Sandoval Signpost


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Evan climbs “Go Sparky Go.”


—Evan Belknap

I have a guilty mind, and it wakes me up in the mornings to force me to recognize it. I wasn’t like this when I was younger. I used to yawn twice and disappear into innocent dreams until late the next morning. Get up and watch cartoons. Go run around in las Huertas Creek.

I see many more sunrises now.

Hidden deep in the towers and labyrinths of Utah, I recently woke up very early. This was just yesterday. Bivyed out on the side of bumpy, mangled road, burrowed into a doubled-up sleeping bag under every imaginable star, I knew I was doomed to lie there awake until the sun was shining high. My climbing buddy farted and turned in his sleep.

What was it that I felt coming for me? What had I done that I subconsciously felt deserved retribution? Punishment. I lay there, with tomorrow’s tower looming before the Milky Way, and a frigid wind glancing my nose and frosting my eyes, and I thought.

I’m not doing things normally, maybe, I thought. I’m breaking all the rules. Why is it that I feel safest when I’m climbing something sketchy or hidden in the hills in a sleeping bag? Why do I dread turning on my phone and checking my emails?

I thought back to the previous day. Will and I had climbed a seldom-visited tower outside of Moab—Heisenberg Tower. It was tremendously intimidating and fairly difficult climbing from the first few moves—and we laughed at our very rational fear and tossed and kicked off toaster-sized blocks of sandstone with every other move—but we steadily, and somewhat-safely, made upward progress until we sat on the summit and ate peanuts. We looked out on the Colorado River and the La Sal Mountains and everything else: all the orange-red arches and canyons and domes of rock. Up there on top, signing the register as the third party to ever summit that particular blub of rock, I felt a great surge of elation. Blissful, I knew that we were truly OUT THERE, as if in another universe, another reality, and I liked lingering there, safely separate and unfindable.

Roping up and descending back to the ground is a great metaphor—the return to reality.

And later, fed and exhausted, and then suddenly awake in the early morning, it sets in like a hangover: this guilt. Like look what I got away with. Not the climbing but the escape. Most people were working yesterday. Working hard to achieve security and pay for things. Society was very much functioning without me. I wonder if I go too far out, there will come a time when I won’t be able to get back in.

I realize I’m describing the premise to the Matrix.

I lie there and feel guilty for the bridges I’ve burned for my freedom, for the rash decisions that I’ve made that maybe others would not have, and for not being able to live the way I’m supposed to, for not wanting the right things. And I keep expecting them to come for me—like the agent in the Matrix—to stick me in a cubicle in front of a computer, inundated by the violent sounds of keyboards clacking.

With sunrise comes a strong wind and long wispy clouds that are yellow and pink like fire. I burrow a little deeper down into where it is so warm. I feel guilty for seeing so much beauty, that night sky and that sunrise, and the eventual lighting of that landscape.

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