Dawn’s first rays woke me this morning. They made an 8 minute journey from our closest star before shooting across the Wimmera plains and piercing gently through the bug-splattered windscreen of our rented van. Today is a good day.
In fact, every day has been a good day for a while now. Cody Miller (a former student from an Ice Cap trip in 2014) and I have been travelling in a beaten-up Mitsubishi Econovan with a Clockwork Orange motif and dodgy suspension, our chariot for adventure. It has taken us across the flatlands to an incongruous quartzite massif in the middle of nowhere – Mt Arapiles, the trad climbing mecca of Australia.
The days have been spent climbing classic multipitches while compiling hours of video footage and some pretty decent photography. The nights have been spent writing and completing the usual day-to-day tasks of my occupation. Good times all round.
Recently, we decided to take a break from climbing (gasp!) and drive around to view some more of the local scenery and landmarks. During this brief foray, I reflected on the joys of a simple life. As we traverse the highways and back roads, we are literally and metaphorically living life in the slow lane.
The world of the city is complex, noisy, and cluttered. Things that are ostensibly created to simplify our life often cause greater chaos. So-called “normal life” is a maelstrom of life insurance, traffic signals, telemarketers, mortgage repayments, data limits, political turmoil and an endless torrent of memes. It can seem important, encompassing. But it’s all fluff.
When you wake up in a campsite under a grove of whispering pines, life is simple. Stripped of all the nonsense, the superfluous trivialities of our social constructs, one realises that our needs are very basic. Eat, climb, sleep, repeat.
There’s a tangible sense of relief when embarking on an expedition or a climbing trip, something that comes with letting go (even momentarily) of the apparently serious concerns of our everyday lives. At the same time, there is also a greater sense of purpose. One feels that their actions truly matter, that basic needs become primary concerns. And there’s nothing like a sketchy run-out above a dodgy 0.3 BD Camalot to make you feel as if your actions truly have impact. Live or die, it’s in your hands.
It’s very rare and truly a privilege to experience this kind of freedom. Most folks aren’t brave enough to venture into the backcountry, much less abandon the security of their air-conditioned apartments for the sake of a chunk of rock and an uncertain resting place. They’re missing out.
Freedom is something we’ve come to take for granted, and something we ascribe strange values to depending on our personal lens. For most, the American/Australian/British/insert western country here Dream hinges upon a nuclear family, a couple of cars and home loan. The only mountains these folks see are those of debt.
To others, these things represent the antithesis of freedom. The ability to roam, entirely free of encumbrances, is more their flavour. New sights, new experiences and new friends are their bread and butter. Of course, these are disparate ends of the spectrum and the truth of the matter is that not one size fits all, not by a long shot.
Dirtbagdom is not without sacrifice, and it is not a valid means of existence for the entire world. Without some sort of structure, our civilisation would crumble into anarchy. The thought brings to mind some sort of Mad Max scenario (“I’m just on my way to the bullet farm, darling. I’ll be back in a jiffy”). Clearly we can’t all cast of the shackles of jobs and insurance and run about in loincloths like godless heathens. There must be a middle ground.
At the end of the day, I can’t tell you at which point on the scale you will meet Zen. It all comes down to personal perspective and it differs throughout the duration of your life. But you owe it to yourself to find out.
Take a trip. Do it soon. It doesn’t have to be far and it doesn’t have to be exotic. All you need is food, a stove, a tent and a little bit of shoosh. Away from the sirens, the advertisements, the roar of traffic, you’ll hear a voice.
It will tell you things you didn’t know, things you’ve forgotten. It will remind you what’s important. Truly important. It will be the loudest sound in the forest.
Ryan Siacci, Esq.
Originally published in October 2016