This past weekend, Vikki flew to Phoenix for the weekend to help her college friend Anna celebrate graduation from medical school. I drove her to the airport in Salt Lake City, and rather than drive 2.5 hours back to Joe’s Valley, I stayed until she flew back on Monday. During her absence, I was graciously put up by our friends Max and Emmy, whom we met in Las Vegas through Alana, whom we met in Colorado.
Max and Emmy are about my age, married, and living in a home they own in Salt Lake City. They have a dog named Sampson and five ducks in the backyard. They have a circle of friends, they have people over for BBQs, they go bouldering on the weekends, and they make long-term plans. They “have their shit together.”
Visiting and talking to people like this used to make me uncomfortable. The twenties has been called The Defining Decade, the period when you’re supposed to achieve all sorts of lifetime milestones like settling into a career, settling into a house, and intentionally building toward some grand future. We are not really doing any of those things. Vikki’s friend is now Dr. Ward. My best childhood friend just earned his Master’s. I ran away from academia 6 years ago. Vikki let her GMAT scores expire.
I don’t have to tell you that things are changing from the white-picket-fence dreams of the past, that our generation is more capricious than any previous one. The New York Times wants to know what the hell is wrong with us, and so does most of my family. But we don’t feel as though we’re lacking. We have just the same amount of existential angst as anyone else. The 20’s is the time to start building toward your dreams, right? Well, our dreams involve seeing our great country, and not just the big cities. Our dreams involve meeting new kinds of people. In our dreams, we can live anywhere and any way we want. We are Pinocchio’s dream: no strings attached.
Vikki and I are in a special place and time in our lives, virtually carefree and able to travel anywhere at the drop of a hat. It’s wonderful, and we are both aware of how lucky we are. As I’m sure someone has said, you can’t put a price on freedom.
Of course, there are trade-offs. There are the obvious (and trivial) mod-cons that we lack, like consistent showers and newspaper delivery.
On a deeper, perhaps more challenging level, we now find ourselves without a home. We don’t live anywhere in particular. We aren’t regulars at the cafe on the corner. We don’t see the same crew in the gym on Tuesday nights. We don’t have an extended network of nearby friends to enjoy house parties, music festivals and Walking Dead premieres with. We have to improvise.
A fellow traveling climber, Adriana, recently posted a piece about our little climber family. She discusses the phenomenon where most of us road-trippers become very close very quickly. Without geographic permanence to tie us together, we rely instead on shared passions, open minds, and common experiences. We are generous when we can be. We are grateful when we receive. We take no sunset for granted.
I said we are without a home, and this is erroneous. We are without a house. But in the Edwardian (Edward Sharpe) sense, we do have a home. Wikipedia will tell you that home can also mean “a mental or emotional state of refuge or comfort.” This couldn’t be more true.
Our family encompasses climbers, travelers, and adventurers. We watch and help each other grow, learn, and overcome challenges. Maybe we can’t give people warm beds, but we can tell of hot springs and boulders and scenic drives that no amount of Googling will reveal. We don’t have millions to donate to charity, but we do leave every place we visit better than we found it. Community service doesn’t need a community center.
Max and Emmy took me in for four days, which is coincidentally the same number of days we’d spent together previously. We went bouldering on the weekend. We drank 3.2% beer. On Sunday, Heather and Dolan invited the gang over for a Cinco de Mayo party. The question of whether I was included in the “gang” didn’t even come up. Max and I went undefeated in beer pong that night.
When Vikki flew in on Monday evening, we decided to spend one more night in Salt Lake City. I asked if we could cook dinner for Emmy, Zack and Hannah (Max was in St. George for the week). Emmy said we owed them nothing, that we shouldn’t feel obligated. We went to Harmon’s and brought home kale, steak, and zucchini.
As I reflected on the weekend and the delicious dinner we all enjoyed on Monday night, I realized that cooking for everyone was not an act of thanks, or generosity. If anything, it was selfish. Sitting down at the table, passing the kale salad, clearing the dishes, and laughing over glasses of wine were the kinds of family moments that we rarely get to enjoy. I don’t exaggerate when I say that dinner was every bit as valuable as the bed and shower.
So, a big thanks to Max and Emmy for letting us join the family. Thank you to Alana for introducing us. Thanks to all the other members of our climbing family, too numerous to mention individually. And to everyone we’ve met along the way that told us we’re doing the right thing: thank you for understanding our dream.