Yesterday, in the process of climbing Wilson Peak, I slipped on a steep snowfield and had to self-arrest. Now before you go thinking that I’m a badass who almost died, I should say that while I could have slid a good deal further than I did, even if I had hit the rocks below, I would have been okay; it wasn’t a lethal slope. But whatever the case, it’s shocking when the ground crumbles from beneath your feet and you suddenly find yourself in a free fall.
When I slipped, I immediately rolled onto my stomach and dug my fingers and toes into the snow. I had just about stopped myself when out of the corner of my eye, I saw Dan Clader flying through the air to tackle me (if you know Dan Clader, I’m sure you can picture this). To help stop my descent, he wound up straddling and half-sitting on me, which was one of the more horrifying/hilarious moments of my life – and while my first reaction was pissy annoyance that I had slipped at all, I wound up laughing hysterically, belly to the snow, with bloody knees and frozen fingers and no power to do much about it.
We eventually got off of the slope and finished the climb; I’ve now summited 32 of the 54 14ers, and am going for my 33rd tomorrow.
But today has been a rest day, and I’ve spent it in my hometown of Montrose, Colorado. I haven’t lived here in 13 years, my parents haven’t in 10, and I haven’t even visited for 2.5. While some things remain the same (this is the only place I’ve ever been where rather than digging out the old tree stump, people hire a chainsaw artist to carve it into a vicious, soaring eagle or three bear cubs in a totem pole: instant lawn art), so much of the town has changed. It sprawls out in every direction for miles further than I remember the boundaries to be. I know basically no one. Our old house has been painted so drastically differently, I barely recognize it. There are new businesses and new restaurants, while the storefronts for some shops I remember sit vacant.
And when I think about the life I used to have, the life my family used to have, all of a sudden I find myself in a free fall.
It’s so different. Everything is so different than it used to be, relationships and location and home. The familiar parts of this town are a palpable reminder of what my family has lost. The future looks nothing like what I envisioned as a child growing up in Montrose, and on my worst days (the past few days being some of the very worst), I feel like our inevitable fate is to tumble down the slippery slope and crash against the boulders of Rock Bottom.
We tend to think of “hope” as a positive feeling, one of potential and possibility and the anticipation that tomorrow will be better than today. But I’m realizing that hope is actually a painful emotion – because by its very definition, the thing we are longing for is not.
If it was, there would be no need for hope at all.
Hope is hard work. It’s an acknowledgement that things are not the way we wish they were – and yet, that it might not always feel this way. It’s a willingness to carry the uncomfortable weight of imperfection. It’s anticipation with no guarantee.
Maybe more than anything, it’s simply a decision against resignation.
So I dig in my fingers, dig in my toes, and self-arrest before hitting the bottom. There is so much more ahead, and I want to know what it is – because what if it’s worth seeing?