Blake’s SUV wound along the highway, and in the distance the Sierra rose gray and snow-specked against the horizon. Blake was driving, rarely watching the road, and talking about the new helmet camera he had bought. Kieran sat in the backseat and watched the back of Blake’s long, ponytailed red hair, wondering if Blake noticed how often he was correcting for left of center, while Blake continued talking about the helmet cam, his head bobbing while he spoke. Kieran occasionally glanced at the [End Page 133] back of Ian’s head, shotgun, a clean-shaved-bald head, to see how he was responding to Blake, if he was as annoyed as Kieran. He didn’t think Ian was. Blake was going to use the helmet cam on the climb up the Dome, he was saying, correcting left of center, and then hop into a canyon right behind Kieran with the helmet cam on to record the entire thing, POV. Ian could take the pics, but Blake wanted to hear the fear, was how he put it.
All you’re going to hear is a lot of wind, Ian said. But you go ahead, little buddy. Watch the road.
The little Sierras were fuzz covered in a morning mist, the clouds a whitish growth against the rock. Higher up were darker cumulus, snow.
It’s supposed to clear up, Ian said. He was checking his phone. You guys should be able to do the jump.
We’re doing the jump no matter what, Blake said. The helmet cam’ll get through this shit.
The highway was riding clean of other cars, and Kieran did not want to be with either of these people. He did not want to hear Blake talking about his helmet cam another minute, and he did not want to hear Blake explain what was going to be captured on the helmet cam, but Blake kept discussing the helmet cam. Helmet cam, he said. Helmet cam, helmet cam, helmet cam. The red-haired ponytail flapped with his bobbing head. They had found more and more elaborate ways to record and be recognized for their climbs and jumps: first two high-powered, high-pixel cameras, one with a long exposure to capture the entire route up a wall, like a slug’s trail against rock, the other for more precise action shots. Next came a digital handheld video camera, so that whenever one of them wasn’t climbing, one of them was filming. And now the helmet cam, so that no one had to film, exactly, and yet the entire trip would be recorded and later be recognized. And Kieran was sick, sick with them, with himself, with whatever it was they were doing or no longer doing.
Ian said, That sandbagging bastard better wake up.
He was talking about Kieran. He had let his eyes close to feel this deep, penetrating sickness.
There were pictures of them in magazines: Climbing World, Climbing, Rock, Gripped, Vertical Jones, etc., all years ago now. Blake squatting against the snow near nude; Ian hung on a bouldering problem; Kieran stretched to a good crimper like a primate stuck in pose. All years ago, when they had worked nothing jobs only to climb. Now—Kieran with a family and working as a client relations manager at an insurance [End Page 134] company, Ian adjuncting full-time hours at a local university, Blake still not really doing anything—now they wanted video of highly regulated, banned sites (everything was banned in the U.S., Kieran always said), possibly a documentary of themselves. A documentary of themselves! Already all these pictures and videos were posted to a website Blake had begun: there were injuries, broken fingers, sprained ankles, sprained wrists, cuts, bruises, falls, and there were successes, on-sighted routes, solos, simul-solos, swift pulls and cranks, hops off into canyons, tracking Ian in his wingsuit going down steep, steep, head up yet coming in close to the wall and then opening up and over the talus and his body a flying squirrel gliding along the canyon floor. Kieran could not look at...