Airport Duty

SeaTac Baggage Claim #10

I confess, I love being on airport duty.  I’ll happily drop you off or pick you up. I’ll park and wait at the luggage claim, I’ll drop you off at a crazy hour in the morning—I will be there for you.

I used to say that I’ll do it because I’ve been there too—the girl without a car, trying to get from Riverside to LA, willing to take an 8 hour bus ride but grateful for the passenger seat of a friend’s car.  This is still true, but it also boils down to selfishness.  I like taking people on the first leg of an adventure, I like welcoming my loved ones home.  I like the anticipation, the slight fear that I won’t recognize someone as they come out of the gate, and the relief when I see the shape of a shoulder and know immediately—there. That is who I’m waiting for.

Airports are a great equalizer.  The travelers are sleep dazed and weary, the friends are eager and bright.  I’ve been the exhausted traveler, I’ve been the friend at home, sobbing in my car after a tight hug goodbye and an uncertain time apart.  I’ve been the eager person, embarking on something unknown.  I’ve been the sorrowful traveler, leaving loved ones.  I’ve worn sneakers that slip off easily and an oversized sweatshirt that still smells of a lover and I’ve worn heels that click satisfyingly against the linoleum and turn heads as I pass gate after gate, just because I could.  My flights have been nondescript, turbulent, creepy.  I’ve had seatmates that are chatty and ones that ignore me.

I can remember the flight home when my father died, but I can’t remember if my sister or my best friend picked me up. I remember crying on the plane, quietly.  I remember flying home thinking I should feel different somehow.  I remember landing in Mexico still surprised to see my friend walk up to find me, even though he said he’d be there. I remember the first time T came being sure we would never know each other, and I remember how we rushed each other, arms open, the same people we’ve always been. I remember waiting to go through security in Texas, feeling the certainty of leaving.

Today Mt Rainier loomed above the horizon and, before I realized it, I was in the lot, I was waiting at the empty baggage claim.  Slowly, people joined me and before long I saw K and her boyfriend on the escalator. A hand waves. A hug, some laughter. Bags found, elevator, car, highway.  The city stretches before us and we are all home again, on solid ground before our next adventures. Do you need a ride? I’ll be waiting.

El Potrero Chico

Where to start? I’m not even sure. Start at the beginning—that’s usually a good place.

I met H. through friends of friends on a climbing trip. He was looking for a partner and so was I, so we plotted together and met in person for the first time the night before we left, to load my car and shake hands. I remember thinking, as we leaned against our cars in the late summer night, ok, this guy seems ok, we seem comfortable enough. The space between us has an interesting shape, but isn’t heavy or uncertain. The next day, after work, I met him at his office and we headed off for the hours-long drive from Seattle to Smith Rock. I’ve been in many cars with people I don’t know, but I think this was the first time that it was only myself and one other stranger.  We sang to the radio, we chatted, we drove—we made it to Smith under cover of stars and spilled into the rented house to join our friends.

I can write about that weekend, but this isn’t about the weekend in Smith.  It’s about my secret words (Do you want to climb?) and what happened next.  H was already planning a two month climbing trip—first to Mexico and then to Thailand.  A week after we met we were sitting on pillows in a tent in the middle of SeaCompression when we started talking about his upcoming trip.  You should meet me in Mexico.  I paused.  Are you serious? The tent was cozy with people and pillows and smoke. Do you want to climb with me in Mexico? A week later I’d booked tickets.

There are many reasons this was a foolish, impulsive thing to do. I’d known H. for two weeks. I know absolutely no Spanish. El Potrero Chico is known for its long mult-pitch routes, and the longest thing I’d ever done was two weeks before, with H. at Smith; 5 pitches, 5.9 at the hardest, and I didn’t lead anything above a 5.8.  Instead of cancelling the tickets, I bought the El Potrero Chico guidebook, I bought gloves for the long raps down, and thought—ok. This is a terrible terrifying idea. Let’s go.

I am the girl who lowers, step by step, into cold water. I am not the girl jumping off of the bridge into an icy river. I am the girl who makes lists and plans and has exit strategies. I need someone else to startle me into adventure, to hold out a hand and say, come with me.   I fret and worry and have Band-Aids in my wallet and flashlights in my glove box.  I bought a ticket to a place I’d never been to meet a man I barely knew to climb things I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish.

The plane landed in a grey and chilly Monterrey Mexico.  I made my way through customs, picked up my luggage and followed the direction of traffic out into the terminal to find H waiting at the gate.  Sleepy and dazed, all I wanted to do was jump up and down. I’m in Mexico. I’m in Mexico. I’m in Mexico. We drove through back to Hidalgo, stopping for food and then heading to La Poseda, the climbing camp at the edge of the canyon.  It was slightly after noon, and in short order we were gearing up and heading to El Potrero Chico.

Clouds still hung low in the sky and caught at the tops of the spires.  It looked like something out of a legend—dark rock towering over the desert. My body felt heavy and tired and looking up made my head spin.  We were headed to Will The Wolf Survive—a 4 pitch climb, 400’ with a 10a for the final pitch.  The first pitch was the easiest, but I didn’t know the rock yet and didn’t want to lead anything quite yet.  We tied in, checked our knots, and started.

Will the Wolf Survive From the moment I started to climb towards H, I was in love. The rock—I don’t know how to explain it to someone who doesn’t climb.  It made no sense and it made complete sense.  Like a kiss you suddenly find yourself in the middle of and falling into.  My whole body felt like it was made of laughter and the kind of waking-up you get when you jump into a glacier lake.  As if you’d been sleeping for years and only now, for the first time, found out how to stretch.  The climb went smoothly, if cold.  H kept leading, I kept following.  We huddled together at the top, hiding from the wind, took a photo, rapped down and hiked back to camp. 

Another friend from Seattle was also at camp, renting one of the rooms.  We met up with her, drank tequila and pineapple juice, showered and headed into town for dinner.

I woke the next morning to the sound of a pack of dogs barking and roosters crowing, wind moving around the tent.  Voices floated out of the morning and gear clinked as other parties gathered their things for the day.  The camp kitchen door slammed shut. Laughter.  More wind.  We made breakfast and instant coffee and geared up. Estrellita.  12 pitches, 11b with variations that bring it down to a 10b.  1200 feet. We were planning on linking a few pitches and alternating leads but I was still nervous.  Even on the longest cragging day I’d never come close to climbing 12 pitches. 

Estrellita

rapping off of EstrellitaThe climbing isn’t difficult, but it’s a long day.  We alternated leads and did the easier variations to the route and made it to the top in four and a half hours.  There’s a palm tree on top, and a metal box with odds and ends and a folded piece of paper instead of a log book, with a rock on top instead of a lid.  We signed the paper, took some photos, and began the descent, walking back into camp before dusk.  My body was sore and tired but buzzing with joy.  That night we gave L. a ride to her hotel in Monterrey and headed into town for hambergessas and drinks.  As we waited on the porch three other climbers from camp came up and joined us.  We sat for a few hours, laughing, eating, drinking beer.  The night grew longer around us and eventually we all headed back into camp.  H and I rejoined a few folks in the camp kitchen and outside grupera music kept a steady beat.  We eventually made it to sleep.

Hacienda del MuertoHacienda del Muerto ruinsThe next day was our rest day.  The initial plan was to find the petroglyphs at Boca de Potrerillos but no one seemed to know how to get there.  We went into town to the café, but they didn’t know either.  So we struck out towards Mina, with a loose idea of what road to turn onto, but we never saw it.  Instead we found ourselves at Hacienda del Muerto.  H had only seen the gate closed but it was wide open this time, and we drove in and parked. A well stood prominently in what looked to be an old courtyard and a church cut into the sky, but besides that all other walls were worn and falling back into the desert.  We walked quietly through the ruins and tiptoed through the church as the sun warmed our backs. 

Back in Mina we drove around looking for the Museo Bernabé de las Casas to ask directions to the petroglyphs. For a museum, it hides fairly well.  No one was at the gate but we could hear voices in the back and walked into the courtyard to find two men putting peanuts into bags in the lobby of an auditorium.  H. talked with them and the younger of the two men showed us to the door and told us it would be 25 pesos.  Inside the lights flickered on and displays of life from the early 20th century.  The lights were on sensors but it took a while to trip each one—we walked into a dark room and halfway through the lights would snap on and we found ourselves further and further back in history; recreation petroglyphs, fossils, mammoth skulls, dinosaur bones.  It turned out we’d been going through the exhibits backwards, from modern history towards the creation of the earth. H found a room full of geodes and minerals and we puzzled through the Spanish signs, trying to figure out what each one was.  When we were done, he went over to the office again to ask for directions to the petroglyphs and was handed a half sheet of paper with a map printed on it. 

We pulled up to the parking lot to find two pickup trucks, a dog and a man watering something. The signs were worn and sun bleached and a building hunkered slightly past the gate.  We weren’t sure if it cost anything and as we walked along the path the man called over to us.  He wanted us to sing the guest book in the building. And then, nothing.  A wave, and we continued on.

PetroglyphThe wind had picked up but the sun was still bright.  The first path off of the main road led up the hillside and within a few feet we saw our first petroglyph.  They were everywhere.  Suns, figures, shapes that looked almost like writing, shapes that were just patterns.  Fields of dots.  We hiked up and up the path and I couldn’t help but feel like a girl in a story, finding one drawing and then looking up, into the distance, to see another drawing slightly off of the path. And another.  We hiked up and back down, and then along the main path again, and back up another hill before we realized—if we were going to make it to the hot springs we’d have to head out.

The parking lot at the hot springs was empty but the pool was still open. We paid and followed the spiral down to the entrance to the pool, pushing the doors open.  Immediately the steam made me feel overdressed.  The pool glowed a white-blue and the subtle scent of sulfur drifted with the steam.  Brick pillars arced and punctuated the water’s surface and condensation dripped in uneven rhythm.  We changed and stepped into the warm water.  I can’t really do justice to the glow—to the cavernous brick ceilings, to the way light streamed through the stained glass skylights, or the way the water rippled quietly around our bodies.  The warmth soaked into my skin and everything felt electric.  After, we walked to another room beyond the pool—circular with sandy mortar along the walls, a strong brick domed ceiling and a circular skylight of a bright red sun. I lay back on the wooden bench.  My friend Nicelle told me I’d find magic in Mexico.  Skin tingling magic. Nicelle was right. Magic. 

We drove back to camp under starlight and a near full moon. The next day turned out to be my final day of climbing, Black Cat Bone.  9 pitches, 10d, 800’.  I led the first pitch and could already feel the soreness in my body.  10d. I haven’t climbed a 10d outside, let alone on the 7th pitch of a climb.  Keep going.  This is ok.  He thinks I can, so I can.  I trust him. 

Black Cat BoneI led the easier routes and H led the 10s.  The easy pitches were easy, but run out.  There was exposure and for the first time I could feel the yawning canyon at my back and a hint of what, just a few months ago, would have led to fear and panic.  Breathe, move.  The rock was sharp, but solid.  At the crux I had to rest, and I cursed; I could see the moves and couldn’t make them. I rested again. Try again. Do it. I tried again and moved through it, and found myself at the roof and moving over it.  It took 5 hours to make it to the top, but we made it. We flipped through the log book and found H’s signature from three years ago and signed beneath it. It was a long rap down and we finished in the dark. 

We woke the next day both sore and tired, with a plane to catch.  My fingertips were the red of skin a few layers down and my shoulder ached.  Climbing was over, but the day was bright and sunny, so I laced up my sneakers and went for a run through the canyon.  The wind still tasted like evening and shadow but my skin warmed quickly in the sun.  I ran along the road, through the canyon and past it, passing a few climbing parties along the way.  At the halfway point I paused to stretch and looked back at the sun warming the spires of El Potrero Chico.  There is magic in this place. 

That night, back in Seattle, I had trouble falling asleep.  I wanted the sound of dogs, the sound of wind, the sound of sleeping in a tent.  I wanted laughter and slamming kitchen doors, the stretching sound of a slack line, the metallic sound of gear being sorted and arranged.  I haven’t even mentioned the other people at camp and how kind everyone was, or the earthy camp scent that coated my body the entire way home.  It was a glimmer of a life I’ve heard about my whole life—plotting the next adventure, planning the next ascent.

I thought my magic words were Do you want to climb? I had no real idea what that meant, or how true it was.  The answer is always yes. Yes, yes, oh yes.   

El Potrero Chico

Hotel Alexis

packed and readyWoke up Saturday morning ready to give H a ride to the airport so he could wing his way to Mexico– only to find out that Dallas is mostly shut down due to ice.  I always have issues when trying to fly through Texas and this bodes poorly for my leg of the journey next week when I fly out to meet him.  Still, we’ve discovered a few things.  Waiting on hold is no longer necessary– the airline will call you back when your turn in line comes up. This meant a couple more hours of sleep– and also resulted in the second discovery– H gets absolutely no cell service in my apartment.  Cue a cozy Greta and a chilly H, trying to re-book his flights– me shivering out to the car to bring coffee and sit for a while before scurrying back inside to scan over poetry and stress out about what I’ll be reading on Tuesday. (He’ll leave later tonight– fingers crossed that my part of the trip is a little smoother.)

It’s always strange when you find yourself caught in a place after you had planned to leave.  I know it’s happened to me a few times– I’m never sure if I should deal with Real Life things that might not have been tended to, or I should act like I’m already gone, considering I should have been.  I always end up feeling like a ghost-person, not entirely present where I am yet not yet where I’m headed– days of not-quite-anywhere-solid. It’s a frustrating place to be, and I’m glad at least that we found out about the cancelled flight before getting to SeaTac, and that his flight was cancelled before he got to DFW to sit stranded with the thousand other travelers, watching ice glint and searching for outlets and places to sit.

Throughout the day H’s stuff slowly spread around my apartment– it was supposed to be unpacked under a Mexican sun and yet here he was, under the bright cold Seattle sky, digging through for running clothing so we could shiver around Green Lake. I think he was the first to say Hotel Alexis and it seems a good name for my home right now.  Tomorrow I’ll pick up Nicelle and we’ll read together at the Hugo House.  The next day it’s planes for us and out of town, but E. will be coming in from Denver and staying at my place while I’m gone.  I come back, he leaves to cat-sit for another friend, and a few days later B comes back to stay for an indeterminate time.  Then AWP hits town and I have already told my friends that I will help find couch/bed/floor space for everyone. I am throwing my secret lair open and inviting people into my bubble.  I have the spare sheets folded, a stack of clean towels, a stash of extra toothbrushes and enough needle and thread to fix everyone’s torn things.  Welcome to the Hotel Alexis, I hope everyone enjoys their stay!

 

Petroglyphs and Faith

Petroglyph and Steggie in Maui

I’ve recently started to gravitate towards dinosaur humor.  I’m not entirely sure why—I was never that into dinosaurs as a child, any more than any kid is. Lately though I find them endlessly amusing. The blog T-Rex Trying makes my day, and we routinely make dinosaur jokes while climbing. I think it might have started a few years ago while watching endless episodes of Battlestar Galactica with my roommate.  Between episodes he would charge across my bed making noises like a baby brontosaurus to get to his ice cream/beer/whatever was on my desk.  I bought him a dinosaur planter, as one does, and then this past spring found a toy dinosaur on the beach while visiting him in Hawaii.   The toy dinosaur, of course, led to me finding petroglyphs in the guidebook and demanding a detour from surfing to stroll past some history.

Lately I’ve just embraced my love of dinosaurs—why not? So as I paged through my guidebook for El Potrero Chico one of the rest-day suggestions caught my eye: petroglyphs outside Mina!  H. hadn’t heard about them, despite living in the area for several months.  I’m not entirely sure if he’s humoring me or actually excited, but it’s now officially in our plan—climb some bad ass multi-pitches and then PETROGLYPHS! Sure, a hot spring too, and I’m sure it will be lovely and relaxing, but, did I mention petroglyphs?

There’s something about seeing tactile proof of people on rocks that blows my mind.  Talk about legacy—the person who made this was not so different from me, but so different.  It gives me a sense of vertigo and crashes timelines down into each other. I tried to explain the way I feel about timelines to H the other night, and I think I did a dismal job.  I blame wine and whiskey, but really—I think it’s just difficult to explain the overlapping sense I sometimes have.  A little bit inspired by string-theory, a little bit Buddhist, a little bit faith… I’m not sure where to source all of it.  I’ve lately met a lot of Christians-turned-Agnostic and talked with them about the transition away from a firm belief in God.  In a way I’m envious that they had that kind of faith at one point—perhaps that’s why I’m thinking about faith and what I actually feel and believe.  I think it’s impossible for me to describe without gesticulation—words fail.  And then you stand in front of something like an etching in rock that is potentially from 7600 BP, and there has to be something right? Or not. I don’t know.  What I do know— I’m excited to be here, in this time, with the people I know and adventure on the horizon. I’m excited that I have friends who send me pictures of dinosaurs and friends who say hell yes, let’s go see some cliff drawings in the desert.

Also– to update an earlier post: I hit one of my goals on Monday– I suppose my friends were right when they said I should pick something a little further out of my reach.  I really did think that climbing an 11+ clean was going to be a while coming, not a few sessions after setting the goal.  So, new goals are in play, because I didn’t give myself the time I wanted. Lead 10+. Climb 12-. Let’s see how long those take.

Let’s Be Friends

Grad school excursion to San Diego with the usual suspects.

Grad school excursion to San Diego with the usual suspects.

I met my friend D- at the gym last night for a little bit of lady climbing without the whole crew. She’s super bad ass and crushes like a champ, of course. I didn’t make the 11+ yet, but it’s almost there. (Lean in more, higher foot… I think I can remember next time…) We talked about a lot of things between routes, and one of the things she said struck me. “Seattle needs more people like you, to break everyone out of the Seattle Freeze.” (Paraphrased, of course.)  It’s true that in grad school my friends called me the cruise director– I ran the welcome-train for new students, hosted everyone and anyone at my apartment with J- and helped run the graduate literary magazine.  I even put together a package of information for folks moving from across the country with apartment suggestions, places to gather and grocery store locations.  I hadn’t realized that I’m back to my old habits here.  Am I social person? Friendly? I suppose so.

I had all of this running in the back of my head today as I headed in to yoga at lunch. I was a little early and I started chatting with Michelle, our instructor. I don’t think we’ve ever really chatted before, beyond just a friendly hello, but there I was, acting like an old friend.  How do you know if you’re friends with someone? I’m realizing that I’m finally in a place where I just act like a friend and, poof, there you go. I’m tired of waiting and dancing– if I like you, and you seem to like me, there you go. Friends. Let’s talk about art. Come to my climbing night. Come to my house for dinner. Let’s go see music. Let’s go on an adventure. 

Just the two of us, Klaus Pichler, 2013

And your daily dose of inspiration, in case you needed it: Just The Two of Us. Stumbled across this project yesterday. I think I need to get back to my masks.

 

 

Arrival

In the early light of Sunday, with fresh coffee and a muffin, I find myself scanning the news for a moment before I find the article. 1 dead, 1 missing.  Click, open. Scan down. Snowshoe. It isn’t anyone I know.

Is this how I know I’ve arrived to live here, in this place of snow and rain, mountains and plains?  My climbing pack is at my feet, my mind is running through the check list. Harness. Chalk. Gym pass. Tonight I’ll meet my friend for a night sail over the water of Lake Union.  In the morning I’ll go to my tech job, new bruises from the climbing wall, wind burn from a night sail, tossing “did you hear about the avalanches near Alpental?” because we all have.

I am a stereotype of a person; drawn to this town by art, kept here by the life that unfolded around me.  I am any other single woman with tattoos, skirts and boots, throwing a backpack into a car for the weekend to escape to the mountains, faithfully listening to KEXP until it fades to static. My friends have PhDs and play in bands and work great jobs and work awful jobs.  I know fire dancers and yoga teachers and this still does not make me unique.  I want this to unsettle me—I should be different, I should stand out.  I should want this.

I fill my coffee cup again, and I know that my friends, at their own tables, are doing the same thing.  Coffee, scan the news for avalanche information after a treacherous weekend.  My friend is gathering her harness and shoes and in a few minutes I’ll leave to pick her up and we’ll practice leading until we can’t anymore, preparing for a summer of adventure.   The clouds break and sun streams into my apartment. I don’t have anything to prove anymore, I found my tribe.

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