I'm not very old, nor am I all that experienced. I am not a wise old woman with the grand perspective of age. However, I am waist-deep in one of the most slap-in-the-face, learn-it-the-hard-way, and transformational stages in growing up (since let’s face it, nobody's ever done with “growing up”). Being 20 years old for me means trying to figure out what I want to do for a living, deciding that I never actually want to work ever, realizing that I have no money and actually want to work a lot, balancing this work with school and play, deciding that I need to drop out of college, realizing that I love learning and actually want to stay in college forever, having weekly identity crises, thinking that I somehow need to prove myself, feeling like I have nothing to offer the world (and then feeling like I am the best later that same day), and trying to single-handedly take on the world’s environmental and social issues.
Sometimes, I feel like a mess, with all of this bouncing around in my brain-piece. I often feel overwhelmed with all of the tasks I need to complete, and all of the wonderful things the world has to offer. My brain says, “Why can’t I fix everything RIGHT NOW? Why don’t I have the time to climb EVERYTHING and visit EVERY SINGLE COUNTRY and master EVERY skill EVER?!” Well, it simply cannot be done-- not all at once, at least. As time goes on and my experience grows, I am becoming more and more aware of an omnipresent aspect of life and nearly all challenges that we face as humans: the need to break it down. We are not sharks that can eat our meal whole; we take bites, and then chew those bites into even smaller pieces until they are so small that they can be swallowed. The answer is simple, yet difficult to implement: I need to take on life in chunks.
A few weeks ago, I truly realized how present this concept is, regardless of the situation. My good friend and climbing partner Laura and I climbed a route called “Cloud Tower” in Red Rocks, Nevada. Red Rocks is a rock climbing mecca of sorts, with towering cliffs covered with climbs as high as 2,000 feet. Cloud Tower was a 6-pitch, 800-foot climb of a difficult grade. I knew before we even left camp that morning that I was going to be climbing at my mental and physical limit, but the “Laura and Jacky” team is a competent, excited duo, even on scary multi-pitch. We love that stuff. We drove to the trailhead, and hiked to the base of the climb.
We spent the entire day climbing. Each pitch was a challenge in its own way, a chunk to overcome. . As the day progressed, we were pushed in many different ways. Each of us ended up crying at some point during the climb; whether it was related to the runout sections, the exposure, the janky fixed piece, or some other deeply rooted issue, there came a point when we simply had to break down, if even for a half minute. The climb was definitely within our abilities, but it was a journey to get through it.
Finally, we reached the top of the last pitch-- and I was beat. Totally wrecked. This is when I realized the importance of breaking it down in this particular situation. Hours of the day were spent waiting at belay stations for the parties ahead of us to finish climbing-- a delay that cost us the privilege of descending in daylight. As we rigged up for the first rappel to descend the climb, dusk was approaching.
Thus began the next chunk. We put on our headlamps and began the rappel. Kicking myself, I realized that I had forgotten to change the batteries in my headlamp, and was forced to rely heavily on Laura’s beam to supplement my weak glow. I then realized that I had also forgotten my prusik loop used to back up my rappel, forcing me to makeshift one with a cordelette. I was frustrated. We had 6 rappels ahead (6 more than I would have liked considering it was dark). As we came to the end of our ropes on the 3rd rappel, we landed on a ledge where there was supposed to be anchors, but none were to be found.
Thus began the next chunk. While Laura pulled the rope, I desperately looked for any sign of anchor. With no luck, we were forced to makeshift our own… on a small bush-like “tree.” Leaving a sling and carabiner behind, we tentatively rappelled from the vegetation onto the next ledge.
Thus began the next chunk. Not knowing (still) where the next anchors were, we explored the new ledge. After this short detour, Laura managed to discover that on the far side of the bushy ledge where we stood was the pitch 3 belay station. We scrambled over, and continued the descent. As we pulled the rope for the penultimate rappel, we looked at each other in disbelief as the rope would not budge; the rope was stuck.
Thus began the next chunk. Laura volunteered to ascend the rope (with a prusik and grigri...not easy or fun when ascending an entire pitch of climbing when it is past your bedtime). I felt useless at the anchor below. We were cold, and so hungry that we had no appetite. We were exhausted and, while staying positive, ready to be done with this climb. With the rope unstuck, laura made her way back down to the anchor where I waited. We finished the last rappel, and were finally at our packs at 9:30 pm. We packed up, and shared the food we had left: a handful each of sunflower seeds (mmmm dinner!). Relieved to be down, we thought nothing of what lied ahead.
Thus began the next chunk. We navigated steep, rocky downhill “trails.” We hiked for… one hour? Two? We walked and walked, towards the parking lot. Climbers trail to side trail to main trail, we finally arrived at the parking lot. All that was left now was the drive back to camp.
We arrived at camp at 11:00 PM. I would have went to bed without eating, if not for my campmates staying up to save us dinner.
There is no denying that the climb was simply phenomenal. Splitter crack climbing, incredible views, Little Mermaid songs, and heartfelt conversations. I would even argue that the scary, “type II fun” aspects were just as amazing as the more aesthetic parts. However, the challenge required baby steps. Without really knowing it, my brain forced each part of the day into said chunks. If I were to, in those moments of fear and challenge, fully wrap my brain around the entirety of the day and what I was asking of my body and mind, I would have been instantly overwhelmed. I would have panicked. We took on each task individually; one at a time. Complete this, move on. Begin next task. Repeat. That is how you accomplish great things.
I have found that this is how I must move through life, not just climbing. Challenging runs, long essays, and works of art all require the person’s attention to focus in on one single task at a time until the overall feat is completed.
In my studies, I like to look at the big picture with environmental issues. They are all connected and tangled and rooted in society; it is beautifully intertwined and mind-blowing, but overwhelming. I am constantly being bombarded with the “doom and gloom” of what humans have done to Earth and each other, and the relative compounded consequences. With so many problems, it is hard to focus on the small actions that make small, valuable change. Thus, quitting looks like an appealing option when one wants to take on everything at once. The issues all seem so big that ignoring them becomes the easy route, apathy the escape.
Many people tend to feel as though they are worthless if they are not saving the world. My blog isn’t transforming the lives of everyone?! Ah, It is not good enough. In reality, no one can save the world, and no one can fix everything. There is a passage in a book titled “Mutant Message Down Under” that speaks to this issue: “If you can only help one person, good job. Can only help one at a time anyway.” This simple but profound statement is a reminder to the granular nature of change and accomplishment. It is not a matter of flipping a switch-- it is a process, a journey, that must be broken down into smaller and smaller parts until it is a matter of taking one simple action, helping one single person.