The storm brings a cold front that sweeps down the mountain into the campground. I'm woken up by the chill and as much as I try, I cannot get warm. I'm kept awake by the winter chill and my inner critic's banter. "Should've upgraded your sleeping bag. Why the hell did you drive 8 hours to the middle of a desert? There are closer crags to climb near your place. You could have saved yourself all the hardship. This is foolish, and now you're freezing and all alone. Balls in your court amigo...what's your move?"
This was supposed to be a group trip. Two friends and I had planned to head down to Bishop California for a climbing trip. All things were good to go....then I get a text message, "Hey...so Sue broke her leg....we gotta back out. Sorry man." My heart aches for my friend Sue, she had been looking forward to this trip so much. I send my get well regards. I reach out to another who shows interest but then backs out days before. I shake off the misfortune the way one shakes off the snow in their stride, ponder my thoughts, eventually arriving to the idea of a solo trip.
I had been inspired by my friend Sandra, who shared stories of solo adventures. They brought her to life, brought joy, learning, and personal growth. Maybe it could do the same for me. I decide to go for it and make plans to head to Oregon. I get all my gear, food and supplies. I am excited to say the least. I check the forecast and it shows good weather. I tell my family and friends, they too are excited and happy for me.
I wake up on the morning of my trip like it's Christmas morning. I gather my things and am about to begin the drive but get a strange feeling and an itch to check the weather one more time. The sunny symbols that hovered over the dates have now turned to rain clouds. Everything comes to a hault....but not to a panic. I take a deep breath and exhale the sadness and begin creating a counter plan. "Tahoe? Nah. Joshua Tree? Nope. How about Bishop? Hell yes!" I scope out and find a handful of walk up campsites, then hop in the car. My excitement lingers through the city as I make my way over the Bay Bridge. "Just 6 hours and we are in Bishop baby!" I rejoice. But then I get a strange feeling and an itch to check the roads. Tioga pass is closed and my next best option is to go through Sonora pass. Another 2 hours of travel isn't so bad if I weren't already running behind.
By the time I get into Bishop, it'll be past 7pm and the chances of finding a campsite become slimmer. I get word of a storm and know that means a cold front will be sweeping down into the valley, dropping the temps to almost freezing. I scratch climbing from the itinerary, what matters now is finding a site and setting up camp before it gets too cold. I strike gold, finding vacancy at my first option at Forks Campground. I set up camp and make myself dinner and a hot cup of tea. I turn off my head lamp and have dinner gazing up at the stars. I spot shooting stars sipping my tea and watch stars shimmer in varying brightness as though they were putting on a light show. I am enamored by the cosmos, the natural world and solace is romancing me and restoring me in ways that the modern world could never. I am here, fully present, taking all of this as a gift, feeling it resonate in my soul. I head to bed that night with a heart full of contentment....and awake in early hours of tomorrow later to a painful, blistering cold.
The cold front sweeps through my sleeping bag as though it were a fishing net. Even layered up, I cannot shake the cold off. My feet are aching, nearing numb. My thoughts join in concert with the cold. and sting me with the obvious plight. It's an insult to injury...with frostbite. "Here comes the storm again," I whisper. "Buck up Cowboy, it's time for the rodeo." And just as before, the torrent of negative thoughts and emotions came, but I was not swept away. I learned from previous ones. I was ready to counter. I allowed myself to feel everything, the years and sediments of my life emerging all at once. In time, the internal storm died down simply by letting it run its course. Now it was time to problem solve. I first needed to get warm so I could think straight and clear. I bolted to my car and cranked the heat as I brainstormed a solution.
The negative thoughts, emotions and criticisms continued. I acknowledged them but I didn't hold onto them, they were no good to me. I accepted I could have done better, then I began to create a plan to make things better. My tent and sleeping bag wouldn't do, but I realized that my car could be a heated cocoon and a saving grace. I headed back to camp with the heat cranked. I leave the car in park with the engine running, grab my sleeping bag and head back into my car. "This is it kid" I whisper. "Let's make this work." I let the car run with the heat for a few minutes more, feel myself sinking into a slumber. I wrap up in my old army surlpus sleeping bag, turn the car off and pass out like a Jehovas witness.
It's nowhere near the best quality of sleep, but I've made it through the worst to a sun rise shining down into the canyon. All storms have died down. I rise out of my makeshift haven with a smile. Once again, nature greets me with endearment, wowing me with the expanse of the deep blue sky, the grandeur of the mountains, flirting with me like a teenage crush as I make breakfast.
I head to the Butttermilk Boulders and have the time of my life. I climb in a state of joy as I canvas the area for climbs. I come across fellow climbers and make instant and organic connections with them and join them, working to solve the beta for climbing problems. I end the day with pair of climbers, sharing stories of our lives and celebrating one of their birthdays over a hot cup of tea and fajitas.
I come back to my camp with a new sleeping bag and a renewed spirit. I immediately feel the warmth and protection as I slip into the bag and zip up, the cold and my thoughts, no longer penetrating and piercing. As I feel sleep slipping over my eyes, I reflect on all that's happened. I've grown from this experience so much in body, mind, and soul, finding further redemption of my heart. I started this out this trip solo, but am going home with a deep connection to those I've shared life moments here, and a realization that I am not alone in this journey called life. Sometimes pain can hurt us so much that we feel desolated on an island, far away from anyone's warmth and reach. But if we breathe life into hope and weather out our storms, the dark clouds disappear, and we see that just like the blue sky, people are always there for us. Perception makes such difference. The more we heal, the better we can see.
I was caught in a torrent. I trembled as the thunder roared, followed by a crackling that foreshadowed a flash of lightning. The wind blew in hurling gusts, shaking me like a frail sapling. Terror pulsed through my veins, I felt it in every part, every fiber of my being. I was 25 feet in the air, my footing was slipping, palms were sweaty, clinging to anything I could to keep from falling. This was the tipping point. This was the breaking point. This was binary, one or a zero. There were only two possible outcomes in this existential scenario.... break through or break down.
The storm I was caught in was a very unique kind. It caused massive pain and damage. It tore through foundations, leaving shambles of what were once cornerstones and pillars but left no physical trace. The reason why it left no trace.... was because it was raging inside my head.
Adversity shows us who we are and what were made of. If we truly want an honest answer, there is no better way to get one than putting yourself up against the wall, upstream without a paddle, or 25 feet on top of a massive boulder with no safety gear nor a safe landing, the only way out, is to climb to the top.
The news hit hard through a phone call, "I will always love you....but I need you to let me go." I couldn't believe what I was hearing, kept playing back her words in my head to be sure it wasn't happening. I asked her to repeat because I couldn't believe it was happening...an 8 year relationship that I thought had a promising future was coming to an abrupt end. There were circumstances we found ourselves in that led to this. She had been waiting for her green card application and couldn't find a job that would sponsor her for a work visa. Her return to the U.S. was unknown. She had to think about making a life in a foreign place, and holding onto a relationship anemically by texts, calls and video chats was only overwhelming her all the more.
In hindsight, clarity is at its brightest. You suddenly see the obvious signs and clues that appeared to be arbitrary. The gradual weakening of her embrace. Her increasing desire for more solitude. The way she pressed her lips against mine with a declining emphasis. The way she held her gaze with less strength and less sparkle in her eyes...
She would hold my hand as we would take walks or a long drive, her grip loosened, no longer clutching, and say things like, "I don't know what is going to happen but I do know I want you in my life as a friend." I thought it was just the worry in her talking and I would reassure her, "we've gone through these challenges before honey and made it through. We are going to make it. We will."
But my words weren't reassuring her and neither were my actions. I felt lost, I felt troubled by my own demons and didn't know how to break out of the dark spell I found casted over me. The man I once was, the one she fell in love with, had ebbed away into a shell. My answer to my troubles was to run and I had made a good habit out of it. I became a marathoner and achieved lofty goals such as qualifying for the Boston and New York City Marathon. I continued setting goals and striving towards them. It brought me to life, but the ambition also blinded me from the neglect of her and our relationship. I lost the ability to relate to her, to be present in our moments, to be that shoulder to lean on, to face life's challenges together. In hindsight, it was right. The best thing I could do was bow out. It was at this moment I understood love in another form...the letting go kind.
I braced for the pain, for the heartache and loss but it didn't come. What came was a pronounced silenced that illuminated absence. It felt indifferent, neutral, lukewarm. What was I to do with this all? I answered with running but found there was a yearning for more - that's when I found climbing.
I felt invigorated, setting a new running goal in addition to developing myself as a climber. It was simple. Train hard for running, cool down, then gear up for climbing. I got faster. I climbed stronger. Everything was going well, which is the perfect time for things to go wrong.
Weeks away from the half marathon I was training for, I found myself in a training run feeling sluggish, anxious and overwhelmed. I chalked it up as a bad day and ended the training early, thinking a few days of rest would solve it. But the bad days kept happening, getting worse and worse, to the point where my body couldn't run even a single mile.
The doctors couldn't find anything wrong which was good and bad. Good in the sense that I had not developed a serious condition, bad in the sense that I had no clue how to resolve whatever the hell was happening to me. This was what I was bracing for, only I didn't account for the delay. As much as I tried to outrun it, to distract myself, it eventually caught up as it always does. I couldn't run it out as I always had nor could I climb high enough to escape. I was broken, body, mind, and soul. I had felt the power of love from someone, felt the way it comforted, healed, inspired, and moved me. Now, I felt the immense pain of its absence. A pain that struck hard with its first blow with residual shock waves that sustained the pain, making it near impossible to tell when it would finally end. Space is never empty, it always contains meaning, but that meaning was now gone, and the only thing left was space that was filled with an echo shook my bones with an endless whisper of, "alone.....alone.....I'm alone......"
I was stubborn at first, trying to fight off the feelings and the pain that came with them. Eventually I realized that surrendering was the first step to recovery - so I allowed myself to feel anxious, sad, angry, going through the gambit of emotions, eventually finding a mental clearing, and a theory....if the source of the problem couldn't be found in my body, could it be found in my mind?
Problems introduce you to yourself. They show you how you think and what you're made of. You can't solve your problems with the same mindset you created them with. You can only solve them when you change your mind, and that requires time and effort.
I spent each morning meditating, going to deep into my mind, exposing myself to the hostile world I had created within. It was hard. It was painful, but nothing good comes without some kind of fight, and a price you pay. Pain is inevitable. I might as well make it count for something.
Everything came at once, like a flood. There wasn't a chronological order to the memories and the wounds. Being still allowed me to see them clearly; unresolved hurt from betrayal, from betraying, my ongoing struggle for self acceptance, failed relationships, failing to come through for people, failed attempts at life, loss of friends - all of it materializing into an internal storm that gripped me...or was I the one with the vice grip?
The more I meditated, the more the answer became clear, it was me, holding onto hurts. Me, trying to wrestle them into submission. Me identifying with them. I was right. I had found the source of the storm, the origin of my pain, rooted in my mind. Now, the healing could begin.
It felt awkward breaking out of the negative thought pattern. There was a certain comfort I felt holding onto my problems and a pain with dealing with them. But the pain had purpose, a good one albeit, and so I chose each day to face my problems, to endure, and make a better mind and a better life for me.
With time and effort, the storm began to die, the pain began to subside, and I could feel my soul once more. I began to connect with people in a positive manner, I began to connect with myself in a positive manner. This was the beginning of my ascension. I was curious how high a good mind could take me, and found the perfect chance to find out in Bishop, California. Friends and I took a trip down to Bishop for a climbing trip. It was my first time, and I would never forget it.
It was like being a kid at a candy store, everywhere I looked I saw boulders to climb. It would take months to cover just one area, and there was plenty of places to explore. We were making our way to the back end of the "Happies" bouldering area when I came across a bouldering problem that stopped me in my tracks.
It was large, tall, majestic to say the least, and it was calling out to me. "What's the name of this route?" I asked my friend Ken. "Ah that one is called Heavenly Path, the best damn V1 High Ball in So Cal. 25 feet of beauty. You'd like this one. Here, let me show you the beta." And just like that, Ken walked up and climbed it effortlessly as though it were a small hill.
I watch another friend climb the route. He gets halfway up... and suddenly feels the intensity of the height and exposure. " Fuck this!" He says as he downclimbs to safety. This doesn't frighten me, it only makes me all the more curious.
The group moves on to another climbing problem and sets their pads down and begin to work on it. I am standing still, gazing at Heavenly Path, imagining myself on the route, feeling its power and grandeur. Heavenly Path is no longer just a climbing problem. It has evolved into a right of passage, a defining moment with the ending left for me to write.
Thinking at this point only amplifies the nerves, and so I set aside thoughts and dab my hands in my chalk bag until my hands are white as snow. I make no announcement to my friends nor set a crash pad down. I walk quietly to the base of the route and begin to climb.
There is a stillness within the first set of moves, a flow with such ease, nearly effortless. It's no longer a climb, it is simply being. As I reach the crux move, I sense a dramatic shift within. "This is it kid," I whisper to myself. "There is no middle ground. You either break through or break down." Everything came at once like a flood, just as before, a deluge that powerfully flowed with fear, anxiety, pain, the years and the wounds that were woven within them surfaced. This was the perfect storm. I was at nature's mercy once more, only there was no mercy, only indifference and inertia. At this time my friends look around and see me on the route. I hear them shout with panic, "holy shit! He's on the high ball without a fucking pad!" Their worry only amplifies the fear and nerves. So much for being discreet.
I sense the urge to go down but realize I'm 25 ft up in the air, past the point of no return. To go back now would be more dangerous than attempting to finish the climb. My heart is beating like a hammer, the pressure and panic intensifying with every beat. I feel the heat of the sun, feel my palms getting sweaty, feet shaking like they're made of jello. My composure, now hanging by a single thread, is ready to snap. In the background of my mind I hear a faint voice, "surrender...surrender...surrender." I listen to it. I let go. I stop trying to fight the storm, and sense yet another shift.
I am no longer caught in the storm, I am outside of its war path, watching it, realizing that I never needed to fight it in the first place. I wasn't my thoughts nor my feelings and I couldn't stop them from happening. What i could do was stop identifying with them. I had the power of now, the power to choose. I take a deep breath and scan the route. Everything is clear to me. I know exactly what to do, and I do it, hearing my freinds sigh with relief then rejoice as i stand on the summit.
I down climb gazing at the summit with the sun held high beaming what I believe to be redemption in its golden rays. Overcoming challenges, I realize, is not a part of life, this is life.
There is an awareness unlike any other when you climb. Self Awareness was something that running enhanced, and I see that bouldering does the same. I had stared at this route for some time before embarking on this. What scared me and excited me about this route was the multiple crimp holds. There were no jug handles, no deep holds I could sink my fingers into. The toe holds were small enough only to have the tips of my toes on it. What this route called for was total body climbing.
My coach Eric Dogpatch Boulders at told me that contrary to popular belief, you can generate a lot of grip with crimp holds, you just need to use your body to create tension for your fingers to grip. If you are grabbing a crimp with your right hand, shift your body to the left to create tension and grip. Vice Versa with the left hand. When you are grabbing a crimp to move upward, drop your hips to create tension so you can pull and use the grip. The key is using an opposing motion with crimp holds.
For weeks I was able to make it 3/4 of the way and hit the same point of impasse. It drove me crazy then made me all the more curious of what I had been missing. My coach Eric guided me to the move needed to get passed the crux: drop left foot into the pocket, cross left arm over right and move right arm to upper crimp. From there, set left foot on tiny toe hold and pop up to the finish. Now that this project is wrapped up, it's time to celebrate then find another problem to solve.
From the ground to the wall
For the past 5 years I have been running for my life. Mile after mile. Marathon after marathon. I have pushed myself beyond my perceived limits time and time again. Throughout each year, my love and passion for running has burned forever as a flame. Running and being has been joyful, a reward in and of itself. It has filled me with joy and meaning, eventually giving birth to a newfound passion for climbing.
After qualifying for the Boston and New York City Marathon, I had set my sights on qualifying for the New York City Half. As I began training for this half marathon, I sensed a hunger for something beyond the roads I ran. I didn't know what it was for, but that it was there, lingering like an apparition. A trip down to see my brother Raffy would lead me to the answer.
I hopped in my car and drove down from San Francisco to spend time with my brother Raffy for the weekend. Growing up, I spent a lot of time playing sports with him. He showed me that the fundamentals were what led to greatness in each sport he mentored me in. We shared a curiosity for the deeper "why" of life and often carried off into long drawn conversations that opened my mind further and further. He surprised me taking me to a running shop and gifting me with a pair of shoes that would later be laced upon my feet as I qualified for the New York City Half Marathon, just 28 seconds under the cut off.
We spent a good amount of time eating at local favorite restaurants, eating healthy whole foods and talking about the deeper "why" of life. We found ourselves one day with no set plans and began throwing ideas at a metaphysical dartboard, hoping one would hit the bulls eye. "Hey, let's go climbing, I know a place nearby." My ears raised along with my curiosity. We walked into the climbing gym where I was taken back by granite walls strewn across with routes of vibrant colors. The plan was to sport climb. In order to do so, I had to take a belay class to get certified for the day so we could partner up. As I was taking my class, my brother decided to check out the bouldering section of the gym. When I had returned from the class I found my brother in a pensive pose as he stared at a 16ft wall. "No ropes" I asked. "Nah, this is bouldering," He answered.
With each route I climbed, my curiosity evolved into a liking. By the time we finished I had found my answer to the lingering question. Climbing was the new passion I would extend my energy and heart into. By no means will I stop running. That is in my blood. It only means that my love for movement, for being, is not solely focused on running. I stop to take a look back and see the path that led me to this: It had started with a passion for cycling. A tragic car accident had led me to a passion running. Now running had led me to climbing. I wonder what will happen next...