The Ambivalent Tour

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The Ambivalent Tour

Postby ryanl » Sun Mar 25, 2012 1:29 pm

Been struggling with ambivalence lately. Ambivalence occurs when you simultaneously hold attitudes that pull in opposing directions. Most of us who post here have jobs we love, so you all know what I'm talking about- it's the conflict we feel between our professions and the mountains. We want to do BOTH, all the time, because both make life better. But time, energy, schedules, and conditions don't always allow for it.

All to often I confuse ambivalence with Akrasia, which loosely defined means "weakness of will." Akrasia captures the tendency we have to do exactly what we know deep down to be not in our best interest. Like skiing instead of doing taxes. Or NOT skiing to do taxes. The solution to Akrasia is to accept that sometimes you just have to grin and bear it.

Some matters in life, however, lie beyond the realm of will power. No matter how clearly we may see the path to our best interest, some conflicts will never be resolved. That's because some conflicts have nothing to do with what's in our interest. Some conflicts are simply ambivalences. Like a profession and leisure. Or being married and not married. Or sorrow and happiness. The key to these kinds of torment is balance, not power.

My balance sucks, even though I work on it. I can go MAYBE 60 seconds with my foot in my hand and my eyes closed before I stumble. Ambivalence throws me off in the same way. I haven't skied much this winter because of the mixture of pain and pleasure it brings upon me. Stumbling out of posture with your eyes closed and your hand in your foot is pretty minor compared to the stumbling involved with going from laughter to tears in a matter of seconds.

I've instead been looking for pleasure in ways devoid of ambivalence. I've seen more live music in the last few months than I have in years. I've gotten into surfing. These are great. But they avoid the issue. There's something wrong about cutting myself off from something so good for me simply because Monika died. That sounds akrasiac.

Thursday night I went to a book reading with my friends Janet and Jerimiah. The next day Janet emailed me asking how I was doing since I seemed down. She sent me some words on ambivalence that I had written to her months ago. Something clicked. A strategy I haven't tried before presented itself: embrace my ambivalence and indulge every part of it as fully as possible. That night I rented a car ($35 Friday through Monday, for those of you contemplating a car-less lifestyle).

I left my house at 4:30 on Saturday for a tour that Monika and I had begun to talk about in the months before she died. I followed the tracks of some folks who had been up Kendell recently, but set off on my own at the head of the commonwealth. Skies were overcast, the going slow. Sun from the day before had created a crust but with so much recent snow I couldn't stay on top. Things firmed up for the final bit and I skinned to the summit using ski crampons. The summit of Red in weather that matched my mood:


The ski down sucked. Breakable crust off the top changed into quintessential cascade crud by the lake at the bottom. I found a way through some cliff bands and rejoined the commonwealth for more tedious skinning up to the summit block of Lundin. From there I traversed along the ridge, up and over Snoqualmie's East Shoulder. Looking back at Red:


On top of the East Shoulder I saw folks on Snoqualmie that intensified some of the ambivalence I was already feeling. Hopefully there's some foreshortening going on:

IMG_0981 (800x745).jpg

I skied into just below the first pitch of the Crooked. Snow was good here- heavy powder. I cut loose a few 6" slabs, which given all the fresh snow had me spooked. I stuck pretty closely to what looked to be recent tracks and had nice turns down an incredibly filled in Crooked. I'd never skied it before- very fun.


Beneath the slot I ran into Nick, who introduced himself as a "pre-Ryan friend of Monika" before I even opened my mouth. Very nice guy. Nick, if you read this, it was a pleasure to meet you. Then I ran into Andy, Mika, Pete, and Becky. Their's were the tracks I'd followed down the Crooked. I asked if they fancied a skin around Chair with me. They were thinking the same thing and suggested heading over the Snow Lake Divide, as opposed to my original plan of heading up towards the Phantom and traversing the ridge downwards. I liked their idea so I began cutting a track through fresh and much lighter powder towards a col I'd never been to before. At the col I waited for them while I melted snow into water, but they decided to sample some lines along the way and I left before they arrived. I kind of liked being alone anyway.

At Snow Lake the day turned Beautiful. I've always loved snow covered lakes, and Snow Lake is one of my favorites.

Snow Lake.jpg

By the time I reached the far end of the lake all the Chair Circumnavigations for the day had been completed and I was left alone to enjoy the remaining daylight in track following solitude. I realized that I haven't been skiing much this year because I've needed some time away from the pain so that when I get back into places like, say, the far end of Snow Laked beneath whispy clouded sunlit blue sky, I can remember the things that are worth remembering. Like the vision of Monika bounding down the slopes of Lightening Creek after I'd left my camera at the Honeycomb Glacier Col. I smiled and cried, this time comfortable in balance between the two. I knew I was in balance because I felt deeply, deeply human.

I took my time up to Malakwa Pass, enjoying the solitude of my surroundings.

Malekwa Pass.jpg

I climbed up a bit from the pass and enjoyed some nice fall line to Malakwa lake through a mixture of corn and heavy powder. Oddly enough there wasn't a skin track in place up to the Bryant Col. Folks apparently had headed through the trees further to the east. Not too psyched to put a track in through rapidly slushifying snow, but oh well.


At the couloir I was treated to one last view of the payground that IS Central Washington:

The Playground.jpg

The Bryant Couloir skied much worse than Red had that morning. Frozen wet slide debris everywhere. Still.... a nice way to end the day.
Last edited by ryanl on Mon Mar 26, 2012 9:27 am, edited 2 times in total.

Re: The Ambivalent Tour

Postby skykilo » Mon Mar 26, 2012 7:54 am

That's an extended Snoqualmie Pass amble.

How did you come about this definition of "good balance"?

Did you drive your rental car really fast? I always like to do that.
User avatar
from Santa Fe

Re: The Ambivalent Tour

Postby ryanl » Mon Mar 26, 2012 9:05 am

Oddly enough, Doctor, I've been trying to understand ambivalence with respect to attitudes and intentions ever since I first got a glimpse of what it means for something to be both a wave and a particle. Thought about that alot in grad school. Some things, apparently, present differently depending upon how you look at it. Like fear and stoke ;-)

And yes to high speed driving. I got a litte two door Fiat with 10K miles on it. So much fun. I spent Sunday driving around town parking in the smallest places I could find.

Re: The Ambivalent Tour

Postby naomig » Mon Mar 26, 2012 8:40 pm

Ryan, nice story. Glad you can enjoy more of the skiing experience again. I have so much to say about mindfulness, but I won't here.

Looking forward to seeing you in few weeks.

Re: The Ambivalent Tour

Postby Atraslin » Mon Mar 26, 2012 11:53 pm

Great story. It's always a balance, especially this year with accidents in the mountains from people I have met or know.
Makes you question the risks sometimes.
Giver don't skidder

Re: The Ambivalent Tour

Postby ziff » Wed Mar 28, 2012 10:50 am

always love reading your words and thoughts, Ryan. Balance can be elusive, but as with most things, it is the searching that matters.

Re: The Ambivalent Tour

Postby danhelmstadter » Thu Mar 29, 2012 2:31 pm

thanks for the great read and pictures!
voluntary admission

Re: The Ambivalent Tour

Postby casruff » Fri Mar 30, 2012 8:05 am

Very nice words Ryan. Finding balance in life between work, play, family, and friends will always be a never ending quest for me.

Re: The Ambivalent Tour

Postby klar » Sun Apr 01, 2012 8:02 am

beautiful read.

I don't know you and I have no idea what happened (and feel like I'm intruding just reading this) but I am very sorry for your loss.

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