Dispatches from New Mexico (pt 2)

After being routed soundly by the mountain on Sunday, I crashed into the Days Inn in Las Vegas around 3pm, and laid on the bed, with my mind reeling.

Why exactly did I come out here?

What do I want out of this week?

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After I posted part 1 yesterday, a more experienced hiking buddy commented that he thought I was right on target — that facing the elements and getting grit in my teeth and scrounging together wet firewood and conquering the peak … that all these things were indeed uncomfortable, and entirely worth it too.

Thanks Eugene. Seriously. I agree with you. You’re right.

But, through my afternoon of agitation at the Days Inn, I realized that I came out here for a different purpose.

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It seems I have acquired an alarming backlog of thoughts and questions and conundra, which have built up over the last few months. Much of this, to be sure, was actually catalyzed by my blogging through the month of July — when I was forced to bleed out all these jumbled ideas and sculpt them into something coherent, day after day, over and over again.

Some of the things that came out of my brain in those weeks provoked some serious questions and cognitive dissonance.

Like, what am I supposed to do with my boyish sense of irresponsibility and adventure, and need for danger and experimentation, now that I’m engaged and will be married soon, and presumably have to grow up and be a real man?

Or, why is the Bible so damn messed up, and why can’t we figure out how to read it right, and why do I still hate Christianity so much?

Or, what do I do with this creative burn, this attraction to entrepreneurship and self-determination and passionate productive work, in a world that says stability and comfort and entertainment are more important than everything?

Or … why, as the months and years go by, do I feel my heart growing ever colder, less sympathetic and more distant, toward the people I love and the people of this world that hurt? I don’t want to be cold anymore.

… Soooo yeah. Those are some of the Great Questions that arose in July. By August I was sort of a nutcase.

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I realized this all at once on the bed at the Days Inn, staring at the lame beige ceiling. I came out here to get clarity, and be refreshed.

All the other stuff — the wild adventure, the testing and challenge, the outdoor quest of manhood, the grappling with my own mortality, the resourcefulness of living in the woods alone, the fighting and killing of twelve black bears with my own fists, the screaming and laughing and pleading fearfully for Jesus to save me from the midnight hail storms, the triumphant victory pee-pees from atop 13,000 foot peaks — all that stuff does still sounds awesome. How can it not?

One day I will do it all. I’ll come back up here to the Pecos, or wherever, and I will have myself a badass solo backpack trip. In fact I could do that a lot, one day. A trip like that, at first, will not be easy. But I know now that I can definitely handle one.

But … if I had done that this week … I would have spent all my energy and attention battling the wind and killing bears and  navigating topo maps and trying not to die. I would have finished the week with a red face and blistered feet and a thrilling sense of adventure and accomplishment, but

… Still no clarity. Still no answers on those Great Questions. I would come home and those same giant elephants in the room would still be leering at me. I would try to show them pictures of my awesome trip, and the elephants would look at each other, and shrug, and then continue to crush me with confusion, with their great elephantine asses.

For this reason — and perhaps also because I got spooked out of my lunch by that hail storm — I knew I would need to alter my plans for this week.

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I used the hotel wifi and did some research, trying to find something awesome and neato that would allow me the time and space to sort through these Great Questions. Preferably with a lot of solitude, and outdoor space, and a view of some mountains or whatever.

Meanwhile, intermittently, I was calling and texting a couple close friends back home, trying to sort through what was, in truth, a low level panic taking place, a rebellion against myself.

It seems I had placed a great deal of expectation on this trip. I hyped things up. I did a lot (on this blog, too) to advertise how awesome it was going to be. I had set myself up to go out into the wilds, steel myself against the elements, discover my deep inner whatever whatever, and then return home to Austin, like Caesar from the Gallic Wars. Or like Jesus from the wilderness.

I wanted all that. But now I was about to wuss out and go sit by Walden Pond instead. That was tough. I had to sort through that.

But, eventually I determined that truth is better than glory, and here I decided to be honest instead of manly.

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I set my sights in a new direction, then. But before heading out of the mountains, I rose up early the next morning (Monday), and got back out after that peak.

Checked out of Days Inn at 6:45 and was on trail by 8:00. My pack was lighter, I felt strong, I had hit the trail early, and the weather was serene.

I gained the summit of Hermit’s Peak by 10:20, and the view was awesome. I’m glad I made the second attempt. It was worth it. On the peak I ate some lunch and took a nap and read the gospel of John. Then I came down.

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By then, the weather forecast had actually cleared for the whole week. I had no remaining doubt that I could still journey up into the Pecos, have my vision quest, and do just fine.

But again, I knew that this week needed a different course. So after the descent from Hermit’s Peak, and departure from Las Vegas, I headed further west.

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