About alexisv

In transit.

Climbing in Laos

Karis, Dave and I plan to meet in Bangkok.  My flight arrives slightly before his and Karis and I catch up while I sit on my bags outside the gate and we wait for him to arrive. Compared to Seattle, it is warm and muggy, and I’m jet lagged to the point of no longer being tired.  Karis has been in Thailand for two weeks and has a better understanding of the place—she’s found us a hotel in Chinatown for the night and we’ll spend the next day wandering markets before leaving for Laos the following morning.  The Chinese New Year is approaching and every market stall seems crammed with red lanterns and dresses.

It’s hard to explain Bangkok in any other way besides a sensory assault. It is loud and bright and smells like ten thousand things at once. It seems to be buildings forever, edged in black that is either mold or soot but either way adds to the density and the darkness.  Morning is a slow fog and then the sun is up and the heat sets in. The markets are overwhelming and I’m glad we’re headed to a quieter place for the next few days.

On Monday morning we catch a cab from the hotel to the airport and head to Vientiane, Laos.  From there we’ll take a bus down to Thakhek and a tuk tuk to the climbing camp.  As the plane approaches the earth I can already tell we are far from a bustling city. Laos beneath us is a tangled jungle of green and bright red soil. We touch down in Vientiane and are ushered in to a cab and as he drives us to the airport everything seems slightly slower, slightly quieter. The architecture is different—and it feels European in a way that Bangkok didn’t. Everything is bright sunlight and dusty red and colorful paint.


Bus station in Vientiane


Party bus!

At the bus station we pay $10 USD a piece for our tickets and climb in to the brightly colored double decker. Our luggage is below and the seats fill up but it isn’t overly crowded. The ceiling is a multitude of colors, with panels that have lights imbedded like a party bus. We take off on the highway and careen towards Thakhek. Laos is a country full of houses and rubble—construction both in process and abandoned; it’s hard to tell what’s still in progress and what’s been left to the elements.  As we pass by the huge houses there are people clustered around low tables and they barely look up at the bus on its shaky wheels. Occasionally there’s a person on the side of the road with a suitcase and we pull over for them to climb in. The highway is two lanes that is technically both directions but it’s hard to tell—the bus beeps frequently and veers around tuk tuks, scooters, anything moving slowly. Cows slowly cross at one point and the driver beeps frantically before swerving to avoid the barely reacting bovines.

By the time we make it to camp we’ve been on the road for around 7 hours, not including the flight and the tuk tuk we snagged from the bus stop in Thakhek.  The driver blatantly over charges us and pulls in to a gas station with a grin to tell his friend before he steers back to the road and drives in to the darkness.  Just as we’re starting to get nervous he might be taking us to a different place entirely he turns down a dirt road with a sign for Green Climbers Home.  The driver stops at a cluster of buildings and points towards them and then holds out his hand. We pay and step over electrified wires.  We walk toward the light of cabins looking for #62 but we can’t find numbers on anything. Karis turns and asks a woman leaving the main cabin/bar and she scoffs at us with a French accent “Camp #62? There’s no camp #62…” “Cabin 62?” “That’s the second camp. Down that road” and she points in to the darkness.  We step back over the electric wire and follow a road in to the dark. I’m travel weary and moving through a country where I don’t speak the language is starting to limit my patience and grace—I’m angry that the woman wasn’t more helpful and that the email with direction to our cabin is hopelessly vague despite feeling so certain when we left Bangkok this morning. My headlamp is still in my bag and I follow the circles of Dave and Karis and try not to stumble.

Finally we come to second gate and a second set of cabins with another bar.  The laughter here sounds softer, friendlier somehow. We find our cabin easily and ditch or bags before heading in to the main building.  Inside we walk to the counter and are met with smiles but blank stares until Thomas, one of the camp employees, walks up to welcome us. He walks us through check in, gives us our key, explains the no-cash system of writing down what we take and order in our well-worn notebook. We order food and as we’re waiting, Tanja, one of the owners, walks over.

Tanja is smiling and friendly. Her warmth and welcome erases any of the frustrations of travel and by the time we tumble in to bed, new guidebook in hand, mosquito nettings unfurled, it feels like a little like home.


In the morning we walk over to the bar for breakfast and I am undone by the landscape rising around us. It is a tangle of jungle with black limestone jutting out of the ground. There are peaks around us that look entirely untouched and rotten and cliffs soaring that look like something melted but standing, like the inside of a cave without the dampness. We eat, fill up our water bottles, and walk towards our first climb.

Here are a few things you should know about Green Climbers Home. Any time you see Tanja, she will be smiling.  The food is absolutely amazing and the people who work in the café are kind and patient.  Everything is labeled. Every. Single. Climb. Maybe this is because it’s a relatively young area—established around 5 years ago. Maybe it’s because it’s closer to a European style crag than anything I’ve seen in the states. I don’t know, but each climb has the name written directly below the first bolt. All the climbs we try are  very well bolted or slung and the guidebook is accurate with any corrections listed in the cafe. The slings are ropes through holes in the tufas and they seem in decent shape, though it is still a little unnerving to hear rock ping hollowly and to feel the vibration of a stalactite. The anchor system… is a work in progress. The initial anchors are two bolts with a loop of rope between and a belay ring on the lower bolt. The rope is the backup – but if the first bolt were to blow, the whole system would shock load.  Some of the newer anchors had a third bolt that seemed to help… but it still felt a little sketchy. Finally – the rock is SHARP. More about this below.

We climb mostly single pitch with the exception of Chinese New Year, a 4 pitch climb that I would never repeat. The third pitch is the crux and is super fun climbing, but the final pitch feels like climbing to Mordor on jet black knife edges. The rock is sharp and jutting—while the climbing is relatively easy, it is a complete no-fall-zone.  We summit at sunset and rappel down in the dark, crossing our fingers each time we pull from a rap and cheering when the rope comes back down to us. We snag a few times but manage to finesse the rope loose—any sharp tug feels like we’ll snap right through the sheath and core. My Achilles are both aching incredibly and I know I’m pretty much toast for the rest of the trip.



Sunset summit of Chinese New Year.


Dave crushing it

Thursday morning we check out and leave our bags in the gear storage. It’s sunny and beautiful and instead of climbing I’m moving in ways to be in less pain. My finger pads are shredded and my Achilles is screaming. I switch to photographer and David and Karis climb rock that looks like a playground and feels, to me, like broken glass.  They finish the day on a new route that is labelled but not in the guidebook, complete with a ladder start. Then its lunch and a cab ride back in to Thakhek.  We find a hotel along the water and watch the sun set over the Mekong.  The next morning we head back in to Bangkok with so much left unclimbed and so many things unexplored. I want to go back, and I want to do it differently, but that’s the way I feel about almost every place I’ve been, and I think that’s a good thing. So—who wants to go to Laos with me in 2018?


At the edge of the Mekong River


Watching the sunset over Thailand from the Laos side of the Mekong

Hiking Si

I don’t hike much on my own.  I can count the solo hikes I’ve been on pretty quickly–only one.  For me it’s similar to going to a bar alone.  Sure, I could, but why? I like company and conversation.  I like the feeling of working towards something with someone on a hike or a climb. So I was surprised last night when I started to plan a hike by myself without even thinking to ask anyone else if they wanted to join.  My achilles is still sore and after skiing all morning I wanted to do something at my own pace, without worrying about coordinating or discussing if turning around was a good idea.  Funny enough, a few friends of mine didn’t have the same solo trip in mind, but did want to do the same hike.  I went to sleep not sure if we were meeting up or not, but sure that I’d be headed out in the morning.

The drive out to North Bend was easy– little traffic, a little sun glare on the road.  I brought the dogs (so maybe this doesn’t really count as a solo hike?) and the trailhead parking lot was the emptiest I’ve seen for a midmorning start.

The first mile or so felt like another world.  There was sun in Seattle, but here it was mist and fog blurring between the trees.  Moss hung, mud squealched and we plodded along.  I heard the snow before I saw it, falling in thick clumps out of the trees.  I love the way snow slowly takes over as you switchback up a mountain. At first it’s visible just a little higher up, in tree branches and through the woods.  Then the trail starts to get slushy in shaded areas, mud melding in to packed snow and footprints. Eventually you turn and realize that snow is on all the branches and the light rain has switched over to flakes.  I put on my micro spikes and we countinued up for another mile or so until the dogs started to shiver and we turned around. 

On the way back we ran in to my friends on their way up. We gave hugs all around and chatted until the dogs started to whine and we continued our separate ways. 

Skyline Lake

The moments that echo are sometimes so small. Jodie and I decided to go snow shoeing last week, up to Skyline Lake. It’s an easy hike… a little steep but the switchbacks make it feel easier and all told it was just around three miles round trip. I had two maps folded in my pocket, protected in a zip lock, but we never needed them. We met a few people along the way but had the trail to ourselves for the most part. The lake was completely covered in ice and snow- it looked like a clearing in the woods more than a body of water. We paused at the edge and watched the pines across the lake sway almost imperceptibly in the wind. And although I hadn’t thought of it in years, suddenly I remembered the first time I did any yoga. Lois Harrod was leading us in simple sun salutations for a break between classes at Governor’s School. 12 teenagers, closing our eyes in mountain pose, feeling the grass of TCNJ on our toes and letting the summer sounds of the campus wash over us.

I don’t stay in touch with any of these people, but lately I’ve been thinking about them a lot. Laura’s laugh, Justin’s quiet strength as we stretched before heading out for a run before the day properly started. The guy I never really liked who called me a deer and wrote about sex in a confusing physical shape that was driven by want and not experience. But we were in high school. So much was awkward want. I know that Joey has a baby now, and makes beautiful objects like teapots and speakers. Justin has a baby too. Susannah’s smile is still broad and joyful, Laura has a dog and lives near D.C.  I know these things from social media and the occasional email.

I don’t write anymore. At least, I haven’t in a while. But I do yoga, and I move my body and still think of the the world in poetic form. Jodie and I kept going past the lake- we kept heading up the ridge until we found a garden of boulders, almost covered in snow. She kicked forward, plunging her pole to look for holes, and I followed. At the top we could see the valley, skiers like rice grains, fog and clouds rolling through. The wind bit at us and trees swayed but the ground we stood on was stable.

After Christmas I worked on a print from the boulder garden. I’m not sure it’s finished – but it will do for now.

Final(ish) print

Sky is too heavy.

Too dark, not enough light in the snow/sky.

First test print with ink.

Test print with stamp ink.

Before any printing.

Sketching out the plate.

Reference material and start of the print.

Somewhere in the middle of the tunnel

This morning I was talking to a friend of mine at work—a climber and dear friend who has known me longer than my boyfriend.  “How was the gym?” she asks, and I shrugged.

“Fine, but frustrating.” I tell her about a conversation I had with my boyfriend… I wasn’t feeling strong and I was trying to do the drills that Audrey put together for me—climbing mildly overhung easier routes with first one leg, then the other, then hovering over each hold before making contact.

“So… what exactly is this supposed to be doing?” he asked. I was crushed. I don’t think he meant anything by it, but it sounded so dismissive and I’m already so uncertain about training immediately all of the reasons Audrey gave me flew out of my head.

Later, I walked back to the weight room. Even half a dozen people makes the space feel crowded, and everyone seemed to have their timers going. There was one other woman, stretching, but she left fairly quickly. The rings were well above my reach, two guys were setting up lat pulls, there was a guy on the rowing machine, and a few guys were using the free weights. My boyfriend and his friend were doing core work and pull ups.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a woman in the weight room doing anything besides the bike. I can’t remember a single time I’ve been back there and the women outnumbered the men. My boyfriend asked “how much longer do you have?” and I shrugged. “I don’t know, I’m not doing my routine…” I gestured around the gym. “There isn’t room.”

The guy on the rings offered to let me cycle in—but I didn’t want to throw off his rest cycles and I would need to readjust everything and it just felt impossible. I took long enough stretching out that the gym slowly cleared and I got everything in, but that isn’t really the point. (When the guy on the rings left, he lowered everything for me… because everyone really is very nice, but that isn’t what this is about.)

I know I shouldn’t be crushed so easily, I know that I belong in the weight room just as much as any of the dudes (and have I mentioned that they are ALL always SO NICE? Not in a creepy way either, just genuinely helpful and kind). I know that I should have the will power to train on my own. I know that it will make me stronger and when I am stronger I will be happier… except, really? Will I be happier? I watch strong climbers still get frustrated when they can’t send a V6… while they dance up my project to get to the crux of their own project.

I used to find joy and grace in climbing. It used to be a safe place for me, where my friends congregated, what we did on weekends. It used to be something that was emotionally easy, not fraught. I don’t entirely know what shifted, and I keep trying to regain some of that ease that I had. One of my oldest climbing friends finally finished school and she and I have been meeting up again—that’s a good thing. And I’ve slowly starting to lead again, and it feels good. I’m scared though. I’m scared that I’m going to get injured and have to take months off again. I’m scared that the months off I had to take this year have knocked me so far back and out of habit that I’m starting over. I’m scared that helping run She Rocks has made it nearly impossible to do my own climbing—that I’ve helped start a community by failing myself. I’m scared that to focus on my own climbing means abandoning the community that means a lot to me, but I don’t have the partners to climb with if I don’t have the community.

I know nothing is as drastic as it feels. I know that anything goes in waves and I’m just in that transition, coming off of tendonitis, transitioning from weight training back in to climbing, transitioning from my own schedule to trying to match schedules with partners. I just wish it felt easier sometimes, and that I could feel as strong as I did that summer when I was working on leading 11’s at the gym, when I climbed through three partners in one night. Before I fractured my wrist, before I gave myself tendonitis, before friends moved away and lives changed and grew apart.

If there’s light at the middle of the tunnel, it’s knowing that I’ll be headed to Laos to see one of the first women I climbed with – we’re climbing, sure, but we’re also just having an adventure. And after that there’s the Flash Foxy festival down in Bishop. I want to be strong for both of these things, to work and learn from women, to laugh at the base of a climb and try something I think is above my ability and to do it anyway. And the only way to get there is to figure out a way to train and block out the voice that crushes me—in the weight room, in the bouldering area, on lead… because it’s just me, shutting myself down. But goddamn, it’s hard sometimes.


I used to be a runner. High school and college were scheduled around practice and meets.  I had a near permanent sports bra tan and my car was constantly full of discarded socks and a spare change of clothes. Then I went to grad school and running in the summer heat was just too oppressive, the roads were unfamiliar and although I talked to the coach of the team at UCR to try to volunteer, nothing came of it and I slowly fell out of habit. Running was still where I found solace—when I found out my dad had cancer I pulled on my sneakers and ran through a hailstorm around Green Lake and had welts on my arms and legs for days after. I ran with my roommate and used to promise myself that my wishes would come true if I could stick with him but he always outsprinted me and, in a way that I should have seen symbolic, I was left chasing him, collapsing on the grass to stretch when I hit the sign that marked our stopping point.


Then I found climbing and I got distracted, running sporadically. A 5k here or there, a few months of morning runs before letting sleep take back over, but it felt wrong to say: I run. I started doing more mountaineering and any running switched over to hiking, with a quick sprint thrown in once a month or so if someone asked me along for company.


But then Cate asked if I wanted to do the Headwaters Relay. A three day relay race across a state I’d never been to in the heat of the summer. Grueling and dusty, with an average of around 10 miles a day if we could find enough teammates, more if we were short. And of course I agreed, because I love relays, I love seeing friends, and I’d never been to Montana. I somehow convinced Devi that it’d be a good idea and we started running together at work. And throughout… my Achilles were nagging, hurting enough that I never went as far as I thought I should.


Yeah. Tendonitis. I should have known.


As the relay approached I knew I couldn’t run it—my PT kindly said “sure, we can consider it” but he and I both knew it wasn’t going to happen. Luckily Cate said there was room and I came out anyway to support the team.


It turns out that NOT running a relay race when you imprinted racing on your blood and body during some formative years is really hard.  I wasn’t quite sure where I fit in to the team—especially when even a sprint to see the start of the race hurt. So I cheered as loudly as I could, I drove when no one wanted to, I jumped in and out of the car to bring water and I tried to photograph everything while everyone else was just trying to make it through the dusty Montana landscape.


I’m excited to go back next year—and it reminds me why I’m doing this 8 week training program with Paige, even though I hate gyms and even though I really miss being able to eat whatever I want. It’s worth it. It will be worth it. Next year I’ll be as sore and exhausted as the rest of Team Honeybadger was. I can’t wait.

Hanger Hanger and Gym Phobia

I’ve been in a rough place lately. On the surface things are fine… happy home life bumping along at a fine pace, a boyfriend who is kind, his two dogs that love me unconditionally, a job that’s good and a team at work that not only supports me but sings my praises at points. I have good friends and I’m involved in both WAC and She Rocks.

So what’s up?

Sometimes… all the pieces line up and still things are wonky. Although I just started going to PT, if I’m being honest I’ve had pretty severe issues with my achilles since climbing Rainier last year. This means that a casual run resulted in severe pain… and wasn’t that conducive to going out for another casual run. As any runner (or non runner) can attest… when running becomes a once a month thing, it’s pretty painful. I know that yoga is good for me… but when the only class that works in my schedule starts at 6 am… it never happened. I know how to cook but when you’re cooking for yourself more than a group… chicken nuggets were in frequent rotation. There are a million other small decisions where I made the wrong call or gave up early and took the easy path. Climbing became top rope socialization. Running morphed in to a longish dog walk. The hike up to Snow 1 for WAC had me realizing that I didn’t belong in the alpine (and trying desperately to stretch my achilles through my mountaineering boots).

Inactivity led to weight gain and muscle loss which leads to weaker climbing and more painful hikes and instead of doing something, I crumbled.

And then I got inspired, threw myself back in and— found myself sobbing halfway up Calculus Crack in Squamish in more pain than I’ve ever experienced.

When a lot of your life revolves around physicality, falling apart is pretty emotionally rough. I’m not a strong leader right now, and I have no place trying to teach anyone skills. I feel like an impostor even attending She Rocks events, let alone organizing them. I feel like a failure when I’m helping select the students for the Intermediate Class for WAC.

If I step back and look at when I was in the best shape, there were a lot of other broken things in my life. I was in a pretty emotionally abusive relationship and I was fighting just about everything, trying to keep my head above water in an emotional sense. It’s easy to look back and feel the strength I had in my body, but that was compensating for a whole hell of a lot of other things. Now I’m not strong and I’m realizing just how many hang ups I have around body image.

I found a trainer online and just sending her a few before photos was excruciating. I felt like I was buying in to the “skinny is pretty” attitude and I hated it but also, looking at the photos felt awful. I couldn’t even ask my boyfriend to take them- I didn’t want him analyzing me, looking at me so exposed. My trainer reassured me– this is merely to track progress. It still felt awful.

And now, a few days in to a macronutrient diet plan and gym workouts– I’m constantly hungry and I feel so awkward in the gym that it’s only my stubbornness that keeps me there. I want to work out in a dark hole until I’m strong enough to show my face in the gym.

This. Is. Ridiculous.

But I’m writing it up because I need to remember this feeling. This time before the learning curve. I’ll work with Paige and figure out how to eat the right things at the right time so I’m not constantly hungry, angry and on the verge of tears. I’ll work in the gym and I’ll learn how to do everything and it won’t feel like starting from scratch every time, and it will all be ok.

And at the end of this, I’ll be stronger. Physically, sure. But hopefully this clears out some cobwebs in my head too and restores some of the confidence I used to have in my strength.

Olympic Coast in a shiny white van

It’s very hard to get a pre-dawn start in Seattle during the summer. As Paula and I put together our loose plan during the week, this is what I was envisioning: rolling out of town with the pre-dawn mist rising off of the water surrounding Seattle.  The actual departure is slower… I’ve forgotten coffee and we forget the America The Beautiful pass and have to turn around and by the time we’re finally on 5 it’s the full grey of a Seattle summer morning. I have a map in my lap and a book tucked in to the dash.  My phone is stashed away—we’re doing this the old fashioned way, without an agenda beyond “let’s go to the coast” and a general idea of towns. La Push. Aberdeen. Port Angeles.

South of Olympia we get on to 101 N and it takes an embarrassingly long time for me to realize that we’ve made our first minor mistake. 101 runs along the coast and from what I can tell, we’re supposed to have water on our left side. The water is, resolutely, on our right.  There are signs for Hood Canal themed shops and restaurants, but we should be near Humptulips. “Funny how things are named for places that aren’t actually close,” I say, and turn the map to another angle, as if this will right the orientation. I can’t figure it out, but it doesn’t help that my map has 101 streaking in to view with an arrow “To Olympia” but cuts off before showing anything I can use for reference.  We’re on 101 N. We should be driving UP the coast, not down, but if the water is on the right….. and when did we pass through Humptulips?

Whoops. Turns out things are named after the Hood Canal when, shocking, you’re actually located there. North. We’re cutting up and down the coast rather than over and up like we’d planned. I find us on the map and start calling out towns and landmarks. We pull in to Seal Rock campground to stretch our legs and a man comes over to talk with Paula about her van. At first it’s clear that he assumes she doesn’t know about the guts of the thing and by the end of the conversation he’s nodding with that “yup yup” satisfied look as she explains her plans and points to what she’s built out.  He’s been living in his RV with his wife for over 15 years—it feels like Paula’s getting a symbolic patch to sew on to her van-living jacket.

Photo Jul 16, 11 41 28 AMAs we get close to Sequim traffic slows down— on our left is a lavender farm with tents and music and traffic grinds to a halt as people cut across and in to park in the fields. We join them, grab some Honey Vanilla Lavender ice-cream and hightail it out. On to the coast!

We stop in the Forks Visitor Center. It’s very quiet and the two folks working are super friendly. I want to browse postcards but feel awkward. We find out that there’s a festival in La Push and are handed a flier with schedules for the tribal dances and poker games. There’s a red pickup truck parked outside with a plate that says Bella and a gauge marking how much rain has fallen so far this year. The Twilight swag is still there but a bit faded and worn. As we drive towards La Push we see more signs for Werewolves. The sky is a moody gray and trees tower along the road—it’s easy to see why this place was used for vampire novels.

Photo Jul 16, 4 28 56 PM

The main street of La Push is blocked off and stands and food trucks line the sides selling a combination of festival things and blankets with geometric patterns. We park and head over to River’s Edge. My book tells us it’s an old Coast Guard station and it’s was recommended to us by one of Paula’s friends. We’re there between the lunch rush and dinner rush—it’s just us, a few tired servers and a handful of other customers. We sit in a booth with a view of the Quileute Marina. An otter plays on the dock outside and a man zooms around what looks like an outrigger canoe outfitted with a motor. The peninsula jutting from Rialto Beach is a shroud of shadows with silhouettes of three hikers and a dog picking their way along the rocks.

We head back through Forks and inland through massive forests that alternate with newer patches that show the results of clear cutting. Another time we’ll hike down to Shi Shi, but that’s not this trip. Pretty soon we signs for Ruby Beach and begin our slow meander down through the Olympic National Park towards Kalaloch and Queets.  We walk Riley down to the beach and I take out my nice camera, only to realize I don’t have a memory card. The waterline is full of crab shells and Riley alternates between enjoying the surf and looking longingly at the crabs. We walk along the water and find a dead harbor porpoise on its side. The coast is grey but beautiful and dramatic—rocks are dark hulking shadows in the mist and despite the sea breeze it’s warm.

We pull the van to the shoulder where we can see the road and I dig around my bags and find the card I was missing earlier. Riley settles down on the grass in front of us and we drink beer watching the waves. It’s getting late and it’s time to either find another place to eat or to make sandwiches and find a place to park the van for the night. We get back on the road, turning inland towards Amanda Park. I can’t find much in the book but it looks like there are a bunch of campsites and lodges and this is a good indicator of someplace to eat. Turns out I was looking at the wrong part of the book and there’s a whole section on Amanda Park and Lake Quinault. We take the South Shore Road in past the lake and find the Salmon House. Inside it feels like summer camp—the carpet is a dark utility green and the tables are square with forest green Formica.  We are seated near the window and the table is placed at an angle so we can both see out on to the lake. The lawn is well manicured and it feels strange after the tangle of pacific rainforest.  Hummingbird feeders hang at each window and throughout dinner a hopeful bird flits from feeder to feeder. Dinner is scallops, trout and oysters. We pull in to a trail head and set up the van for the night.

Photo Jul 16, 7 49 17 PM

I should take a quick moment to talk about Paula’s van. She bought a Sprinter earlier this summer with the plan to build it out and dove head first in to tutorials ranging from carpentry to wiring. With the help of her neighbor Leo she’s built a platform for the bed, wired in solar panels, installed a window and two new fans… this is the first trip with the bed platform and working fans and we’re testing out to see how it all works. And—she did a great job. That night the fans whir peacefully and we wake up without a drop of moisture from our breath.

In the morning we drive back in to Amanda Park and get breakfast at IC, the Internet Café. It’s not a café so much as a diner with a few postcards, a single computer and an empty fireplace. We head to the North Shore road to find the trail to one of the largest Red Spruce trees and find what we think must be the trailhead, but there aren’t any signs and the path is kind of abandoned. A quarter mile in we find out why—the tree has fallen and instead of a looming hollow spruce we find shattered wood and an open clearing.

We head south and inland. Humptulips is a town of three buildings and we’re past it in a flash—so much for a tourist stop because of a strange name. I was expecting at least one tacky stand with postcards but it’s just a Post Office and general store and back to forest.  Houses start to appear again as we get close to Aberdeen. Compared to what we’ve been driving through this feels positively flourishing. We stop and look at my map—it’s either loop down to drive along Grays Harbor or we call it a trip and head back home through Olympia and Renton with a quick stop to IKEA to pick up the official van mattress to replace the inflatable. IKEA wins and we’re off—heading home.

Despite driving along the coast, there’s so much we didn’t see. Miles of beach, miles of rainforest trails. My guidebook is dog-earred and ball point scrawls in the margins. The map is no longer neatly creased but folded and refolded along makeshift lines. Pretty much the perfect road trip—I get back happy to be home and with dreams for the next journey.

Turff Club

Behind me, miles and minutes, is a coast line with bodies crowded around a fire. Laughter and wind tangling sand in to hair and the cuffs of jeans. Hoods pulled up, sunset still touching the horizon despite the late hour.

My car jostles on the road—she’s over 100K and needs a checkup but I keep forgetting. I love her but I am inattentive to mechanical details. We shudder past warehouses, the water to our left, Seattle a glittering cluster of sky scrapers and cranes. A light flips to red and as I slow down I see the sign for indoor soccer plastered on a warehouse.

And I’m back there, following a hand drawn map between semis and warehouses, the road gravel in my memory, though it may have been merely pot holed and rutted. I find the right warehouse and park, uncertain but drawn to the light inside. I know some faces but at this point, over a decade later, I can’t tell you a single name. Just the bleachers, the astroturf, a soccer ball and the bodies careening after it, so quickly it’s difficult to follow. There is anger and shoulders and arms gesturing—shoving that almost becomes a full out fight but pulls back just shy of a punch.

And because I have a crush on him, I offer my friend a ride home. Or we’ve prearranged this—again, I can’t remember. My memory jumps from game to car—the way the windows immediately steamed up and how frustrated he was at how everyone played. And all I could think was – this moisture is the physical representation of what I just saw; that crazy energy, the bodies and shouting and cacophony of a game meant to be played outside confined by the walls and ceiling of a refurbished warehouse. How alive we are, in this moment. How that very aliveness is encapsulated. Everything somehow suspended and pushed against the glass until it has to become moisture gathering, beginning to drip.

I touch this memory so often that I’m sure it’s changed—by replaying memories we rewrite what we revisit. I have the map, folded in the leather jacket I wore that night, pink ballpoint pen starting to fade. And I could ask him—we are still friends, though closer now, more important to each other despite distance. We love each other in the way that old friends—talking every few months, emailing more frequently, sending care packages from coast to coast filled with random trinkets and hand written notes – love each other. Unconditionally but without romance. But I won’t ask him, because I like what I remember and we are all allowed our small delusions.

The light goes green and I move forward, following the edge of Elliot Bay towards home.


Not all Funks are Fun

I’ve been in a climbing funk for a while now, half assing it at the gym, bailing to clean the house or take the dogs on a long walk. It was easy to say it was my month-of-weddings coming up or the classes I was attending at WAC, but really I’d use any excuse to not go to the gym. I’m not really sure why but it all just stopped being fun. The results were pretty expected. I hiked up to Bob’s Wall with a friend and could barely pull moves. She was sweet—reassuring me that the first time out for the season usually involves kicking off some rust, but it was more than that. I’m was simply weak, uncertain and unhappy.

It’s easy for me to get in to a doubt spiral. I feel weak and so I climb weakly—as a result I’m not getting stronger and I continue to downgrade what is possible. I feel like I have no climbing partners (which is blatantly untrue—I have so many wonderful people around me) and that it’s a struggle to put together a weekend trip. I’m embarrassed by what I can’t do—I’m scared to fall, I’m scared to try and fail.

Despite all of this I packed my climbing shoes and harness in with my heels and fancy dresses when I went home for two weddings this past month.  Despite being nervous to talk to a stranger, I reached out to the Flash Foxy crew to see if anyone was willing and able to partner up with me. The very lovely Shelma wrote back almost immediately and after an exchange that included safety systems, a brief climbing portfolio and some scheduling, we were set to head out to the Gunks the Thursday between weddings.

A few things to know: Shelma is a total BAD ASS and the Gunks are entirely different from anywhere I’ve climbed and would have unnerved me even if I was feeling top of my game. I was really glad that I was totally open in my emails about where I was at—Shelma didn’t expect a crusher and didn’t get one. We got on two two-pitch climbs, well below the grade I thought I was at but totally realistic to where I really was. I tried to lead and got about ¾ up a route and backed down. She was patient, kind and a great partner. Sadly we took absolutely no pictures.  We talked about our various women’s groups on the ride home. Flash Foxy is a total inspiration to me—it was really nice to hear about how it functions and, more importantly, what she isn’t trying to do.

The next day, working remotely from my step-mom’s house in NJ, I spent about 15 minutes asking around and had a trip to Squamish on the books with my dear friend Dyan. (Despite her bouldering goals she was happy to spend a weekend on trad with me—like I said, I have SO MANY wonderful people in my life.)

Squamish was looking good—and then rain moved in. And got worse. Saturday was a total wash out, though we did get to explore Vancouver. Sunday was damp but sunny and we hit Smoke Bluffs. I jumped on lead… and proceeded to spend about a year at a traverse between one crack system, over a little slab and up to the next. Complete with panic gear plugging (bad piece but it’s a mental piece, just don’t fall!), some cleavage catching dropped gear (what a rack! sigh) and a scurried run up to the anchors, it was a wakeup call to how out of practice I am. Dyan was wonderfully patient and when after she re-lead it we left the rope so I could top rope. And, of course, I scurried up like a little monkey in about five minutes.  We spent the rest of the day climbing on mostly-dry rock and having a great time… but it was all very sobering. I. Need. Practice.

The next day we headed out to areas we thought would be dry and, shocker, found damp rock and wet cracks. We wrapped up with a bit of bouldering and a stop at Climb On before battling Vancouver traffic home. We talked a lot about goals, frustrations, training plans… similar to my trip with Shelma it was a very real check in with where my head is at and what I need to do to shake the cobwebs out.

I’m still trying to get out of the funk. I got my butt kicked by my boyfriend when I jumped in his core routine and I’m trying to figure out a way to stay motivated to run so I don’t completely die when Devi and I fly to Montana for the Headwaters Relay. I need to remember—it will all hurt, and then it gets slightly easier. It will hurt and I will fail but, in doing so, I can regain the trust in my body. But it’s going to take work. It’s times like this that I miss my Moravian Cross Country girls and the way we trained together—but wishing for the kind of training and team that was only possible in college isn’t going to help me out now.

So here I am, once again saying I’m going to train. I hope I can stick with it.


The impressive thing about this photo is how Dyan made it look like a climb… if you look close you can see me giggling.

Squamish Bouldering

CRUSHING that wet V0 warmup.

Snow 1- The Dampening

We are taught to check the weather and the conditions—is this a trip that should go forward? In an ordinary weekend one look at the forecast would mean a new plan. Rain, rain, and more rain, followed by snow. But this is WAC and we have a tight schedule, so everything I know about trip planning goes out the window. If it isn’t dangerous—we go.  The snow pack is saturated but consolidated. We’ve checked avalanche forecasts and sent out a rabbit team. At seven am there we are, 32 students and just over 20 instructors, hardshells covering our bodies and pack checks in progress. My pack rests against Paula’s car and I go over the list with each student. Compass. Extra batteries. Headlamp. Check check check. By the time I finish finding my group the pack list paper is almost transparent and my marker refuses to mark. Rain beads on everything.


We start the hike out to Artist Point in a light drizzle, surrounded by clouds. It’s been a while since I hoisted on this pack—inside I have gear for snow camping instead of a day rock climbing, with a few extra layers I grabbed from my group and shoved in on top of my things, just in case. I get a hundred feet in and remember that my ice ax is sitting against Paula’s car and I scurry back, embarrassed but happy to remember now, when the car is still visible, rather than at camp when I’m supposed to be an example of how this is done.  By the time I hit the trail again I’m in the far back and the line of students snakes out in the distance and vanishes into the mist. It’s quiet and white. There is a river somewhere, there are mountains in the distance, but all I see are shadows far off and the bizarre flatness that diffused light creates on a snow field.


We hike in for fifteen minutes, an hour, a lifetime.  It’s impossible to get your bearings and everything is hush and the sound of your blood and breath. Every rise vanishes in to the mist. I remember what this felt like last year and I know we have to be nearing camp but nothing looks familiar.  Then, in the distance, I can hear Pat’s voice and I know we are almost there.  As he talks it seems to be coming from everywhere at once and I try to pick out his shape in the crowd but we all look the same –Gortex clad and laden. The rabbit team tents are maybe a hundred feet past where he stands and are barely visible.


Once at camp we find a spot and Paula makes the rounds of the students while Shams and I shovel a platform for his tent. We deadman the stakes and carve out the foyer space for our packs. Slowly around us a tent city is forming—students crowding close and instructors slightly further apart. At 11 am shouts ring out and we gather in our groups to start the day. Already our packs are wet and I’m wearing the second pair of liner gloves I brought.


Our group is scheduled to start at snow anchors, then self arrest, then ascend/descend, wrapping up at kitchen. We tromp over to Mike Daly and he goes over various types of belay and snow conditions. It’s refreshing how familiar this is to me. I am still skeptical about snow but I’m not as coltish as I was a year ago.


The day passes in the kind of rain that stops feeling like rain because everything is drenched. It feels like my glasses are fogging constantly but when I take them off nothing changes. And yet everyone remains positive. At self-arrest students fling themselves down the steep slope and come to a stop with their axes in the snow and march back up to do it again. Some love this, some are hesitant, but everyone is trying. One student grins and launches down the slope and when she stops there’s a brief commotion. She’s dislocated her shoulder partially but seems unphased—only frustrated that she’ll have to take a step back. I am amazed at everyone’s resilience.


As the day wraps up I head over to check on a few of the students in my group and see that their tent is crowded in by snow and the walls are slack. There is snow in the forecast overnight and a slack tent could mean collapsed walls and a rude awakening. I grab a few other instructors and we work to prop everything up—setting in the poles correctly and guying out the rain fly with makeshift lines of runners and trekking poles. By the time we finish everyone is wrapping up at their various stations and the students are beginning to gather for the cooking competition.


A typical meal in the mountains, in my limited experience, is usually some form of dehydrated food and a precious avocado. Snow 1 throws all of this out the window. There are students making fondue, students hand rolling sushi and, my favorite, the fresh pho that Amanda carefully constructs on the snow table in front of our group. She carefully layers rice noodles, vegetables and broth in to my bowl. It’s fresh and spicy and warm and amazing. Fresh pho. In snow. Miraculously it’s stopped raining. Everyone stamps their feet and laughs and tries dishes that other groups are making. Amanda keeps serving everyone but herself and I ban any new tasters until she has something in her own bowl.


Off to the side, one of the students is shivering but instructors are pulling together warm clothing, extra sleeping pads and hot water in Nalgene bottles. The instructors pow-wow after dinner and make the call—the rain is just too much. Spirits are high but we’re looking at the weather—rain and snow predicted over night with a drop in temperatures—we’re going to cut Sunday short and head home three hours early.


That night it snows. Paula wakes up and the tent is inches from her face—we had forgotten to guy out one of the lines and the tent has partially collapsed. Shams digs us out and Paula does the rounds of student tents—there’s snow and some tents look a little sad, but nothing has outright collapsed.


Snow continues throughout the day as we rotate between ice axe arrest and ascend/descend. The weather seems ok but we stick to the call and are soon breaking camp, getting ready to tromp back down to our cars. A pack goes on the sled along with wet ropes and Shams takes off as the rabbit. Absolutely everything is damp. We glissade down steep sections of the trail and slog home. My glasses are fogging again but when I take them off it isn’t much better. As we approach the parking lot I look down—you can see the river snaking along below us. In the lot there are a few skiers who look at us in confusion. Some of us are still wearing helmets with our name tags on them and we take over the parking lot with shouts and laughter. As we drive in to Glacier the sun peeks out and it’s back to real life.


“high visibility” for the weekend


The kitchen with tent city in the background


smiling despite the rain


Cooking competition is a go!


Laura on her way back up the arrest slope


Post-collapse on Sunday morning


Camp Kitchen


I swear I didn’t look this angry most of the time.