This was first published in the Utah Adventure Journal Summer 2012
I never apologized to my dad before he passed away in August 1997. To say we didn’t get along during my teenage years would be putting it lightly. Before our troubles began, I recall working together on a project. Clumsily, I positioned a nut at the end of a bolt and started torqueing it down with a wrench. He noticed my shaking arms and stern face.
“Luis, stop! Don’t force it. Never force anything.” Being from Peru he spoke English precisely, but with a heavy accent. Reversing the nut with his fingers, he seated it correctly and signaled for me to try again. It tightened with ease.
This past June a weekend family trip to the City of Rocks was whittled down to my stepdaughter and me when my wife and stepson stayed home for an impromptu soccer tournament. On a Friday afternoon Elizabeth and I left Salt Lake City. Barely across the Idaho border we stopped on Strevell Road beneath the Raft River Mountains. I snapped photographs of abandoned ranch buildings while Elizabeth darted back and forth screaming, trying to avoid swarming mosquitoes. Down the road I spotted an eagle perched on a telephone pole. Pulling over I grabbed the camera.
“Do you think it will fly?” As we walked toward the pole it spread its wings and swooped down between the wires. A few flaps and it soared through the evening air.
“Whoa… That’s huge!” Elizabeth blurted. I had to agree.
I was eleven the first time I climbed. A rope, anchored to a tree 50 feet up a very low angle bluff, served as the route. I had joined my older sister for her senior spring break in the mid 80’s and for a few days I ran about the deserts of southern Utah with a diverse collection of teenagers. With one VW bus and one Trans-Am, the group of seven wisped me from the hoodoos of Goblin Valley, the radical entrada formations of Arches, the endless vistas at Dead Horse Point and to the quiet beauty of Canyonlands. One of the teenagers explained to the rest how he had rappelled off a feature in a hidden corridor of Goblin Valley. I was intrigued.
The following evening we pulled off Highway 191 south of Moab and cruised along the rolling plains beneath the dark Abajo Mountains. After passing vacant cattle buildings the road began to descend, winding its way into faded sandstone. Our destination was Newspaper Rock and for a moment I was entranced by the collage of images scratched into the vanished rock, but 50 feet to the right the climber of our group had rigged a top rope by using a juniper growing out of the Navajo sandstone. When he asked if anyone wanted to climb I jumped at the opportunity. Wearing a pair of Tough Skins with holes in the knees, a Cheerios Kid T-shirt and Payless running shoes, I clambered quickly up the rock. Sitting back, weighting the rope and lowering were the hardest parts.
Regardless of its difficulty, the hook was set. From then on my free time was devoted to the rock. Since I didn’t have any real equipment the majority of it was spent soloing at fourth and easy fifth class crags in the Wasatch Mountains. Only on occasion was I lucky enough to hook up with a friend’s older brother and actually climb on a rope.
During those rope free days I developed an identity. The uncertainty of being on the rock without any protection cut through all my insecurities. In moments of doubt, when I was sure my forearms would give into the building pump and my fingers would open involuntarily, I could visualize the fall. It would be quiet at first, then my body, striking a ledge below, would spin wildly out of control until the ground suddenly stopped it, broken beyond repair. These thoughts paralyzed me. The flashes were terrifying to the point that I would swear to never climb again until the day I discovered I was the only solution. Left or right, up or down, my fate was in my hands. Each solo outing on the rock began to feed my confidence and character. At home things were different.
“Do not speak to me like that. Have your mother cut your hair. Boys do not wear earrings. Sunday is for worship. You will obey.” Questions were not tolerated when my dad laid out his directives. Step outside his line and you were forced back in.
When I was twelve he let it slip that he was listening in on my phone calls. He explained that in his house it was his right to do so. In search of privacy hours were spent away. On a number of days he’d have to drag me home in order to spend time with the family. This led to more time away and more time in the Wasatch.
Once, while he demanded that I cut my hair, he snapped and wrestled me to the ground.
“Take that thing out!” He screamed while tearing at my earring. My older brother intervened and afterward, I added two more piercings to spite him. This cycle continued into high school. He would demand and I would refuse. Taking steps in the opposite direction of what he wanted seemed the best reaction. Each exchange made it easier to stay away and hanging with all the kids he didn’t want me to be with became easy.
It was with these friends I discovered yet another identity. Booze, Speed, Weed, Hash, Mushrooms, Acid, Coke, etc.; we dabbled with it all and it all blew my mind. At first, I got high occasionally, then weekly and, eventually, daily. Faster than you’d think, the substances took over. I found myself searching the canyons near Salt Lake for places to get high instead of places to climb. Drifting from one friend’s house to another I’d stay away from home for days never contacting my parents. Nights were spent in nearby canyons and glens, hidden among the granite or quartzite boulders.
We partied until it wasn’t fun any more. There were Speed and LSD binges so intense I would smoke pot or drink just to keep the edge off. These long highs always ended with severe lows, where the guilt and shame of what I was becoming pushed me to stay away even longer, which led to getting high again. Several arrests and court appearances along with slipping academics labeled me a delinquent. Wanting to climb was replaced by the urge to get high. The soothing canyons of the Wasatch that had given me some much went the same way the best friend you had in grade school, ignored and mostly forgotten. Trapped in a cycle of hormones and mind-altering chemicals, I began to lash out at everything and everyone. I wanted to stop, but didn’t know how.
Part 2 will be published next week.
copyright louis arevalo 2012