The ship is taking me far away
Far away from the memories
Of the people who care if I live or die
I will be chasing a starlight
Until the end of my life
I don’t know if it’s worth it anymore
That song, among others, has been stuck in my head for the past couple weeks. My idea to live cheaply enough that I can more or less drop off the grid has been stewing for years, but watching Into the Wild and reading up on Chris McCandless was the tipping point for actually beginning to finally take steps towards it. The way I saw it, Chris was able to have more life experiences in his final two years than most people manage in a lifetime. Even though he died young, he lived a full life. I looked at myself, getting older, spending the vast majority of my time tied to a desk and staring at a computer screen, doing nothing of value for myself or society, and I made the decision to pursue a life that was at least somewhat in the spirit of Chris’s, albeit much less extreme (for now).
I’ve been in Colorado for a little over a year now and I’m beginning to wonder if the physical isolation from old friends has given me a sort of tunnel vision, not at all unlike the tunnel vision Chris got when he decided to disown his family. Out of sight, out of mind. I know they’re still there. I communicate with them on social media and for the extra cool ones there’s also that modern human appendage called a cell phone. But over the past year, I seem to have discounted their value in my life and future. Friends didn’t factor into the move decision and they haven’t factored into any subsequent steps taken since then. I’m doing just fine without them. I have fun hiking, climbing, cycling, and snowboarding. What more do I need? Oddly enough, the answer has been right in front of me from the get go. One of last things Chris McCandless penned in his diary, after having two years of incredible experiences most people could only dream of, was “happiness only real when shared”.
I think it’s important to make a distinction at this point. The way I see it, there is a very real and significant split between two types of friends: friends made in childhood and friends made in adulthood (after entering the working world). At least in my experience, adult friendships tend to develop over shared activities and such, or the fact that you’re stuck together for 40 hours per week at work. The activity (or being stuck at work together) is almost always the connection. This differs significantly from more long-standing friendships that have weathered the many changes of hobbies, likes/dislikes, jobs, moves, life, etc. These older friends truly know you, because they were there and lived through significant life events with you. You can tell new friends about the past, but hearing about it isn’t the same as going through it together and being there for each other. New friends can be made, but they’ll never be a replacement for old friends. So don’t leave any comments saying, “just make some new friends”. Put simply, there is no substitute for old friends – not your new friends, not your significant other, not your dog. I’ve known this all along, but whether it’s the tunnel vision, lost perspective, or some type of failure to look at my future with a wider lense than merely what activities I can accomplish, I’ve completely written it off – until this past week.
As mentioned in the preceding post, an old friend (now getting old in more than one way, henceforth referred to as “sprout”, per the prior post) came to visit last week. This was the first time in a year I had actually seen one of my old friends and it reintroduced some perspective, totally shattered the tunnel vision, and made me do some deep thinking. It also brought to mind Chris McCandless’s statement I had previously ignored: “happiness only real when shared”. Why? I thought I was happy having endless outdoor activities and near perfect weather at my disposal. I thought I was happy doing things I’d never thought I’d do. Then I started reflecting and realized that when the film reel of my life is replayed, the events that stand out enough to make it on almost all involve friends. The things I’ve done and accomplished myself have faded away – no matter how seemingly important or epic they were at the time. At best, I remember that I did them, but the details aren’t there, if I even remember the event at all.
I’ve had the opportunity to do some solo climbs this summer that I chose specifically to push the envelope on my meager climbing skills and my fear of heights (yes, it is indeed comical that I have a fear of heights yet spend every weekend in the mountains). In fact, the title image is from just this morning – me looking like a dope on the Father Dyer summit. Even though these climbs were all within the past two months, I already know they didn’t make any lasting and certainly not any meaningful memories. As I do more peaks, these will simply fade away. The only emotion experienced during these events that was strong enough to leave an imprint was the fear that came from sketchy, exposed moves. The terror of realizing that my axe was penetrating the rock-hard snow so shallow that it would do absolutely nothing to catch a fall if I slipped while trying to traverse the peak of a 50 degree, 800ft high snow field on Atlantic Peak is pretty well seared into my brain. Everything else on that and every other climb is totally forgettable, because they were done alone. This phenomenon isn’t exclusive to climbing either. It includes any and all other activities as well. My seemingly epic and big accomplishment solo cycling rides and races fade away just the same. The feeling of fulfillment evaporates the following day and it’s off to the next activity to try to get it back. The forgetability (I have just invented that word) of nearly everything I do by myself has fueled the trend to push myself harder and to increase my risk tolerance. It has really made no difference, and it wasn’t until this week that I realized why.
The climbs, rides, and adventures I do remember in great detail even years later are the seemingly lame ones back in CT – the ones I did with friends while we joked and laughed the whole time. Or the ones that involved lots of whining and complaining, while reminiscing on all the whining and complaining from the prior time. The “boring”, easy bike rides that were anything but boring. The (at the time) seemingly epic hikes up Sleeping Giant that I could now probably jog through on a lunch break. I remember the good times I had, and those good times were a product of friendships and personal interaction, not the mountains, not the “challenge”, not the adrenaline rush of exposure or risk. There is no replacement for making new memories with old friends. I finally realized this while trying to figure out why I was having more fun dragging the whining sprout up tiny hills than scrambling 13ers by myself or how literal car camping in the most uncomfortable position possible was actually made enjoyable by caterpillar jokes and getting assaulted by an owl. Those seemingly lame activities were made memorable enough to tell in “remember that time” stories for years to come. It totally renewed my perspective and broke the tunnel vision. What I’m not sure of yet is how it’ll affect my decision making going forward. I do know one thing though…