“Alix, remember that balance is the key to life,” Steve reminded me as he had many times before.
Yeah, Yeah, whatever Dad. I thought to myself.
It’s just too much fun to want to do anything else. Story of my life
Before climbing, I toured with a band, STS9, for 3-4 years, investing into over 50 concerts. Before that, I partied and raved non-stop for two years. And before that, I played competitive soccer for 10 years on three different teams simultaneously for a few of them. If I’m passionate about something, it drives my life. It consumes my thoughts, my dreams, my ideas…everything. This isn’t the first time I’m feeling burnt out. I didn’t think I’d start to feel this way about climbing…
And now, here I am, again, having ignored this idea of balance to chase dreams and feel-goods, and I am feeling weak, tired, and unstable.
The sound alarms at 3:20 am. Awesome, I’m pretty sure I just got woken up after my first real hour of sleep.
Bail. Bail. Bail.
Jim and I bike the chilly Yosemite loop to our car to get ready for Watkins.
“Jim, I didn’t sleep last night. Wanna bail?”
“Alix, you said you don’t bail if your partner’s psyched. I’M PSYCHED.”
We peddle on. Three hours later we arrive to the base of the climb…
I lead my pitches, bitching and whining through the first half of the climb, wishing I was on a beach surfing somewhere in South America. Yeah, that sounds good. Warm water, sunshine, and a surfboard.
We finish the climb 16 hours later and sleep on top of Watkins. Guess I’m earning every summit I get in Yosemite
“I’m tired Jim. This isn’t working… I need a break from climbing so I can be psyched again.”
I started climbing 3.5 years ago, but until I discovered Yosemite two years ago, it wasn’t my passion. Since then, I have balanced school with climbing; traveling the past two summers, but always going back to school, another focus.
I graduated college in December and have been only rock climbing since then. When I’m not climbing, I work at a coffee shop in Bishop, the local climber hang out. I talk about climbing. I cruise the internet for blogs and videos. I fantasize about the Salathe headwall. I hang out with climbers.
There is no balance. I have become a monotonous drone enslaved to the big stone.
I’m ready for a change, even a small one. I don’t want to throw climbing away like I did with soccer or STS9. I need to balance out my obsessive habits. Lately, the ocean has been sounding more and more appealing. I grew up by the beach and I’m missing the warm, salty kisses the ocean gives me. I miss hula hooping and slack lining with my friends. I miss getting my lungs filled with salt water and feeling that temporary sharp pain that reminds me I’m a human. I miss my family, my little brother who’s almost two now, and all of my friends.
If a passion starts to fade, I loose direction and purpose. This rut is making me feel empty, incapable of empathizing and feeling compassion. I need something new to feel alive and a part of this ever-growing organism of Earth. I have to balance my climbing addiction with something else before the light goes out.
Two days go by and the suffering on Watkins was pushed out of my head. “Windfall to Windchill,” I suggested to Alan when we were sitting on the beach of the Merced. “11 pitches, 11a, shaded.”
“Hm, but I have plans with Lyla. They aren’t concrete… I’m interested.” He responded.
“Jim, you and David should come too! Party wall!” I interrupted his nap.
“Sure, we’re in.” Jim said, half asleep and unaware of what he signed up for.
“Ok, Alan. You’re in now right?” I was pushing it.
The next day we left Camp 5 at 6:30 am. We parked by Wawona and forgot a picture of the formation. We identified what could be the formation and went directly toward it up a steep scree field.
“Man, a beach sounds nice right now. I’m over hiking Jim”
“Yeah, I am, too.”
“David, we’re going to visit you in San Diego. Time for surfing!” I screamed ahead to him.
Nothing changed. There we were climbing a few days later, still fatigued. The clock was ticking and day by day, I realized I was just going through the motions. We rested the next day, and I spent most of the day reflecting by the Merced.
In the back of the North Pines campground, the river runs through it, shaded by the trees. It’s very shallow, maybe a foot deep with small stones blanketing the bed of the river and a fallen log spans the width of the river. I put my feet in the water, allowing myself feel the numbing sensation of the snow melt water. I walk to the center of the log and sit down.
I start to cry, uncontrollably. Thoughts are flowing and I feel alone. Suddenly, I feel guilty for climbing so much, for not being there for my mom when her brother died, for not spending more time with my brother, for not calling my friends. I feel guilty for being selfish. Pain is temporary. Soak it in. I keep thinking to myself.
Hours pass and I find myself back at Camp Five.
“Jim, let’s go for a walk.” My puffy, red eyes suggest it could be “the talk,” but it was far from that.
Jim looks at me like a puppy, afraid of getting scolded and unsure of what’s to come.
We walk toward the meadow between Curry Village and the Ahwahnee Hotel. A wooden board sidewalk separates the two locations and is surrounded by overgrown grass. To the east is Half Dome, a sheer face splits the dome. To the west is Yosemite Falls. The grass moves with the wind and the evening light accentuates the mystical face of Half Dome.
I am in the most beautiful place in the world and I can’t even stop to appreciate the beauty of the present because I’m so self-absorbed. Who is this girl? Where did she come from? I miss Alix.
“Jim, I’m not happy. I’m just not…” Tears form under my eyes. “I blamed Bishop for my lack of friends, lack of community. I blamed all of my problems on everything else…but really, it’s just me.” Shallow breaths start to form, tears are rolling. I can’t look at him. I’m ashamed.
Jim rubs my shoulders. “It’s ok Alix. You can cry.”
“I feel so alone. I feel empty. I have acquaintances, but very few friends. I miss my friends… I miss my family… I miss my mom.” I’m sobbing now.
“It’s ok.” Jim puts his arms around me.
“I’ve been so selfishly indulging in just rock climbing that I’ve lost sight of everything else important in my life. I hate myself, Jim. I don’t like me anymore. I haven’t felt this way since I was 18. I don’t care about anything. I don’t have feelings for people or emotions. I just exist.” I pause, trying to gather some composure, but can’t.
“I don’t want to feel this way Jim. We live in a beautiful place. I have you. I get to experience nature first hand every day, and yet, I’m still not fulfilled. I’m disgusted with myself. I feel lonely and empty.”
“Alix, I love you.” His eyes are watery, too. People pass us on the sidewalk, but we didn’t care at this point.
“I know. You are so kind, so patient, and so loving. I’m still not happy with myself. I don’t know what to do Jim…something needs to change.”
“You’re right. We can figure this out.”
We sit in the meadow for some time holding each other, embracing the setting sun, the wind, the warmth, the love.
Balance. I’m off balance.