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I’m hanging on a half inch thick loop of nylon webbing over a 100 foot cliff, double checking my anchor set up for a climb I’m about to try with a friend. My hands are a little numb and my breath hangs in the air in front of me. Looking out from the cliff, I realize it’s not a particularly scenic area. I can see an apartment complex in the distance, and I hear the muffled but constant roar of the daily commuters on the I-75 bridge, and this climb isn’t even good; there’s loose rock and dirt (choss) everywhere and there are few good holds.
That’s when it hits me: “What the hell am I doing here?”
I think I love rock climbing and I spend a lot of my time and money on it, but as I hang off that cliff, gazing down onto the treetops below, it hits me that the ridiculously thin piece of nylon attached to my harness isn’t just holding me to the tree. It’s the only thing holding me on to my family, my friends, my school, my dreams, and the rest of my life.
One little cut in that webbing and it’s all over.
I can’t help but wonder, is this crappy climb worth it?
Through all of my outdoor/adventure pursuits, I seem to encounter this dilemma. The scenarios are often different, whether I’ve just rolled over in my kayak and I’m headed down the Snake River upside down, or I’m shivering in my tent in the north Georgia mountains, wondering if I’ll be able to make it through the night, but the question is always the same: “If I were to die right now, right here, would it be worth it?”
My first instinct is always “No. David, get off this cliff and go hug your family.”
In these moments, I have absolutely no desire to climb rocks, to be hanging 100 feet up in the air. I don’t want to be risking my life for fun in my free time. Nothing sounds more appealing than beating my Mom and Sister in a friendly game of Scrabble in the family room. But, when it comes down to it, I don’t think rock climbing is a choice for me.
I still remember my first adventure into the deep woods of my backyard with my dad, and the subsequent “trip report” I wrote for my pre-kindergarten class. It wasn’t conventional fun that drew me into the depths of my backyard. It was the desire to see and explore the unknown. There were scary things out in the woods, but even at that age I was willing to brave the bugs and snakes lurking under the ivy to fulfill my desire to explore.
I am called to the unknown. Exploration is the center of my life and it always has been: that is what climbing is for me. An adventure into the unknown. Yes, when I’m climbing I’m risking a lot: my own life as well as a tremendous amount of pain for my family.
But there is no alternative for me. Nothing enriches my life like the void of the unknown.
That’s why, on that chilly Saturday morning, I didn’t pack up my anchor and rope and go home to play Scrabble with my family. I explored.
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