My summer travels have finally brought me to Wyoming. So far, these are the things that I know to be true of Vedauwoo: It is always windy. The rock is always sharp. The rock here greatly resembles Dr. Seuss poop.

And as Scott Massey put it: “The climbing here weans out the soft, the weak, and the spineless.”

While driving up to Devils Tower, I passed the sprawling rock formations on I-80 and almost drove right off the highway. I was so excited to come back after spending some time in Ten Sleep. The rock climbing here is weird and beautiful and it completely captivated me from day one.

Wyoming, I am kind of in love with you

One of the reasons I came out west was because I really wanted to learn how to climb offwidths. I want to be a well-rounded climber. I don’t have aspirations of becoming a pro and I’m not under the misconception that I will be the best. But I’m here because I am learning how to own my own shit and because I am ready to try something new. I’m exactly where I need to be. This is where I find out who I am and recreate myself, at the same time.

We began on Worm Drive (5.11b) and Big Pink (5.11b), where my frustrations began mounting immediately. I couldn’t figure out if I wanted to start left or right side in (and respectively, the cams were always racked on the wrong side), my hands were too small, my stacks felt too insecure, and WHAT THE FUCK IS A CHICKEN WING.

Sometimes, everything is working against you and all at the same time: the flare, the lean, and the size. Heel toes, stacks, and wings started feeling a little more secure, which is about as close to feeling “nice” as you’re going to get.

I used to look up at routes, see that it was 5s and 6s and shudder to myself, thinking that there’s no way anybody makes it up to the top. But I’m learning that with enough blood, sweat, and tears (and more blood—probably mine) I’m beginning to think that anything is possible.

Pamela Pack showing us the pivot move on The Warden (V8)

October Light (5.11a) was a test piece for me, as I finally started putting everything I’ve been learning together. It was the first time I climbed an offwidth that felt less like a grovel-fest and actually FUN.

The beginning of the climb was pulling a bulge on thin hands. Regardless of your hand size, bulges and overhangs are hard and arduous. Huffing and winging and forcing myself to move upward, I was pleased with the work I had made.

I’d had an extreme meltdown in the Creek this past fall on Big Baby (5.11). Because 4s are my absolute enemy, I bailed and took someone’s criticism personally. Because I suddenly wasn’t the “strong” climber, and I knew it and everybody was there to witness it. As friends dispersed, I lagged behind and cried. Those who stayed were really supportive and sweet, which probably made me cry even more. I cry, a lot. All of the time, in fact. In parking lots and at bases of climbs and every goddamn Disney film ever made. I know, I know. I’m a real girl these days.

I’m okay with it.

October Light (5.11a). Photograph by John Evans

Climbing, for me, is not about the days I send or the ones that I don’t. It’s about testing myself, love, and humility. When we test ourselves in big ways, we start to see more of our self-worth. I’m not a better person because I became a rock climber. I’m a better person because I have spent four years learning how to define my own limits, push past fears, make mistakes, and ultimately learn from them.

I don’t know if my road trip is coming to an end or not anytime soon, but I’m finally figuring out why the hell I left in the first place. I’ve been looking north, south, east, and west for something (or someone) who validates my life and who I am—but I forgot…it was within me the entire time. I just hadn’t been looking in the right places.

Camping underneath Wyoming skies. Photograph by Aly Nicklas

The truth is, I don’t actually need someone nuzzling up to me at camp and telling me I’m beautiful and strong and all of the things I wished people would see me as. Maybe I am beautiful and strong without someone telling me those things, and I’m better off hearing it from myself. As my best friend, Laura, said so eloquently: “We are going to puff out our chests, braced, alone but staunchly, brutally forging ahead into the future.”—and we’re going to do it with love and respect, for others, and most importantly, ourselves.

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