Connie Magee walked into the Manhattan gear shop I was working in. Something about her drew me in, and we immediately struck up a conversation about ice climbing.
“It’s amazing!” I told her.
“Let’s climb sometime!” she said.
We exchanged numbers and I had passed it off as one of those things you say to someone but it never really happens. You get busy, their message falls by the wayside and a million and two other things happen between then and now that keep it from actually becoming a plan. However, a few weeks later, I received an email from Connie saying that the condo was booked for the week of the Ouray ice festival and we were ready to roll.
We’d never even climbed together, but in January of 2012, I flew to Montrose to meet her and Mike Stone. It could have been horrible. We could have hated each other. Our climbing chemistry could have been shit, and I’d signed on to a whole week of climbing ice with two complete strangers.
And then, over dinner, I realized that she was this huge presence in my life that was both missing and necessary. Every other sentence between the two of us was, “me too!“
Connie is everything I’ve aspired to be in my adult life. She casts a compelling charm over you when you meet her, is kind, compassionate, wise, and funny as shit. I met Connie when she was going through somewhat of a rough year. She was slowly making the transition from NYC to who-knows-where. She owned an outdoor adventure company (after careers in Wealth Management and teaching Science to 8th graders) and had attained her climbing guide’s license, as well as her yoga teaching certification. Beyond her huge accomplishments in life, she is constantly delving into things that push her limits in ways that have made her the Connie I know and love today: a determined kick-ass lady with a heart of gold.
When she told me that she and her now ex-boyfriend had broken up, my heart ached. She wrote a heartfelt letter to Patagonia for their “Worn Wear” stories that I felt compelled to share.
I met Mike because of Connie. We climbed together countless times in the south. We shared projects and laughed over homemade dinners. Their home in Virginia was often a resting point for me when I was on the road, and they both welcomed me always with open arms (and often wake me with blueberry pancakes and Tex kisses).
There are these overlapping circles of friendship and remembrance, like tiny invisible Venn diagrams. Yet, somehow, they always seem to connect at the curved segments. Some might see things such as a relationship ending as the end of the chapter, and others might be reminded that it is just a beginning. Chapters begin and end, but the stories they leave with us...they go on forever.
And here, in Connie’s story, I am reminded that it’s the love we put into life that is what keeps us all connected to the same story.
Today is my dear friend Corey’s birthday, and he got a ratty, dyed, indestructible Patagonia climbing shirt from me.
The shirt belonged to me and my freshly-ex-boyfriend Mike. I say we, because though he owned the shirt first, it was ours. He “stole/inherited” it from his best friend in high school and early climbing partner (note the old-school tag…this goes back to the early 90’s). It used to be tan or gray, but somehow it got dyed purple during a late-night drinking incident. No one remembers what the stain on the chest is from. I think my guy was actually wearing this shirt the first time I saw him in the Gunks and I kind of knew I was going to fall in love. In my mind’s eye, Mike is flaking a rope, shy smile, blue eyes flashing, ready for the next hard line. The shirt was already old when I met Mike. He’d been through some major health problems including a kidney transplant, but he came out resilient, climbing stronger than ever-just durable. Like this purple shirt. It is the splash of color in so many memories of hundreds of amazing trips to the Dacks, White Mountains, Chatty, the Red, the New, all over Utah, Colorado, Potrero, Spain, Acadia, Cochise, Wild Iris, Vedauwoo…
It’s seen nearly every state in America, late-day bouldering sessions, trips to five or six countries and was always one of the key items in the trip bag. We sometimes negotiated over who got to wear it. It has survived so many crack climbs, so many snaggy bushwhacks, so many WTF benighted descents. I think one of us was even wearing it during an unprotected bivy in NC when the weather turned nasty, we couldn’t find the rap station and we had to wrap up in ropes and leaves to ride it out, saving our single Gu to split in the morning. Its fabric is part of the fabric of our life together.
When the relationship ended abruptly, painfully, this shirt was (impossibly) one of the things left behind. For me?
I couldn’t bear to wear it, but also couldn’t donate it, and certainly couldn’t trash it. (Sorry, Patagonia, it’s not quite ready for your recycling program).
Corey became a beloved climbing partner to me & Mike. Insane strength-to-weight ratio, fun personality, and open to learning all the technical stuff any serious climber must learn. Corey had a difficult semester last spring, and in May he did exactly what was needed: road trip from VA to CA and spend significant time climbing in the Wind River Range. We lent him some trad gear to fill in the gaps. I just saw him last week, full of life, optimistic, and radiant, in fact. This 22-year-old kid is so strong, such a talented climber, and so pure of heart. His summer climbing trip healed him and blew open his mind to all the amazing climbing out there. He’s hungry for it, and ready.
He’s gonna need a good shirt.