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!

1 comment:

  1. Bruiser,

    I don't usually read blogs, in fact I think this one may be my first. That being said...THIS IS THE BEST F'ING BLOG I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE!!!! I am inspired to start blogging myself. Right now. Right here in the comments section of your blog. It all started in the Cedar Rock lodge. Finally getting to have a conversation with the rock climbers wife. It didn't take 5 seconds before she said something derogatory about my mother?! This one's got some zazz. Sometimes conversations are effortless. They just flow. I'm reminded of a scene from The Celestine Prophecy (not the cheesy movie, but the awesome book). Apparently, when all is right with the world, we intuitively know when it's time to talk and when it's time to listen. Apparently all was right with world. Being friends with Bruiser is easy if you can keep up. Such an amazing balance between really real and really bizarre. Then we talked about climbing. So nice to have someone totally validate the overwhelming interplay between fear and courage I have experienced as a climber. I can't wait to hear more about your journey.