I’m going back and forth between watching college football — Tennessee vs Georgia — and muting the sound during ads to read M.t. Anderson’s Symphony for the City of the Dead — Shostakovich vs the Germans. True, both involve combat, but the stakes in besieged Leningrad were a hundred thousand times (no hyperbole) greater. The violence and suffering endured make football look like a soothing polite dance.
This morning I committed to climb Mt. Rainier next August with a close friend. At 14,410 feet above sea level, Mt. Rainier is the highest point in the Northwest, and a training ground for climbers who want to ascend Denali in Alaska, and Mt. Everest. Why commit ten+ months ahead? According to those in the know, I’d better show up for the climb “in the best shape of my life.”
Wait, I’m 64. Before I launch on the climb I’ll be 65 and eligible for — this rattles my cage — Medicare. The best shape of my life? At sixty-freaking-five? Hmm, is that even possible?
Well, I’m going to find out. Tomorrow morning I’ll head out on a 7-mile run, mostly uphill.
Okay, so it will feel like mostly uphill.
And that is just the beginning. Trail running, strength training, power hikes with a 40-pound pack — I’ll be pushing my body to be ready. Yeah, Mt. Rainier, I’ve got you in my sights. You are now a kedge.
Kedge? What’s a kedge? It’s origin is in the realm of sailing, but I’ll move on without a lot of explanation: a kedge is a goal that you put out there in the future to inspire you, like the proverbial dangling carrot. My kedge is tall. And massive. And will require that I be in the best shape of my life.
Oddly, this feels comforting to me. In the same way that writing a novel feels comforting. Both require commitment, perseverance, and a willingness to endure . . . well, okay, let’s be honest, it requires suffering. Climbing is not easy. Neither is writing a novel. I’ll just keep on keeping on — something I’m actually good at — until I reach the summit.
I may be out of the mountains for awhile, but I hear their call, and am making plans to return. To not go back would be like not writing — both are part of who I am. So many peaks to climb, trails to hike, streams to ford, splendor to soak in. So many stories to tell.
As long as I’m able, I’ll keep living life on the edge.
Tomorrow boots hit dirt on the Timberline Trail, as our 42-mile backpacking trek with close friends around Oregon’s tallest peak, Mt. Hood (below), begins. Hopefully, if all goes as planned and these old bodies hold up, we’ll exit the backcountry on Friday. Then we head for Mt. Rainier for more of the same.
Along the way I’ll be working on my YA work in progress, Fracture Lines (Extra weight to haul, but worth it.) Writing on the go!
Monday was my oldest daughter, Kelsey’s 30th birthday. She wanted to do something significant to celebrate. The original plan was to climb Oregon’s highest peak, 11,235 foot Mt Hood. But with the low snowpack this year, the rockfall danger was too high. So instead we settled for something less strenuous. We went skydiving.
The experience was one I’m still trying to process: the tiny, tin-can of a prop plane; the slow, noisy climb to 10,000 feet; the roaring rush of air when the door opened; the moment of commitment; the initial tumble of earth-sky-earth-sky; free fall at 128 mph; then the gentle, almost lazy swoop around and down on the wings of the parachute. Talk about sensory overload. I was still vibrating when I got into bed that night.
My wife, Debbie, asked me if I would use the experience in a novel someday. I said, “I don’t know.” But the next morning I realized that it would actually fit perfectly into my new YA, Fracture Lines — well, perfectly with a lot of creative license. Which reminded me once again that, for me at least, writing is not limited to the time I spend in front of my keyboard. It is the sum of everything I do, and think, and feel. The keyboard is just where I sift, ponder, and try to make sense of it all.
I read M.T. Anderson’s FEED years ago, and am now listening to it as an audiobook. It’s always interesting to compare and contrast text vs audio. Yes, you lose something with audio — the magic of letters, words, phrases, sentences, the density of paragraphs, the white space of dialogue. But the spoken word hones the ears to language flow. It far precedes the written word — think of our distant ancestors sitting around the fire centuries before Gutenberg — so in some sense hearing a book read aloud is taking things full circle. It’s ironic that modern technology makes this possible. Even more ironic when listening to a book like FEED. If you haven’t read/listened to this brilliant story, do it, now, and prepare to have your mind blown.