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Filtering by Tag: Cy Whitling

Burritos and Rock Piles

Cy Whitling

Random people on a random pile of rocks

Random people on a random pile of rocks

Once I thought I was having a mountaintop moment, but then I realized the burrito I had for breakfast may have just been a little too authentic. That’s sort of been a common theme in my life, both the burritos, and the lack of mountaintop moments.

I used to imagine that just the fact that you were standing on top of a really big pile of rocks meant that you would find some sort of inner peace, some kind of enlightenment, some affirmation of the motivation for your life. I thought if you walked up a mountain and took a picture at the top, you probably had it all figured out.

When I first climbed up a mountain, I was sort of expecting that feeling, hoping for an initiation to some sort of spiritual club.

Instead I got to the top of the (very small) mountain, and realized I’d left my extra candy bar in the car, and that it was probably melted. I walked down, ate my soggy Snickers, and then remembered I was supposed to be enlightened.

I wasn’t though. I didn’t have some grand moment of triumph. Instead I just wondered if that gas station with the $3 hot dog and slurpee special was still open.

Since that first mountaintop I’ve had a lot of good moments. A lot of moments that have shaped my life, my story as a person. A few moments that have felt like a taste of heaven, a taste of completion, a taste of perfection. But so far none of them have happened on top of mountains. Part way up mountains? At the base of mountains? Looking at mountains? Nowhere near mountains? All of the above, and more!

In noisy restaurants. On freezing chairlifts. In Walmart bathrooms. Around smoky campfires. In a crowded airplane. In my parents’ front yard. In the kidney-shaped swimming pool of a Las Vegas hotel that looked like a castle. On a long car ride that smelled like ski boots. Really everywhere, everywhere but mountaintops.

As I’ve started to notice this severe lack of enlightenment when standing on relatively higher bits of the earth, I’ve realized that it’s just another brand of shortsighted discontentment.

Everybody knows the kid that just wants to be a celebrity. They don’t want to do interesting things, they just want everyone to be interested in them. It’s that subtle distinction between “be” and “do.”

Much smarter people than I have pointed this out before, do you want to be a photographer, or do you actually want to take pictures? Do you want to be Michael Jordan, or do you want to play basketball? Do you want to be in heaven, or do you want to glorify and enjoy God? Do you want to be on top of mountains, or do you want to climb them?

A wise man once told me that everyone wants to save the world, but nobody wants to do the dishes.


I’d tweak that a bit, I think everyone wants to have saved the world, but nobody wants to actually do it. Because sometimes saving the world involves doing the dishes. And it’s easier to just let them soak while you admire how good that cape looks in the mirror.

So stop telling everyone what you’re going to be, and instead figure out what you’re supposed to be doing. And then go do it. Because yes, standing on top of things is fun, but putting in the time, doing the dishes is what actually changes you.




Gas Stations, a love letter

Cy Whitling

For most people gas stations are a necessary nuisance. We visit them only when we must, and we’re nearly always unhappy when we do. Think about it. When was the last time you went to a gas station for any other reason than to fill your tank or empty your bladder? We pull in, complain about the price of fuel and fill up, maybe visit the restroom, usually decorated with crudely scratched profanity. On the way out grab some peanuts and an extra large soda, it’s only 89 cents and it guarantees some other gas station business at your next bathroom stop. Just avoid the crusty corndogs spinning slowly in the roller grill’s unnatural light. My dad says they’re made from ground up roadkill and he would know.

Too often we are content to tolerate gas stations and move on, mostly ignoring them. I think gas stations are more important. My little sister would agree, but that’s just because we have accidentally left her at a couple.

Someone once said that every great road trip starts in your driveway. That may be true but for me the trip really begins at the gas station. There is nothing like the feeling as you pull out with a full tank and only the road ahead of you. Driving away from a gas station the world is your oyster.

Gas stations could just be pumps, sitting in an parking lot with nothing but a card slot and a nozzle but they’re not. Instead they usually have stores attached, and not just any store. Where else can you buy toenail clippers, beer, ibuprofen, butterfly knives, a wolf shirt and twinkies, all under the same roof? This smorgashborg of products is what really makes gas stations indispensable. As I leave for any trip I invariably forget something. Never fear, there will be a gas station somewhere between home and the trailhead.

The gas station is the last place to gorge on real food before the trip devolves into the realm of backpacking dinners and endless Cup Noodles. On the return trip gas stations are often the first stop in my extended “Back to Civilization Buffet." Coming back from a few days of backpacking food gas stations are a five star french restaurant, the flavor of their product matched only by its perceived nutritional value. Snickers are basically cheaper Cliff bars right? And that glorious, spinning slushy machine produces something akin to a Tropical Blast flavored protein shake.  In addition to all this, gas stations do, sometimes contain a machine that I think could just be the epitome of the American Dream; the F’Real milkshake maker

I first experienced this incredible invention deep in eastern Montana, and my life has been forever changed. For the uninitiated I will outline the glorious process. First, the customer selects their flavor from the aggressively branded F’Real Fridge. After opening the foil lid the cup of solid frozen shake is placed in the shining grasp of the futuristic F’Real Blender. At the push of a button the cup retracts into the machine where the shake is ground to your desired thickness. Don't stick your arm up there, I don't know how they grind it up so quickly but I imagine they use something like an industrial strength buzzsaw roter-rooter. Bored waiting for your shake to finish? Just watch the built in TV! The commercials run for the duration of the process. Finally the blender spits out your shake and you are ready to go on living your same old life that is now somehow different, forever changed by F’Real.

There is no doubt in my mind that the gas station is one of the better things to come out of America in the last hundred years. As you fuel up for your next adventure, or rehydrate in the aftermath of your latest epic, remember tip your hat to this great institution that has done so much for you.

Goats, Halmolks, and the fickle nature of relationships

Cy Whitling


If you are an American, chances are that you have experienced some kind of pro-hammock propaganda. Images of smiling campers perched in beautiful locations fill the internet and outdoors stores. For years I have envied these carefree souls, they seemed so free, perched above the bushes. Why cary a bulky tent when you can curl up in a simple hammock?

Finally my opportunity arrived. Pacing the aisles of my local Walmart I found her perched above a yellow “on sale” tag. She was bright blue, tightly packed into a built in bag. The fatal feature that won me though, was her price, 40% off.  At last all of my excuses were swept away. I wooed her quickly and swept her away to my home. In my initial affection I dubbed her “Halmolk.” At the time I thought the word hammock had an “l” in it, my friends tried to warn me of my mistake but I was too overcome with love.

Our maiden voyage together came on a trip to a local peak. I stuffed Halmolk into my already bulging bag and plowed up the trail, giddy with anticipation for the night that lay ahead of me. At the top I took the advice of some of friends and pitched my beautiful Halmolk for the first time. As I watched her sway and billow beautifully in the light breeze. I could not help patting myself on the back. I had done it, I was a real hammock camper now and I would reap all the rewards. 

To my friends’ credit they tried to warn me. They told me that this honeymoon of unconditional love would come to an end. They had been with hammocks before and knew their ways. I disregarded them. “This is different” I told them, “I really love Halmolk, we’ll make it work.” Oh how wrong I was. As the shadows fell and night drew near my anticipation only grew. My friends were about to climb into their sweaty tents and sleep on the bumpy ground. I would float between the treetops, rocked by the gentle night breezes. How naive and foolish I was.

When I finally climbed into Halmolk dark had long fallen. Exhausted by their day of hiking the rest of the camp soon fell asleep. I was left, rocking, alone and silent in the trees. Unfortunately this silence did not last long. A light breeze blew through the camp. Instead of rocking me gently to sleep it whipped the edges of Halmolk into a frenzy. Rippling nylon beat against my nose and filled my ears. I felt like I was wrapped in a parachute, plummeting to my death. Then the full moon rose, white and ghostly in all her glory. As she cast her shadows I tried to silently and peacefully fall into slumber. Instead the shifting shadows of silhouetted trees played on my sleeping bag.

Finally a noise pierced trough the cacophony of rippling nylon. I woke from my uneasy slumber immediately and sat up straight, almost tipping Halmolk in the process. Visions of hungry bears played through my mind as I surveyed the camp sight. I knew I was safe but what would I tell my friends’ parents? “I’m sorry your child was eaten by a bear, I would have done something but I was stuck in my hammock,” not exactly the kind of consolation a grieving mother likes to hear.

White shapes drifted through the camp. Mountain goats, wafting like fog on the morning breeze. Surprisingly silent they slithered through the camp, searching for salt. They licked the tents, seeking any source of sweat. I sat up and released a panicked grunt. The goats scattered, disappearing as silently as they came, biding their time in the cracks and crags. I lay back down again, my half waking dreams now haunted by zombie, hammock eating goats.

As I lay, recovering from my panic induced heart attack I realized why people use hammocks to relax on summer afternoons and not to camp. I was unable to become comfortable, any attempt to sleep on my side was met with a near capsize. I finally resigned myself to sleep on my back. Immediately another chill breeze swept through camp. As my hammock sagged it exposed my posterior to the icy blast. Immediately I felt as if a chunk of ice had replaced my nether regions. The wind raged on, relentlessly, intent on reducing my body to a helpless chunk of frozen meat.

Finally, somewhere around 4 a.m. I had suffered enough. I had decided that I would stick with Halmolk through the good times and the bad but it was time for a break. I sat up and pondered my escape. My view of the ground looked much more like google earth than I remembered and I was suddenly glad a friend had convinced me to clear the tree stumps from under my perch. As I deliberated on my escape, nature made my decision for me. A sudden gust of wind rocked me and I groggily over corrected. As Halmolk shifted from under me life slipped into slow motion. Those six feet felt like six years as I tipped out and fell, still fully swaddled in my sleeping bag. 

If you have ever dropped a caterpillar you may have some idea of how I felt. I was unable to shift or recover. My limbs were effectively lashed to my torso. I writhed desperately, trying to twist and time my landing. Unfortunately, unlike a cat, I could not save my fall. Instead I completed a full lateral rotation and landed solidly on my rear with a thump that reverberated from my tailbone to my upper jaw.

Still groggy from a sleepless night I collected myself, escaped from my bag and wandered off, searching for dawn. Halmolk swung gently behind me, confident in her triumph. She had taken what she wanted. My dignity was hers and now she was happy to toss me by the wayside like a soiled glove. Relationships are fickle things and ours was no exception. Maybe by next spring my failure will have faded and I will be ready to try to get back together with Halmolk. Until then I will leave her stuffed in the bottom of my backpack, punishment for her infidelity. Hammocks may be fun for a quick afternoon fling on a summer afternoon, but beware, they can be vicious and fickle partners.