One endless summer day in my twenties, up on Independence Pass with friends, I was seized with the spirit to free solo the slippery 5.8 Twin Cracks on the Grotto Wall, a two-pitch rock climb. Later, in the afternoon, at the Devil’s Punchbowl swimming hole on the Roaring Fork River, I hucked massive cliff jumps, barely clearing the rocks at the edge of the pool as I hurtled into the cool, deep-green water. Never mind that both of these activities could have killed me; there was an internal restlessness—call it youth, call it too much testosterone, call it what you will—that I could not ignore. That my actions might have consequences I was not prepared to face never occurred to me. What mattered most were action and risk and thrill and adventure. The energy needed to be directed outward before it consumed me from the inside, as often happens with those of us who have a darker outlook on life.
The climber Dakota Walz, originally from North Dakota but now living in Colorado, has done an excellent job in his slim (104-page) book Everything I Loved More of capturing that feeling—call it, “young climber angst” for lack of a better phrase, although climbing is only a partial focus of his book. Raised in the Flatlands but driven to climb mountains and rocks, Walz has the soul of a vagabond, and many of the best adventures in Everything I Loved More actually take place off the rocks, including his epic border crossing-and-recrossing-and-recrossing-and-recrossing while trying to reach El Potrero Chico in Mexico, an anecdote with a skeevy, meth-addled trucker that I’ll not recount here so as not to spoil the hair-raising particulars, some barely-legal night buildering with a friend in the urban forest of Kansas City, and many memorable, evocative tales from his time as a “steel tramp,” hopping trains in the Midwest to see where he’d end up. The essays are short, crisply written in the style of Hemingway, and to the point, with vibrant, colorful chapter-opening spread illustrations from Walz’s wife (a central character in the book), Jasmin Menez. As an integral work of art, Everything I Loved More truly is a thing of beauty, and it was a pleasure to read, especially as the narrative circles back on itself to reach an emotionally satisfying conclusion.
As Walz meets his friends in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2013 to attend a Bloc Party concert, having ridden on a train car with no floor plate, hitchhiked, and camped in soaking rain to arrive, he writes, “What we were doing was not just a great time, but necessary to quench the thirst of sheltered young men.” Many of us fight a war—whether literally or metaphorically—in young adulthood that, later, helps us find our place in the world. Walz eventually arrives, and it’s likewise a great adventure for the reader as we hitchhike along on his journey.