Thursday, September 22, 2016

Failure and Success - What Climbing Taught Me About Writing

Base camp at Cottonwood Lake in the Crazy Mountains. The Dogtooth and Incisor make up the central skyline.


Being an independent author forces you to find your own metrics for the success of your writing. I don't have an agent or publisher telling me how great (or not) my work is, but thankfully, I do have many readers who enjoy my novels and stories. On days where I'm feeling less confident, however, it would be nice to have the backing of a "professional". The lack of this type of validation has made me think a lot about how I define success and failure, and what they both mean to me.

As I often do, I look to climbing for clarity in a situation. You wouldn't think something as basic as ascending a rock or mountain would be very enlightening, but I find it has a way of distilling a topic down to its essence.

This past weekend is a good example. All summer I have been eying a climb up the Incisor in the Crazy Mountains here in Montana. For one reason or another, it hasn't worked out to go. It's a big endeavor, requiring a good weather window and either a super long single push or a heavier backpack/camp/climb over a couple of days.


The Incisor is the middle formation, with our climb going up the outside corner of the main feature for ~1100 feet.

Our current alpine goal is in the Tetons, so earlier this summer we went there to work on that project rather than climb in the Crazys. When September rolled around, temps dropped, snow flew in the mountains, and it seemed alpine rock season was over. But after a week of warm weather, Sarah and I thought perhaps we might eek out one more climb. There was a decent weather window, and we had time off work, so we packed up and headed out.

Obviously, it was a very real possibility the climb wasn't going to happen (due to conditions), but we hiked in anyway, hoping that the daytime forecast for clear skies and 57°F would materialize. It wouldn't be "warm", but it would be doable.

We spent a somewhat uncomfortable night, with me testing a new, lightweight sleeping system that might have been a little light for the mid-30ish degree F temps. Sarah, who is constantly switching back and forth from working night shift, didn't sleep very well either. The lack of sleep was fine though, as we both expected it.

Morning dawned, finally, and the wind started gusting, throwing up a flag in my mind. The already cold day would be made worse with wind chill. I crawled out of the tent to make breakfast and was dismayed to see dark, flat clouds building above us. A second flag went up. Sarah and I talked over the situation as we ate some hot oatmeal with pine nuts and chia seeds. 

The sun tried to break through once. No luck.

The weather, along with time, was beginning to conspire against us. The climb itself faced west, so we hadn't gotten up early, hoping to let it warm up enough to climb without gloves. For the 6 pitches (about 1100 feet) of climbing with vague route info, we'd need at least 6 hours (conservatively). Much of the descent was covered in snow, with unknown difficulties just getting to the part we could see. We still had about 1000 feet to gain through talus and boulders to even get to the start of the route. As we discussed our options, the clouds continued to build overhead, blocking out what little bit of sun that had been coming through.

After adding up the time requirements for each part of climb, we decided it would be too close. Everything would have to go just right: we couldn't get off route, the weather would have to improve (or at the very least, stay the same), and we'd have to nail a potentially icy/snowy descent. It would be dangerous to get stuck out overnight in such low temps, especially since that night's forecast predicted rain.

Sarah leads the way through the talus/boulder field.
Instead of packing up and heading down the trail right away, we decided to make the trek up to the start of the climb, both for training and so we'd know where it was next time we attempted the route. Once we made it up over the terminal moraine and across several lateral moraines, we got a better glimpse of the route. I really wanted to go, and we'd brought all our gear as training weight, but everything still pointed towards a no go. The wind was blasting and after the few minutes we stopped to look, we were both freezing. The conditions were surpassing our skills.

From the second I woke up that morning and heard the wind whipping around us, I'd struggling with a feeling of failure. Each flag and warning that came increased the enormity of it. Were we just not pushing hard enough? Would we look back and be disappointed in ourselves? So many people push through epic conditions and make the summit. Was I just letting my fear and discomfort get in the way?

Turnaround point. Still about 1/4 mile from the base.
When we finally turned back, I felt both a sense of relief and of self-condemnation for feeling that way. I'd taken the easy way out, removed myself from an opportunity to overcome. Then the wind would gust and I would think about topping out the route with the sun going down, temps dropping, rain falling. Did we have the experience to get down safely?

When we go into situations like this, I try to rely solely on myself and Sarah. Rescue is far, far away, both in time and space. If something goes wrong, we have to get ourselves out. That really is the only option. In this case, I didn't feel our safety margin was big enough. I'm sure there are others who would have gone and crushed the climb, no problems. That wasn't me, not this time.

But I was still left with a feeling of failure, despite knowing it was late season, despite knowing the weather forecast was not good and the real conditions turned out worse, despite September's lack of daylight and snow on the descent.

As we packed up and hiked out, Sarah and I did our post climb debrief. While talking, I slowly metabolized my negative feelings and realized this trip was far from a failure. We'd gained more experience with backpacking into climbs, testing systems and learning more ways to be light. We'd also gotten some physical training out of the process. Most importantly, we'd went out into the mountains and tried, despite the late season and less than amazing forecast, something I wouldn't have done in the past.

Momma Black bear and her two cubs on the way out. Pretty cool!

This brings me back around to looking at failure and success, and I think what I've learned is that it is all in your perspective. Sure, I could look at that mission as a failure, and in some ways it was. But in larger, more important ways, it was a success. Better to attempt something big, with bad odds, and fail, then to succeed at the same old thing you know you can do. That's not to say we should always be going after the unattainable or unlikely, but we can't allow the fear of failure to turn us away from big goals.

I'm learning to adopt this new perspective when I feel I'm not having the success I need in writing. I look at myself from more angles and realize I'm growing and doing something I love. I have readers who enjoy my work, even if I'm not selling as many books as I'd like or getting more reviews.

I tend to look at a point in the future and say, "When I get there, I'll have arrived. I'm a real author. I'm successful." But from everything I see in the world around me (it's also another lesson I learned from climbing), I realize that such a point does not exist. It's always a line. We continually striving for the next "point", the next, and the next. It's not wrong or bad, necessarily, but if you don't understand that cycle, you're doomed to feel like a failure.

So, find a new perspective, enjoy your successes, and learn from your failures.

Monday, September 12, 2016

DARKSPAWN: Kowan the Technumage (Segment 01)



Kowan the Technumage fights to complete his mission, a desperate bid to protect Red World from the returning Darkness. Loyal to King and country, he must use all his training and skill to kill the enemies that destroyed his father and brother during the First War.

This short story series from novelist Zachariah Wahrer dives into a gritty tale filled with desperation, techno-magic, and revenge. Also available for free at Smashwords and Amazon (unfortunately, they won't allow free) if you prefer eBook formats.

 

Kowan drove his charged blade through the chest plate and into the guard’s chest. The sizzle of burning flesh filled the broad corridor with a sickly sweet aroma. The man, a member of the King’s Weard, slumped to the rough stone floor. I forced him to sacrifice himself for the greater good, Kowan thought, placing his hand over the heavy wood door. Just as Destrum forced me.
He hadn’t wanted to kill anyone other than the target, but his cloaking widget had power ducked at the worst possible moment and he’d been spotted. Fighting through the mass of King’s Weard had been desperate, even for a Technumage with his skills.
Focus, Kowan thought, drawing fully on his connection to elemental fire. He concentrated on a point, a space inside the complicated locking mechanism. As moments passed, Kowan had to shut out the sounds of approaching boots behind him. You have time. He could feel the power flowing out of him, binding the surrounding energy. The lock began to glow, first orange, then red, then white.
Finally, when he felt it was hot enough, he kicked the door. Kowan triggered a pulse through the leg of his combat suit’s augmentation system as he did so, increasing the kick’s force. The lock exploded in a shower of sparks and the door flew open, heavy hinges groaning.
Stop!” a deep voice yelled behind him. When Kowan turned, he was confronted by the largest human he’d ever seen. The Weard Captain, he thought, remembering that armored form standing next to the King during the Festival of Union. The Captain was far down the hall, but brought up a heavy, tech augmented bow. Before Kowan even realized what he was doing, he raised a gauntleted fist and bound the elemental air before him. As the mass solidified, he grasped and hurled it at the Captain, using a pulse of his suit to speed it faster than any arrow.
Then the Captain’s projectile slammed into Kowan. He looked down in disbelief at the arrow sticking out of his abdomen. How did it defeat my armor? he wondered. Pain exploded the next instant and Kowan fought hard to remain on his feet. When he looked up, he saw his air mass had done its work: the Captain was motionless on the floor, ten feet back from where he had been standing. His chest plate was caved in and a pool of blood formed around him. Further down the hall, Kowan could see light dance off the armor of more reinforcements. Get the arrow out of you and finish the job before they get here.
When he pulled out the Captain’s gift, he saw a miniaturized cavitator built into the arrow’s head. How did he have access to one of those? And that bow? It looked like technumage apparatus. No time, Kowan thought, turning back to the doorway.
He rushed into the room, barely able to believe what he was about to do. Remember what Head Mage Destrum told you, he thought. Inside, the King blocked his path, frail body barely able to hold up his great sword. This was the closest Kowan had ever been to the sovereign. The demands of Technumage training were great and he’d barely left the grounds in the eight years he’d been there.
The King stared at Kowan, taking in his black technumage combat armor and augmented weapons before finally locking eyes. His gaze, though worn, still had power. “What are you doing here, mage? Why do you assault your countrymen? Come, show me your best!”
Kowan didn’t know what to say. He’d always looked up to the King, especially since he’d learned of his sacrifice during the war. He wasn’t here for this man and didn’t have time for a conversation. Before the King could react, he sprinted past the monarch, desperately looking for the bassinet Destrum had briefed him about. Then he saw it, across the room, along the wall next to the broad window. As Kowan charged, he raised his sword, imbuing it with the same elemental electricity he’d used earlier. The Head Mage had warned him not to even look at the newly born prince, that he was no ordinary child. “He will charm you, will fill your head with lies. All of your sacrifice will be for nothing. He is the child of his mother, a spawn of Darkness.” And Destrum would know. As head of the Technumages, it was his job to lead the fight against the force that had nearly killed the King and destroyed the Red World in the First War.
Kowan swung the blade towards the bassinet, the strike aimed to cut both it and the spawn in half. Before the blade could do its work, he stopped. You have to check, have to make sure! He carefully peered over the edge, catching a glimpse of something dark and scaly.
A scream made Kowan jump and he felt something glance off his neck armor. Spinning, he caught the Queen’s wrist as she brought a dagger towards his eye. “You will not kill my son!” she yelled, fighting against his grasp. Destrum had told him about this woman, how she had seduced the King, how the spawn of their union would bring about the Second War and destruction of Red World. “But do not kill her, at least not first,” Destrum warned. “Her energy will transfer to the Dark whelp, and then it may prove too strong for you. Kill the spawn first, then its incubator.”
Back in the hall, Kowan could hear more King’s Weard yelling about the death of their Captain. They were getting close. Hurry!
Thrusting the Queen away, Kowan looked back in the bassinet. His first impression was confirmed. It wasn’t a child. The spawn was a hideous, scaled creature with pointed teeth and huge, lidless eyes. The white iris-less orbs stared at him, mouth turned up in a snarl. Kowan had been too young to fight in the First War, but this was a small version of what all the stories had talked about. It was one of the things that had killed both his father and older brother. It was why he had wanted to become a Technumage. It was of the Darkness.
Kowan raised his sword again. As he brought the blade down, he screamed a battle cry, a remembrance for all those lost. His electrified blade sheared through the light wicker easily, cleaving the spawn in two. Kowan felt something strike him in the head, and he reeled back from the slain creature. When he looked around the room, he couldn’t see what or who had struck him. The Queen was still picking herself off the floor, and the King was leaning on his great sword, staring wide eyed at the smoldering bassinet. “You’ve killed my one and only heir,” he stammered feebly. “You’ve doomed Red World.”
Something was wrong. Kowan’s mind felt as if he had just woke from a dream. Nothing seemed real. Instead of triumph for having destroyed a threat to the kingdom, all he felt was dread. When he turned to look back at the dead spawn, all was red blood and pink flesh. It was human, a baby.
No, no, no,” Kowan pleaded, “I saw it. It was Darkness.”
What are you talking about?” the King snapped back. Kowan was too stunned to answer.
A spell, he thought, the realization striking home. Head Mage Destrum tricked me. He made me Darks’ pawn. And I killed the King’s only heir because of it. No one will believe me. Just what he wanted.
The Queen rushed over to the bassinet, hurriedly batting away pieces of smoldering wicker. Her wails of grief were too much for Kowan to stand. The King’s Weard were closing in. He could hear their shouts just outside the doorway.
The only way to escape was out the open window, but Kowan was torn. He felt guilty, felt he deserved the execution that would happen after his capture. Yet he was the only one who knew of Destrum’s corruption and treachery. If the Head Mage was left in power, Red World would most certainly fall to the Darkness. If Kowan lived, perhaps he could balance his terrible act by killing him.
Kowan ran towards the window and dove through. The sheer castle wall slid past, illuminated by Red World’s two moons. Soon, the wall transitioned to the canyon cliff. Kowan had just enough time to wonder if his combat armor would save him as he slammed into the river.
  
Future segments of Kowen the Technumage will be made available here.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

About the Author: Music, My Path to Writing

To continue my sporadic About the Author series, I'd like to talk about how music has impacted and influenced my writing.

I've loved music for just about as long as I can remember. My parents played lots of vinyl records, instilling in me a love for the classics like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, along with many others. As I got older, I discovered punk, metal, and electronic music. I learned how to play guitar, bass, keyboard, and computer sequencing.

Some of my early digital art: a band profile picture.
During my late teens and early twenties, I played and sang in several bands, trying to make it as a professional musician. Eventually, as my skills and creativity matured, I moved from playing punk to experimental prog-rock. Being that I was the primary singer and lyricist for the band, I dreamed up a conceptual theme based on a sci-fi world. It started with the evolution of the solar system, each album progressing through a different epoch of time. All the planets were symbolically based on a different band member and their history. During this time, I really wanted to write sci-fi novels, but didn't feel I had the skills for something like that. (By the way, I just Googled this band, The Ascent and Decline of Terrion, and it turns out there is still music online, on MySpace of all places...).


I used to be HardxCore! ;-)
When The Ascent and Decline of Terrion broke up, I decided I'd had enough of trying to make bands work. If you've never been in one, it's hard to understand just how much drama and conflict can be involved. I briefly worked on a solo electronic project under the name Trans Human Existence (again implementing sci-fi themes) and finally started writing a novel. Several years passed, the manuscript became Breakers of the Dawn, and I quit creating music.

Sometimes I really miss being in bands, playing shows, and rocking out. It was a fun collaborative effort, greater than the sum of its parts. One thing I've realized though, was that I enjoyed the act of creating and playing songs for a couple weeks. After that, they began to feel stale and I was ready to move on. Writing has a similar analog: the process of drafts and revision. However, I find these to be much less taxing and enjoyable than playing the same songs week after week.

At any rate, I still love music and even listen to it while writing, finding tracks that suit the mood of whatever I'm working on. Music can often get me into a flow, help me focus, and mentally send me off to places I didn't knew existed.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Run, Climb, Fly, Move - July/August Update

Woah! Its been busy lately. Crazy to realize it's almost September and summer is almost over.

I've been mostly on vacation the past month, which has been awesome. Harbingers is in the hands of my beta readers, so I had a chance to relax and take a break from writing.

Early August, I blogged about Mexico, but so much more happened.

When we first got to Bozeman, Sarah discovered the Bridger Ridge Run race and decided she wanted to do it. Its 19.65 miles, with 7,000' of gain and 9,000' of loss, and much of the running above 10,000' in elevation. I'm always up for a challenge, so I decided to join in. Unfortunately, at that time, we'd already missed the lottery cutoff date for the race, so we decided to do it on our own. We trained as hard as we could for the few months we had, and planned to do our run the same week as the race.

Part of the ridge, stretching out before us.

I've never been much of a runner. For me, running has mostly been a way to train cardio for climbing, rather than a pursuit on its own. Sarah, by contrast, was a collegiate track athlete.

Ross Pass. Just before half way.

The ridge is so beautiful, and it was really great to be moving quickly over so much ground. I felt good during the beginning of the run, but by the last 5 miles, I was hurting (well beyond the "good" pain). Thankfully, Sarah was still going strong and I was able to keep chasing her.

Most of the trail wasn't this smooth and easy.

On the last mile, I was growling and gritting my teeth. My brain had long since divorced itself from my body, giving it over to the suffering. Downhill pounding is definitely a knee killer and was our least favorite part. Once we arrived back at the car, I was wrecked. I laid on a picnic table and tried not to puke. I was definitely in an altered state, oblivious to the world around me. In retrospect, I very much enjoyed that experience.

Eventually, I was able to move again and Sarah drove us home. Our time, 8:24:42, would have put us in 249 out of 254, if we'd have been in the actual race. Not a stellar, especially considering the top runners do it in almost half the time, but I'm proud to have finished, especially since I'm relatively new to "real running. I think Sarah could have gone faster if she hadn't have been waiting for me. We are planning on doing it again next year...

After a weeks worth of rest, both sedentary and active, we were ready for our next adventure. Our big climbing goal is the Grand Traverse in Grand Teton National Park. It's a complicated undertaking, one that is currently beyond our abilities. One thing that is nice about it, however, is that you can do it in chunks, then put the whole thing together at a later time. As part of our training, we decided to do the first peak in the traverse, Teewinot, via the East Face.

Teewinot is just right of center, rightmost of the main group of mountains.

While not a technically demanding route, it does require quite a bit of elevation gain and routefinding. The climbing/scrambling was well within our abilities and we never felt the need to rope up, which did help us move quicker. We were both still tired from the ridge run, so our time overall wasn't great. After getting off route a couple times, we did eventually find the most efficient path up. When we go back next summer for the Cathedral Traverse (first half of the Grand Traverse), we'll be able to do Teewinot in the dark. Our mission was accomplished.

Down climbing after getting off route... again. :-)
It also wouldn't be a trip to the Tetons if we didn't see a bear. As we were trudging back to the trail head, just a quarter mile out, we saw 3 bears. One was a grizzly, walking towards us on the trail. Thankfully s/he decided to go around, rather than through us, but it was a tense few moments.

Summit of Teewinot, with Grand Teton in the background.

After the Tetons, we drove out to Kansas. Sarah needed to do her bi-annual flight review to maintain her pilots license, and that was a good time to pick up the few things we still had in storage at her parents house from our time living on the road. We had a good week there and Sarah was able to fly quite a bit.

Sarah and her grandpa getting ready for her review.


I love it when she takes me flying!


We had a great time visiting with family and friends and then drove back to Bozeman. Thankfully, Sarah's new hospital paid for our moving expenses, which allowed us to rent a moving truck (we didn't even fill up the smallest one) and tow our car.


We even got a sci-fi themed U-Haul. Made my day.

Now we are back at home, all moved in, and contemplating living in one place for awhile. It's taking some adjustment, but change is a good thing. :-)

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Book Review - "Aeon Legion: Labyrinth" by J.P. Beaubien



(4.5 out of 5 Stars)
Aeon Legion: Labyrinth is an enjoyable read. I found it to have very compelling world building with great depth and history. It is a fantastic mixture of Harry Potter and Divergent (from how it felt/moved, not from the setting). The characters were interesting and the premise of the book drew me in.

The style / prose can be clunky at times, but I got used to it by the end. Be forewarned that there are some spelling and punctuation issues, but if that kind of thing doesn't bother you too much, it isn't a big deal. A few of the characters come off feeling one dimensional. Terra's (the main character) parents are the worst in that regard. Their reactions and personality are flat and they feel like throw aways to me.

With that being said, I found the rest of the book to be great. The cast develops well and are believable. The plot takes a bit to get moving, but once it does, it hits hard. I found the book to be an innovative take on difficult tropes (time travel and coming of age).

Author website: www.jpbeaubien.com

Monday, August 1, 2016

Some from Mexico

The letters are worn from all the people taking pictures.
Just got back from a week in Cozumel, Mexico. It was my first "vacation" in awhile and it made me realize I'm not the best person when it comes to relaxing. Definitely enjoyed snorkeling and playing in the ocean, but I continue to feel that the mountains are the place for me. Here are some pictures for your enjoyment.

Selfie at the port.
Crazy coincidence: Saw this girl reading my book in the pool! ;-)

Sunsets and palm trees.

The street art in San Miguel was sweet!

Mayan memorial at night.


Crazy clouds were the norm.

Swimming in a cenote.

Saw these guys while eating lunch on our last day.

Friday, July 15, 2016

My Journey to Fear (Or: The Mountains)

I grew up in Prescott Valley, Arizona, which has some awesome wilderness opportunities. My parents weren't climbers, but loved being outside. Consequently, I spent a lot of time camping, hiking, biking, walking, and exploring. I remember being in a gear store and seeing posters of people climbing. Those images are still stuck in my mind.
When I turned 13, we moved to Ohio, a state with no mountains, virtually no climbing, and limited outdoor activities I enjoyed. Thankfully, we had a large piece of property with some forest to play around in, piquing my interest in survival.

I remember watching the Lord of the Rings movie and wishing something amazing would happen to me. Planning a road trip up to Alaska in my shitty car got me excited, but it never happened. I trained for and attempted to join the Army Rangers. Fortunately, they permanently disqualified me due to hearing loss in one ear. Looking back, I was doing whatever I could to get some excitement, exploration, and challenge in my life (both internal and external).

The opportunity to move with my job arose; I jumped. The company was heading to Texas, a place I'd never been or knew much about. Being in a new location was exciting. I listened to audio books while I worked. This allowed my interest in the outdoors to be indulged with accounts of survival, mountaineering, and climbing. I wanted more than anything else to be on those snowy peaks, staring death in the face and outwitting it with fitness, skill, and knowledge.

While listening to others' adventures was great, I still needed something to challenge me, to push me physically and mentally. Unfortunately, Texas has no peaks, no real elevation gain at all. Knowing Colorado was nearby, I decided to train for mountaineering by backpacking. I did a couple overnight trips, my enthusiasm overtaking my knowledge. Thankfully, all this meant was carrying far too much weight and wearing myself out. I wanted to climb Denali, but this was the best I could do at the moment.

Super psyched on backpacking... :-/
When my neighbors told me about a rock climbing area nearby (~2 hour drive), I was captivated. Here was an opportunity for something that sounded more appealing than tramping around a hot forest carrying a heavy load! Learning from my backpacking mistakes and recognizing the seriousness of the endeavor, I decided to read as much as possible to educate myself. After a long period of top-roping, I moved into leading sport, then trad. Once I was ready, I took a couple climbing trips to destinations around the US. This allowed me to expanded my abilities. It also made me realize I loved the lifestyle of rock climbing. It was simple, liberating, and easy.

While TX climbing was fun, it was often far away, short, and very hot.
The Texas portion of my life lasted about 3 years and is a story in and of itself. I will say that after 6 months of arriving there, I was ready to move again. My job, the prevailing attitudes of Texas, and the fact I was spending almost as much time driving for climbing as I was actually climbing made me want to leave.

I crafted a plan to move to Colorado, the place that had a mythical status in my mind, not only for it's climbing, but for the mountains I'd spent so much time away from. Tired of working a job I had no passion for, I decided to become a route-setter (a person who creates routes for others to climb in a climbing gym). I would take a massive pay cut, but it would be worth it. Amazingly, I was hired by a gym in Colorado Springs. My three years there was a time of amazing growth and learning: I got really strong (climbing all the time), made some cool friends, and met the love of my life (and now, wife), Sarah.

Sarah mid-route on one of our best Colorado adventures:
A December ascent of Better Lock Next Time (South Platte).
Surprisingly, during my entire time in Colorado, the desire to be in the mountains lay dormant. It was a crowded hassle to hike or climb 14'ers and subsequently, I really only wanted to rock climb. Sarah and I's skills continued to improve and we worked our way into longer, more difficult routes.

Then, my itchy feet struck again and Sarah and I decided to move into a mini-van for a year and a half so we could travel and climb. This part of my life was stellar. We visited so many climbing areas and spent our days doing what we loved. During our travels, I also re-discovered my desire to get into the mountains. We began taking our rock climbing skills into higher, more remote alpine locations in Idaho (more), Montana, Wyoming, and Alberta.

While I loved the challenge of being in these exposed, difficult places, I found myself becoming overwhelmed with fear. What if one of us got hurt? What if we got up a climb and couldn't find the way down? How did I ascend something if it had snow or ice on it? What if we got stuck on a climb overnight?

Sarah leading Upper Exum to the summit of Grand Teton.
I had found the challenge I wanted, pushing myself out of my comfort zone both physically and mentally, but I wasn't sure I actually liked it. I'd been wanting this for so many years, and now that I had it, I was overwhelmed. There was even a route I forced us to back off of because it felt too dangerous and help was many hours away. I cried that day, both in fear and frustration for my weakness. I'd used up all of my mental reserves and only anxiety was left.

By the end of the summer, I was glad alpine rock season was over. I just wanted to go back to short, one pitch climbs. I'd lost much of my rock climbing strength (my prized possession), but it came back eventually and I was happy. Alpine climbing seemed like so much work for so little reward. Sure, you stood on top of mountains in fantastic locations, but was it really worth all the fear and anxiety? As fall began, I decided it wasn't. The mountains were pretty to look at, but short, sunny routes with easy access were far more fun, easy, and appealing. Why make it complicated?

As fall turned to winter, I spent a lot of time thinking about what we'd gone through. My mental muscles regained their strength and felt tougher. Time gave me perspective, and I digested the experiences. I'd went into the mountainsthe place I'd dreamed ofmentally unprepared. All my technical skills, gained from many years of climbing, had kept me safe, but my mind was weak. I'd permitted my imagination to dream up nightmarish scenarios, none of which were likely to happen. Furthermore, I had been idealizing a harsh environment, thinking it would always be fun. The reality was much, much different.

After we finished our van trip, our initial plan was to move every three months (Sarah is a travel nurse). On our second stop, (Bozeman, MT) we loved it so much we decided to stay. The access to mountains here is amazing, with lots of alpine climbing, trail running, and rock climbing. I enjoy the fact it isn't as crowded as Colorado. With more hindsight, I've realized that living in the van created a lack of discipline that caused many weaknesses in me. Now, with a structured training program, I'm become much stronger, both mentally and physically.


Since arriving in Bozeman, I've tested my renewed toughness several times. I feel it still has a ways to go, but I'm excited to take part in that process. You can't be good at everything all the time (which I've tried in the past) and you can't become awesome all at once (which I've also expected of myself previously).

This is how you go fast and light, right?
Looking back, I feel like I've completed some kind of weird cycle: I wanted to be in the mountains, but couldn't and developed the climbing skills I needed to be there. Then, when I could be in the mountains, I didn't find it appealing. Next, my desire and skills allowed me to climb peaks, but I quickly lost my motivation. Now, I have both the desire, skill, motivation, and resiliency to do the objectives I've dreamed of for so long.

On a side note, Sarah has been an amazing partner and I couldn't have done this without her. I've never had someone that shared my love of climbing and personal challenge in the way she does. Her support enables me to do the things I do, including making a trip to one of my dream locations: the Bugaboos. She even set our 2017 objective: The Grand Traverse. Together, we've created a life that allows us to pursue our passions and face our fears. For that, I'm extremely grateful.

Loving life in the mountains.