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.