For the record, I am not an adrenaline junky. That is often what people seem to assume this is about. If it was that easy, well then it would be an easy fix. For the sake of my mother’s sanity: I am fine. It is just cathartic to put things down in words.
The lassitude of melancholia sits as the other side of any obsession which seeks the present moment. It would seem, that with the changing of the season I have spent the past few weeks struggling with the quiet desperation of a successful season of riding big lines. In short: I miss being afraid.
137 days into the season. A season filled with bigger lines, bigger jumps, and more consequence. The obsession is as it always has been, being forced to exist in that exquisite glorious present moment. The problem, one that many of my friends and those who care for me are quick to point out, is that the the stakes are always rising. When you spend more than a hundred days a year standing in those narrow spaces that barely hold snow they start to become a pretty comfortable space. It isn’t like I am a great snowboarder, something my riding partners are more than happy to point out at every opportunity. Yet this year, like every other, the sense of what is possible has changed. Now if there isn’t a mandatory air in a line, if the snow isn’t stuffing like a waterfall, if the choke is much wider than a board width… well then it is a mellow line. That push into being present isn’t as strong, and I find myself having to work to find that sense of flow. Consequence makes it easy, the cheat to getting into that state that embraces the present moment where nothing else exists.
So this morning I wake up to the quiet desperation of melancholy. It isn’t that snowboarding isn’t fun, it is great. I have a blast every time I strap my feet onto a board. I love getting lost in turns and deep snow. However, it would be a blatant lie that that would be enough. Then there is the bigger problem, the lassitude pours over, insidiously, into every area of my life. All the great people, the delicious coffee, the fiery touches of passion, the great books, the wonderful food, the magnificence of mountains. It feels repetitive. The aid worker I was in my youth screams at me of the arrogance, of how pathetic it is to be miserable in such abundance. Yet it is tough to shake. That awful knowledge that chasing the high that comes from living as close to the edge as possible will eventually demand a return from that place. You can’t live there. Then of course there is that whole item of raising the bar. Mark Twight speaks plainly about the fact that he had to walk away from the alpine game because the consequence was just too high. I get why he had to make that decision, what I don’t understand is how he did it. This morning one of my best friends, who shares this same affliction, said I have to change where the obsession is focused for a while. He told me to go climb, put the board aside for a while. Go seek the present moment in a few small meters of rock. His idea is a good one, yet it just changes the focus of the obsession, it doesn’t feed the rat for that much longer. It just pushes the hunger back for a while into the shadows of my mind. Tim Kreider writes eloquently in his collection of essays “We Learn Nothing” about the irony of how we seem to only fully appreciate life in its fullest when we risk losing it. He jokes that the best route to ensuring this satisfaction would be to hire an inept hitman to try and off you. A harrowing close call loses its power when you are certain of your survival. That is the sirens call of the lines of consequence. For all the management of risk, for all the good calls, their is a sense of unknown. That first moment as you pour yourself into the slipstream of moving snow that races down, cascading over rock walls, and through tight spaces, you have plunged yourself into a most exquisite timelessness.
There is of course mindfulness, and it isn’t that I don’t relish the sunshine through the clouds, or that I don’t lose myself in the joy of the wind in the trees. Yet there is something deep and visceral that is fed by being pushed to the limits where self has to vanish. Maybe that is why I have always enjoyed training so much, the ability to push to your breaking point with not much greater consequence than kneeling in a cold shower gasping as the nausea begins to fade. I wonder at my heroes in the mountains, the alpinists and riders who have pushed the boundaries forwards. I wonder at how they deal with the lassitude, how they shake the need to chase the edge.
Today was good. I went for a walk in the woods by myself, and was unable to get what I wanted. I was shut down by a blizzard and ended up riding FGP through glades. It was lovely. Maybe it was what I needed. Just simple fun.