Climbing Rocks and Dreams


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I am the bravest guy I know. I don't mean to brag, but that's just the way it is. Granted, I'm not great pals with any prisoners of war or any cowboys, but I am a climber, and climbers are hardcore. By sheer will, climbers scale overhanging rock faces, risk life and limb in the pursuit of the summit, and just generally go all out all the time. Aside from being able to handle the risk, climbers latch onto the sharpest and most painful handholds for the simplest reward of having climbed a particular rock wall. No, climbers don't seek attention from the crowds or big bucks for competing; they climb with the pure, unadulterated motivation of being brave enough to achieve their dreams. What places me in the upper most tier of bravery among climbers, aren't the bold routes I've conquered, but rather my willingness to commit to my dreams with irrefutable impetuousness.

Throughout my 17 years of life, I've always had an affinity for adventure. The same irrational craving I had as a child for extended power outages fueled my desire to be a climber-in particular my desire to climb at America's most famous bouldering area, Hueco Tanks, Texas. While I had done a significant amount of climbing beforehand, including a weeklong Southern climbing tour with the Adventure Guild, I had only gotten my foot in the door of the climbing scene. I had to have more. My participation in this trip to Hueco not only placed me on the road to becoming a prominent climber, but also enlightened me to my outstanding bravery. There wasn't a single thing that scared me there.

Even from the very beginning, I started out on the courageous path. I had been sick the week leading up to the trip, but no, I didn't let the fear of being stranded sick in a tent in the middle of the dessert hold me back. It was a beautiful early afternoon after the last half-day of school before spring break, and I was getting in my car totally distraught over my parent's decision that I would not go on the trip. (After all, they had only let me come to school that day because I had to take a math test.) After tossing my books in the back seat of my car, I casually cruised over to the microbus where Stuart, the trip leader, and the rest of the climbers were busily making final preparations for their departure.

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"Hey Stuart," I paused due to a spasmodic fit of coughing that overtook me. "Have a great trip, man! I'm totally bummed I can't go!"

"Wes, you don't look so bad, " replied Stuart with confidence radiating from the polarized surface of his National Outdoor Leadership School sunglasses. "Are you sure you don't want me to call your parents and talk to them about the trip?" I paused and pondered his proposal for a brief while. "I think you're more than well enough to go. Besides the couple other guys who are going have already been exposed to whatever it is you have. I'll be glad to check and see if your parents will let you go. Otherwise I'll give you your money back after I get back. There's more than enough room on the mini-bus."

Seeing that he wanted me to go very badly, I threw all caution to the wind and responded, "Sure, you can try if you want. They probably won't let me, but... I really want to go." In retrospect, Stuart must have realized that I was a brave guy, and that I would add a lot to the climbing trip. Since the trip had just enough participants to meet the minimum requirement for the expedition, my dauntless attitude would be even more effective in galvanizing the rest of the guys.

After an elaborate series of telephone calls my parents gave me the go ahead to travel, and I sped home in my car to stuff my pack with my unorganized mound of supplies. Due to my illness, I hadn't finished packing for the trip because I had assumed that I wouldn't be going. Despite my reckless packing, I hopped in the microbus 5 minutes after it had arrived at my home. As we headed west in the afternoon sun, I was confident in my ability overcome any lack of supplies. My parents were concerned that I hadn't packed enough warm clothes, but I responded, "don't worry about that, I'm tough enough to handle the cold."

Once we arrived at Hueco, we spent our time gallantly "sending" boulder problems from top to bottom. The 4 rock mountains protruding from the middle of the expansively flat Texas dessert provided more bouldering than we could climb in a year-much less climb during a 10-day trip. We would climb all day, occasionally pausing to snap a picture of a particularly heinous climbing move that the brown, jagged iron-rock threw our way. When we returned to camp in the evening just before sunset, our hands would be so thrashed from yanking on the abrasive rock that we would gently handle the zippers of our tents, almost fondling them, in order to avoid the pain that our toasted hands caused us. On one such evening, I returned to camp still lacking my daily run. (My aching body had savored the comfort of my sleeping pad too much that morning to get up and bust out my usual 45-minute run.)

"Yo Stuart, I'm gonna go for a run here in a little while." I bent over to quell the fit of coughing that assaulted my ribs.

Stuart replied, "Are you sure you want to run today Wes? You're still pretty sick and you've been busting you're butt all day long out there on the rock. It might not be a bad idea to take a recovery day."

As I smiled and slapped him on the shoulder I declared, "Hah! I'll be fine man."

"Wes, I know from personal experience that muscles need rest days in order to get stronger. Your running coaches have told me that you have a tendency to over-train. Don't let fear of trying a new training strategy keep you from training intelligently." He cocked his head in my direction and looked at me from the top of his eyes.

"Stuart man, it's not that I'm afraid to fail, it's that I'm not afraid to work hard!"

Shrugging his shoulders and waving his hand he said, "Alright, whatever you think is best. See ya."

As I headed off on my run, the sun was sinking low and I hoped that I wouldn't trip on any unseen obstacles on account of the darkness. Ending my season due to injury would have been devastating. Nevertheless, I boldly set out on my run even though I was already nearly dead with fatigue. You can't be afraid to push it hard.

When the sun finally sank behind the massive outcrop of rock, I could remember hearing other people talk about feeling the loss of the sun's supportive energy. In the dark, many less courageous climbers than myself say that they feel an overwhelming sense of vulnerability when they are spending the night alone in a remote spot after climbing their dream route. Supposedly, the sheer responsibility and independence of living their dreams leaves them feeling entirely alone and exposed. However, this feeling was foreign to me. I had resolutely decided to come to Hueco, and I didn't have any qualms about it.

Twenty minutes into my run, I decided to turn around and head back to the warmth of camp because my skimpy running shorts and my long sleeve T-shirt just weren't retaining enough of my body heat out there on the wide open dessert road. In addition, my stomach was kinda bothering me too. After I turned around, I gazed over my left shoulder to look at the distant ridge. Aside from the thousands of stars in the clear sky, the only light came from a handful of scattered buildings on the ridge. As the night air got rapidly colder, the lights seemed remarkably puny, especially in comparison to the radiant sun that had just set minutes before. Suddenly, I felt a particularly strong rumbling in my stomach. I tried to suck it up and continue the run, but I realized that my sphincter wasn't going to cooperate. Thus, I quickly shot off the road and thoroughly fertilized one of the scrawny dessert shrubs that happened to be there. Since cactus needles didn't seem to be a particularly appealing substitute for a roll of Charmin, I resumed my run pondering how absurd it was for me to have diarrhea on an easy run like that. "Hmm, I must have eaten some rancid cheese or something because I'm in pretty good shape. My stomach really isn't feeling so hot."

Being the soldierly type, I didn't walk at all on the way back to camp. If I wanted to reach my dream of being a state champion runner I had to get Bruticus and keep on running. Real distance runners don't walk. Running and climbing are the only 2 real athletics; everything else is just a game. When I finally made it back to camp, the uneasiness in my stomach promptly subsided.

Well, after a couple more days of hardcore climbing it was time to head back to the Scenic City of Chattanooga. No matter how cool they ever made downtown Chattanooga, it could never compare to the remarkable appeal of Hueco. There is an atmosphere about the dessert oasis that is profoundly powerful. Just as it had attracted migratory Indians thousands of years ago, it still held a potent draw for those who climb. Although today Hueco's visitors don't quench their thirst in the rain filled pockets in the rock, the climber's find nourishment of another kind-a fulfillment of their visions.

Early in the morning after we had packed the microbus with our remaining supplies, we headed off down the long straight road toward the park's gate. Aside from the rumble of the engine, there was not another noise in the entire bus. Everyone was gazing back over the sparkling asphalt, staring at the massive buttress of rock that stood guard over the entrance to the park. On that rock face, our eyes caressed one of the most famous routes at Hueco, "Sea of Holes." In a weepy voice, Heidi, the female instructor on the trip, murmured "There will be a hole in me until I come back...Hueco, I'll be back; I promise." No one said anything. Heidi broke the silence sobbing, "can someone pass me a tissue?" In one smooth motion I wiped my eyes on the sleeve of my shirt and grabbed the box of tissues.

"Here you go Heidi, we don't need any back here." I knew that since I was hardcore, I wasn't going to let myself cry.


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