Hard as Tuff

Recently, it dawned on me that it has almost been two years since I finished college. Here’s a quick recap of things I’ve done, jobs I’ve had and places I’ve lived:

  • June 2015. Diploma in hand. Bought myself a couple more cams, sights set on Squamish.
  • Ended up spending most of my summer in Washington Pass.
  • Got a job coaching my high school girls’ dive team. (I dove competitively in high school.)
  • Moved back to Bellingham. Started working at the climbing gym.
  • Opportunity popped up for me to work full time, 4-10s and use my degree. Hopped right on that… Until I realized that I wasn’t climbing enough, despite being out every weekend in the Cascades.
  • Climbed lots of rocks and a couple peaks with my partner in-and-out of the alpine: Tim Black.
  • Hello, Smith Rock! Fell in love with sport climbing. Hard.
  • Sent it down south to Mexico with megababe and lady crusher friend Carey. Climbed my first 12a (still pretty hyped on that.)
  • The plan was to return to Oregon, return to Smith and return to cold rocks. But my housing arrangement fell through (long story) and I found myself with a job and a place to live at Crystal Mountain.

And that brings us to the present: January 2017. I guess I still have 5 months until it’s been two years since I graduated college… But my brain isn’t always the best at time.

Today, I was inspired to write because I got to thinking about where I’m at in my career, given that it’s been almost two years. I put in my four years’ time, got my piece of paper that suggests I know how to read good (joking) and now look at me: I’m a part-time ski bum, part-time climbing bum and grappling with what to do with my personal process as time flows all around me.

I haven’t been working for material wealth; I haven’t been building the career that Western Washington University envisioned for me; however, I have been working. Hard.

Instead of doing professional networking, polishing my LinkedIn profile and collecting business casual blazers, I forced myself to move to a new place where I had to make new friends, new climbing partners and admit that I was a weak sport climber in a word-class sport crag. I got rid of most of my nice work clothes (most of my everything else, too.) I swallowed my ego, pushed aside my pride and suffered up a lot of spooky 5.10s.

When I could have easily stayed local (Bellingham) and climbed my way through the grades at Squamish — which I did, to be fair, but still have quite a ways to go — I chose instead to drive to Index, drive to Leavenworth, drive to Washington Pass where I knew that the climbing would be unfamiliar. I knew that the skills I’d collected from my previous experiences would come in handy, but I also knew that continuing my progression was more important than settling into a comfortable rhythm.

That’s also one of the main reasons why I quit my cushy desk job in Bellingham (I only lasted about 6 months.) I could have continued climbing on the weekends and pulling plastic during weekdays, but I knew it wasn’t enough for me. I knew that my climbing wouldn’t improve as rapidly as I wanted it to if I had just stuck around and been patient. That’s not how I operate. So I put in my two weeks, packed my life into my car and drove 7 hours by myself to a climbing area I’d never been to before.

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you know that there are times when I doubt myself. And if this is the first time you’re reading my work, welcome to the mindful madness that is Mallorie. I think a lot, so I write sometimes. I have boundless energy so I climb mountains. I climb mountains because things are much simpler up there. Out there. I belong there.

And that, in a long and roundabout way, brings me to who and where I am today. By no means do I climb the hardest; by no means do I shred the hardest on the ski hill; by no means do I even work the hardest; but by all means, I’ve worked damn hard to get where I am. I don’t waste my time doing what I think I “should” or worrying too much about what lies ahead. Instead, I work hard to carve my own path, to climb the rocks, to reach the peaks, to make meaningful connections and to make my limited time on this planet count.

I have the utmost respect for people who work hard at whatever they do. If your chosen career, hobby or activity brings you joy, passion and purpose, you know you’re on the right track. And while there may be moments of indecision, disjunctive plot twists and bumps along the way, ultimately, I think we’re all here to serve a purpose.

My calling is in the mountains and I fully intend to answer that call.

 

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Wholistic

Recently, I’ve begun to explore the upper bounds of my present climbing abilities. And believe it or not, I’ve discovered that there’s more to life than just climbing. (Blasphemy, I know.)

When I came to Smith Rock, I intentionally wanted to push the envelope. This week, I’ve lead a few 10+’s, onsighted an 11b and struggled up my first 12a on TR… Consider this post another benchmark. And don’t get me wrong — I’m not done. I have a lifetime of climbing ahead of me, but there’s more to it than that: I have a whole lifetime ahead of me.

I visited Bellingham (also known as Bellinghome) over the weekend. Driving 6+ hours back, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I certainly wasn’t prepared to be awestruck by the myriad colors of fall leaves; the crisp, coastal breeze; a mellow morning spent downtown. Everywhere I looked, I saw memories of a younger version of myself embedded throughout the city of subdued excitement. After briefly living the dirtbag dream in Smith Rock, I really appreciated some of the creature comforts that come along with living in the same place day after day, night after night. Having done both for a while, I now see pros and cons to each living arrangement.

One of the main reasons for returning to Bellingham was to visit my boyfriend Tim, who I’ve mentioned in a post or two before. A few of Tim’s signature traits are that he’s tall, often reserved, collected and pretty damn responsible. He’s the kind of guy you want to venture into the backcountry with because you know he’s going to be able to hold his own, whether you’re walking for miles on end or charging hard in a short 24-hour timeframe.

Tim is incredibly patient with my wildfire personality. Many people that know me well laugh at my constant extremes: stoked or unstoked. However, few people manage to guide me back to a comfortable baseline quiet-stoke like he does. I’m laughing at myself —  as someone who identifies as a climber — because truly, he’s my rock.

Mushy-gushy bullsh aside, I wanted to share with you something I’ve learned from being close to him: Tim loves to ski like I love to climb. But he isn’t preoccupied in developing a personal brand, a massive Instagram following, sponsorship from hip ski companies… He just works hard and skis harder. He loves it and doesn’t need to shove it in your face. And you know what? I love that about him. I think more people should be like Tim.

Climb for love

“Can we just take a second to appreciate how great it is to be here, to be alive and to do what we do?”

I was overwhelmed by it all. We’d just come out of the trees to an expansive view of Mount Baker and all of the surrounding peaks; the sun had recently set. The remaining light lingered over twinkling lights of British Columbia, fiery reds and oranges pressed up the blue, green hues of the mountains that surrounded us.

Tim walked back to where I was standing and kissed me. He doesn’t always say a lot, but I could tell he was stoked too. Somehow, he doesn’t need to.

I felt the need to document the moment so strongly that I couldn’t bring myself to take my phone out for a photo. I know that sounds ridiculous. But I couldn’t put a screen between myself and my surroundings for even a second to take a lousy iPhone photo. Instead, I breathed in the warm alpine breeze coming down from Heliotrope Ridge above. I’ll never forget that moment.

We started walking again. I smiled at Tim, even though he was ahead and wouldn’t see it.

I don’t know how I got so lucky. There’s something incredibly special about being in the mountains. It’s not something that I’m ready to describe in words; I’m too young and inexperienced. But whatever it is, I feel it so strongly that I can’t help but return again and again.

I don’t climb mountains for fun anymore. I climb for love.

The Great American Dirtbag Dream

First question: what do you love more than anything else in this world?

Hang on to the first thought that pops into your mind. I’m not you, so I have no way of knowing what that thing might be. Maybe you’re hyper-social and can’t spend a minute without your friends. Maybe you’ve found the love of your life and their name comes to mind. Maybe you’re a huge nerd for Star Wars or some other creative enterprise with a freaky cult following.

Second question: how do you demonstrate your love for your thing?

Think about your day-to-day. How are you spending your downtime? What about your uptime, if there is such a thing? I think that there are two parts to this answer. First, how often do you truly engage with your thing? And second, what are you willing to forgo to pursue your thing? More on this later.

Third question: when you think about your thing, do you feel happy?

I think most people have something that they hold near and dear to their heart. It seems to me that the happiest people take their thing and make it a priority in their life. I’ve encountered several people who are willing to procrastinate on their happiness by putting their thing aside for a more convenient time, like retirement 60 years down the line. While I’m not advocating for hedonism, I do mean to raise the point that your happiness should be a priority in your life. It’s too short not to.

Enough of this rhetorical nonsense.

Enter Mal: crack fanatic, pebble wrestler and camera-wielding crazy woman.

I recently took a long hard look at my life and the decisions I’ve been making, and you know what? I certainly don’t have it all figured out, but goddamn, am I lucky to know that my passion for climbing is my priority. It shows.

I like when people ask me what I do. It’s a great opportunity to gauge someone’s understanding of the pursuit of happiness. Depending on the person, I’ll either say, “I work my dream job at a climbing gym,” or I’ll say something about how my parents are gracious about my decision to work at a climbing gym despite finishing a four-year degree.

I don’t think it’s completely accurate to call my job at the gym my “dream job,” but it sounds nice, so I continue to use the phrase.

And don’t get me wrong, I love my job at the gym. I love showing people around my church of technicolor polyurethane. I love the way kids’ eyes light up when they run up to the walls. I know that feeling well.

Previously, I said that my passion-as-priority shows. What doesn’t show quite as readily are the sacrifices I’m making for my love. I’m constantly seeking small gigs and extra shifts to make ends meet. My type-A personality has toughened up – albeit only slightly – in response to peoples’ condescension about my career decisions.

First world problems, sure.

My dream job would have me climbing outside often, shooting photos and writing about life lessons harvested from numerous climbing partners and experiences. I’d be living out of a van with a nice man and a dog. (#relationshipgoals) The dirtbag dream!

Basically, I’m seeking the revised version of the American dream, which I’m going to call the great American dirtbag dream: do what you love and love what you do. Deal with the consequences.

How to Bellingham

Step one: Buy a used Subaru and a Patagonia puffy jacket.

These are staples around the City of Subdued Excitement. You will see them everywhere and without them, you’ll be sure to stand out. Even if you never, ever go to the mountains, at least you look like you can hang.

Step two: Choose an outdoor sport and consequently, your entire friend group.

Just get on Instagram or Tinder if you’re not sure which route to take. Do you see yourself as more of casual day hiker or adrenaline-junkie downhill mountain biker? Accomplished alpinist or dirtbag boulderer? Nearby Bellingham, you can ski, climb, hike, run, bike, kayak, downhill unicycle… the list goes on. And yeah, downhill unicycling is a thing.

Step three: Decide whether you’re actually going to do that sport or just say that you do.

There will be plenty of dudebros at the numerous breweries around town that will tell you all about slaying the gnar, but when you hit him up later to get out and get after it, he’s probably got a hangover and a good excuse not to go.

Step four: Just add weed!

When scanning Craigslist for your new digs, you’re definitely going to come across countless declarations of “420 friendly.” Bellingham is very 420 friendly.

Step five: Get yourself a restaurant job to support your gear addiction.

The job market in Bellingham is saturated with bright eyed, bushy tailed college grads. You might be washing dishes for a while despite getting your degree. Further, there’s all of the professionals that have lived elsewhere and settled in Bellingham to begin their families to claim the “real” jobs. They’ve earned it.

With your new sport and friend group – whether or not you actually do it – comes the cost of the equipment it takes to do it. An alpine touring set up doesn’t just materialize out of thin air! And if you’ve decided climbing is your jam, your homies aren’t going to be psyched when you want to repeatedly whip on their gear as you learn how to crush the crack. You need your own rack.

Hustle the tables, sling the ‘za or do whatever you need to do to get by.

Step six: Get out there and do your thing.

When you come home from a day in the mountains, you’ll immediately realize that Bellingham is actually a pretty special place.

In this town, it’s totally appropriate for your appearance to raise the question “Hipster or hobo?” as you make your way from coffee shop to co-op to bar. You could shower like a normal person, or you could have yourself a Bellingham shower by pulling a beanie over that tangled mess of nonsense you call your hair.

It’s okay because nobody cares what you look like. People want to talk to you about who you are, what you do and how it went, because in Bellingham, people are stoked on getting outside and having a good time. Everything else – like your crappy job or your janky Subaru – will figure itself out.

Good News

You can climb Washington in January… It’s just a little on the slow side and kind of painful. Good news, indeed.

I knew that there was a reason why there weren’t going to be a ton of people out there at Index over the weekend, but I didn’t really think much of it until we got started.

We rolled in sometime around 9pm or so – two friends and I in a Volvo station wagon – and all I could think was, “Oh jesus, I didn’t plan this very well.” There was thick snow. Everywhere.

Given that I’d only packed an ultralight backpacking tent intended for Washington’s more pleasant summer months and a 20 degree sleeping bag, I knew that it was going to be a cold night… or that I was going to have to find a cuddle buddy. And I wasn’t about to third-wheel in the back of a Volvo with a couple I’d recently met.

Cuddle buddy it was.

We met up with a fellow Bellingham climber, Stamati, and even though I knew it was rude…

“Hey Stamati! How are you? Can I sleep with you tonight?”

Yeah, I went there. But he was cool with it, so it turned out okay.

The four of us clambered into his camper and waited for the light to come back so that we could get down to the granite business we came to Index for.

Stamati and I watched the sun come up over Mount Index sometime around 9am and each wrestled with the internal struggle: to begin the day and get to climbing or to stay cozy beneath two sleeping bags, two blankets and two jackets in the back of the truck. Eventually, the urge to climb motivated us to begin making breakfast. Coffee helped, too.

Layered up and ready to rock, we made our way over to Japanese Gardens where I volunteered the first belay. It was the first time I had to decide whether or not to give a gloved belay… Definitely chose the gloves because I trusted that they would provide good traction.

Stamati boldly took the first frigid lead and proceeded to run up an Index 5.9 followed by an Index 5.11c. Jesus christ, the guy’s an animal. I guess warming up in 36 degree weather isn’t much of an option.

He took one whip. Then another. And then took a fat whip that made him decide to come down for a moment to rethink his life choices.

bigwhips.jpg
“Hey Stamati, how do you feel after taking that fat whip?” This face.

Another friend of mine put up a rope on Godzilla, an absurdly-trying-but-worth-it 5.9 on the Lower Town Wall. Feeling cocky and cozy in my numerous layers, I said to my party, “I think I’m going to try it on top rope and then decide whether not not to lead it.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever had the pleasure of watching a praying mantis do it’s praying mantis thing, but that’s basically how climbing this crack went.

If you don’t have the patience for video nonsense: It was really stupid slow. There was no way in hell I was going to lead that beast of a crack when I felt like my body was too cold to function.

There’s a reason why you’re body says, “Nope, nope, nope,” to climbing Washington in January. But I assure you, your body doesn’t know what it’s missing out on. It’s a slow and painful but good time.

#worthit