While I was on the road recently I met an artist whose favorite muse was the naked body. I was intrigued, first, because she was a beautiful thirty-something woman, from Aspen of all places, but on a deeper level it made me ponder why. I’ve later thought about how writers get naked.
[by Luke Mehall, publisher of The Climbing Zine]
I left on this road trip not wanting to leave. I was on a roll. I was in the zone writing, and working a bunch at my night job. Saving my pennies, something I’ve never been too good at. But, I’d planned to do some book readings, and hoped to squeeze in some climbing too. It was too late to bail. So off I went, out of my comfort zone of home, onto the road.
I was rolling solo but there’s this buddy of mine that always comes with, my ego. This jabbering monkey is always whispering sweet nothings of how great I am, or breaking down and telling me I’ll never make it. Both are voices of delusion.
My first presentation in Fort Collins was a bust. Four people showed up. I read from my book anyways, trying to hide my disappointment. I’d driven eight hours that day and only ended up selling one book.
The next day was windy and cold and I drove down to Golden to meet my friend Alexis for breakfast. A brilliant and talented artist who recently relocated to the Front Range from Durango, Alexis moved there just before the big flood hit. The flood caused all sorts of complications for her living situation, and now just a couple months after moving into a new place, she already had to relocate. She told her story as a metaphor; she had a positive attitude, the struggle being the blessing.
I was frustrated and flustered, cities always make me flustered. Already I wanted to be back home. In that diner there was a part of home, a true friend, willing to bend her ear, and tell me the words I needed to hear to continue living the dream. “Someday you’ll look back and miss these days,” she said.
With a cup of warm tea my heart and spirit warmed up and I hustled the streets of Golden and Boulder, going into gearshops and selling a few books and zines. The dream alive for another day, then it was back on the road.
The road ultimately led to the red rock desert, where my dreams are always reborn. When success eludes me, love fails, or I’m searching for answers the desert provides. I’ve been on a six-month hiatus without much difficult climbing, a result of an injured finger. During this time there’s been more questions than answers, accidents in our climbing community resulting in some serious injuries, I watched a dead body get plucked off El Capitan in Yosemite, and had another friend die in a climbing accident. Wondering, will I continue on this path?
Castle Valley answers. Perfect towers up to four hundred feet tall, castles made of sand, some divine force that sculpted something so perfect I can’t help but be drawn towards them. I join my climbing partner there and we lay out camp. Home.
My mood changes, and I think differently. I’m no longer concerned with money, progress or success; I am in the desert to reconcile with climbing. My energy to climb builds until I can’t contain it, then every fiber of my being is engaged in the fight. I dress my body for the battle. Pants, a long sleeve shirt, taped hands and hardware to protect the crack. My climbing partner smokes cigarettes. I hate cigarettes. It’s like the old west, something raw, exposed in the elements of the desert, seeing what surfaces.
I can’t back down from the battle. I squeeze my body into the crack, inching upwards for progress. Then it swallows me, I sink down in fear. What the fuck am I doing? If I fall here its all over… I get it together and continue to inch up. Finally, I reach the top of the pitch. I look down to my knot and the rope is nearly sliced in half. Despair. My partner joins me on the ledge. We bail, the rest of the climb will wait for another day, month or year. Then the ropes get stuck after we rappel. We must return the following day.
We return, against our own will, but for the better good of our souls. One point in the climb involves a true leap of faith. Chimney-ing between two walls of the rock, it widens. There must be a commitment to step across the void to some half-inch edges. Complete and utter focus and surrender. We succeed, on the top, the summit, the red rock towers lead into snow capped mountains, into the blue sky.
That feeling is back. Mastery over the doubt that is always creeping up. Adrenaline. Feeling I’ve fought another day and emerged victorious.
We go into Moab. The land of warm beer. Perhaps Colorado should liberate Utah from its Mormon Stronghold and absurd laws. I love the desert, but the Mormon culture that surrounds it freaks me out. Time to drive back towards that “Welcome to Colorful Colorado” sign, and be home again.
First I return to the Front Range again for another presentation. It’s in Longmont at a local brewery. I traverse the interstate back to where my travels began. Not a single person shows up for the presentation. However, I manage to sell one book to a guy who climbed once, that wandered over from the bar to chat. He tells me his story, and describes a glorious peanut butter and jelly sandwich, with legs dangling above the void. Sounds about right.
“There’s no success like failure, and failures no success at all,” Dylan said it best. The things that made me feel good are not measurable in the context of society. Thinking that pouring my heart and soul into words to become successful is simply delusional. Success and money won’t make me happy. Give me more struggle, aching muscles, and glorious, meaningless victories. Let me stand naked with my words, knowing I’m crafting my art because I love it, and for no other reason. And, when it’s time, take me back to the desert.
About us: The Climbing Zine was started in 2010 by Al Smith III and Luke Mehall. It continues to the day with the mission of representing the true essence of climbing. Our crown jewel is our printed version, but we also do the interweb thing, and Kindle.
Give us a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
This piece was originally published in the Durango Telegraph.