Watching as the adventure unfolds
“Scaling scoured rock brushes particulates from my mind / as wind / wisps fine grains of sand across the golden dome of granite.”I wrote that in my head on Friday while belaying a friend from a stance hundreds of feet up a rock formation in Yosemite National Park’s Tuolumne meadow. Anchored by slings and carabiners, it was just my breath and reflections lubricating that silent, breezy space between the opaque blue sky and the rolling sea of granite knobs, which were just big enough for us to tip-toe up the steep slab in a long, shimmering, snaking path.We finished our climb and sat down in the green mountain meadow to watch the sun set. As the last rays shot between the dreamy teeth of Sierra Nevada all around us, my other friends began to trickle in, carrying smiles and cases of ale. They had completed their objectives for the day and we were together again, for one last unexpected party.They were some of my best college buddies who had met up with me in Yosemite Valley. We had parted ways in the darkness the previous night, tired, exhausted and heavy with emotions strained from a plethora of group dynamics and traveling. It was tough to say goodbye under those circumstances, not knowing when I’d see them again, yet things happened to reunite us once more on a grassy, alpine blanket of thanks-giving.It’s strange living out of my car and tent, I can’t lie. The challenges I face range second to second. In one case I’m clinging to small, friable edges, my back 20 feet over blocky ground with no rope to catch me. The next I’m trying to find a location with public Internet to e-mail a column in time for deadline, which isn’t even finished yet because a rainstorm slid down the rugged peaks and forced me into the passenger seat of my car for the morning. Now my computer battery is running out. A rhythmic “ding” reminds me the car key is in the ignition with the driver’s side door open. The mountain breeze flows through the Buttermilk boulders and over my chapped lips, reminding me this moment is real. Ahh, and the whirr of the battery adapter reminds me there’s still power to make deadline.Power. My power, to take me where I want to go. The key to harnessing a vessel to such an engine only requires the right eyes to see whatever path is the solution to cross whatever sea.Sometimes the path is a bunch of crystalline knobs, but it is always whatever is at my fingertips, which is followed like Braille and is often in the form of random strangers.I was a different, younger person when I first rolled into Bishop, Calif., a week ago and gazed up at giant, pea-shaped boulders legendary to climbers from all over the planet – the Peabodies.The rocks didn’t seem real. I’d read about them and seen pictures, but I’d never imagined what they might feel like on my own skin. Even as I sat on top one of the largest – “Grandma Peabody” – it was only beginning to sink in that I’d hucked myself onto the back of a big-ass adventure.That was after two days of exploring slot canyons in the San Rafael Swell with my dad and stepmom. And before two grungy guys with brown dreadlocks and white smiles pulled up next to my lunch table at the dusty trailhead in a shiny white SUV. Their eyes glowed with mad excitement, and a sense of eagerness perverted the air. They stared at me for a long moment, as if about to ask a question.They were either climbers or goons about to pull a gun on me. I assumed the first and opened my mouth to say hi. That was when I made two very good friends from Spain and got a little bit more of the taste I was in for.I met up with my college buddies in Yosemite Valley the next day. Will, John and Reid, and Will’s ex-girlfriend-but-still-a-girlfriend girlfriend, Julia, had already been there a week. They were frazzled and exhausted and I was fresh and psyched, making it tough to even get my own friends to climb with me (though they did).As they prepared to drive home, I still hadn’t found a climbing partner that could do the harder routes I’d basically quit my job to do, much less a person to climb with once my friends left. I wondered what the heck I was going to do next, with no clear destination in sight, not even a job to get back to by a certain day.Reid and John did one last climb with me on Saturday, when I met a Norwegian and three Australians at the cliff, who invited me to come by their camp later. After hugging John and Reid goodbye once more amid the exhaust of our idling Subarus, I discovered they’d left the beer from the meadow party in my cooler – five cans, to be exact – and it became obvious where I needed to go. So I pulled into the Australians’ camp (with a loud thud as my rear bumper tagged a rock) and made friends with Toby, Gareth, Richard and Ben.Turns out Gareth is friends with some of America’s top climbers, who he is meeting in the Valley as I write this … and apparently I’m welcome to climb with them. That is, after I write this column and send it in (hope it’s not too late, but I don’t know yet because I’m still sitting in my car, parked on a gravel road in the boonies and my cell phone battery is dead).Even this second I’m learning more about who I am deep inside, far under my dirty clothes, hair and skin, where it all comes down to the wire and plugs into a mysterious mechanism that somehow directs what my limited power will be used for.In this case, it’s meeting deadline in circumstances I’ve never fully imagined. There are too many “particulates” being brushed from my brain to collect and examine them all. The best I can do for this column is to catch a small handful of grains from where I stand and send them to you in an envelope of words, to be opened somewhere along the sandy shores of your mind’s mountain lake if you’ve read this far.And here’s a drop of water to go with the granite, because rain wipes wet rocks clean; I sit and watch, and marvel at each new thing seen.Derek Franz is currently living the dream, albeit a very nitty gritty one. In case someone needs to pinch him and wake him up, he can be reached at email@example.com.
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Sticks in the mud. Overly cautious. Obstacles to progress.