Utah: A travel blog about 26 hours of Greyhound hell

The Climbing Part

After five years of climbing, I finally made it to Indian Creek. The first day, I ran along the base of Supercrack Buttress and put my hand or fingers into every crack within reach. I noticed that as I pulled down, it felt like the sandstone pushed back. Everything felt incredibly climbable.

I noticed a lovely looking off-fingers crack that I assumed would go well. With hardly a glance a the guidebook, I racked all of my gear to my harness plus a few borrowed cams, which felt like a lot, and did the customary hands-on-hips pre-climb appraisal of the route. I chalked my hands and started up.

The first 15 feet went well. I was climbing a left-facing corner with tight, secure hand jams. I felt confident and placed gear accordingly. Then I arrived at a bulge. I had good feet and was able to take a rest to contemplate the moves ahead.

I moved away from my relatively comfortable position and began jamming my way up the bulge, for lack of an opportunity to lieback because of an inconvenient flare. The most logical feet for the moves were at hip height. Having climbed through the flare, it became time to lieback. I worked my feet up and my arms immediately began screaming to my brain, “THIS AIN’T GONNA LAST LONG!” Suddenly I became acutely aware of where the rope was beneath me and the prospect of taking an upside-down whipper. At this point, my breath was most certainly audible to my partner 30′ below. I reached down to my hip, fumbled a piece of protection into the crack, and mentally prepared myself to pull enough slack rope up to clip the piece. Ain’t no time like the present when your arms feel like they want nothing more than to give out on you, so I yanked the rope up, barely managed to clip the piece and half screamed to my partner: “I’m gonna fall!”

The Creek did not disappoint. I’ve heard a few people mention getting humbled by the climbing there, but I figured I’d been crack climbing long enough to be able to hang in there. Actually, I suspected that I might even excel because of my small hand size. (Haha, in retrospect, that’s cute.)

It’s true that the jams are so good that it feels like the crack grabs you back, but what I’d failed to account for was the length of the routes and what it feels like to climb with minimal rests and without other features. Nothing but pure crack. (If you’re not a climber, that sentence probably sounds weird.)

Over the course of the week, I got to climb at Supercrack Buttress, Selfish Wall, Scarface and Battle of the Bulge. After destroying the backs of my hands at Battle of the Bulge, we took a day to clip bolts on Potash Road. Despite the gobies, I feel like I barely scratched the surface. We started after noon most days. This was not my choice.

I assumed that after a few days, I would literally get into the groove and be able to send something beyond my warmups. I thought I would pick a project for myself. Not this trip.

Rain rolled in right around the time I started to collect a little confidence. Snow, too. Besides the weather, I’d also been confronted with the gnawing discomfort of an incompatible partnership. Not the typical minor spat that turns a day sour, but an entire week of misalignment. We disagreed on most everything. In the most Jersey Shore moment of my life, after trying to talk things through and establish reasonable boundaries, I finally gave up. In the middle of the woods somewhere outside of Bryce Canyon, I angrily packed up all of my shit and my tent (which I’d had to do every night for a week of cragging in the same area, which was obnoxious, due to indecision and my van-dwelling partner’s inability to plan) and took off walking down the side of the road.

Utah: The Not-Climbing Part

For lack of a vehicle, I was relatively stranded. I came upon an RV campground and asked where the nearest Greyhound station was. The young man on the other side of the counter had emo-styled, bleached-blonde hair, several piercings and a lisp. He blinked and looked at the backpacks on my chest and my back, quizzically.

“I don’t know where the nearest one is,” he said flatly.

Another employee behind the desk looked up from his screen and said simply, “I’ll take you.” Thank god.

For the record: there is no taxi service operating near the woods outside of Bryce Canyon. And I’m fairly confident that there aren’t any taxi services within an hour drive in any of the small towns in the surrounding area. (I later asked a motel owner in Parowon, she laughed, and offered to give me a ride to where I needed to go. Utah is very hospitable.)

So that’s how I found myself in the passenger seat of a Ford Taurus traveling 60mph through the desolate Utah desert at night in pre-tourism shoulder season having the lyrics of “Into the Coven” sung/explained to me. It was approximately 9pm. As an aside, I listen to a podcast with the catchphrase: “Stay Sexy, Don’t Get Murdered.” Between the lyrics about bleeding the blood, smashing the cross, etc. I was praying to the creators of the podcast, Karen and Georgia, that this hour long drive wouldn’t be my last. (Spoiler: I didn’t get murdered.)

That’s when my driver surprised me: “I’m a Mormon.” His demeanor and sincerity was enough to convince me. Apparently, his musical tastes juxtapose sharply against his lifestyle choices. Utah, you’re wonderful, never change.

The next bus outta there wasn’t until 1pm the following day. So I stayed in a motel room with paper thin walls, scratchy sheets and creaky floors. Fifty dollars was a small price to pay to insulate myself from prolonged circular discussions about nothing leading nowhere; possible tickets from camping in inappropriate places; and the possibility of being ruthlessly teased by endless climbing made inaccessible by a partner decidedly unavailable to climb, despite being on a climbing trip. (?!?!) I fell asleep listening to a channel dedicated to true crime, scrolling indifferently on my phone. My mind was caught up in how something as simple as a climbing trip – what most people consider a vacation – could be so miserable.

The following day, I arrived at the bus stop 45 minutes early. I’d eaten a bagel and some pretzels the day before; we’d last shopped for groceries a week prior. The stop was many things in one: a gas station, a truckers’ rest stop, a bus station, a prime people-watching opportunity. There was a Subway and a Taco Bell inside the building, too. Hungry and disinterested in gas-station ham & cheese, I dropped my bags at a table and stood in line at Subway.

“What kind of bread do you want?” the woman barked at me from the other side of the glass. She seemed generally offended by my presence.

Forty-five minutes slipped by. At 12:55, I became concerned. No bus. 1pm came and went. I panicked at the thought of missing the only northbound bus out of the Middle-of-Nowhere, Utah. I searched through my phone and found a bus tracker. I was relieved to learn that the bus was running 45 minutes behind. In that email, I also learned that I would not get onto the bus without a printed ticket. Stranded, in the middle of the desert, I was without a printer. Go figure.

The bus rolled in and people piled out. The bus driver was quick to light a cigarette and adept at avoiding eye-contact with me as I crossed the parking lot to him. He walked around the back of the bus and I closed the gap by walking around the front.

“Sorry to bother you,” I said as I rounded the corner of the bus, “But I noticed that my email confirmation said that I needed a printed ticket. We’re kind of out here in the middle of the desert. I don’t have the ability to print a ticket.”

He took a pensive drag from his cigarette, gave me a kind of creepy old man smirk and said, “Frankly, I don’t give a shit if you have a ticket or not.” It was at this moment that I noticed that he was missing the pointer finger on his right hand. He took one of my bags and stowed it beneath the bus. I got on.

The second I became separated from my backpack containing literally all of the climbing equipment I own, I became very anxious. I thought about how tourists’ backpacks were regularly stolen from night buses in Thailand. But then the bus started and we were off.

I groped around in a smaller bag for my headphones. No dice. They were beneath the bus. Given that we were departing an hour behind schedule, it dawned on me that I would miss my connecting bus out of Salt Lake City. Great.

I called a general customer service line and spoke to someone that generally spoke English. He was unable to answer my simple question: My bus is going to be late. When is the next bus out of Salt Lake City to Seattle? I requested to speak to someone else. The next representative said that I would have to direct my question to someone in Salt Lake City. No, he cannot transfer me. I dialed the number provided and got the same general customer service line. A woman answered. Trying to use as few words as possible, I explained my situation a third time. Provided my information a third time.

A man on the bus approached me and asked me if he could use my phone, as I was obviously engaged in a conversation on the aforementioned phone. I probably failed to conceal my incredulity. Being a female product of society, conditioned to be nice, I blurted a “Yeah, but I’m using the phone right now.”

“What?” said the woman on the other end of the line.

Ultimately, I received zero useful information from three customer service representatives. I resigned myself to figuring it out upon arrival in Salt Lake.

The man on the bus began to speak to me rapidly about how honorable I was and how generous I was to loan him my phone. I reluctantly handed it over to him with the dial screen already pulled up. He continued to talk to me as he began using my phone. Not wishing to engage in further conversation, I opened my book and waited for him to finish his phone call. He then thrust the phone back in my direction and asked me if I knew about this band because he was involved with the band and helped them get started and he really liked this band and this band made great music. Rapid fire, the sentences didn’t end or begin. He just talked. Endlessly. Apparently, he was affiliated with Fitz and the Tantrums. Hmm.

About halfway through the third song, playing out loud on my phone, another man a seat ahead had made two fists with his hands and was visibly trembling with rage. I leaned back in my seat and mouthed silently to Talking Man, “He’s mad,” pointing to Angry Man. Talking Man paused only momentarily and continued talking over the music. Angry Man spun around and stood up and told him that the music had to stop.

Not wanting to witness a fistfight 30 minutes into a 24 hour plus bus adventure, I announced: “I have a phone call to make!” And proceeded to call my mom. Talking Man stood up, unphased, and began asking the other passengers on the bus if there might be a phone available for him to use. No phone call was ever made.

Several long hours later, and more than an hour behind schedule, we arrived in Salt Lake City. Talking Man had visited me for much of the ride, although I’d moved away from Angry Man for fear of physical violence.

When the bus stopped, I collected my bags and basically ran toward the nearest brewery. I knew that Utah beer was going to be, well, state-regulated Utah beer, but I was desperate.

I made it a block from the bus station when a man walked up to me and asked, “Did you come off a train?” Not sure why my method of transportation was relevant, I told him no. He then told me that he was trying to hop the next freight train because Utah sucked because you couldn’t buy or have weed there. He also informed me, repeatedly, that I was in a very sketchy area. Surveying my loaded backpacks, he told me that I needed to figure out how to travel light. Without missing a beat, I told him that I had a lot of climbing equipment on me. That I hadn’t been planning to walk with all of it. (Cue mental facepalm. “Yeah, I’m carrying a bunch of valuable shit today. It’s heavy!” My city smarts are lacking, I’m now well aware.)

My phone started ringing. It was my boyfriend, Tim. Trying to act nonchalant, I told Tim everything I knew about the guy that had followed me for three blocks. Apparently, being known was enough to get the guy to bugger off, because he suddenly ducked into a parking garage without a word. I was alone again. Just me and my big-ass backpacks. Thankfully.

My soggy Subway sandwich was the most substantial thing I’d eaten in 2 days, several hours earlier. Despite the beer (all the beer on draft) topping out at a rowdy 4% ABV, I felt calmed halfway through my gose. I killed time, a salad and the end of my book before I ordered another beer. This time an IPA. 4%. I pulled a new book from my bag.

A man sat down beside me and flashed me a smile. I made some kind of friendly offhand comment and went back to my book. He ordered a beer and some dinner and struck up a conversation. I learned that he worked for a company that sold medical devices that helped straighten spines. He told me about being in the OR, he agreed with me that Utah beer was pathetic, and we discovered that we had a mutual appreciation of Bend beer. Boneyard Brewing was a shared favorite. He was a nice guy. I indicated to him that on the scale of crazy, he was near the bar counter whereas most everyone else I’d interacted with in the last 24 hours were a full arm-length above the bar on my improvised crazy scale. He laughed. He got to hear this full story in person. He even bought me another weak Utah beer, compliments of the company he worked for. What a guy.

Reluctantly, I paid $10 to Uber the half mile that I’d walked to the brewery. I was pleasantly surprised to have my first female Uber driver. After I told her the abridged version of the last 24 hours, she said, “Oh honey, you have to take this,” and gave me a small pink can of Mace. “I’ve never felt like I needed to use it. Sounds like you need it.” Women support women.

Just before midnight, I queued up with the other Greyhound riders headed to Boise, Portland and beyond. A friendly young guy spun around and asked me about my bags and where I was headed. I told him that I’d been on a climbing trip and that I was headed home to Seattle. Within the span of a 10 minute conversation, he asked me to guess his ethnicity, demonstrated to me that he’d come prepared with a 40 stashed in his jacket pocket, and let me know that he was a virgin. Congratulations!

We boarded the bus. Talking Man was back and snatched up my bag before I could say anything otherwise and let me know that he would take care of it for me because I didn’t need to carry it because it looked heavy and he would love to help me out and that I was a mountain goddess and that I was from Seattle and that he was from Seattle too and on and on. Talking Man sat beside me again. Talking Man asked for my phone again. Not knowing what else to do, I handed it over again. And this time he made calls. Six of them.

“Mama? Mama, can you hear me? Mama? It’s me. Can you hear me mama? Can you speak up, Mama? It’s awful hard to hear you Mama. Don’t be mad, Mama. I just wanted to talk to you, Mama.” After his call with Mama, I indicated that it was 1:02am and that I’d like my phone back at 1:07am. I wanted to listen to music. “Ok, ok. I’ll give your phone back. I just want to listen to three songs. Is that ok? You’re so honorable for letting me borrow your phone. I just want to listen to three songs. You said that I could.” Trying to be gently firm, I repeated: “1:07.” Well, 1:07 came and went. “Hey, it’s 1:10, can I please have my phone back?” He reluctantly handed it over, talking to me the whole time. And he did not stop talking to me until after 1:30am. At this point, I was only able to muster the occasional, “Mmhmm.” His babbling was nonsensical. I told him that he could continue to talk to me, but I was going to go to sleep.

I put headphones in and put on my favorite podcast. In this particular episode, of the hundreds of episodes that I’d listened to before, and of all the topics in the world to cover I learned:

“Because you can board a Greyhound bus with cash and absolutely no paper trail Greyhound is usually the preferred form of travel for people who have found themselves on a Do-Not-Fly List. Fugitives, convicted felons, drug dealers, registered sex offenders, etc.” (Listen to this particular episode here and start at 19:40. Enjoy. #Murderino)

Meanwhile, on my first Greyhound bus ever, confronted with a man that literally would not stop talking to me and would not stop talking for the full 8 hour bus ride to Boise, ID from Salt Lake City, UT, I thought to myself: GREAT. I must have fallen asleep at some point, because Talking Man poked me upon arrival in the Middle-of-Nowhere, ID, and I nearly jumped a foot out of my seat. He asked if he could use my phone again. This time, I said no.

We eventually parted ways, mercifully, somewhere in Oregon. The rest of the ride was uneventful by comparison, but all I can say is that I’ve never been so grateful to see evergreen trees and a Northwest downpour. My climbing trip was an utter failure, but hey, I guess I got a semi-decent story out of it.

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Gusher

You could say I’m exuberant when I get to talk about climbing. And you’d be right.

This weekend, I basically exploded my love of climbing and eagerness to pursue guiding all over a colleague at Mountain Madness. My social-awareness filter tried to flicker on a few times during that conversation, but my enormous stoke overpowered it. Oops.

You don’t feel that kind of excited all on your own, though. It takes input.

As we crept along the highway in afternoon ski resort traffic, I felt a part of my brain come on that’s been dimmed for a while now. Probably unknowingly, Ian validated a very deep, core part of me that I have shut down for the better part of the last year: I live to climb and I love to guide. I just barely broke out of my comfortable world in Bellingham before that light flickered out. I’m so glad I did.

Besides eagerly anticipating what’s ahead in 2019, I’m taking a moment to really savor that connection. It wasn’t any one thing that Ian said. It was a shared language and ambition that really resonated with me. It’s the type of feeling that I want to give to anyone interested in sharing a rope with me. C’mon. Let’s climb.

There’s something to be said about a moment in which everything makes sense; I think it’s when your calling is coming through, loud and clear.

I’m very excited to take that call.

Bootfitters are the Real MVP

Good people of the internet: I HAVE SEEN THE LIGHT. I’m here, right now, to tell you that boot fitting is modern day alchemy.

If you thought that buying a pair of multi-hundred dollar ski boots would translate to a good fit, bless your heart, that’s only the start. You could say that a stock boot, straight off the shelf, is essentially lead. Boot fitters turn that shit into gold.

Perhaps you’ve been on a similar journey. Does the following sound familiar?

Being a savvy skier, you decide, “I should probably invest in some footbeds.” And oh my god, game changer, your boots suddenly feel amazing. (Thank god for the good people at Superfeet. Especially Jeff Gray – you’re my hero. I can’t preach the precision and power of the Custom Cork any louder. BRING THEM BACK!!) As you continue to ski with feet happily nestled into footbeds, you notice improvement… But there’s still something missing…

Ok, so then comes the socks. You know the ultra-plush-padded-comfy socks that make you think, “Yeah! This should do the trick!” No. Put those down. You want to get an ultra thin sock so as not to crowd your feet inside of your boot. I’m partial to Smartwool PhD’s, though I can’t say I’ve gotten any smarter since using them. Side note: I have never had an issue with temperature control since switching. Try it. Thank me later.

Ok, so we’ve put some quality insoles beneath your feet. Wrapped your feet up in the right sock. But we’re only just getting started my friends because boot selection is EVERYTHING. If we were in person, my eyes would get all big and I would throw my arms up in the air as I said it. Let me repeat: EVERYTHING!

And allow me to talk you down before you just spring for the boot with the best reviews, the right flex, etc., etc. and just say: DO NOT think that because you read about the features of the boot, you read the good reviews, etc. that you’re going to purchase the right boot from the modern bazaar that is the internet. No, no.

If you want to feel good, look good, ski good, go visit a retail shop and you have the dude (or lady) have a look at your feet and talk to you about their boot line up. If you do not feel that the person looking at your feet is actually talking to you about features or aspects of your feet that correspond with the boot, don’t waste your time and for the love of god, do not buy their boot. No chemistry? No boot. Go find another boot fitter.

I have been to a few people. I have had a few peoples’ hands on my feet. I’ve gotten a few suggestions. But it wasn’t until recently that I had an experience that resulted in an excellent fit, a new friendship, and the right fit for my foot. Brandon at Evo, you are amazing and as of Friday, this girl’s new best friend because you completely transformed the way I experienced skiing and ski boots. I now know SO MUCH BETTER how a ski boot should fit and feel. I appreciate you.

Allow me to recap so that you too can find an excellent boot fit:

Step one: Don’t be afraid to visit multiple boot fitters until you find your guy.

And your guy doesn’t have to be a guy, it can definitely be a lady, but emphasis on that special person that is giving you their undivided attention to talk to you about all the weird things that you didn’t know about your feet. This person should not be partial to any particular brand. Instead, they’re going to couple the unique deformities of your feet that make you, you and then they’re going to have you try on a couple of different boots to see which is going to be your Cinderella slipper.

Step two: Be uncompromising in finding a good fit, but go in with an open mind.

Turns out, I’m the greenest gumby of my skiing friend group. For the last few years, (SIX YEARS, people) I’ve watched the homies rip everything from backcountry lines to chopped up resort chunder and I have wondered how TF do they do that?! Well-fitted boots are a great place to start.

When I waltzed into Evo to talk to someone about honing in on the right alpine boot for me, I went in with a short list of my expectations for my boot: nothing softer than a 100 flex, nothing that looked soft, maybe a size down, and something with decent reviews that I was going to be able to jump in. Truthfully, I’d already purchased a boot and discovered that Miss Guide Girl had been misguided by her own preconceptions of what her next boot should be. #plzhalp

Brandon gave me a line up that resembled what I was asking for. But none of them felt right. He asked me to flex the boots. I kinda crouched down and tried to push the tongue out and then later confessed that I really didn’t know what he meant when he asked me to do so. (Like I said, baby skier. I’m still learning, even 6 years after my first day on skis.)

He then told me that he knew the boot for me. Taking care to not set me off about putting me in a boot that was softer than my 100-flex-minimum, he assured me that the boot would feel stiff and that it was going to fit my high-instep, medium-volume foot.

I slipped it on and felt secure, but not crowded. When I flexed the boot, I felt it respond to my movement. A light bulb popped on for me. Even though it was a fluffy-liner, soft-blue boot, it was the right one for me. (The aesthetics are a whole different rant. In sum: I don’t want cute gear. I want gear that looks good. Would a man wear a boot with a fluffy liner? No. Do I want to wear a boot with a fluffy liner? No. But here I am, loving my fluffy-liner boots.)

Step three: Acknowledge that the right fit is a journey that might take time.

My first pair of ski boots were given to me for free: hand-me-downs from my little sister’s friend. I skied them without insoles, with thick socks and without much joy for a few years. Then came the size 25.5 touring boots that I bought from a second-hand shop with zero guidance from the sales rep who sold them to me. (Face palm.) I remember asking, “How should they feel?” And he assured me that if they felt ok, they were probably the right fit. That was dumb.

Then, I got fitted by someone in a busy shop at a resort who essentially stuffed their hand into the back of my boot and confirmed for me that I should ski a 23.5 boot. So I hopped online, found the seemingly right boot at the right price, and bought it. Heat molded. Got the custom footbeds (thanks Jeff!) But…

OUCH. OUCH. OUCH. It has been SUCH a painful journey breaking these boots in. I one time accidentally hiked 10 miles on a trail in them (don’t forget your approach shoes, folks!) After all of that, I have learned:

Signs that your boots don’t fit:

1.) You feel like you’re constantly fighting them to stand/ski/exist in a comfortable position. They either put you too far forward over your skis or too far back. This can be remedied by a boot fitter.

2.) You can lift your heel up and down. An insecure heel leads to an insecure skier. I can’t entirely speak to the physical damage, but the emotional damage of having a shitty day on the hill while everyone else seems to be having a blast is enough to make you reconsider the sport. Give me an amen in the comments if you’ve ever had this unfortunate experience.

3.) If it feels like flexing your boot is being resisted by the Great Wall of China conveniently located in front of your shin, honey, you’ve got the wrong boot. I previously thought that I would eventually grow into a hella stiff flex (120) because I had planned on jumping and dropping cliff features. Nope. I was wrong. Your flex should correspond to your height, weight and ability. If you feel like you’re fighting your boot, you probably are, and you’re probably giving up some control in the process.

4.) It should go without saying, but if you feel pressure points as soon as you step into your boots, something is wrong. Some of these can be remedied by a punch by a talented individual like Brandon, but sometimes the geometry of your feet just doesn’t match the boot. Pay close attention to where buckles sit relative to your pressure points.

I think that’s about all I’ve got for you today. And I think there’s probably still lots to learn. All I can say is that I’ve embarked on this journey of learning the intricacies of a good fit in a climbing shoe, and I cannot believe how much more complicated fitting a ski boot is. That’s why good people like Brandon have jobs. I assure you it is completely worth your time to make the time and financial investment.

THANK YOU BRANDON! And in case you’re wondering, I went with the Dalbello Chakra.

Awakening

In my mind, I stand at a stony precipice looking down into inky blackness. Above me, the stars shine brightly, beautifully. All is quiet and well up there. I feel a gurgling inertia in my chest. I wish to slip into the darkness, sound into sleep, but the untamed faucet of my thoughts pounds my mind. Pressure builds against the dam of my own making.

And then suddenly, a single drop leaks through. A crack forms. Then there’s a burst: the thoughts rush through and comfortably settle, like a river no longer resisted. There’s calm, clarity and a certain natural order. Truth. A literal breakthrough.

I, like any person native to anywhere, am the product of my surroundings.

I am the first born daughter of two small parents. I too am small, but able. I was nurtured to believe in myself. I am naturally wild. I find affinity in animals, flora and fauna; confidence in my quiet. Like a puppy, I can be riled. Like a horse, I long to run free. Like a girl, I love to love. Love finds me and I find love, though it comes with ample searching.

I found climbing when I was looking for myself. I was lost at the time, searching for purpose in school work. I applied my passionate heart to my studies, but never found the thing that gave me wings. I went to school to write, but couldn’t seem to find my voice. I felt stifled by the style I was being trained in.

In time off from school, I worked as often as I could. I climbed sporadically at my local gym but was never truly moved by the colorful plastic holds, challenging as they were. I knew it was possible to climb outside, but I didn’t know how to do it. So I asked for help.

When help came, I discovered something that I would do for the rest of my life. I knew it immediately. Nothing had ever rung so true and so right. I have fought ever since to be with my love of climbing.

To those who have never fallen in love with a passion, I probably make no sense. To those who limit their passion to a joyous corner of their life, a small shrine of what it means to be alive; I probably come off as cavalier. Trust me: I am. A mountain does not fit in the tidy closet of an hard-earned apartment space, I’m afraid. And one certainly isn’t enough.

To return to my opening thought, the enormous dam of my self-imposed insecurities burst tonight when I realized that I wasn’t meant to be a rock climber alone. Oh no, my calling comes from deep within the mountains that have lent shape to the last 25 years of my life. I was born into the rugged Cascade Mountain Range for a reason.

Now if only I could fall asleep…

Thanks, Guys

SATURDAY

One after another, I watch the guys throw big tricks off an improvised jump. I often volunteer to film them partially to support them, but mostly because I’m in awe of what they can do. Before I get into position and pull my phone out, they tell me that I have to hit the jump too. Oh boy. “Okay.” I quietly hope that I’m not getting in over my head.

Will: Backflip. Ashton: Backflip. Drew: 360. Tim: Lincoln loop. Suddenly it’s my turn. I stuff my phone into my chest pocket and pick my way through trees to the starting point above the jump. My skis slide hesitantly a little lower. Then a little lower. The guys cheer me on from below. I point my skis downhill and feel myself blast off the thing.

My air wasn’t huge, but it was pretty big for me. Somehow, my body knew what to do. Rather than spazzing mid air, I felt controlled. I crest the highest point and come back down to a plush, powdery landing. Ooh, it felt so good. And it set the tone for the rest of the day.

A few laps later, I look up from the skin track and see another opportunity to feel the air rush beneath my skis. A sizable cornice had formed above a cliff feature that wrapped around into a sweeping left turn. The time was right and the cornice was calling.

Tim and I climbed above it, keeping our distance from the edge while we determined precisely where to drop off. From above, the landing was somewhat blind. Suddenly my fun cornice drop became a scary question mark in my mind. I paused a moment, balking at my seemingly brash decision. Tim directed me to the sweet spot and encouraged me with his phone out, ready to film my drop.

I often get too caught up in willing myself to jump off things and struggle to announce my drop: “Three… two… one… dropping!” Most times, I’d rather just push off at two so that I don’t have to confront the fear of getting to one. For this reason, I often don’t get the shot, haha.

The air whooshed beneath my skis as I plunged from the cornice above, to a small intermediate rocky cliff, to smooth powder snow below. It all happened so fast. I link a few swooping turns and look back to see Tim perched above the cliff, only higher. He asks me if I want to film. In the interest of saving transition time, I shout back, “No!” And watch him push off, tapping the edge of the cliff before dropping 15 or more feet to the snow below. I immediately regret not taking my phone out.

Tim is my boyfriend, but he’s so much more than that. Most of his boyfriend duties practically stop once we leave the frontcountry. From there on, he’s my partner. Tim rarely pushes me to do things I haven’t set up myself; but there’s something about his encouraging smile that gives me the courage to trust my skis and will myself into the unknown. Often, into the air. It reminds me of when I was learning how to slackline; if there’s somebody there beside you to rest so much as a single finger on, you suddenly find the stability you need to make tiny steps forward. Progress.

couloir

We skied until sunset, pausing before we ripped the skins from our skis for our last run of the day. I looked across the valley and pointed out a couloir saying, “I’d like to ski that.” To my surprise, the guys thought it sounded like a good idea and said that we’d come back for it tomorrow.

SUNDAY

My nervous mind had played out several crash reels on the skin track on the way over and up. What if there’s a mandatory drop and I catch an edge immediately? Will I tumble to the bottom? Will I learn what it feels like to tomahawk? Are there any cliffs I need to worry about? Trying to estimate my margin for error, I asked Drew, “Do you think I should do this? I don’t want to chicken-shit-out at the top.” He reassured me that it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Drew’s vote of confidence was good enough for me. My doubts melted away as we crossed over to the peak.

We began to climb a face too steep to skin; Ashton and Drew ahead of me rapidly kicking steps, and Tim right behind me. As we climbed a semi-steep bootpack together, I felt well aware of the fact that I only had a shot at this line because I had the comfortable buffer of their experience to insulate me from poor decision making. Especially Tim.

About halfway up, Tim asked, “Are you nervous?” I can’t remember what I said verbatim, but I remember telling him with paradoxical confidence in my answer that I was. Yeah I’m nervous, but not scared. I was comfortably pushing it. I felt aware of my exposure and risk; I was accepting. There were still opportunities to bail, but so far, no reason to.

Drew and Ashton took a steeper, more committing couloir that split the center of the peak. The ride down looked like what it would feel like to drop a bouncy ball down a stairwell; from either side, step-like cliffs protruded just enough into the narrow corridor before letting out to the valley below.

Tim encouraged me to check out another couloir to the west. Our line was less steep and wider. I could see that this line was definitely going to go for me. Even though it was just the two of us standing there, we didn’t say much to each other. He encouraged me to look out for rocks and stay low in the couloir. And then he was gone.

I paused a moment. Alone. I looked out from my perch, keenly aware of my exposure. There’s something magical about being alone in the mountains. It’s not a feeling that readily lends itself to description; it’s the combination of recognizing your own mortality, and esteeming it with such vigor that it motivates repeat encounters with the ineffable: the vast masses of granite, impossible icy plunges, wilderness as far as the eye can see.

I click into my bindings, well aware that I could kick a ski from my perch 1000 or so feet below. I buckle my boots down. Check all of my zippers. Gloves on. Goggles in place. Okay. It’s time.

My hand fumbles for the radio at my shoulder. “Dropping in 30, boys,” I say, trying to feign my usual casual confidence, but my voice comes out small and higher pitched than usual. I don’t know how long I waited, but I pushed the fear from my mind as I simultaneously pushed my skis over the edge.

And so it goes. My first true couloir.

Just Say Yes

Recently, I learned what it feels like to be emotionally, interpersonally and spiritually malnourished. The feeling developed over the course of a year in which I failed to connect, I stopped feeling inspired and I felt like I had stopped growing. My ambitions toppled over. My opportunities felt like they’d dried up. My heart felt withered and I retreated into myself most every night to wait it out until things would finally get better. Turns out, this isn’t a good coping strategy.

I’ve changed several aspects of my life in the last few weeks, including a move and a new job. I made several of these changes against the well-intentioned advice of people that I love, trust and respect. This isn’t a flagrant middle finger so much as a revelation: you gotta carve your own way sometimes.

It all comes down to one little word for me: Yes.

For the last year, I fought really hard to fit. I swallowed my climbing ambitions and tried to substitute them for superimposed career ambitions; I translated my native dirtbag tongue into office banter; I relinquished an important piece of myself to pursue the comfortable and conventional. First world problems acknowledged, I suffered all the while.

In trying to smash myself into a tiny box, into abbreviated dreams, into comfortable complacency, I became bitter. In tamping down my inner flame, I lost my drive and my passion. I became vapid. Disinterested. Bored. And I needed help. And I found that in a fabulous therapist by the name of Charlotte. Thank god.

The greatest gift that I’ve been given in the last six months is that tiny word: Yes.

When I would hone in on everything that was wrong; all that I wasn’t; all of these walls that I’d built around myself to contain my loud-laughing, obsessively passionate, utterly determined, unruly personality, Charlotte asked me why?

When I shared my dreams, my hopes, my aspirations, Charlotte asked me why not?

When I followed up with all of my anxieties and insecurities, she acknowledged them and encouraged me to employ my flame and passion to problem solve around obstacles. Without ego stroking, she simply did some fire stoking. Charlotte told me yes. You can.

Previously, I’d been trying to survive on a steady diet of disregard, disinterest and disconnect. My contributions to my tiny box world felt like trying to fit gloves to feet. Obviously, I didn’t fit. And unfortuantely, I experienced a bit of soul rot for it. But I think soul functions very much like your liver and can repair itself when cared for properly.

There’s something incredibly powerful about someone telling you: yes you can. I think this experience will have enormous implications for me in how I request and provide mentorship. I think that this newfound understanding of “yes” has enormous implications for me as a female athlete. I want to project the yes-you-can feeling to any woman up against any obstacle; any challenge; any personal pursuit; because goodness gracious, a little belief and encouragement feels like the first rain to my soul garden after a long drought. It’s been a short 3 weeks in my new life and I’m already beginning to see the bloom. More details to come.

When climbing breaks your heart

Climbing, I love you. But you’re bringing me down.

Climbing, you’ve taken me to some incredible places. I’ve stood atop mountains that I climbed both physically and emotionally. I’ve learned what it means to truly see and know someone thanks to you. I’ve learned to get over myself. You’re present anytime I think about the things I’m most proud of in this life. You’ve given me more smiles, more highs and more experiences… More relationships… Than anything else I’ve ever done in my life. You’ve really given me something to live for. For that, I can’t thank you enough. For that, I love you.

Climbing, you’ve also stripped me raw. You’ve made me cry in front of people I didn’t want to cry in front of. You made me vulnerable. You’ve injured me physically. You’ve dictated my lifestyle and burnt bridges for me. You’ve been an addiction. An obsession. You’ve simultaneously swollen and decimated my ego. And most recently, you’ve stolen precious life. Again.

Each time I lose a friend to climbing, it shocks me to my core. How could something so beautiful and wholesome be so cruel? How could this happen? Sadly, it comes with the territory.

This is not thoughts and prayers. This is sadness beyond sadness; devastation; and acceptance. The rules are simple: there is always risk and your job as a climber is to mitigate it. Sometimes – even the best of us – come up short.

Skiing with Girls is Funner

Sometimes opportunity knocks and it rings so loud and so clear in your ears that there’s no escaping it, no denying it. The what ifs, the risks and the costs pop up like variability in untracked backcountry snow, but you chose the line – or it chose you – and you’re gonna ride it out.

I’d caught wind of a SheJumps freeride ski clinic happening at Alpental on Facebook. A few friends had indicated that they were interested and a good friend of mine even encouraged me to go. When I read the description of the clinic, I froze up at, “Advanced and Expert Level Skiers Only.” I am a climber turned skier. I do not see myself as being an advanced or expert level skier. I see myself more in the “go average, go often,” category. I told my friend that I couldn’t go because I didn’t fit the criteria.

He pushed back. And I’m glad he did. That’s when the knocking began to ring in my ears.

I noticed that there was a $60 fee associated with the clinic that didn’t include the lift ticket and certainly didn’t include the gas it would take to drive more than 4 hours to ski for 3 hours. But it didn’t stop the knocking.

The week before the clinic, I had a few work projects to wrap up and the thought of asking my boss for the flexibility to leave early on a work day to go skiing made me nervous. But my nerves didn’t stop the knocking. I bit the bullet, drafted the email, reread it twice and before I could bail, quickly clicked: “Send.”

My boss said it was ok for me to cash in some personal time and go. And that’s when I got genuinely excited.

I was intimidated to show up for a freeride clinic when I had only a vague understanding of what freeride skiing was. But more than that, I was intimidated to show up and be weak. I can ski with the usual guy gang and embrace the fact that I’ve logged the least days on my skis. I can watch them air off of things, throw tricks or ski steep, intimidating terrain and recognize that I’m just not there yet. But I want to be. And that’s exactly why I had to go.

I came into the clinic hot. Not sweaty hot, but talking-too-loud, smiling huge at any girl that looked like she might possibly be attending, vigorously nodding at anything said in my general direction; that kind of hot. I certainly didn’t mellow out once we got onto the snow; oh no, I was full-body, full-on stoked. And for good reason.

Skiing with women is different. Energetically, we vibe on a different level. I’m used to having to stick up for myself with the guys. I’m used to acting tough when I really want to cry. I work hard to conceal my weakness whenever I possibly can. All of those feelings evaporated. I was just there with a bunch of similarly stoked women. Instead of feeling like I had to fight to keep up, I felt like I was part of something.

There was no condescension, no expert halo. There were just women helping women gain the confidence and skills to ski more aggressively, to inspire onlookers from chairlifts, to be better partners to uplift other women. It was awesome.

I’m glad I went not just because I got to dip out of work early to ski on a Tuesday night; not because I made a bunch of new ski partner connections; not even because I finally learned how to get out of the backseat (finally!) I’m stoked because I learned that I can ski with women. I’m stoked because that experience taught me that I love to ski for me – not to just keep up with my boyfriend, not because it’s the cool thing to do in the winter.

Plain and simple: skiing is fun and skiing with girls is funner.

 

Oh Hey

It’s been about two months since I’ve had a computer, but good news: I’m back. More good news: within 24 hours of owning a computer, I submitted a piece to a magazine that may or may not be my favorite publication… Ever. (Rhymes with schmalpinist.)

Things that I’ve climbed lately: Plastic.

Things that I’ve skied lately: I won’t bore you with a list, but I do have some pretty pictures. (Thanks, Tim!)

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MSR Advance Pro 2 UL tent I reviewed in January.

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Things are good! I like climbing hills to ski them. I also like reviewing gear, so expect more of that.

Up next on my to-review list: Arcteryx Theta SV ski bibs. (Spoiler alert: I have a lot to say about the hilariously small pockets. I look forward to the day when girl pockets are the same size as dude pockets.)

Powder Princess

This story is by no means a glamorous, Instagram-worthy write up. It’s more like a confession: forgive me Powder Gods, for I have been a whiny, defeated princess. I have a greater appreciation for all that ‘backcountry skiing’ entails and I have a lot of work to do. I will repent by spending more days in the resort, spending more time gear prepping and religiously observe bi-weekly leg day at the gym. Amen.

Here’s what happened:

A few weeks ago, I found myself in some sort of ditch, unable to wiggle-slide my skis any further; my feet were screaming, my legs were shaking with fatigue and I realized that I’d had it. I sat down in the ditch, on my skis, in utter defeat and felt hot tears well up into my eyes.

I hunched over and rested the heavy, P-O-S helmet — the same one a friend had long-term “borrowed” for me from a ski resort lost and found — on my arms, wrapped around my knees. All I could do was look down at the boots that I just could not seem to get to fit right. “This is hard,” I thought to myself.

It wasn’t just the boot pain or the hot fatigue shooting through my legs. It wasn’t the techy-tight tree skiing. It wasn’t the avalanche fear constantly simmering in the back of my mind. It was hard for me to admit defeat to someone that I respect so much. It was hard for me to accept that I’d tapped out.

That one day of skiing absolutely humbled me.

I like to think that I’m pretty strong for a girl. In fact, I like to think of myself as just a pretty capable ‘partner;’ no gender, no bias. Just a person that likes to wake up early, get out and do things. I like to think that if I set my mind to something, hell yeah, I can do it.

While yes, it’s true, I can get out and go skiing. No, I cannot pretend that I can keep up vis-a-vis with someone who has 15 years of experience. I can’t pretend like it doesn’t bother me to see him waiting, held-back and slowed-down by my inexperience. I try to brush off the feeling by expressing gratitude, by laughing at myself and by constantly trying hard to keep up.

In that moment, I’d finally run out of my signature effervescent energy.

The phrase that comes to mind is, “I hit a wall.” But it was more than that. The pain, the fear and the anxiety of being ‘good enough’ threw me right through that wall, into this ditch, onto my ass and past my ego.

Begrudgingly, I accepted my defeat and cried frustrated tears. I succumbed to full princess-mode. I was actively living out one of those girlfriend-trips-gone-wrong that I’d heard about from guy friends; and I realized that I was no better, not immune and yeah, the girlfriend crying in the ditch.

Meanwhile, my boyfriend called out to me. He wanted me to come under the trees and out of the ever-falling snow. But my sad little legs wouldn’t budge. I couldn’t even bring myself to pick up my helmet-heavy head from my hunched over position to tell him that I was struggling. (He obviously knew.)

I continued to look at my boots, ashamed.

For a little additional context, my ski boots have been a struggle since the day I got them. I’ve had them worked on. I’ve had the liners formed to my feet. But for whatever reason, I can’t quite seem to get the fit right. Some days, with the right socks and the right warm-up, they feel pretty alright. Sometimes I even forget that I have issues with them. But other days, my feet cramp in my arch and forefoot. The cramping causes my legs to try to compensate. Before I know it, my knees are shaking like leaves and I have to stop, unbuckle and work myself up to try it again.

I took a deep breath in, put my skins back on my skis and walked over to my boyfriend, Tim. It was hard for me to look him in the eye because I was so frustrated with my epic gear malfunction and so determined to be a savvy, capable and competent partner.

We started climbing back up the hill in the direction of the truck in silence. I was strangely glad (relieved) to have had such an emotional outburst.

If I’d been out there with a different partner, I probably would have had an epic (of the gong-show variety) but better held it together. Unfortunately for Tim, I absolutely trust him and knew that I could be completely vulnerable. I didn’t know the extent of my willingness to be vulnerable until my full-fledged princess moment.

Even though I am not proud of my princess moment, I think I learned a lot from that experience. I think I realized the extent of my trust of Tim, both for his backcountry savvy and his patience with me. And I think I also realized how silly it is to dive in too deep, too fast. Doesn’t matter how good the powder is.

I have a lot of respect for the mountains, my mortality and the constant learning process that flows between the two. I’m lucky that I have a strong enough partner that I can get into a situation where I am safe and realize that I’m in over my head.

It’s kind of funny that this is what I was playing on my mini speaker all that day.