For my twenty-second birthday, friends came for a special dinner celebration in New York City. Between the laughter and the wine, my boyfriend at the time turned to me and said with a little bit of that Colorado charm, “This is what I want life to be. Good friends, good food, and good wine.” And really, what more could we want or need? In that moment, those words struck my heart and I knew that that was all I really wanted out of life, too.

Unfortunately, we had a tumultuous breakup. I was devastated and found myself moving to the big city alone. It took some time to patch things in my life up, but repairs were slowly made. Four years later, and that’s everything I have. Plus rock climbing and a snuggly puppy. Friends, support, unconditional animal love, new plans–they were all such helpful things to have.

I made a lot of new friends, too. Mainly through climbing, and lately,  from spending most of my spring and summer in the southeast.  The T-wall is the most famous traditional climbing area but much too hot to climb in those months, so instead, my friend Zack took me to Leda for the first time. I’m almost hesitant to write anything about Leda because we had the area almost entirely to ourselves all day—it was kind of a dream!

Running gear out on Cracked Actor before the finger crack. Photograph by Andrew Lowers

The percentage of rain for the next day was at about sixty percent when Dirtbag Climbers Nick Lanphier and Erick Barros drove from Atlanta to join us. By the time we pulled into the Craven’s parking lot, it had already begun to sprinkle. We parked underneath the giant roof of the Drain Pipe (5.11a) and it wasn’t long before I began racking slings to cams.

4s are butterflies for me. Butterfly stacks (a form of hand stacks) is a technique using both hands when a crack is too wide for a regular hand jam. I placed my hands together back to back, and cupped my hands to the side of the crack and tucked my thumbs down. Not certain how the roof would go, I wound up bumping a lot of pieces along the crack. The roof was more of a lie back with high feet, which felt strenuous and scary.

The roof shortly opened up from 4s to 5s. There were no feet throughout the entire traverse and I half aided, half groveled my way through it. It was worth struggling through to gain the offwidth. I wedged body parts into sections of the crack for security and tried to use the outside edges of the crack. The offwidth went clean, and I was proud to have accomplished that. That night, I went to dinner tired, sore, thrashed, and bleeding in various places—but I was happy.

The Drain Pipe (5.11a). Butterflies give me butterflies. Photograph by Nick Lanphier

I am not a dirtbag. I have bills, I have an apartment, and I work hard for a paycheck that I can put towards gas and plane tickets and food in my stomach.  People often joke and tell me what a dirtbag I really am. But despite being a little gross from time to time (ok, sometimes really gross) I’ve never considered pursuing the “dirtbag lifestyle”—mostly because I really like my bathtub and coming home to a well-stocked fridge. I like cooking meals at home in my kitchen, my bowls filled with breads and fruits and other treasures from the farmers market, and especially my array of quirky but very adorable coffee mugs.

Recently, a childhood friend of mine moved to Europe and dropped me a line. In a long chain of back-and-forth emails, we talked about everything under the sun. Despite the fact that we live completely different lives (on separate continents nonetheless, and Laura isn’t a climber), we often find ourselves going through similar life situations. Neither of us wants to be single forever, but we both feel as though the lives we envision ourselves having are incompatible with the majority. We both wonder a lot about relationships with substance, having a family someday, gaining financial stability, building a career. All of these things usually lead me to ask: What the hell am I even doing with my life? Wandering around the east coast climbing rocks—what am I trying to get out of this? Is this what I want to do with my life, and if so, what kinds of sacrifices am I willing to make? And if I never find the perfect life partner or have kids of my own or buy a house, am I sacrificing anything if I’m happier where I am now than I was when I started all of this? Is it a sacrifice if you’re doing something that you love? Yes and no. I guess there will always be a trade-off.

Have you ever heard the expression “Go beyond love”? Climbing is so much of who I am. It’s in my bones and it’s my passion and it’s everything (maybe I AM a little obsessed.) But I think that passion and obsession go hand in hand—you need both of those things. They are the fire to make your dreams happen. I personally can’t compromise passion for a nine to five scenario—and it isn’t wrong to want that sort of thing. But I don’t think it’s wrong to not want it, either.

Moments before moving into the offwidth of The Drain Pipe (5.11a). Photograph by Nick Lanphier

So, ok. There might not be husbands or babies in the near future for me, but that doesn’t mean I won’t have those things someday. I always feel like I’m edging away from the past and stumbling, falling, climbing ahead into unknown future—which to me, will always feel more comfortable than settling for something clearly marked or “safe”. And do I want those things (husbands and babies and safety?) A part of me does. Do I want to get those things by playing it safe? Hell no.

I question the path I’m taking on a regular basis because let’s face it, I have a lot of doubt. But my friend’s words gave me the validation I needed the other day: “If there are takeaways from this, let it be me telling you the thing I constantly try to tell myself: you are doing the right thing by refusing to ignore the possibilities of your life (even if everyone else does). You earned that proud feeling when you wake up in the morning and step outside to the places and things you always wanted.”

Photograph by Nick Lanphier

The truth is that I am not a dirtbag. I am not a dreamer or following a lifestyle. I’m just living a life according to my own happiness. And there is always good food, great and amazing and supportive and loving friends (and wine). And all of the passion you absorb is the passion you release along the way.


Cover photograph courtesy of Nick Lanphier.

5 thoughts

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  2. Really nice photos Kathy! You look so scrappy and thuggish. Even if you are a woman and not a dirtbag I trust that you will take that as a compliment. I appreciate your reflections on the romance and security that one sacrifices to pursue one’s passions. Like climbing, I’m sure that when the time is right the husbands and babies will find you too! 🙂

  3. Funny, I was looking for a new wallet of all things and came across your site, then I realized I just saw you yesterday (I think) at Brooklyn Boulders. I’ll say hi next time!

    Nice blog, btw! I’ve been wanting to create something similar for some time but never get around to it.

  4. Kathy, thank you for sharing this. I’m an east coaster in Boulder for grad school and constantly choosing work over climbing, despite how tantalizingly close it is. I feel guilty about it a lot! And weird that I do want stability and an apartment and a paycheck. Ive been thinking about that a lot recently, and this post came at a wonderful time. You do you, and I hope good things keep coming! Also these photos are fantastic – Ive been trying to get into trad climbing and its been tough finding the right partners so yay for faith theyre out there! Love seeing that youre out there getting your adventures 🙂

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