This is how it is.
During roughly the same period, I was doing everything I could to become the most versatile, well-rounded, impact-conscious, proactive rock climber I could possibly be. I learned orienteering and survival skills, was certified as an EMT and qualified as Field Team Member for Search and Rescue.
I came up during the ecological awakening of the late 60s and early 70s, and even without the massive sea-change of those times, environmentalism meant much more to a kid whose grandparents lived right out there, in the country, instead of in some suburban landscaper's dream.
You see, my people are the people who called the Skyline Drive their back yard before the country called it a destination. We're the people working those little stands in New England where our family farms used to be, before taxation without representation and tourists who couldn't give a damn about more than their itinerary plowed that legacy into the ground under the newest rest area strip mall in the name of progressive thinking.
We've been cleaning up behind the latest popular movement for about as long as you folks have been hiring other people to do that, building the roads you drive in on, establishing all those quaint communities whose fossilized remains you love to hike through without ever really seeing the sad descendants of the original settlers going about the lives your endless appetites have left behind.
All that aside, the forests are my first love, since long before puberty took hold of my endocrine system or Miss Cindy walked into my life like a sunlit thunderbolt. I love the mountains and I revere the gifts we have been given, I believe, by a benevolent if sometimes inexplicable universe. It is and always has been my duty and my devotion to give back to the places that have cradled my broken soul.
And I am determined to make an impact on the future, beyond the lines I will leave behind and the trails I have built.
My climbing partner, Doctor Goodwack, would say that I'm wasting my time. He might be right. He'd say that you're all worthless and weak, and that the ones of you that aren't are either too comfortable, too old and beat down, or too young and stupid to waste time or rope on.
Some days, I doubt climbing, and certainly the mountains and forests, the wild places in which the finest climbs live, will survive in any recognizable form.
I'm betting on it, in fact, that's why I'm sitting here typing on a laptop, tossing out messages in a bottle to a generation that mostly doesn’t know or give a damn who I might be, instead of sipping coffee or cold brews or heading off on another adventure with the lovely brunette who calls me her husband.
So many of you have reached out through emails and phone calls, online messages and at the crags, over the years. The response on Kickstarter was amazing and inspiring, a reminder of an energy I thought was lost.
I know you, because I was you.
Even with all the blah, blah, blah that makes up most of the magazines, ezines and forum space these days, I can feel you there, just the other side of the page, dreaming of long, clean lines, of hard, steep moves, or of just clipping that next bolt, someday.
You climb sooner, faster, stronger, and better than we ever did, and you genuinely seem to be trying to rediscover (or at least reinvent) community and true love for each other. You're pushing into the big hills and the hard numbers routinely, and that's one of the things that stir me to the keyboard. For all my hard bark, and despite the likelihood that few of you will give enough of a shit about what an old climber thinks about anything to give this a second‘s glance.
I’ve wasted more time on lines that didn’t go and partners that didn’t show.
For what it's worth;
There are good rangers and workers in the system, few and far between as they are. Find the good souls out there in that incredible juggernaut of a system and do what you can to sidestep the bureaucracy and incompetence to make things happen.
Multinational corporations in the Dripping Springs Mountains of Arizona have unblinkingly confirmed their plans for the eventual, inevitable destruction of Apache Leap, the bouldering heaven of Oak Flats and sport mecca of Queen Creek, the incredible spires and walls of Devil’s Canyon, and the long-term vitality and economy of nearby towns. Tonto National Forest is fighting this with all the effort a broke whore expends to fight off a drunken college boy with ready cash.
It wasn't the Access Fund's Regional Coordinator who reached out from the distant city of Seneca Rocks to contact those landowners, but a working carpenter who climbed there on the weekends and shopped at Kemper's Grocery, the tiny store at the end of the road leading to the crag.
Because it doesn't take a title, or the ability to climb 5.12; it takes the willingness to ask and listen, to see beyond your prejudices and the online resume.
In an age when climbers have no problem driving into Mexico or the ends of the earth and interacting with the locals, this small family business offered cold beer, snacks, and a window into the local community, and a contact point with the landowners.
Climbers who had been to Thailand and braved the highway banditos of the Sonoran desert, their eco-vehicles proudly displaying "Shop Local, Think Sam's Club", stayed away in droves.
"That place looked sketchy." I was told.
I've been to Mexico, the bad side of Juarez and some places that made that look like suburbia, and I can tell you that Kemper's didn't hold a candle to what real "sketchy" looks like.
In fact, I never remember seeing very many other local climbers in the store at all, although it was always clean and the people were always friendly. Bob was a mechanical genius at repair, and Shirley kept some of the nicest plants to be found outside of a professional greenhouse.
But even locals had come under the spell of convenience and "organic farming", loading up at "farmers' markets" dominated by commercial greenhouses, shopping for bulk discounts at package stores, staying in campgrounds run by out-of-state concessionaires and in general exploiting every resource of the location without the need to spend a dime at local businesses.
Those businesses watched with a sort of detached calm as the city folks poured by, never spending a penny more than they had to in order to use the restrooms or get in out of the rain; demanding, condescending, self-centered, entitled, unconcerned and unaware of the people they walked right over in their quest for fun.
They did their best to help and please people who came uninvited to walk across their lands, who laughed at them and ridiculed the only life the people of the mountains were allowed, when wealth flowed away, always away from the mountain state.
Kemper's is gone now, just another place that has finally been ignored to death by the masses of climbers who have no clue that these are the people who actually owned a portion of the land on which they were trespassing.
Land trades hands, property lines are redrawn and the advocates and community have no clue.
And it hasn't been the Access Fund out here, on the ground, replacing anchors and rebuilding the trails at Franklin, Reed's, and throughout Smoke Hole for the last twenty years.
Maybe they just don't know how to start.
(After all, it wasn't until after I started writing about traveling the United States doing trail work that you created your Conservation Teams, was it?)
Don't just seek to empower climbers, but widen your focus; support and reach out to the people in the communities surrounding the climbing areas, as well. Aren't they as worthy of your compassion and support as any war or drought or storm refugee in another land?
Work to make the climbing community a part of the larger community in which we travel and play while others live and work. Make sure the leaders of your advocacy groups lead by example; finding, contacting, and then respecting the rights and wishes of landowners, informing their membership of issues and decisions, ALL of the issues and decisions.
If the Coordinators don't coordinate and the Presidents don't make decisions, get rid of them and find someone who will.
If you can't find anyone, try taking it on yourself.
It's not brain surgery or astrophysics. I mean, even Mike Gray can figure it out.
Okay.... 'nuff said. I want to thank you for your time, and your love of the sport I also love so very much.
Be strong, stand proud, question everything, try everything, give lots of hugs, take lots of pictures, keep a journal, pull hard and don't be afraid to fall, in life or on the stone.