I believe in gravity

I’ve been visiting this coffee shop in Chattanooga with such frequency that the barista who comes in for the afternoon shift knows me by name. This is probably the closest thing to home that I’ve had in a few weeks.

I know that this (like all things in life) will come with an expiration date – the money will run out (not that there was much to begin with), bills will need to be paid, the dog fed and real life attended to.

Shooter says real life is for suckers

And yet, I’m still making plans to drive back out west and making some (if not all) of my 2015 plans work, roadblocks be DAMNED. I had been planning on leaving NYC in the springtime, which is one of many reasons why I had to resign from my job a month ago. I’d had one foot out the door for several months, but was scared to take the plunge completely. When presented with the opportunity to finally ask myself the right questions, there was no more beating around the bush. I wanted to leave – I wanted to let go of my old life.

So now I feel like I’ve been everywhere and nowhere at the same time, and the scary part is that I DID THIS. I dissolved my life, piece by piece, when I moved out of my apartment in October. You can say that all of this was predictable and yet, I’m still sitting here, surprised at how things have turned out.

I know that I should feel rich in experience right now, but I’m not entirely. Does that make me sound ungrateful? I’m just scared of starting over.

Change scares me; heights thrill me. Quick ‘n Dirty (5.8+). Photograph by Nick Lanphier

Birthdays can be a good place to create new beginnings. So are graduations and turning of new seasons. Daybreaks. Breakups. Career changes, parenthood, new loves and lost ones.

Mine was on January 4th, 2015.

I’ve always thought that the nice thing about being in your twenties is that you can be amorphous and that there are no set limitations on how many times you can change your dreams and goals. And then I had a light bulb moment when I realized, it didn’t matter when it happened. It could happen in ten years, maybe fifty. It could happen on a Tuesday.

Propelled with this new idea, I started making my way back to the northeast by way of Tennessee. And oh, Tennessee, you will always feel like home to me.

Home with my Dirtbag Climber family

Photograph by Nick Lanphier

Finally, southern sandstone in the WINTER. (It helps ease the pain of leaving sixty degree weather in Moab.) Last summer, we didn’t climb any of the boulders, but Elliot showed me the Brain (V6/7). I thought it was an impossible climb then, until I proved myself wrong when Zack and I went back last week.

Jon Cable and I used completely different beta: I got an extremely awkward cup with my right hand, flipped it to press and squeeze as I brought that foot in to step high and reach left for a crappy sloper. Meanwhile, Jon flashed the problem by, instead, crossing his right arm over to a slightly better sloper. (SPEAKING of slopers, Horse Pens? Go there.)

The Brain (V6/7). Did you know that you can boulder with tape gloves? Photograph by Zack Slade

Despite this week’s cold weather, this is prime climbing time for Tennessee Wall. Christina and I drove thirteen hours from Brooklyn, NY last April for three days and only climbed at Twall for one of those days. And it was glorious and worth it. Having completely fallen in love with what little we had seen (and there is so much), I came back once again in November. And now in February, the murmur of spring days far behind us, you can still bask in southern sandstone and golden sunbeams.

Nicole, Lauren and I warmed up on classic single pitches such as Multiple Use Area (5.9), Prerequisite for Excellence (5.8) and Golden Locks (5.9 but once a 5.8). Golden, which began with bouldering to a beauty of a splitter hand crack, was unparalleled in comparison.

Our morning view atop Golden Locks (5.9)


Nicole Millsaps eating up another perfect Twall crack!

Danny Birchman and I got all fired up about Love Handle (5.10b), and once I had another taste of Tennessee Wall roof, moved onto Infinite Pursuit (5.10c) with Izzy Isara. Love Handle was an amazing climb that varied from crack to some face to roof (yes we got to thread the love handle!), but the roof on Infinite felt infinitely more committing. Izzy asked, “Would you like to take some of my doubles with you?” Nooooo. I’ll be fine. I climb on a single rack in the Gunks all the time.

Oh, Kathy.

Without the double rack, I still pushed through the wider crack with minimal grunts and curses, but second guessed myself when I got to the roof crux. Just like a Gunks roof, right? Well, sort of. For a hot minute, I was considering bailing onto another climb to the right, but came back and committed to finishing the roof. Quite a bold section of climbing, in my opinion, but I know better than to expect anything less from Twall.

Psyched to have met Caroline and Rett. If you could ONLY climb ONE route at Twall, we’d all recommend Hungry for Heaven (5.10d) with about a million stars

I had a chance to speak with Rob Robinson, one of the first ascensionists, on the phone one evening. Even though the weather extinguished our plans to climb together, it was an exceptional moment for me. He briefly told me about the first time he laid eyes on this beautiful cliff line, and for a moment, I saw what he saw. I felt what he must have felt, and understood why he was compelled to share it with the rest of the climbing community at the time.

And then he told me to go for it: “You can always desk it later in life.”

In two months time, I have never been more confused and more certain at the same time (and that in itself is CONFUSING AS HELL). I flashback to the first days of climbing in the Gunks. A lot of times, it feels like this: starting over, learning from good teachers and putting a lot of faith in their hands as they dragged me up my first multi-pitch climbs.

Photograph by Nick Lanphier

Pete told me that I had to learn on my own the value of structure, and now that I’m beginning to, I hold in my hands this really unique and beautiful chance to rebuild things and remove what I don’t like. This means A LOT of things. It means accepting the free falling feeling that is happening right now. It means accepting that the knot in my stomach isn’t going to go away by itself and that I still need face my problems with my feet in front of me, instead of dragging behind. No matter how much I wish it, it’s not going to be as simple as things clicking and suddenly making sense.

It means that it’s time to start questioning myself less and believing in myself more, because if I second guess all of my choices, I’m living two different lives. And even though the view can mean uncertainty, I have to remind myself that we don’t always get to play the “what if” game.

It isn’t easy, but accepting that feeling of falling means I’ve got to stop fighting it. Lately, I feel as though I’m at war with myself and I don’t want to be, anymore. Izzy said to me after Infinite Pursuit: “You made me realize that you are the primary piece of protection…everything else is redundancy in the system.”

Everything else is redundancy in the system. I am the primary piece.

I am the primary piece. Photograph by Nick Lanphier

The fall is only temporary; it’s just like anything else in life. It’s about having enough patience and fortitude to wait for the inevitable landing. I can’t do anything to change that. I can only worry about changing what’s in my control before then. And why not try and enjoy the view on the way down?