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Free to Roam

November 15th, 2013
Ben Clark running the last steps to the summit of 13,432' Oscar mountain outside Ophir, Co.

Ben Clark running the last steps to the summit of 13,432′ Oscar mountain outside Ophir, Co.

I don’t think I could be a mountaineer without traveling the world, and vice versa. For me the freedom to roam in the mountains in any way I want feels natural, like a “given.” I don’t mean to say that I can do anything I want physically, I’m referring to the opportunity to explore anywhere within reason or without one at all! I am grateful to be an American and to have the privilege of that freedom. If there is a mountain somewhere I want to climb — I can probably at least try it — almost anywhere in the world. So I travel.

One of the lessons I learned traveling was that in other countries, the U.S. stands out, and not just because of our extensive national park system. There were people out there who were so psyched on the U.S. that they would volunteer to die for it — no questions asked. I will always recognize that in our homeland, one of my best friends is one of those people and we grew up near Ft. Campbell, Ky.

My friend Don is a steady badass, and has been since we were 13. He is a helicopter pilot in the Army National Guard and an engineer in Atlanta, Ga. He’s a classic alpinist basing out of the hinterlands of mountain hope in the South and clawing up ice climbs in Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia during the winter. After growing up together in Tennessee, Don and I were “all in” on the mountains for a few solid years and notched many adventures in our 20s in Colorado and one sleepless Mexican volcano trip. Two college dropouts — from architecture school and aeronautical engineering — we marched steady toward our dreams.

Don (left) and me on top of 14,005' Huron Peak in 2002. We are celebrating our Tennessee heritage in "special hats" before cutting loose and charging down the mountain.

Don (left) and me on top of 14,005′ Huron Peak in 2002. We are celebrating our Tennessee heritage in “special hats” before cutting loose and charging down the mountain.

Climbing peaks sometimes requires a soldier-like mentality; those who cope with fear are generally successful as long as they have tactical skills and luck. Many times when we were younger we talked about the balance between death and “getting the most out of life.” Six months after becoming a Dad, I sent Don an article contemplating some legitimate concerns regarding risks and the types of environments I was negotiating in 2012, Don got it and deadpanned:

“I will always love mountains, even in light of their ability to strike down the sturdiest of souls. I enjoy exercising my body in an environment that is set to the scale of my mind. Living and climbing in Colorado during my early 20s fueled my ability to pursue academic and professional accomplishments that I once thought were unattainable.

Four years ago I took an oath which affirmed that I would put myself in harm’s way for the greater good of our Nation. I would not have been able to take that oath had I not previously put myself in harm’s way for my own self-validation and pure enjoyment. In my own mind, from now on it might as well mean something.”

Don would go to war and die so we could visit the mountains if he had to. I’m not sure how I feel about war or death, but I know how Don feels about our country and I appreciate him even more because of it.

We are here today enjoying what we do because of sacrifices others have made. Ultimately it is up to us all to move ourselves forward remembering that sometimes others gave their lives and that we are the product of the freedom they are protecting. I did the edit on the video below and hope that you will take a moment to learn about Wear Blue: Run to Remember for those who serve our country and protect freedoms as innocent as being able to go outside. Remember those who protect our freedom, they are risking something for us that we should forever be grateful for.

 

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