Back to New River Gorge—I’ve often called it my happy place and it’s nice to know that despite a lengthy amount of time away and more infrequent visits this past year, it still remains just that.
Having come from New York, a fresh, spring chicken that had just fledged her way from the Gunks, I first laid eyes on the Nuttall sandstone in pure and utter amazement. I’d made the first few trips with primarily sport climbers, so we never even looked at the gear routes. October 2013, Matthew O’Connor and I packed cams and slings and for our trip, and the doors of traditional climbing for me was changed, forever.
The New River Gorge, in my opinion, still boasts some of the best single-pitch traditional and bolted routes. What I soon realized during my first few visits south was that so many of the hard lines I yearned for were safe to protect and still as challenging as ever.
Fayetteville, West Virginia was the final destination before I scooted up to the northeast and then back to Colorado. We’ve certainly packed a lot into the trip, and being on the Stay Local Tour for past few months has reminded me of the tired romance of the open road. I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss it.
My year spent on the road, stripped of everything (family, friends, status, belongings) gave me a chance to be a lot more honest with myself about how I really felt about things. Being on the road, whether part-time or full-time, is anything but sure—but the beauty, for me, will always be uncertainty.
Scott Albright always told me that was good that I was seeking, stretching, constantly striving for something (even if neither of us knew what it was). It was good not to let complacency win. When everything is unknown, it’s hard to fall into that feeling of quiet pleasure or security.
And it’s kind of a funny thing—that we often crave the exact same thing that we fear. Adventure—it has always been the thing that has both scared and motivated me in most of my endeavors. Fear can be the strongest motivator of man; it can cripple and mobilize you at the same time. Fear is weird.
I thought this year was going to be all about living authentically, meaning being who I am unapologetically. It has taken me some number of years to get to a point of knowing my self-worth and loving who I am, and so I thought: Yes. This year is all about authenticity and what I am comfortable in.
But I was wrong. So far, at least, it has been all about vulnerability. Vulnerability sounds like a negative thing, but I think it’s quite the opposite. For too many years, I had been under the misconception that putting up emotional walls was a definite way to stay safe. And I didn’t even know it! We unconsciously use defense mechanisms to protect ourselves.
To live vulnerably is the actual core of meaningful experiences. I often think about my last few visits in the Gorge, and maybe I wasn’t as empathetic as I could have or should have been. It’s cost me friendships, but I don’t take those lessons for granted. Instead, I’m choosing to practice gratitude for the lesson and will try and take the negative past experiences as an opportunity to do better. It’s about having the foresight to look past the disguise, and then giving it a more positive spin.
We all have faults, and I imagine that learning to be alright with them is the most difficult part. It’s not always easy to change yourself, and some things will always be there even though we can improve our choices and reactions to things that life throws our way.
The Stay Local Tour team has now disbanded, and we are all heading our separate ways. Eric is leaving for Massachusetts, Kevin is driving east to go surfing, and I’ll be hopping on a plane to Africa for one month. To have ended the tour in the place of so many beginnings for me was a little bit of a head trip, but I’m here and I’m ready for the next lessons.
“Four years ago, I had so much to learn—about rock climbing, and myself. Four years later and I am still learning.
What I’ve taken away is that skills don’t come overnight, and they require great patience and determination. If you work hard and work smart, you can acquire them. If you are willing to challenge yourself in new and exciting ways, you continue to grow. All of this comes only with experience.
And with the Stay Local Tour ending at one of my favorite beginnings, I realized how not everything comes full circle. The idiom “coming full circle” actually means coming back to the original state of—and four years ago, I was a different person than I am now. Returning to my beloved New River Gorge, I knew that there was no definite ending point to any of this—we continue onward, always progressing, always challenging (ourselves and others), always searching, and (hopefully) always learning. Coming full circle is impossible when life is, maybe not an obvious straight line, but a winding road, filled with switchbacks, moments of love, hard lessons, and (if you’re lucky) some pancakes and good friends.”
Thank you any and all of you, for the lessons and the love. See you in a month.