A Desert Baby Shower in a VanDOit Camper
I got the text this morning. He is seven pounds, five ounces and tentatively named “Crusher." Crushers mother, Kat is recovering and daddy Chris proudly sent out a pic to the crew. Chris is the oldest of our group of friends and ironically the last to do everything. The last to get hitched. The last to buy a house. The last to have kids, and last to settle down. He has a thousand more days in the backcountry skiing and easily the same in the front country climbing than the rest of us. The grass is alway greener though, because changing diapers is ancient history for me.
To celebrate this monumental step in Chris’s life, he asked for only one thing: for us all to gather in the desert to howl at the moon, climb rocks and sit around a fire. He wanted a "dudes' baby shower." Months ahead, Chris sent detailed instructions with GPS coordinates of where to arrive in Eastern Utah, just West of the Colorado border. We drove in from in all directions, each representing a difference phase of Chris’s life. There was the college buddies, the San Francisco buddies, and the midwest contingent- all comprised of good humored men with faded scabs and glory.
I arrived first, and despite non-existent cell reception, I was able to follow the GPS pin drop to a lone culdesac of dirt in the San Rafael Swell. I shifted my VanDOit Ford Transit Van into 4WD and pinball down washes and ruts. There was no checking email here. No texting. No insta-whatevering or buzzing notifications vibrating from my pocket. It was silent. It was glorious. I popped up my vawning (van-awning) and began to collect firewood. I found a private drainage nearby to build a group toilet to minimize our impact. Just beyond our campsite to the south the quiet flow of the Green River rolled by.
Eventually they arrived one by one with the same stupid grin I had. Spring in the desert Southwest is an annual heaven one gets to step foot in if just for a moment. New acquaintances were made, as drinks were raised in celebration of Chris and Kat and the weekend ahead. I crawled into bed and stared out of the van at the stars thinking of my own children. My son will be a teenager soon. We have been on so many adventures together and I still have so much to learn about this dad thing.
In the morning, we all prepared elaborate breakfasts- Omelettes and burritos, espresso, coffee, bacon, and I think there may have even been a frittata. This was our current version of glamping- a far cry from the dirt bagging of our youth. My first true road trip at seventeen, I slept in the trunk of a friends car with three sweaters as a sleeping bag– All for the opportunity to climb the following day. I still wake with a similar albeit more tired and stiff enthusiasm.
As we all have for decades, we packed up our bags with climbing gizmos and ropes and spent the day going and up and down the rose-colored cliffs choosing varying levels of difficulty. At this point in life, I’ve figured out why I climb- because I enjoy the activity. That’s it. Thats’ all. I don’t need to summit a mountain. I don’t need to "conquer" anything. I don’t even need to climb gracefully, really. I just want that movement– that feeling of progressing upwards with exposure and commitment. I think it’s enticing to find something more philosophical to justify the activity. Perhaps to find inner strength, or maybe because we are born suppressed warriors and climbing is our battlefield. Nah. We do it because we simply enjoy it.
Our knees and hands decorated by telltale oozing scabs, we returned to camp and began making dinner. A surprise had been prepared for an around-the-bonfire concert. A guitar, a fiddle, and a upright bass emerged from tents and we sang along with classics. As the fire flickered it’s reflection on glasses and bottles, we sang along, as we laughed and told stories. Dogs chased each other in the darkness, and there was even a house cat, perched precariously on the bass players shoulder. Those of us with kids offered advice to Chris and mocked the hard times he was about to endure. Newborns are exhausting, far more so than climbing cliffs or hucking ones body down a snowy backcountry mountain.
As the sun rose on the final day of our desert baby shower, we packed up, did some light stretching and headed back to the cliffs. There were cheers and grunts, moments of glory and defeat. And that’s climbing in a nut shell. But also parenting, I guess. We try our best and rely on our friends for help and encouragement.
We all fall and fail at times as a parent, and as our group of retired dirtbags watch Chris start this new adventure, I hope we can climb ahead and shed some light on the path upward.