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Idyllwild SANS HEADED WEST - EPISODE 3

After a quick resupply, I put Vegas in the rear view mirror and set my sights on Idyllwild -- or Idy, as the locals call it -- a small mountain town with a big Yosemite vibe. I send Matt, who I’ll be staying with, a text letting him know that I’m on my way and as I settle into some of my first alone time in over a week, I realize how much excitement I feel for this leg of the trip -- to be in the mountains and to reconnect with an old friend. Actually, come to think of it, this leg of the trip was the whole reason I started to plan it to begin with!

Me and Matt, or Matty as I knew him back then, shared a close mutual friend when we went to college at the University of Colorado in Boulder. We saw each other at parties here and there, and always shared laughs and good vibes, but that was about the extent of our relationship. Recently, however, I had the chance to catch up with that same mutual friend and in our conversation, he mentioned that Matt had also really taken to climbing since school and was actually a physical therapist that focuses on climbers and all types of mountain athletes.

Um, what? I already knew we’d connect over climbing and our love for the mountains, but being the fitness nerd that I’ve become, I’m always seeking a deeper understanding of my body and how to stay healthy while pushing my limits, so hearing that Matt had taken this nerdyness to the next level made me even more stoked to chat with him. We decided to jump on the phone and just as expected, we connected instantly. It turned out that Matt was looking to create some new photo and video content to help promote his physical therapy business and soon we were planning a trip for me to visit. Before long, it was settled. I would help him produce the content he needed and he would share his bodily wisdom -- and oh yeah, we would climb a bunch too.

As I drive up “the hill” (am I an Idy local now?), the yuccas and joshua trees of the southern California desert give way to towering pines and cedars, brown desert shrubs to crimson and green manzanitas, sand to dirt and granite -- it feels reminiscent of my home in Colorado, but with a distinctive California flare. I pull off to take a few photos as the sun sets and am greeted by the crisp mountain air and the scent of fresh pines. Ahhh -- a deep breath after a long drive.

When I arrive at Matt’s house, I’m greeted by a friendly smile, an excited dog, and a delicious bowl of pasta with homemade red sauce. We dive right into conversation (and pasta) as if no time had passed since seeing each other 10+ years ago. We connect initially over climbing, as I share some of my recent experiences climbing in Red Rock, but unlike many climbing conversations, this one takes a deeper turn. We begin discussing how much climbing can teach us about ourselves, about our connections, and about how we show up to challenging situations -- going back and forth we dive deeper and deeper. Neither of us want to pull out of the conversation, but somehow it’s past midnight now and we’re supposed to climb at Joshua Tree tomorrow so we put a pin in it for now in order to get some rest.

I head to bed full of excitement -- not only for the climbing tomorrow, but for the brotherhood that is already growing with my old friend Matt.

We spend the next week like a couple of Lost Boys from Peter Pan. We fill the days with adventure -- climbing, trail running, sunset hikes, exploring, anything that gets us outside. At nights we cook dinner and hang out in front of the living room fireplace until one of us starts to nod off. But regardless of what we’re doing, you can almost guarantee we’re wrapped up in quality conversation. Sometimes we discuss climbing or running, other times physical therapy or photography. But inevitably the conversation goes deeper, just as it did on the first night. We discuss our fears, our desires, our inspirations, our dreams -- all the vulnerable stuff seems to pour right out as if we’d been friends for years.

But we haven’t been, so what gives? Well, here are my thoughts.

I don’t care if you’re going out to walk your dog or going to the summit of Everest, if we tune into what our environment has to offer, there is an opportunity to experience something beyond ourselves when we spend time outdoors. Perhaps it’s a glimmer of a connection to a world that has long since faded from our awareness, since sometime long ago us humans decided we were in some way different, or better perhaps, than nature. Hell, most even talk about “going into nature” as if humans aren’t just as much “nature” as any of the other one trillion species of life on this planet.

So maybe that glimmer of connection that we’re seeing is actually one to ourselves, and nature provides a safe space for us to experience our true selves without all the pressure and influence of our seemingly “normal” day-to-day. Maybe that opens the door to authenticity.

This is what stood out to me about my friendship with Matt. Right from the get-go it felt as if we were both so strongly tapped in to our authentic selves that there just wasn’t any room for the bullshit that shows up in so many of our relationships where we’re so worried about what to say or how to show up. It was just us -- plain and simple, raw and uncut. And isn’t this how we should enter all of our relationships? Truly connected to ourselves first?

Maybe you’re not too into all this “hippie shit” and are happy just chalking it up to good times outside with the buds. Cool with me! But whatever “it” is that we experience out there, it’s powerful. Sharing outdoor experiences with others has had a profound accelerator effect on relationships of all shapes and sizes in my life and it’s no surprise to me that many of my closest friends are the ones that I’ve logged some serious outdoors-time with.

On our way home from one final day of climbing at the historic Suicide Rock, we pickup some pizza and beer to celebrate our time together. Matt starts one last fire in the fireplace as I grab some plates and pour us some pints. We collapse in exhaustion from an action-packed week into chairs across from each other, smiling ear-to-ear, and lift our glasses to cheers. We celebrate everything from the beautiful day of climbing we just had, to the long-lasting friendship that we built over the past week, and all the nature that made it possible.