Thursday, February 28, 2013

Adventure Takes A Sick Day

The Look.
If you are following along my latest narrative, I'm going to jerk you forward to the present day for a post. I'm taking my SPI Exam in just 9 days now. As I'm sitting here in front of the computer, I look a bit like Derek does on a typical high-allergy day: I have two tissues shoved up my nose, a plethora of over-the-counter cold remedies by my side, and a very annoyed look on my face. Those of you who know Derek know exactly the look I'm talking about.

I'm struggling with whether or not I made the right call for tomorrow – I decided to stay home and try to recuperate rather than go get another climbing day in anticipation of my exam. You see, I'm one of those obsessive studiers - you know that annoying kid in class who always does the reading, has the chapters outlined, asks annoying questions in class, and always, ALWAYS shows up at least 15 minutes before it's time. You may assume that I'm also one of those smart kids because of my nerdy, studying ways, but really, I was always one of the dumb kids. And that's why I study my ass off. Learning doesn't come very easily to me. I enjoy it, but I have to earn it.

So, now I'm sitting here. Having a mild freak out. Am I going to be ready in time? What if I don't get to go climbing again before the test? My brain is telling me that it's best to stay home, get better, get a few more days in, and just chill the F#%K out. My butterfly belly is reminding me that I was in Special Ed during grade school, and I need to work a hell of a lot harder than anyone else to make the grade.

Yeah, seriously, I was in the sloooooow class until 2nd or 3rd grade when I finally figured out that whole reading thing. And now I'm a librarian. Who is also trying to be a climbing guide. Go figure.

Anyway. It's okay. I do know that I'm going to be fine. Really. I have been putting in the time, I'm going to keep putting in the time. This is just a blip. Even my subconscious knows, deep, deep down, that if I fail, it's not going to be from a lack of trying.

How do I know this? Because I had a nightmare about failing the exam, and the reason I failed in my nightmare was because I had really bad hair. My mom was in the dream, and she told me so. She tried to make me wear a hat but I refused, and then I failed the exam because of my bad hair. Clearly, my subconscious is more worried about my hair than it is about my skills.

I'm going to go drink some orange juice...

Monday, February 25, 2013

Yes, I'm still posting about this

This post is part of a series. You can read previous posts from this series at Choosing Adventure Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). 

Joshua Tree

Sam became my climbing partner while Derek took his sixday long Rock Instructor Exam. Amazingly enough, this was the first time in my 10 year climbing history when my main climbing partner was someone other than my boyfriend or husband. I had climbed with other folks in group settings, but never had a dedicated partner like this. This change for me was both exhilarating and a little scary. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I knew this was an opportunity for me to really start pushing beyond my comfort zones and with Sam's support, I did.

My first order of business was to make my own tic list, something I rarely did when partnered with my objective driven husband. Not that I couldn't with Derek – he is ridiculously supportive of me pursuing anything even remotely related to climbing. Seriously, if I mention that I want to climb something, he gets this fanatical glow in his eyes that screams “YES, I have a rock climbing wife!” But, I've just become a bit intimidated by his own intensely motivated climbing goals. Remember – this is the kid who I took for his first day of outdoor climbing before he was old enough to drink (yeah, I'm a cradle robber) and now he's a freaking certified guide who can climb circles around me. 

I didn't get every climb on my tic list, but in six days I led more routes than I did in the entire previous year. (Now, to be fair, in the previous year I had worked full time, finished grad school, and got my home wiped out by a tornado. Still.) It sent a clear message to me that if I wanted to be a climber, I needed to do more than just get out and climb. I needed to set my own goals. I also needed to get out and climb with people other than my life partner, so that I wouldn't fall into the bad habit of relying on Derek to take care of everything on a climbing day.

In the upcoming summer, I would have plenty of opportunities to get out with a variety of folks while working and living at the Outward Bound Cedar Rock base camp in Western North Carolina. After Derek passed his exam (YAY DEREK!!!), our trio began the long drive back east. Derek and I left Sam in Alabama on our way to our new home in the green forests of the Appalachian Mountains.

Derek made this cool video about his Rock Instructor Exam for the climbing shoe company 5.10 -- they gave him a partial scholarship which was a huge help to us financially. 

Only 12 days until my SPI Exam with Fox Mountain Guides. I'm going to be wrapping up this story pretty quick!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Choosing Adventure, Part 3

February Caretaking

February was a much needed break from the high intensity of January. Derek and I drove south again to the more moderate temperatures in North Carolina and stayed in an actual house while we acted as temporary caretakers of the NCOBS Table Rock Base Camp. I enjoyed hot showers, a heated bedroom, a private toilet, and finally some real rest. We reset the school's bouldering cave during poor weather and climbed the many faces of Table Rock during good weather. I didn't do much growing, but I did do a bit of thinking. The conclusion I came to at the end of the month was that I needed to set my own climbing objectives, not just tag along for Derek's. I needed to start leading.

The Open Road... and Sam Latone

After our month of rest, Derek and I drove west, across the mind-numbingly boring, brown flatlands of the great plains into the sun scorched terrain of the Southwestern United States.

In Red Rock, Nevada, Derek and I were joined by our close friend Sam Latone. I think the fact that Sam was totally stoked to join our road trip, knowing that our living space comprised of one Toyota Matrix and one 3-person tent, demonstrates both the strength of our friendships as well as our overall stupidity. We made it maybe one night before we ran to Walmart so Sam could have his own tent. 

We did a little bit of everything while camping out in the Nevada desert. I led a couple of easy lines while Sam, an experienced sport climber, started really pushing himself into traditional routes. Derek was constantly thinking of his upcoming exam and practiced every skill he could. He guided Sam and I up long multi-pitch routes, short-roped us around varied terrain, and ran the 45 minute drill as frequently as he could convince either Sam or I to hang in a harness during that time. 

Sam and I spent a lot of time hanging out together, literally, as we hung in our harnesses at multi-pitch belays watching Derek lead off into the sky. We talked about everything and anything that came to mind. Frequently, we talked about my climbing, specifically my poor “lead head” – and how easily I got sketched out when leading routes. We also talked about how climbing wasn't really fun for me anymore, because I was so stressed out about my poor lead head, about not being a good climber. It was Sam's idea to stop focusing on fixing my fears and start focusing on just having fun. Get back to enjoying climbing. That was a kind of a break through for me – to focus on climbing for fun. I am so grateful to Sam for that and for all of the crazy conversations we had while dangling hundreds of feet in the air.

Sam and I ready to rappel after one of Derek's awesome mutli-pitch leads.

Sometimes while we were in the desert, the wind would really pick up. This was in no way fun. Our tent would flatten against our faces in the night, or during the day we would be blown around while climbing. One of these wind storms happened as our trio summitted the upper Solar Slab in Oak Creek Canyon. Derek's desire to practice short-roping became a practice in reality, as the easily 60 mph winds on the summit disturbed my balance and sent me into waves of dizziness. Derek kept me tethered to him, guided my steps, and guarded my safety as we went up and over the summit to the descent on the other side. When these high winds hit during the night, I burroughed deep into my sleeping bag, wrapped my head up in a hat to block out the noise, and pretended to sleep. I did not acknowledge how much the wind was really bothering me. It was just the wind. Why should it bother me? It was just wind. 

Our time at Red Rock went quickly, and soon we needed to head towards Joshua Tree to give Derek time to prepare for his exam on the actual terrain he would be tested. We crowded into our overloaded Matrix, lacking any visibility for the piles of stuff forced into the hatch-back, and drove across the bleak Mojave Desert to California.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Choosing Adventure, Part 2

With all the snow we've been getting today, it seems appropriate to post the next part of my story. Hope you all stay warm today and enjoy reading Part 2. This is a continuation from Choosing Adventure, Part 1.

Hitting the Road

There were many things to take care of before Derek and I could go on our road trip – but the biggest agenda item was me finishing grad school. During my last two semesters, Derek worked a summer season at the North Carolina Outward Bound School and then returned to Tuscaloosa to open Peregrine Climbing Guides with our close friend, Chris Latham.

Derek's employment at NCOBS and the opening of his own business laid the remaining framework for my own employment shift. After my December graduation, Derek and I would have about four months on the road before we both continued on to work at NCOBS for their next summer season. At the time, I anticipated returning to “library land” once the summer season was over. Once again, my future unfolded differently than I had planned.

The first phase of our adventure was set to take place in New Hampshire during January for an ice climbing season. In February, we were hired to act as temporary caretakers of the NCOBS base camp in Table Rock, NC. Then, in March we planned to head west towards Red Rock, Nevada and finally Joshua Tree, California where Derek would take his AMGA Rock Instructor exam. Derek's journey to becoming a Rock Instructor was, well, somewhat epic. But that's a different story.

Destination #1: New Hampshire

Derek and I spent nearly all of January camping and ice climbing in New Hampshire. It took me a while to realize how crucial this time was to my development as a climber, but now I have no doubts about its significance. As Derek and I drove away from our warm Southern climate to start our trip, I found myself fantasizing about the entire adventure. I romantically remembered our honey moon (another rock climbing road trip) and pictured a similar ideal setting for this trip – sleeping until the sun came up, fun days filled with moderate climbs, and tasty meals prepared primarily by Derek. I don't cook.

Our 3-season tent... my bad... (Derek wanted to buy a 4-season)
When we arrived in New Hampshire, I felt the cold reality of winter camping slap me hard. I spent the first week shivering with frost nipped fingers and toes, as I struggled with the most basic human tasks. I fumbled with zippers, I slogged clumsily through snow, I got my hand frozen stuck to my pee bottle. I slept poorly, and I woke poorly. I cried about 3 times a day. Minimum.

As miserable as I was while camping, things were worse when I was climbing. I flailed as an ice climber, my tools either skidded over the ice or broke off huge junks which invariable landed on my face. I had been told before this trip that you don't get the screaming-barfies more than once in a day. That's a LIE. I experienced waves of the screaming-barfies, and I was not happy about it.

Meanwhile, Derek became increasingly frustrated with his wimpy wife. He was ready for the adventure, he had objectives to conquer, mountains to master, and, to his complete and total exasperation, his wife was worried about zombies attacking in the middle of the night.

Yes, I was worried about zombies. I openly admit that I'm slightly insane.

A week of my simpering negativity and Derek's rabid ice climbing intensity had our friendship on thin ice. It seemed that our marriage could handle natural disasters of epic proportions, but not winter camping. I knew we were close to a breaking point when I was visualizing his face every time I swung an ice tool into whatever hard, brittle blue climb we were attempting. Thankfully, we had a solid heart-to-heart (read: screaming match), successfully circumventing my prior inclinations toward manslaughter. Derek needed to adjust his objectives to my abilities. And I needed to “just harden the fuck up.”

I did my best to adjust my attitude. I reserved my tears for special occasions, like when I froze something besides my hand to my pee bottle... cause damn. I stopped complaining about everything. I tried to focus on Derek's needs as much as my own. Derek, for his part, compromised his goals to meet me in the middle. We stopped attempting multi-pitch ice climbs since I couldn't stay warm at the belays. Derek picked out routes close to the road so we could retreat when I needed a break. He also fried up a pound of bacon on our tiny whisper lite stove, then let me eat the entire pound by myself.


I ate a pound of bacon. In less than 15 minutes. And I used the congealed, leftover grease as lip balm. Did I mention that I was a vegetarian before this trip? Do we understand what the cold does to me now, eh?

And then it finally happened.

I started developing the mental toughness that you need to be a climber. Oh, I still hated every miserable minute of being out in the cold. I still gave Derek dirty looks when he said foolish things like, “Do you want to lead something?” And I still worried about zombie attacks at night. But instead of crying to Derek about it, I picked up my ice tool and walked the dark road between our car and our tent alone. On Mount Washington, when I never really believed I would make it to the summit until I actually stepped foot on it, I didn't give into my doubts or give up. I put one snow-encrusted crampon in front of the other and kept moving. When the winds became so fierce that they knocked me to my face, I shoved my way back up and kept moving. And I was rewarded with one of the most beautiful views I've experienced in my life.

Base of Mt. Washington's Summit Cone

 I know that I still have a long way to go to be truly mentally-tough, to be as bad-ass as all of my climbing friends. But I am getting tougher, and I am getting better. And while I didn't understand it at the time, I now know how important that miserable, cold, lonely, tear filled month was to developing myself both as a climber and a partner. Special thanks to my love for putting up with me through it. And special thanks to my sister-in-law for convincing me not to murder him.

The next leg of the journey – North Carolina, then Westward. 

21 Days until my AMGA SPI Exam with Fox Mountain Guides!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Choosing Adventure, Part 1

In 23 days I will be taking my AMGA Single Pitch Instructor Exam through Fox Mountain Guides. It's been an interesting ride to get to this point. Here I am, almost 30 years old with a BA and a Masters under my belt, but instead of working in the fields of my education I am trying to be a rock climbing instructor. Did I mention that I'm almost 30?? Seriously, who starts a climbing career in their 30's??

This seems a little crazy at first glance. Honestly, it even seems crazy after a couple of glances. So I'd like to share with you the journey I've been on for the past two years. A lot has happened in that time, and that's what led me to be right here.

The first thing you need to know is that in most of my eleven year climbing history, I've been the “second” always following and never leading. I've been the girlfriend of the real climber, or the wife who is working full-time and can really only get outside on the occasional weekend at best – the fair weather weekend warrior. Climbing has always taken a backseat to other priorities in my life.

All of that changed about two years ago, when I was faced with a choice between the safe and stable future of 'grown-up jobs' for my husband and I, or the risky future of adventure. Derek and I had been working on our graduate degrees in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I was working full-time and completing my coursework by night. Derek had been trying to convince me that we should do a road trip after graduation, before settling into our 'grown-up' lives. I was not on board.

A road trip? Seriously? We needed to be saving up money for a house with a garden so we could have a home and make beautiful babies. I wanted to be like all of my wonderfully obnoxious friends, posting 50 pictures a day on Facebook of my drooling, pooping infants and forcing everyone to comment on how my babies were the cutest, because Derek's and my babies would be the cutest.

As I am a few years older than Derek, my biological clock was and is ticking a bit louder than his.

Then, something unforeseen happened. Something I never could have planned for. On April 27, 2011 a massive super cell of tornadoes swept through the Southeast, destroying entire towns and devastating the region. Our town, Tuscaloosa was severely hit.

While Derek and I huddled together in our bathroom, we felt the force of the tornado that demolished our apartment complex. We heard the screaming of wrought iron as it was ripped from the building, felt the blunt impact of cinder-blocks hitting our walls, and waited for the safety of our home to be blown away from us.

While we waited in total darkness, I believed we were about to die. It didn't matter what I had planned to do with my life anymore. My time was up, and all that mattered was what had already been done. And I had done nothing in my life. Nothing worth anything. Nothing but planning for a future that hadn't come yet. At least, that's what it felt like in the moment.

When the wind suddenly died down, I waited in disbelief. I sent up a shaky Hail Mary in case it wasn't over yet. It wasn't over, but that tornado had moved on at least. That tornado continued across Alabama and into Georgia, almost making it to Tennessee before it finally sputtered out. (See that tornado as it swirls over our home here or read my older posts about it here)

Back in Tuscaloosa, Derek and I emerged from our bathroom to find our unit relatively unscathed. The walls were dented from the impact of debris hitting them at over 200 miles an hour. The ceiling was the only thing protecting us from the rain above, as our roof had been ripped off. Surprisingly, all of our windows were intact, giving me the mistaken belief that everything was actually “okay.”

A quick look out of our front window crushed that belief without mercy. Our entire apartment complex, the small houses in our neighborhood, the ancient trees in the courtyard, every single thing was destroyed. All that remained were massive piles of rubble and people screaming under a low gray sky. Derek and I had been at the very edge of the tornado's wall, and we could see across the entire mile width of its wake. My reality permanently shifted when I saw the impact of the tornado's destruction.

That day, and everything that happened during and after, made my decision for me. I still want to be a mom. I still make plans for the future. But I realize now that I can make all the plans in the world, and then easily die before any of those plans came to fruition. Maybe that mindset is a bit extreme, but I do not want to sacrifice my present for a future that may never happen. And the next time I face death, I do not want to look back on my life and see nothing worth anything.

Later, when Derek and I settled back into a routine of school and work, we talked about the road trip again. This time, I said yes. It was the first step in my journey to becoming a rock climber. Not a rock climber's girlfriend or a rock climber's wife. A real rock climber. I had no idea how huge of an impact that trip would have on my life. But I did know that it would be an adventure.

This story to be continued... here!