Where It All Began & Where I Am Now

Since starting Mountain Climer, I have done my best to focus on spirituality and ethics, but those topics can bleed into a number of different areas. I have also tried not to make this all about me, though admittedly, these are my thoughts and opinions and I can only speak from my own experience.  But largely, I have tried to not make this blog self-centered.  

That’s going to change… a little bit.

I’m still going to keep focused on spirituality and ethics, however, I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t share my story.  Mountain Climer in and of itself represents a journey, but it’s also a part of my overall journey.

 

Where It All Began

 

I am an adult onset hunter.  I had interest in hunting, fishing and bush craft as a kid but I had no one to mentor me and show me the way.  I spent as much time as I could in the woods, even joining Boy Scouts when I was twelve and I enjoyed that for about a year before a new scoutmaster changed the direction of our troop from outdoors to indoors.  

I have always been a voracious reader, especially American history. When I roamed the woods with my BB gun and my dog, I pretended to be Daniel Boone or some other early American explorer.  I always dreamed of walking into the woods, building a crude shelter and living off of the land for a while.

Then, when I was in high school, I had gone on to other pursuits, including playing in bands.  However, there were two films that I saw during those years that really stuck with me and put a burning desire for the Rockies in my soul: A River Runs Through It and Jeremiah Johnson.

I really don’t remember how I came across A River Runs Through It, I believe it was when I was sixteen and working at Blockbuster and it just happened to be one of hundreds of movies I took home during the two stints I worked there.  The imagery and the story both captured my imagination.  Even now, twenty-two years or so later I can’t fully explain why it fascinated me so, but I longed of going to Montana and learning to fly fish and I have loved trout ever since.

The first time I saw Jeremiah Johnson though was unforgettable.  It was Christmas break of my sophomore year of high school, I was fifteen and there was a significant amount of snow on the ground for Indiana. I got into a fight with my dad, as teenage boys are known to do, and I decided to walk to my friends’ house across town.  At the time, especially in the snow, it seemed like a long trek, Google Maps now tell me it was 4.5 miles, but in the days before cell phones, I had no idea if my friends would even be home when I got there.  

About halfway to their house, I was cold and tired.  I decided to stop at this girl’s house that I knew from school. We weren’t particularly close, but we ran in the same circle and her house was convenient.  I rang her doorbell and her dad answered the door. He told me she wasn’t home, but he could see that I walked and invited me in to warm up.  He said he was just sitting down to watch Jeremiah Johnson and I was welcome to stay and watch it with him.  I told him I’d stay for a bit, but might not stay for the whole movie as I was anxious to get to my friends’ house.  

I stayed for the whole movie.

As has often been the case in my life, I wanted to go back in time and live in a different era.  I knew it was a hard life, but I wanted to test myself like those folks did.  I wanted to roam the Rockies in search of furs and meat and live off the hard land.  I knew one day, though I may not live off of it, I would live near the mountains and traipse through them with my rifle looking for meat and furs.  

 

Where I Am Today

 

I live in Colorado.  Over twenty years later and that’s as close as I’ve gotten.  I’ve hunted small game and I’ve hunted whitetails in Michigan, Indiana and Kentucky, but this coming year is my first year in the mountains. I’m still greatly handicapped by my lack of experience and my lack of funds.  I drive a Ford Focus and at this point, I have no idea when I am going to be able to afford a four-wheel drive vehicle so I am at the mercy of my friends when it comes to hunting in the mountains.  That’s okay, for now I’ll beg to tag along with folks or borrow a truck and someday, after we buy a house, I’ll buy a used four-wheel drive truck to get me up into the mountains.  Or more importantly, a truck to get me out of the mountains.

This life is a journey.  There are a lot of things I wish I was better at or farther along on, but I’ve made my own decisions and as Frank sang, “I did it my way.”  No excuses, no regrets.  

Most importantly, I’m excited for what’s next and what’s after that.  

Nature as Healer

 

In the introduction to Wilderness and the American Mind, Roderick Nash states, “…civilization created wilderness. For nomadic hunters and gatherers, who represented our species for most of its existence, ‘wilderness’ had no meaning.” He later discusses how as soon as we as a species separated civilization from wilderness, we romanticized and sought out the wilderness for our spiritual needs. The wilderness was a place where Biblical figures went to talk to God or have an epiphany. Thousands of years later, many of us still desire to escape civilization to recharge, mull over a tough situation or heal ourselves emotionally and spiritually. Just think of Cheryl Strayed and Wild. Obviously now, “wilderness” doesn’t just have meaning, it is where we go to find meaning.

I am certainly no exception to this human trait. Even just a walk outside amongst the trees, prairie dogs and mallards in my neighborhood can significantly change my mood. The bigger the issue, the deeper into the woods I need to go. As I write this, I am preparing for my fourth attempt at my first solo overnight trip (first three I had to turn around for various reasons, more on that in another post). We recently moved to Colorado and only six weeks in, I quit my new job. It was the absolute right thing to do and it allows me to focus on what I want to be doing, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared shitless. So, I’m going into the wilderness to clear my head, get my mind right and in the process, face my fears. Because make no mistake, though I have spent many, many nights out in the woods, doing it by myself for the first time is going to be a little bit scary. However, everything is going to be fine and when you conquer one fear, it gives you the confidence that you can conquer others as well. 

You don’t have to go into the woods alone to have this experience. I take two trips every year with old friends and it just so happened that in 2017, both of these guys got married. Jeff and I went to the Wind River Range in Wyoming and had a great week-long trip where we mixed backpacking and car camping all across the Northern Rockies. Jeremy and I went to Alaska as usual and spent four days northwest of Fairbanks in the bush and also in a cabin near some hot springs. While I enjoy the trips I take with these fellas every year, last year’s trips were special.  We had lots of heart-to-heart talks about serious topics such as marriage, family and work. We had lots of laughs, both at situations and ourselves. We also had long periods of silence where we worked through our own thoughts. Though perhaps some of the obstacles we overcame provided the most amount of personal growth, whether that was roping up and crossing ice cold rivers, holding each other’s life in our hands or simply me walking eleven miles with fifty pounds on my back, feet bleeding, and deciding not to complain about it. 

Ultimately, whether alone or with a loved one, time in the wild, if you’re open to it, will improve you. Maybe you need a little peace and quiet to deal with a tough situation or maybe you need to challenge yourself in some way because you feel hindered in your everyday life. For whatever reason, until you cut the cord with the civilized world for at least a short time, you’ll never know what you’re capable of. The world is there to fill us with information and noise. In order to know what you have to give to the world, you have to take the time to dig down deep inside yourself.  Wilderness has been there for us since the dawn of civilization and it’s still there for us now if we need it.