I am not a dirtbag.

Someone once told me: “Love is the heart of happiness.”

And in my travels, I’ve become a big believer that home will always be where the heart is. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had so many homes in so many different places these past few years. When I was dating Birk, our birthdays were three days apart. We had this beautiful birthday dinner at the Brown Cafe in NYC with all of our closest friends. They closed a part of the restaurant for us, created a special dinner menu and even had beautiful cards made to mark the occasion – it was lovely. Between the laughter and the wine, Birk turned to me and said with a little bit of that Colorado charm, “This is what I want life to be. Good friends, good food, and good wine.” And really, what more could you want? In that moment, those words struck my heart and I knew that that was all I really wanted out of this life.

Four years later, and that’s everything I have. Plus rock climbing and a snuggly puppy. Friends, support, unconditional animal love, plans. All so helpful. The future will be interesting. How many times have you heard people say the best things in life are free? Love, friendship, spirituality, nature. The way I see it, a lifestyle is fluid. Because the “climbing lifestyle” is so temperamental, it almost becomes fixed. A foundation of sorts.

I drove to Tennessee by way of Virginia, spending a day and a night with one of my best friends, Connie Magee. People like Connie and Zack have become such staples in my life for so many reasons. Our connection is rooted in climbing and over time, a deeper friendship sprung from it. Zack and I shared our thoughts about types of friends over morning coffee: There are those we called climbing friends, or “doing” friends – people we swap pitches, hang out with and genuinely enjoy the company of. And then there are “connecting” friends – those we do more than climb with, but also share life stories, experiences and values with. I am always thankful for a day well spent on a rock with a great belay partner, but words will never be able to express my gratitude for a belay from a true friend. I’m not even sure you can; it’s just something you embrace and feel happy about and move on.

  Zack giving a proper spot on what we thought was a 5.10 gear line (it wasn’t)

Zack giving a proper spot on what we thought was a 5.10 gear line (it wasn’t)

  Zack on his first off-width, Cracked Actor (5.10a)

Zack on his first off-width, Cracked Actor (5.10a)

Zack took me to Leda for the first time on Friday, which was interesting because few people had anything good to say about this roadside crag. I’m almost hesitant to write anything about Leda because we had the crag almost entirely to ourselves all day…a climber’s dream! Amazing rock quality with a variety of routes. Zack thinks that Leda receives such negative feedback because (like most crags I’ve been to), the moderate routes are actually much harder than the grade. Sandbag? Sandbag. Hey, thank you Gunks.

We warmed up on Free to Think (5.8), which began with long moves to a chockstone to then gain a corner crack. We then moved on to Cracked Actor (5.10a) which shared the same start as Free, but then moved left onto the face into a wider crack, and eventually changed to fingers. Not knowing the Tennessee area as well as others, I had been hoping to get on some off-width this trip. Having found one on the first day of a climbing trip, I knew we were off to a good start! I’m hoping to take a stab at Human Chew Toy (5.11d) at LRC this week. Zack had never been on an off-width before, and Scott told me that I was a horrible human being for suggesting Zack suffer on an 11-rated crack for his first one. Now I have all of the faith in the world that Zack will be fine. I think he’s really starting to dig crack climbing, which makes me especially excited for an Indian Creek trip! We are both really into salt and vinegar potato chips – we like to suffer, but only mildly.

  Running gear out on Cracked Actor before the finger crack

Running gear out on Cracked Actor before the finger crack

There is an extension to Cracked Actor, an 11c sport route atop Free to Think called Temple of Doom. It’s a couple of pump moves to an exposed dyno. The crux move is done with the anchors in your face – it’s literally two bolts to the chains and an absolute heartbreaker.

The best way to recover from heartbreak though is to climb the most beautiful crack you can find. Optimus Prime (5.9+) is a right facing arching crack that we hand jammed and chimneyed our way out to the exposure. Super thought provoking and fun! It was definitely the cherry on top of an already perfect day.

  Optimus Prime (5.9+) was the absolute gem of the day. Exposure, excitement, hand jams! It was love at first sight

Optimus Prime (5.9+) was the absolute gem of the day. Exposure, excitement, hand jams! It was love at first sight

Nick and Erick drove from Atlanta on Saturday to check out Sunset Park for the first time. We parked at the wrong parking lot and the percentage of rain for the day was at about sixty percent; when we pulled into the Craven’s parking lot, it had already started to rain. (Gaz always says, “Sixty percent chance of rain means forty percent chance of blue skies!”)

Nick and Erick started off by warming up on One-Ten (5.6); immediately after Erick rapped down from the anchors, the already gray sky blackened and the wind started picking up. There is nothing more intimidating and at the same time, exciting, to me than the moments before a rainstorm sets in. We began hiking it back to the car when we decided to park underneath the giant roof of the Drain Pipe (5.11a). The plan was to just eat lunch and stay dry, but I could only sit underneath a roof crack that big without being tempted to try it.

  Just a couple a’dirtbags…

Just a couple a’dirtbags…

Having wished I’d tried Disco Death March in the Gunks (a similar but shorter roof crack that leads to an off-width) a few weeks ago, I began racking slings to cams. WHY did we leave the number sixes in the car?! Also, why is it that when I climb with the Dirtbag climbers, there always seems to be a shortage of gear…? I’m a little concerned about this pattern forming. Maybe fifteen or twenty feet of what looked like number fours ahead of me, I put everything out of my mind and started up the initial cave crack. What a learning experience…

So it turns out that number fours are butterflies for me. I’ve always understood the mechanics of it but never had a chance to practice. Butterfly stacks (a form of hand stacks) is a technique using both hands when a crack is too wide for a regular hand jam. As a crack widens, stacks become less and less secure. I placed my hands together back to back, and after diving in fingers first, I cupped my hands to the side of the crack and tucked my thumbs down. Luckily I had the use of both right and left wall to get established into the initial start to place gear. Not sure if I even had enough with me, I was tentative to leave anything behind and bumped a lot of pieces along the horizontal crack. The roof was more of a lie back with high feet, which felt strenuous and scary. I looked below me and out left where three bolts had once been drilled in, long ago; now they were weathered and rusted away to nothingness. I touched the remnant and pieces of it flaked below to the ground. There was so much dust and moss on the rock that Erick probably needed to take several showers when he got back home.

  The Drain Pipe (5.11a). Butterflies give me butterflies. Photograph by Nick Lanphier

The Drain Pipe (5.11a). Butterflies give me butterflies. Photograph by Nick Lanphier

Because the crack felt like it went for miles and miles, because of what felt like a shortage of gear to me (the four section opened to fives), because there were NO FEET for what felt like more than a hot minute, I basically aided the initial start of the roof. I won’t deny it, it was scary and something I had no idea how to approach. The three of us didn’t even know if I could make it past the roof – let alone through the finishing off-width. About half way (maybe a little bit less, maybe a little bit more), I took that first deep breath of many and departed from my last four and pushed. And PUSHED. And grunted and screamed (and probably cursed). And although I’m pretty sure I didn’t make it look like there was any, I felt this rhythm and flow moving through the roof until I got to the edge and could thrutch and throw myself into the off-width pitch. Hearing Nick’s words of encouragement in the background gave me the ammunition to propel my body into the wide and out of the roof.

  Begin the traverse. Photograph by Nick Lanphier

Begin the traverse. Photograph by Nick Lanphier

  After pulling the lip, enter the off-width. A beauty

After pulling the lip, enter the off-width. A beauty

The off-width itself was just as spectacular. Using what I’ve learned about that style, I cammed body parts into sections of the crack by rotating them and pulling up. I made good use of my foot placements and when necessary, I utilized the outside edges of the crack when they became available to me. I especially used this for my legs, because they were much more stable than my hands – also, it was soaking, soaking, soaking wet from the rain. Excitement! I let as much weight as I could possibly hang on my jams, and ultimately, I did whatever worked for my body size and type. The feeling of pure joy when I made it to the top and lay claim to those bolted anchors…indescribable. Just full body bliss.

I went to dinner with Nick, Erick, Daisy and Shooter doges, Haley and Andrew that night. Tired. Sore. Thrashed and bleeding. Happy.

I am not a dirtbag. I have a job, I have an apartment, I work hard for a paycheck that I put towards gas and plane tickets, food in my stomach and food for my dog. People often joke and tell me what a dirtbag I really am. My response: “I’m not a dirtbag! I’m just gross.” (it’s true, I’m a little gross). I’ve never considered pursuing the “dirtbag lifestyle” – mostly because I really like my bathtub. And a well stocked fridge. Cooking meals at home in my Brooklyn kitchen. My array of quirky but adorable coffee mugs – which I obviously can’t bring with me on climbing trips, I’d break them all.

  So Brooklyn.

So Brooklyn.

Recently, one of my oldest childhood friends moved to Europe and dropped me a line. What we realized was that even though we live completely different lives (on separate continents nonetheless!), we are often going through the same life struggles. Neither of us wants to be single forever, but we also feel as though the lives we envision ourselves having are incompatible with the men we have met up until this point. We both wonder about sacrificing things, such as a relationship with substance, a family, financial stability, a career. Thoughts that often lead me to questions like: What am I doing with my life? What do I want to get out of it? And ultimately, ask myself, what kinds of sacrifices am I willing to make?

So if I never find that perfect life partner, or have kids of my own or buy a house, am Ireally sacrificing anything if I’m happier where I am now than I was when I started all of this? Is it a sacrifice if I’m doing something that I love? Yes and no. I guess there will always be a trade off.

This is what I have concluded: Climbing IS me. It is who I am. It is in my bones now, and it is my passion and it is everything. Have you ever heard the expression “Go beyond love”? I know what people might say about me. Maybe I AM a little obsessed. Passion and obsession go hand in hand. You need both of these things to get to where you’re going. They are both the fire that you use to make your dreams happen. Passion is beautiful and there are so many people in their lifetime who will never know such a thing. I can’t compromise a passion for a nine to five scenario – and it isn’t wrong to want that sort of thing. It isn’t wrong to not want it, either.

  Moving into the off-width pitch of The Drain Pipe. Photograph by Nick Lanphier

Moving into the off-width pitch of The Drain Pipe. Photograph by Nick Lanphier

Ever stand outside in the early morning and feel the sunlight on your face and suddenly feel like the entire world is just flinging doors open for you, left and right? That’s because it is. You’re opening yourself to the universe and the possibilities it holds and the universe is responding back. There are no husbands or babies in the near future for me, but that doesn’t mean I won’t have those things some day. My focus is shifted elsewhere – for the moment. I am edging away from the past and stumbling, falling, climbing ahead into unknown future days – which to me, will always be more exhilarating than settling for “safe”. Do I want those things? Of course a part of me wants those things. Do I want to get those things by playing it safe? Hell no.

We are risk takers, whether it be climbing an unknown route or moving our life to a new city, state, or continent. It’s about exploration – explore the world and we explore new parts of our hearts. The world is our playground. It teaches us about ourselves and if we don’t expand on it, then we don’t grow.

  Sunset Park. Silhouette. Photograph by Zack Slade

Sunset Park. Silhouette. Photograph by Zack Slade

You are everything you need to be. You have everything you need to get to where you’re going next, whatever that may be. You are young (as young as you want to be!) and vibrant and on the edge of so many, many possibilities. I will not let a bad day or moment of doubt or loneliness stand in my way – I acknowledge it sometimes (okay, a lot) because I have doubt often. But I’m not on anybody else’s schedule and it should always feel good to take my time learning more about myself and the things that I want in this life.

My friend’s words sparked a fire in my heart last week: “If there are any take-aways from this, let it be me telling you the thing I constantly try to tell myself: you are doing the right thing by refusing to ignore the possibilities of your life (even if everyone else does). You earned that proud feeling when you wake up in the morning and step outside to the places and things you always wanted.”

  Bring your big gear and game face. Photograph by Nick Lanphier

Bring your big gear and game face. Photograph by Nick Lanphier

I am not a dirtbag. I am not a dreamer or following a lifestyle. I am just living a life according to my own happiness. And there is always good food, great and amazing and supportive and loving friends (and wine).

And the passion you release is the passion you absorb.