It’s 1,783 miles from Brooklyn, NY to Denver, CO. I’ve done many a late-night and overnight drive but this was the longest one I’ve done solo. I told Jared O’Brien on the phone yesterday when he asked me how it went, “Oh, I don’t know. I kind of liked the long drive. I’d do it again.”
“Good.” Jared laughs. “You’re going to have to.”
I am kind of a real-life spaz. Ian Hickey calls me part hummingbird, and if you’ve met me then you know that it’s true. And so there is something absolutely harmonious and necessary about driving for hours alone on an open highway that I’ve sort of embraced it as my form of meditation. I think that’s why I took to climbing so quickly. My mind is constantly going a thousand and four miles an hour, and then I’m given this task that demands a clear head and forces me into the present moment.
I had several moments (once in Ohio and again in Nebraska) where I turned to Shooter in the passenger seat and started laughing so hard until I couldn’t stop. I thought I was going crazy. What the fuck was I doing? While I was driving through Nebraska, I had thought to myself, I don’t even know if I’d want to live in a climbing town. Then I’d have to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life.
It’s both new and strange. It feels like I’m looking through a pair of glasses that aren’t mine.
I survived the drive to Colorado by myself. I’ve actually never climbed a single pitch of rock in Colorado until this trip. Allie Levy and I went to Eldorado Canyon to pop my cherry on the classic Bastille Crack (5.7). The wind was pretty bad, so we only did the first pitch where I danced my feet on polished rock and jammed my cold hands into cold rock up fifty feet or so to the anchor. Brr.
Allie and I also did Tagger (5.10b/c) on the Wind Tower before calling it a day. That was the most scared I’ve ever been on a 5.9 pitch in my entire climbing life, by the way. We then took a ride through the rest of the Canyon and I gazed out the window at The Yellow Spur, six perfect pitches of 5.9 that sat in the warm golden light. It was mesmerizing.
Crashing at Allie’s, I made myself useful by offering her roommate, Aleya Jean, a ride to the airport early one morning. On the drive, she said something really interesting to me. She told me that she missed the east coast epic: “Driving eight and a half hours to West Virginia to climb for three days and go back home like it’s no big deal. Climbers on the east coast are driven in a very different way.” She told me about the “Colorado casual”, where basically you look out the window and decide to get brunch until the overcast skies clear up.
Maybe because Colorado climbing is more accessible, every climbing day doesn’t have to be an epic ordeal. I found the same thing to be true during my visits to Tennessee. What do you mean, you clock a full work day and THEN go get a few pitches in? That just doesn’t happen.
This sort of irrational thought that had been sitting around in my brain for a while now started stirring: If I live in a climbing town, what makes me special? I’m not that Gunks climber from Brooklyn anymore. Silly, right? Aleya prompted the idea that hit it on the head for me: Being a climber from the east coast is different from being one in climbing specific areas. You’re not as special. Everybody here climbs.
Okay, okay, that ISN’T true and EVERYBODY is special and a unique snowflake.
Most of my family and non-climbing east coast friends either think I’m Spider-man or insane or both. I definitely wouldn’t seem as “special” if I didn’t drive 3/4 of the way across the country to…climb a rock. Is the ability to move up a cliff actually what makes me special? There’s more to it, right?
Sometimes I climb some things and others, I don’t. I bake and I binge-eat ice cream for breakfast and I shop and sneeze and craft and read books and go running and make pancakes and learn new songs to play on the guitar and cry listening to an old mixtape and write letters to friends or fall apart for a (little) while. And those are the things that make me special, even 1,783 miles away from home.