Friday, September 2, 2016

Letter from a Region in My Mind

Written Wednesday - August 31, 2016

Once again, I find myself sitting comfortably in Kelly's apartment in Salt Lake City. Before me lies all the gear I am planning on bringing to the John Muir Trail, which awaits me, dauntingly, at the end of this week. Tomorrow will be my last day in Utah, and honestly, I feel as though I have already outstayed my welcome. This is not necessarily because I feel that I am intruding on Kelly's hospitality and home, but rather because I feel that I should be packed and on the road heading to California, stoked and ready to hit the trail - but instead I am terrified. Will the gear I bring prepare me for the environments I am about to encounter in the Sierras? Is the knowledge I have collected these past few months of preparation adequate so that I can make the right decisions in the face of adversity? Will Mother Nature be kind as we put one foot in front of the other down dirt paths, or will she whip down harsh winds and rains or even fires to block our progress? Some of these questions are under my control and some are not. I think back to Iceland and wonder whether I was as worried then as I am now. I feel as though I was not as scared, because I had five other wonderful ladies that had packed, prepared and worked with me to help me believe that I was ready. Today, I am scared because I feel worried that I have let my partner down before evening getting on the trail. The decision to hike the John Muir Trail came quickly after I decided to take this leave of absence and with Sarah deciding to join along, I felt like I could afford to focus on all the other aspects of my time off while Sarah researched the trail to prepare us.

Sarah - If you are reading this, I love you and thank you for everything you did to get us ready for this epic adventure. I will attribute our success to your attentive and fervent fact-finding skills. I apologize that I did not plan for more time to prepare things with you side-by-side and look forward to 21 days in the wilderness together.

I became overwhelmed as I laid out each item on the floor of Kelly's apartment and realized I had to exit this space in order to clear my mind, decompress from the past few weeks and prepare for the weeks to come. I picked up "The Fire Next Time" by James Baldwin from a local bookstore and instead of catching some extra Z's, I am up late - distracted by his beautiful prose and my anxious, anxious mind. The first letter in the book is entitled, "My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation". Just as the reviews on the back cover stated, Baldwin's words are biting and raw, as his uncle makes great gestures to encourage his nephew to see past a society that plastered his destiny onto him due to the color of his skin, in order to be the man that he ought to be. The second and last letter in the book is entitled, "Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region in My Mind" (blog title). Here, Baldwin speaks on his loss of faith after a period of complete and consuming devotion. What struck me most about this loss was his acknowledgement in how his vanity played into the enjoyment he gained from preaching the word of the Lord. He felt power from loudly proclaiming his belief in God and used this power to fill voids within him. At this time, I am also reading another book called, "Toward a Psychology of Awakening", in which John Welwood comments on a practice he termed, "spiritual bypassing". This is a term associated with the tendency for those to use spirituality or faith or religion as a way to overlook deeper rooted problems by instead focusing on very particular aspects of their beliefs to attain comfort. In essence, it is the act of losing oneself in something outwardly deemed as "holy" or "good", instead of truly acknowledging or facing one's internal struggles.

Stick with me here. Some say that people find their religion on the trail. I am not sure whether this is because you are surrounded by nature at her most pure or because of the people and perspectives that you encounter, but I cannot help but wonder whether this will happen to me. This thought of spiritual bypassing somewhat brings me back to my second blog, in which I question: "If I find something on the trail that I can believe, will it be sustainable and stay with me after or will it sink into the ground from whence it came?" Will I find my religion because I will be free in the mountains without any other concerns or worries besides immediate and primal needs? Will this be an honest religion, one that I can find conviction in and live by despite any obstacles I face in the next chapter of my life? What balance will I be able to achieve in my life once I have returned to it and how can I ensure that I stay true to myself and my passions while still pursuing a challenging and fulfilling career? Does me taking these six months off of work mean that I should not take any more time off work once I return? Will I have had my fill? Should I be satisfied with what I was given and ask for no more? What changes will I have to make to how I live to reach the equilibrium I seek and what will I have to sacrifice? These big and overwhelming questions are scary to face. I fear the trail because I know that it will change me emotionally, physically and mentally - but I also embrace it and welcome it because the changes are already within me and are just waiting for the right opportunity to unfold themselves.

Once upon a time, I grew up in a small town in the most northeast county of New Jersey; today I sit, greater than 2,000 miles away from home and less than 72 hours away from a great journey. Here I am, telling myself that it is only 211 miles and there are people out there currently on mile 1,800, quietly progressing toward their objectives whether they be walking the Continental Divide, the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail. I am trying to reason with myself that what I am about to do is not that bad, because there are people out there doing larger and grander things. But regardless of those people out there doing those things, the John Muir Trail will be mine. My obstacle, my mountain and my valley (literally).

Who will I be on the other side?

To Have an Objective

I have always found that I can easily set goals for myself in a career oriented or academic domain, however when it comes to my life outdoors, I have remained quiet and stagnant. I believe that this is partially because I fear that I will not be able to put in enough time and effort to achieve the goals that I set for myself.

I have noticed that this fear has grown in size and that I have carried it with me throughout the duration of this trip - so what if I climbed for a month and a half straight in various spots all over the country if when I return to my hometown in the Berkshires, I will barely have enough time to climb just once a week at an indoor gym an hour away?

There is a key sentiment that I ought to apply here: If it is something that is important to you, you will make the time to prepare for it, train for it, do it, etc. But this means sacrifices and hard work - which usually I gravitate towards, but how can I adjust my schedule and lifestyle to include my love of the outdoors? To feel alive, I need to be on the sharp end, pushing my boundaries so that I can grow physically, emotionally and mentally.

Something beautiful about climbing outdoors and reaching for increasingly larger objectives is that the engineer in me geeks out at all rope systems, processes and efforts to increase efficiency. Both the Advanced Multipitch clinic up the Horns of Satan and the CAMP Light and Fast Alpine clinic proved to me that I have the basic skillset required to be successful in an alpine environment. Before you get onto the wall, there is a handful of decisions to make - How much time are we expecting to take on this route? How much water should we bring? How much food should we bring? How much and what kind of gear should we bring? If we have to bail, are both members of the team adequately prepared to work through the series of questions that may arise so that we can make an educated decision together? When tackling a long, multipitch day, one needs to be in sync with their partner in order to effectively transition gear from one person to another. Pay attention to the rope the first time you coil it so that when it comes time to dish it out for your partner, there will not be a whisper of concern in your mind that a knot or a tangle will interrupt you. Anticipate the possibilities three or four steps ahead with every piece of protection you place and anchor you build so that you are eliminating any unnecessary placements, but maximizing the safety of yourself and your partner. Consider what is an acceptable level of risk for every scenario you encounter - the more times you put yourself in this environment, the more experience you will have under your belt to make a quick and timely decision. Increased efficiency with respect to equipment to lead to a reduction in time spent creating a system is what every engineer thrives off of - it's possibly why so many engineers love this sport.

An excellent lesson that I learned during our weekend guided by Nate Smith was what if you shifted focus away from the gear and "what if" scenarios and instead focused on your fitness and your skillset. To put it mathematically, say you were climbing a 15 pitch climb. Estimate about 30 minutes per pitch for both you and your partner and maybe 12 minutes for transition. What if you had practiced your rope coiling so frequently and your knots and anchor systems so many times that instead of 12 minutes at every transition, you only took 7. You just cut down a 10.5 hour day to a 9.25 hour day. Then consider that both of you had trained for the long approach in and long approach out, cutting at least a half an hour off each end? On paper, it may not seem like much of a difference, but when you lack the efficiency and agility of a more seasoned or thoughtful climber and you are returning to your car after a 13 hour day and curling into your sleeping bag at 3am, you are going to hope to be able to get through a similar climb much faster the next time you do it. Fitness and skills are equally as important if not more important to your success and timeliness in the mountains as what you bring with you.

At the conclusion of the Salt Lake Climbing Festival, I was so motivated to get back out there and practice all the skills we had just learned that I agreed to climb with a friend from the clinic. The first lesson learned from this day was that we should have both been crystal clear about what our expectations were before even getting in the car to head to the crag, because they were not the same. Our differing expectations and our combined circumstances led us to have a mucky head space - neither of us thinking straight or communicating effectively because we had other problems and other things nagging on the back of our minds. As a result, we had a relatively dogged day - a long approach and a long descent over dirty, shifty talus fields only to spend half as much time climbing a low grade slab. Thankfully, though I was relatively frustrated for a majority of the day, our conversation about the need to be honest and transparent about our objectives before climbing with a new partner made the day worth it. It was a learning experience for both of us and though I did not always enjoy it in the moment, that's why they call climbing "Type 2" fun ;).

In any case, when I came down from climbing the West Slabs, I realized that the only way I was going to truly take as much as I could get out of every climbing trip would be to have a focus and to train. I have to do my research, read about climbs, read about destinations and get to the gym to prepare. Without setting these goals, my climbing has been more or less empty of ambition - enjoyable and occasionally challenging, but otherwise lacking passion. The last climb that I set out in my mind to tackle was Skywalker in Squamish and that was Week 1 of my climbing trip. Again, the fear had set into me - before leaving for my roadtrip, I never cracked open a guidebook and never made any plans for climbs I would have to push myself to complete. I did not want to spend hours daydreaming about climbs that I could do if I was not going to put the time in to be ready for them. While I have loved every minute of the climbing I have done these past two months, I know that I am capable of more. It's alright - everything in time, right?

Call this the first significant lesson learned from my trip - to have an objective is a healthy and genuine way to attain fulfillment and stretch yourself to reach goals previously unforeseen. Without objectives, what are you really reaching for? It would be like waving haphazardly at holds above your head without looking at them or charging into a 5k with no training but being angry at yourself for not having a better time. To have an objective is to make the most out of the sand as it slips through the hour glass. To have an objective is to have meaning. To reach an objective is...

A Sprinkle over Bastille

Saturday - August 20, 2016

It was with great success that Katie and I drove from Slade, Kentucky to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. I was happy to be back at Sheila's and Katie was excited for an opportunity to meet more of my friends. When we arrived, Sheila had us all set up and gave us time to get a shower in while she prepared an incredible dinner for us - breakfast casserole! So many delicious things in this meal - we were both very grateful for her hospitality. I could not think of a better way to end a day of climbing and getting caught in the rain than freshly clean and in a comfortable bed, in a comfortable home.

Sunday - August 21, 2016

No matter what I do, I can never manage to get a quick start out of Sheila's home. The company and the comfort make it so difficult to leave and when we did finally leave, we were sent packing with the most extravagant set of roadtrip snacks I had ever had - 4 egg salad sandwiches, 2 PB&J sandwiches, 2 bags of carrots, 1 bag of celery, 2 bags of grapes, 2 donuts, 2 cinnamon raisin bagels and the biggest bag of oatmeal butterscotch cookies there ever was! Katie and I were astounded with our spread, which greatly reduced the need for us to make any snack stops. The day prior, Katie had surprised me by powering through five straight hours after my shift and so I decided to return the favor on this day, particularly because of how flat and uneventful Kansas is. I had a feeling it would not be a very inspiring drive for Katie, but for whatever reason I never mind the drive through this state.

We arrived quite late in Boulder with just enough time to run to a nearby fast food spot to pick up some burgers for dinner. We all sat around the kitchen table, gazing helplessly into nothingness, as fatigue ate away at our attention span while we ate our food. I was at the point of over-exhaustion, therefore sleep did not come quite as easily, however it came soon enough to carry me away into the night.

Monday - August 22, 2016

Before I even shut my eyes the night before, I knew that I would not want to wake up early the next morning. Every day the week before had been a mad dash to the crag to beat the rain, and even though the drive to climbing is further in Boulder than it had been at the Red, I was much less inclined to have any early starts if I could help it. Colleen, Katie and I headed to the Taco Wagon for deliciously wonderful breakfast burritos. While they waited for our food, I perused the Latin market next door and managed to finagle some Mango nectar out of the kind owner, who had to hunt in the storage room in the back of the store for the drink I was craving. Next, we headed to Proper Grounds where we loaded up on our caffeine for the day. After a quick trip to a local outing store, Katie and I were armed with guidebooks on Boulder Canyon and Eldorado. Today, we headed to Boulder Canyon to seek out a classic 5.8 line that Katie had been eyeing off of Mountain Project. I had warned Katie that finding climbs in Boulder Canyon is often a disaster because everything is so concentrated that you often spend at least an hour, driving up and down the highway trying to find the correct pulloff and the correct wall. When we did finally find the pulloff, I was surprised to find that it was the same exact lot that I had parked at when I had visited Boulder Canyon about one year ago. On that occasion, Jacquie, her friend Jen and I, also got lost, having pulled off at the wrong gravel lot and wandering aimlessly up bushy hills for an obvious trailhead. That day had ended with us still being unable to find the climb we were looking for and spending it all on one route, where we ended up teaching each other rope systems and route cleaning (so still a great day!) before saying "Screw it! Let's go get some beer!". Therefore, I was just a smidgeon smarter today than I was the year prior. After getting only a little off track, we successfully found the climb we were looking for. There was a pair just finishing up the climb which gave us enough time to rack up and flake the rope out. As Katie took the first lead, I hungrily eyed the climb, settling into the idea that this route was exactly my style of climbing. I can honestly say that this climb was one of the first climbs in which I felt completely amped, completely prepared and fully fueled to run right up it - which is exactly what I did. I was so excited about the route, in fact, that I decided to lead it again to get some more mileage in to make up for our late start. We moved over to a 5.9+ line around the corner and after working through the interesting beginning sequence, I similarly flew up this route. Needless to say, I was feeling a bit cocky. As the clouds persisted overhead, we moved to a second 5.9+ route that completely blew my cool and had me cursing the entire way up. It is incredible to see such differences in climbs that are essentially right next to one another - where I had just sent two great climbs feeling exactly in my zone, I was immediately brought back down to earth, climbing tentatively and feeling off balance and insecure with every step. I was thoroughly grateful to be done with the route when it was over and after Katie ran up it (equally hating it), we headed back down the trail to jump in the car and drive back home.

That evening Katie and I had a great night of conversation, left to our own designs since both Jacquie and Colleen had to head to sleep. It's incredible to find such parallels with someone you had never really known, who grew up 3,000 miles away from you and yet ended up living a similar lifestyle with similar life experiences. Leave it to climbing to bring you together with the most interesting people you will ever meet.

Climbs ticked: Animation aka Jaycene's Dance (Sport 5.8), Unfamiliar Strangers (Sport 5.9+), Is It Ready Yet...Moe (Sport 5.9+)

Tuesday - August 23, 2016

We stumbled upon a rest day without ever expecting it! We both woke up completely exhausted. I was grateful to find that we were both on the same page and had zero desire to climb up anything at all. Today was devoted to errands and we spent most of it driving all around Boulder, checking out the multitude of gear shops and then crashing back home. In the evening, Colleen, Katie and I got some Thai food for take-out and we happily sat on the couches, lounging, eating and watching Dope starring Shameik Moore. Though it has only been just over one month and one week since I left for my road trip, try as I might, I could not rack my brain enough to remember the last time I sat down and watched an entire movie from start to finish. Days like these are truly gems, to be treasured and enjoyed to the fullest.

Wednesday - August 24, 2016

Today, we would take the Bastille. We headed to Santiago's, a place Colleen had highly recommended to me for breakfast burritos, and got our orders in while Katie meandered down the road to find a coffee shop. The drive was quick and we were glad to see the parking lot essentially empty as we pulled in. As I clipped cams, nuts and draws to my harness, the wind began to pick up and droplets of rain began to sprinkle down. We approached the route and I had an internal battle roiling inside of me - because I was the only one in our pair to be able to lead trad, the success of our day lay completely on my shoulders. I traded my hesitation for pure stubbornness and decided to jump right onto the climb despite the rain. As I moved from the infamous flake into the hand crack, I realized what all the comments on the Mountain Project page had been talking about - this was a hand jam, thru and thru. With sweaty palms, moist holds and unsure feet, I worked my way up the crack then took a whip (WHIPPER WEDNESDAY...!) on my .75 cam. Though the fear of falling was now behind me, I still cursed my life choices as I continued to glacially move up the climb. I felt ridiculous for taking so long with every move, but the moisture in the rock drained me of the confidence in my ability and I had no choice but to take it slow. Thankfully, the climbing got easier and drier as we continued higher and higher. As our elevation increased, so did our excitement when we realized that we were really doing the climb despite the poor weather. The climbing was beautiful, easy enough to move with confidence yet requiring enough balance and technique to test your resolve. I linked up several pitches to make up the time lost on the lower sections and was happy to shimmy my way up the final chimney to a crack where I could belay Katie up. We were full to the brim with adrenaline as we made our way down the wandering descent past cables and sideways, sawtooth cuts in the rock. When we hit the dirt trail, we were approached by a woman who claimed to have taken several photos of us while we were on the Bastille. Soon we broke into a conversation with her and her husband to find that we were all from the same county in New Jersey and, in fact, had the same favorite restaurant in my hometown! Thrilled at having made such as discovery, we continued to chat and Katie and I did our best to explain some of the mechanics behind rock climbing while using active or passive protection.

We headed back to Boulder, picking up a six pack along the way. The door was locked, so we ended up cracking open our Lefthand Nitro's, like the pair of dirtbags we were, drinking on the stoop in a pleasant townhome conglomeration, listening to A$AP Rocky and waiting for Jacquie to come home. We told her of her exploits and soon after we were back on the road, headed to the Post to see Colleen in her element and get some grub for dinner. We were seated in the back, which was all for the best since as we ordered our drinks and food and Colleen continued to spoil us with more goodies, we became incessantly rowdy (particularly Jacquie and I). I give the credit to Jacquie, who very cleverly and hilariously called me out on my excuse for not knowing particular terms or media references because I am a first generation American. Our table was a riot and we had to be chauffeured home by Katie, who had to finagle her way back to the house in Jacquie's crumbling car. I cannot remember the last time I laughed so ferociously and I was happy to spend my last night in Boulder, feeling fuller from the laughter, although that may have just been all of the fried chicken we ate.

Thursday - August 25, 2016

What were our first stops before heading on the road to Salt Lake City? Why, Proper Grounds for a Cortado and the Taco Wagon, of course! Loaded down with some gifts for our next host, we exchanged big hugs with Colleen, who escorted us to our favorite coffee shop. I decided to step up my burrito game and get something more lunch appropriate and we took on the highway, driving westward to see Kelly in Salt Lake.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Magic in the Red

Sunday - August 14, 2016

At about 7:00 in the morning, the air conditioner went off. Sandwiched between Michelle and Patrick, I could feel their body temperatures rise causing me to break into a sweat, unable to fall back asleep. I decided to run over to Julie's room, where there would be two big beds to choose from and lose myself in. The two hours of rest that followed recharged me more than all the hours I had gotten prior. To everyone's delight, Jessica was planning a brunch for all the attendees of her wedding to come and have one last meal together. On the way to brunch, I picked up Katie from the airport. It was a quite a leap of faith that brought us together. A mutual friend whom I had ice climbed with once about three years ago mentioned to her that I was traveling on a climbing road trip and suggested that Katie try to contact me. She sent me a text message out of the blue asking if it would be possible to meet up and my response was essentially: "OK!". I brought her to meet all of the sisters while we enjoyed our last few hours together. Katie and I loitered around Louisville for a while longer, killing time at coffee shops since our rendezvous with Teresa would be later in the day. Armed with an accidentally acquired stick clip and Jessica/Mike's Red River Gorge guide book, we were finally on the road. It is wonderful to find such beauty in such an unexpected and unassuming place. A mysterious mist hung over the rolling farmlands of Kentucky against forests of ivy and shingle oak, giving it a most enchanting feel. We pulled into Miguel's and happily observed the changes they had made to the campground over time. A large pavilion had been erected since I was there two years ago and the gear shop was moved to the basement of a home beyond the tenting fields. Shortly after we arrived, Teresa pulled in and we all sat down to enjoy some delicious slices of Miguel's pizza. We made a quick run into Stanton to grab some provisions for climbing and cooking meals then settled into our tents, filled with excitement for the days to come.

Monday - August 15, 2016

One could cut through the humidity at the Red with a knife. I set up a 5.6 at the Grand Wall in Muir Valley and came down pouring with sweat. The heat made us lethargic which made it much more challenging to climb up anything with the ease we were accustomed to with warm up routes. After raining down sweat bullets to my belay partner on Bitter Ray of Sunshine, we decided to move along to Bruise Brothers, where one can find many excellent moderate routes. The clouds were relatively ominous all day. As T reached the top of Send Me On My Way, strong winds came whipping down past Katie and I carrying debris and branches that rapped us on the heads as they sailed through the air. When T hit the ground so did some drops of rain and we rushed to pack up our things and head back to the car. Although I was aware of the storms to come, I neglected to bring my rain jacket, but the rain that came was incredible and refreshing, running down my arms and legs, washing away the accumulations of sand and chalk from the day. Water cascaded down the trail as we worked our way up the hills and steps to the parking lot. We camped out beneath the pavilion in the Muir Valley parking lot to wait for the storm to pass. Back at Miguel's, we laid out our gear to dry as we made dinner. We perused the guidebook, looking for a spot that could be dry despite today's weather. Phantasia Wall was our next destination - we went to sleep hoping for a better day to follow.

Climbs ticked: La Escalada (Sport 5.6), Glory and Consequences (Sport 5.7+), Bitter Ray of Sunshine (Sport 5.10a), Ohio Climbing (Sport 5.8), Send Me On My Way (Sport 5.9-)

Tuesday - August 16, 2016

We traveled to the North, swooping down the switchbacks of 77, through the long stone corridor known as Nada Tunnel and pulled off to find Phantasia Wall. I had been there once before and my intuition was telling me that the wall was nearby, but there was no easy approach to be found. We walked up and down the road searching for at least an hour. Finally after deciding to drive back down the road a ways, we found it. Creature Feature is one of the great classics of the Red and it was poised and ready for us as we approached the wall. I was just short enough that the roof I had to pull between the second and third clips made it challenging for me to get my next quickdraw in, so after many attempts of nearly getting it, I switched off with Katie. Her arm span allowed her to reach the bolt with ease and she sailed through the rest of the climb. Thankfully, when it was my turn to lead the route once again, I was able to clip the lower carabiner of the draw with minimal difficulty. Lord of the Flies presented very different problems for Katie because a majority of the start was moist AND an obnoxious wasp kept interrupting her lead. That's climbing outdoors for you! Overlord was a stellar technical climb. Both the guidebook and the comments from Mountain Project considered the route to be a very non-traditional Red River Gorge climb and because of that I loved it. I cruised through the beginning portion of the climb, working my feet up gradually, keeping my hips into the wall and shifting my body weight to continue moving up. At the second to last clip, I took a fall after getting too pumped from trying to pull up onto a crimp to get to the next bolt. While I did not get it clean, it was still the first 10b I had ever led outdoors - and it was a phenomenal climb. We took our time on the route and cautiously moved over to Pogue Ethics (Sport 5.9), keeping one eye on the long, juggy line off the sandstone arete and another eye on the darker clouds beginning to move in overhead. Teresa decided to get a headstart to find the car and move it closer to the approach trail while Katie and I stood at the base of the climb, eager to jump onto it but uneasy about the high first clip above a rocky slope. Frequently, when climbing outdoors, the first clip of a Sport climb can present the most difficultly, especially in places like Smith Rock or the Red River Gorge where erosion keeps eating away at the base of the walls, making the first clip higher and higher. A difficult first clip can be the dealbreaker for many climbs because failing to get this first clip could mean taking a bad ground fall. Over confidence can lead to broken ankles, broken arms or worse. After losing some skin on some attempts to work the first few moves of the climb, we decided to opt out and return to the car. Upon reaching the pavement, we realized that we had no idea where the car was or if Teresa had moved it. Thankfully, just as we rounded the corner we saw her silver Corolla and booked it over to beat the rain that was beginning to fall. Rained out again at the Red - maybe the third time is the charm!

Climbs ticked: Creature Feature (Sport 5.9), Lord of the Flies (Sport 5.8), Overlord (Sport 5.10b)

Wednesday - August 17, 2016

After reviewing the forecast the night before, we realized that Wednesday would have to be a rest day since thunderstorms were expected to begin by 8:00am. I was frustrated to wake up and find that the forecast predicted rain later in the morning, which means that we could have tried to get up early and beat the storms. We headed to Military Wall, where supposedly there is good cover from the rain, only to get caught smack dab in the middle of a storm at the parking lot. We drove back towards the highway while lightning crashed only a mile away from our car. We decided to take the rest day and head to Louisville. The two hour drive passed quickly and soon we were exploring the city, we: went to the visitor center, investigated an amazing antique shop, roamed through the streets, gazed at the Ohio River,  checked out some museums and headed to Jessica's house for dinner. We collectively made a fantastic tumeric okra dish and pasta with tomato sauce then basked in the glory of our amazing teamwork. It was great to see her again since the wedding party had been such a jam-packed weekend. I was sent off with big hugs from my big and we drove the long drive back to the Red River Gorge.

Thursday - August 18, 2016

The saying goes that the early bird catches the worm - I do not care for worms but I am always down for bagging 10 climbs in one day. We made coffee and quick breakfasts then headed back to Muir Valley. We started at Practice Wall which consisted of a variety of moderate routes on very short walls. As I began up the first climb of our day, I realized that I had a strong feeling that today would be a phenomenal day. We jumped on an easy climb which started with a chimney then transitioned to a short, slabby scramble to the anchors. We went from a moderate, more sustained route into a very interesting, slightly overhanging line. To our dismay, we began to hear the pitter patter of precipitation high up on the trees above us as we moved to this climb. Thankfully our particular route was directly beneath a small roof, keeping the climber and belayer under cover. Katie was excited to jump onto the route and was soon met with a terrible sequence - a low sloper off her left hand into a high jug with her right with mediocre feet. She worked and worked and worked the route and finally topped it out and came down. Teresa decided that she wanted to jump on next and we were stunned to see her send the route immediately by making a few simple moves to the right to work her way up the wall. When it was my turn, my curiosity set in as I tried to work through both variations. Somehow BOTH Katie and Teresa's paths seemed impossible. The sloper to the high jug off badly positioned feet was completely uninspiring and not something I was interested in attempting at all. The moves to the right felt pumpy and too big for me to be able to do. After trying both ways, Teresa kept reassuring me that if it felt difficult, it probably was not what she did. And so, I felt around with my right hand to find two crimpy sidepulls, gradually moved up my feet and was able to reach the big jug above. Crux averted! It is truly an incredible thing to watch how different people can approach the same problem and come out with completely different results, but still manage work through it and accomplish the goal. These differences do not necessarily lie in how "strong" the climber is, but rather each person's perception of the path of least resistance. Balance, technique and body type also play a big role in how each person approaches the same route. What is most intriguing about this concept is that watching another person climb a particular route can change your perception of how you "should" do the route. This is perhaps my favorite part about climbing outdoors - yes, there is generally always a path of least resistance up a wall which ends up being the traditional route, but the rock is the rock. With some creativity and patience, you can easily choose your own adventure and make every climb your own unique work of art.

The rain abated so we moved over to Bruise Brothers Wall. Because the lower wall was occupied, I decided to run up a 10b in the upper tier. It was a really wonderful climb: you began by shooting up the right side of a broken block, making awkward moves to pull onto the top of the block; then you moved left onto the face and worked up to the crux which was a small roof, above which was a tiny crimp for your left hand and an interesting pinky for your right. After a few attempts I was able to pull the roof and work my feet up. To my dismay, I found that clipping the anchors off of a flat crimp at the top to be incredibly pumpy and after fumbling with my quickdraws several times, I took a big fall. Parties near by whooped and hollered and gave me encouragement to continue up. Angry that I could not get the clip after already making it to the anchors, I jugged up the rope to my last clip and hung out, shaking my arms out and working through the sequence in my head. When I reached the anchors again, I nearly dropped my quickdraw below - THANKFULLY, the draw fell into my lap instead of coming crashing onto my belayer's head and I found a much better lockoff with my right hand to clip the anchors and came down. The climb was awesome and I was happy to have pushed myself to try to set it up. Once I came down, I began chatting with a pair of guys climbing an 11a next to us. They were two hilarious kids from Ohio and as we swapped ropes to get some variety into the day, we challenged each other to comment on how the different regions pronounced certain words or referred to certain things. They were surprised to find that we called the liquor store a package store or "packie". I enjoyed making fun of friends from Wisconsin (you know who you are) that pronounce milk as "melk".

In any case, we moved through a number of moderate climbs and threw Rat Stew into the mix as one of the last harder pitches of the day. It was a great, sustained 10a that moved from a slab coated with nubbins and pockets up to a long slightly overhanging jug haul off great plates to the top. We decided to call it a day. Back at Miguel's, I chatted with a pair of friendly French women who had recently moved to Montreal. We congratulated each other on our successes and wished each other luck for our last days in the Red. I prepared some chicken with peppers, zucchini and onion using some phenomenal barbeque sauce purchased from the Beer Trailer. Teresa and Katie comically attempted to make rice in the meanwhile and a conversation kicked up between us and a large group of guys sitting one table over. They were coincidentally also from Ohio and after some chatting and clinking of West Sixth Brewing Co's Cocoa Porter, we all decided to head to the Gallery in the morning. I piled into my sleeping bag while Katie headed off to get some laundry done and instantly fell asleep, pleased with the big day we were able to have.

Climbs ticked: Dragon's Mouth (Sport 5.8), Crescendo (Sport 5.8+), Crescent Moon (Sport 5.10+x2), Little Viper (Sport 5.10bx2), Jungle Trundler (Sport 5.11a), Bee's Business (Sport 5.8), Rat Stew (Sport 5.10a), Sweet Jane (Sport 5.8-)

Friday - August 19, 2016

The Pendergrass-Murray Recreational Preservation or PMRP as it is more commonly referred is notorious for an awfully steep and wavy hill where the closest parking lot to the climbs can be found. If you do not feel that you have tested the 4-Wheel-Drive on your car and you would like to, this is the descent for you! We overshot the pulloff for the Gallery lot and actually slipped a few times on pocketed, gravel hill on the way down. Top this off with a solid 30 minute hike in the opposite direction of the wall and I knew we were going to have a slow day. When we finally reached the wall I jumped onto 27 Years of Climbing, unafraid of the moist looking, slopey start. From a previous trip, I had remembered the anchors being much more awkward to clip and had built this concern up in my body as I continued higher and higher, only to find a huge hold that made it perfectly easy to finish the climb and come down. As our trio switched off to climb the route, our friends from Ohio paraded up the trail. Pat, Brandon, Scott, Whit and Emily walked up and set their packs down to observe The Gallery. Pat soon set off to climb Johnny Be Good, an 11a, that this group had been raving about the night prior. Soon we were swapping ropes and getting to know one another. After the bulk of the group had climbed Johnny Be Good, our jovial get together was interrupted by a huge downpour. The rain came in so heavily and quickly that it created a waterfall in the ampitheater nearby. We all huddled under the roof beneath A Brief History of Climb as we waited for the rain to pass. This rain was very bad news to our new friend, Brandon, who wanted to send Johnny Be Good in one go - but the top of the climb moved from a juggy overhang into a slopey arete, which was undoubtedly soaked with water now. Sure enough, when he was moving to clip the anchors, we watched below as he moved cautiously up the final leg of the route, testing many holds and chalking up his hands until he finally ended up getting pumped out and taking a whip. He finished the route soon after, with encouragement and support from his friends after he came down. Teresa, Katie and I had just all completed A Brief History of Climb and we told Emily that she could definitely finish it if she wanted to try the route again. Unfortunately for her, I was negligent coming down off the route and did not clip in any quickdraws on the overhang. As she climbed up and worked through the low crux, we experienced first-hand the consequences of this mistake. I think it was the toughest belay job I had ever had, as I worked with her to untangle ourselves from each others ends of the rope and pull her back to the block. Each fall off the wall resulted in a much more significant and energy expending sequence of moves to get her back, until she finally decided to come down. Though she did not make it up the wall, we were happy with our teamwork and the friendship we had unknowingly stepped into.

Katie made great ticks to her climbing career throughout this week, however today was a very special day for her as it was the day that she led her dream climb of the Red. A Brief History of Climb had been beyond her the last time she visited the gorge and she was surprised that her skill level had reached a point where she felt confident enough to go for it. Her surprise largely stemmed from the fact that she had spent the past nine months in Brooklyn, managing largely only to get in some bouldering after work. Bouldering, I would argue, is the perfect way to prepare for a trip to the Red. Although bouldering does not allow one to build endurance to sustain long climbs, it does require powerful and solid movement, both of which helped her work the sequence. The crux was down low and presented the only real 10c move of the whole climb: moving from good jugs and solid feet off a right facing block, up to a small left handed crimp that led into a series of bumps to higher and higher holds that grew in size as you worked your way up - why was this move the crux? Because you need to have faith in your feet as you smear both against different faces against the rock. Her wing span allowed her to move through the crux easily and gracefully and she sailed through the bulk of the climb. She bagged the climb with one take and one whip from the anchors, but the point was that she pushed herself to get up the wall and just do it. I, on the other hand, was exceptionally beat after the work we had put into the past few days and therefore made a promise to myself that I would come back to the Red to lead this classic line. Soon we all left The Gallery, hoping that our cars would make it up the atrocious hills after the downpour. Thankfully, enough time had passed that the mud patches began to dry up, but I had Katie and Teresa wait for me at the top of the hill anyway. I threw on some salsa music to get me through as I cut the wheel right then left to find a good path of travel over big dips, working my stead of a Highlander up the hill. There was about 5 seconds when I was not sure that the car was going to make it, but with my expert maneuvering, I finally got the car up the hill. Teresa and Katie cheered as my car easily rolled up the rest of the hill to pick them up and we were off! Cruising to my Latin mix, we partied past our Ohio group (who had not wanted to chance the steep hill - rightly so because I do not think a Mazda 3 would have ever made it up), then sped down the highway back to camp. We made a quick stop at the Beer Trailer where we chatted with the very friendly owner and got the opportunity to meet three incredibly adorable kittens. Back at Miguel's, we all ordered pizzas to celebrate our last full day in the Red River Gorge and relax. Teresa, Whit and I played Horse - I had Whit on the scare for a majority of the game! But then lost it with some farther shots on the 3-point line. The crew grew and shrank and folks went to organize their things, change clothes or shower. I sat happily on the benches as we drank our beers, told stories and enjoyed the company of our new friends. To our excitement - the fun would not stop there! Whit, Katie, Emily and I planned to get a few hours of climbing in the next day before parting ways to our respective destinations: Ohio, Kansas and North Carolina. The number of beer cans in the recycling bin grew - I might have managed to drink some water before crashing for the night...but I am not entirely sure...

Climbs ticked: 27 Years of Climbing (Sport 5.8), Johnny Be Good (Sport 5.11a), A Brief History of Climb (Sport 5.10c)

Saturday - August 20, 2016

In the early morning, Teresa rolled out of the tent and gave me a brief reminder that Emily was planning on waking up at early so that we could get to the crag by 7am. I opened my eyes and asked myself, "Just how many beers did I have last night?". I turned away from her and said that I had set an alarm for 6:15am and would wake up then when she told me that it was already 6:30am. My eyes shot open and I checked my phone - blast you, iPhone, for giving me the very convenient option of setting alarms for specific days of the week. I had switched on my work alarm, which was obviously intended to go off right on time any day from Monday thru Friday, and therefore would not wake me up on a weekend. I refused to get up until I had a quick 10 minute snooze, only afterward did I begin to pack my things.

I groggily walked to the pavilion as my Keen's and pant cuffs soaked up the morning dew. The gang (minus Whit) was up and about and water was being boiled for coffee. As the group began to get ready to part, Teresa headed out to get started on her long drive back to Connecticut, and we returned to the Military Wall Left Flank for a second attempt at some climbing in the area. Emily, Katie and I trucked through the beautiful forests of the Red. We commented on how, even though the exposure and vistas at the Red do not compare to other climbing destinations, finding walls full of climbing tucked behind layers and layers of trees was like finding hidden treasure. The approach was short and I was delighted to find that the climbs in the area were more technical, balancey routes up a slightly slabby upper wall. I put up two routes: one that had many delicate and somewhat awkward moves and another that had a wicked runout that COULD have been protected by a #1 cam, if I had bothered to bring it. Falling at the top of the runout would easily mean being able to high-five your belay partner. It was a heady bit, but relatively easy climbing as long as you got your right foot jammed into the crack. We chatted with two men for a bit: one from Germany and one from Czech Republic. The German man was traveling with his wife writing climbing books - he joked that they were always on the job. The man from Czech was visiting his son who had just began college nearby and somehow the two of them met just the night before and decided to go climbing together.

Climbing has helped me to create a unique and broad network of friends throughout the world. As I continue to travel to climb and meet people along the way, I have found that connections made through climbing last a surprisingly long period of time. On our last climb of the day, Katie gave me a big booty bump while Emily hauled me past the muddy and slippery start. I climbed through the rest of it, happy for the friends that I made on the trip and the relationships I strengthened over just a few days. Drops began to fall as I was descending the climb and we packed up and left the Red in the rain for the last time. Somehow, the forests looked more incredibly beautiful today as we were leaving than any other day. Tall trees overhead stooped over to create a hallway of branches that we passed through with a creek running on our right-hand side. At the cars, we took a quick group photo and exchanged hugs with the promise of climbing together again in the future. Soon we were on the road: wet, probably smelly, and slightly uncomfortable in our car. Katie had the brilliant idea of grabbing some curly fries from Carl's Jr. before hitting the road so we set off from the Red River Gorge, richer in friendships, climbing experiences and deliciously cylindrical curly fries.

Climbs ticked: Mr. Bungle (Sport 5.8), Face Up To That Crack (Sport 5.8), Fast Food Christians (Sport 5.10a)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

I Dare You to Let Me Be

Thursday - August 11, 2016

Day 1 of my solo trek back east to Kentucky - I have officially proved to myself that I can drive very long days by myself without too much trouble or grief. In my system were two slices of delicious spinach and potato quiche and a double double Cortado from Proper Grounds. When I had placed my order, I had actually been looking for twice the volume of a regular Cortado, but instead asked for four shots of espresso in one drink. It was a gnarly drink to be sure that carried me straight through my 9 hour day without any need for replenishment. I traded quick farewells with Colleen whom I would be seeing again in just two weeks. Though Kansas is relatively uneventful, I still enjoyed driving through it because of the big open skies. I arrived at Sheila's late in the evening, turning down dark Kansas backroads to get there. I could not have placed a better pit stop even if I tried - Sheila's home cut the 16 hour and 1,120 mile drive literally in half. After having worked with Sheila for about 8 months, it was such a joy and privilege to be able to meet her beautiful children and husband. I collapsed easily into bed and fell asleep filled with gratitude.

Friday - August 12, 2016

Day 2 of my solo trek back east to Kentucky - and I got dumped on in Missouri at the start which caused me to slow to a speed of about 35mph. Needless to say, I was incredibly frustrated. The anticipation building up for Jessica's wedding and the mini Sigma Delta reunion that would occur in Louisville was making me antsy and I was angry at Mother Nature for making my last leg so challenging. Thankfully, the second half of the day eased up with the rain and I arrived in Louisville at about 10pm to meet with Shay and grab a quick bite to eat. She had forewarned the group in a text message that she was going to slay with her outfit - and she did. I, on the other hand, was smelling of an old rank car covered in sweat stains with 8 hours of driving weighing on me - I am sure we looked like quite a pair at the bar. Patrick arrived shortly after, having gone for a jaunt around the city to do some exploring. Fully reuniting with Michelle and Ana was incredible. Once we settled into the hotel, I instantly threw on some tunes and our room was transported back to our college days. We bounced around to the music as old favorites by Missy Elliot, Busta Rhymes and Wiz Khalifa sailed through the air - booties were popping, clothes were changing and heels were put on as the tone was set. We nearly missed our window of opportunity to go out because we were having too much fun dancing together like old times and enjoying ourselves. In Louisville, we ended up in an Irish bar where the DJ was playing exactly the kind of music we were hoping to hear. The hours passed: Sweat fell to the ground and smiles were stuck to everyone's faces as we felt the bass in our bodies, fondly remembering each ladies moves and styles. We met some fantastic females who had just completed an assignment at a military base nearby. We joined them to pick up a few epic, late-night chili dogs from a joint four doors down the road and were happy to have done it. It was quite late by the time we arrived to the hotel, however I still felt energized from the activity. Whenever you find yourself able to relate to another person's lifestyles or struggles, it is always so valuable to take a minute (or three hours) aside to relate. Big shoutout to Patrick for the heart to heart - I hope it meant as much to me as it did to you.

Saturday - August 13, 2016

The morning after a late night of celebrating always presents a struggle when getting out of bed. Thankfully, the struggle was only due to fatigue and not sickness. We selected a brunch spot and arrived there in time for a late lunch. At the Garage Bar, we enjoyed delicious pizzas and coffees to get our engines rolling again. We were impressed with ourselves for taking an exceptionally short time (for five people!) to get ready and head downstairs to catch the shuttle. We ran into our beloved sister Julie who, of course, was assisting in some way with the wedding. Copper Kings was a unique and beautiful venue - in the daytime just a distillery, on this evening it was transformed into the setting for Jessica and Mike's union. Circular seating was built into the ground to encompass a fire pit where flowers were placed. Prior to the beginning of the ceremony, we reunited with Sonia and Heidi and all the rest of the bridesmaids, each one radiant in a dress of their choosing. As our friends and acquaintances began to walk down the isle, I was struck with an excitement that frequently comes with weddings. Jessica came down the steps delicately, almost as if in disbelief that she finally reached this moment where she would be joined with the man she loved for life. Watching her approach Mike with her mother and grandmother by her side was a beautiful moment - one I am sure that I will not soon forget. Afterwards, many of us commented on how we loved that the vows reflected promise of respect, equality and support. It is with great joy that we were all able to be present to watch such a special moment in our friends lives - it is possibly because of the positive atmosphere that I found myself so overwhelmed with love and happiness to be near all the women who guided me through my college career and beyond. Dancing ensued, but was not always the main point of focus. These weekends are always so short and never give us an opportunity to catch up with one another. Intermittent, but important conversations admitting faults, difficulties and obstacles were shared as we drew upon familiar roots for support.

While it is a beautiful thing that we were able to reconnect so seamlessly when we were together again, we all need reminders that, when the miles between us stretch and the days between seeing one another build, we can still reach out to one another for advice, venting or just for the sake of hearing a comforting voice. Our society is so relentless - the rule is to work and be worked. Those who work hard fear taking breaks, fear saying that they cannot, fear saying that they do not want to. We punish ourselves and are made to think that saying we will not do something is devaluing. Somehow, we need to change this perspective into one of acceptance. Sometimes it is important to push yourself to grow, but one needs to recognize the difference between expansion and collapsing unto oneself. Support from friends and family can help us to distinguish this difference when we cannot and we need to remember that it is OK if we cannot. Acceptance of our own limitations is key - in my world, ceilings are transitory. Today, this might be my breaking point but with help and guidance, tomorrow I may be able to stretch myself beyond what I thought I was capable of. Time and personal fortitude will tell.

The night came to an end in the most nostalgic way possible. While the physical trip to get pizza was happily accepted by the other passengers in the car, the trip down memory lane was begrudgingly received as Sonia and I belted it out to Adele's song "One and Only". There were countless nights back at RPI when we would drive around Troy in my car, fervently charged with some kind of feeling, playing this song on repeat until we became winded or we had forced all the bad feelings away through our hilariously bad imitations of the British artist. My dependency on Adele and my sister to get me through the tough times is a fond memory of my favorite way to release whatever gunk was clogging up my emotional arteries. I have since found new ways and additional people to lean on in my times of need. The lyrics of Adele's song now have different meanings to me when I chop them up into itty bitty pieces. The whole phrase goes: "I dare you to let me be your one and only". I dare any of my friends to let me be their confident and their support system. No matter the issue or hardship, if I do not know how to help you today, perhaps we can grow together to work through that pain and overcome it tomorrow. Cut down further, the lyrics go: "I dare you to let me be". Period.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Food for Thought

Over the course of my travels, I have realized that I have many homes. I am lucky that these homes are never truly a physical space but rather lie within the presence of the people I care most about. I am lucky to be so in love with all of my friends that when I am with them I am truly safe, at peace and at ease.

August 4-8, 2016

In Salt Lake City, I was surrounded by women who have challenged me physically and spiritually and with whom I have stood hand in hand when I was challenged emotionally and mentally. When we climbed rocks, our laughter reverberated off the cliff sides as the air filled with ridiculous jokes and nonsensical hysteria. A bottle of red wine kept us company at the crag, setting the tone for evening to come. We lost the trail on the way back to the car - meandering while keeping in very high spirits. A concoction of backpacking food was put together for our dinner and we were instantly brought back to our days in Iceland where we sat huddled around Kelly's stove, eagerly awaiting our warm drinks and food. We laid beneath shooting stars with the Uintas Mountains looming, recounting past memories and catching up with each other's lives. We fell asleep in each other's arms besides the campfire, despite the chill in the air and our perfectly erected tents waiting to receive us nearby.

We were slow to mobilize the next morning. It took the thundering of an impending storm to set the team into motion - breaking down the tents, packing up the cooking supplies, collecting all of our things and loading up the car. Kelly's car, fondly referred to as Tercey, groaned beneath the weight of five people, five sets of climbing gear and five sets of camping gear. The last model of this Toyota was produced in 1999, so you can make your own guesses as to how old the car is. Cramped in a compact car between packs that did not make the cut for the trunk, all kinds of shoes, books and nalgenes, we had to continually shift to avoid losing circulation to various body parts, but none of us would have wanted to have it any other way. Gradually the hours passed and eventually separated us as we all dispersed to our next destinations.

To never really saying goodbye, LP.

August 19-21, 2016

In Louisville, I was surrounded by the women who helped guide me to become who I am today. Over the course of Jessica's wedding, the sisters of Sigma Delta eventually aggregated to occupy the same table on the rooftop of Copper Kings. Though I sat amongst them, I watched them like a fly on the wall - their radiance emanating and blowing me away with every smile, wink, story and giggle. From these women I found my strength and my center. From these women I learned to be vulnerable. From these women I learned to be honest. And while I watched them shine as they melted back into familiar hugs, jokes and memories, I felt a familiar feeling of overcome me. It was a feeling I have had for many important subsets of people in my life in which I realize that I may never be able to truly show each and every one of them how much they all mean to me. When this feeling overcomes me, I am struck with both joy and regret. Regret that it would be impossible to really prove my gratitude to all of them but joy because...this is actually a good problem to have. My heart wells and swells because I have more gratitude for the people in my life than I know what to do with.

It was here that I remembered a fun fact that Jacquie brought up during our trip. She mentioned that she may begin chewing gum while lead climbing because there are studies that show that the human mind makes one feel safe when the person is eating. If safety can be attained through the consumption of food, then this easily explains why relationships are strengthened and families are created when meals are shared together at a table. Though common interests can be a strong foundation for friendships, through the food we eat we can have safety, family and ultimately, happiness.

To all the future meals we will have and the future families we will create.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Wherever I May Roam

I am sitting in Kelly's kitchen nook enjoying the quiet of the morning as it creeps towards noon. The space has come to feel very familiar to me since first visiting in February. Reuniting with the ladies of Iceland is a truly special way to bring an end to the first phase of my leave. As Jacquie and I approached Salt Lake City Thursday evening, each and every mile was accounted for by our eager eyes increasingly returning to the GPS screen to see how much longer we had to wait before we were reunited with our friends. Piling into Kelly's bed was hilarious, considering its size and the fact that there were four of us, but we were determined to try it regardless. Friday was an easy day - we ran errands and explored the city at a relaxing pace. We spoiled ourselves with delicious food as we awaited the arrival of Colleen, who would be touching down right before midnight. As I move through this apartment, I cannot help but feel warm waves of happiness at seeing the limbs flailing around comforters, the hair covering faces and the feet poking out over bed frames and couches of my dear friends.

But first, some backtracking.

Somehow the universe granted Jacquie and I the most incredible ending to an amazing week in Squamish.

Friday - July 29, 2016

This was a dog day. We tried to find a classic, mellow multi-pitch climb and instead ended up on a ridiculously slick slab. Rather than battle the summer heat and the rock to move further up the mountainside, we decided to bail and head for easier ground. Even there, I found myself exhausted and completely tapped out. The rock can be a great teacher - it empowers me, humbles me, aggravates me and reenergizes me. In returning to the sport, I have learned to push through the mental and physical blockades and continue to climb when I know I can continue. Other times, I am forced to accept my shortcomings as an opportunity to grow stronger. When nightfall came, we put food in our bellies and hoped for a better day to follow.

Climbs ticked: One Scoop with Delicious Dimples (Sport 5.10c, bail), Cat Crack (Trad 5.7), Mousetrap (Trad 5.7)

Saturday - July 30, 2016

Jacquie and I managed to get out of bed at a decent hour. After a quick meal, we returned to the South Apron to find the climb we had overlooked the day before. This climb was incredibly easy-going which was exactly what we had been hoping for. Eight great quality pitches of 5.7 climbing traversing over slab, moving up cracks, water runnels and flakes. After descending, we jumped in the car and headed back to Chek to find Mark, who was climbing with some friends from his hometown of Everett. Jacquie crushed a few climbs - Creeping Right (10d) and Rug Munchers (11d) and as we began to pack up, we anxiously wondered where Andrew had run off to. Our plan was to head to Vancouver after Mark and I climbed Starchek and we wanted to be able to trade farewells before parting our separate ways. Just as we were heading out of the crag to get to the cars, Andrew popped into view to everyone's relief. We then decided that the four of us would venture to Starchek to have a last group climb together. The approach dropped us down into a valley and across a massive talus field. We precariously crossed it and found a number of rope ladders that brought us to the beginning of the climb - the base of an arete jutting up from the foaming Cheakamus River. Mark and I eagerly jumped onto the climb - he led Pitches 1 and 3. I was eager to lead Pitch 2, which was twice as long as the other pitches. The climb was airy and incredible - wind whipped around you and the river rushed below giving me surges of adrenaline with every move. As I set up the belay to bring Mark up, all I could think of as I gazed west to see Tricouni Peak on the horizon above the gorge and the Cheakamus River was that I hoped to dream of this place. It was the climb I never wanted to end.

Climbs: Banana Peel (Trad 5.7, 8 pitches), Creeping Right (Sport 5.10d), Starchek (Sport 5.9, 3 pitches)

Sunday - July 31, 2016

The evening before we had slept in Vancouver after another night of salsa dancing. We dipped back down into the states and drove through Washington into Oregon with Portland being our end destination. We wandered through the Southwest and Northeast quadrants of the city. I had a heavenly food truck experience at Hey Stella's Cocina, apparently rated the 5th best food truck in Portland after 2 years of service. Arepas, patacon pisaos and maduros galore! Jacquie found a swing event to cap off our evening. It was awesome to see Jacquie in her element - I think what has been the most awesome about choosing Jacquie as my climbing partner for this roadtrip was that despite the fact that our specialities / preferences laid in different styles, we have both been very eager to delve into the other's realm. Jacquie has grown into an incredibly strong sport climber over the years while making a great effort to learn traditional climbing and she has a real love for swing dancing. I have worked to hone my traditional climbing skills for the past 2-3 years and have always felt best when dancing salsa. I never intended for the roadtrip to also include sampling dance socials along the way, but flip flopping between both climbing methods and dances made this journey become my dream trip. It is such an interesting thing to observe the ease at which Jacquie will sail up a pumpy and technical sport route, while her body language for traditional climbing is slower and much more thoughtful. Trad will do that to you. It is also amazing to watch her swing dance - her smile and personality makes every Charleston and Lindy move look so easy and fun. I feel that over these past few weeks, we have seen each other in their respective element and our respect and gratitude for one another's skill sets have grown as a result.

The nature of climbing brings out a vulnerability to every individual who pursues it - intentional or not. When you are on the sharp end, your partner has an opportunity to see you at your most raw. It is a unique and subtle window. Through it you can see their fear, their excitement, their anger and their success. If used correctly, that window can lead to hallways of further understanding of that person and if you are lucky and willing, it can also lead to a better understanding of yourself.

Monday - August 1, 2016

We rolled into the Smith Rock Bivouac Area at about 1pm with every intention of setting up camp and getting some climbs in, but in true form the rest of the day became completely shot by our languidity (apparently, this is not a word but it sounds better than languidness). We found a campsite, moved the campsite, completely emptied out the car, sorted and rearranged gear and equipment, lounged in our camp chairs that overlooked Phoenix Buttress, read our books, then finally decided to get moving - though it was not to climb. Instead, we decided to walk 1.8 miles back into Terrebonne to check out the gear shop, RedPoint. At the gear shop, there was a great woman working there who helped us get some ideas of where to climb while skirting away from the blazing sun. Initially we had planned to bring back food to cook, but we both decided that we were far too hungry and walked far too slow to be able to wait until returning to camp to eat. Base Camp Pizza became our destination and we happily settled into the back corner of their outdoor seating, enjoying cold beers and the summer weather. Pizza, wings and beer were the perfect nightcaps and we walked back to camp cracking up about random topics as good friends do. We were startled by a steer that came stampeding up to the barricade as we walked passed and could only proceed without provoking the steer further by shutting off our headlamps. We were grateful to be returning to a stationary home that was already set up and ready to receive our sleepy bodies. Sleep came intermittently, however, because this was the first night in several weeks that we were actually settling down into a setup different from the car. Thankfully, exhaustion eventually got the better of us and we sank into a deep sleep.

Tuesday - August 2, 2016

With every intention to follow the guidance given to us to avoid the sun, we ate breakfast, prepared our gear, went back to the gear shop to rent a stick clip, parked in a day use lot, moved the car after the machine would not accept the bills we had, parked in the same lot as our campsite and ended up completely missing our window of opportunity to cross Asterisk Pass. Instead, we forded a river and was indicated by two women belonging to the Smith Rock "Climb Like a Girl" group that the Phoenix Buttress right above us had a number of great climbs to get onto. The basalt rock at Smith was unreal. While Squamish will always hold a sentimental space in my heart, the climbing at Smith was sublime. Balancing on knobs and pulling monopods, shifting body weight and working toes up the sticky rock to reach the top. The Phoenix was an incredible lead with one very committing move that made the whole climb feel like a great accomplishment. Nine Gallon Buckets had very tricky moves to start on both pitches - the start of the first pitch had Jacquie and I puzzled for a few minutes. What made it more awkward was that we couldn't quite stickclip the first bolt because a quickdraw had been left behind by another party who had apparently bailed. In any case, the 5.9 pitch eased up after the beginning to some awesome huecos that left you a little bit pumped. Jacquie lead the second pitch and when it was my turn to follow her, I was blown away about how she worked through the 10c section with very little issue. While I could have just been dehydrated from heat, I was pretty certain that this section of climb was just beyond my normal climbing capacity. As I tried to work through the crux, a group of young climbers from a camp came by pointing and loudly asking each other why we were doing the climb in two pitches. I thought it was hilarious and wanted to say it was because we were noobs, but the group soon passed and simulrapped back to the base of the climb - a technique that I had never actually used before.

We hiked back to camp then headed into town to get supplies for dinner. Macaroni and cheese with bacon, onions and tomatoes was on the menu for the evening. For whatever reason, we thought it would be a good idea to each get a 40oz of beer. The day drew to a close with me nearly falling asleep on my hammock, gazing at the stars peaking through the trees above me.

Climbs ticked: Hissing Llamas (Sport 5.8), Phoenix (Sport 5.10a), Drill 'Em and Fill 'Em (Sport 5.10a), Five Gallon Buckets (5.8), Nine Gallon Buckets (5.10c, 2 pitches)

Wednesday - August 3, 2016

Any day that begins with a breakfast of eggs and bacon is a good one - this day was no exception. Eventually Asterisk Pass was found and maneuvered through (made slightly more complicated by the passing of our stickclip) and we touched down at Mesa Verde Wall. The climbing was stellar but limited both by our climbing capacity and general interest so we moved on to Wherever I May Roam, a multi-pitch climb that had been repeatedly recommended to us. The climb certainly deserved the name, first mounting a boulder, then crossing a chimney to gain elevation on the face of the cliff, making moves over an exposed traverse, up an arĂȘte and finally working up slab to the very top. The breathtaking view at the top of the climb showcased the shortest distance between sections of the Crooked River as they horseshoed around rock out of sight behind us. Again, we were granted a wonderful send off. The next day would be the first and only early day we would have on the entire trip - a 6am start into a ten hour day of driving to see our beautiful friends reunited in Salt Lake City.

Climbs ticked: Cosmos (Sport 5.10a), Screaming Yellow Zonkers (Sport 5.10b), Wherever I May Roam (Sport 5.9, 5 pitches)