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What I want has to come from myself

Open Space
Derek Franz
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Sometimes the answer to the question “What do I want?” is simple. Other times it’s not.

Sitting in the Brewpub with fellow PI columnist April E. Clark, watching her beloved Purdue lose to Duke, she knew she wanted a boilermaker to top off our four pints of IPA. I knew I didn’t, but she was buying, so I dutifully sucked the whiskey down.

Beyond that moment, however, we were at a loss for direction. What did we want in life? Security? Adventure? Both options are appealing but they tend to negate each other. So we sat idly in indecision, the great potential of the future withering with each second of hesitation. It’s in these moments I hear myself dying, like air squeaking slowly from a shrinking balloon.



Throughout my years I keep cycling back to such intersections. I know I’m blessed to have so many choices, but I’m too often paralyzed weighing the possibilities. I was almost killed for muddling in that kind of frustration on a random Wednesday nearly three years ago.

It was a beautiful snowy day off of work. I sat in my living room sipping coffee and staring out a foggy window. A hike would be good, but I wanted more action. I craved ice climbing, but all my partners were unavailable, so I circled back to considering what hikes I might enjoy. I really wanted to stab some ice, though. … So it went for hours, a sense of haste mounting in the waning light. All I had to do was pick something, anything, and it would be more worthwhile than drifting around in daydreams. Yet I sat there.



By 4 p.m. I decided to solo a 150-foot ice climb near Redstone called Avocado Gully. The route demanded some technical skills but I didn’t consider it to be hard. I’d been up it before and casually decided ” out of boredom ” that I’d be fine climbing alone and without a rope. In fact I was disappointed I wasn’t tackling a harder objective.

Snowflakes swirled out of the misty sky as I slipped into my crampons (spikes that fit onto mountain boots). Tall pines swayed overhead, as if leaning in to see what would happen as I began thwacking my metal points into vertical chandeliers of frozen water that formed a cascading, crystalline path up the red limestone wall.

Peace and stillness filled me until I forgot where I was in the moment. Near the top, past the crux, I was already thinking about other things. I was treating the climb as if it were already a memory when my left ice ax popped loose while I was in mid-swing with my right. I suddenly found myself twisting in the winter air until my feet crunched into slabby ice 10 feet below. I rolled head-first, pin balling down a rocky cleft in a blur of thuds and screeching metal. Momentum seemed to have me by the scruff of the neck as I strained to push my arms and legs against the opposing planes of rock.

“So this is what it’s like to die,” was the feeling just before my world came to a stop.

By bridging the cleft with my body, I arrested the tumble near the drop of no return.

The whirl of chaos died as quickly as it had started, and my first breath then is a memorable sound. My chest heaved in that precious gasp ” inhaling the little, white flakes still falling all around, collecting on my orange jacket in a crashing sea of pitter-patters ” and I wondered where I was for an instant. I wiggled my extremities, certain I was injured somewhere. Save for a blood blister under my left big toenail, I was fine.

That experience came about, I think, because it was a decision made in haste, to which my heart and mind were not fully committed. It seems to me now that I chose my destination more by default that day.

As I sit here in Glenwood, fidgeting, trying to pick a direction, I tell myself not to dwell on time already wasted nor think so far ahead that I’m busier dreaming than doing. I need to move along with committed intentions, my head balanced over each footstep, steering me through whatever terrain. That is how I will ” eventually ” find a route to whatever it is I truly want.

I want to make the most of my life. I don’t want to follow after habit because it’s easier than going after something new. That is why I canceled plans to go climbing Saturday in favor of carpooling to Denver with April and PI photog Kelley Cox for a grand party with old friends. I wanted to smile with people I rarely see these days ” and I’m still smiling because I did.

Change is coming: Derek’s column will now appear every other Monday as an effort to make life easier for his friends at the Post Independent. He can be reached at rockgripper8000@yahoo.com.


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