“Either”

Helen Keller once said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” That quote is tattooed on one of my friend’s arms. While it will stick with him in a different sense than it will stick with me, it remains all the same.

Generally speaking, I like that quote. It’s inspiring. But right now, as I’m sitting here on the couch and deciding what to do with myself, it would be easy to cast myself on the “nothing” end of the spectrum.

I don’t think that’s accurate.

When I scroll through my social media feeds — Instagram in particular — I’m genuinely excited to see what other people are doing. It’s one daring adventure after another. Truthfully, I’m also a little jealous of all of the adventures I’m not having. I think we all do this from time to time.

My point, in all of this, is that life is not “either” a daring adventure or nothing at all. Sometimes, life is a daring adventure. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like much of an adventure at all. In order to have mountains, there must be valleys, too.

Misplaced Climber Girl

My life took a surprising turn recently.

Earlier this month, I was happily climbing in Mexico but missing home sweet Smith Rock. I was anxiously anticipating getting back to that sweet, sweet techy slab after nabbing my first 12a. The plan was to triumphantly return home — brimming with confidence — and crush it.

And then my housing arrangement in Oregon fell through.

At about the same time, my friend told me about a job at Crystal Mountain ski resort. She’d also found me a place to live nearby.

Conveniently, my whole life was packed in my car and parked in front of my folks’ house in Washington. More than I believe in “signs,” I definitely believe in flow. My flow was taking me to Crystal.

Day one on the mountain: I nearly drooled on myself looking at Rainier from my (now daily) gondola commute. Beneath me, the resort looked enormous. I saw treelines, steep groomers, meandering trails… I was dangling above an enormous playground that I was about to have wide-open access to. (Is this even real life? It can’t be!)

Day two on the mountain: Humbled. Ohhhhhh soooooo humbled. Turns out climbing in Mexico for three weeks isn’t good training for skiing. Instead of reading the map and choosing an easy route to warm up on, I decided to wing it. Just go for it. And then I found myself skiing steep trees and praying to god to have mercy on my tumbling soul. At the end of my first run, my legs were shaking and my feet were aching something fierce. I had done a terrible job fitting my boots and could hardly get myself back to the lift.

Today was different. Today, I wore boots that fit. I wore goggles that both shielded my eyes from falling snow and allowed me to interpret terrain. My clothes were warm. My skis were the proper length and f%cking fun. While I definitely took falls, I took them with a shit-eating-grin on my face. I brushed myself off and then charged down the next hill. I felt out the edges of each of my skis, cutting tight and wide turns in the snow. I found myself a few powder pockets and looked around — amazed that nobody else had beaten me to it — and went for it.

As I got to work today, I noticed that my fingertips are starting to fall apart. The callouses are withering away, but I don’t think I’m going to need them for a while.

Today I discovered that I’m more than just a climber. I’m a goddamn skier, too.

And I’m STOKED.

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.

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.

This Must Be the Place

Do me a favor, blast this song while you read this post.

I was driving Highway 97 by myself, windows down, some garbage pop song playing loud on the radio and I just knew: I can’t leave Terrebonne.

I’d just come down from climbing in the Marsupials — an obscure crag by Smith-classics standards — and was on my way to meet a friend to climb boulders outside of Bend when it became absolutely clear to me. Between my job, the climbing that I’m doing, the progress that I’m making, the people that I’m meeting, the life that I’m loving, I know this must be the place for me. This is home for now.

Falling

What I’ve learned from this line, project and even partnership is that it’s ok to fall. In whatever you do, commitment is what makes failure more formidable, success sweeter, friendship richer, life worth living.

I have this project. It’s haunting me. I think about it most every day.

From the beginning, the climb is committing. I reach around a corner to two thin, downward-angled rails and trust my fingertips alone to hold my entire body weight. Then, I lift my right foot high and hope that the friction between the rubber of my shoe and steep, featureless rock will allow me to stand and reach a high hold for my left hand. In this move, my right knee starts near my ribs and slowly, powerfully extends to improve my reach.

I can confidently pull the moves through the first two bolts. It’s the third bolt that I think about daily.

My left hand latches onto a feature vaguely reminiscent of a mushroom — I can’t think of a better way to describe it. It’s flat on the top — about the width of two quarters stacked on top of each other — connected to the wall by a short and stout stem as wide as a whiteboard marker, but only protruding about a half-inch from the face. As I’m writing this, I feel adrenaline spill from my forearms, through my wrists and into my fingers. My body knows the move but also knows how it feels to repeatedly fall from this feature. On a good go, I support my entire bodyweight — again — from the fingertips of my left hand, stand on negligible feet and throw for a blind right-hand sidepull.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen here. Each time, my friend Alan cheers me on right when I need it — right when the rational part of my brain starts panting, freaking out, “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!” — and then dutifully catches me when I fall. He’s patient. Tells me to try it again. Tells me I’ve got this; which we both know I do, it’s just a matter of combining physically challenging moves with mental commitment.

What I’ve learned from this line, project and even partnership is that it’s ok to fall. In whatever you do, commitment is what makes failure more formidable, success sweeter, friendship richer, life worth living.

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.

Process (Smith Update No. 3)

My hands have gotten tougher.

My heart has gotten softer.

My words mean less.

My relationships mean more.

If there’s any small amount of wisdom that I can impart, it’s that you don’t need to live out of a car to climb a lot and be happy. You don’t need to dirtbag. You don’t need to crush 5.13. You don’t even need to quit your desk job (though you may need to relocate to a desk job where climbing is fairly accessible.)

All you need to do is make climbing (or whatever it is you want to do) your priority, go out and do it. Be brave. Be bold. Just do it.