My original plans were to stay in NYC through the winter and leave in the springtime. I guess I’d had one foot out the door for several months anyway but was scared to take the plunge completely. So when I was backed into a corner, I held my nose and I jumped. And it’s taken me to some pretty wild places. I know that I should feel rich in experience right now, but I don’t entirely. Does that make me sound ungrateful? I think I’m just scared of starting over.

I’ve always thought that the nice thing about being in your twenties is that you can be amorphous and that there are no set limitations on how many times you can change your dreams and goals. I had a light bulb moment when I realized that it didn’t matter when it happened. It could happen in ten years, maybe fifty. It could happen on a Tuesday.

Propelled with this new idea, I started making my way back east.

Change scares me but heights thrill me. Quick ‘n Dirty (5.8+). Photograph by Nick Lanphier

The only way to help ease the pain of leaving sixty-degree weather in the desert is to go climb southern sandstone in the winter.  

Despite winter temperatures, this is the prime climbing season for Tennessee. I first visited last April for three days and having completely fallen in love with what little we had seen (and there is so much), I came back again in November. And now here in February, the murmur of spring days far behind us, you can still bask in the golden sunshine at the Twall.

I even did a little bit of bouldering. The Brain (V6/7). Photograph by Zack Slade

Nicole Millsaps and Lauren Whaley met me at the Twall parking lot and we warmed up on classic single pitches such as Multiple Use Area (5.9), Prerequisite for Excellence (5.8) and Golden Locks (5.9 but once a 5.8). Golden, which began with bouldering to a beauty of a splitter hand crack, was unparalleled in comparison.

Danny Birchman came out to meet us and we fired up Love Handle (5.10b). Once I had a taste of Tennessee Wall roof, we moved to Infinite Pursuit (5.10c). Love Handle varied from crack to face to roof (and yes we got to thread the love handle!) but the roof on Infinite felt infinitely more committing. Izzy Isara had asked if I’d like to take some of his doubles with me, but I said no: “I’ll be fine. I climb on a single rack in the Gunks all the time.”

Whoops.

When I got to the roof crux, I thought to myself: It’s just like a Gunks roof, right? Well, sort of. For a hot minute, I considered bailing onto another climb out right, but came back and committed to finishing the roof. Quite a bold section of climbing, in my opinion, but I know better than to expect anything less from Twall.

Nicole Millsaps eating up another perfect Twall crack! Atop Golden Locks (5.9)

Rob Robinson, responsible for many of Tennessee’s first ascents, called me on the phone one evening. He told me about the first time he laid eyes on the beautiful cliff line, and for a brief moment, I saw what he saw. I felt what he must have felt, and understood why he was compelled to share it with the rest of the climbing community at the time.

And then he told me to keep going for it: “You can always desk it later in life.”

His words of encouragement meant a lot, and it meant that it was time for me to start questioning myself less and believing in myself more. If I keep second guessing all of my choices, I’m living two different lives. You don’t always get to play the “what if” game, and sometimes you have to take the free-fall.

Lately, I feel as though I’m at war with myself and I don’t want to be. Izzy said to me after Infinite Pursuit: “You made me realize that you are the primary piece of protection…and everything else is redundancy in the system.”

Everything else is redundancy in the system. I am the primary piece.

Twall. Photograph by Nick Lanphier

The fall is temporary; it’s just like anything else in life. It’s about having enough patience for the inevitable landing. I can’t do anything to change that. I can only worry about changing what’s in my control before then. So, what’s stopping me but myself from enjoying the view on the way down?

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