Dave's Not Here

Archive for October, 2014

Four Words

by on Oct.28, 2014, under Dave's Rants

It’s happened half a dozen times . . . at parties, office discussions, checkout lines. I, or someone who knows me, will mention that I hike up mountains early in the morning for a run (Dawn Patrol). And then I hear the four words. I always hear the four words.

“Is it worth it?” Or, from the funny guys, “Don’t they have lifts for that?”

It is just a simple four word question. But it is never a four word answer. How much time do I have? Do I really want to have this conversation? I mean, don’t get me wrong: I love to talk about Dawn Patrol. But, in a reward based society, people rarely understand.

I usually start out with the short response: “No”. Maybe I even follow it up with, “A two minute run is rarely worth a 90 minute hike”. But, that only causes more confusion: If it isn’t worth it, then why do I do it? Now I have to move to a longer answer.

“I would much rather climb a mountain, then spend 90 minutes on a treadmill. Plus, I get a free run afterward.”

That usually ends things. People even say, “Wow, that’s a good point, I should do that” But, it is still not the truth. It is worth it. It is VERY worth it. But, it is worth it in an almost indescribable way.

Picture this:

You drive up the mountain. The air is cold — sometimes VERY cold. You gauge the chill, and layer up. Sometimes your hands go numb at the car, while getting your gear ready. You pack your bags like an experienced Sherpa: Storage for holding ascent gear (skins, light gloves, hat, water, etc). Gear for the descent (Goggles, helmet, thick gloves). You make sure your headlamp is working, don your ski coat, put your boots on, and stomp your feet. You get your skis or split-board ready, and you hike across the parking lot to the base of the hill.

Finally, you click or strap in and start hiking. A single beam from your headlamp illuminates the white snow. If the moon is out, you can see the silhouette of the mountain. If not, you may be able to see the contrast of nearby trees and rocks, or you may just see your headlamp, bobbing along the path. Your mind relaxes, as your skins slap into the snow, and slide along, creating a rhythm with your heart beat and breathing. The hill is steep, but there are spots to rest. You do rest, particularly when it is steep and you feel like you are going to collapse. Most days, you are not cold — you may even ditch ditch your gloves, as the heat generated by climbing warms you up.

As the monotony of the climb drones on, the stress of life starts to melt away. You focus on your priorities, the trees, solutions to problems, the powder, your heartbeat, the trail ahead.

Then the magic begins.

From the darkness, shadows start to appear. Trees become defined. The black turns to gray, gray turns to light gray or white. You can see the mountain, the rocks, the trees and the snow. You even start to detect shapes and depth in what was once a blanket of white. The stars fade, and the sky becomes gray. You chuckle softly to yourself as your mind makes a “50 Shades of Gray” reference.

Later, color starts to appear. The sky turns from gray to pale blue. The trees start to show hints of dark green, and the white of the snow now starts to illuminate the mountain. You can clearly make out the shape of the mountain in front of you. You turn off your headlamp, since you can see now. (Or turn it to red, so people can see you). And, you continue upward.

Personally, I’m lucky. My climb is slightly west facing. The sun rises behind me, and, occasionally, it will light up the peak in front of me. It looks like the Holy Grail, depicted in a gold mosaic in old churches. The reflection is both blinding and beckoning. I sometimes stop, turn around, and think about how lucky I am. A mountain close enough to hike up before work.

You continue up the hill, as the colors appear. You hear snowmobiles in the distance as the resort workers start to check out the mountain. You finish your climb, but there is no fanfare. There is no excitement. This was not a touchdown. The beauty was in the climb, not in the destination. While you have arrived, now it is time for more tedium.

You strip off your wet gear: gloves, hat. Those are replaced by dry gloves, helmet and goggles. You remove your skins with fingers quickly going numb, fold them, and put them in your pack. You look around at what you climbed, surveying the height, and the views down the mountain. You put your skis into downhill mode, or put your split-board together for the descent, and you head back down.

Generally, the ride down is quick and uneventful. I have started skiing instead of split-boarding. I’m a pretty crappy skier, and this gives me practice. I generally get back down in two minutes on a snowboard, or 10-15 on skis.

Two or three times, in the last couple of years, I have had an epic powder run on the downhill. (I climb up a resort, since I go alone, and I’d like to be found if I get injured. So, I come down the areas where they are not doing avalanche control. Generally dark greens or blues) On those epic powder days, the run may have been worth a 90 minute hike, even to the people who like to ask that four word question. But, those days are rare.

So, to answer the question, in the most accurate way possible: Is it worth it? For the run: no. For the climb: always . . . let me explain . . .

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