Holiday Surprises

Not having a job really frees up one’s schedule for spontaneous travel, as it turns out. If you don’t have the time or mental stamina to read through to the end, I’ll save you some work: I decided to go home to Minnesota for Thanksgiving instead of staying on the West coast. It was great.

For those that crave a little more exposition, I’ll pick up where we last left our protagonist: Las Vegas, Nevada.

I stayed and climbed at Red Rock Canyon, outside of Vegas, for about a week. Free camping was easy to find, cell phone service was good, and the climbing was incredible. I only scratched the surface of climbable rock there, and I was impressed. Along with heaps of roadside boulders, there are canyons full of sport and trad crags, each with unique styles and interesting formations. And the place is huge. Even on the busiest of weekends, you can find a quiet spot to climb. I had more than enough boulders to work on, but I would love to return with a rope and some friends.

On the rocks.

The weather was perfect, especially after the snowstorm that ran me out of Utah. 60’s and 70’s during the day, and not a cloud in the sky. My solar panel was pumping out power faster than I could use it. I even charged my cordless drill, which had been limping along on a nearly-dead battery for the last several months.

I was amazed at the diversity and abundance of wildlife. Even though it’s in a desert, Red Rock Canyon was full of colorful (and noisy) birds, many of which were unfamiliar to me. If I had a camera, I could have spent all day following lizards, birds, jackrabbits, and even a few leather-skinned Vegas natives.

This move is called a "mantle." It's like getting yourself out of a pool, except without all that nice, buoyant water.

I would have been happy to spend a few weeks there, but I had a mission: Minnesota by Thanksgiving. My previous plan had been to head up to Portland, OR for the holiday, but I had a change of heart. Without getting too mushy about it, we have a really meaningful Thanksgiving tradition, and I wanted to be home. So instead of going west to temperate climes, soaring mountains, and sun-kissed beaches, I pulled out my winter jacket and shoved my sandals back behind the fridge. Northward bound was I.

But not before making a pit stop. Some of you may remember that I spent some time in Juarez, Mexico earlier in the year. The timing worked out, so I went back and hung out with the kids for the weekend. It was fun, but I was really just trying to soak up every last day of warm weather that I could before going home. Just kidding. Sort of.

There's a mesa that overlooks both Juarez and El Paso.

It's a cool place.

The descent.

Hanging out with los abuelos.

Before long, I was back on the highway. The drive was long, but uneventful. I hit a tumbleweed in Oklahoma (it was seriously like 4 feet across and came out of nowhere), crashed on a semi-stranger’s couch in Des Moines, and listened to a lot of Car Talk.

The weather worsened as I got into Minnesota on Thanksgiving morning, and traffic slowed considerably. Fortunately, I pulled into the neighborhood at 1:35 – dinner started at 1:30. I rang the bell at our old neighbor’s house, watching the 20-odd people mill about, talking and laughing. After 3 or 4 rings, someone came to the door, and I was greeted by no fewer than two shrieks. I hadn’t told anyone I was coming. I know, I know, major etiquette faux-pas.

I’m incredibly lucky to have friends and family that I can walk in on, with no warning, and have them greet me with smiles and open arms. It would be easy to take those people for granted, and I earnestly try not to do that.

But since it was just so fun to do, I did it again the next weekend when I showed up, unannounced, back in Madison for my former company’s holiday party.

It hasn’t been long – just 6 months – since I left Madison, but it felt so good to be back with "my people." I have been shown so much grace and so much mercy over the years that it feels a little crazy to have ever left. My church family, my coworkers, my climbing friends, and everyone else in my life there have been so supportive. I’m glad to know that those relationships are still alive, and have even deepened in some cases.

Revisiting an old haunt. Seeding milkweed in a formative little corner of Madison, the Biocore Prairie. Photo credit Seth McGee.

Between Madison and Minneapolis, I’ve been able to spend a lot of quality time with my grandparents as well. They’re going through some pretty big changes right now, and it’s been a gift to help with that transition. I may not be waking up in the mountains or climbing some goofy rock in the desert, but spending this much time with them is something that I would not have been able to do with my previous lifestyle. So even if the “adventure” has been lacking for the last couple of weeks, there's a joy and gratitude present that more than makes up for it.

It’s also nice to take regular showers and use a toilet that flushes. Plus, my mom is crazy nice to me, despite my dangerous closeness to being part of the “Boomerang Generation.”

That’s pretty much all the news that’s fit to tell for now. Lots and lots has happened while I’ve been home, but most of it doesn’t lend itself well to blog-style story-telling (translation: I haven’t been taking pictures). I’ve got plans for hitting the road again right after Christmas, though, so stay tuned. It should be fun.


Austin

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