I just got back from Bishop on Tuesday night, and I’m still adjusting to sleeping in a bed and not being cold and people honking and televisions and the sounds that the city makes.
This Bishop trip felt different than others. The moon was full and larger than usual, its light kept the tent glowing throughout the night. The first day we woke up to wind, and as the morning went on the winds picked up to speeds I had never experienced in Bishop before. Mount Tom was clouded with a brown haze, tumble weeds rolled through the streets and my hair stuck to my lips. As we hiked into the boulders, sand and dirt sprayed our faces, our eyes, my contacts turned to sandpaper and we had to spit every once in a while to get the grit out of our teeth.
The air felt drier than Bishop usually does. My lips chapped, the skin on my back felt tight, my nose started to flake, my elbows were raw, and my knuckles cracked.
Climbing felt hard. My body felt heavy, moving felt dramatic, and I was continuously sore. I couldn’t stay hydrated.
But I was so happy. We all were. Having friends that smile and laugh as the wind pegs us with sticks and sand and dirt is the best thing in the whole world, and I am so lucky.
I think people are sometimes surprised by Bishop. Bishop is a high elevation desert, but the way I talk about it you’d think it is some kind of paradise (well, to me it is), with palm trees, cool breezy days, lush with greenery and forest, lots of little critters running around. But it isn’t like that. In the winter time Bishop is cold, nights and some days are far below freezing, the sun is intense but not always warm, winds whistle through the rocks, and coyotes howl in the early hours of morning. The boulders are made of quartz monzonite that cuts up your hands, sands them down until they’re raw. The climbing in most of the areas is hard. Don’t expect for anything to feel easy, no matter how strong you think you are.
Bishop is not comforting in the modern day sense. It is in your face, challenging physically, cracks you open emotionally, and tests your mental limits. But we all love it. Because it’s our test. Living in the city rarely tests our fundamental humanness, our ability to survive, to adapt, and to act like a human being. We are so often surrounded by luxuries. And that scares us. We get warm in our beds and wonder, will we still enjoy the bitter cold of a night in a tent? We have to find out, so we go.
Are you okay, I ask. Dexter is on his back in between two rocks, and he’s kind of laughing because he just slipped trying to scramble up to see the moon rise over the White Mountains, but then he looks down at his leg. His brow furrows. No, I’m not okay. I broke my leg.
My mind flashes back to Joshua Tree last spring, when Chris popped his ankle from a fall, and how glad I was to have Matt with me to help me carry Chris and keep me calm. But then I realize I am all alone. And my friend has a broken leg. That I can’t freak out, that it is up to me to get all six foot six and two hundred pounds of him to the van. I help him up and he puts his arm around my shoulder. I was trying to keep my head from hitting the rock, so I rolled weird and I broke my leg. I have a broken leg, George. My leg is broken. He looks at me with a pale face and intense eyes.
I don’t say anything. I can’t. We eventually make it to the van. I scramble back up the hill to get our gear. I start the drive down bumpy Buttermilk Rd. and I’m quiet. He’s talking. He’s making jokes. He turns on the CD player and blasts Robyn and starts singing along, CAUSE YOUUUUUU JUST MET SOMEBODY NEWWWWWWWW! Every once in a while he looks to me and says, George, I broke my leg, it hurts so bad. I broke my leg. I don’t say anything. I know that if I in any way do something as emotional as expressing myself, through simply talking or even putting a hand on his shoulder, I’ll lose it. I’m scared and about to cry and thinking about his head hitting the rock and suddenly I can’t remember where the hospital is that we drive by almost every day, and I’m trying to go slow over the bumps because he moans every time I hit one, but not too slow because I need to get him to a doctor as fast as I can and the moon is huge right in front of us and my cell phone is buzzing and I’m remembering I left his sandal and I can’t believe it happened, in a flash, like that, one moment you’re eating cheesecake then next you’re carrying your friend out of the Pollen Grains, and then all of the sudden everything gets quiet and the only thing I can hear is my breath. It is calm. It is strong. It is smooth. Deeper than usual. Yoga. Yoga is happening. I have laser-like concentration, get him to the hospital, inhale, exhale.
Dexter laughs with the nurses and tells them that he wants to hug them. A doctor takes a pair of scissors and shoves them into an open gash on his ankle, making sure the bone hasn’t poked through his skin, and Dexter says, wow…that feels really good. He isn’t on any pain medication. This is Dexter, dealing with life. This is how he does it.
I am silent. I just watch. I push him in a wheel chair from x-ray room to waiting room to exam room to bathroom, I help when I need to help, I answer questions that I’m asked. I don’t laugh, I don’t say anything unnecessary. This is me, dealing with life. This is how I do it.
Bishop has taught me the best way for me to deal with life, namely the bad things in life, in a way that doesn’t hurt others. Because it is easy to do that, to lash out at others when you’re hurting. At the root of it all you want their love, because you need it but can’t ask for it because that would just be way too easy and mature. For me, I best deal with things by getting quiet, that is how I’ve always been, more introverted and observant. For Dexter, he blasts Swedish pop music and tells nurses about his amazing health insurance coverage plan.
Climbing and yoga has taught me how to react in the way that is best for me, in the way that honors who I am. Of course, sometimes I am not very good at containing my emotions and reacting in the best way. But when you’re in a situation when your friend has a broken leg, you don’t really have a choice. React well, or suffer consequences way larger than just having a bad rest of your day.
I am so lucky to be surrounded by friends who not only know how to be content with freezing nights and dirty hair, but also know how to react to truly horrible situations in the way that is best for them. I think that being outside teaches you this and never stops teaching you this. Yoga does the same thing. Put your body in a certain shape and breathe, keep your mind still. Just sit with yourself. Deal with yourself, with this life.
I admire you all so much. Climbers, yogis, all of you. I look up to you when you react in that honest way, the way that makes sense to you. I know it’s not easy. Let’s just not hurt each other. Keep learning. Keep testing yourself. Keep practicing.
And if you could just take one moment to send Dexter some healing thoughts, whether you know him or not, I’m sure he would really appreciate it.