Bruised, Bloodied, and the Best Days

David and I bouldering in Arches National Park

Today I fell off a cliff.  And that was only the last in a long chain of events over the past three days that have left me bruised, bloodied, scraped, aching, rope burned, sun burned, and physically drained.  And it feels great.  It was a spontaneous trip to Moab Utah that was the cause of all this pain.  My brother David and I, along with my brother’s friend Pardoe, decided to escape the rain and flee down to Moab where it has been 85 degrees and sunny blue skies.  We threw our mountain bikes and rock climbing gear in the back of the truck and within a few hours we were rolling into red rock country, base-camp for adventure.  Moab is always a ridiculously cool place to be.  A one street town nestled in a desert valley along the big brown Colorado river between huge sandstone cliffs.  Every person in town is either riding around in a tricked-out Jeep, motorcycle, ATV, or some sort of dirt-covered vehicle loaded with mountain bikes and adventure gear.  A hundred different bike or Jeep trails head off in any direction.  Arches National Park is just outside of town.  It’s a crossroads of travel with people coming north from the Grand Canyon, south from Salt Lake City, or west from Colorado.  Hippies and red rock bums and world travelers and weekend warriors are all mingling and checking out each other’s gear and toys.  People are strolling along Center Street taking a break from their adventures, sheltering in the shade and mending their wounds.  I absolutely love it.

Moab, as seen from the Slick Rock Trail

We spent each day doing whatever came to mind at any given point.  In the cooler hours of the morning, before the blazing sun began to rise off the desert rock in dancing heat waves, we ventured out onto one of the famous bike trails in the area.  On our first day we tackled the infamous Slick Rock trail, which is marked out by dotted white lines forming a 12 mile loop across the surface of Navajo Sandstone, surrounded by a few hundred square miles of endless slick rock.  One rarely shifts out of their lowest gear as the trail loops and swirls and drops and climbs constantly, up and down steep pitches that would normally be impossible to traverse but because of the nature of the slick rock, which miraculously grips to your tires and gives you traction, you somehow are able to power your way across it.  That is, of course, assuming you are in good shape and can actually keep yourself from passing out because of the heat or exertion.  This was my first ride of the season after a relatively exercise-free winter, so there were multiple occasions when I felt like I was about to die.  At the very least I was pretty sure I was going to be violently expelling my breakfast of Frosted Mini-Wheats which I had foolishly inhaled shortly before we hit the trail head.  Fortunately my brother felt the same way, or at least pretended to, probably to silence my incessant complaining about being too fat and old.  The first 3 miles were the worst, but after sprawling out on the rocks like a dead fish for about 20 minutes, gulping down water, apathetic to the other bikers passing by on their fancy expensive bikes looking at me as if they’d never seen a dead body before, and after my own body finally digested the cursed Frosted Mini-Wheats and accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to give up, I felt much better and finished the rest of the 9 miles rather well.  I may have been labeled a whiner and a cry baby, but I finished all the same.

Slick Rock Trail

We spent the afternoons rock climbing at a really cool spot where a narrow road runs parallel to the river and beside giant cliffs stretching a few thousand feet high.  Climbers had already placed anchors along multiple routes up the cliffs, so we strapped on our gear and proceeded to try our skill at scaling the sandstone walls.  Today I decided to try to lead climb, which I normally let my brother do since he has about 10 times the experience that I do.  Lead climbing carries a greater risk because it means you are the first person to ascend the cliff, which also means you are the one attaching the rope to the anchors as you climb.  Should I fall at any point, I only fall to where the last anchor was, at which point David would catch me, since he was holding onto the other end of the rope.  Normally the anchors are about 6 feet apart, but on this particular route there was about a 15 foot gap between the 3rd and last anchors, which meant if I fell before I got clipped in to that last anchor, it was going to be a long drop.  It was a difficult climb and I got myself in a tight spot, clinging precariously to the tiniest of hand and foot holds, and then with nowhere left to go and little strength left to hold on, I realized that my hands and feet were slipping and there was nothing I could do.  I was able to say “Okay David, I’m falling …” right as I lost my holds and then suddenly I was tumbling over backwards, gravity taking me head over heels back down to earth.  My foot had hit the wall and spun me over backwards, so as I slammed down on the rope after about a 10 foot free fall, I “bent in half,” as David and Pardoe described it, the back of my head actually touching my heals.  But other than a little pinch in my back and a few rope burns, I seemed to be unscathed.  Fortunately everything worked as it was supposed to.  I rappelled down and begrudgingly let David give it a try, though I did try to talk him out of it, arguing that he has more to live for than I do since he’s getting married in a few months, but truthfully I just didn’t want him to be able to do something I couldn’t.  The punk.  But then I figured he wouldn’t die, just possibly break a few bones, so I watched as he scurried right up and clipped in the rope at the top.  I’m still waiting for the day that my brother finds something he isn’t great at.  It’s bound to happen someday.  Maybe.  I tried it again, this time scampering up without any problems, but that little tumble certainly left an impression on me.

Me Scaling the Cliffs

It was just a quick weekend trip but it was an absolute blast.  The weather was great, the adventures were grand, the company was awesome.  We just kept each other laughing the whole time.  We had absolutely no plan or agenda, and I think that’s what made it so fun.  I really believe that over-planning is the surest way to kill those spontaneous experiences that often become your favorite part of the whole trip.  Or your life.  It never ceases to amaze me how you can have such an awesome experience, even a life experience, doing something that was just a spur of the moment decision and could very well have never happened at all if you hadn’t decided to get off your couch and do something.  It’s just so easy to get settled into a comfortable routine and start to feel like you can’t break out of it without an excess of planning and preparation.  You forget that you have the ability to actually make things happen, to take the initiative and create your own opportunities, rather than waiting for it to come knocking on your door.  I sometimes feel that life only begins once you get outside of your daily routine.  It’s those moments and days when you break out of it and do something different, something that scares you, or at least makes you feel alive and breathing and truly awake, those are the days you remember.  Those are the days that make you smile and shake your head when they cross your mind, many years down the road.  They make you want to call up that old friend who was there with you, just to say hello and reminisce about the fun you had.  Hopefully you can acquire enough of those days, tucked away in your mind and your memories and scrolled away on your list of “best days,” so that you can one day look back on them all and feel that you’ve made a life for yourself worth remembering.

“Action is character; If we never did anything, we wouldn’t be anybody.”

See more pictures from Moab here:  Summer 2011 Album

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