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Learning to Fly

Submitted by missedyno on 2006-02-14 | Last Modified on 2006-11-11

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I've been in the Obed now for almost a week, and it seriously feels like about 2.7 days. There were some other climbers camping up here on the weekend, but the last of them left this morning so I have been returned to my blissful solitude. Itís nice to see people once in a while; I enjoy short bursts of human interaction.

But, just after writing my friends describing excitedly my new life in the Obed, I check in with Pete, who was introduced to me by a friend earlier on the trip. We met up in the Obed and I really enjoyed the one day we climbed together. But now I find that he has taken sick and is returning home. I'm so screwed -- the thought pops into my head after initially feeling sorry for Pete.

I feel pretty stupid after declaring my love for the Obed, to be stuck here without a climbing partner. I realize just how much of my excitement is based on the prospect of climbing here with a solid partner who I trust and with whom I enjoy climbing. All of a sudden, reality sets in and I feel completely lost.

Most of the time Iím really and truly happy while Iím on my own on this trip. But, I admit to having low moments, and this is one of them. I am unemployed, scoring free showers at the civic center, because I'm homeless, down to my last 240 dollars and sans climbing partner. I wander into a store and meander up and down the aisles wondering if I can afford to buy anything. Oh my God, Iím poor. Poor and alone.

I drive back to the campground and all of the radio stations suck. This place does not have the abundance of classic rock stations, like Alabama. I struggle between a disco/new age station, talk radio and about 42 country music stations until I turn the radio off in frustration. Need to think. I think about how I accept the bad times with the good on this road trip. Think happy thoughts. What is always my advice to people when theyíre feeling down? Oh yes, breathe deep and smile.

But breathing deep and smiling are tough to do right now, and breathing deep and scowling don't seem to be getting me very far. All I want to do is find a liquor store, but I know I can't afford to spend money on alcohol. I decide to just not think about it. Have to push this to the back of my mind. I need to cope, and driving while feeling messed up isn't going to do me any good. Itís Saturday night (the Elton john song "Saturday Night" pops into my head) and I will think about it tomorrow.

My brain's Elton John playlist accompanies me back to my new home, and Iím relieved to see a crowd of people. Sometimes you just need to talk to other people so you can't hear your own thoughts. I show up at the fire and feel like I'm behind glass, as I stand outside of a few conversations, waiting for an opportunity to join in.

No dice. I need alcohol. I have one trusty bottle of tequila that I purchased in Mexico four years ago, when I first began to daydream about doing a solo climbing trip. I rattle around in my kitchen and devise what I later name the "dirtbag sunrise" -- tequila blanco mixed with pink lemonade frozen drink mix and water. I had picked up the lemonade to keep my tiny cooler chilled since it was the cheapest thing in the frozen food section.

The night proceeds nicely and my worries are put aside briefly as we hang out in the hillbilly hot tub, I with my dirtbag sunrise. The label Iíve given my cocktail is symbolic of the change that has come about in my road trip -- tomorrow I have to go in search of climbing partners. Iíve never had to do this before, since Iíve been bouldering the past month and otherwise insulated by visits from friends.

Sunday morning arrives and I sleep in. I don't even see any of the people that I hung out with the night before, and a guy I promised coffee grounds to has been up so long that he drove into down and bought a brewed cup. One of the guys I talked with the night before wanders by -- he barely slept at all and he's going back to bed. The morning continues as I wait for Pete, who mentioned he would drop by on his way home in the morning. Itís a beautiful sunny day and Iím alone on the campground again since everyone has gone climbing. I wait until noon and when he doesn't show I leave a note on my car wishing him well and start the hike to the crag. Iím walking the extra 10 minutes to the trailhead to save on gas money.

On my way to the crag, I'm scared, but excited about having to find a climbing partner by myself for the first time. It feels like my backpack is heavier than usual as I trudge along the approach. Iíve only been here once, and already it's time for me to do it on my own. When I arrive at the wall, I'm in luck! Two guys I met at the campground just finished hanging draws on the only route I haven't done on the warm-up wall. I offer to clean the route for them in exchange for a belay. They offer me a toprope, and I feel a twinge of recollection of my days of constant toproping.

Iíve never had a solid lead head, and have struggled with it since I took my first outdoor lead fall about four years ago. I back down from any move if there's any prospect of taking a lead fall. Iíve tried to work through it with my partner, but all I accomplished was leading routes bolt to bolt until I got about 50 feet up, then sitting for about 10 minutes before declaring defeat. In my times of desperation I referred to myself as a "toprope princess," just toproping routes that other people lead, even if they're within my abilities.

I can't be that person anymore.

I have to climb with strangers, so Iím going to have to put up. I cannot pout, cry or whine. And if I'm a bit scared, I certainly canít let it show. After running the warm-up route with the guys from the campsite, I see another group of climbers arriving further down the wall. Theyíre getting on a route I did with Pete, thank God, so I know it's within my abilities.

Iíve never felt this way before and Iím completely new to leading these grades, thanks to my non-existent lead head. But for some reason -- I guess after falling off so many boulder problems -- I no longer care about taking lead falls and I just want to climb, plainly and simply. I just hope I don't fall, as Iím too embarrassed to take in front of people I don't know.

Thankfully I redpoint the route I climbed with Pete, fighting the pump to the anchors. I hold on, thinking that, if I fall, it will be at least while I'm trying my best.

Later I get on a route with the same group of people -- a funky fun start to a boulder problem (for someone of my height) -- Slopey sidepull layback to small crimp to bump for ledge. Why is the ledge so far up? I set up and throw to the ledge and fall. Try again and fall and fall again. Iím not sure how many times I fall, but I finally stick the move and it feels great. I fight the pump for the rest of the climb and as I clip the anchors, I look around at my surroundings and smile. Itís my first lead of this grade, but Iím the only one who knows it.

The group encourages me to work for a redpoint, and I try the route again, this time falling only once at the crux and sticking the move the second time. My arms hurt and my forearms are always semi-pumped. I pack up my things and say farewell to the group, hoping sincerely to see them again sometime. I hike back out the same way I came in, by myself, but this time Iím walking on air. The toprope princess has left the building.

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