Denali, Oh, how I wish we were meant to be together, but I have another calling.
Mt. McKinley, or Denali as she is most often called, is a behemoth of a mountain rising to 20,237 feet, the highest peak in North America. While Mt. Everest exceeds the elevation of Denali, Denali is to many an equally intimidating climb. Denali rises 17,000 feet above its surrounding plain, and Everest 13,000 feet. From base camp up the South Col route on Everest there is an elevation gain of 11,000 feet while those who depart from the Kahiltna Glacier climb 13,000 feet to the summit of Denali. And the weather in Alaska can be fairly hairy. Like -40 degree hairy. Sans wind chill.
I was coming to realize that Denali scared the wool underwear off me. Score one for the Denali Prep Course!
We huddled in the snow kitchen on our last night on Mt. Rainier reviewing our experiences on the mountain. Terry was already on Denali. He would have climbed it the very next day if offered the opportunity. Philip was weighing his desire after determining that towing a sled and wearing a heavy pack wasn’t as much fun as going all Spider Man on a rock face. Dallas told stories of his days working in Alaska – fishing trips hundreds of miles from the nearest human heart beat, animal encounters, the time he skied off the top of Denali after summiting in nine days. Sarah would have chimed in if her 52 layers allowed. I listened quietly, already having decided that my experience on Rainier was not about an alpine stepping stone but an end point.
And the start of something else.
I wondered what that something else would be.
I snapped back out of my meditative and food induced stupor to hear Terry share a tale about Eagles. I believe he was recanting something he witnessed himself in Alaska. While I missed the very beginning of the story, my Observer Self focused me in on his words just as he described the sight of two Eagles flying toward each other. They circled like fighters in a ring, eventually coming together in midair and clasping talons. Then they tumbled end over end as they plummeted toward a river. Just before pancaking on the surface like two lovers leaping, they each let go. Flying in opposite directions, they skimmed the water and climbed back up to meet again, their talons reaching and clasping and then tumbling. End over end.
It’s not a battle, but a courtship. It’s not about playing chicken, but about trust. There’s a certain thrill involved in trusting another when fear isn’t a driver. When you recognize the risk and you realize it’s SO worth it. I thought of the words Mr. Perfect Timing wrote in the card – he marveled at my willingness to take a chance, to cross the yellow emotional caution tape so that there would be no regrets.
I think he thinks I’m less fearful than I think I am.
Later that night I lay in my sleeping bag thinking of the hot shower I was going to take the next day. How luxurious it would feel. Water streaming down my back. My hair wet and gradually coming clean. It was near dreadlocks status. I feared having to hack it off after the winds and my balaclava shredded it over the previous 6 days. I hadn’t washed my face in 7 days. It had 49 layers of sunscreen on it. For real. At least.
In the morning we would break down our winter camp and head for the Paradise parking lot. There we would work on the final stage of crevasse rescue and then depart for IMG headquarters. After a shower there, Terry, Philip and I would drive to Seattle where Barbie with Brains would collect me and all my dirty laundry. Then, a girl’s night out where I was counting on BwB to provide her astute guidance regarding Mr. Perfect Timing. I was also counting on tequila. Copious amounts of tequila.
BwB doesn’t waffle. She reads a situation and my emotional language (like body language) and lays it out. She’s spot on. Over the years we’ve traveled the same path, to include infidelity and divorce. But she has dealt with so much more and with such grace. It’s not my place to tell the tale but holy adultery, her former spouse gets the sash AND the tiara. So she moved on. Did a little dating. Then retreated and focused on herself, her life. And then she met her best friend. About a half year later they were married. And from there she has continued to blossom into an Earth Angel. 3D divinity.
She would provide me with a perspective I needed.
All week I had been careful about the amount of time I spent thinking about Mr. Perfect Timing. Partly because I wanted to live and it was crucial to focus on the task at hand to pull that off. Partly because I didn’t want to feed the feelings that were developing. I wanted them to grow organically, without me fueling the romance, without my alpine adventure, the forced separation like a Sierra Club member’s version of Romeo and Juliet, creating a false sense of rom dram. (Like rom com but diff.)
Two not-so-young lovers parted by a fourteener just as their relationship blossoms. Will she return? With her nose? Will he wait for her? Will their love stand the test of being at sea level?
Will I throw up from writing that?
(Don’t worry. I won’t. I hate throwing up. I’d rather eat sautéed arachnids than throw up. K, not really.)
Since our friendship went romantic my Observer Self has been pulling overtime. As I said before, up until now I haven’t had much skin in the dating game. I haven’t dated anyone. Encounters, yes. Wonderful moments in time that benefited all, which should not be interpreted as friends with benefits. But in each case there wasn’t a sense of building on something. Just enjoying it for what it was in that moment knowing that the ultimate result would be a friendship. In each situation the timing just wasn’t right, making the coupling up not possible, and leaving me with friendships I value, that I treasure.
This is so different.
My Observer Self is watching and listening closely. Good thing, because old habits are hard to break, and I’ve been trying to break up with my Ego for months. She continues to stalk me. I continue to say, It’s not you, it’s me. Somehow my Observer Self was able to squeeze into the snow kitchen on the last night of our expedition stirring up conversations that all pointed to trust. Each one brought forth a big smile. It was all starting to materialize out of the ping pong fog of the early days on Rainier.
While Terry and Philip were focused on the technical lessons being served up I was on the emotional tract having realized by Day Five that I wouldn’t be falling into a crevasse anytime soon. Instead, I was about to return to Marin. To the life that for me froze once I strapped on my snowshoes. Instead of getting the green light to climb Denali, I was being sent home with a backpack full of stories, abs worked out by laughter, and a seed of an idea that was germinating now that we were down from 10,100 feet.
I am a storyteller.
While I may LOVE climbing, LOVE mountaineering, I am not a natural mountaineer. I’m the one that goes along for the ride to be able to tell the story once I descend on shaky legs in areas where a fall would be like landing on piles of puffy cotton. I’m the tag-a-long. Along with enjoying that role, I truly love storytelling.
We told a lot of stories on Rainier and batted one-liners back and forth at bedtime and break time, resulting in belly laughs and laughing tears. Within five minutes of meeting, Terry, Philip and I launched our friendship like a rocket. We knew who we were to each other from the start – we would be relying upon each other in potentially dangerous conditions, we would be bunking together for a week in ultra-close quarters, we would be putting our blue bags in the same pile, we would be pushed to our physical limits, we would smell. Freeze. Sweat. Inhale food. Miss our loved ones. Ponder our limits. Question our sanity.
And we did it with perfect ease. The kind of ease that I imagine we all wish we had in our romantic relationships. There wasn’t a single moment where I wondered what they thought about me, or if I was being appropriate or funny or too loud or not smart enough or eating too fast or smelling too much or not wearing the right outfit…you get where I’m going.
I was ME. Me and nothing but me. No posturing, no trying to fit in, no trying to play a role. What I thought, I said. How I said it is how I wanted to say it, not how I thought they wanted to hear it.
I wasn’t trying to make an impression.
And it worked out beautifully.
So what happens when the heart is involved? Why do romantic relationships often cause us to shape shift, to try to be who we think the other person most wants to see, when good friendships teach us over and over that it’s who we naturally are that creates the most natural fun?
When we are in our natural state we are at our most beautiful.
Most of us have a hard time being naked around people we really want to be naked around.
I hope I get to tell the story of two people who appreciate and respect each other, quirks and the good, hangups and the bad, and develop a love that grows and grows, leaving them both more free every day to be themselves and be loved for it. No matter what.
When I got back to IMG headquarters I couldn’t WAIT to get naked. I would have thrown Terry and Philip off the back deck to get in the shower first. Happily, they were gentlemen about it and in I went.
The only thing that felt better was the shower I took at BwB’s house after our night together. IMG shouldn’t feel bad. BwB had a basket of La Mer products and I got to crawl directly into bed. An actual bed.
But before I go there, I have something big to share about Mr. Perfect Timing. And the words from BwB which included, fearless, love, friendship, time, and…marry.
She said, Marry him.
PS: If you haven’t written a review and are just BURNING up with desire to do so, please go here and let the words flow. If you have read the first year you can speak from experience. I really appreciate it. So much so that I’ll be offering free dowload days in the next week. Working on the details now.
Check out Twitter and Facebook, follow and fan, so you get a heads up on those free download days. We’re gonna throw a party. For real…I’m working on the retreat, which is going to be a little less OM and lot more YAY! Stay close…