Love Letter

Dear Smith,
Hey. It’s me. I’m writing you from El Potrero Chico in Mexico. I just wanted to say that I miss you terribly. My new friends here tell me that I shouldn’t, that the climbing is better here — but don’t worry. I know they’re wrong.
Since coming here, I’ve climbed beautiful textured slabs. Pitch-after-pitch of bolted goodness. I’ve kicked cacti (ouch.) I’ve seen colorful lizards mid-route and disturbingly large millipedes. I’ve lead my first 11c, 11d and 12a (and clipped the chains!)
But it’s no Smith.
The views are great, but I miss the Crooked River. The approaches are so short, but I prefer the hike to the Marsupials. The rock has all kinds of features (read: tufas!) and it’s incredibly fun to climb; but it doesn’t kick my ass and inspire me like you do. I’ve attempted harder grades here and had more readily available success; but there’s something to be said of a hard-earned 11b. There’s something to be said of classic-Smith, god-awful runouts to anchor chains… The spooky distance between bolts… And the triumph you feel at the completion of each new route.
It’s been good here in Mexico, but it ain’t no Smith.
See you soon,
Mal

Self Portrait

I could paint, but the colors would be wrong and the strokes splotchy. I could draw, but my hand is clumsy and my focus is imbalanced. I fixate too closely on small details and often lose sight of the broader picture, which isn’t exclusive to my artistic endeavors.

So I write. I trust that I can come up with the right words to depict the world around me and the world within.

Right now, I’m a girl in a corner coffeeshop typing on a Macbook. My hair is tucked into a pair of messy buns. My attire suggests that I’m athletic, maybe even “outdoorsy.” I wear a pair of boots trimmed with cozy faux fir in anticipation for winter temperatures. An unlined notebook is flopped open beside me, filled with my distinctly feminine but sloppy chicken-scratch. Around me, people chit-chat over slightly overpriced bistro-fare lunch; the atmosphere is rustic, classy and casual. Big windows let in plenty of natural light and allow the occasional passerby to look in. A line forms at the counter; it’s comfortably busy.

Within, I feel like a transplant. A Washingtonian in Bend, Oregon. A tourist on an extended vacation without the relaxing connotation. But this is just my life. I’m on a journey and likely to be a tourist for years to come. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a high school boyfriend when I was 17; I remember telling him that I liked traveling because you’re supposed to feel different on the road, supposed to feel like you don’t quite belong. In my day-to-day, I’m constantly a traveler. Continuously slightly removed. Even in the small town where I grew up.

This Washingtonian came to Oregon to climb. I chose to extend my adventure because I fell in love. There’s something about the winding country roads, the expansive grassland between me and now snowcapped mountains, the disjunctive upthrust of cliffs from otherwise flatland that hosts hundreds of climbing routes… No single aspect of Central Oregon has forced me to stay — Smith Rock included, because there’s climbing elsewhere — but the feeling is right. Home for now. Where I’m meant to be.

Buddhism teaches that we all host a little Buddha-nature within. Christianity teaches that you can let Jesus into your heart and that God is everywhere. Personally, I’m more inclined to a Buddhist approach to spirituality, but I think that this teaching resonates regardless of its origin.

In Oregon, I find that I’m often doing things that I love. I’m around people that love to climb, love to adventure and love life. I regularly interact with them in the shop, at the crag or in friendly conversations. It feels as though I’m marinating in this love of life, in my chosen climbing lifestyle, in a life of love. The more I love, the more I have love to give.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m making moves toward enlightenment — as Buddhist teachings might encourage me to do — my path is love and love is my light. Like an onlooker in an art gallery, you can read my writings and feel that light.

Better

I came to Smith with the intention of hanging out through October, peak season, when the desert temperature drops and crimpacity (crimp-capacity) rises dramatically. I was told that there would be work for me and that I’d have my hands full.

As I’ve written in previous posts, I chose to stay because of the community that I’ve found here. But I don’t think I’ve said much beyond gushing about how happy I am to be here. Well, let’s fix that.

In each of my endeavors, whether it’s climbing, writing, taking photos or working toward my dream of becoming a mountain guide, I get support from my community. It happens in little ways, like when people tell me “That’s rad!” in passing. And more direct ways, like my friends belaying and cheering me up a challenging line. Or even more importantly, like when people cite my flaws and tell me that they expect more of me. That I can. I can write better, I can climb better, I can dream bigger, I can do better.

Slowly but surely, I’m working toward 10,000 hours in climbing, photography, writing. But it’s no solo endeavor. I’m better off because of the people around me.

FA & FU

I have a lot of disparate thoughts rolling around in my head right now. However, I can nail down two pretty simply:

1.) I got my first, first ascent.

2.) Fuck Donald Trump.

I cannot ignore the state of my backward country, the state of my disheartened community and the significance of the times. America just collectively decided that Donald Trump — a racist, lying, misogynistic animal of a man — will best represent our domestic and international interests for four years to come. Despite my love for the Pacific Northwest and my modern heritage — the brave, opinionated, conscientious and compassionate people that have nurtured me into the adult I am today — I am ashamed to identify as an American.

However, it does little to complain to Facebook about how fucked up it all is. It’s not enough to apathetically watch from the sidelines. I’m no political activist, but I can certainly evoke some of the change I wish to see in the world. It begins with the small decisions I make each day: am I kind to those around me? Do I participate in building community? Do I take pride in the things that I do? Do I dedicate myself to doing things that benefit others? Yes. As much as I possibly can, I do.

I’ve learned a lot from the climbing community in Smith. Here, I feel supported and encouraged. People want to see me succeed. And it’s contagious, because I feel all of the same sentiment. Together we’re stronger. I believe the same holds true of political affairs.

About a month and a half ago, my friend Alan introduced me to the idea of developing routes in high, obscure corners of the park. Alan, only 24 years old, has dedicated countless hours and a considerable chunk of his own change into developing new climbs, trails and terraces to ensure ease of access.

For most climbers, nabbing a first ascent is appealing. It’s gratifying to know that you were the first person to spot a line, work out the moves and then see it through. It certainly appeals to the ego. But it takes a lot of work: cleaning loose rock with a hammer and crowbar, puzzling out a safe distance between future bolts, drilling the bolt holes, hammering the bolts in and placing the hangers.

For many, just climbing someone else’s established line begets the fix they’re after. But as my friend Chris says, development is a creative endeavor. Actually, it’s more than that. It’s a labor of love. It’s seeing beyond your own climbing and giving back to the broader climbing community.

With Alan’s oversight and willingness to show me the ways, I bolted my first line in the Marsupials. Atop a scree gully, my sweet little line sits high above anything else in the park. The view is spectacular. The climb follows an arete, utilizing negligible features in the rock to a pumpy finish. After completing the first ascent, I named it Your Highness and believe it to be a hard 11a, bordering on 11b.

I am extremely grateful to Alan, Chris and everyone else in the climbing community (local and beyond.) Without the support of numerous people in my life, I wouldn’t be able to experience the rich happiness of accomplishing my first, first ascent.

I hope that people will climb my line and find as much joy as I did in cleaning, projecting and later sending.

In sum, I’d like to acknowledge the tumultuous state and disturbing trends of current events, especially pertaining to the election. But don’t let it distract you from the beauty and possibility of your immediate surroundings. Be good to yourself and to your community. Be kind. Be compassionate. Do well for yourself and for others.

Be excellent to each other and everything will be okay.

On being brave

Besides lead falls, there are other things I’m afraid of.

Like allowing myself to shed a frustrated tear when a boulder problem repeatedly shuts me down.

Like telling people passing through the shop that yeah, I work in a climbing shop but I really don’t climb that hard (yet.)

Like telling people that I love that I can’t be there with them because I have to selfishly pursue something as trivial as repeatedly scaling rock faces.

Like committing to a career and suffering through days behind a desk when I could be outside and doing what I love.

Climbing is an art form and lifestyle that repeatedly shoves fear in your face. It springs itself upon you and you have to decide what you’re going to do with it: listen to it and back down, ease off and choose a safer alternative? Or do you quell it and prove to yourself that you are capable, competent and strong?

I’m a climber. I’m not a particularly strong or brave climber, but goddamn it, I’ve got a little fight in me.

F-falling!

Yesterday, I reluctantly pulled myself from my cozy bed and gathered my things to go climbing. The weather was slightly overcast and gauzy clouds draped themselves over the rocks. It seemed like conditions were going to be so-so, but we pushed forward with our plans.

We started on a damp 10- climb that’s spooked me in the past. Given the conditions, I decided not to lead it. Normally, Alan (one of my constant partners at Smith) will pull the rope and laugh at me when I tell him that I’m scared. With him, I’ve consistently onsighted and attempted harder climbs than with any other partner. Each time I climb with Alan, I feel like I get a little stronger. It also helps that he’s a solid 12 climber and projects 13s and 14s.

Fast forward a few climbs and I’m leading a 10c, feet above my last bolt and a small ledge. Fear creeps into my mind and down into my now shaking foot.

I call down to my belayer, “Chris, I think I’m gonna fall.”

Immediately, both of the guys start cheering me on, telling me to stick with it, find my feet, move up, you got this, etc.

But my mind isn’t having any of that positivity nonsense. Instead, I’m fixated on the fact that when I inevitably fall, it’s going to be a long whip given the distance between me and my last bolt. And it happens.

And – surprise – I’m totally fine.

I’m shaking, laughing nervously and finding myself temporarily unable to make eye contact with the guys because I’m embarrassed. I hate falling on lead not for the fear that caused me to fall, but for the way it messes with my headgame.

If lead climbing – especially onsight climbing – is a blank canvas open to your creative interpretation; falling is a disjunctive ink splatter that disrupts the flow.

But it’s not the end of the world. You can incorporate the splatter and then later use your experience to make better art, climb harder, etc. But it still gets to me and the guys knew it.

I start to try to talk my way out of the climb, “I don’t know guys… I just got really scared.” I’m still smiling and laughing, but shaking like a leaf. The adrenaline jolt has woken me up and the part of my brain that handles fear is galvanized. But, being good climbing partners, they tell me that they’re not going to let me down that easy.

I take a moment. Gather my thoughts. And prepare myself to continue up. They’re right, I shouldn’t give up that easy. They also give me good pointers about using my feet, focusing my attention and shifting my weight to better grip the rock. It becomes obvious to me that these guys have been climbing longer and harder than I have; and I’m grateful for it.

Yesterday, I realized the length of the road ahead in my climbing career. I’m going to have to struggle my way up many more climbs, finesse others and fall from time to time. And  you know what? I’m psyched.

Meaning

Why climb?

Today I was asked — point blank — why do you climb?

As someone who chronically find themselves overthinking, philosophizing and sometimes detaching completely from the present… I have to admit, I gave a totally weak answer: something, something about “there’s nothing else I’d rather do.”

But I’ve been thinking some more about this idea and a more profound truth came to me: there is no “why I climb.” Pure and simple, climbing is just what I love to do. Why wouldn’t I do what I love?

And now that I’m thinking a bit more critically about it, I wonder why someone would need an answer to stand behind doing something that they love. Too often, I think that we are told that we should do things we’re good at, we should do things that will make us money and that we should do things.

When your life becomes a constant cycle of “What should I be doing?” or “I’m doing what I should be doing,” I think it becomes all to easy to lose sight of your simplest, truest “why.” In other words, when you’re doing what you’re naturally suited to do, you don’t need a reason because you have no reason to doubt yourself. You’re just manifesting your truth.

Happiness

Happiness is not:

A van. A man. A place. A time. A grade. A thing.

Happiness is carefully saving your money, investing your time and energy into building out your van so that you can comfortably live your dream for weeks on end.

Happiness is trusting a man to let you live your dream and come back to him when you’re ready. Happiness is recognizing that he’s sad to see you go, but happy to see you chase your dreams.

Happiness is following your heart to a new home, new homies and a new landscape hundreds of miles from where you grew up and feeling accepted, welcome, ready to relax and enjoy what life has to offer.

Happiness is recognizing that you’re on a lifelong journey with highs, lows, summits and valleys. Happiness is accepting where and who you are along each step of the way.

Happiness is recognizing that you’ve worked really hard to lead 10+, recognizing that grades are irrelevant and joy is the real reason why you do what you do.

Happiness is a state of mind.

 

Craig Stevens

Just wanted to give a shoutout to my homie Craig Stevens for the photo that I’m now using as the cover for my blog. It was taken just outside of Bend, OR in the Meadow Camp boulders, which will be covered in the upcoming Central Oregon bouldering guide. Yay, Craig!

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Lemonade

If you’re an odd girl like me, be strong. I’d never trade my bold personality to fit the norm. When I encounter odd girls like me, it stokes me out because I know that “well behaved women seldom make history.” Be brave. Go forth. Make history. Make motherfucking lemonade.

Life gave me the gift of lemons today. For a moment, I found myself flung from the presence and mindfulness that has rooted me to my new home. It’s hard for me to admit this publicly, but I know we all experience it from time to time: I was grappling with a bout of social anxiety.

My whole life, I’ve been quirky. It started when I pushed my mom away as a toddler, telling her: I do it by all myself. I’ve been a tomboy. I’ve been loud. I’ve been outspoken. I’ve used vulgarity. I’ve been terrifically sarcastic. I’ve been justly and unjustly opinionated. Throughout my whole life, I’ve been very, very Mallorie. Love me or hate me, I’m just me. I don’t know how to be anything else.

At a glance, I’m kind of like a kiwi or something. Kinda gnarly and rough at first take, but soft on the inside. When there’s drama in my life, I really struggle. I’ve never been the type of girl to have a solid girl-crew or even to claim my femininity. I’d much rather keep up with the boys; no drama, no bullshit, just do it.

Girls have always been a sore subject for me. I’m friendly with girls, sure, but I don’t understand how to be a delicate lady-flower. I don’t know how to tone it down. I don’t know how to be cute. I don’t know how to be pretty. I can be pretty singularly-focused and often times, it’s to the detriment of my female relationships.

[Realizing as I’m writing this: Uh-oh, this might be a long one…]

In high school, I had a few female best friends, but nothing that lasted more than two years (ish.) There was a moment when I was incredibly dedicated to springboard diving. It was my entire life. I spent hours each day developing dive sequences, dreaming up my next trick for an upcoming meet… I was so singularly focused that I lost sight of my team and drew resentment from the girls that didn’t understand me. They didn’t understand my need for isolation to obtain complete concentration to push my diving to new heights, new tricks and record setting scores.

One girl in particular decided that she’d had enough of my obscurity and turned otherwise un-opinionated teammates against me, talking behind my oblivious back. And let me tell you: it utterly broke my heart.

My whole world was diving and when I was able to see beyond my blinders, I only saw girls that had no desire to engage with me. This was only compounded by the fact that other members of my small sphere had decided that my relationship with my coach was inappropriate, as evidenced by the favoritism he demonstrated by attentively coaching me and providing me with every opportunity to thrive (how dare he.) I’d like to publicly say that he never did anything wrong and never overstepped a single boundary. But in a small community, gossip is fun — even at the cost of a teenage girl’s happiness and relative sanity.

So, all of that baggage out of the way: when a girl decides she has beef with me, I freak out. I don’t know what to do. I already feel like the odd-girl-out as it is, which I’ll acknowledge is part self-fulfilling prophecy and part I-don’t-give-a-shit-I-just-want-to-keep-up-with-the-boys. If you’re an odd girl like me, be strong. I’d never trade my bold personality to fit the norm. When I encounter odd girls like me, it stokes me out because I know that “well behaved women seldom make history.” Be brave. Go forth. Make history. Make motherfucking lemonade.