October 4, 2004

From New to Old

South Sister, Middle Sister, North Sister and Broken Top, seen from the summit of Mount Bachelor

It’s been a weekend balanced between playing outside and playing video games. I picked up Doom 3 the other day and I’ve made a habit of playing it late at night with all the lights turned off. The game is super dark and scary as hell. You’ll walk through an equipment room when you hear something growling above you, and when you look up a vent cover falls down and a dead body flops out. Suddenly all the lights cut out and freaky-ass imps teleport in on all sides, and the only way you can see them is when they’re lit up by the crackling fireballs that they hurl at your ass.

Doom 3 by far the most detailed game I’ve ever played, and I can’t believe how immersive the world is. I need to work up the nerve to load it up, because the game is so intense it completely consumes me when I play it. Last night I was sneaking around a dark server room with pentagrams burned in the floor and walls oozing with pulsating veins and organs, and when I realized that my roommate was watching over my shoulder I jumped and completely freaked out. Trying to keep the mood light, Shane and I resurrected Total Annihilation (the best strategy game ever created) and playing against each other until 2:00 in the morning.

Now, while video games and other forms of digital sedation are excellent ways to spend the weekend, the weather has been too gorgeous to not get out and take advantage of it. Saturday afternoon I ducked into the Cascades and climbed to the summit of Mount Bachelor. The climb itself isn’t too much of an undertaking; you park at 6,000 feet and follow a trail to the summit at 9,065 feet. The whole thing took me four hours, including a half hour of dilly-dallying on the summit.

It’s not a big deal, but it is. Consider it’s the fall of 2002, and you tell me that on a particular afternoon two years from now, I will look at my watch. You tell me that I will look at my watch, and upon realizing that I still have five hours of daylight left, I will pack some Clif bars and water, and climb a mountain. I probably wouldn’t have doubted you (seeing as how most of my time in college was spent at the edge of delirium and I would have had trouble doubting the possibilities of anything), but I’m certain that I would not have been able to draw the causal connection between then and now. I’m still not certain I can.

It has been a slow change for this Minnesotan come Oregonian, and it is a change that I have only recently realized. I’m growing into these volcanoes, into these old-growths, into this wild, untamed landscape. The emotions are different. I no longer get the absolute drop-jaw awe I used to get every time I rounded a bend in the road. I still find the mountains extremely exciting, but the mere sight of mountains is no longer as satisfying as it used to be. I’ve done all the looking I care to do, and now when I dash into the woods, I do so with purpose.

Each of my excursions has a goal, whether it’s a bike ride along Swede Ridge, a series of bouldering problems near Widgi Creek, or the summit of Mount Bachelor. The excursions have goals, and the goals have names. The familiarity, both with the terrain and with myself, is something that I had never anticipated when I left Minnesota a year and a half ago. At that time, Oregon was nothing but a huge forest slashed with mountains, and that vague notion was good enough for me. It was more than enough to pull me out here, but it wasn’t enough to make me stay. In order to stay I needed to find substance, which, like a lost set of car keys, I can never find when I’m looking for it.

Ultimately, there is only one reason that I’ve been in Oregon as long as I have, and that is because I am not in complete control of this life. For how much I may wax poetic about Minnesota, I have no regrets about moving to Oregon. I have no regrets about staying in Oregon, and I would have no regrets about growing old and planting my body in Oregon.

That being said, exactly one year ago I went through great pains to figure out how to gracefully move back to Minnesota, paving the runway with glowing resumes and a birthday vacation to the motherland. None of these attempts bore any fruit that would have improved on the life I was already living out in Hood River, so they were abandoned. The next plan was to work as a lift operator for a ski resort in Utah, but the cold reception I got from the resorts down there signalled that I was following another red herring.

However, I got a lot of encouragement to come down and interview for a rental technician job at Mount Bachelor. I would have gotten hooked up with this job, too, had I not gotten lost in the woods and given some homeless fellows a ride back into town. I finally ended up at the job fair two hours late, and I waited in line for three hours only to be told that all the positions I was applying for, from rental technician to lift operator to ticket attendant, were already full.

Already full. Beyond full. As in, each department had already had their arms twisted so grotesquely to hire beyond their needs, that it would have been absolutely ridiculous for them to hire me. Heck, it would have made more sense for them to put me on payroll and insist that I never come within a hundred miles of the mountain, than to hire me into an already overstaffed position.

Call it fate or call it dumb luck, but it was only because of these messy events that I got to spend my winter as a snowboard instructor, a job that was beyond my wildest dreams of mountain living. I wouldn’t be fixing bindings, I would be strapping them on. I wouldn’t be grabbing lift chairs all day, I would be riding them. I wouldn’t stand around and scan lift tickets, I would scan my season pass every workday. And all this I did until March, when I broke my leg in the terrain park.

Mount Bachelor is one of many locales that have played a huge role in shaping my west coast existence, and thus I don’t feel like I climbed a mountain yesterday so much as I revisited a period of my life. All this time I had expected the mountains to remain nothing more than pretty things, so to have so much of my soul wrapped up in at least one of them is an unfamiliar feeling. Over the past year, the relationship between the mountains and I has shifted from new to old love.

And old love isn’t as bad as it sounds.