Outdoor Friends are the Best Friends: A few thoughts about friends, parenting and modeling friendship to our children
There is an exquisite moment at the top of any backcountry ski descent. It is an instant where you summarize all the contemplations from the uphill journey and make the final decision about dropping in. If the run is spicy it is accompanied by a flutter of nerves. If you are alone you dig deep and cross reference the risk of gain and loss.
If you are with friends you assess if you trust their judgement, if the lines of communication are clear and if things do go wrong will you have the wherewithal to take care of the situation. Of course you have thought through this before. The decision point is merely the instant of commitment. After this you trust what led up to this moment, you stop thinking and you become completely present and instinctively respond to what your senses are telling you about here and now.
The deliciousness is derived from the complete attention to the moment. Focus changes the way you see things. It is like adding bokeh effect to a portrait, all you see is the face. Each wrinkle telling a story uncomplicated by the surroundings. The beautiful thing is that all your outdoor friends understand this heightened awareness.
They all interpret the sounds coming from their skis. They all pay attention to proprioception and how their thighs feel as the snow conditions change. They perceive their neck hairs raise as they hear a whoomphing sound or feel snow collapse. Most of all, they understand how hazards heighten here and now. They are mountain meditators.
When I look at all my best friends, they are the ones I have tied into a rope, or descended a sketch line with. We have had to fight tooth and nail to come out of a situation together. We have carried each others’ broken bodies or been willing to. By opening to the potential of hardship together we have felt the flip side. The sublime panorama of a ridge top sunset, the mind bending exposure from a big cliff, the elation of a clean course down a complex rapid, the euphoria of the unlikely success, the life altering contemplations spawned from the enormity of an open kayak crossing. We were immersed in nature and revered the spectacle before us.
Why is this important as a parent? Two reasons I want my son to see the value of real friends and I want him to have the tools to find them. Since moving to the States I seldom see my early climbing partners. But, when I return to the UK I am excited to visit with them, I know we will pick up where we left off. I love it when Cai is a fly on the wall to these meetings. I know there will be good conversation; a lot of reminiscing, and a sharing of current experiences recounted in such a way that we will learn from each other.
My outdoor friends are also independent; there is no way we are going to live in each others’ pocket. Let’s be honest, for us to spend an extended period of time together we would have to organize an expedition and parental life will make that difficult. We are a tribe of nomadic dreamers, always looking to collect new vistas and experiences and since families that is rarely done together. But… the time when we did share our souls along with our adventures shaped us. It will always be pertinent and so will the friendship.
The stories Cai gets to hear in this company shape the understanding of his lineage and give him a sense of home in a transient world. Outdoor friends help you to paint pictures of the benefits of adventure. They also help you have experiences that make you an easier person to be around.
Last Friday, I managed to wrangle two friends into the same niche in time and space. It coincided with a bluebird day and creamy, white gullies. We pulled the rabbit out of the hat when we not only dropped kids off at school in Denver on time we also summited a 14ers by 12:30. The world stretched out beneath our feet, views forever and a favorable snow pit. Facing north our chosen line connected the summit to a lake, a straight slash of snow in world of rock. The top did not afford a view of the entry and we had chosen to ascend the East Ridge to save time.
I love these moments; everyone feels uncertainty and expresses it differently. What were we going to find as we dropped in? Was there enough snow? Was it safe? The commitment was there after the snow analysis but the decision point was delayed until gathering all the data. Knowing my companions competence I slid in and thought no more about them. Obstacles were overcome through a mixture of knowledge, experience and teamwork. The whoops expressed extreme happiness and all too soon we were walking out along a plowed but gated road. The drudgery lightened by the conversation and laughter.
That is why you have to love your outdoor friends. They know what to do when something needs doing. They trust you have their best interests at heart and act accordingly. They understand that there are times when you are thinking about them and their needs. They are aware that there are times when they are the last thing on your mind. They do not take this personally, they appreciate it. They recognize that blame is worthless and energy needs to be placed on finding the win-win solution and seeing the best in others helps them to see the best in themselves. They also all seem to have wit born from razor sharp observations and the ability to see humor in most situations.
One of my great desires is that Cai finds this out for himself. It is one of the reasons I have always been happy to take a friend along for our adventures. So here is a toast to outdoor friends. Why do you love yours? Why do you need to help your kids find theirs?