Ruts and Roller Coasters (on being a NOLS instructor part IX)

Damn her.  Damn her for putting ideas in my head, ideas that had never crossed my mind.  I was content to do what I do. 

She said suggestive things like: “maybe you don’t give off the aura of wanting a relationship” or “you say you want certain things, but your actions don’t mimic that” or “how will you know if you don’t try”.  And my head started spinning.  For the first time in a long time, my mind wandered outside of NOLS, it wandered to other jobs, other places and other lifestyles.

Fear and doubt were not part of my non-vertical life.  The twin elements that lead me to discontentment didn’t circle like vultures.  I knew I was stuck in a rut.  I knew that someday I would have to make some hard choices and lifestyle changes.  It wasn’t now though. 

I finished a course.  I went early to the debrief and sat by myself in the coffee shop.  I ordered tea.  Sitting there I realized just how fried and frazzled I felt.  We debriefed.  Jamie again reaffirmed a mold I had fallen into.  A self created mold of excellence and strong performances.  It is expected that I run good courses, or at least do the right things to make courses the best experiences possible.  “I don’t know how you do it Jared.  You just keep churning ‘em out.”

I am grateful for that.  I work hard for other people’s respect, admiration and approval.  And this course was hard.  It was a hard, “easy” course.  An Instructor Course.  Motivated students, short, rock climbing, front country.  Yet the entire time, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being tired and worn out; people however, seem to expect me to chug on forever.  And I want to meet that expectation.

I knew in-town work opportunities would open up at the end of the summer.  Was this my chance?  Should I move to that?  Would that project a different image to the world I inhabit?

Then I went in the field.  Again.  This time for a thirty days.  I didn’t go in happy.  There was a weight on my shoulders.  A feeling I couldn’t shake.  I had felt it before.  It is the feeling of eternity, one of uncertainty and doubt.  Sure I’d done it ninety times before and it always seemed to work out fine.  But it is a feeling I don’t like. 

Teal Block QuoteThe mountains still made my heart sing.  I thought of the grand adventures that awaited me, ones of horses, canoeing, walking, climbing, and exploration.  I cherished new peaks, reveled in old views and created
new dreams. 

Twenty-four hours in and the weight was heavy on my shoulders.  I was sad.  I was resigned to 29 more nights and days of discontent.  “How do I get out of this?” I asked myself again and again.  “What is next for me?” I pondered endlessly during the hours of walking and between half-hearted interactions with my co-instructors.  I cherished student face time though.  Sitting with Matt under a tree, we talked for hours.  He was feeling ill, too high too fast, and his motivation and desire were low.  We were kindred spirits in that regard.  He was there because his step mother had told him to be.  I was there because I didn’t know what else to do.  I sat with students in kitchens, walked with them through the trees and found solace in conversations and teachings.

Forty-eight hours in and the feeling was still there.  I stressed over injuries and ailments.  I worried over abilities.  How would we get up out of this valley?  Still I sought refuge in the students. I got terse and short with my co-instructors, antsy with my energy.  And still I thought of her.  I thought not of the end of our relationship, more I thought of her words and how they had forced me to consider my lifestyle in a different light.  What message was I sending to the world?

Ninety-six hours in and I walked away from the group.  A small pack, an ice axe and a mission.  Would the gully across from our camp, the one that loomed steep, loose and scary, lead us up to 12,000 feet?  If it did it would save us a mile or so of bouldery backtracking.  Mike was teaching a class.  I took the opportunity to go scout.  I thrive on information and wallow in the unknown.  It took me an hour to drop into the valley and then ascend the relatively stable, though steep, gully to the top.  I felt something lift from my shoulders.  I looked down at the aptly named Turquoise Lake.  I looked at Spider Peak, Downs Mountain, and and the cliffs ringing the valley.  I felt my heart leap.  I felt the happiness creep in.  As I descended I started thinking about what I wanted to work next summer: how can I get  my 13th WMT and the SIC?  I started scheming and dreaming.

Through all the ups and downs, both physically and mentally, I found solace and happiness in the mountains and in the students.  I still stressed and still felt uncertain.  There was a calm though, a deeper, well seated calm that I fell back on.  The mountains still made my heart sing.  I thought of the grand adventures that awaited me, ones of horses, canoeing, walking, climbing, and exploration.  I cherished new peaks, reveled in old views and created new dreams. 

I returned with an undeniable smile.  But that didn’t stop doubt and fear from continuing to peck at me, like a woodpecker seeking sustenance.  There wasn’t much time.  My turn around back into the field would be quick.  Her words still swarmed around me, like so many mosquitos.  There was no net that could keep them away.  They had been heard.  And I still didn’t know.  It would have been easy to stop field work amidst sadness and discontent.  Now with words hanging in the air and a fresh, calm happiness having taken root, I felt as uncertain as ever.  Why do I want to change something that I like?  Why would I want to change my lifestyle if it still provides me with happiness?  How will I know if I don’t try? 

Exiting the Grasshopper Glacier, Wind River Range, WY

I graduated from university in 2000.  Since that time, I have not held a job that has not required me to sleep outside.  In that time frame I have paid rent for about 16 months.  In that time I have developed habits and created a lifestyle.  I have created my story, the one I tell the world and the one the world tells of me.  In that time I worked my life into a rut.

Ruts aren’t bad things.  They are not good things either.  They’re just there.  I often here people talk about being stuck in a rut.  It is on my facebook feed or it is from students who aren’t content with what they are doing.  “You are so lucky to be doing something that you love.  It must be so exciting”  I hear it a lot.  But the truth is even the exciting becomes mundane.  Even those who follow their passions can be stuck in ruts.  Its confusing but true.  I think I have followed my passion for a long time.  I do not know what I want now.

Now I sit on an Airbus 320 westbound to Seattle.  Just another adventure, another leg of this journey that is my life.  I feel content.  I feel uncertainty.  Despite going into the field in just a little over 72 hours, I don’t know what to do.  It is just a job application and the outcome of that is uncertain; submitting it is merely opening options.  None the less, I fear changing my image.  I doubt my abilities.  I fear what will happen if I apply and don’t get the job.  I fear change.

Mountains bring me joy, peacefulness and contentment.  It is understandable then, that it makes me sad that this time they could loose.  With every loser though, there is a winner.  I guess I just don’t know what that may be yet.

Featured Image: More “new” terrain in the Wind River Range.

Subscribe to

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

admin Written by:

A little bit less of a nomad now, Jared still likes to refer to himself in the third person.


  1. Joy L. Keddy (Mom's friend)
    July 21, 2016

    You are young to be having doubts about what, who and where you are Jared. What you have accomplished
    so far has made you who and what you are. Take new adventures by the horns and enjoy them even if they are unknown. We all worry and wonder if this is the life we were meant to live or should we try different and perhaps exciting paths. Best of luck and great enjoyment in whatever direction you head. I,m sure you will still have moments of doubt but don’t let them cloud your love for life… Joy Keddy, Stark NH

    • admin
      July 27, 2016

      Joy, thanks for the kind, supportive & true words. As someone more famous than I said…Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all. Thanks also for reading. Make sure my mother does too!

  2. July 26, 2016

    You saw me at the Red Rock camp near the end. Now, I can’t believe I didn’t leave sooner 🙂

    • admin
      July 27, 2016

      Yeah, letting go is hard. Hope you are having a good summer.

  3. Chris Agnew
    July 27, 2016

    Once again, stunning writing, Jared.

    • admin
      July 27, 2016

      Thanks Chris. I am glad that you took the time to check it out and super glad that you found it enjoyable! Hope you are well…

Any thoughts? I'd love to hear from you!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.