I’ve been living in Brooklyn, NY since I began rock climbing in 2010, but you couldn’t call me a city dweller. At first, it seemed utterly impossible to make all of the scattered pieces fit and pay my rent, feed my dog, and still get out as much as possible. After asking myself the question, “Do I want to survive or do I want to live?”, I was able to stop putting so much emphasis on making money and a lot of choices that followed became no brainers. And guess what? I can still pay my rent and my dog still gets fed, and we’re both much, much happier.
Rock climbing is in my blood the way that NYC is in my blood. I love the surge of excitement I get from packing my car and crossing over the bridge as much as I do that warm, tingly rush when making my way back, and seeing all of those magical lights for the first time again.
When I hear the word “adventure”, I don’t necessarily think of big mountains and vast oceans. I think about bushwhacking for unnecessary hours, wrong turns and car break downs, unexpected “no”s when all you want to hear is a “yes”, driving down unknown highways at 4 AM and the ever familiar retreat back to your car/apartment/campsite in blinding, freezing cold rain with no shell.
Most adventures begin sleeping on airport floors – obviously.
Mine went from sleeping in my car for a few spectacular (albeit, cold) days in Red River Gorge to the La Guardia airport floor. I made a floor buddy, drank some whiskey, and smuggled two pizza pies onto my flight before waking up to big, beautiful Tennessee skies. We had to forsake a trip to Horse Pens for an extra Twall day, but Zack and I got to climb at Stone Fort on Friday and Dirtbag friends Sasser, Mikey and Erick took me to Rocktown for the first time on Monday.
I made the most progress so far on Space (V8), but I’m really starting to believe all of the hype about colder temps and better friction. We joined a local named Ben, who was finishing up his day on some fun slab climbs across the Space/Odyssey corridor. Zack and I both sent a slab problem called Crystal Ball (V5) and Clarence Bowater Survival (Zack calls this one of the hardest V3s). I think that as far as bouldering goes, until I build some strength, bouldering slab climbs might be the way to go. (This is what I get for neglecting the BKB 30/40 boulder wall.)
Erick, Sasser, Mikey and I met a wandering soul in the parking lot who spent the day exploring the boulder field with us. Maybe LRC has me spoiled, but I thought that the Rocktown boulders were a little bit spread out. That being said, it has some of the best sandstone boulder problems I have ever attempted. Erick sent the classic Golden Showers (V5) and uphill and to the right, we worked the moves on a V5 called Blue. It’s a steep slab to a slabby arete that Justin Miller calls one of his all time favorites. It was a perfect Dirtbag day – and the cherry on top was the invert off-width V5 Erick took me to on the way out. It sits about a foot or so off of the ground with a painful jam before you throw your legs above your head. I know Nicole Millsaps is down to come back and work this one with me! (I loved being at the Red with this girl – I know for damn sure that any off-width or roof crack I could have put up, she would have followed. Her psyche goes on for days and days.)
Our wandering soul, Brian Swarthout, is a few months in on a cross country trip with thirteen more to go. Sometimes, when you’re several weeks in on a trip, meeting someone like Brian is necessary for resetting the psyche. I loved hearing about his travels from Portland to the east coast and we both shared a deep love for the New River Gorge (arguably one of the best sport and trad climbing destinations in the country). When I started keeping a blog this past summer, it was to let my mom know I was alive and to document my travels, mostly for myself but also because I love sharing my story with others. It’s through meeting other climbers and learning their stories that has kept me motivated to keep getting after it. It’s so easy to feel burned out or tired – especially after countless weeks of falling into the cycle of work and being on the road again. My trip is my story. My story is my life. I want how I live my life to encourage the people that I love to do the same.
The weekend was spent at beautiful Tennessee Wall, where gear placements are plentiful and the sandstone is bulletproof. And that view! There is no other place like Twall in the autumn season. Christina and I fell in love with the climbing this past April, and I knew from my first Tennessee trip that I would be back. Twall is like someone took the Gunks and flipped it on its side, then gave the roof/crack systems a bunch of steroids. It is…magnificent.
I honestly don’t know that I would climb anywhere else but Twall if I lived in Tennessee. In fact, I might move to Tennessee so that I CAN climb everything at Twall. Someday.
Mark Pugeda left the rainy gorge in West Virginia to join Lauren Morris, Kenzi and me at Twall. We headed west to avoid the weekend crowds and put up some great moderate cracks for everybody to climb. Ribbon Crack (5.7) offered a finger/hand crack with some awkward, polished feet and Quick and Dirty (5.8+) was in a left facing dihedral to a large flake that could be jammed, laid back, or both. There was an extremely spicy but fun 5.11+ called Seam Stress in between that we top roped for fun.
Never having spent any time in Paradise Falls, my landmark for finding climbs was Fists of Fury (5.12c), a seriously serious roof crack that is one hell of a climb. We had to hike a ways to find it. I don’t call many things or people in this life “bad ass”. (Indiana Jones is bad ass. Han Solo is bad ass. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is bad ass.) Fists of Fury is a BAD ASS MOTHER LOVING rock climb, period.
I had rigged a line to take photographs in the later part of the day. When we finished up, I rapped down and had already decided it was too late to start FoF. Kenzi got me psyched again and the next thing I knew, I’d tied into a rope and was racking up in the dark. Armed with a headlamp and two number 5s, I made my way up the first 15 feet of Fury. I’m not going to lie, just the START of the climb felt like 12c, full on. I worked the moves and the gear up to and over the lip, then down aided my pieces, came down and packed up for the night. I am feeling much more confident in the beginning moves and I will be back, without a doubt. My fists are ready…and furious.
Kirk Brode, who has become one of my favorite people in the south, sent me a surprise text that day. He told me that Misty Mountain would like me to wear their harnesses – and would I be down to be filmed climbing at Twall within the next few days?
That’s what I said. Followed by a LOT of smiling (and probably jumping up and down – but this cannot be confirmed).
Sunday morning, Kenzi, Lauren and I met Kevin Riley at the Twall parking lot after pancake breakfast and we hustled our way back up the hill after picking a line with good afternoon light. I would have loved to have gotten on and worked on Fists during the day light, but I didn’t think that watching me crawl up a squeeze chimney sized roof crack for seven hours would make for the best film footage.
We had originally picked a really wonderful 5.10+ called Orange Peel Express (only to back off after realizing that the flake was so hollow sounding). Moving over to Trimmed and Burned (5.10+), we gave it a gear beta burn (which involved brushing almost the entire route off – turns out not many people climb the west cliffs of Twall with as much frequency). Looking closer at the guidebook, I’m now positive that I’d climbed the first steep face of Trimmed and finished out on the crux of Heat Vision (5.10), nine feet right of Trimmed. After passing through the hueco, finding the most amazing horizontal for a hand jam (felt just like I was in the Gunks), I moved into the crux which consisted of slopers and water grooves (yayyyy slopers and water grooves).
My first go, I was desperate to figure out how to move through the crux. I wound up jamming an awkward, tight left fist that was ready to pop out at any second. Bringing my left foot high underneath me, I held my breath to balance and brought a right fist above my left and very carefully (and very quickly) stepped up to climb a few feet further to bolts.
And now, as I head back to the Chattanooga airport, I think about what an adventure November has been. I didn’t make it to the Valley. I haven’t made it out west yet. I don’t make enough money to justify long weekends in Red Rocks or the Creek. But I can tell you what I DID have: a whole buttload of fun. And November isn’t even over yet! 2014 is nearing the end but there are so many big dreams and big hopes for 2015 that I’m (literally!) sitting on the edge of my seat just thinking about it!
A big life doesn’t have to be too fast paced or jam packed with action. And truthfully, the less of these qualities I have, the bigger my life feels. The more I open my head, the more clearly I see things. For a great long while, after every to-do on my checklist got knocked off, I felt like I was getting closer to the next exit. Now, I check things off and see it more as doors opening, and sometimes windows, too (if that makes any sense).
This past year, especially, I’ve become really good at nesting and feeling at home wherever I go. I think it’s a good life skill to have, specifically one that you want if you’re a travelin’ vagabond. Tonight, I take my little big life back with me in one 35 liter backpack back to Astoria.
Home is kind of a funny thing. Maybe we should never make home a place, but instead, a feeling or state of being. Whatever my latitude and longitude is, whether I’m working or climbing (or neither and just being and existing), I know that the true joy of life comes from being content where I am, in whatever moment. For this reason, home is constantly changing for me.
When I moved out of my parents’ house for the first time looking for adventure, there was something inside of me that knew that I was also looking for a home. I’ve spent the better part of my twenties searching, trying to find my “place” in everything, in life, only to realize that what I’d been searching for for so long is something I carry within myself. Home is wherever I am at that particular moment in time. So, when I see those first lights flying into La Guardia, I’ll know that I’m already there.