By Ryan Burke
When I moved to the mountains, I heard mysterious stories of her beauty in the lift lines and tales of her power at the local crag.
Others talked about her and I would nod my head like I understood, but didn’t.
She was an elusive spirit who lived in the hills and whose presence felt like a helpful, cool breeze. Groups would murmur in agreement that her spell could last for hours or mere seconds.
I was skeptical, but hardened alpinists swore she was real and their eyes would glaze over in desire when discussing her. “Flow,” they whispered, only appeared when you weren’t looking and only on her terms. She couldn’t be forced.
I had to see for myself. Taking off at a fast pace I waited for her arrival.
Jumping rock to rock, I summoned her to dance but I could only hear the increased beating of my heart in response.
Faster and faster I ran hoping to impress her with my speed and effort.
She did not care.
Ego demanded I return to town with a story, but she was not interested in my reputation. I walked back from where I came, frustrated and humbled.
I worked to master my craft, imagining that my skill would lure her out of hiding. I searched for her while crimping on tiny holds and called out her name while traversing the Teton Range.
Then one day, as the challenge in front of me hit the edge of my ability, she appeared and I tasted the infinite. Colors exploded, senses heightened, calmness overcame and I flowed through the granite like rain water.
A fleeting sensation, but its message was clear. She had seen me that day and stopped to say “hello.”
That feeling consumed me, the pull to see her again was strong. I fight to return to that someplace else she had taken me. But no map, formula, or equation succeeded in seducing her back to my side.
The harder I chase, the faster she runs away.
After many failed missions, I stop chasing. I learn to let her happen.
Tingling begins in my fingers and accelerates inwards. Weightless, my pace quickens and I breeze through terrain no longer knowing where my body ends and the rock begins.
She whispers an encouraging lullaby – urging me upward. Muscles relax, movement is fluid. I see the future and stay ahead of trouble.
Her and I slow dance in that heroic space between brilliance and disaster. It’s glorious but fleeting.
She vanishes, breaking my heart. Again.
Flow is my muse, complicated and challenging, a siren luring me back into the mountains – to the edge of my ability and close to danger.
Rarely do I find her, suffer as I might.
With my face covered in dust and sweat, my mind swirling in self-doubt, – Is it worth the challenge? Am I devoting myself to an admirable cause or a wasteful fantasy?
Could I stop anyway, as my body and mind will never retreat to safety after knowing high achievement?
Finding Flow has become a way of life that is impossible to escape.
Ryan is an accomplished alpinist who lives in Jackson, Wy. He was a 2016 winner of MTI’s Crux Award.
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