I could barely sleep last night. I’m going climbing today. More accurately, I’m driving 10 hours to the Grand Tetons National Park so I can go climbing tomorrow. On 9/11/11, 10 years after I learned that the World Trade Center Towers in NYC had been attacked, I should be standing on the top of the Grand alongside eight other veterans. The Sierra Club is helping to push us all up the mountain. Mountain climbing and the Sierra Club used to be nearly synonymous, and through the Military Family and Veteran Outdoors Programs, may again grow to be near synonymous.
However, on this 9/11 the Club will not just be supporting a veteran led expedition up a mountain top. In Hawaii (Access Surf), San Diego (Awakenings Health Institute, Outdoor Outreach and Operation Amped), and Central California (Amp Surf), you will find veterans, active duty service members, their families, and the local communities paddling out into the water for the time honored surfing tradition of the Paddle Out to commemorate what happened ten years ago, how our lives have changed, and take a moment to think on the sacrifice made on 9/11/01 and every day since.
In 36 locations throughout inland America, our friends and partners at Team River Runner, will be getting butts in boats to enact the kayaking version of the paddle out. I wish I could be at every location to feel the joy in the air. Certainly there is sadness, bitterness, and anger, but these living memorials in the great outdoors always bring joy. Last year, when climbing Longs Peak in Colorado on 9/11/10, one of our expedition team members, Ian Smith, mentioned that at one point he turned around and felt like all his fellow soldiers were marching up the peak next to him. Memories became fresh again and the laughter of brothers in arms killed in the war or upon returning to the United States climbed next to him.
I’ve had this feeling several times throughout the past 100 days as I’ve settled into my new position at the Sierra Club as the National Military Family and Veterans Representative. In my position my role is primarily focused on getting the military and veteran community outside and into the lands, waterways, forests, sea shores, tundra, deserts, and mountains we fought for and still are fighting for throughout the globe. Paddling out in New Jersey during AmpSurf’s East Coast Surf Week in August with a couple of Vietnam Veterans and sharing a laugh as I pearled into the surf, when I drug myself back onto the beach, I could have sworn I heard the laughter of Shane Mahaffee. Shane loved the beach, he would have loved hanging out with these grizzled old Marines playing like kids just a few hundred feet from the legendary Stone Pony where Bruce Springsteen used to play. I don’t think about Shane everyday anymore, and I sometimes feel guilty about that, but on that day in New Jersey, he rode the waves right next to me.
And as I climb on Sunday, Brian Freeman will be climbing next to me. When I get tired or want to quit, no doubt he’ll give me that extra push to keep on climbing. In the outdoors, there’s room for the memories, the sadness, and the frustration to be channeled into something beautiful, something somehow more real than the day to day grind inside an office building or inside your car or bus on a morning commute.
So on 9/11 this year, get outside. Get outside with your friends and family. Think about what our country has lost, think about what our country has gained. Take a moment of silence and let those you’ve lost rejoin you in happier memories for a time. Let your living memorial celebrate in the lands your veteran and military community helped to defend.
--Stacy Bare, National Military Family and Veterans Representative