Solo: How To Find What You’re Looking For

photo_peak

(Photographer’s Peak, Custer State Park, South Dakota – Route Visible in the split of the tallest section)

I was 18 and 180 feet up wedged in a narrow crevasse of rock with nothing below me.

I reached one hand back to the camera hanging off of my harness, smiled and took a selfie, my eyes closed.

“If I fall they will find this and know I was happy” I thought.

At 220 feet I climbed over the edge of the route, rappelled down the backside using the extra coil of rope I had on my back, and walked around to the front.

My climbing partner, Tom, stared.

“Dude, I thought you were dead”

I climbed as high as the lead rope could go, untied and let the rope drop, then kept going up.

He was left on the ground to watch until I couldn’t be seen.

It sounds insane. I guess it could be, but when your life is focused around a single activity so much that you are trained to precision, the insanity becomes manageable, even fun.

That’s when the limits go up and life gets weird.

free_solo

(this is me 250ft above ground, free-soloing in Boulder, CO)

From 60 vertical feet in Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin to 1000 in Boulder, Colorado the climbs were different but the quest was the same.

I didn’t particularly like to solo, I needed to.

Because out there, I thought, would lie the answers to what I was looking for.

They would appear, I thought, just beyond the bounds of what I was capable of.

Yet when I got there, the line moved back. When I got “there”, “there” wasn’t a big deal anymore and a new “there” appeared on the horizon.

It is a sick cycle I obsessed over across everything I did: climbing, cycling, swimming, running, working.

Because the missing piece had to be there where I wasn’t yet, I just had to try harder.

And isn’t it true.

I could climb 1,000 feet without ropes. I could ride more than 100 miles in a few hours. I could run more than 50 miles across mountains in a workday.

But what I wanted was missing.

leonarunning

(a picture of a picture of me in my first ultra, in the mountainsof CA, , hanging on Mom’s wall. thanks Mom)

Because, I learned, out there is out of my control. We’re like a butterfly trying to control the weather with its wings. Possible, but improbable.

The only thing we have is not outside, but inside.

So after thousands of vertical feet, thousands of miles, hundreds of running shoes, I found the answer somewhere in between.

The one seat with eyes closed and focus inward.

Behind the voice, the ideas, the judgment is something else and it’s what was missing all along.

It was here until I found it.

I was just looking in the wrong place.