Life, Outdoors

ABT: Always Be Training

September 12, 2017


I’m lazy by nature. Unless I have a goal, like a race or a mountain to climb, I tend to stick to a fairly do-the-bare-minimum type of schedule. Which means, three miles, three times a week. This is…ok. Not great. It is below the recommendation of half an hour every day of moderate activity. And yes, the way I run, I would classify it as moderate, not hard. I’m slow af.

Earlier this summer, on day 2 of what is not-so-lovingly referred to as the “Stairmaster” at Seneca, I thought to myself, “You know, I could probably do better if I added a leg day at the gym.” And then I promptly forgot all about it for the rest of the summer, because eh…strength training. Blah.

But now I am once again in training. I’m hiking Half Dome in October, and nothing puts the fear of failure into me like a plane ticket to a mountain. I do NOT spend that kind of money to fail, you guys. Barring thunderstorms or injury, I will make it to the top. Even if it means incorporating strength training into my routine and running a few extra miles, and rehabbing my diet to be more spinach, less wine.

That’s what training is. You do what you have to do, until your body is physically capable of doing what you want to do. That sounds miserable, but it’s not. Honest to God, I love training. I love the feeling of pushing myself farther than I want to go. I love the soreness. I love watching myself get stronger.

If only I could remember that in the off season.

Climbing, Life

Schrodinger’s Cat Goes Repelling

September 5, 2017


We were standing at the top of Seneca Rock when it occurred to me that maybe this whole outdoor climbing thing wasn’t for me, after all.

“Repelling doesn’t usually make me feel any kind of way,” Johnny said, and I nodded along like that was true for me, too, even though it most certainly was not. “But this route makes me feel something.”

Oh, fuck, I thought, very sincerely.

I am not afraid of heights. And I’m definitely not afraid of going up. But coming down has always been an issue for me. When I was a kid, I climbed up the dead tree in our back yard–shimmied right on up the ivy–and onto the roof of our house. I stayed there for two hours, too terrified to come down. Well, I remember thinking, this is my life now. I should probably train a squirrel to bring me food. A neighbor finally rescued me.

At Seneca, there was no one to rescue me.

The funny thing is, I know this about myself. I know that repelling terrifies me. I also know that if I’m climbing outdoors, repelling is going to happen. But I conveniently forget all about it until I’m once again teetering on a rock and a ridiculously thin rope is the only thing keeping me from a gut-splattering death.

It’s the first step that terrifies me. There are a lot of things a friend will do for you, but pushing you off a cliff isn’t one of them. You have to take that first step all on your own.

I check the gear, the knots, the rope, my harness. I check it again. Then one last time. It’s all fine. I know it’s fine.

I also know it might not be. I know that people smarter, braver, more experienced than me sometimes have accidents. I know that anytime we go high, we might not be all in one piece when we come down.

There is a moment where I make the decision. I have to accept both possibilities–that everything is fine and also it might not be–or I will never get off this damn rock. I step backward off the edge. That moment seems like an eternity to me. I am exhilaratingly alive, and also kind of dead.

And then that moment comes to a crashing halt, because it turns out that repelling isn’t a free fall, unless you really are going to die. Somehow, I forget that, too. If I remembered, I probably wouldn’t be so scared. I’m a fairly small person, which means I literally have to force myself down the rope until I’m at least halfway down.

The first step will probably always be scary as hell for me. And then, you know what? It’s totally fine. It might be hard. You have to keep your head, make sure you don’t go too fast and burn your hands, but that just gives you more time to enjoy the view. Just get past that first step and the whole world opens up.

Yeah, life is kind of like that.


Life, Outdoors

It Was Over Before We Knew It Began

August 29, 2017

Summer is one of those things that defies the laws of nature and physics. By the calendar, it stretches on for several months. It’s every bit as long as winter, spring, and fall. But it’s not really, is it? If it were, it wouldn’t be over already.

I did things this summer. Really great things.

I drove across Washington, Idaho, and part of Canada. It was gorgeous.

I wrote my second book. That was hard and I don’t really want to talk about it, but it’s also why I stopped writing this blog for the summer.

I spent three days camping and climbing at Seneca Rocks. Summitting will probably be one of my Top 10 Favorite Life Moments forever. One of these days I’ll write about that time I got stuck in the chimney.

I took my kids camping, twice.

I went hiking with my sister, who was visiting from China.

And then, suddenly, it was over. I only did about half as much as I wanted to.

Oh, well. At least Fall is right around the corner, and that’s at least twice as long as summer, right?


Outdoors, With Kids

Always Take the Trip

June 20, 2017

Last week, after a strangely cool June, the temperatures finally soared past 90 and the humidity turned my hair into Cousin It with an 80s perm. Luckily, I had reserved a camping spot in Rickett’s Glen, Pennsylvania, after their dad told me I would have them for Father’s Day, after all. Unluckily, the forecast called for thunderstorms pretty much every day.

I hesitated. Take my daughters camping anyway and risk a miserable time in the storm? Or stay in DC and get a haircut?

We went.

It rained.

Pretty much every day, in fact.

On the one day it didn’t rain at all, we hiked the four-mile loop of 18 waterfalls. The 7.5 mile loop gives you 22 waterfalls, but really, who needs 22 waterfalls? After the first nine, they all kind of looked the same, to be honest. But the hike was gorgeous, and my four-year-old did the whole thing on her own two feet instead of mine.

We passed an older man halfway up a rocky, thigh-burning staircase. “Make sure you tell your girls to be careful,” he told me. “The rocks are slippery and wet by the waterfalls.”

And because I’m trying this new thing where I don’t get pissy at people who mean well, I smiled and thanked him.

We saw him again as we were leaving. “You made it!” he said. “I was worried about you.”

My eight-year-old looked at him with wide eyes. “I was worried about you, too,” she said, very sincerely. “You’re so old.”

On the days it did rain, we mostly swam in the lake. Water is water, after all, and we couldn’t get any wetter than we were. The thunderstorm didn’t roll in until nighttime and it was glorious. I love a good storm. My daughters slept right through it but I stayed awake, listening to the call and answer of the thunder and lightning. The tent stayed dry. (We use this one.)

We had a good time.

It could just as easily have gone to shit.

You never really know what you’ll get, when you take the trip–whether it’s camping, hiking, backpacking, rafting, whatever. You just never know.

But you know what you get if you stay.


Getting Stronger

June 6, 2017

“Your hands are bad,” the manicurist told me. “Very, very bad.”

She was looking at my palms as she spoke–my actual nails are not so very bad, oddly enough. I don’t bite them, but I keep them short so that they won’t break when I climb. My palms, however, are a different matter. There are calluses at the base of each finger. My fingertips are red and sensitive, and the horizontal lines that mark my knuckles are often ripped–not enough to bleed, just enough to look ragged. I put salve on the tears to help the skin heal into new calluses. It’s an endless cycle.

It’s not pretty. Neither are the bruises on my elbows and knees. It’s funny, though, how something that looks so weak and busted happens in the moments I feel the strongest. (Not always. Sometimes the bruises come from moments of stupidity rather than strength.) I am not one of those people who goes around spouting nonsense like “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” Those people are idiots. Never listen to those people.

But I will say that there are moments when pain and ecstasy share the same breath. When I look at the wall and think, Right. This is going to hurt. And it does hurt, and it leaves a mark, but it also feels amazing.

My manicurist tells me that I will never find a boy with my hands like this, because nice boys don’t like rough girls. As a feminist, I should be offended, I suppose, but really I’m absurdly pleased that she thinks it’s only my hands that hold me back. Most people say it’s my bad attitude.

She shakes her head at me. She speaks limited English; I speak even more limited Mongolian. We don’t understand each other very well.

“You will be careful and not hurt yourself,” she tells me. “No more like this.”

And I nod even though I don’t mean it.

Because those are the times when I get stronger.