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Mad to Live: Engaging in Action Sports and Their Respective Communities

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I was extremely fortunate to spend much of my time in South America pursuing my passions and dreams of backpacking, skiing, surfing, and mountaineering. To supplement my memory of the experience I wrote journal entries, landscape descriptions, and poems. Here is a journal entry from 25thof July, 2017 Miercoles, Día 16 con los Avydonkeys, Day 8 Skiing at Refugio Frey, Bariloche, Argentina. 5:50 PM.

“Today was sick” “Si po, today was bakan”

We had another late, late morning – got out onto the skin track at 11am after oats, cereals, eggs, and of course, mate. We sent it straight up the [F] chute – and I lead a lot of the track cutting really learning proper kickturn technique. Our goal was to ski chute [D] a tight, untouched powder hole – also called “el centro”. A daring ascent, really – we boot packed up behind the Frey Face utilizing our A-Frame packs. Immortality and a true spiritedness can transcend all things when the sun is shining and you only turn back to see your friends smiling: “El viento viene el viento se va. El suerte viene el suerte se va!”.Now, battling through the wind, and looking for this chute, blind, with no idea where it was. Smashing my yellow toe through the crunched ice and grabbing any hold of granite with my mittens. I felt naked – Noah had taken my ice axe to search for our destination, I had to hug granite as the wind bustled by. After 30 minutes of scrambling in frigid and howling gale on a sheer rock face, we howl at the site of the drop-in. An exchange of curses yields to a thoughtful examination of the pitch we were about to ski – a 50 degree slope angle which barrels down to a dangerous terrain trap, then into some more cliff faces and out into the sunny lake again. Drop! Connor billows down hootin’, but you can’t hear the holler until a minute later over the radio “BUEEEENNAAA HERMANO, VENGA!”. The rest of the group drops through the chute and there is nothing but the present, achieving a flow state of mine teetering between utter pleasure and chilling calculated self-preservation…
Now writing in the Refugio, only five of us in the hut, the wind whooshes and beats the glass panels (easily 60km/hr, perhaps 75) but at Frey, made of solid granite and good company, we are all solid like the mountains. Only people and our petty ways can destroy our very selves, the mountains, and solid immortal Frey itself. Refugio Jakob was burnt down on July 7ththe caretaker, Pana, reminds us. We sit in silence and I serve the mate – there are 2 feet on the way tomorrow.

Finding the Flow State

I have had the great privilege and fortune to travel around Chile and Argentina. This journal entry was written towards the end of my travels as several friends from Santiago and I crisscrossed thousands of miles across the continent in search of snow. An important component to studying abroad for me was to engage in community-building and truly find what I value in life. I value being in the present, separated from anxieties of the future or depression of the past and the easiest way to engage in the present is to find what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls the ‘flow state’. The flow state is a mental zone where one engaging in thought or an action is completely immersed, carefully balancing challenge and skill insofar as to lose track of time and space. I sought to be completely separated from any support structures or good friends I may have had while beginning to study abroad; this was another opportunity to explore myself It was freshman year again; a controlled experiment if you will.

Communicating through sports

When I arrived in the beautiful and culture-rich port city of Valparaíso, Chile, I sought out the surfers, climbers, skiers, skateboarders, and artists, while removing myself from the frame of mind I had in my previous collegescape. I quickly became involved with the Valpo Surf Project (VSP), a non-profit after school extracurricular program that teaches English and surfing for the under-privileged youth of Valparaíso. I met likeminded individuals and friend groups with similar ideals to that of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I soon began climbing at Tornamesa, an underground bouldering gym in an abandoned warehouse in Valparaíso, skateboarding in Plaza Victoria, and surfing weekly at Con Con, 30 minutes north of Valparaíso. Within a few months I had felt like I had lived in Valparaíso for years. These beautiful communities embraced me immediately and I was eager to share their life experiences. We communicated through the medium of flow in sport – passionate to keep pushing our ability to grow and learn, especially from each other. It seemed as if any exclusivity I had known about such sports back in the United States had dissolved. People of all genders, sexualities, and particularly socioeconomic backgrounds, had found one way or another to climb and skate and to find their creative ‘flow’ outlet. I found it strange, yet comforting, to be so acquiescently welcomed to their community. This reaffirmed my hopes and gave me energy to pursue my true dreams; ski a backcountry Argentinian winter.

Arriving home in New Hampshire almost eight months later it all felt almost dreamlike – the incredible views, the serenity of the wilderness, the insane laughs and revelry on Calle Cummings, and the passionate smiles and energy of my students at VSP. It was almost depressing to sit at home and reflect on my experiences ‘when things were better’. However, the more I sat in thought, the more I returned to why I chose to go abroad – to find the communities, people, and activities that I truly love. I yearned to recover the energy I had in Chile and Argentina. I took off to NYC and Boston eager to meet new people, then returned to Colorado only to find myself in Portland, Oregon still in the same pursuit of something ‘greater’, of an adventure. This understanding has guided my personal growth, and the awareness of the balance I need in my life. Wild times filled with like-minded people can really stoke the fire, yet manically burning out is a reality. It takes time to reflect on the past for growth in the present. My understanding thus far is that I’m mad to live (see Keruoac quote below) and my adventures and excitement across South America have defined my character. A bit more patience and rumination, and I’ll be off on the next one.
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” –Jack Keruoac, On The Road

If you are interested in working with the Valpo Surf Project you can find more information at http://valposurfproject.com/

Colin Monahan is a student at Colorado College and studied abroad with IFSA on the Chilean Universities program in Valparaíso, Chile in spring 2017.