The Secret life of Mountain Guides

The author and his wife.
The author and his wife.

Sometimes its easy to look back and see where it all went wrong. The one wrong move, the wrong words said, and where you were able to observe, almost visually, your life pivoting on its strange axis to lead you off in the entirely wrong direction.

When you wake up in your tent half way up a mountain, wind howling, thinking about every girl you’ve ever met, shared a moment with, even shared a night with, its hard to see exactly what compelled you to leave them there at the bar, at the party, in the bedroom questioning you with be-mine eyes and walk out the door, onto another airplane, into a taxi, to a cheap hotel and finally into yet another bout of suffering at the will of nature.

You used to tell yourself in the half joking half serious way you construct your life that all this gallivanting around the world from mountain to mountain and ocean to ocean was just a cunning ruse; a good way to meet girls. Like most good ideas that you have, though the theory was sound, the implementation proved horribly ineffective. Sure the sunburnt smile and stories of suffering on mountains across the world rarely fails to garner you a little attention. And on some even luckier occasions that attention comes from some cute twenty something who holds her stare until she’s certain you’ve noticed and brushes slowly past you on her way across the room.

Later you’ll find a quiet place to talk. She’ll listen to your animated stories and smile radiantly. She’ll tell you of her dreams to travel far away; she’ll talk about her family, her friends, and her ties to her solid sense of place. You’ll explain that you never stay in the same spot for more then six months and you’ll impress her with your knowledge and experience. And you’ll go on like this for days or weeks or even months and perhaps share a few short outings hiking in the hills or paddling across the sound or even a weekend trip to a backcountry hot springs or a popular climbing crag.

Lying in bed together you’ll plan trips to Thailand and New Zealand. You’ll talk about the future; a very hard thing for you to do. You’ll say you “don’t know what the future holds but at least we’ll be together.” She’ll love you even more for that feeling that she has finally tamed the wild adventurer. She’ll believe it. You might believe it too.

Until all too soon she will realize that your soul is bound to the wind in the mountains that you climb and when you say “I am going back to work next week” it doesn’t mean a nine to five day trip into the city but a month or two in a romanticized land that she’s dreamed about.

She’ll be angry with you that she’s uninvited and unable to share in the reality of the adventure stories you’ve been telling her. She’ll leave you then, before you can even consider other possibilities and rebound with a legal assistant who likes to go hiking on the weekends and looks great in the fall line-up from Patagonia. She’ll be able to impress him with that tough – independent outdoorsy girl attitude she inherited from being with you. Or worse and in your desperate attempt to gain and maintain companionship you did invite her along and told her all she had to do is quite her job, sell her car, move out of her apartment leaving her life of comfort and relative stability to join you on a globe trotting adventure that would connect your souls for the rest of your shared lives.

When you tell her this your eyes will dance with the fire of your own enthusiasm, but this revelation of your life long dream will be more than she can handle and you will be “asking way too much.” She’ll be scared, you will be vulnerable and you’ll end up worse then in the uninvited case, perhaps never to speak to her again.

You will once again board that plane sad and alone as you stare at happy vacationing couples on their way to spectacular beach locations or the adventurous couples that took two weeks off of there jobs in Chicago to strengthen their bond and share in a peak experience in the wilds of the world. Fully guided of course. You’ll snicker at the former and secretly despise the latter.

Sitting in the tent half way up the mountain you’ll be joking with the boys about freedom and never getting tied down. You’ll talk of the manic, craziness of women that you are glad you don’t have to deal with.

They’ll say things like “women just keep you from the summit” or “You’ve got so much life ahead of you to worry about that now.” They’ll say “There’s no rush, guys, when they get old, get that sophisticated and mature look like Sean Connery. Women are the same way. When they get older they look like Sean Connery.” And you’ll think of the alternative; locked up in a box with a computer screen and a telephone. Where time off means a reprieve in front of the TV, to hang out with your kids and your wife; A house with a white picket fence and all the banks and the bills that go with that kind of responsibility. For a second you’ll believe it, that you’re better off alone.

You’ll talk of the girls that said, “I love you” only to leave you when you’re homeless and unemployed. The ones you almost stayed for and the ones you wish you would have. You’ll say “thank god I don’t have to deal with that kind of drama anymore.” Your climbing buddies will say, “Women are just head games and heartache and the ones that play the game too long end up alone at forty herding cats.”

Later, lying in your sleeping bag you’ll try to recall just what made you take that month long assignment in Tanzania guiding flat-landers up to the roof of Africa and the one you left behind to be there. Sleeping on it, you find the answer at 19,000ft as the sun rises over the Serengeti painting the sky in the most brilliant red and orange. You’ll see then all to clearly when your life pivoted on its strange axis to lead you, once again, off on an adventure. You’ll realize then, that it was not the wrong way at all, but that you do have so much life ahead of you and so much more to give.

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