Rob's Blog Archive

May 24, 2015

Gettin’ Lucky










Facebook has offered and continues to offer me two opportunities.  The first is the opportunity to write.  I admit I spend an inordinate amount of time on Facebook, but I also believe that any time I spend in front of a keyboard is practice.  Facebook provides a lot of occasions to do just that. 

Second, it’s been great to reconnect with friends who I haven’t heard from for twenty to forty years.  Having seen a bit more of the world, I take pride in looking at the people I have known as friends.  Somehow, in spite of limited social ability, I managed to associate with some very nice and very interesting people.

Along with this, I’ve been able to see what everybody is up to.  Recently, a college mate posted a shot of himself on a zipline, a rope traverse between platforms in the rainforest near Ketchikan.  This had me thinking back to the one Tyrolean traverse I’ve done while climbing.  A Tyrolean traverse is done when it’s easier to toss a rope across a gap---there has to be something on the other side for it to catch---than it is to rappel down and climb back up.  It was 1996, right around the time my overall climbing ability peaked.  Still, as a Grade IV 5.9, I could only follow, and so I hired a guide.  With this, though, I climbed what many consider to be the best climb in the Sierras, Sun Ribbon Arete. 

During the fourteen summers and winters between my moving to the Bay Area and my moving to Montana, I climbed 42 mountains with difficulties ranging from trails to the climb of Sun Ribbon to my trickiest leads, the Owens Spalding route on Grand Teton---the entire route was covered with verglass ice.   

I enjoyed both climbing alone and with others.  I was a solid but never great or heroic climber.  Still, I did do things where, if I made an error, I would have died.  Adventure teaches us about ourselves and I learned a little bit more with each of mine. 

Aside from having and writing about adventures of my own, I’ve been ticking down both National Geographic’s and Outside Magazine’s top adventure books of all time.  It hasn’t hurt my feelings to be reading my favorite genre as a means to better understand how to write within it.  

Surprisingly, this has also helped me understand myself better. One of the questions I think I’ve answered is why, me the person who wanted to be a researcher since childhood also found joy in climbing.  Particularly reading older accounts, like those from Arctic and Antarctic expeditions, it’s clear that there has always been a tie between exploration and science.  Trying to understand better how nuclei work is certainly more abstract than taking soundings and collecting biological samples in the bays surrounding Antarctica and climbing a route that’s been climbed enough times for there to be a good description of it isn’t the same as walking where you know nobody has ever walked before, but I’ll bet the persons and personalities that thrive on all of these are the same.  I don’t think I’ve ever stepped where nobody else has walked, but I know I’ve looked at data that no other human being has ever seen. 

Two things make adventure adventure.  First, it has to be something new to the person.  There has to be an element of the unknown involved.  Second, there has to be a real chance of failure. Science is entirely about exploring the unknown.  Moreover, when one takes on a problem, either experimentally or theoretically, there’s never a guarantee of getting to an answer.  I don’t think of science as adventure, but these are not that different.    

As I approach sixty, I’m not quite done yet.  My hope remains to skijor the entire Iditarod Trail in a single push next winter.  Last winter, I skijored into wilderness with two dogs and for five days and four nights, my solitude was broken only by the sound of airplanes overhead. 

Finally, when I compare my life to my friends’, what I feel the most is lucky.  Lucky to have a mind that let me be a good scientist.  Lucky to have a body that was/is durable enough to let me do anything I want, even if not at the highest athletic level.  Lucky to have the persistence that kept me going when most others dropped out.  People look at what I’m trying to do, living in Montana and writing about it as “Living the Dream.”  In my mind, I’ve been living the dream my entire life. 

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