One Climbs, One Sees

“You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.”
René Daumal, Mount Analogue (1952)

I am happiest when I am moving. Every trip, I look forward to the first hour almost more than the trip itself. The first hour of every journey is filled with excitement. Full of energy, a fresh cup of black coffee in the center console, I haven’t been drained by the stresses of travel yet. Ready to receive the rewards of the journey, my brain awash in dopamine, the “anticipation molecule”, all is well, and I am at peace.

After these last couple years, I need a little more than that first hour. In fact I need a whole bunch of first hours. I am fortunate enough to have the flexibility in work and life at the moment to sneak away for about a month to try and do the Colorado Trail. I’ll get that “first hour” feeling every day for weeks on end. Wake up, eat, break down camp, walk, stop for a snack, walk some more, make camp, eat, rinse and repeat for 500 miles.

Why the Colorado Trail? I’ve been going to Colorado multiple times every year since I was a child (see photo above). From Omaha, it is the most accessible and expansive wilderness within a days drive. Every break from school in college, I planned a trip to Colorado, sometimes alone if I could find no companions. Since entering adult life, very few of my trips haven’t included some form of hiking, camping, skiing, fly fishing, bikepacking, mountain biking, kayaking, canoeing, or rock climbing.

Yet for as many times as I’ve been to the wilderness of Colorado, I have only ever glanced what it has to offer. Four days skiing here, three days backpacking there. I want to take more than a glance. I want to become close friends with a land with which I’ve only ever been brief acquaintances, exchanging polite greetings as we pass in the hallway. That land has secrets to life and existence it only reveals to those deemed worthy. If I spend enough time with it, traveling through it with respect and reverence, eventually it will know I can be trusted, and bestow it’s lessons on me, and I will return to my life knowing the “art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up.”

…or maybe that’s all dumb hippie shit and I’ll break my ankle on the fourth day and end it there. Idk man I just wanna go do some cool shit.

“Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than a moving plane, ship or train. There is an almost quaint correlation between what is in front of our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, new thoughts new places. Introspective reflections which are liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape. The mind may be reluctant to think properly when thinking is all it is supposed to do.
At the end of hours of train-dreaming, we may feel we have been returned to ourselves – that is, brought back into contact with emotions and ideas of importance to us. It is not necessarily at home that we best encounter our true selves. The furniture insists that we cannot change because it does not; the domestic setting keeps us tethered to the person we are in ordinary life, but who may not be who we essentially are.
If we find poetry in the service station and motel, if we are drawn to the airport or train carriage, it is perhaps because, in spite of their architectural compromises and discomforts, in spite of their garish colours and harsh lighting, we implicitly feel that these isolated places offer us a material setting for an alternative to the selfish ease, the habits and confinement of the ordinary, rooted world.”
Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel (2002)

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