Years roll on by while we sleep at the wheel |

Years roll on by while we sleep at the wheel

Open Space
Derek Franz
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

The nights are getting colder, that’s how I know fall isn’t far away. I’ve got to open my window wide when I go to bed because my room is too hot but by morning the shivers catch any skin that’s not under a blanket. Not long after I shed the sheets for real clothes I’m getting in the car to go to work.

On crisp mornings like that – when summer warmth still wins over the day but not for much longer – I think of the fall months I’ve spent on the road, living out of the same car. My Subaru has more wear and tear than it did then, most of it from parking lots rather than off-road adventures. I sometimes wonder on these mornings if those days of chasing dreams just barely seen on the horizon through a cracked windshield are behind me for good. It’s hard to imagine they are, but then life often passes in such a way. For instance, I’m 27 now but soon I’ll be 30. “If you don’t do it by the time you’re 30, you never will,” a respected friend said to me last week. The 74-year-old lady was referring to the amount of energy I put into rock climbing compared to my career as a writer. The comment gave me goose bumps.

I don’t believe it’s ever too late to make changes, but the more they are put off, the less likely they’ll occur. For me, I’ve come to realize that climbing is very much a drug. It’s easier to grasp, its benefits more immediate than other work that isn’t guaranteed to pay off. When I’m on the rock, I can forget I’m one year older and when I succeed on those physical goals it reaffirms my youthfulness as well. No wonder there are middle-age ski bums still working part-time jobs, living out of vans or with roommates and failing at relationships. Just like the Talking Heads sing, “Heaven is where nothing ever happens.”

When I look at my car, bemoaning the rat race, I remember what it looked like parked near the Buttermilk Boulders outside Bishop, Calif., at sunrise. I think of past climbing adventures and ache to re-enact them. However, to re-enact is to live in the past. And to live in the past is to look in the rear-view mirror instead of the highway ahead, with all its strange, dirt intersections leading off to places that can’t be imagined because they have yet to be seen. In short, I believe a person can live the dream if he could just wake up. Since I was 12, I knew I was going to be a pro snowboarder, a pro kayaker, definitely a renowned rock climber and then I was going to write fantastic books about those exploits. I’ve become highly skilled at all those things but none have happened so far. I’m also the kind of person who tends to eat my dinner one dish at a time: I eat the meat first, then the peas, then applesauce. Having “failed” at the first two dreams, I’m being a little more stubborn about the climbing. Perhaps I feel like I have to succeed at square one before moving on to the next life experience.

The facts are, though, that I will always enjoy climbing, and one part of my life does not equal the sum. My elderly friend was reminding me to put energy into another goal before I pour it all into one that is fleeting.

A finger injury is what precipitated these self-observations. All of a sudden I couldn’t climb after I’d been climbing my best. I went through a detox period, for it seemed I had nothing else to look forward to. Then I remembered how hard I worked to get to the job I have as a news reporter. I’m paid to write, which is one step closer to my goal than raking gravel on a landscape crew like I was last year, though I was climbing every day. Then I recall how I got this job just as the last of my pennies were running out last winter. A lot can happen in one year, or even a day.

The chilly morning still makes it hard to leave bed. The cold works against my purpose like doubt in my mind. For a moment, it’s more comfortable to stay where I am. Would that be satisfying by the end of the day? Probably not. The first step is to get dressed and stop day dreaming.

We have to find ourselves where we are and move on from there, that’s the key to the car. Then there’s only one gear: Forward.

Derek Franz can be reached at

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