I left NAU campus yesterday tired and angry. Tired from too much work and angry from too little vision in the university. People sat in my final meeting content with their little piece they convinced themselves was making a difference and refused to look outside of their comfort zone. Their willingness to only live within their comfort zone and never look beyond the power structures that be angered me. They let their lives be formed by the forces that press them yet refused to push back.
The longer I'm at NAU the more I realize it's a haven for those tired of fighting; tired of trying to change. Instead they accommodate their perceived feelings of disempowerment and frustration by aligning whatever energy they have with a slightly better status quo. Because they feel it's a 'better reality' they appoint themselves the vanguards of their little section of that which they originally fought and rigor mortis sets in. Any perceived threat or minor change to their bubble of power and influence becomes not only a threat to their bubble, but a direct affront to them personally.
I left this feeling vindicated from the anxiety and fear expressed by them because I chase my dreams. I chase them because I see them sometimes; I chase them because some are always out of sight. I chased them home and in the car as Jake and I sped through Oak Creek Canyon, sometimes chasing shadows and other times chasing light as the sun fell below the towering canyon walls. As we wound through the serpentine curves in the road, scratching Roscoe (our puppy) and listening to punk-rock country, we excitedly talked about our next climb: Tenacious Calculus.
We drove through the mediocre downtown and observed people relishing in mediocre art and spirituality. The other drivers on the road fell shy, way shy, of mediocrity as we narrowly avoided one accident after another. Then we missed the turn. Thank God for round-abouts...
Our waist belts tightened and back packs heavy we hit the trail: hard. We huffed, half running with my lungs burning from a nasty cold, up and up. Then our climb became visible. Marge's Draw leapt from the junipine Sedona forest with streaked red and cream spires. There was the presence of something spiritual; maybe that which inspires so much of the Phonecian 'soft' spirituality that is sold so freely in Sedona's main strip. But we weren't in a soft place. Whatever spirituality we were witnessing, this was different. It was cold, sharp, hard. It left us without breath yet bursting with desire. It pulled and pounded us through rocky gullies and spiny plants (all the more angry from lack of water, too alone due to their very armor). We climbed the gullies. At times it hurt. Our legs were afire with the lactic acid I've become so addicted to. Sometimes it hurt because of the agave and cactus that stung with their spines or the rocks that peeled freely from their precarious places to crush our feet and legs.
We climbed towards the climb; our cautious puppy scrambled with us. He struggled to make it over rocks and forced us to think about someone other than ourselves. Sometimes we push ourselves so hard that other lives fall from our vision. We too suffer from the myopia of greed and self-importance.
When we got to Tenacious Calculus the cool autumnal sun was setting behind Mingus and Thunder mountains. The unforgiving wind hurled rocks from the spires and stole the warmth we'd won from the short but hard approach. The cold turned us inward. We zipped up our jackets and laced our harnesses with the gear that would protect us from falling to the ground from the climb. Jake got on the rope, what climbers call the 'sharp end', and worked, sometimes fighting, others dancing, up the spire.
Immediately, my focus was jarred from my internal struggles to Jake whose life I was responsible for. He placed two cams into a tinny crack, one that was made by a loose block stuck in the rock. The first moves were hard. He started with small holds and large reaches over an agave that would only have broken his fall with its spines briefly before sending him, with me, down the rocky and spiny gully.
We had heard about this climb multiple times from some people at the local gym. They talked about it as one of the best single pitches in Sedona. They boasted its superior rock quality; its movement. They rated it four stars online and gave perfect descriptions of the approach and rack. The climb wasn't what they'd hyped up at all.
After the hard moves off the deck the crux shuts you down. It was a splitter crack that was too narrow to put your hands in and too wide to lock your fingers into it. After pulling through the crux Jake climbed hoping for some reprieve with a good rest or stance, but never found it. Each move he made, the rock crumbled beneath his feet and around his hands. Small pebbles and rocks cascaded from the climb onto me belaying at the base. Roscoe ran around, king of the mound, fighting bushes and patrolling our little ledge. Jake fought, hard, up and up until he reached the top. He clipped in and I took him off belay. I got my shoes on and tethered Roscoe to a dead juniper that twisted its way from a sandstone ledge to overlook the spectacular valley and rock formations below. Jake commented that it was hard; way harder than he'd anticipated.
I tied into the other end of the rope and Jake called, “You're on. Climb on and enjoy it...” I took out the gear from the placements in the loose block and did the first couple of moves. They went but weren't easy. As I left the deck Roscoe lost his cool. He started barking and attacking anything that would suffer his fierce little teeth and puppy barks and yips. As he tore out with rage I pulled on the gear unable to climb the rock, through the crux. As I moved up I almost pulled off a huge block onto me. When the block shifted towards my chest when I pulled on it, I almost freaked out. But I was off the deck and had to make it to the top. I changed my grip and called to Jake about the dangerous choss block that threatened to take me out with it.
The crack was unrelenting and awkward. The moves never got easier—only more bizarre. The cold wind drowned out all other sounds and created a feeling of solitude and adventure. As I moved up the spire I felt like I was in the mountains. Falling rocks, cold wind, and weird climbing gave the sensation of being on a remote mountain. Even with the town of Sedona in plain view, the sense that we were somewhere remote was overwhelming. Because we were. I was somewhere remote, removed form the people and institutions I'd left three hours before. Instead of dwelling on the frustrations of working with people that claim to care but perpetuate that which they declare hate for, my energy was focused on the next move. My focus was on my cold hands and the small rocks that fell from above.
Instead of climbing, I fought up the rock. It wasn't graceful or pretty, but I've never laid claim to being either. The moves got more insecure and desperate. The rock got flakier and nastier. And I got to the top.
The sun lit the sky on fire. Pastel purples, pinks, and reds streaked the skies and silhouetted the dramatic Sedona landscape. The wind screamed at us and Roscoe barked loud; he'd long lost his cool. Down in Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona the leaves were still turning. Fall was still alive and well. Yellows and reds painted the valley floor and embraced the creek as it wove through the red rock formations. It was a surreal moment. The temperature was dropping and the wind didn't subside so we rapped off the top immediately. The ropes flew sideways with the winds and lost themselves in the cats claw and mesquite.
The rappel was hard with the ropes tangled below. Bit by bit I lowered down and observed the interesting climb that we'd just done. I saw the block that I almost pulled on top of myself still perched precariously where I left it. And Roscoe was excited that I was nearing the ground.
I got untied from the rope, the ground solid beneath my feet. I moved way back from the crumbling tower with Roscoe and waited for Jake to get to the bottom. We pulled the rope, packed the packs, and booked it down, again helping Roscoe over the sections his puppy body and mind were unable to scramble alone. The fire in the sky illuminated the paths and gullies just enough to help us avoid cacti and yuccas. We ran back to the car and drove back to Flag through the dark and windy canyon. We came back to what we'd left a little more tired and maybe a little more ready to work hard again.