Engaging life like a Bull

I quit the climbing gym today. Erin’s probably going to be a bit miffed, it’s true, but for the wrong reasons. It’s not for financial reasons, though our weekend-long budgeting session did provide some impetus for the decision. We’re trying to buy a house, and it looks like it might actually take some money. Money that we’ll have to find somewhere.

So, while finances may have spurred me on, it’s not the real reason. The real reason is that I’m not prioritizing climbing enough. I hadn’t been going regularly, I had been finding it more and more difficult to get in the car, drive 35 minutes out there and 35 minutes back. When I actually made it to the gym, I would only climb for an hour or so. I never got into the groove, never settled into a group of people, didn’t really enjoy it the way I used to. I’m not exactly the most outgoing of people, but I’m not totally social awkward, either. Two years of traveling helped me develop some skills to meet new people, but I still hang back. If I had to classify myself between the wallflower and the social butterfly, I’m somewhere along the lines of a friendly fern.

What’s the reason to quit, then? I felt bad that I was unable to devote the time to climbing that the others were. Who’s able to head out to the mountains 3 days a week? Oh, wait, that was me just a little bit ago. But certainly not anymore. It was frustrating to be in the midst of the climbing community, where total devotion is par for the course. I’ll never be a great climber. But I do enjoy it.

ChancosBut more than that, it’s mostly the fact that climbing was a way of holding onto our trip. It was a time that I could sit and remember our motorcycle trip in South Africa, where we went climbing and met a fantastic couple who invited us for a braai. I would remember climbing in Peru, where an incredibly old woman walked past us with 40 sheep while I was stuck on a wall. The multiple trips in Argentina, my two day course in Arenales, our time in Idaho. I’d even look back to the days when I worked at Ibex Climbing Gym for pennies.

It’s not a bad thing to reminisce. I know well that this recent memory of our trip, while still fresh in my mind, is a precious moment. I started my travel life long ago with my family, and I fondly remember both family and solo trips. But how fresh are these memories? How well can I remember the places, the people, their names, the details that blur into the past? It gets less and less the farther back the memories go.

I spent a year in Mexico in 2000-2001. 11 years ago this fall, I left high school, hopped on a place, and landed in Mexico City to embark on an incredible journey of great experiences, horrible mistakes, and hilarious stories that I no longer tell because the details become lost in the many stories. I’ve written most of them down, and I occasionally pull them out and wonder at my own naivety, brash behavior and beginner’s mind.

During college, I took several trips, including some incredible places like Antarctica, Peru, South Africa and a 4,000 mile solo road trip from Austin to New York City and back. After college, I spent 3 1/2 months touring SE Asia. These are experiences that I hold very dearly and remember well, sometimes laughing to myself about a joke that is one hundred percent inexplicable unless you’ve been there along the road with me.

For instance, people have asked where I learned to ride a bike. I can tell you the exact place: Vang Vienne, Laos. Even the mention of that town makes me smile with a happy memory of learning to ride a moped and getting stuck in a huge puddle of clay. I was eventually pulled free by a very old tractor. An honest to goodness diesel tractor from the 40s, pulling a cart of people who all tried to help. I rode my moped back into town by way of an hour long ride on a wooden tractor-cart.

I started up a massive Harley we had rented for Erin’s birthday, and I was immediately taken back six years to that red moto. Train rides make me think of playing my guitar on a 20 hour train ride in Burma through rice paddies. Large shrimp make me think of Zanzibar, and now make me think of my first date with Erin, where she didn’t believe that U-2 shrimp could exist. Pickles takes me back to Texas, little league baseball games and watermelon.

Having these specific items that transport me back to a certain time and place is no different than anyone else. It’s simply part of our nature to have triggers that remind us of certain things. But lately, I’ve been feeling like I’ve been remembering too much. I’ve been too strongly stuck where we’ve been, dwelling on our past events. I haven’t been preparing for our future, and even worse, I haven’t been fully enjoying the present.

I’m letting go of our trip, little by little. And quitting the climbing gym is a part of that process for me, strange as that may seem. I plan on continuing climbing, but not in the way I’ve been. I need a new gym, a new perspective on the sport, and most likely a break from it. I’m enjoying our life in Durham to an incredible degree, but I haven’t committed myself 100% to our present, which is a shame.

I’m loving my job, I even paid to have the opportunity to spend a three day weekend programming. Yes, I actually gave money to an organization to allow me to do what I do for work, on the weekend. That’s how much I’m enjoying the type of work I’m doing now. It’s fun. I get to spend 10-12 hours a day behind a computer unraveling the intricacies of electronics. It’s a fascinating and beautiful rabbit hole that engulfs me completely, to the point where I can’t even talk if I’m programming. (Ask Erin, she’ll verify this.)

We’re trying to buy a house. It’s a huge venture for us, and it scares both of us to the bones, but being scared of something certainly doesn’t stop us from doing it. It’s certainly no scarier than attending a football match in Zimbabwe. Not even close.

We’re meeting new people, slowly but surely. We’ve got some new friends here that we enjoy, we’re understanding our new city and state a little bit more each week, finding the odd quirks that keep us interested. Things like the incredible sweet tooth of southerners. (North Carolina is the south?) The terrible mash that they call barbecue. The sweltering humid air that hits you like dragon breath when you walk outside. The general fear of snow. It’s amazing.

It’s difficult to let go of our trip. But, slowly, I’m releasing my fingers one at a time to focus on what’s in front of us. It certainly helps that these are incredibly exciting times for us, so I find it easier and easier to look forward and engage life head on. Like a bull.