“I don’t believe in accidents, I believe in synchronicity.”
Chris Stewart told me this last Friday, where I’d spent most of the day in tears after having broken down on the side of the road at 4 a.m., three hundred and fifty miles away from home. I was on my way south to Chatt via the September Cragging Classic in the New River Gorge, but my Chevvy had other plans.
I guess that if you could plan on getting stranded anywhere in Maryland, Friendsville would be the place to do it. Chris took Shooter and me in almost immediately and kept me fed and caffeinated me throughout the day before I found a ride with three rafters heading down to Gauley Fest. Three hours, one roadside steakhouse, and a car transmission breakdown later, I made it into town. Fayetteville is kind of a paradise for not only kayakers and climbers, but also both dogs and children. I was happy to be back home, although still reeling from the past twenty-four hours.
But hey, sometimes it’s not really an adventure until everything goes wrong. I tried to stay positive before a ride came along, but not having a car was quickly demolishing any hope I had for the rest of my birthday trip. On the phone with my mom, she said: “We think we can get you back home by public transportation from Baltimore.”
Through blurry tears, I replied: “Mom, I still have two weeks left to go rock climbing!”
So after befriending some ruffian rafters and hitchhiking down to the Gorge, I made it in time for a few beers and climbs. And that’s all there was to it. Life happens. Obstacles happen. Sometimes it’s good for plans to get completely derailed because we never know exactly how we’re going to respond to certain situations until they occur.
I remembered something that my mechanic in Bed-Stuy, Errol told me once: “When you jump, you’re not going to drown. You’re going to swim!”
Errol wasn’t wrong. Things worked out, even though I’d handed the reins over. It’s true when they say that life begins where your comfort level ends. And I’m uncomfortable all of the time, these days. At least I’m comfortable with that now (or learning to be).
I finally made it to Chattanooga, and Sam Latone took me out to Laurel Falls. The general opinion is that the hike in isn’t very brutal, but the length can put off most climbers. Most of the approach is hiking on flat ground with some slight uphill.
It was quiet, beautiful and remote—exactly what I needed after a whirlwind of weekend chaos in the New River Gorge. We hiked through beautiful terrain until we came to an absolutely breathtaking falls area, completely hidden in the shadows of light that danced through the trees. The majority of climbing is bolted and on beautiful, smooth white rock, but Sam and I were interested in some of the classic cracks, the wide Tooth, Fang and Claw (5.11) and Webs We Weave (5.12b).
The roof after the wide section was incredible. I placed Yagmin’s old Metolius and then a number 5 from the ledge. Taking a moment to feel everything out, I found the right hands and then lifted my legs above my head—it was WILD. I cammed the crack with both feet, something I didn’t even know was possible. I leaned backward and walked my hands to the ledge behind me and continued walking until I could finagle another piece in. Truly a wild, one-of-a-kind roof crack.
On my actual birthday, Zack Slade and Erick Barros both took the day off to climb pitches with me at Sunset on Lookout Mountain. We were redirected from Twall because Tennessee does this funny thing every couple of months where they close the area for wild turkey hunting. We started climbing around 10:15 a.m., and twenty-seven pitches and a Red Bull later, we wrapped up the day at roughly 7:45 p.m.—just in time for me to top out, turn around and soak in the sunset.
I don’t know how I celebrated my birthday before I became a climber, but let me tell you that I wouldn’t have it any other way. Life is too short to do anything other than what you love.
I will always believe in celebrating birthdays. I think it’s really important to blow out candles, make wishes, and eat way too much cake. This year’s gift to myself was the knowledge that you can do and be anything. Possibilities are infinite.
Driving back down from Lookout, Zack slowed the car down and time stopped, just for a moment. Time always seems to stop when you sit above the rest of the world, from a lookout point or a cliffside or an airplane window, watching lights flicker through trees like tiny horizontal fires. He leaned over and said to me: “You already know what the important things are in life. The goal is not to have more, but be more.”
I have to continue believing that doing what feels right and not what I or the rest of the world thinks is right is the best way to live. It sounds pretty simple, right? We can dwell on what we may or may not have done right in our lives, but regardless, we have to keep moving and are going to have to live with our mistakes. I guess the point is making sure that the few things we were able to get right along the way count for way more.
It’s not the kind of gift you can wrap in pretty paper, but it’s a reminder to myself that nothing we do is in vain as long as we can look back and say we were in it for the right reasons at the time.
So here’s to the next year:. Keep traveling as much as you can and as often as you can. Make friends along the way. Care for those friendships and keep those connections. Stay tough (with a touch of vulnerability and honesty). Even if you don’t know what you want…knowing what you don’t want will put you in the direction of knowing what you do want. When I think about how I want to live my life these days, it’s FREE.