How fine the line between ownership and forceful takeover. This is my story but not mine alone. So where are the lines between mine and yours? This mug is mine. This bowl was yours but you gave it to me, so it is mine now. This stainless steel measuring cup was never mine but yours and I have taken it. These kitchen things. I stop buying things that are hand wash only so I can rein my anger at the dishwasher. On inanimate fight.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.