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!


  1. I really love your writing. :) Can't wait to read more!

  2. I think I need to come visit you and stop being the "real climber's girlfriend"

  3. Thanks Alison! Thanks Karsten! And my awesome blogging buddy, you DEFINITELY should come visit - I would love to climb with you!!

    1. Hmm maybe I'll see about getting a cheap flight sometime this summer...If you're certified you'll know all the best spots!

  4. Hi susan, I followed Karsten's FB link and creeped on your post. It couldn't have come at a better time. I used to be a real climber, and then I decided to go back to school... And I'm already in my 30s! Your post definitely resonates and I can't wait to read more, it helps me to remember what I really came to the States for...