Friday, July 5, 2013

Jed's Guide to Reentry

If anything in life deserves meditation, it is big accomplishments.  If big accomplishments require reflection, it follows that reflection is integral to realizing the value of these sizable exploits.  Justifiably, much is made of the “let-down” from intense expeditions.  I am right now a living, breathing example of the result of stacking one big endeavor on top of another on top of another, for months.  Contemplation could well be my middle name.  Each of three big performances in 2013 has had its own treatment here.  But the sum of the parts is overtaking my thought process these weeks.  

Ironic trivialities await your return to reality.  Don't the proprietors of McMurry's know we go
there on a normal night to see the "Best Dressed"?

I registered for April’s AMGA ski exam knowing I’d be joining Ian for an intense climb just a month before.  I committed to digging deep with Ian in February in the Palisades knowing that I’d have to turn “it” back on soon after for the ski exam.  I didn’t, however, expect to extend the psychological demand into June to climb with the Smileys.  The reality of climbing on the Carpe Ridge was less intense than either the Palisade Traverse or the AMGA ski exam.  However, the intellectual stretching it required puts it on par. 

In his seminal info-tainment-spiration tome “Extreme Alpinism”, perhaps Mark Twight’s most valuable advice is summed up in the page dedicated to “Reentry and Recovery”.  Therein Twight wisely notes the difficulty in “[reentering] normal society within one to five days and [being] quickly immersed in a totally different environment and value system.” 

Now, I am no Mark Twight.  The dude climbed truly ground-breaking stuff.  Nor do I have any false pretenses about how fortunate I have been to have pieced together the last four months of “sending”.  I am incredibly fortunate.  Tackling three enterprises, each of which I could grant the qualifier “-of-a-lifetime”, is more than enough to provide clarity on the reentry ritual.  One need not spend half his days tromping the peaks in order to desire a guide to smoothly transitioning to “real” life.  In short, you will some day reenter and tackle your own version of profound transition.  And this is how I’ve made sense of it all.  

  • Forgive yourself the elitism.  Forgive yourself the judgemental eye-rolling at dinner party conversation.  Forgive yourself your complete lack of understanding for those fully engaged in the inanity of “normal” life.  Or, heck, don’t disregard the elitism.  Embrace it. That uncomfortable sense that you’ve glanced through a sharper lens, even if oh so fleeting, is why we push the boat out a little further. 

  • Realize that you have just participated in a creative act.  What we do in the mountains is creative, by definition.  Little to nothing we find there is created for us.  Therefore, we create our experience.  The more natural the environment, the more conducive to creativity it is.  You will see concerts, and theme parks, and movies differently now.  No matter how many drugs you take, a concert will always be someone else’s creation.
  • Make plans for your next climb, but make no other life-changing choices.  At least not yet.  That was intense.  It cannot be sustained, no matter how realistic and possible that feels.  Similarly, you wouldn’t want to sustain that, no matter how intoxicating it is.  And adventure is an intoxicant, with all the implications therein.  It is no etymological stretch to point out the toxic roots of the word.

  • Engage in the healthy vices.  Eat ice cream.  Cook huge chunks of meat.  Dance.  Sleep.  Keep reading, playing cards, eating simply and slowly.  

  • Tune in to the addictive nature of mountain sports.  Immediately following a big send, it will indeed seem like this is the only way you can live life.  Step away, because that isn’t true.  Break the cycle, take time off, let the next objective and motivation come from a level playing field. 

  • Find your friends, wherever they have gone while you were gone.  Ideally they'd find you.  But not everyone understands the isolating effect of expeditioning.  They probably don't even realize you were gone.  
  • Set aside time and space for “dealing”.  Come back slow and easy with your loved ones.  Push to the back of your mind the big questions while at work and at dinner with your sweetie.  Look at the pictures, edit the video, write up your journals and blogs in designated times and spaces.  

In the end, after compiling this “how-to”, I came to realize that this process and mental exercise can be applied to the “come down” from any sizable endeavor.  Ian M, the master of big sending in the mountains, pointed out exactly that.  Having just seen his lady through the culmination of her grad school, he wisely points out that this concept “could be relevant to folks from all sorts of endeavors, not just adventure sports. The student who just finished her thesis, the architect who's been working 80 hour weeks to bust out an award winning project” etc.  Wise words my man.  

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