The scariest part of climbing is the rest of the world, of that crazy thing called "Life" that goes on, eternally, as we lose ourselves in the moment of climbing. It is only when the endless moment is broken, or the ascent complete, that the things we fear come rushing in.
Fear, true fear, comes to me now; standing here on the razor-thin divide, decades vanished in a blink of compressed experience and scars, between the present and the bad-assed, dumbass youngster who chased his dreams out onto the open road with just a backpack and a duffel bag of assorted gear, who wrote from the heart and lived in the moment and could power through anything except getting his foot out of his mouth.
I feel the whisper of self-doubt and despair as I stare into the mirror at the opinionated, beat-up, increasingly disillusioned and cynical grizzled old man who somehow took that kid's place, a curmudgeon who feels the weight of three decades of watching this fringe sport go "mainstream"; mourned the resulting death of individuality and increasing hordes of environmentally-blind gymbies with little or no empathy for the spirit that moved us, the old guard.
I feel the miles and trials of two years of living on the road, often hungry, unemployed and homeless, with my wife, who has battled Multiple Sclerosis for the last decade and more, trying to find someplace where we could make a home for ourselves, and failing. Feeling the fire that once raged in my belly, dawn to dawn, slowly dying in a deluge of personal tragedies and struggles, even as the hunger sharpens with regret and reminiscence.
I rage against the loss of strength and focus in myself, and against the growing apathy, entitlement, and self-satisfaction I see in the climbing world and its many advocates and organizations.
I fear the day I lose my beloved wife, or the day in which I can no longer love and care for her, this amazing person who has come to be everything to someone as self-centered and inverted as I can be, who loves my faults and forgives my sins, gives meaning to my days and stands behind me against any crowd of detractors or critics, beside me through the worst storms life has thrown against us.
Every run-out, every crap face, every sketchy piece of gear whispers "Is it worth it? Is this really worth the chance of losing a life you dreamed of for so long?"
And every moment away whispers, "You're losing the edge, getting soft, getting old. This is a youngster's game, and you are no longer young."
And so every day is a battle, a struggle of inner tides, a balancing of the things that make me who I am, the man my wife fell in love with, and the man I will someday be; older, perhaps alone, sight fading, muscles devoured by the years, courage drowned in the caution of brittle bones and longer healing, adventure lost to the narcotic lure of the known and comfortable.
We have been told that the only thing to fear is fear itself. But fear tells us that we are alive, reminds us that we are sane, in the face of steep odds and personal danger.
I do not fear the fear... I fear the point at which I can no longer address its causes, at which it drags me down as surely as gravity ever did.
I do not fear falling... I fear simply letting go.