So Much This

On the death bed — Katsu!

The Suck

I hate everything. Fuck these skis. Fuck this trail. Fuck me for thinking that this was a good idea. Why. The fuck. Do I keep putting myself in these situations?

It’s 3pm on a January Saturday, and I’m disaster skiing out of Rocky Mountain National Park. After ice climbing in the high country all day, struggling to follow Mike’s leads and moving inefficiently, I’m wrecked. The terrain is neither terribly steep, nor very technical, but it’s above my pay grade, and I’m getting pummeled. Every thirty feet or so I face plant into the snow, or skid to a stop below a short rise, then awkwardly sidestep up, sucking wind the whole way. Far ahead, my partner–a better climber, skier, and generally more functional human, it seems–is casually swooshing down the gently undulating trail. I kind of hate him right now.

I’m deep in the Suck. Deep in that place of discomfort and frustration. It’s a place I know well. I keep moving, but the bad feelings are driving me into a rage. I’m an ulcer in snow pants. For a time, the experience spirals out of control. This little kid, a whiny brat, lives in my head, and these are the times he rules like a petulant god-king. With every fall his voice screams louder, hurling insults, specific problems interpreted as symptoms of a larger malady. I’m not just skiing poorly; I’m skiing poorly because I’m bad at life. I’m having this experience because I’m a dysfunctional person. “You’re stupid, and it was a stupid idea to come out here, and it’s some bullshit insecurity issues that drive you to throw yourself against life’s rocks again and again with the misguided faith that there’s wisdom to be found in a broken nose. Accept that you’re soft and weak and stop doing this shit.”

Swaddled in the comforts of civilization, I think of the suffering fondly. With cold beer in hand, seated in a soft chair, I joke about type 2 fun (not fun to do, but fun to talk about), and bad experiences become good stories. Drunk on this perception, I take on projects outside my abilities, and happily think, “Oh this will be terrible,” while packing for a trip. The defining feature of the Suck, though, is that it’s never not the Suck. It’s bad every time, and when the hurt returns, I’m always surprised by just how bad it is. There is no getting used to it because once I’m inoculated to one strain of suffering, I just go looking for another, expecting that some transitive property of stoicism will keep me safe. But no. The Suck sucks every time.

I fall again, and my inner child is throwing a tantrum. Silently, I yell at him to shut the fuck up, but the admonition is futile. He wants to stop. He wants to lay in the snow and pout, but we are in the mountains, where stopping is not an option. I get up again, take a deep breath, and try to calm down. I wonder, if this inner voice were a real child standing in front of me, what would I do? The answer is obvious: I’d comfort him. I would soothe him. Despite this insight, I have no idea how to hug a voice in my head while night approaches, I’m already slowing down my partner, and the parking lot is still far away. I unscrew my Nalgene cap to take a drink and find that my water has frozen solid. I. Hate. This. So. Much.

As I ski, and fall, and stand up over and over, exhaustion begins to triumph over self-pity. Aching limbs peel the monkey from my back, and dump it behind me. The insults continue, but grow quieter, and as the cacophony dims, I can better sense what’s really going on. I’m tired, cold, and frustrated. That’s all. There is no grand tragedy here, no crisis. Despite what the howling child proclaimed, this experience is not a metaphor, and does not mean anything. It simply is. The wind stops, and I’m grateful for the reprieve.

When night falls, I watch my breath condense and swirl in the beam of my headlamp, evanescent and beautiful. My self-criticism, along with all other thoughts, is gone. Only grim determination and pain remain, but their company is welcome now. I am hollowed out and feel a lightness. Finally, I reach the truck, and with barely a word, Mike and I take off our boots, throw our packs in the bed, and climb into the cabin. I assume that after this junk show we’ll never climb again.

We ride in silence until Mike suggests grabbing dinner. In the restaurant–a low-key barbeque joint with big portions and a friendly bartender–ribs and beer bring me back to life. I apologize to Mike for the heinous ski out, but he dismisses this, saying he’s just happy I didn’t complain. I realize today hasn’t affected our partnership at all, and I’m reminded what a drama queen I can be. A few hours later, we reach my car, laughing, being stupid, back to normal. I drive away, and soon a thought pops into my head: “I should go ice climbing more often.”

1 Comment

  1. I was entirely unsuccessful in learning how to telemark, no matter how many times I fell. Well written Jameses.

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