In December of 2016, after several months of not having a vehicle and being mostly stranded at home, I bought a 2011 Subaru Forester. I was living in Abilene, Texas at the time and mostly miserable and hating life. I had just gotten into adventuring and my best friend Nic and I fantasized often about owning Subarus, the apex adventure vehicle in our eyes. It was Nic that got me into camping, exploring, and general adventuring. He and I spent many hours discussing the ultimate adventure vehicle for our purposes and we both agreed that with all wheel drive and room to sleep in, cool emblem, reputation, a turning radius that would make a pallet jack jealouse and great rear ends for all sorts of stickers, the Subaru platform was exactly what we needed. I was dying to move on with my life, which could be defined as watching my late 30s and descend further into a dead end existence in a small west Texas town and owning a Suburau would set me free, I thought.
The morning after I bought my Forester I drove over 4 hours each way from my house in Abilene, Texas a wrist surgeon in Lubbock. It was just before the started rising, not very far into my drive when an owl, either a snowy or a barn, swooped in low from the tree line and flew directly at and then me and only feet away. I’ve always seen animals and natural events as messengers, or some sort of communication with the universe at a deeper level, so I freaked out a little bit. It felt like an omen. There I was in the car I’d wanted for months, my ticket to freedom, headed north, feeling like something big was just starting.
For the rest of the drive, once the sun was up, something incredible happened. Every other mile or so, sometimes more than one in the stretch of a mile, a hawk would take flight from the power lines, fence posts, trees and ground as I drove by. Sometimes they’d fly over me, sometimes in the same direction. Sometimes they’d dive down at some mouse or something, and sometimes they’d fly off towards the horizon or just in to the next tree. I must have seen a couple hundred on the way up, and that’s not a Texas sized exaggeration. It was as though there was a host of celebratory hawks, serving as markers guiding me on to to what would be the next great part of my journey.
This strange anomaly would happen to me again, years later, on my recent trip to Memphis. But that’s another story for another blog post. Back in Texas, on my car’s maiden voyage, before I made it to the hospital that morning I had named my car Hawk Chaser, and she did set me free, so to speak.
A month after I got her I removed the back seats and built a bed platform and storage cubbies. Two months after that I was camping out of her on the edge of Big Bend National Park, in the Chihuahuan Desert, an hour from the nearest town. I was at a Native American lead prayer camp, where people had come to protest against and fight a natural gas pipeline, similar to what was happening at Standing Rock at the time. I went there to write a story and to try and sell it but ended up becoming a protester and over the course of two more trips spent three months living there in the desert: No electricity, pit toilets, and a natural spring for our only source of water.
But that’s a very long story that we’ll save for some other rainy morning some time. (It’s also a manuscript I’ve stalled out on and swear would be an incredible piece of literature if only I could ever get around to finishing it. ) The short version is that Hawk Chaser and I left Texas in the summer of 2016 and have yet to return. But there is a sport route there that all of this comes back to. This whole blog, my life as a climber, all the adventures since and before are because of a climb outside of Abilene I’ve never been on. But we’ll get to that eventually.
For now, though, let’s talk about this blog and and why I’m doing it. Why I’m here with the a.m. radio on as the garbage trucks drive by and the traffic on the beltline wafts in on the wind through my open windows, why I’m here with this cup of coffee and this sense of trepidation and, really, relief. I’ve been saying I’ve been going to start a blog for at least three months. I guess I just really need something to do. I bore easily and I don’t work much these days and if I don’t do something productive soon I’ll crack.
Another reason is that I feel like I have a lot to say that’s worth hearing. I’d like to pass all that on to as many people as I can. Most people do that with their kids: they hand the lessons they’ve learned down to the next generation. But I’m medically certain not to father any children, so I don’t have anyone to pass my lessons down to. Instead of parenting, I blog. Same difference, I figure.
Another, likely the biggest reason, is that writers write. It’s a thing they do like how birds fly into windows and dogs go off to be alone when they die. I need to write like an otter needs to swim. And so I do, I write. I write to help make sense of the world, to decompress, to create, to escape, to feel happy, to remember, to record, to witness, to heal, to process, and to help myself and others. And really, I just need a productive place to put all the things I’ve been writing and thinking and feeling these days.
Chasing Hawks is “kind of a climbing blog” because that’s mainly what I write about. Climbing is at the center of my life and has become a lens, a metaphor, and a vehicle for practicing life lessons and living out my philosophies. It’s not just integral to my identity, it’s integral to how I connect to the world and other humans. I know climbing is that way for a lot of other people, too. Beyond my climbing though, Chasing Hawks is about adventure and exploration as a way of life, and the philosophies that go with it.
Climbing is a little new to my life; I spent the last five years I was in Texas obsessed with it, but Abilene offers little in the way of places to take it up. Besides, I was broke and couldn’t afford shoes or gear and had no one to go with and was way too drunk and dealing with an absolute train wreck of a life to deal with. So, I just dreamed about it and researched it and watched documentaries and how to videos on youtube about it and listened to podcasts about it and read about it and dreamed about it and talked to Nic about it and thought “what if” and swore that if and when I finally left Texas I’d get into climbing… someday.
And then I did. In 2019 I ended up in Madison Wisconsin, 50 minutes away from Devil’s Lake State Park, and for my 40th birthday I bought a pair of La Sportiva Finales a Mammut harness and a chalk bag that looked just like the blanket I used for a seat cover on Hawk Chaser. After years of wanting to be one, I became a dirtbag climber.
That was almost three years ago. Since then I’ve sort of fast tracked things, as one of my co-workers put it. To start with I got hired on as an assistant guide my first season out and will be a lead guide this season after my PCGI cert in a few weeks. I also got hired by the gym here in town to teach. Mostly I teach the lead climbing course but I also do top rope. I also combined my photography skills with my gear know how and having taken a climbing photography clinic at the 2019 Craggin Classic started taking climbing pictures pretty seriously. I’m out there hanging from a line jugging up on gear like a small time punk rock Jimmy Chin. So a lot went on my first season out at Devil’s Lake and this season is off on a good stride, as I recently lead my first few trad routes. As much as climbing consumed my life a climbing blog was, I suppose, a foregone conclusion.
And there’s the ironic twist of cosmic justice: It was climbing that got me to take my writing seriously after years of slacking off and “gathering material”. You see, at one point in life I was sure I was going to be a writer. A writer in the sense of someone who has things written, composed. Finished products that could be shown and or given to to others to be read. But shortly after I moved to Texas I gave up on all of that. I feel like I can basically pin point it to a day, really, in a hotel room when I decided that writing didn’t matter any more. I gave up. I gave up on my dreams, myself and my nature, and my soul began a nearly decade long decay that I’m only now just beginning to recover from.
But that was years ago, that day in that awful motel room in that awful town in that awful state. And here I am. The rain is over and the sun is breaking through the clouds here in Madison. The robins and chickadees are carrying on out back and later today I’ve got to sort my rack out for this weekend: I’m hoping to do another few lead climbs.
And so here it is. The big scary first blog post I’ve been saying I’d do and putting off. You did it, Keith, way to go (high five’s self). Thank you for taking the time to check out my blog. I hope you find something you need here, be it encouragement, humor, something to relate to, a connection, or just a mildly productive way to pass your time. I look forward to sharing with you my stories, anecdotes, lessons, truths, insights and understandings through the shared experiences of climbing, exploring, adventuring and living.
Take it easy,