Monday, July 16, 2012

After Denali

It's 3 am and I'm laying in bed contemplating my something or other thoughts about my success, my failures, and what they mean. Just as I have for the past 15 nights since coming down from Mt. McKinley.

I'm in Tok Alaska. A dusty cross roads for ignorant travelers to bludgeon the locals with stupid questions. "What time do the Northern Lights turn on?" "Where are the bears." "Are glaciers made of ice?".

The author Hunter S Thompson (Rum Diary, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) would have had a field day watching this geriatric crowd. Stepping out of their gas guzzling RVs, wearing an ugly T-shirt they picked up at a gift shop. And the shirts are all the same; Alaska written across it with something about mosquitoes, bears, moose, or the relatively small size of Texas. Then a guitar strap around their neck holding a camera thats resting on their bloated gut with a giant telephoto lens leading the way. I hide my camera in my pocket. They make me embarrassed to even be associated as a traveler. Hunter would have said they are all still humping the American Dream. Not that I know what that is, but I am definitely chasing a dream, and I think it may be empty.

I came down from McKinley without reaching the summit, without traversing, without doing many of things I dreamed about. But I sat at 17200 feet for 8 days twirling my thumbs while snow and strong winds confined me to the tent. I could have done nearly anywhere.

I watch these RV people buy every tacky representation of Mt. McKinley in the gift shops. They have no clue what they're looking at. I can name all the features and surrounding peaks on that ceramic paper weight. And I think, is that all the mountain really is, an over priced trinket? No. I can't let it be. I gave so much of myself, I must educate them. I speak up like a coward crawling out of a ditch "I was just there". Hoping to strike their interest in my story and give me the opportunity to stick my chest out and feel good about myself.

I set them up so they always ask the same questions and my heroic answers seem genuine and inspiring. I say "I'm glad to have made it down with all my fingers and toes, the summit is not worth it", "it's scary up there. 6 people have died" and "live to climb another day". But that is just white wash, because I don't know how I feel or what I want to say.

I am fully aware of the bigger picture: raising money for charity, being an example for children, inspiring others, living life to its fullest, and a dozen other grander meanings. I think that I am accomplishing those goals and feel great about it. But deep down, I wanted something else for myself.

I'm ashamed that I don't know how to deal with defeat. I can pretend I'm fine but I'm really confused. I'm ashamed that I'm complaining about being a wealthy white guy who gets to live out his fantasies on a whim. But there is a persistent emptiness in my dream as I try to pull meaning from the void. The best I can tell myself is that this chapter of my life will remain open. To even think more about it, write more about it, will be an empty closure, and so I must end here.

"Know who you are, Know who you want to be, and Follow your dreams..."
-Chris Figureida