about gadgets?

It was nice to get home early from the casual day of climbing. The more I make the comfortable choice, however, the more I make the comfortable choice and the less I realize my potential, staying well inside my cushy box of routine with the world at my fingertips.

– “Open Space” appears on the second and fourth Friday of the month. Derek Franz writes for the Eagle Valley Enterprise and lives in Carbondale. He can be reached at dfranz@eaglevalleyenterprise.com.


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