Early in life, I knew what I wanted, and I had a list of places in North America where I would live. I was a skier, it was the start of the 90's, and I wanted to become a bad-ass mountaineer.
I fell in love with mountaineering by reading Greg Childs' book Thin Air, along with a number of other books. Climbing mountains captivated me in a way nothing else did. The books were covered with words I barely understood and photographs I longed to be in. There was something special about the sport of mountaineering that I identified with. Maybe it was the stark nature of it. The black and white, do or die shit, with no posturing. Just the ability to tell the truth.
When I met Lynn Hill in the Buttermilks, in 2002, the experience changed my life. I'd never met anybody like that before, had never seen muscle tone like that before, and I had never seen anybody bow and greet their friends like a warrior.
I had left Valdez, AK and was moving to Joshua Tree, CA for the winter. One of my best friends convinced me to come down to the desert, and take a winter off from skiing. At first the idea of not skiing for the winter was preposterous. Skiing was how I identified myself as a person, and there was no way I was going to take an entire winter off.
Well,,,, something was telling me it was time. For almost a decade I had skied a hundred plus days each season in Jackson, Girdwood, or Valdez. I was at the peak of my game in 2001, throwing down (heli-free) first descents in Valdez, and living right on the best ski highway in the world. Why move to the desert, and live with a bunch of rock climbers?
Well,,,, this might sound weird, but skiing wasn't doing it for me anymore. American skiers wanted to go heli-skiing, and I wanted to be a mountaineer, in line with the history of mountaineering I knew from the books I read. There was no skiing literature, and ski-mountaineering had not become an accepted art-form in North America yet. I needed something more - a new arena to play in, real heroes, and a fresh twist on living with meaning.
The day before I met Lynn, I was sitting in the boulder field with a group of people, and turned just in time to see the silhouette of a woman standing on a boulder. Immediately, and without thinking, I knew who it was, even though she was far away. Startled and in awe, I didn't know what to do, and didn't say anything to anybody. It seemed powerful, to have such an instantaneous realization.
The next day Lynn walked up while I was at the Iron Man Traverse. There were only a couple of us there, we exchanged pleasantries, and climbed together. I can't say how, or what, because I was flailing at the boulder problem, but Lynn noticed something in me, and mentioned it to her friend. I wanted to cry and thank Lynn, because I felt lost without skiing in my life at the time, and I was having identity issues.
Lynn is considered one of the best climbers ever, male or female. She told me she spent an entire summer climbing in Yosemite on $50. I'd read her book, and knew the legacy of Yosemite climbing. I was a dirtbag myself, and honour what it takes to be a renegade in the sport you love. Thank you Lynn. Our brief encounter has guided me in ways I can not repay.
That winter in J-Tree I forgot about skiing for minutes, hours, and even days at a time. I was living in a tent in the national park, climbing everyday, and working at Crossroads Cafe in town. I had hitch-hiked to California, and had no plan for the future, or for skiing. I started dating a hot climber chick named Sue Cramm, and thought I might follow her to the Tetons in the spring.
I didn't know it then, but one chapter in my life was over, and a new one was beginning. My days of just being a ski bum were numbered, and I was about to go on my first "human-powered" expedition. Looking back, it seems so perfect, but during those months in J-Tree I was a wreck. When I did think about skiing, it was with a deep sense of loss. I felt like I had lost a close friend, and I wanted to go back to the way things were, but knew it was impossible.
I feel stuck in a similar place these days not being on a bicycle. Like I've lost another friend, and I can't go back to the way things were. I rode a bicycle to go on skiing, rock-climbing, and mountaineering expeditions for eight years before using the tag line "human-powered." Then I chased sponsors for another five years, becoming obsessed with being a professional. Frankly, I don't know what's easier - chasing sponsors, or painting houses, and working in cafes?
I do know it's all worth it. The constant moving, chasing dreams, and falling from grace.
It's ok to lose your identity every ten or fifteen years, as long as you move on, and keep listening to the stones.
|Came across this amazing spring, complete with serving cup.|
|Revisiting old haunts.|
|Bought a motorcycle.|
|Justin Short, ultra runner and counselor at Spring Integrative Health.|
To do what I do as an athlete and an artist, I have a network of doctors, counsellors, therapists, and trainers as a support team. It's no secret about my crazy childhood, drug addiction, friends dyeing, depression, rage, and all the pressure that goes with wanting to be the best.
I don't know what this next chapter in life will be. So for now I have picked up trail running, and I love it. I feel young again, like a weight has been lifted off of me, and in fact I have no desire to carry, haul, drag, or pull a heavy pack around for awhile. Cheers,