Have you ever had one of those days where something happens that makes you feel lucky to be alive, twice? Last Saturday I had to take two of my friends to the emergency room for various accidents. They weren't really life threatening, but they could have been devastatingly worse. It takes a lot of courage to step back and ask the question: why are we doing these things? What responsibility do we have to others to be safe in our pursuit of passion, and what responsibility do we have to ourselves? This question is very open ended, but the answer usually points to the fact that climbing, skydiving, highlining, BASE jumping, are all very selfish activities.
Though I am still a humble novice in all of these sports, they provide me with the zest for life that is rarely encountered in day to day life. I have been around climbing for several years, and it has become an integral part of my existence. The fluid motion of constant movement over rock is very peaceful and relaxing. Lately I have been climbing easier and longer routes without a rope; only myself and the rock. Confidence on familiar terrain allows me to ascend without difficulty, and the freedom allows me to enjoy it. Most would be scared being unroped, a thousand feet above the greening grass of Chautauqua park; for me, I can only smile. I am able to do what I love most.
Skydiving and BASE jumping are perhaps my newest and most selfish pastimes. Paying hundreds of dollars a month to be ferried up to 17,000 feet above sea level in a twin engine otter seems outrageous to my hopelessly poor college peers. However, I somehow find a way to pay for all my necessities, and more, by working steadily and saving money for things that I love. I once compared with a friend and found that by not drinking more than a few beers throughout college, I have spent about the same on jumping as most CU students spend on alcohol. Which seems more selfish? Even so, it is hard to justify paying money for something that lasts, at best, a minute or less. Is it financially responsible for me to spend thousands of dollars a year on this alleged freefall "addiction"? No. But is it really wrong for me to do these things? This is debatable.
My entrance into the world of zen was earned through my pursuit of highlining. Perhaps the scariest of all the extreme sports (even my friends at the GoFast games thought I was a little crazy), albeit one of the safest, highlining forces one to abandon all fear, hope, desire, eagerness, etc. and adhere to the process of simply doing. Through higher and longer lines I learned to control my fear, ignore it, and turn it into the simple action of taking a step. I have been able to accomplish mild and mediocre achievements that I would never have thought possible when I was a big-eyed high school student scrapping up enough cash to buy my first set of quickdraws and cams. The highest lines in the world have been turned into banal strands of nylon under my chaffed and eager feet. My nonchalance of the danger comes not from any mental fortitude that I may have, or any physical skill, but simply from my desire to do what makes me happy. My delusional confidence arises from a faint desire to exist in my most natural state. This allows for any feat to be accomplished.
It is with this attitude that I approach the activities which I hold so close to my heart. I simply strive to be myself, and being myself entails doing these activities in my most natural state. I get frustrated when old friends and mentors look at me and think that I am crazy. They ask each other, at what point in the last four years did I go wrong? Where did I become such an adrenaline junkie? This couldn't be further from the truth. Adrenaline is an unfortunate by-product of these sports. It clouds judgment and takes me further from the peace of mind that I so readily embrace. They should be asking me, at what point in the last four years did I go right? Even this is an inaccurate question to ask, but it is a better one. In my opinion there are a few defining events in my life throughout the last four years, but none of them have single-handedly taken responsibility for where I am now. Where am I now? I'm only just a few mental steps away from my maturity level in high school. I still haven't accomplished anything worth noting, and I still haven't become the best at anything that I do. But I don't really want these things. What I have done is defined what makes me happy, and acted on these definitions to the best of my ability. In essence, I do what I do for myself, and not for the entertainment of others. Unfortunately, this is the definition of selfishness.
I hate being called crazy, because I am not crazy. I get a sinking feeling when I visit the people I looked up to only four years ago, the people who first began to spark my interest in the outdoors, the people who taught me how to live my life for myself. They all look at me now like I am a nutter, I'm out for cheap thrills and good bar tales. This saddens me because the very people who shaped my life no longer understand it. This even includes my family and my closest friends. I am constantly trying to explain myself, but am often without the words to do so. I can't tell anyone why I would climb without a rope, or walk a line a half mile above solid ground, or jump out of an airplane. While I'm still not very good at any of these things, I do them, and I don't have a reason why. I do them because they fill a gap in my life that nothing else can fill. They provide different facets of pleasure in a gem of existence. Do they help me to become a better person? Yes. Do they help me to become better than anyone else? Of course not. This isn't a battle to one-up the next guy, or do the most dangerous and extreme stunt imaginable. It is a battle to bury my own primordial doubt and replace it with happiness. It is a battle to define who I am and become the most passionate man I can be. I'm not crazy, I'm calculated and scientific, and free.
So despite the inherent and often publicized danger in all of these passions of mine, I cannot help acting upon these very human desires for adventure that I have. Instances such as the injuries I saw on Saturday, although detrimental to the adventurous spirits of my injured friends, only add fuel to the fire, for all of us. I'm sure once Jeff recovers from his surgery he will be more active than ever, and Joe has already scabbed up and been down several treacherous ski descents this week. I cannot put words to the song of passion, I can only dream, and experience the truth of my existence. I feel obligated to look out for the best interests of my family and loved ones, but I cannot stop doing what I love to do. Ceasing to do that which I enjoy would be a worse fate than dying in the midst of it. I cannot help but jump off things, walk in the sky, and ascend into the clouds. It is my nature. It is what makes me human. To call me crazy, to say I should not pursue these passions, to think that I am selfish and irresponsible, this attitude is a blind perspective to the truth of my bliss. I hope that now, by reading this, people understand why I do what I do, and can hopefully empathize with it. Thanks for taking the time to read what I have to say.