Dirtbag State of Mind podcast *episode 5*

Jun 24 • Climbing Culture • 151 Views • No Comments on Dirtbag State of Mind podcast *episode 5*

We are back with episode 5 of our first season! This is our first episode that I’ve recorded from my home studio, and we are psyched to continue to bring you the podcast.

Here we dive further into American Climber, my memoir.


Here’s a sample of the text from the book:

Winter was upon Gunnison, and I quickly learned that it was billed “The Coldest City in the Lower 48.” Neither part of that statement is technically true. Gunnison isn’t really a city, and there are other places that can contend for coldest. The truth in that little white lie is that Gunnison does get cold, really cold, like -30 cold, the type of cold you feel in your bones, the type of cold that freezes your car so that it won’t start.

It didn’t bother me that first winter. I was too in awe of the beauty of my first winter in Colorado. I would walk to class, smoking cigarettes, inhaling the coldest, purest air in between puffs of tobacco, floating across white snow, under the bluest sky my eyes had ever seen—an azure that led me to believe I was under a different sky than I was in the Midwest, the only place I’d ever known.

People seemed to huddle together in camaraderie of cold. Strangers would always say hello, and my teachers were not distant totem poles of education; they were the people I would also run into at the grocery store. Townie bikes were everywhere, even in winter, plowing through the snow, their riders covered from head to toe in warm clothes.

I had the opportunity to get deeper into winter when I signed up for a beginner recreation course. One day, we were all supposed to go snowshoeing near a wilderness area with a backdrop of snow-covered peaks amid large pine trees that carried a scent of a purity and an invigoration I could hardly put words to at the time.

Somehow I lost the group and was off on my own, one foot in front of the other in the magical white snow. And one foot in front of the other again. And again. A meditation came over me, and I had a vision. I would take another step toward cleaning out the deep, dark, hollow void that lived inside of me—I’d quit smoking cigarettes. The vision actually carried through, and, while the withdrawal of nicotine was unlike anything I’d ever experienced, the freedom of independence from a substance felt even better.

That recreation course took me even deeper into the heart of winter. One weekend, our class had to trek into the woods, where we would spend the night in snow caves. We skied in, and, quickly, as night approached, I found myself under the greatest array of stars my eyes had ever seen. Our homes for the evening would be snow caves, already constructed by another class the day before. Around the fire that night, the topics of conversation ranged from the skiing season to kayaking to mountain climbing in South America, but one guy had a story like no other.

Matty was a short, muscular body-building type of guy—after talking to him for only a few minutes, you would realize he was a guy you wanted on your side. He had a look of crazy but also a heart of gold. When the storytelling started around the fire, early twentysomethings were squeezing the juice out of the mere few years of real-life experience they had, and a few folks that had already known Matty’s story begged him to tell it.

The summer before, Matty had been climbing in West Virginia and was a couple hundred feet above the ground, about to belay his partner up, when his anchor failed. Matty plummeted to the earth, landing on his head. He wasn’t wearing a helmet, which he said somehow was advantageous; I think somewhere in his spirit he was part superhero. He didn’t recall a thing from the accident, and he ended up with a huge metal plate in his head. All in all, he was a walking-talking miracle, and the last part of the story was how he was involved with the mountain rescue team at our college, ready to give back and save lives, just as his life was saved by a mountain rescue team earlier that summer.

We all looked at Matty as if he was a hero, and no one could come close to his story. That night, after the fire burned away, we watched the stars as long as one can watch stars, and we climbed into the snow cave. I slept restlessly because the cave made me claustrophobic, but it was also mind opening—in the heart of winter, in one of the coldest places in the United States, you could wander off into the woods and sleep comfortably in a structure made from snow.

Characters like Matty were commonplace in Gunnison, and I was more than eager to hear their stories. One guy had ridden his bike from coast to coast, and another had climbed Mt. Everest. I’d never known people like this; after all, I was just a kid from Illinois. The athleticism oozing from every corner both intimidated and inspired me.


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