Climbing

I have a lot of baggage.

Literally, I have a lot of baggage – see examples at right.  Over one two-day period here in August I started the day with a hiking pack and an overnight bag, transitioned to a guitar case to play an open mic, and then grabbed my carry-on and computer bag to head to the airport at 5:30 the next morning.2019-08-22 08.14.41

So, that’s

  • Hiking pack
  • Overnight bag
  • Guitar case 
  • Roller bag
  • Computer bag

Not all of them at the same time.  Not all of them useful in the same way.  And at least one of them more beloved than the others (and P.S.: it’s not the computer bag).

The second favorite bag is the hiking pack, though that relationship is a little complicated.  My son and I have been on multiple significant, multiple-day hikes over a span of years that goes back to about when he was 10 years old.  Many of those hikes occurred in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and many of them were arduous, in the cold, in the rain, and with a pack that made me wonder if my shoulders would ever recover.  Terrain has ranged from flat and grassy to alpine garden to boulder scramble to near-vertical ravine.  2019-08-18 13.21.59

This past weekend’s hike was a one-day, but pretty difficult climb up the Hunt Trail to the peak of Mt. Katahdin, the highest point in Maine and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.  

It’s a hard truck. 5 miles in, 5 miles out, and 4400 vertical feet of elevation change. A good deal of that 4,400 feet occurs in what is called the Gateway – a near-vertical boulder scramble at the edge of an outcropping of the mountain. 

We were in fog for most of our climb. This was certainly disconcerting as it could rain at any moment and become very slippery, but in hindsight it actually was very helpful. The fog kept us from being able to see completely where we were going or where the summit was, but it also made us feel a little bit more enclosed than we actually were. In those few moments where the fog cleared, there was a very distinct feeling that we were scaling the outside of the building. In the same moments, there was the realization that however we went up, we are eventually going to have to come down!

But, then we got to the top….

2019-08-18 09.58.49

As you might be able to guess, it’d be easy for me to make the analogy to songwriting, or to my playing, or to performing.  But you’re all smart and creative and feeling people – you can make that connection on your own.

Tonight I’m doing a different type of climbing.  I am reliably informed that we are currently nearing our cruising altitude of 30,000 feet and will be making our connection more or less on time so that I may make it home in that vague in-between place that can be called either Wednesday night or Thursday morning.  

It’s a pretty empty flight, and the attendants had us shift around for weight and balance – and I have found myself in an empty row as a result.

As an overly experienced flier, I almost always take an aisle seat so I can get out and make my next flight (or get the hell home or to the hotel).  But tonight, look out that window….2019-08-21 20.34.04

…sometimes you’re reminded to stop, look around, and remember why the climb is worth it.

Cleveland

On the road again, this time through Cleveland and then on to Toronto and Edmonton for the second half of the week. 

While in the Cleveland airport, I had a quick moment of déjà vu, and then of revelation. In the picture to the side you will see an area where I spent an overnight in the airport in April 1993. I was returning to Chapel Hill, North Carolina from my first trip to California. It was a long set of flights, and I didn’t quite realize what I was getting into when I made the reservation.

At that time American Express would allow students to get one flight anywhere in the United States round-trip for $199. So, I used mine to go out to San Francisco to a meeting where I hoped I might also find a job. The flight out was easy, leaving from Raleigh and making one connection in Newark. The flight back was San Francisco to Denver to Cleveland to Newark to Greensboro. Once I arrived in Greensboro, my girlfriend at the time was to pick me up and drive me back to Chapel Hill.

The whole return trip was a “direct” flight, meaning I didn’t have to change planes, but it was more like riding a local bus route.

What I’d also failed to grasp was that the flight would shut down and overnight in Cleveland. Again, this is a concept I would understand (and prepare for) better in years to come, but I had no experience to prepare me for it.2019-05-07 17.57.25

So, we got to Cleveland, they told us to get off the plane, get our bags, and check back in when the airport opened in the morning. Not realizing that this was part of the plan, and I had of course made no arrangements. So I slept right about where this picture was taken. And by slept, I meant dealt with a massive headache from not having eaten for the previous 24 hours except for the candy bar in Denver that gave me an initial sugar rush, followed by a migraine.

Morning came; I checked back in, and started off on my remaining flights. Got picked up by my then-girlfriend in Greensboro, met her parents for the first time (yup), and then drove back to Chapel Hill where I took a long shower followed by a long nap.

I tell the story because there were multiple points during that whole journey where I felt multiple flavors of “What’s going on? Why am I here? I’m completely screwing this up, I’m an idiot. If you screw this up, imagine what else you’re going to screw up.”

Walking through this part of the airport, that memory and those feelings came right back. And then I remembered they always go away.  It usually turns out that I haven’t screwed up, or have done so only very minorly. And if I screw up, so what? I’ve learned something. And then I do better the next time.

With all the storms that I’ve withstood, still don’t think that I’m damaged goods.

So, maybe a long way around to share that song with you, but I hope you also see from this very minor example of stress and recovery that the sun always rises the next day.   And then you get on the next plane and go to the next destination.