The trail paralleled the main road entering the park. My body felt slow and heavy, weighed down by far too many thoughts. Each step was cumbersome. I stopped at a small boulder and cautiously climbed the featured face with one hand, careful to keep my right hand safely tucked behind my back. Five weeks – that’s how long it has been since I’ve climbed on rock. I can’t remember the last time I’d gone this long without climbing. I don’t want to remember. Adam and I considered ourselves lucky. We’d never experienced a serious injury from climbing, or from anything for that matter, up until now. I replayed the climb over in my head. Hindsight taunted me with my own reckless behavior, but offered no capacity for change. Stubbornness had willed me to try the same strenuous move over and over and over, until finally my hand stuck in the crack – but not without consequences. Once lowered off the climb, I leaned my right hand against a rock to untie my shoes. White-hot pain seared through the side of my hand and a large knot settled heavily into my stomach.
I stumbled over a rock and caught myself. My feet had followed my mind and wandered off the trail, which grew faint through the desert scrub. I veered back onto the twisted path, which connected me from one sandy wash to the next. We had left the road behind – our only company now was the lizards, which darted from the cover of one cactus to the next. I fought to suppress a brief moment of selfishness, which upwelled from somewhere deep within. A small part of me wanted everyone to stop climbing – a means to end the pain I felt seeing others achieve their goals while my progress held stagnant. News articles about new routes established or sent, the same articles that once filled me with a deep sense of motivation and inspiration, left a bitter taste in my mouth. I forced my legs to quicken down the trail, as if trying to punish myself for these greedy thoughts. No one but myself is to blame for my injury. I know that. I also know what it feels like to have climbing taken away from me, even if only temporarily, and I would never wish or inflict that upon anyone.
The ground steadily rose and my heart pounded fast with each quick step. Sweat beaded along my spine and felt cool in the breeze generated by my moving body. I concentrated on each step – just one more. Miles fell from the soles of my shoes. My mind was empty yet highly focused. I willed my legs forward. I willed my body upward. The world was quiet. As I reached the top of the mountain I smiled. The shoulders of neighboring mountains hugged close before giving way to the wide expanse of flat desert followed by more mountains. The horizon cradled the sun, lighting up the path leading back down to the desert floor. For the first time in five weeks I feel at peace – and lucky that I’ve found something in life that’s worth missing.