My whole life I've been obsessed with learning from experience. Looking at situations merely as a set of different problems to be solved I began watching the actions, and subsequent consequences, of others in an effort to analyze different outcomes based on what could have been done differently.
Without knowing it I was stumbling my way through life by allowing those around me to make mistakes without having to go through them myself. Mistakes from things as small and insignificant as spending the night half-naked in the corner of a closed Japanese train station to as large and life threatening as waking up in a field with no money while hitchhiking through Mexico. (both very true stories)
By standing close enough to understand everything surrounding a difficult decision I was then able to course correct my own life based on what I saw. It helped me to approach relationships as if each person I met was my sole mentor. Teaching me that no two situations are ever the same and that by attempting to anticipate every possible outcome we can eliminate guilt knowing that we made the best choice given the information we received.
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.” - Heraclitus
It was with this system that I began taking one step after another and was lead to places I would have never in a million years dreamt I'd be in. And after several failed attempts at pursuing those very dreams of becoming a professional paintball player, personal trainer, and business consultant, along with a solo cross-country trip to 5 national parks, I connected with the complexity and serenity of the great outdoors as the core of what makes me tick.
Starting with getting back on a snowboard, after having almost lost my left arm from the elbow down during a ride, I went back to natural places I once held dear but that had, over time, transformed into feelings of failure and heartbreak.
Through the process of putting a few old demons to rest I slowly began to pursue a completely new path. What else could I take on? What else could I learn? What new worlds could I explore?
“Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate
And though I oft have passed them by
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.”
- J.R.R. Tolkien
And with the same burning desire to chase far distant dreams, along with the help of a few amazing friends, I eventually stumbled onto climbing.
With any newly attempted outdoor sport I found myself learning how to move my body in different ways, looking at landscapes with a different set of eyes, and developing a new relationship with the ever changing feeling that is time.
But what comes with these new understandings is the urge to continue to push the limits. The constant need for finding the edge and riding as close to it as I possibly can. Because I know that just beyond that line is the unknown. And in the unknown comes drastic leaps in learning and understanding.
Go too far and you might not come back, but don't push and you'll never be exposed to the awe inspiring aspects of life that are just beyond what you know to be true.
That very feeling is what I ended up connecting with on my first ever attempted ascent of a desert tower. Being lead into strange, and unfamiliar, territory through offwidth cracks, run-out chimneys, exposed belay stations, a bit of Elvis leg, and eventually inclement weather while on a sandstone face.
It was there, on the 3rd pitch, straddling a 60 foot drop with the wind howling all around me, and the clouds dimming my view, that I became completely and acutely aware of the fight or flight response. The opposing sides of knowing when to either step up or back down. When to believe that your skill can take you to the next level or when it isn't quite there.
And so the process continues as I push my boundaries while slowly becoming more comfortable with the things that used to feel like my own small versions of hell. It's only when I look back that I can see each experience for what it really was...the next step toward life's greatest adventure at the edge of my world.
by Nick Hammond
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