If you have ever been to the desert in the Southwest, you have probably met the prickly pear. It is cute, but it is pokey. You might, like me, be riding past it along a single track, thinking ‘oooooh what a cute cactu- owoooowwowowwwwww-‘ because that round, mickey-mouse ear resembling, off centre happy seeming plant just STABBED YOU.
We finished biking one afternoon in Sedona, Arizona. A long story involving a supermarket (not finding one) and margaritas (finding many) ended up with the two of us sitting happily, if a little dehydrated, discussing life and the universe and adventure.
“You know what I want to be?” I said.
“What do you want to be?” The mountain cat asked. We were eating pasta, and hummus pizza. (I just had to include that because UH HUMMUS PIZZA).
“I want to be more of a prickly pear!”
“….You would like to be a cactus?”
I elaborated, cheerfully. “Yes! Well! You know how the prickly pear is so cute looking, and kind of round, and pokey, and you’re like aww what a cute cactus…. but THEN, really, it is totally a badass. It doesn’t let anyone sit on it.”
“You are a badass,” the cat said, kindly.
“No, I am more of a… slightly misbehaved ass. I want to be a proper badass!”
This train of thought came from the days of biking and climbing down in the desert, often with the good old prickly pear in the background (or the foreground, poking me in the shins), and basically getting my ass kicked. I was wishing I wasn’t scared on the steep rocky sections, walking my bike; that I could lead climb without a freakout. (Top rope without freaking out, for that matter.)
After a few weeks thinking about this though, something happened – we biked along a section of trail that was far from flat – I was way back behind my seat, bounce, bounce, bouncing down, came to a long series of winding twisting rolling sections, speeding over the happy hills – and suddenly, you guys, I WAS BIKING. I was not terrified on the fast patches, wasn’t clutching onto my brakes for dear life. I had a giant grin on my face and my hair streaming behind me.
And I had a couple of realizations (which really I already knew but nothing like fresh desert sunny air to make everything appear radiantly clear): 1; Being a badass, even just a mini badass, a kind of fuzzy prickly pear, takes time. Everyone has their own limitations, skills, fears. Who cares if I am not riding double black diamonds?? NO ONE. (And if they do, then they don’t matter.) And, if I want to be a good climber, then I have to work for it. I’m never magically going to develop those muscles, get over those fears, without putting myself up there on the rock, working on my badass brain muscles. (And non existent triceps.)
And 2: just what is a badass anyway? At first I always think of people scaling crazy mountains, the calm cool collected climbers at the crag who are hanging around the 5.12s. Skiers jumping off cliffs. Etc. But then there’s that other aspect – one of the loveliest women I know is a wicked skier, and amazing climber; she is also the humblest and most beautiful souls I have ever met. I respect her skill in the mountains but even more I respect her honesty and gentle nature, how she can be so strong and so soft at the same time, how she doesn’t laugh at jokes she doesn’t think is funny, how she is kind.
That is the kind of prickly pear I want to be.