1. Be a girl.
2. Go outdoors.
1. Be a girl.
2. Go outdoors.
There she is, that hottie in the sports bra lacing up her muiras. Oh yeahhhhh. You totally wanna check out her figure….eight, don’t you? Well, there’s a method to this madness you young stud. First off, assume she knows absolutely nothing about climbing. Yes, she does want beta on that boulder problem. And she definitely wants you to campus it. This gives her the opportunity to lavish her eyes upon your glorious biceps….side note, your shirt is off here. As always. Duh. Don’t worry, the cold will make you look more defined. Goosebumps are SO in right now. And while we’re on the subject, some artfully torn jeans and a beanie are a staple of your casual look. Now that you’re looking mighty suave, it’s time to woo that damsel in distress. She just got that problem that you were kindly giving her beta on, and you need to go give her a high five! By the way, the secret to a great high five IS making eye-contact….no, not those eyes. Lower. There ya go! Now that you’ve given her that ego boost, it’s time to……wait, that was her warm-up? No worries! This provides the perfect opportunity to comment on how she’s “really in shape” and give her a once-over. By this point, it’s clear that she wants to climb with you, so follow her to her next boulder problem.
Ok, so her next boulder problem is a harder grade than you expected. But I mean, if she can do it then you can do it easily, right? I mean, she is a girl. First you need to establish your manliness. Let her know how easy this boulder problem is going to be for you. Say something about how you needed another warm-up anyway or something like that. Also, it’s very important to explain why this problem is going to be easy for you. This is an excuse to talk about how much you bench and how many push-ups you can do. She’ll be so impressed that you sending her project will just be icing on the cake. Alright, so after some of your helpful coaching, she’s ready to give it a go. Go ahead and give her a generous spot, and if your hands graze that booty, well, you’re just being safe! And she did wear yoga pants, so I mean, she obviously wants you to check out her butt. She could’ve worn sweats. Although, girls butts look good in sweats too. That girl over there is wearing sweats. Mmmm. Brooooo. Hey, focus! Oh phew, she made it to the top. Wait, she made it to the top? Hey, the only thing she should be flashing is you!
So now you have two options. You can not try the problem because, you know, that tendon you sprained lifting like a boss is hurting (wink wink). Or, you can try the problem and show her how easy it is. You’re gonna go for it? Of course you are bro! But first, do some flexing disguised as stretching. Take a quick glance at those biceps to make sure they look fierce. Don’t worry, she won’t notice. And they do look fierce! Ok show time! Annnnd go! …..ok well, getting to the third hold isn’t too bad! I mean, that problem is totally not your style, plus that hold definitely spun and you needed chalk and that tendon you sprained is acting up…yeah, play off that, she looks like she feels sorry for you….oh wait, she’s watching that tool over there on that V9. Psh, what a tool. But wait! This is your chance to show how laid-back you are. Watch him with her and act unimpressed that he’s on a V9. Psh, no, you don’t care about him. He’s no competition. Psh. Look, he fell. Shrug casually and offer him some advice on what he could’ve done. You know, if he was a real man. Psh.
Now it’s time to bring out the big guns. No, not your biceps, the figurative guns. Act like you’re super bored and casually ask her if she wants to get on ropes. She said yes? She wants the D. Also, this is now officially a date. Obviously. Heh, that makes it a double D. Heh….double D….anyway. Oh shit, she busted out a lead rope and is tying in. And you’ve never lead-climbed or lead-belayed before. Bro, it’s totally chill. You can wing it. Ask her to put the belay thingy on the rope while you bust over to the water fountain. Super important to stay hydrated. Now you look knowledgable and efficient. Cool, so now all you have to do is clip the belay thingy to that one loop and you’re in business! Not so fast bro, check her knot. This is totally not for safety (you’re not a loser), it’s an excuse to get cozy. Her knot is close to her body so, like, you have to get close to her body! See what I did there? Freaking genius bro. Make sure you give her knot a few tugs forward so she gets the idea in her head of your intentions for later. Yeahhh. And now she’s checking out your….oh wait, she’s just looking at your belay device. She says it’s clipped on wrong? Whatever bro, you can totally smooth talk your way out of this. Just tell her that that’s how the pros do it. Name drop that one guy….Hoonold! Yeah, say he does it! Now she’s saying it’s pronounced Honnold and he solos? Push, whatever that means. It’s probably not important. Oo, tell her if she sends this route she won’t be “solo” tonight! Yeah, that’s perfect! Now she’s telling you to give her slack…awww, it’s ok girl, not everyone knows it’s pronounced Hoonold. She’s tugging on her rope and looking at you meaningfully? This must be like that one dance move with the fishing pole! Aw yeah bro, let her reel you in! Shimmy on over and….wait, she’s untying? Does she want to go somewhere private? Ask. She doesn’t feel comfortable with you belaying her? Ha! Ok bro, this is a classic scenario. See, the thing is, you’re way out of her league. Make sure you shout that at her as she walks away. Yeah, way to get the last word! You stud, you! You sure showed her! Whatever bro. She’s clearly too dumb and blind to see what a catch you are. Her loss! Where’d that girl in the sweats go?A
The latest Tim and I have stayed up recently was while watching America’s Got Talent videos until midnight with an eccentric 70 year-old billionaire. We met Alan at the climbing gym in Grand Junction, CO. Earlier that day Tim had gone mountain biking while I drew on a picnic table. When he got back, I asked how his ride was while barely looking up from my drawing. “Ah….it was….ok…” he wheezed out. Shit, I thought to myself, he’s hurt AGAIN. “Ok,” I sighed, closing my sketchbook. “What’s the damage?”. He gasped out something about a rock and a sharp turn while pointing out numerous nasty scrapes, topping it off by pulling his shorts down slightly to show me a mottled and swollen bruise where his handlebar had attempted to impale him on his way down. It sent an odd and excruciating pain down his leg, and we assumed he had stabbed a bundle of nerves or something. So clearly the best option was to then go to the climbing gym, mainly so that I could attempt to train for the butt-whooping that was climbing in Rifle Mountain Park. As Tim limped around the gym, an older, hunched man with bright white hair and mischievous eyes clapped him on the shoulder. “Son, are you ok?” Alan asked, blue eyes sparkling above a constant half smile. As I walked up Alan turned to me and playfully said, “you know, if this one is broken, I’m available as a replacement”. “Oh yeah, that’ll work perfectly, I was just about to take him out back and shoot him”, I said evenly. Alan hesitated, crooked grin frozen and neatly trimmed eyebrows slightly raised. I cracked a smile and he chuckled and slapped Tim on the back. As Tim coughed, Alan shuffled towards the stairs while yelling back at us, “c’mon you two, let’s go get some dinner!” Tim and I glanced at each other and shrugged. We had made a friend.
“See this box of bullets? Here, look. From the 1800’s. Guess how much. $28,000. That’s how much this box was”. “Uh”, I said. “Wow”, Tim said. Waco, Alan’s thirteen year old black lab, wagged her stub of a tail. Rows upon rows of guns lined the walls. Rifles dated back to the 1700’s brought to mind cowboys and Indians, while silver-filigreed pistols whispered of Spanish conquistadors. Alan liked guns. And he owned most of them. “This is my gun room”, he stated proudly. Waco licked his hand and wagged her stub.
Alan was a collector. But unlike most billionaires, he didn’t collect luxury cars or island bungalows. He had plenty of knick knacks, such as Mayan antiques worth a cool million, embroidered saddles previously owned by big-name outlaws, boxes of ancient arrowheads from the oldest Indian tribe ever recorded, and even a perfectly intact Megalodon tooth the size of my fist. But even these weren’t Alan’s true passion. His true passion was people, and his collection was quite impressive. While living in Grand Junction, Alan had fostered, helped out, and given meals to hundreds of lost kids and wandering dirtbags like ourselves. He had countless stories about all the people he had met over the years, and it seemed that everyone in town had a story about Alan. He was also a big part of the climbing community, even though he had just started climbing two weeks before we arrived. A kid that he had been fostering was a climber and convinced Alan to come to the gym with him. So Alan, being Alan, bought all the necessary gear and was projecting 5.9 a week later at age 70, keeping at it even after the kid had moved to Moab. He knew climbers like Ben Rueck and Mayan Smith-Gobat, and recently climbed outside for his first time with athlete Sarah Watson. When we drove to his house after dinner, we expected a hot shower and a wave goodbye. But Alan had no such plans. He had only recently acquired his new friends, and he wasn’t about to let us go that easily. “Tomorrow night we’ll have elk stew, remind me to take the steaks out of the freezer tomorrow morning”, he said as we walked through the door. Tim and I glanced at each other, our eyes saying hey, what the hell! Free food! Alan soon discovered that Tim had an appreciation for opera and was a talented singer. Soon we were watching youtube after youtube of child prodigies and unlikely tenors. “This guy’s from Texas.”, he said of one drawling teen. “I’m from Texas”. He turned to me, “you know, they say everything’s bigger in Texas”. I laughed, “yup, but their rulers are the smallest in the world!” “Ha! Ah’ understand.” Alan chuckled and turned back to his videos. “Ah’ understand” was Alan’s catch phrase, much like Tim’s southern “y’know it” or my Californian “yeah yeah yeah”. Not only was Alan from Texas, but he was also raised Jewish, like me. He showed me the mezuzah on his door frame and we commiserated over Jewish mothers. Finally, around 12:30am, we convinced him to let us go to sleep. “It’s amazing, the people you meet on the road”, I said to Tim as we lay in the van that night, sleepy from a rare hot shower. It rained gently that night, and the pitter-patter of the heavy drops on the roof of the van quickly lulled us to sleep.
“Ow.” I blinked as a raindrop hit me square in the eye and peered at the approaching clouds. They didn’t look too dark, and might even drift away from us. I couldn’t tell. “Alyse, you are on belay!” Tim yelled from the top of pitch one. We had decided to climb in Unaweep canyon and do an easy route called Questions and Answers to test out Tim’s finger. It had been a hot, sweaty approach, but now a gentle, chilly breeze rolled around the cliff, and every so often a raindrop would spatter on our jackets. “I think it’ll be fine”, Tim said as we swapped gear so that I could lead the second pitch. “The clouds don’t look too bad and I think they’re actually moving away”. “If you say so”, I shrugged as I traversed into the surprisingly small cracks that led to a roof. “Hmm…10d?” I muttered, stemming on nothing with only a tight tips lock to hold me as I fumbled around with a small nut. I glanced up. Fingers and tips until I get to the hands roof. “Oki doki then”. I reached the roof more relieved than I felt was necessary on a 5.10d, and shoved my hand into the crack in the roof, anticipating a perfect jam. “Wha-…oh come on! Who’s hands? Who’s?” I sighed and resigned myself to the tight .75 crack, knowing that I wouldn’t get a rest until I pulled around the roof. I traversed under the roof, being generous with my gear since a bolted anchor was supposedly just after the roof. Or was it? “Hey Tim!”, I yelled down. “There’s supposed to be an anchor here, right?” I glanced around again, thinking that my eyes had somehow skipped over the bots. “Uh, yeah I think so!” Tim replied. “You think so”, I muttered, still scanning for bolts. “What?” Tim yelled. I sighed. He seemed to only have good hearing when I didn’t want him to. Apparently this is a common problem with boyfriends. “Nothing!” I yelled back. “I’m gonna keep going a bit, there’s nothing here!” “Ok!”. Sparse cams clinking, I began climbing towards the right-facing corner where I was sure must be an anchor. Halfway up the slick .5 crack with only aiding nuts and left on my belt, I was sure I was wrong. I glanced down. I had been forced to ration my gear, and my last piece was about fifteen feet below my feet. “Shit.” I muttered. “What?” Tim yelled. Suddenly, the ears of a bat. I ignored him for the moment and peered up about ten feet to where it looked like I might get a piece or two in. That would have to do as an anchor. I yelled down to Tim that I was going to place a piece, then down climb to grab my last piece so that I could at least have a cam for the anchor. He yelled back an unsure ok, sensing that I wasn’t telling him something. He was right. I wiggled a small wire into a sandy slot, worriedly pulling on it before slowly starting back down. Suddenly, splat! A fat raindrop slammed into my helmet, startling me. As more drops began to fall, I gritted my teeth and continued down the steadily slickening corner. As I came within reach of the cam, my right foot squealed off the wall violently. I gasped and clenched my left hand, which thankfully had a decent enough jam. I was still for a moment, afraid to blink or breathe. If I fell and the nut popped, it would be bad. Really, really bad. Finally I slowly eased my right hand towards the cam and slid it out of the crack as if I was holding a sleeping kitten that, if woken, turned into a fire-breathing dragon. I clipped it on my belt and sighed with relief, then began working my way back up the dampening granite. I didn’t dare to breathe until I was back at my lone nut. I built my anchor with the cam and three nuts, making sure every piece was perfect and everything was equalized exactly. “That’ll have to do”, I muttered. “Tim! You are on belay!” I yelled. Silence. Of course. I rolled my eyes and tried again. “Tim, you are on-“ “Climbing!” he yelled. I sighed, “climb on!”. As he began climbing, the drops got fatter. Wait no, there were just more of them. A LOT more. In a few seconds it was pouring, and Tim looked up at me pitifully like a drowned pup as he slip-n-slid his way up the pitch. The one plus side to my anchor was that I happened to have built it just out of the rain’s reach below a small roof. So although I was very much exposed and didn’t have complete faith in my anchor, at least I was dry. “Well, that was exciting,” Tim said as he pulled up next to me. He glanced at my anchor. “Very exciting”, he revised. “You told me there was a bolted anchor”, I began. “Yeah”, he shrugged, “I guess there wasn’t”. I looked at him wide-eyed, fumbling with a retort. “Well…..shit!” I huffed. This is why I don’t win many of our arguments. “Yeah”, he said nonchalantly as he racked up for the third pitch. Luckily the rain had stopped by this point, and we opted to bust through the third and last pitch rather than wait for the rock to dry out. We topped out to warm sunshine, steaming slightly as we walked towards to slot canyon-esque rappel. It had been a good and unexpectedly adventurous day, and we were anxious to get back to Alan’s homemade elk stew and chocolate cake.
As much as I wanted Tim to come with me to Rifle for the Rock and Ice photo camp, it made sense for him to stay with Allen while I was gone. With his broken finger he couldn’t climb much, and he didn’t like the climbing in Rifle anyway. I wouldn’t be able to hang out with him much anyway, and it was cold up there. “And Alan said he’d take me fishing!” Tim squealed gleefully. He hadn’t gotten much fly fishing in lately, and Alan had a friend who was a fishing guide and would take them out for free. “Ok, I mean yeah, makes sense”, I shrugged as I lay eagle-spread on our small van bed. Yeah, I could be ok with this. Tim packed up everything he anticipated needing, like climbing gear, his mountain bike, and fishing gear, before waving me off. I drove towards Rifle feeling nervous. I felt like I wasn’t in the greatest climbing shape, and I had been feeling a little sick after my bout with food poisoning the night before. Well, not exactly food-poisoning. Mistakenly thinking that we would be eating awful camp food at the photo camp, Alan took Tim and I out to a Chinese buffet the night before. I had never been to a buffet, Chinese or otherwise, and I wasn’t entirely sure how it all worked. “It’s $45 a plate here, so you’d better eat your money’s worth!” Alan explained as I held plate number one and scanned the food in awe. As I stared at the rows of steaming food, Alan winked at Tim behind my back. “Yep, gotta eat at least five or six full plates or you’re considered rude!” I gulped. Five or six plates?! On my fourth plate, I wondered if it was possible for a stomach to actually burst. On my fifth plate I got my answer: no, the food simply comes back up. That night I lay on the carpet and moaned between sips of ginger ale. “At least I ate my $45 worth!” I gasped to Tim. Tim furrowed his brow, confused. “Wha- oh,” Tim started laughing as he realized that I had been tricked. “Hahaha! It’s only $11 a plate!” he said gleefully. “You believed him! Hahahaha! You thought… hahaha!” I stared at Tim wide eyed, not sure if I should feel mad or stupid. I settled on both. I moaned again, and Tim laughed harder. I never wanted to set eyes on a Chinese buffet ever again. I shook my head and chuckled to myself as the van struggled towards Rifle. Well, at least now I had an excuse if I couldn’t climb very hard. Even if it made me sound like an idiot. Oh well. I sighed and flipped my blinker on to merge onto the freeway, making my way to Rifle for three very interesting days.
Looking for a home.
She follows the rivers
and the trickling streams.
Her feet are bare, her skin sun-kissed.
Her hair flows free, like the rivers she follows.
Her voice is a waterfall,
Her voice is the sea and stars.
She sings of the desert and of the trees.
She sings to be free and not to be paid,
her songs are worth more than money can buy.
On a pine needle floor.
The wind is her partner,
smoother and gentler than any man.
The forest comes alive as birds gift her a song,
the ferns sway in time with her steps as she twirls.
And she is beautiful.
Her laughter is a babbling brook,
wildflowers delicately scent her skin.
The sun reddens her cheeks and brightens her eyes,
She is a reflection of her surroundings.
than what the mountains give her,
they offer her riches worth more than gold.
She’d rather have stars than chandeliers,
No ceiling on earth is better than sky.
Not of a house
or of suburban streets.
But of the sun rising and setting,
telling her when to wake, and when to sleep.
She follows the sun when she is not dreaming.
And she has much to learn.
The snowy peaks teach her humility,
while the aspens teach her grace and poise.
The moments of peace and clarity and awe teach her
that a life well lived is better than a life well paid for.
She has found a home
and it is not in a city or town.
It is where the wind blows and where the flowers bloom.
It is where the sun has led her and will lead her still.
She will follow the sun until it leads her no more.
“Hey Cathper, do you like fish thticks?”
I jolted out of my hiking reverie to the sound of an inquisitive fourth-grader with a lisp. A kids day camp bustled past as we descended Yosemite’s famous Mist Trail. Tim had broken his finger mountain biking about a week into our trip, so we opted to hike today instead of climb. It was a good choice, as Tim’s finger had swollen to the size of a large cherry by midday. So we woke up early, inhaled the icy air, and started up the Mist Trail. This is one of Yosemite’s most popular hikes, and for good reason. Large stone steps lazily wound up towards the pounding falls, the greenery and multitude of rainbows suggesting that if unicorns were real, they would live here. The icy mist quickly drenched us, providing both the trail’s namesake and the first shower we’ve had in a while. Tromping towards the raging falls, we passed a fit guy about our age hiking the other way. “Hey, how’s the hiking?” he asked cheerily. Before we could respond, he tripped violently, barely caught himself, and immediately launched into a run as if that had been his intention the whole time. We stared after him for a while then laughed. “Oh no, I didn’t trip, just needed a boost”, Tim mocked. I grinned, “I bet if he had fallen he would’ve just started doing push-ups”. We had started up the trail around 8am and hadn’t encountered a ton of people. The hike down was a different story. A cornucopia of sweaty families, muscle-tanked bros, camera-happy foreign tourists, and shrieking teenagers soon filled the narrow stone walkway, causing Tim and I to resort to a mad scrambling power-team dash to get down. Glide around the potbellied man, high-step over the screaming toddler, matrix-dodge the flailing tourist yelling in Vietnamese, two hops this time, sliiide to the right. Criss cross! We hopped back into the van around 1pm and exchanged our soaking wet clothes for dry ones, contemplating what to do next.
“Uh oh….that doesn’t look good”.
The EMTs grunted as they heaved the man on the stretcher down the loose trail, muscles straining. We stood out of the way and watched them go, necks stretching with morbid curiosity. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to test Tim’s finger with some easy climbing after hiking the Mist Trail. As the sound of feet stomping in unison petered off, we continued up the trail to Sunnyside Bench with a bit less enthusiasm as before. “Hey what happened?” I looked up to find Tim talking to the group of people the injured guy had been climbing with. Although shaken, they were able to tell us that he had been climbing a route above his pay grade and was not placing gear well. He also wasn’t wearing a helmet. His foot had slipped, a few pieces had popped, and he had flipped upside down. His belayer had given him a hard catch so he didn’t deck, but did smack his head pretty good against the rock. “And that’s why you wear a helmet”, they concluded. We nodded in agreement, feeling a lot less sorry for the guy now. We had decided to take it easy due to Tim’s finger and, with about two hours of light left in the day, hopped on a fun looking 5.9 after warming up. As we were gearing up, an older, dirtbag bomber daddy looking-guy and a younger, Alex Honnold’s little brother-looking guy plopped their packs at the base of the route and started gearing up as well. Tim and I glanced at each other. “Hey do you guys mind if we go first?” Tim asked. “We’ll be fast”. Honnold’s little brother looked up at us and grinned, “yeah sure man, no problem”. Relieved, Tim snatched the sharp end and hustled up the route like that one kid in gym class who everyone hates for actually trying. I hadn’t realized that there were two pitches to this route, and was a little confused when Tim began pulling up the rope. Eh, he’s probably gonna rap or something, I thought to myself. He knows what he’s doing. Turns out he did, in fact, know exactly what he was doing. I, on the other hand, didn’t have the slightest clue what I was doing. “Uh….are you tied in?” My stomach dropped a little as my ears burned red with the realization that I was supposed to be following. “Uh….shit. No. Sorry. I didn’t realize it was two pitches. Shit. Sorry.” I glanced at bomber daddy and Honnold’s little bro. “Um, we don’t usually do this”. I mumbled, meaning that we don’t usually mess up like this. But Honnold’s brother took it to mean that we don’t usually do multi pitches. Or maybe even that we don’t usually climb. Either way, he smiled gently at me and said, “oh it’s ok. Just take your time and be safe. Let me know if you have any questions”. I opened my mouth to correct him, ears burning crimson now, and immediately closed it. Oh well. He meant well, and there wasn’t really a way I could convince him that I was actually an experienced climber without sounding like a douche. Or worse, a noob. Oh god, he thought I was a noob! Ears and pride almost literally on fire now, I scampered up the route quickly, hoping to maybe regain some dignity by showing them that I knew what jamming was. I needn’t have worried. Honnold bro and bomber daddy were still only halfway up the first pitch when we rapped from the second. As Tim was waiting for me to rap, he chatted with Honnold bro, who’s name turned out to be Julian. Bomber daddy was actually Steve, and also actually a bomber daddy. They turned out to be super nice laid back guys and, upon learning that we had been driving out of the park every night to camp, offered us a spot in their North Pine campsite. A few hours later we all sat around a crackling campfire, swapping stories and spray. Turns out Steve was pushing seventy years old and had first been to Yosemite in 1957. He even still had the ticket stub from entering the park all those years ago. “Hey Steve, when did you get your first pair of climbing shoes?” Tim asked. “Hmmm”, Steve pondered, “when did calculators come out?”. Tim, Julian and I laughed at this as Steve stared at us, astonished and confused. It had been a genuine question. Tim and I soon learned that Steve was the epitome of “a character”. Whenever we would talk about living off the grid or on the move, he would shriek, “the dentistry!” and go off about getting dental care while houseless. His wild, scraggly grey hair and weathered stubbly face lit by firelight, he somewhat paid attention to the conversation while adding in an occasional random quip such as “the best way to sleep in a snow cave is to not sleep in a snow cave”, or “man, that’s exactly why you shouldn’t vote for Trump” (“wait, why shoudn’t I vote for Trump?” “dude, you need a reason?!” “well, no, but…. never mind”). Julian tended to be more on the quiet side, one of those secret nerdy geniuses turned wannabe dirtbag. He had just left his job doing some nerdy genius thing, and was trying to enjoy funemployment. He nodded and smiled as Steve ranted about some random thing or another, and it was clear that he had the patience of a goose whose egg is actually just a rock. Finally at 11:30, long past our bed time, we said good night. “Alright, we’re gonna go home now”, Tim grinned, and we crawled into the van. I don’t think he’ll ever get tired of that joke.
“Wet?! What the shit?!”
It was the next day, and I was leading the Serenity crack on Arch rock, cowardly wishing for a bolt. I had gotten about two pieces of gear in after the first thirty feet of pin-scarred route, and neither of them instilled any confidence. And now the rock was wet. “Yeah, mountain project mentioned that it might be wet! I didn’t want to tell you because you might not want to lead it then!” Tim yelled up at me from his sunny, comfy belay. Meanwhile, my aching toes quivered ever harder as I absorbed this new information. “YOUUUU! GAH!” I shrieked. What I had meant to say was, how could you not tell me, I actually understand but still, what the hell man? I tried again, “YOU! ASS! Huuuuu!”. Really eloquent. About three-fourths of the way up the route, I finally got a decent piece in, a number one cam right in my only hand jam. “Goddammit”, I muttered, and launched into a desperate layback to the chains, not bothering to place any more gear. “Just go, just go, just go” I egged myself on as the chains inched closer. Hand shaking, I waved my hand around the chains like a shitty wizard. I couldn’t seem to clip in. I chased the draw around with my hand like a dumb goldfish not realizing that he’s in a bowl. “Come ON! You little…. ggGRRR!”. Finally my trembling hands found the gate of the biner and shoved the rope through. “TAKE!” I yelled, exhausted and suddenly extremely thirsty. “Tim! Bring water!” I probably should’ve told him to also bring his big-boy diapers, because a Yosemite 5.10 is not an everywhere-else 5.10.
Another 5.10 that we were proud to onsight was a route called Gripper. While walking up to this almost entirely off width route, we encountered a sign about peregrine falcon closures. The sign said that only certain routes were closed and that other routes were open, such as Gripper. Having had no previous experience with falcons or their nesting habits, we assumed that we could still climb Gripper. As Tim started up the third pitch of the route, I heard a blood-curdling “SCREEE!”, and knew that we had been wrong. Currently the highest measured speed of a diving peregrine falcon is 242 mph. These birds are raptors and have hooked beaks and extremely sharp talons, which they use to snatch prey mid-dive. My first thought when I saw one barreling towards me was that they are extremely beautiful birds. My second thought was that that extremely beautiful bird wasn’t slowing down in the slightest. “SCREEEEE!” the falcon shrieked. “AHHHHH!” I shrieked back. I ducked down just in time to feel harp talons scraping my helmet. And that, also, is why you wear a helmet. “What the…. oh fuuuuu!” the falcon swooped again, wingtip grazing my cheek. “Shit! AHHHH!” I screamed as the falcon tucked its gorgeous wings in again and shot towards me like a fighter jet. “SCREEEEE!” “FUUU&#K!”. Why are humans always so much less majestic than seemingly all other species? I certainly felt pretty damn un-majestic as I flailed around and grunted at the falcon. The falcon eyeballed me as it carved through the sky beautifully, gearing up for another dive bomb. It did not find me intimidating. “TIMMM!” I screamed upwards. “HURRY UPPPP!” I couldn’t see Tim at this point, but I was hoping he was close to the chains. I was very ready to get the hell out of there. So was Mr. Falcon. “SCREEEE!” suddenly, a spiraling football launched towards me from the other side of the wall. No, not a football. Another falcon! “NOOOOOO STOP!” I ducked down again, my only protection the bright pink plastic of my helmet. “GO AWAY I’M SORRY!” I shrieked, as I was simultaneously dive-bombed by two angry falcon parents working in tandem. “SCREEEE!” “SCREEEE!” “NOOOO PLEASE!” “SCREEEEEEE!” “FUUUU&#K!” I dip, dodged, ducked and dove just like the movie Dodgeball taught me, but the falcons were relentless. Finally, Tim shouted that we was off-belay and began pulling up rope as I shrieked and flung my arms around like Frankenstein at a party, trying to convince the falcons to leave me alone. All this got me was a questioning head cock as falcon number one tucked its wings in for another dive. As talons scraped my helmet once again, I felt a tug and a distant yell. “Alyse, you are ON BELAY!” Tim shouted. “Oh thank god!” I told the falcons, who seemed to agree. I began edging off the belay ledge into the traverse at the start of the pitch. “SCREEEE!” I glanced behind me, side-shuffling furiously now. “I’M LEAVING! I’M LEAVING!” I screamed at the falcons. Luckily for me, these were english-speaking Peregrine falcons, and understood immediately and backed off after offering me a spot at their dinner table that night. I wish. The falcons continued their tirade as I groped for holds while ducking razor sharp talons. Finally, as I transitioned into the crack and began racing upwards, the falcons dove further and further away. Finally they stopped altogether, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
We all make mistakes. We are all humans, and humans screw up. We shouldn’t have climbed in that area at all. And while I wish the sign had said “area closed” instead of just a few routes, I have no one to blame but myself. Falcons and other nesting birds are a big part of the climbing environment, and I should’ve educated myself on these animals just like I would rattlesnakes and bears. It is just as important to learn about species that YOU could negatively affect as it is to learn about species that could negatively affect YOU. Peregrine falcons are extremely territorial and will typically return to a nesting site year after year. They mate for life, and the two parents are very protective of their young. Even if you are a few hundred yards away, they will work together to eliminate the threat: you. It is important to realize that we are entering THEIR territory, not the other way around. If you see a sign saying anything about any kind of nesting closures, just avoid that area entirely. This was a lesson that I learned the hard way, but am very glad to have learned it. The important thing in these kinds of situations is to swallow your pride and admit that you were wrong, learn from your mistake, and spread the word to others so they don’t do the same.
The next morning we woke up bright and early, rubbed sleep out of our eyes, racked up, and began walking towards the east buttress of middle cathedral. The route we were aiming for was popular, and our goal was to be the first team on the wall. To our dismay, not one but two teams were at the base of the route when we jingled up the trail, racked up and ready to go. We watched with growing disappointment as a lady in a brand-new harness, new shoes, and a sparkling new helmet tried to remember how to tie in. “Now remember”, a voice coached her from above, “just follow the rope until you get to me. And grab the cams as you go like I showed you”. “Grab the what?” the lady asked. Tim and I looked at each other, exasperated. As we sullenly trudged down the trail, I couldn’t help but think that it was probably for the best. Tim’s finger was grotesquely swollen and crooked, and needed time to properly heal. We would be back for Yosemite and the currently closed Tuolumne, when the weather was warmer and the crowds were thinner. In the meantime, we packed up the van and headed to Grass Valley for some delicious home-cooked meals from my Aunt Vicki and some mechanical help from my Uncle Rich before heading up to Lake Tahoe to continue our California tour.
“Take. Take! TAAAAKE!” “Oh my god I AM TAKING!” The brightly manicured girlfriend shrieked up at her quivering boy toy bro as she pulled out yards of slack. The laughter on the observing experienced climber’s face melted into a look of terror as the bro quivered ever harder. Experienced climber bolted over, snatching the rope from Miss Priss. Her eyes narrowed as if he had stolen her skinny double latte as her polished hand flew to her jutted-out hip. “Oh my gawwwwd!” she drawled, as experienced climber jjdesperately yanked up slack. “See what he’s doing Tiffany? Like THAT! JEEZ!” Bro threw up his hands as Tiffany smacked her gum, eyes rolling as if she was trying to find a brain back there. Bro touched down like a douchey Peter Pan and strode over to experienced climber. “Dude, lay off my girl!”
Ah, the climbing gym. A plastic jungle where species of all kind gather to fight the mighty fake wall. It’s a beautiful, stinky explosion of chalk and chaos. And to some, it is home. The gym rats come in many shapes, sizes, colors, and volume levels. If you watch closely, you can observe the various species in their preferred habitats. In the bouldering area, you’ll find most of your gorilla-like Bros, pounding their chests as they swing from sloper to pinch. This species is based around ego and machoism and will go out of their way to explain to you how crossfit benefits climbing. Physically these Bros are very top heavy, skipping leg day in order to grab a smoothie from that hot chick at Jamba Juice. They typically sport some sort of trendy, well-maintained haircut and a few meaningless tattoos as well as their signature “bro tank”. They also tend to be on the shorter side and will compensate for this with their giant mouths and egos. This trait is a sneaky one however, and you may mistake a short, curly-headed bro from behind for your mother. If this happens do not, on any terms, lean against their shoulder and say, “I’ve got something with huge jugs that you’re gonna love!” If this happens, be sure to immediately show disgust at finding out that they are not your tiny Jewish mother, else they get the wrong idea. As an extremely proud species, telling them that they resemble said tiny Jewish mother is usually a good deterrent. On the subject of pride, note that this species is also known as the “excuses species”. Whether it’s a “high gravity day, bro” or, “this chalk sucks, bro”, they always manage to pull an excuse from between their firm buttocks when they plummet heavily onto the crash pad. The females of this species are very similar to their male counterparts. Trendy and heavily made up, they seem to all prefer clothing that is a size or two too small. They have been to one yoga class apiece yet are identified by the “ohm” symbol tattooed behind their ear or on their hip. Another identifying trait is their liberal use of the words “actually” and “literally” when speaking of something figurative. The Bros and Lady Bros both enjoy taking over entire walls, campusing unnecessarily, and gawking at the Child Prodigies.
There are two categories of the Child Prodigies, the Bouldering Prodigy and the Ropes Prodigy. The Bouldering Prodigy is usually the showier of the two, and will flash your project faster than you can say “man I feel old!”. Bouldering Prodigy will fly like a rabid squirrel to micro crimps fifteen feet off the deck, but is oddly afraid of rope climbing. Ropes Prodigy, on the other hand, has no such qualms. Ropes Prodigy was leading at age nine, and has been onsighting their age ever since. An easy way to identify this species is the stoic, militant belay-slave father calmly chanting beta while glaring into his belay specs. This Prodigy is known for resting on the worst crimp on the route, being creepily flexible, not making a sound when they fall, and having the endless endurance of a hamster running on its squeaky wheel at night. The Prodigy species will make you question all of your life choices as they dance up routes you struggle on while you say things like “oh well, just wait until they hit puberty”, or “I mean, if I had that strength-to-weight ratio…”. The Prodigies are most admired by the old Bomber Daddies, who are well past their prime and pride and don’t mind being shown up by a twelve-year old in a Pokémon shirt.
The Bomber Daddies are the oldest generation of the Gym Rats, and the only species that can escape ridicule when cruxing on a 5.9. These weathered and withered old timers hobble their way over to the shorter walls, their arthritic fingers gently shaking as they tie in. Members of this species tend to be either a bit overly friendly or a bit overly cranky. It is common for an uncomfortable staff member to have to explain to a Bomber Daddy why they should replace their neon retro harness from the 70s or why they can’t belay with an eight in the gym. Bomber Daddies also tend to not understand the concept of the day pass or the membership. Instead, they assume that it’s a good enough miracle that they’re still climbing and, gosh darn it, they’re just gonna walk right in and start climbing with their handy eight that they stole from that worthless hippy in camp four all those decades ago. Some will still sign in, but with a first name only or even just the letter “G”, as if the climbing population has not changed a whit since they started climbing and they are the only climber out there named Gregory. Bomber Daddies can get away with a lot; they use outdated terms and equipment and wear fleece things that would make kaleidoscopes jealous, yet are impressive regardless of what grade they’re climbing.
On the opposite end of the spectrum you have the Noobs. The Noobs are never impressive. They could very well also be named the Cringeworthys. There are two categories of Noobs: the Aware Noobs and the Unaware Noobs. The Aware Noobs are the best kind of Noobs; they are fully aware of their lack of climbing knowledge and ask a plethora of questions concerning a plethora of topics. The Unaware Noobs would do well to learn from the Awares. The Unawares are pretty certain that they know everything there is to know about climbing; after all, they did read and memorize the google definition of rock climbing. This is the species that comes into the gym, vows they know how to belay, then tries to put their rental harness on over their head. They also try to hip belay, insist that their FiveFingers are better than the rental shoes, and ask how long a day pass is good for. Probably the favorite activity of the Unawares is to hop on the route next to and overlapping yours when you’ve already started climbing. When the routes intersect, they enjoy using your shoulder as a foothold even though you have the right of way. All attempts at educating Unawares on gym etiquette will be thwarted by condescending looks and whispered insults. Staff members are typically highly unamused by these Unawares. And for good reason, as this species is the most dangerous species in the gym.
The second most dangerous species of Gym Rats aren’t actually climbers. They are the Loose Children of climbers. These are the hyperactive grandchildren of the Bomber Daddies, the less focused siblings of the Prodigies, or the uninterested offspring of the Noobs. To the Loose Children, the gym is simply a giant playground full of fun obstacles such as falling leaders, stretching yogis, and cruxing boulderers. The gym is a game, and the object of the game is to interact with as many obstacles as possible. Barely missed getting curb stomped by a falling climber? Point! Ran under a shaky boulderer without getting smushed? Point! Deter someone from climbing a route by letting your baby brother crawl around the base of the wall? Double Points! And in this game, the Speak to the Manager Mom plays an important role. The rules are as follows. If you are attempting a point but end up getting smushed or curb stomped, you lose your point. However, if you run bawling to your Speak to the Manager Mom and she ends up saying the word “sue” to a staff member, then you get…. wait for it…. TRIPLE points! You also receive half points for things such as using crash pads as sumo wrestling mats, swinging from topropes like Tarzan, and laying in the middle of the gym floor thrashing your arms and legs around for no apparent reason whatsoever. If you collect enough points and whine enough by the time you leave, Speak to the Manager Mom will buy you a Naked or an Odwalla juice so that you can refuel on a healthy thirty five grams of sugar.
Loose Children are most irritating to the Outside Cats. Outside Cats are distant relatives of the Gym Rats, and only visit when they absolutely must. There are two sub-species of the Outside Cats; the Sport Cats and the Trad Cats. Like actual cats, this species tends to sit back and observe the other species rather than interact with them. Sport Cats often congregate in groups, sitting silently and protectively in a semicircle around the proj. They are not a rowdy bunch, but when they do converse the topic is usually the current weather conditions of their favorite crag, or spray. Spray is extremely important in the social structure of the Outside Cats, and you are not deemed worthy of joining their tribe until you have gone out and gathered enough spray for yourself. To the Outside Cats, spray is the currency. And your spray is more or less valuable depending on where you’ve been and what you’ve climbed. Certain spray, such as bouldering spray, has very little value, whereas spray on the Red River Gorge has immense value. The Trad Cats tend to be the goofier, more dirtbaggy sub-species. These Cats will put in endless laps on the crack systems, stopping only to wander over to the shiny trad gear in the shop and drool. A few identifiable traits include a personal and a nut tool dangling from their harness, scabby hands, beat up Moccasyms, clothing full of holes, shaggy locks, and doofy grins. The Trad Cats are a friendly breed of Outside Cat, but they will never be overly fond of the Bro and Lady Bro boulderer. The Trad Cats look up to and worship the Bomber Daddy as the ultimate life goal.
Scattered among the six most distinguishable species of the Gym Rats are the Miscellaneous Climbers. Among this species are Middle-Aged Couples who started climbing when their Prodigy kids did. If you’re lucky you can overhear this species performing their ritual loving banter: “you know there’s a foot hold over there right?” “Wow Steve, you can spot that but not the dirty sock you left in the hall?” “You want to do this now, Carol?”. Also included in the Miscellaneous Climber species are the Foreigners. There are many sub-species of Foreigners, including Freakishly Strong Europeans, Extremely Loud Asians, and Middle Easterns in Adidas Tracksuits. In addition to Middle-Aged Couples and Foreigners, other Miscellaneous include Extremely Sweaty Shirtless Guy, Tattooed and Pierced Hippies in their 30s, Terrifying Shrieking Lead Fall Girl, Young Couple On a Date, Weirdly Strong Old Bald Guy, Loner Wandering Around Looking at Shoes and Gear, Awkward Gangly Boulderer Who Shakes a Lot, Girl in Booty Shorts Doing Yoga in the Middle of the Gym, Badass Old Ladies in Lycra, Hardcore Tattooed Lesbians, Attractive Wealthy 40 Year Old Women in Lululemon, Meathead Lifting Weights and Yelling While Staring at the Mirror, Guy Who Boulders For Two Minutes Then Leaves, Family Who Comes in Just to Look While Their Chubby Son Plays Angry Birds, Former Boy Scout Who Only Wants to Learn to Rappel, Chubby Macho Man Talking Endlessly About How he “Rock Climbed” in the Army, Girl Attempting to Climb With Full Manicure and many, many more. These are Gym Rats. They are a broad and complex species with many unique quirks and traits. But they are similar in two ways: they are all just trying to conquer themselves, and they all call the climbing gym home.
What species of Gym Rat are you? Use this nifty chart to find out!
“Coffee or tea sir?” Denver blinked blearily and squinted through his shaggy brown locks into twin bright lights. Was he in the hospital? He didn’t drink THAT much last night. His head throbbed. He sighed. Fucking robots, it can’t be a minute past 6am. How rude. That single thought woke him more quickly than the blackest coffee ever could. Fucking robots?!? He bolted upright, only to fall back onto the bed as he smacked his head on the lights. The robots (he saw that there were two) chuckled gleefully as they held him down, orange and purple lights momentarily flashing across their blank white faces as they laughed. Tic tacs, Denver thought, I am being restrained by giant tic tacs. The thought struck him as hysterical, and he bellowed in laughter along with the robots. This seemed to dampen their cheer, and they straightened up and sat in silent disapproval of this idiotic hysterical human. Denver’s maniacal laugh trickled into a giggle, then faded into cold terror. The robots approved of this. “So….coffee or tea sir? Which do you prefer?” Denver blinked again, somewhat pitifully this time. “Grrrragh”, he said. Calm down you moron. You’re already here…wherever here is…., no need to act like a frightened gumby. Trembling, he wet his lips and tried again, “I…um…tea I guess. Thank you”. The robots looked at him in surprise, yellow lights sparkling like fireworks across their faces. “Oh no sir, not for you. It was a bet,” said the one on his left very matter of factly. It snapped its smooth white fingers at the other. “Pay up Zar! I said tea!”
BOOM! The double doors of the room slammed open, and Denver yipped and smacked his head on the lights again. “Ah, the inferior has woken,” drawled a voice like ice. Denver sat up cautiously and peered over his shoulder. A woman in a strange silvery suit straight out of a Michael Jackson music video stood there stoically, hands clasped behind her back. A very beautiful woman, Denver noted. He suddenly was all too aware of his unshaven bristly cheeks and tired eyes, in stark contrast to her luscious raven black mane and piercing green eyes. Out of instinct Denver thought to himself dude, I wonder if she climbs. The robots heaved him up and shoved his feet into strange metallic slippers. He noticed that he was wearing a suit similar to the woman’s, though somewhat less tailored. There was a silence as the woman appraised him coldly and calmly. She flicked her wrist at him, “come with me,” she said briskly. He hesitated for a millisecond, then followed her into a cramped steel elevator. He still didn’t know where he was or what they were planning for him, but what else could he do?Those robots were creepy and rude and besides, she was hot. She broke the silence first by reluctantly asking his name, as if it pained her to be polite.“Denver”, he replied. She nodded curtly. Silence. “I was conceived in Colorado”, he said desperately. She turned to face him. “I”, said the icy voice, “do not care”.
DING. The doors soundlessly slid open to reveal a cheerful old man who looked like a retired sea captain, grinning at the girl and Denver as if they just gotten off a plane and were here for Thanksgiving dinner. “I’ll take him from ‘ere Nessa!” he said, beaming at Denver. Denver turned to say goodbye, or see ya later, or nice ass, but she was already gone. He sighed. Oh well. He still wasn’t sure this was all real anyway. He turned back to the sea captain, who punched him lightly on the arm and said “a’right boyo, I’m Lou and I’ma give you th’ grand tour! Pr’pare for your eyes to be amazed!’ he chuckled, “heh heh, not really, s’only metal and plastic mostly, heh”. He hobbled away good naturedly with Denver in his wake. His cane was a gleaming mahogany and had “With Love– Caroline” carved into the side. “We don’ get many of yer kind boyo, it’s all those intellectual types. Makes the station a bit dull, heh heh”. Denver stopped abruptly. “Station?” he asked. Lou looked at Denver in consternation. “Are you tellin me…ya don know where ya are?” he questioned, one bushy eyebrow floating upwards in surprise. “No”, huffed Denver defensively; “no one has told me anything useful”. “Ah…. I see…well I s’pose that’ll be my job then. Look around ya boyo. What’s it look like”? Lou gestured to their surroundings, which consisted of a huge room with numerous doors and passageways leading out. Everything was smooth white fiberglass like the floor and walls, or bright, clean metal. People were hurrying everywhere, all in those strange silver suits. They carried wrenches, sheet metal, folders, and grease rags; they did calculations, soldered pipes, and argued over the color of a certain liquid in a certain test tube. In the center of the room was a gigantic structure that looked like the innards of several different clocks from several different time periods. A hundred or so people were constantly taking parts off it and putting them back on somewhere else, only to realize that they had been right the first time. “It’s like a science fair in Ikea”, Denver said drily. He hated Ikea. Lou chuckled and shook his head, saying, “heh, I s’pose you wouldn’t be able ta ‘preciate it, seeing as yeh don know where yeh are. Try lookin out that window boyo. Maybe that’ll clear things up for yeh, heh heh”. Denver walked apprehensively to the small round window Lou had pointed out. He looked out the window and froze. “Well”, he said, terrifyingly calm, “I never quite liked Earth anyway”.
He came to a few minutes later, with Lou patting his cheek and mumbling things like, “c’mon now boyo, up n at ‘em. At least yeh didn’t die of shock like some do, eh boyo?” Denver moaned and sat up, his head in his hands. “What do you mean, die of shock? Don’t they know they’re coming here? Don’t they sign up for this? What even IS this? Explain!” his voice had reached a shriek by now, and some silver suited people glanced his way looking annoyed. Lou sighed, and painfully eased himself down onto the floor next to Denver. They sat with their backs against the wall for a few minutes while Denver’s breathing returned to normal. “Alright. I’ll tell yeh. But yer not gonna like it.” Lou ran his gnarled fingers through his oily white locks and sighed. “This wasn’t in the job description”, he mumbled to himself, “ah well. Here goes. You’ve heard of th’ space station, yeh boyo?” Denver nodded dumbly. “This isn’t th’ space station. It’s a twin. They made two and only told people about one. We need smart people, eh, to work on th’ machinery an’ whatnot, so every year we snag a few engineers an’ mechanics and th’ like from all over th’ world. Yeh see?” he asked, beaming at Denver. “No,” said Denver, exasperated. “I don’t understand. Why all the secrecy? Why kidnap people? What does this station even do? Why am I here? I’m not even smart! I’m a dirtbag climber! I live in my van for fucks sake!” he was getting hysterical again. Lou waited patiently. He was getting too old for this shit. “Well I can answer two of yer questions. The secrecy is because…well….it’s secret. I truly don’ know what it is they do here. Not sure many people do truly know. Not truly. Thas’ why they gotta kidnap people. They can’t exactly put a job description in th’ paper for a secret job, eh boyo? Not many people would apply even if they did. Naw, they go about their duties, get a dose a some calming drugs if they git too uppity. Keeps em’ under control.” He smiled at Denver like they were discussing which cookies went best with milk. Denver frowned, “their families…” “Ah yes,” interrupted Lou, “plumb forgot about that. It’s really somethin’ how they manage to fake someone’s death. Beautiful really. Like watchin’ a play. Wonderfully choreographed, drama, makeup and fake blood galore. They don’t make it too bloody though, for the kiddies,” he said softly, catching Denver’s expression. They sat in silence, remembering grandkids and college roommates, beloved dogs and not so beloved ex girlfriends. Denver raised his head, “Why me though? I’m not an engineer or a physicist or anything.” Lou chuckled in an embarrassed manner. “Well boyo….to be blunt with yeh, yeh kinda hit the nail on th’ head there. Yer a dirtbag. Yeh live in yer van. No ambition besides climbin’ rocks, not many friends, relatives either ignore yeh or live in godfersaken Florida.” Lou shrugged, “hate t’ say it kid, but yeh won’t be missed. And we need a loser ‘round here. Someone who won’t otherwise be back on Earth researchin’ th’ cure for cancer or whatnot.” Denver sat slumped against the wall frowning. He had an urge to whine, “but my mom thinks I’m special!” but a voice in the back of his head told him yeah, but she also gave birth to you. In Colorado. And anyway, she thinks you’re dead. So he just slumped and frowned. “What do you need a dirtbag for?” he asked bitterly. Lou glanced at him with pity in his crusty blue eyes. “Well…. fer helpin with lunch. And every other meal. Moppin’. Cleanin’ tools. That sorta thing”, he mumbled sheepishly, “actually, you’ll be takin’ over fer me. I’m gettin’ too old for this shit.” He grinned at Denver, who sat silently fuming. His grin faded and he dropped his gaze a moment before Denver looked up. Denver’s eyes were full of rage as he looked at Lou and said softly, “Well you know what Lou? I kinda miss my van. And the whole free will thing. So I’m gonna get the fuck out of here.”
Denver’s eyes narrowed as Lou began to chuckle, his eyes shining with mirth. Denver glowered at him, “what?” he snapped. Lou glanced at him and said between chuckles, “ah boyo…. tha’s exactly what I said when I was first given th’ job”. He sighed good humoredly and wiped his eyes, “ah, alrigh’ boyo, lets get yeh started”. “This is yer supply room. It’s where you’ll be getting’ your mops n’ buckits and whatnot”. Lou opened a door that looked the bathroom door of a submarine. Behind the door was a huge room full of cleaning supplies, a janitorial haven. Despite the damp rusty feel of the place, it was surprisingly orderly and neat. The walls were higher than a three story building, and there was a ladder that rolled from wall to wall. Denver thought of Belle in Beauty and the Beast sliding gracefully on her ladder in her favorite library. I want adventure in the great wide somewhere! Denver smirked. Fuck adventure. This was horseshit. He turned to Lou, “this is horseshit!” he exclaimed, “this ship is fucking huge! Look at all this shit, I’m never gonna be able to get all this done! And why should I anyway? How ‘bout I just sit here instead?” he plopped down, crossed his arms, and glared at Lou, “watcha gonna do about it, huh?” Lou looked down at him amusedly. Suddenly he stuck two fingers in his mouth and let out a piercing whistle. Denver clapped his hands over his ears, “th’ fuck dude….” His hands slowly fell back into his lap as a hoard of about fifty small gleaming robots flew around the corner towards them. They stopped just before Denver’s toes and bobbed there, giggling and chittering. Lou held up his hands, “now fellas…. settle down ….fellas ….c’mon now ….AY! SHADDUP!” The robots turned their blank white faces towards the old man. One in the back giggled, and his neighbor slapped him. Red light stole across his blank face and he grumbled dolefully. Lou cleared his throat, “well, now that I have yer attenshun, I’d like t’ introduce y’all t’ yer new bossman, Denver”. The robots chittered forlornly and bobbed, grey lights flashing over their faces. Lou looked at Denver, still sitting on the floor wide eyed. He nudged Denver with his foot and whispered “well…. give ‘em a wave” Denver blinked at Lou, then regarded the bots warily and waved weakly. Lou beamed at him, then turned back to the bots. “I’ll be here for a while longer, makin’ sure Denver here knows what’s what. But it’s all yer jobs to ensure tha’ he gets on track n’ stays on track. Yeh answer ta’ him now, not me”. The bots started chittering to each other again as Lou turned to Denver, “This is how yer gonna get all yer shit done. These are yer Tommies, they’ll do wha’ ya tell them to. They all have names, o’ course…. that’ll probably take ya’ a while. As yeh can see, they fly. They’ll be cleanin’ the higher places while you clean th’ lower ones. Yeh can tell wha’ mood they’re in by th’ color of th’ light on their face. These guys don’ talk, but they make plenty o’ noise. And don’ you go hittin’ them or nothin’, they have a temper jus’ like you do! …. Any questions?” Denver stared at Lou slack jawed. Finally he wiped his mouth on his sleeve and gazed nervously at the bots….or Tommies… “Tommies?” Lou glanced down, “yeh well….they were named fer th’ man who invented them. Ah Thomas…. he was a good man.” “Was?” Denver questioned, “What happened to him?” Lou gazed thoughtfully into the distance before answering. He sighed and looked at Denver with dull eyes, “he got sent to th’ captain”. Before Denver could question him further, a chiming sound echoed through the chambers of the ship. Lou’s eyes regained their spark, and he looked at Denver and said gleefully, “Ah, dinner!”
It was like a stampede. People in silvery suits came from every corner, looking exhausted but not entirely unhappy. Some chatted a bit as they walked, but most of them walked briskly, their eyes intent on the huge hall in front of them. The hall was blindingly white and had three floors. Each floor contained a huge long metal table, with place settings for two hundred people per table. On each of these floors people were pouring in through the doors and taking their seats, chatting and sinking into chairs gratefully. Denver and Lou watched from the sidelines, Denver gaping at the huge mass of people, and Lou smiling and occasionally nodding or saying hello to someone. After a while, when about half the people had taken their seats, Lou swatted Denver lightly on the arm and said, “c’mon boyo, we’re supposed to help serve”. He led Denver to an equally large room bustling with Tommies in aprons. These Tommies were a bit larger than Denver’s new minions, and were programmed for cooking abilities. Lou showed Denver how to stack the readied plates against his arms so that they were barely overlapping. With five plates on each arm, they set out into the dining hall. Back and forth they went, for what seemed like hours, trying to serve everyone as quickly and efficiently as possible. Denver’s arms soon began to ache, despite his climbing-conditioned forearms. I knew I needed more endurance training, he thought to himself, grimacing. C’mon, fight the pump. At first Denver tried making eye contact with the men and women he served, but they all just ignored him, maybe occasionally glancing at him with tired eyes but that was all. He eventually gave up, exhausted and sweaty with his meal delivering. He was growing hungry himself, and wanted to finish his duty so that he could eat. On his last delivery, he had five plates on each arm and was giving the first plate to a reedy Irish man with a mop of flaming red hair whose name tag said Conor, Mechanic #63 when he stumbled and nearly dropped Conor’s plate. The man caught Denver’s elbow and steadied him, glancing sharply at him and saying in a low, thickly-accented voice, “careful now. They don’t like anything out of order. Stay focused mate.” Denver caught his breath and looked at him inquisitively. Conor glanced around with worried eyes and said, “look, you have to go. Do your job. Be careful. It’s all about order here innit? Not a toe out of line, got it?” Denver locked eyes with him, slowly exhaled, and said, “yeah….. I got it…” and with the last of his strength, threw his arms up in the air. The plates flung upward towards the ceiling, the silence in the room increasing with their height. By the time they began their descent, everyone was watching, hushed. The people on the floors above remained oblivious, the low humming of their voices like the theme song of Jaws. The plates crashed to the floor after what seemed like an eternity, porcelain splintering and flying in all directions. The noise echoed throughout the vast room, and silence ensued on every level. Food rained down and a few people covered their heads uselessly. Conor stared at Denver in horror, a glob of mashed potato smacking him on the forehead and oozing down his cheek. “WASTE!” a Tommie shrieked from the doorway of the kitchen. It was bigger than the others and wore a chef’s hat, and was clearly the head cook. It bobbed in the doorway for a second or two, yellow and red lights streaking furiously across its face. The lights turned a deep stormy purple, and the Tommie zipped out from the doorway to hover threateningly over Denver, who had dived out of the way when the plates had come crashing down. “WASTE!” It shrieked again. It slowly began to glide towards Denver, who was backing up furiously. “All that time and you puny human cause chaos and WASTE it you are a waste you have disrupted the order and now dessert will be delayed you stup-,” the Tommie ceased its rant abruptly as Nessa stepped calmly from behind it, looking as composed and beautiful as ever despite the bit of canned peach stuck to her shoe. “Nim,” she said serenely to the glowering bot, “if you would be so kind as to return to your place, I believe dessert is being prepared. I will deal with the inferior.” A light blue light replaced the stormy purple flashing over Nim’s face, and the Tommie bobbed respectfully towards Nessa, then lifted its head high and drifted back towards the kitchen. Nessa turned to Denver, who was simultaneously trying to brush broccoli off his shirt while patting down his hair. “Infer…..Denver. We cannot hold with such nonsense. It is childish and wasteful. If you cannot control yourself, then we must-” Lou arrived at her side, panting, and interrupted her, saying, “Nessa…. wait… it’s only his firs’ day. Yeh know how they are when they firs’ start out. I’ll deal with ‘im.” Lou puffed his chest out and tried to look stern, and Denver thought he saw a smile flicker across Nessa’s face. “Well…alright,” she said, looking perplexed. “But if it happens again….” Lou nodded gratefully, “ah know, ah know, it won’t. Never again Ness”. Lou smiled weakly at her, then grabbed Denver’s arm and yanked him upright. “Ow…hey!,” he protested. Lou looked at him sharply and said in a gruff voice, “could be a lot worse boyo. A lot worse”. As he dragged Denver down the hallway and out of the room, the crowd began to chatter again, quite a bit more excitedly than they had previously. As they left, Denver heard Conor say to his neighbor in an I told you so tone, “told him they liked order. Told him not a toe out of line, I did. Didn’t listen. Silly bugger”. When they got back into the kitchen, Lou sighed and released Denver’s arm. The kitchen Tommies skirted around Denver dismissively, their faces a somehow jeering shade of orange. “Sorry ‘bout tha’ boyo. Gotta make it seem like I’m rough with ya. Can’t let ‘em think I’ve gone soft now”. Lou gazed at Denver with a puzzled expression and said slowly, “it’s not gonna get yeh anywhere boyo. Yeh might as well jus’ do yeh job. Not gonna get yeh anywhere but trouble”. Denver stared down at the floor and angrily retorted, “they need a loser, not a nuisance. What if I can’t do my job? They’ll just put me back right? I’d rather be a, a hobo on Earth than a slave here”. Lou watched him thoughtfully. “Boyo….Denver….yer not goin’ back. Ever. Yeh may as well accept that now. As fer being a nuisance…. Thomas was a nuisance, after he got bored with inventin’ stuff. Haven’t seen ‘im n months. I don’ have th’ highest hopes fer his current predicament.” They fell silent, watching the bustle of the kitchen Tommies preparing dessert. Denver gazed out the nearest circular window, still incredulous that what he saw through it was real. He picked at a loose thread in his shirt, trying to think of a way to dissipate the gloom. “Where does the food come from?” he questioned, genuinely curious. “Do you just have a giant supply of Mountain House and canned peaches or something?” To his relief, Lou barked out a laugh and said, “Yeh know boyo, I don’t rightly know. I’ve never bothered t’ find out. Yer a lot more inquisitive than I ever was. I never really asked questions like yeh do. Jus’ go with th’ flow, I always say, heh!” Denver smiled ruefully, “yeah, I’m not really a go with the flow kind of person I guess”. Lou smiled at him, his eyes twinkling, and said, “ah that’s ok boyo. You’ll learn. Now I dunno ‘bout yeh, but I’m starvin’. Whaddaya say we eat, then I’ll show yeh yer quarters, eh boyo?” He walked away merrily, humming to himself, as he went to make a plate up for himself and Denver. Denver lingered by the window, still picking at the loose thread. He gazed out the window and whispered to himself, “what if I don’t wanna learn?”
Denver lay in his hammock that night, gazing through the small bedside window at the never ending night, completely and utterly unable to sleep. He fidgeted for a while, then swung his legs over the side of his hammock and into the silvery slippers provided for him. He would take a walk, he decided. He would explore the station, maybe find something useful. The bedside table had a drawer full of writing implements, including a large pad of post it notes. He grabbed these on his way out, careful not to wake Lou snoring in the corner. He started down the dark corridors, occasionally sticking a post it to a wall so that he would be able to find his way back. Eventually, after many turns, large seemingly empty rooms, and dead ends, he came to a huge chamber, about as big as a football stadium. The walls were lined with smaller rooms the size of a walk in closet. In each of these smaller rooms a person slept soundly in a hammock, a chest of drawers and a small table on either side. A number of long, wide, softly glowing catwalks wound their way up the chamber, complete with small, personal ladders so that each person could get to his or her room. Dallas gazed up, craning his neck to see where the ceiling began. He was about to creep away and continue his self guided tour when an idea occurred to him. He grinned. Sorry Lou, he thought, but I’m just not gonna go with the flow. Lou shook him awake the next morning, a baffled look on his wrinkled face. “Boyo…do yeh….did yeh hear….come see, will yeh?” Denver hadn’t been asleep, and got up slowly and dressed, trying hard and failing to conceal the grin stealing its way across his face. He followed Lou to the main sleeping chamber and winced. His post its were still up. He had forgotten to take them down on his return. Oh well, he didn’t exactly plan to hide who the culprit was anyway. Still. Sloppy. There was a decent sized crowd at the floor of the sleeping chamber, all standing with pursed lips and arms akimbo. They all wore the suits and badges to show that they were the higher ups, the overseers. Nessa was there. Denver thought she looked pretty sexy when she was pissed. The rest of the workers, those who called the sleeping chamber home, stood all along the catwalk, leaning over the railings and staring down at the floor in utter bewilderment. In the center of the room, piled as high as the first set of sleeping rooms, were shoes. Every worker was given two pairs of work shoes, a pair of slippers, and a pair of tennis shoes. And every single pair was in that pile. The workers, in their socks, looked down at the pile dismayed and perplexed. Denver felt like dancing with glee, and would have if he were not so incredibly tired. Everywhere small groups huddled together looking aghast, while more and more people stumbled out of their rooms rubbing their eyes sleepily with baffled expressions. While no one was sure how it was done, most were positively proclaiming that it must have been a large group working together. A lone person simply could not have run up and down all those stairs and catwalks fast enough. Denver grinned, not even attempting to conceal it. He almost reached around to pat himself on the back. He had found the harness, rope, and rappel device in the broom closet, no doubt typically used to clean high places. Once he had reached to top level, he had simply tied off the 120m rope and swung around like batman, collecting shoes for the greater good. Lou leaned over to whisper in Denver’s ear, “I dunno who done it. I wonder if they’re gonna postpone th’ work t’day. They can’t be expected t’ work without shoes…” He trailed off as a tall, bald, built man with a magnificent mustache and a scar above his left ear strode into the room. “Oo iz responzible for zis mess?” he asked in a thick French accent, gazing around the room threateningly. Lou began whispering furiously in Denver’s ear, something about an idiot and a punishment, but Denver wasn’t listening. The French man paced closer to Denver and repeated, “Oo did zis? If ze person responzible does not-,” “I did it!” Denver interrupted, a bit too eagerly. “I did all the shoes!” The French man slowly turned towards Denver, who was beginning to feel slightly queasy, despite his carefree front. The French man raised an eyebrow, as if he doubted that Denver had done this on his own. He turned to Lou, who was staring at Denver in surprised dread. The French man spoke to Denver, but kept his eyes locked on Lou, “were you ze only one? You had no help from…. anuzzer?” “No,” Denver said heatedly, stepping in front of Lou. “It was just me. His shoes are missing too, you can check”. He gulped as the French man swung his mustache around to peer intently at Denver. “Very well…..LOCKDOWN!” he suddenly shouted, causing Denver to jump. Two men in silver suits grabbed Denver’s arms, and guided him out of the chamber. Once they were out of sight of the towering French man, they relaxed considerably. “Well I thought it was pretty funny,” one of them said, a dumpy man with drooping eyes and a bulbous nose. The other, a short stocky Asian man with a buzz cut and a furrowed brow, tightened his hold on Denver and said, “how is this funny Luke? Now we’re going to have to sort this all out ourselves. We’ll have double the work tomorrow!” Denver felt a twinge of guilt. He hadn’t thought of that. Apparently Luke hadn’t either. “Oh yeah”, he muttered. “Asshole”. On that note, they simultaneously let go of Denver’s arms and shoved him into a small metal cube of a room. On the floor was a thin pad and a blanket. “No thermarest?” Denver muttered. A cracked porcelain toilet grew out of the corner. The thick heavy door slammed shut behind him, and the only light came from the small crack underneath the door. He sighed and walked the two feet to the toilet. He unzipped his pants and was aiming for the porcelain bowl when the door slammed open again and the towering figure of the French man stood framed in the doorway. Denver stumbled and buttoned his pants, cursing. “You are a silly boy”, the French man drawled, “now you will be suck in here for three days with only bread and water. No Lou to save your estupid ass zis time!” He strolled into the tiny room, nudging the blanket on the ground with his foot in contempt. “Do you know vat ve do to silly boys like you? Zey get sent to ze captain!” Denver took a deep breath, swallowed, and said, “I’m not afraid of your captain. Unlike you. Wuss!” Not very eloquent, he thought, wincing. The French man glared at Denver and stepped towards him. Denver stared back defiantly. The French man sniffed and said, “five days! And your zipper iz down, idiot!” and stormed out, slamming the door behind him. Denver glanced down. Oh. He sighed. Five days in this shit hole. Ah well, Denver thought, at least I’ll lose a bit of weight. After using the toilet, he lay on the mattress pad, exhausted due to his nightly exertions. Soon he was asleep, unaware of the tiny camera in the corner that swiveled around to point in his direction.
“No no, brake hand always stays on!” Denver groaned. “C’mon Fell, I’ve told you this like eighty times dude”. The small Tommie chirped forlornly, grasping the rope tightly again with it’s flexible white paws. Three more Tommies tittered at Fell as they bobbed behind him, annoyed red and orange lights flashing as they too grasped the rope. They served as Fell’s backup. Even the backup had backup. The bots were plenty smart, but they weren’t used to learning to do anything besides clean. Denver had spent the majority of the day teaching them to belay, after sending the rest of the bots to do his daily duties. It had been three weeks since his stunt with the shoes, and Denver thought that this captain person needed a fresh reminder that he wasn’t gonna take it. We’re not gonna take it! No! We ain’t gonna take it! We’re not gonna take it, anymooooore! “Ughhhh!” Denver groaned. That song had been in his head all day. Goddammit Twisted Sister. He turned back to the Tommies. It was weird how many moods and emotions could be determined from the lights emanating from their blank white faces. Denver knew them well enough by now to know that the current colors meant that they thought he was probably a crazy person. But Denver let them have fun and do things other than clean, so they liked him enough to try hard for him. And they nearly had it down. Denver glanced up at the distant ceiling once again. He didn’t think he was going to fall, but he also didn’t want death to be his ticket out of here. It helped that he didn’t have to worry about getting down. Once he pressed that glowing yellow button, he’d be safe. For a bit anyway. Until they put him in lockdown again, which they inevitably would. “Ok, let’s go over it one more time”. The Tommies made moaning noises but all took their places without hesitation. “Kip, a little tighter. Ror, not so tight. Everyone else, good. Alright. Showtime. Venga.” Denver clipped the belay device onto the metal hook he had tied to the ground, tied in, checked his knot, checked it again, and began climbing. He had discovered the yellow button three days ago and, after asking Lou what it did, immediately began planning a way up to it. At first he thought he could have the Tommies just fly up and press it, but the button was heat sensitive, “like one a’ those newfangled iPhone thingies”, Lou had explained. It had to be a human touch. Luckily for him, no one had quite realized how the harness, rope, and belay device had helped him in his mischievous endeavors, and had not thought of taking them away. How else would he clean the higher windows? And besides, after five days in lockdown there was no way Denver was about to try anything else. Ha, he thought. That’s what they think. Surprise, bitches. His foot slipped off an especially slick pipe and he banged his knee. Fuck! Pay attention! He glanced down. He was about forty feet up, with another fifteen to go until his first “clip”. Fortunately, the yellow button just happened to be in the satellite cleaning room. The engineers would hang up the satellite parts on multiple hooks across the ceiling, turn on the conveyor belt, and the parts would be run through a sort of car wash contraption, then be spun back to the top of the belt to dry. Denver planned on using these hooks as carabiners, clipping in to them with the rope as he went. The belt itself was slotted while not in motion, and the slots provided good enough handholds for him to get to the button in the middle of the ceiling. It was a good plan, and should go well as long as the Tommies didn’t drop him or someone started up the conveyor belt. But satellites rarely had to be cleaned, and usually he was told about a cleaning ahead of time. Denver had finally reached the first clip, and exhaled sharply. We got the right to choose, and there ain’t no way we’ll lose it. This is our life, this is our song! Denver bobbed his head, accepting the fact that the Twisted Sisters would be joining him on this little adventure. We’ll fight the powers that be, just don’t pick our destiny cause you don’t know us, you don’t belong! As he reached the ceiling, he stared intently at the door, hoping desperately that no one was about to come in. Zoot waved at him from his post by the door, the little bot bobbing in the air as he watched for engineers. “All clear!”, its colors said. Denver exhaled again, not entirely sure when he last inhaled, and swung out to the first slot on the conveyor belt. It was topped with sandpaper, which was good for Denver because there seemed to be no chalk anywhere in the station. Clip. We’re not gonna take it! No! We ain’t gonna take it. Exhale. Swing. Swing. Clip. Oh you’re so condescending! Your goal is never-ending! Exhale. Swing. Swing. Clip. We don’t want nothin’, not a thing from you! Your life is trite and jaded- a piercing trill shattered Denver’s rhythm, and he gasped, just barely sticking the slot he was in the middle of reaching for. Zoot bobbed frantically at the door, yellow and bright red lights flashing across its face. Someone was coming! Denver threw himself at the next slot desperately, hoping he would have enough time. A muffled thump sounded at the door. Denver glanced down. Almost all his Tommies were flying into the door, preventing whoever was on the other side from getting in. THUMP! The door bulged inward, and Fell trilled shrilly, straining against the thick metal. Wait, Fell?! Denver whipped his head towards his belay. Only two bots were left manning the rope. Fuck! Denver felt a panic begin to rise in his chest. A drop of sweat ran down a lock of hair and fell, glistening gently, onto the floor far below. Fucking Fell! Denver thought, furious. THUMP! The door cracked open an inch, and the Tommies whined. They couldn’t hold it for much longer. If someone came in and turned on the belt, Denver was dead. Simple as that. He took a few deep breaths and tried to relax. I guess this is what I get for trusting something named “Fell” to belay me, he thought, on the verge of maniacal laughter. He swallowed his panic and threw himself to the next slot. Clip. THUMP! Boring and confiscated! If that’s your best, your best won’t do! Denver threw his body to the last slot as the door exploded inward and six engineers and three security guards burst through. Holy shit! Denver couldn’t believe his Tommies had held all those people back for so long. But they were too late! He was there! Denver laughed and looked up….at the button seven feet away. Shit!!! He hadn’t realized how far it was from the last slot.He would have to dyno. Fuck fuck fuck!!! He glanced down. The engineers and security guards hadn’t realized where he was yet. As Denver looked down at them, a bead of sweat rolled off his forehead and down his nose. Realizing what was happening, he desperately tried to lick the sweat from his nose. But he was too late, and the drop slowly floated towards the group of people. It seemed to fall for forever, and when it did land, it plopped into the direct center of one of the security guard’s bald spot. Of fucking course! Denver grimaced as the security guard looked up, saw Denver, and roared in surprise and fury. The others looked up with huge eyes. They pointed up at him and blinked and gulped like a school of goldfish. Denver tried to ignore them and looked back at the button. So close, yet so far! He heard racing footsteps and looked down again. The engineers were running towards the switch that turned the belt on! Fuck!!! Go! Just FUCKING GO! Denver steeled himself to jump. If he stayed, he was dead. If he jumped and didn’t hit the button, he was dead. “It was just a fucking prank!” he whined under his breathe. Tears of panic seeped from the corners of his eyes, and he blinked them back, furious with himself. We’re right, yeah! We’re free, yeah! Fell trilled again, struggling desperately to hold the engineers back by their pristine lab coats. They were almost to the switch! It was now or never! “COME ON!!!” Denver screamed, as he unfurled his body and exploded towards the button. He put all his panic and fury and terror into his flight, the Twisted Sisters echoing in his head. WE’LL FIGHT, YEAH! YOU’LL SEE, YEAH! “VVvvvvrrrrrr!” The conveyor belt started up with a violent jerk, yanking Denver up and back. “FUUUUUCK!” Denver screamed helplessly. He stretched out a hand desperately, knowing he couldn’t reach the button. His eyes went huge with terror, and as he thought to himself holy shit I’m gonna fucking die!, his right knee slammed into the button, and everything stopped.
Denver held his knees against his chest, breathing in ragged gasps. Once his panic subsided, his gingerly relaxed his body. He was floating. He grinned shakily and pantomimed swimming. It did nothing of course, and he immediately felt silly. The feeling was quickly replaced with a feeling of triumph. He did it! He FUCKING DID IT! And he was ALIVE! He crowed happily and threw his arms up. He had successfully turned off the stations artificial gravity. This was his best rebellious act yet. He knew he would be punished, but he didn’t care. “Utter fucking chaos”, he whispered, delighted. That’s what this would cause. Not only would this disrupt all going-ons in the ship, it would wreak havoc. Tools and supplies were currently floating everywhere, and they sure as hell wouldn’t land in their proper places. Denver did a somersault and giggled gleefully. Just as he became aware of a presence next to him, something smacked him in the back of the head, and his world went dark.
Two full days later, Denver’s eyes squinted open. They were crusty and felt excessively tired for having been closed for the last two days. He groaned. He felt hungover, and wished that that was the problem. Raising his arm to his head, he winced. His entire body felt bruised. Gingerly patting the back of his head, he felt through the matted and bloody hair to find a gigantic line of stitches across the back of his scalp. He felt queasy. Motherfucker almost scalped me! he thought to himself. The thought of it made him feel much more queasy, and he heaved himself up towards the toilet. The movement proved too much for him however, and he fell, smacking his head on the toilet and knocking himself out cold even as he vomited.
A week later, he woke to the sound of a lock clicking open, and squinted into the bright light brought by the door opening. Lou stood there, looking awkward. “Erm”, he mumbled, “It’s 5am….we gotta start th’ cleanin’ now”. Denver nodded, surprised that they still trusted him to do anything competently. He had a raging headache, and groggily got up and followed Lou out the door. Although he had been out for the next three days after the toilet bowl incident, he had been lucid enough in the last two days to begin planning his next act of defiance. He caught his reflection in a window and grimaced. He was gonna look like fucking Frankenstein’s monster by the time he got out of here. Several new stitches had blossomed on his forehead to match the row in the back. Lou chuckled softly. “Yeh look like Frankenstein, boyo”, he said gently. Glad that Lou still seemed to like him, Denver laughed and said, “his monster actually, Frankenstein was the mad scientist.” “Yeh look a bit like a mad scientist too, boyo.” Denver grinned. He was in desperate need of a hair cut. “Yeah” he acknowledged, grinning. Lou smiled hugely. “It’s good to see yeh, boyo! Especially after that stunt you pulled. Thought yeh were a goner for sure. But th’ captain seems to appreciate yer… creativity…. a bit more than most”. He turned to Denver with a smile, his eyes twinkling, and said, “now boyo, let’s see if yeh can do somethin’ right, eh? Yer done with these fool shenanigans, right boyo?” Denver grinned, “we’ll see”, he said. He followed Lou to the room he had seen when he first arrived, with all the odd clockwork looking machinery. His Tommies were already hard at work repainting the upper walls white. “Now look here boyo, pay attenshun. Yer job terday is te repaint these pipes here”. He led Denver to a mass of different colored pipes that reached two thirds of the way round the room. “Th’ pipes are color coordinated, so make sure yeh paint ‘em the color that’s already there. No switchin’ up th’ colors, yeh hear?” Denver nodded, avoiding Lou’s eyes. Lou looked at him worriedly. “Now I’m gonna be across the room, startin’ at th’ other end. We’ll meet in the middle, eh boyo? No funny business now Frankenstein.” “Yeah”, Denver assured him, not bothering to correct his reference, “I got it”. He waited until Lou was far enough away, then whistled to the Tommies. Five of them stopped what they were doing and zipped down to him so he could whisper in their ear. They chittered and giggled, then each grabbed a can of different colored paint and zipped back up to the top of the white wall. Meanwhile, Denver clipped the smaller paint cans to his belt loops, regretting the confiscation of his harness, and started climbing. The interlocking labyrinth of pipes made for an easy climb, and he danced up the wall, splashing paint below him as he went. It made a colorful, messy chaos of the pipes and deterred anyone from following him up. A few of the workers watched him soundlessly, either amused or conflicted on wether or not to say something to the guards. He swung from pipe to pipe, enjoying the movement and not caring a bit if paint slopped over onto his metallic jumpsuit. His body still felt a bit stiff and sore, and it was nice to be able to stretch and use his muscles. As he neared the ceiling, he scooted onto a giant vent to watch the show. Tittering and humming, bright pink and yellow light sparkling across their faces, his loyal Tommies flew to the top of the wall and splashed the entire contents of their paint cans onto different places on the wall. The paint trickled down, turning the blank white wall into a huge colorful canvas. The room grew louder as more workers began to notice, and Denver was leaning over to admire his work when a huge Tommie, at least seven feet tall and a brilliant gold, suddenly appeared in front of Denver and threw him over it’s shoulders like a sack of potatoes. Startled, Denver gasped as the feeling of being attached to a solid surface left him. He was not at all expecting to be captured that quickly. Ah well, he thought, glad that he had at least gotten to climb something. Time for a rest day in the tiny room! Denver assumed that he was getting thrown back into the small metal lockdown room, but the Tommie passed that and began to fly upwards steadily. About twenty feet from the ceiling, Denver began to feel very anxious. Was the Tommie going to drop him? Were they going to smash into the ceiling? Is this some kind of Kamikaze Tommie? Denver thought frantically, what the fuck? This is some fucked up punishment. He had assumed that if he was going to ever die in free fall, it would be via free-soloing. Maybe not. The Tommie slowed just before the ceiling and chirped. A hidden circular door revolved open, and the Tommie and Denver zipped inside, the door closing behind him. They were in a decently sized room, one that was very different from the rest of the station. The carpet was dark green and lush, the desk a gleaming mahogany, and an impressive rock collection lay on glass shelves on the far wall. The deep brown leather chair was obviously occupied, and swiveled away from Denver, facing a slate fireplace. An uncomfortable silence ensued, and Denver was just starting to look around when a rich chocolately voice rumbled, “do you know why you are here?” Denver sighed. It was like being in the principals office. Of course he knew. “Cuz I’ve been a bad boy,” he said sarcastically. To his surprise, the man in the chair laughed. “Well…that’s one reason. Really, I need a new assistant. A servant really. My old one…..didn’t react well to the doses. Ah Thomas. Brilliant man. Or was.” Denver stood there, cold terror slowly creeping up his spine. “And if you are to assist me, you must know what it is we do here. My planet is in need of certain minerals, minerals my people cannot live without. You planet has quite an abundance. And luckily, you seem to know a thing or two about rocks. While we cannot go to your Earth and dig, we can harvest these minerals from here, the station. You see?” Denver nodded and, realizing the man…or whatever he was…couldn’t see and stuttered out an “um…sure”. “Good! You are not as slow as the cameras would indicate!” with that, he swiveled around, grinning. The dome of his head was pointed and vivid orange, pulsating sickenly. His mouth was comprised of tubes of varying length, which were at the moment hooked up to an electronic device that his voice was emanating from. Many eyes of various shape and colors scattered across his broad, toad like face. He wore an expensive suit, pinstriped and ill fitting. He had eaten the tailor. Denver began to tremble. What had he gotten himself in to? He tried to get up and was promptly shoved back down by the gold Tommie. “And don’t worry about ol’ Lou, he’s training a new helper at the moment”. The captain pointed up with what looked like a combination of a lobster claw and a metal whisk at a wide plasma screen T.V., where an elevator door was opening to show an unsmiling Nessa with a baffled and terrified Shaggy look alike cowering on her arm. Lou looked defeated and smiled weakly at the cowering man, the spark in his eye gone. The screen flickered black. Denver stared down at the floor for a few seconds, lost in thought. Finally he raised his head and, with barely controlled terror and on the brink of insanity, asked, “what if I say no? What if I refuse to do anything you tell me, what then?” The captain beamed at him and gestured to the golden Tommie, which silently left the room. “Ah,” said the captain. “You see, humans can be such fickle creatures. So much emotion! Anger, lust, greed…. rebellion. It’s quite unnecessary in this line of work”. Denver blinked up at him stupidly. “Unecce-?” he began to ask, interrupted by the dull thunk of a large needle sliding into his upper spine. He felt no pain, which was odd. Just a…. floating sensation. This room…. it was a nice room. What beautiful mahogany. The golden Tommie withdrew the needle, his duty complete, bowed to the caption, and glided from the room. The caption fiddled with a desk toy while he waited the requisite five minutes. Seven minutes passed, and the captain put aside the desk toy, frowning. Finally Denver sneezed violently, sat up, and gazed at the captain with bleary eyes. Ah, the captain thought, finally. He leaned over his desk and said slowly to Denver, “why hello there earthling. I am your captain. Are you going to cooperate?” Denver raised his head slowly, looked the captain in the eye, and drawled out, “yess captain”. The captain smiled and leaned back in his chair. “Good!” he boomed, “now, I think a hot beverage is in order, don’t you?” Denver bobbed his head and said, “yes… coffee or tea sirrr?”
To be continued….
I mean seriously, how many of these things do we need? Everyone and their great aunt, reviewing gear. Well, I was bored and out of things to write about (um, why else would you do a gear review?), so I’m gonna talk about some of my favorite things I used and ate and pooped in last year.
Shoes are, like, a big part of my life. Like, omg. Shoes. Hiking shoes, approach shoes, sport shoes, trad shoes, camp shoes, and the most important shoe, the super cute wedges I’ve worn to every single wedding I’ve ever attended. Shoes. The ones I heart. Omg.
Hiking Shoes: I heart my Vasque Taku GTX boots
I’ve had these boots longer than I’ve had my boyfriend. I’m pretty sure they’ve seen my butt more too. Basically what I’m saying is, they’re crazy durable. As soon as I tried them on, they were comfortable. My feet and these boots went together like Batman and Alfred. If you don’t understand that metaphor then I hate you, please stop reading this. Anyway, boots. They stay as dry as a taxidermy fox and breathe like a …. non smoker…. or something. They breathe well. My feet are never too hot or too cold, and these boots are supportive enough that they’re never too achy either, no matter how many weary miles I trek to the nearest In-N-Out.
Buy the thing:
So it’s looking like they no longer have this model on their site. The closest thing is the St. Elias GTX. Via their site, these boots cost $199.9…… oh please. They cost $200. Link: http://www.vasque.com/USD/product/womens-footwear/backpacking/st-elias-gtx-bungee-silver-07161
Approach Shoes: I heart my Five Ten Camp Fours.
Like, so much. My Camps are my go-to shoe for pretty much every approach ever. They’re burly enough for mud and bushwhacking, yet sticky and light enough for simple slab approaches. And when I say sticky, I mean like that one super resilient booger that you can’t flick no matter how hard you try. They stick to everything forever. They’re also as comfy as turning a baby seal inside out and sticking your foot in it. Yeah, they’re THAT comfy. They’re the only shoe ever that haven’t given my feet hot spots or achy spots. Or any other kind of spots. Plus they have this super cute accent of girly teal, so if you’re hiking and you forget that you’re a girl you can look down and be like, “omg, a super cute teal accent! I’m most definitely a girl!” Yaaaay Camp Fours!
Buy the thing:
On the Five Ten site, they only have the GTX version of these shoes. I have no idea what that means, google it. You can snatch up the pair that I have and love, which cost about $150 on backcountry.com as well as moosejaw.com and Zappos.
Sport Shoes: I heart my Five Ten Teams
I like my sport shoes like I like my men. Lean and high-performance. I hate burly, clunky shoes that make my feet feel like bricks. When I’m on the wall, I want to feel like a gazelle, not like I’m walking the cobblestone streets of Holland in my wooden clogs. Teams are basically mean green gazelle shoes. They weigh next to nothing yet are surprisingly durable, like a young wannabe Hollywood starlet. Ahhh, the romance. Also like said starlet, they are super flexible and will pretty much do whatever you tell them to as long as it gets them higher. They’re edgy, they’re sticky, and they cup where you want them to cup. This starlet is going down a dark path indeed…
Buy the thing:
fiveten.com for $185
Trad Shoes: I heart my Five Ten Pinks and Five Ten Verdons
Ok, the thing is, the shoes are pink. THEY’RE PINK. Do I seriously have to say anything else?! Plus there’s the whole sexual innuendo in calling them “the pinks”, so that’s fun too. I don’t even have to wear these to be stoked on them. But I did wear them, and I’m gonna tell you how it went. It went awesome. These shoes are ideal for stuffing into cracks. Heh. They’re soft but not too soft, and you can wear them all day long without feeling like you’re going to just slide out. Heh. I wore mine with socks on a chilly day, and they were absolutely perfect for my cold delicate feet. And they’re PINK. I mean really, what more do you want?! Oh, you want more of an edge? You want your feet to look like they’re doing the tango with a glamorous peacock? Well look no further than the super rad neon orange and bright teal of the Verdon! These fabulously flamboyant shoes are the edging shoes of tradland. Comfy like the Pinks, with a stiff upper lip and an edge to make Grandma cry, these are the Pink’s streetwise older brother. Float like a butterfly, sting like a peacock! Caw!
Buy the things:
Both shoes are $165 on fiveten.com
Link to the Pinks: http://www.fiveten.com/us/climbing/anasazi-lace-the-pink
Link to the Verdon: http://www.fiveten.com/us/climbing/verdon-lace-peacock-blue
Camp Shoes: I heart my Uggs
Well, that’s probably the most basic white girl thing I’ve ever written. But it’s true. Yeah, sneer all you like, YOU DON’T KNOW THE POWER OF THE AUSTRALIAN SHEEP! And until you do, until your feet are as warm and cozy as mine after a long day of climbing, you just shush. Yes, I heart my Uggs. I have been outed, and I don’t even care. Oh and by the way, my last pair lasted me eight years. EIGHT. And they went hiking, bushwhacking, post-holing in snow, rapping, and even climbing. And you know what my feet were that whole time? They were WARM! AND FRIGGIN COMFY! I DON’T EVEN CARE!
Buy the thing:
You know you want to. Oh look, they’re on sale….
Oh and in case any of the ladies (or men, I mean whatever) were wondering, the wedges I wear to every wedding are by MIA, they’re brown and strappy and actually comfortable. I know, it’s a Christmas miracle, but they really are comfortable.
Something you should know. I am not vegan. Nor am I gluten-free, msg-free, lactose-free, gmo-free, sugar-free, or binging on cake-free. And no, I do not know if any of these items are any of those things. I eat all of the things. If you do not eat all of the things, I would suggest skipping this bit.
I have two favorite gummies. Bonk Breaker’s Tangerine Chews and Honey Stinger’s Pomegranate Passion gummies. Both are delicious and both give me energy. They are squishy and tangy and I like them. I mean, what else am I supposed to say about gummies? They’re gummies. I guess there’s downsides. Bonk Breaker’s Chews bags will give your fingers the workout they never asked for. And Honey Stinger’s gummies are called Pomegranate Passion. Why passion? I mean, just “pomegranate” by itself does a pretty good job of explaining the flavor. I have the same issue with body sprays and candles. What exactly does Runaway Heart smell like? Bloody? And does this candle really have to be called A Child’s Wish? Not really something I want to light on fire. Anyway. Rant over. And now my paragraph looks full enough to make people think I actually thoroughly discussed the attributes of gummy snacks.
My favorite thing to crunch on the trail is a KIND bar. Many kinds of KIND bar. My favorites are Caramel Almond Sea Salt, Blueberry Vanilla Cashew, and Dark Chocolate Nuts and Sea Salt. There’s like a bazillion flavors, and they’re all good. So far. I haven’t tried them all yet, but I’m assuming they’re equally delicious and satisfying. I feel like when a company uses things like truffle and chili powder in their snack bars, that company is going places. If you can put pomegranate and pistachio together in a bar and make it work (which it does), then yeah, I pretty much have no more doubts about you. Good job KIND, you make some delicious rectangles.
Another delicious crunchy eat: Honey Stinger’s chocolate waffle. It smells like hot chocolate and tastes also like hot chocolate. It’s also nice having a snack lay flat in your pack for once. It’s already a flat circle, it can’t possibly get any more squished. Yay!
Peanut buttery eats:
I friggin’ love peanut butter. Peanut butter is amazing. And the best peanut butter stuffs are made by Justin’s. Not only is it the best organic peanut butter ever, it comes in tiny packets that you can squeeze into your mouth. Oh, and they’re mixed with honey. It’s everything your kindergarten self dreamed of! Plus they have almond butter, hazelnut spread, and the best organic peanut butter cups you’ve ever had in your life. If you close your eyes when you eat them, you see unicorns and sparkly butterflies. Peanut butter, get some.
Ok, keep in mind that I mostly shop at Goodwill and Old Navy. About once every five years. I am a poor dirtbag climber, give me a break. The only thing I will pay more than ten bucks for is warmth. So when I say “clothes”, I mean mainly jackets. Wool socks. Warm things.
I currently have two favorite jackets. One keeps me warm, and the other keeps me warmest. The warm jacket is my Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody. It is bright pink (there are other colors but who cares), stretchy, insulated, and windproof. I have never been cold in this jacket. I have also never been lost in this jacket. Also the hood has a drawstring on it that makes your head look like a mushroom. Or an atomic bomb cloud. But it keeps the hood on all cozy and keeps your ears warm so yay!
The warmest jacket EVER in the WORLD…. not the universe, I don’t know what kind of shenanigans those aliens have been up to. Anyway, the warmest on Earth is the Patagonia Fitz Roy jacket. You guys. Oh my god. It comes in amazing color combos (which is the most important thing, clearly) and it is the poofiest of poofs that ever was turned into a jacket. The only downside to this wearable summer fest is that your boyfriend will call you his “lil’ marshmallow puff” every time you wear it. The best thing about this jacket is walking around downtown on a Saturday night in winter and being the warmest girl in town. Girls in slinky mini dresses and stilettos will glare at you, pretending to scoff as their eyes tell the story of their jealousy. And you get to stand there, puffy, proud, and warm like a freshly baked Pillsbury croissant, and just grin at them. You are warm and intelligent and will not get frostbite on your cleavage and it’s just a great feeling.
Buy the things:
Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody: $249 on arc’teryx.com (I know, but it’s worth it I promise)
Patagonia Fitz Roy jacket: Originally $349, now $174 (dude! Get it NOW, that’s insane!) on Patagonia.com
I like my pants like I like my young gymnasts…. wait no, that came out horribly. Er, I like my pants thin and stretchy. I get most of my leggings at Old Navy or Marshalls (like I said, I’m poor), so we won’t even go there. But most of Old Navy’s leggings aren’t windproof, water resistant, or fleece-lined. That’s where the North Face Isotherm Tights come in. Ladies, you know how there’s this thing where you can’t be warm and have your butt look awesome at the same time? False! These pants are like eskimo leggings. Unlike most guys on Tinder, these pants are everything they say they are. Warm, comfy, stretchy, and they even have a little butt pocket for your Starbucks gift cards! I mean, warm plus stretchy plus pocket. If you’re not sold on that alone then I give up.
If you’re nothing like me and warm blood actually runs through your veins, check out the Adidas Outdoor Terrex Swift Multi Pant. These awesome pants are men’s and women’s, so guys, time to pay attention again. So here’s the thing. I have faults. I have longer legs, like an awkward baby giraffe. These pants are actually long enough so I don’t look like a paper boy in the 40s. I also am pretty gifted at spilling every beverage I’ve ever held in my hand. These pants are waterproof. When I can’t throw to a hold, I throw a heel over my head. These pants are actually stretchier than I am. I put things in my pockets, climb, things fall out of my pockets. The pockets on these pants have zippers. I also am very bad at being on horizontal ground, and trip over everything from gigantic, highly visible boulders to dandelion fluff. These are the only pair of pants I own that don’t have holes in them (I’m actually serious, they really are). I’m kind of a tiny terror, and if these pants are me-proof, they’re probably you-proof too.
Buy the things:
North Face Isotherm Tights: Originally $140, now $97.93 on rei.com! Link: http://www.rei.com/product/886695/the-north-face-isotherm-tights-womens
Adidas Outdoor Terex Swift Multi pants: $99 on adidasoutdoor.com Link: http://www.adidasoutdoor.com/w-terrex-swift-multi-pant/ITO56.html?dwvar_ITO56_color=Mineral_Red#sz=47&start=0
I do not like sleeves. Unless they’re long. Either be long sleeves, or be no sleeves, just don’t be those tiny sleeves who’s apparent only purposes are to make you feel like you’re sweating the Nile river. On that note, my favorite tank is the Adidas Outdoor Ultimate Tank. My favorite thing about this tank…. hey guys, this is for girls. Go play Call of Duty or something. They actually DO have a men’s version of this tank though. But I don’t think my favorite thing about the tank will apply to you guys. Just FYI. Anyways, my favorite thing about this tank is that it covers my boobs. I know! Hallelujah! If you’re like me and you’re well endowed up top, this is freaking revolutionary. It also covers that bit of fat roll by your armpits that literally everyone has but decided to be embarrassed by anyway. Well, be irrationally embarrassed no more! Also, this tank breathes like Egyptian cotton. I actually don’t know if that’s a good thing, I just stole that line from The Incredibles. It breathes really well though. And it’s kinda baggy, so you can eat all the Justin’s peanut butter cups you want and no one will ever know! Except if you have chocolate all over your face. Then they’ll know. Learned that the hard way.
And of course, the warm thing. I loooove warm things. Like hot chocolate and fat puppies. And my Midweight Stretch Wicking Long Sleeve Half Zip shirt from Columbia holy bajeezus say that three times fast, yeesh! Um, do they know that there’s like, a place for the description? You don’t have to make the name the description…. I’m gonna call it my mermaid shirt. My mermaid shirt has a reflective lining that looks like scales. Hence “mermaid shirt”. This awesome liner actually takes your body heat and reflects it back onto you for maximum warms. It makes you feel like a glitter princess AND it actually works! When I wanna go big on the warmth, I get my mermaid shirt. And it’s stretchy! So I can climb and not be freezing cold and hating everything and wanting to punch kittens in the face! Yaaaaaay! Always a good thing.
Buy the thing:
Adidas Ultimate Tank: $22, many rad colors, on adidasoutdoor.com
Mermaid Shirt: Originally $60, now $44.90 on Columbia.com
I am not a gearhead. I am not one of those people who reads essays on products before buying or watches those little infomercial videos on jackets and nail clippers and stuff. I use what I like, I don’t use what I don’t like. It’s pretty simple. Here’s what I like.
I like my Patagonia Cragsmith Pack.
This pack is awesome because it has like, twelve different openings. Well no, it has two. Which is still more than one. There is a top opening and a back opening. This is radical because you can lay all your gear into the pack instead of shoving everything in like cornbread stuffing up a roast turkey’s butt. Then you can zip up the back opening, turn the pack right side up, and shake it like a shake weight (pretty sure the only thing those things are good for are metaphors). All your gear falls to the bottom, you open up the top opening and voila, so much more room for activities! This pack is also super comfy and hugs you as nicely as that one overly enthusiastic chubby aunt at Christmas. It’s simple, durable, and cinches where you want it to cinch. It even says “Patagonia” in nice big letters on the outside so people can know how outdoorsy and adventurous you are! Perfect!
Buy the thing:
$129 on patagonia.com, link: http://www.patagonia.com/us/product/cragsmith-pack-35-liters?p=48055-0
I like my CAMP Ball Nuts
Heh, ball nuts. These are also called loweballs, but I prefer ball nuts. For obvious reasons. So these things are rad. They’re the tiniest active pro on the market, and they rock. You might look at one and be like oh, well that’s just a cornucopia of silliness, I’ll just use these regular nuts. WRONG. But nice use of the word “cornucopia”, I salute you for that. These are the Charizard to regular nut’s Charmander. That’s right, they skip right over Charmeleon. Yeah. They’re like if nuts had a badass ninja older cousin. They’re what nuts would meet if they took the DeLorean for a ride into the future. Enough with the metaphors. Here’s why they’re awesome. So they’re kind of like a nut with a little ball on the side (heh) that slides up and down the nut (heh) to create a tighter fit in multiple sizes of crack (double heh). This is rad because one ball nut can account for multiple sizes of nuts. So you only need five of these as opposed to thirteen nuts! If you’re one of those wierdos who likes to cut every extra ounce, these are the way to go. Because they’re adjustable, they’re also easier to clean and make for more precise, specific placement. They’re also just fun to place. Sometimes I place a ball nut instead of cam just because, well, they’re neat. And that’s really what it comes down to. And really what’s most important. They’re just really neat, man.
Buy the things:
Each ball nut is $39.95 and there are five. I hate math, you do it.
I like my Friction Labs Unicorn Dust chalk
It’s called Unicorn Dust. And it came with a little unicorn sticker. I mean. I’m not really sure what more you guys want from me. They had me at unicorn. If they didn’t have you at unicorn then you need to go, like, relive your childhood or something. Also, I’m pretty sure they actually ground up a unicorns horn to make this, which is actually pretty messed up and I’m pretty sure unicorns are endangered. Shame on you Friction Labs. But it feels amazing. It’s like petting a unicorn that just bathed in conditioner and silk. It’s like butter. But like, super dry butter. That keeps your hands super dry too. I don’t know about you guys, but I am lost without chalk. I chalk up way too much. I chalk up just as a nervous response. I NEED my hands to be dry and stay dry. Apparently a unicorn’s horn has some kind of insane drying agent in it, because it’s the only thing I’ve used that actually stays on my hands and keeps them dry. The only downside is the guilt, which I avoid by telling myself that unicorn’s horns grow back and it doesn’t hurt them at all to have them chopped up and ground into a powder, which is then sold in shiny gold bags. In fact, it helps them because unless we chop them off, their horns just keep growing until they can’t even get up without impaling a few fairies. So it’s a win win really.
Buy the thing:
They also have different blends like chunky Gorilla Grip and super chunky Bam Bam, you know, if you’re into that kind of thing. They come in bags of 2.5oz ($10), 5oz ($15), 7.5oz ($20), and 10oz ($25)
I like my Arc’teryx 385a Harness
You know how when you were just a little tyke you dreamed of a colorful harness that was as thin and comfy as it was strong? Well guess what. All your childhood dreams have come true in the form of the Arc’teryx 385a harness. This harness and I have been bffs for four years now, and I still haven’t found anything wrong with it. How many of you are jaded and think that there’s just no such thing as true love? No such thing as a good, lasting relationship? With the opposite sex, ok yeah, I can kinda see how you think that. But don’t lose hope! Because this harness will prove you wrong. This harness will always be there for you. Until it starts to show a lot of wear, then you should probably replace it. Hmm. This isn’t quite as uplifting as I intended it to be. Let’s start over. I’ve been climbing for fifteen years. I have worn many harnesses. With every harness, there’s been that one thing that makes me want to feed it to a paper shredder. Either the gear loops are too small, or it’s impossible to double back, or it pinches the nether regions. But with this harness, nada. None of that silliness. Light, user friendly, thin yet totally comfortable to hang in, flexible, and, the best part, the new ones are PURPLE and TEAL! How rad is that?! We should all get one and wear our Five Ten Verdons with them and swing around the crag throwing glitter and unicorn dust like beautiful majestic peacock princesses! Truly the stuff of childhood dreams. And yes, I was a strange child.
Buy the thing:
$159 on arcteryx.com (there’s a men’s version too!)
I like my Petzl Elia helmet
Another pink thing! Yayyy! So obviously, it’s very important to protect your noggin. Your noggin is a pretty important thing, as the condition it’s in is detrimental to whether you live or die. I protect my noggin with my Petzl Elia helmet. I don’t know about you, but I’m super picky about what goes on my head. Beanies can’t be too thick, hats can’t be too tight, headbands can’t be too loose….you get the idea. I need my head to be comfy. It’s kind of hard to ignore discomfort when it’s almost literally in your face. And like the third bowl of porridge that Goldilocks ate like a greedy little jerk, this helmet is juuuust right. It fits my head perfectly, doesn’t slide around at all, is easy to adjust, and is well-ventilated. This helmet is also very rock-proof, as I have accidentally tested many times here in Sedona, land of choss. It is also dropped gear-proof and flung away angry squirrel-proof, which is a whole other story entirely. It even has a nifty little space in the back for your ponytail! Proof that men actually DO consider our needs! Actually, now that I think about it, this helmet was probably designed by a woman. So close.
Buy the thing:
$64.95 on petzl.com
Alright guys. I get it. It’s a gear review. Snore. I’ve touched on what I feel are most important items that have the most impact on a day of adventuring or climbing. These are all things that I have personally used and abused for the past year or longer. I was not paid or bribed with cookies (that would work though, just saying) to endorse any of these products. I just really really like them. And I hope you do too. Happy adventuring!
“Heyyyy this is dad, with one word of advice. If you explore Kauai, uh, in the forest and all that…. I’m sure you know that uh… they grow a lot of pot there and uh, pot growers carry guns. Soooo beware. And uhhh…that’s all. Ok. Bye.”
When I was listening to my dad’s voicemail on the plane, it seemed pretty funny. I even had Tim listen to it, saying, “only MY dad!” as he chuckled. It didn’t seem so funny now. It was day one of our spontaneous Kauai trip, and we were lost. And I don’t mean on a side street trying to find the Safeway lost. I mean mudding through the jungle at night, stars jolting above our heads as we lurched up the muddy pothole-filled terrain calling itself a road. “I think maybe this isn’t right” I said for the millionth time, Tim’s furrowed brow an unspoken sign that he agreed. No way was this the road to the campsite where I had reserved a spot for the night. We passed what looked like a goat path, the entrance strung with old caution tape that fluttered at us like a snake about to strike. In four-wheel drive, we slid around the corner where an eerie green glow washed over us. It seemed to be emanating from a large metal object with a chain link and barbed wire fence surrounding it. Yeah, time to go. We slowly lurched away down the road, hoping my dad’s gun-toting pot growers weren’t about to come investigate. As the green glow faded and the jungle began to seem very, very dark, we lurched to a stop. In front of us was a fork in the road, and a sign. An actual sign! This was a first sighting for us in Kauai, and we approached it slowly as not to spook it. Luckily for us, neither arrows on the sign actually pointed at a road. In fact, they pointed at everything except a road. We wanted adventure, and this sign was determined to give it to us. Yaaaay. We recognized neither road name (or maybe it was the name of the rock it was pointed at…) and it was past our bedtime. “Screw it, let’s go park at the lot and sleep in the jeep”, Tim trudged back to the car, shaking his head. Back up the road we went, our brains properly rattled by the time we finally hit pavement. We drove to the Koke’e State Park campground, at which we did not have a reservation (or at this point, a care in the world), to find it empty. Surprised but relieved, we pulled up to a spot far from the three other cars, flipped the back seats down, wiggled into our sleeping bags, and were out in seconds. Little did I know, the rough and bumpy road had not only awakened my spirit of adventure. It had awakened something else inside me. Food poisoning. I had had an uneasy feeling that morning at I swallowed the last bite of my ham and swiss breakfast sandwich. The last bite was cold. Which was weird, as the rest of the sandwich was not. The uneasiness had turned to nausea and had stayed with me the rest of the day. Now, an hour into a deep sleep, I woke abruptly. At first I thought my appendix had burst. The pain was unreal, unlike anything I had experienced in my lower abdomen. I didn’t know what was happening or what I needed, but I had the good sense to crawl out of the jeep before it began. The purge. During a brief respite, I crawled to the jeep and shook Tim awake, asking if he had any stomach meds on him. “I don’t have your markers”, he muttered, sleep drenching his voice. I didn’t have the chance to ask what he was on about as I crawled back to my dew-covered grass patch of horrors. An hour or two (or three?) later, relieved and pain-free, I crawled back into my sleeping bag with chilly toes and tired abs and slept like…. well, a baby. For three hours after shitting my brains out.
“I said I didn’t have your markers?” It was the next day at nine a.m. and we were sliding down the muddy Awa’awapuhi trail trying not to wipe out on our first full day in Kauai. “Yeah I dunno what you were dreaming about. Anyways I’m feeling a lot better now, thanks”. “Why would I be dreaming about markers?” My eye-rolling was interrupted by a disturbingly loud rustle in the bushes, and I froze. The tension was only somewhat lessened as two large men in camo and bright orange burst through the jungle yipping and guffawing about “gittin’ a hawg”. They nodded to us as we passed by, shotguns slung across their backs. As polite and cheery as these guys were, it wasn’t exactly comforting knowing that a bunch of pig-crazed men were sneaking around the trail, shotguns loaded and safety off. I wished I had worn my bright pink board shorts. And maybe a sign saying “not a wild boar, please don’t shoot”. As we hiked along, I felt something brush my leg, and looked down to see an older black dog looking up at me, panting and pleased. Meanwhile, Tim was receiving friendly licks from a smaller, also black, dog. Apparently the hunter’s dogs had decided that sniffing for wild boars was actually pretty boring, and instead they were going to follow us humans to wherever the heck we were going. One was big and one was small, so being the creative geniuses we are, we called them Big Dog and Little Dog. They wagged their big and little butts right to the end of the trail with us, completely ignoring their sniffing obligations and basically just very excited to be dogs and to be doing dog things. The end of the Awa’awapuhi trail opens up onto a thin ridge with a huge drop on either side. It is breathtakingly beautiful, but it is not for those afraid of heights, and it most definitely is not for dogs. Unfortunately, the dog things that Little Dog and Big Dog insisted on doing included zipping around our legs on this section of the trail, making sure the rocks on the cliff edge were in their proper places, and sniffing things that weren’t there on ground that very nearly wasn’t there. This was very stressful for us humans, as we felt somewhat responsible for these dogs who had followed us here. We also wouldn’t have minded not being jostled and bumped off the cliff edge into the crevasse below ourselves. Plummeting to our death via dog wasn’t exactly on the itinerary. Luckily neither of these things happened, and with much coaxing and empty promises of treats, we were able to guide Big Dog and Little Dog back to their jolly-faced owners waiting at the trailhead.
The hunters weren’t the only interesting folk we met on the trails. In the nine days we were in Kauai, we hiked twelve gorgeous, unique trails, encountering on each trail some very unique people. We met shirtless men in fedoras who made their girlfriends carry the packs, beer chugging groups who insisted that being drunk made the hike back up easier, petite Asian women who tried to hike in stilettos and white mini skirts, elderly couples who marched past whining teenagers, hippies hiking naked and barefoot waving incense sticks, locals who glared at all the tourists before disappearing ominously into the bushes, dreadlocked nomadic couples who hiked with all their belongings in tattered fanny packs, sorority girls who managed to clear out entire view points by shrieking about a mouse, and many many others. There isn’t a huge amount of exotic wildlife in Kauai, not even any snakes, but the ample people-watching makes up for it. On the less crowded trails however, when it came to the wildlife we found that the best tip we could offer was to carry a stick. This wasn’t a walking stick or a whack-people-on-the-head stick, it was a crab spider stick. There wasn’t a single trail we hiked when this didn’t come in handy. It’s one thing to appreciate and love nature, it’s another thing entirely when nature is a fat crab spider and his web wrapped around your face. There are also giant orbweaver spiders, which luckily tend to build their web off to the side of a trail. Other wildlife we encountered in Kauai included frogs, a rainbow of fish, many gentle sea turtles, small green lizards, inquisitive goats, a rare Hawaiian monk seal, and many, many, many birds.
By the way, the bird of Kauai is no svelte delicate island bird. It does not trill captivatingly, nor are it’s fallen feathers a prized find. The bird of Kauai is the chicken. Of the twelve trails that we hiked on the island, all of them contained chickens. Mostly roosters. Roosters are majestic in their own way, with greenish-black curling tail feathers and fiery necks that gleamed in the sunlight. But these were no farm roosters. These roosters were feral, and they were territorial. This means that they would not only cock-a-doodle-do in the morning. They would cock-a-doodle-do all the livelong day. They would cock-a-doodle-do until their fiery little throats were hoarse and cracked, and it was clear that whoever thought they sounded anything like “cock-a-doodle-do” was just a hopeless romantic. When you went to the beach, chickens. When you hiked a trail, chickens. When you snuck behind a bush to pee, chickens. And I’m pretty sure that when you climb Mt. Kawaikini, the highest point in Kauai, a chicken will be there to greet you and brag about how it got there first.
But chickens, at least, don’t try to rob you. Hawaii is pretty notorious for sketchy locals, and Kauai takes the cake. The cops there actually tell you not to lock your doors so that thieves can rummage through your things without bashing your car windows in. Comforting. On day six of our trip we had the pleasure of experiencing just how sketchy the locals can be. “Lyse shhhhh.” I woke up at one a.m. to Tim gently keeping my head down, finger to his lips. “Whaaaa?” I groggily muttered. “Two SUVs just pulled up with a couple of locals in them. One guy got out and went to talk to the other guys and now they’re just sitting there watching us. We’re leaving.” In Kauai, you can pretty much car camp wherever and no one cares. Usually we found a nice secluded spot on the beach under a tree and just slept in the back of the jeep. We don’t usually encounter other people since we’re not just on the side of the road. Something was off here. “Just keep your head down. I’m gonna crawl up to the driver’s seat and start the car. Lock your door”. I nodded and slowly locked my door, wincing at the audible click. Tim crept up to the drivers seat, the tinted windows of the jeep buying us some time as he quickly twisted the key, threw the jeep into drive, and peeled out towards the road. Once we were on the road, I peeked out the rear window. We rounded a corner, and I saw headlights against the mossy dirt cliff. Suddenly the headlights went dark. But we were still being followed. Tim kept a steady speed so it wouldn’t be obvious that we knew we were being followed and eventually made it to a road lined with houses, cars, and a few people walking around. Tires squealed behind us. They were gone. I fell back onto my inflatable pillow and sighed in relief, thankful for once that Tim is such a light sleeper. “Man we just can’t win tonight can we?” I chuckled nervously. Earlier that evening while searching for a place to camp for the night, we had driven through what what supposed to be a beachside campground. These were all over Kauai and usually were the go-to for quick and easy camping. But this one was different. The first clue probably should have been the ancient, crumbling bridge covered in graffiti that we passed under at the entrance. Immediately to our left after the bridge was a destroyed rusty car and a few hobo tents made out of sheets, palm leaves, and old clothes. Empty liquor bottles littered the ground like sad Christmas ornaments. “Um,” I said. “Hmm”, said Tim. As we drove around the campground, tough looking locals and scowling meth heads with sunken in cheeks glared at us threateningly from disintegrating cars held together with duct tape and bungee cords. We passed a gate splattered with blood stains, creaking on one hinge. Even the roosters here were eyeing us menacingly. “Well”, I said. “Yeah”, said Tim. As we drove back through the campground to the exit, I pulled my towel over my blond hair and kept my head down. While Tim is mostly Portuguese and could pass as at least part Hawaiian, with his dark hair and perpetually tanned skin, I was all too obviously a Howlie, a mainlander. And the locals here don’t exactly embrace us mainlanders. After our midnight escape, we ended up driving back to our favorite spot, a small sandy ledge right on the beach. This spot was always available and nicely secluded. It was framed with trees and had a perfect spot to pee. And better yet, the locals in this area waved and smiled at us as they passed by, even when they noticed my white Howlie glow.
After seven days of nonstop hiking, snorkeling, and exploring, we drove north to the Kalalau trail head. After eating a snowcone, exploring some caves, laughing at a rooster enthusiastically eating a coconut, and watching the locals surf, we woke up at six a.m. the next morning to get a head start on the trail. We soon discovered that if you start hiking the Kalalau before the sun is up, there will be frogs. And I don’t mean that every so often you’ll see a cute little froggy on a leaf. These massive frogs plopped themselves in the middle of the trail every five feet, and were not at all skittish. Even after dawn began to replace the shadows with blues and greys, we kept our headlamps on to avoid squishing a frog under our boots. Unlike most animals, these frogs didn’t budge when we came near. When the beams of our headlamps swept over them, they sat there and blinked at us like fat grumpy stubborn uncles. Even when we nudged their froggy butts with our boots, they would simply lean away and look at us disdainfully. Once the sun was up, the frogs disappeared into the jungle. Two miles in, we split from the main trail to make a quick detour to the Hanakapi’ai falls. The trail to the falls was unbelievably luscious, twisting through the Hawaiian jungle as small falls and pools flowed tranquilly beside it. Giant stalks of bamboo shot up in clusters, and sadly, many initials and names were carved into the beautiful delicate wood. I felt a fire in me, and knew that I wouldn’t be able to keep my mouth shut if I came across someone adding to the carvings. I already knew for sure that Tim would speak up. Yesterday as we were walking around the trailhead campground, we checked out some caves that had formed along the cliff face. We thought the caves were pretty cool. What we didn’t think was cool was the twelve or so year old girl vigorously scratching her name in huge letters on the cave wall while her parents looked on and chuckled. They weren’t as amused when Tim strode up to them and, in a deep, throaty Tennessee accent said “HEY”. The sound reverberated off the cave walls and disappeared into the darkness. The parents whipped their heads around with huge eyes, opening and closing their mouths like a pair of goldfish. The little girl glanced at us snootily. “Don’t carve your name on the walls! That’s disrespectful!” Tim boomed, and the little girl froze. As we turned to explore deeper into the cave we heard a scratching sound cut off by “stop it, it’s not allowed! Shh!”. While I was glad that the parents received the message, I was annoyed that they seemed to have missed the point. I mean, technically yeah, no one is about to come down here and arrest you for carving your name into a cave wall. But it’s not about being allowed. It’s about having a simple respect for nature. As the saying goes, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. It was disheartening to see this kind of behavior continued on the bamboo on such a beautiful trail. And not just by naïve youngsters. “A.J.K.” felt the need to commemorate his senior trip, while Mike and Kimi wanted their engagement to be set in…well, bamboo. Why must we insist on leaving our mark on everything? The bamboo carvings were a bit of a downer, but our spirits were restored at the sight of the waterfall. Silky rivulets of water cascaded three hundred feet into an icy pool, mossy cliff faces soaring up to create a protective bowl. It was stunning. We scampered down to the base of the falls gleefully. “Tim”, I announced, “I’m going in!” The sun wasn’t quite up yet and it was the middle of January, and that mountain water was cold. Since we were alone, I stripped to my shorts and did my best to run in quickly, but the cold didn’t exactly inspire quick movements. I desperately swam to the waterfall, astounded by how the icy water took my breath away. I reached a hand out to the cascading water like a relay racer, and quickly turned and swam back, gasping. Shivering and half naked, I pranced out of the water in delight. “I LIIIIIIVE!” I yelled, lifting my arms. Tim, watching me bemusedly, rolled his eyes and grinned. As we resumed hiking, I began to regret leaving my shorts on. They were the kind with built-in underwear, and I was wearing nothing beneath them. This rather displeased my butt, and I soon realized that I had developed diaper rash. Later I would become all too aware that not only did this make hiking uncomfortable, it also made snorkeling in the salty ocean exquisitely painful.
About two years ago, Tim and I backpacked the Lost Coast trail in California. During our first day of hiking, we met Dennis. Dennis was a skinny man in his late thirties, all wiry muscle and a mess of light brown hair. He looked a bit like a broom. Our hiking pace was similar, and we ended up hiking together for over half the trail. He was a scrawny dude, but he had the endurance of a wolf. That guy could hike. Tim and I are both competitive, and we weren’t about to let this beanpole of a guy hike farther than us. After hiking fifteen miles in five hours, he finally stopped and began to set up camp. Relieved and exhausted, but trying not to show it, we sat down heavily on the sand. We watched in disbelief as Dennis began unloading a ridiculous assortment of things from his massive pack, including a giant bear locker full of every ingredient and tool necessary for immaculate fish tacos, which we eyeballed jealously between spoonfuls of Mountain House. The next morning we woke at six a.m. and checked for his tent, but he was already gone. We predicted that we would meet a Dennis every time we backpacked, and on day one of the Kalalau trail, we met our Dennis. This Dennis was huge and Russian, with a thick accent and a small black samurai bun. We couldn’t pronounce his Russian name, so we called him Russian Dennis, or R.D. for short. He had only a day pack and a small video camera, which he was using to take photos. “Oh, scuze me,” he said in a deep Russian voice, “would you please take picture for me? I give you camera, you stand zere”. As he hiked behind us, he told us about how he was trying to make it a day hike to the end and back. “I wake up at eight o’clock, I start hike. Hopefully I see beach at noon”. He explained that the batteries in his flashlight had died, and he needed to get back before dark. Unlike our first Dennis, R.D. seemed very underprepared. He was constantly stopping to take photos, then running up the trail to ask us what time it was. He seemed to be under the impression that we were guides of some sort due to our hiking pace, and was constantly asking us what and where things were. “What do you call zis place?”, he asked, as we passed a few impressive mossy rock arches. Tim glanced at me. “I dunno man, they’re cool though huh?” “Yes but what do you call them?” “Uh, I dunno dude.” His gung-ho spirit made up for his constant questions however, and he raced up and down the trail between viewpoints like a puppy chasing its first squirrel. At noon, we were still about two miles from the beach. “Maybe next corner we see beach”, he said hopefully. A few corners later, when we did not see beach, his shoulders slumped. “Sorry man,” Tim said. R.D. looked at us with a glint in his Russian eyes and said “iz ok. I come back Monday, maybe Tuesday. Start trail at six. Maybe seven”. Tim smiled, “I like your spirit dude”. R.D. smiled and started walking back down the trail. “Good luck!” he shouted in his thick Russian accent as he disappeared around the bend. We smiled and waved. Tim turned to me, brow furrowed. In a thick Russian accent he said, “in Soviet Russia, if you do not do trail, you do again. Monday, maybe Tuesday”. We started hiking again as I adopted a Russian accent as well, “and if you do trail but you can do faster, you do again. Until you are best”. “And if you cannot be best, you kill who is best, then you are best.” I laughed, and we were Russian for the rest of the trail. We had also been German, redneck, and Batman to people we had passed (“hello!” “I’M BATMAN” “um.”). But we had no idea that this array of characters was nothing compared to the cornucopia of eccentrics we were about to encounter.
After hiking fifteen miles in six hours, gaining and losing thousands of feet in elevation, battling the edges of cliffs and diaper rash, we arrived at the most spectacular dead end I’ve ever seen. A majestic jumble of foliage-covered spires soared out of the jungle, mist and sunlight caressing the highest summits like whipped cream on a dramatic ice cream sundae. With this as our backdrop, we scurried through the forest to the beach. Along the way we noticed the camps of squatters living there without permits, taking up most of the designated camp sites. We crossed a shimmering river just before the beach, and a huge man with a belly to rival any champion sumo wrestler sat on a rock in a pair of tattered shorts. He was accompanied by a nervous looking dark-haired girl, eyes dripping with old cakey mascara fixed on us wearily. It was an odd sight, and an uncomfortable one once Tim informed me that he had “looked at you like you were a taco”.
The beach was gorgeous, but not entirely pristine. Giant plastic lawn chairs, brightly colored tarps, air mattresses, and trash assaulted us from the tree line. Naked hippies got high in drum circles. We had hoped to camp on the beach, but were forced back into the trees by the debris and the hungry stare of a dreadlocked man with giant pupils. The forest was no better. A naked woman meandered about dreamily, shaking an egg shaker as Enya blared over a boom box. Empty cans in torn grocery bags, old battered shoes, and lifeless beach toys littered the ground like fallen leaves. Clotheslines were strung between trees, and tents were extended by old beach towels and mangy sheets. Annoyed and tired, we hiked back a ways and pitched our tent tucked away on a ledge away from it all and within sight of the spectacular view we had worked so hard for. As we were setting up our tent, a gaunt middle aged man walked up to us. He wore ripped up Peter Pan-looking pants, a flowery shirt with leaves stuffed into the pocket, and an odd but jaunty straw hat. “Ello!” he chirped in a strong French accent. “Would you please not camp ‘ere?” As Tim and I exchanged incredulous glances, he went on to say that it was “not beautiful” that we were camped there in “such a pristine picturesque place”. As Tim nodded at him with a clenched jaw, French Peter Pan revealed his true concern: that the Rangers would pass by in their helicopters and see us camped there, and would come down to check permits, which of course none of the squatters had. Once he left, Tim and I discussed for a full second whether or not we would move (“So are we gonna move?” “Hell no!”) and I slept restlessly. I was afraid the French guy would get some of his hippie friends together, and since there were at least thirty of them, even my Tennessee redneck boyfriend wouldn’t have a chance. I was also pissed. The nerve of that guy to come down here and tell us that our tiny tent “wasn’t beautiful” when the beach and forest looked like that…. as if we were the bad guys. We even had a permit! And we weren’t hurting anything, we were camped on dirt. We had even packed out some of their trash. Besides, all the designated camping was taken up by people living there. It was strange, the next morning, to want to leave. We were in a beautiful place, one of the most beautiful I had ever seen, and yet, could not fully enjoy it. As we began hiking, we concocted an explanation as to what exactly was going on in that mystical dead end. We decided that the sumo man we had seen on the river was actually the Buddha, or at least his hippy tribe thought so. They worshipped him as a god, sending out convoys to hike the trails naked and trade the weed from their secret mountain garden for food for his great demanding belly. French Peter Pan was the gatekeeper, there to politely insist that any visitors to their Utopia camp out of view of the dreaded enemy rangers, who circled like sharks, waiting to strike. Egg-shaker girl was their shaman, wandering the camp to ward off the evil spirits. She had shaken her egg annoyingly hard at us wicked clothed ones.
But, as Tim put it, “a thousand naked hippies couldn’t take away from the beauty of this place”. And I full-heartedly agree. Usually I’m a pretty restless person. I hate sitting still, and I can’t be in one place for too long. But after French Peter Pan left, the sun began to set. Oranges and pinks washed over the sky like a careless watercolor, and the green-covered ridgelines glowed with an unearthly light. The conical spires kissed the clouds and their shadows deepened, giving the mountain range a depth that made you feel small in a peaceful way. The colors pulsed, intensely rich over the deep black and white of the stones that peppered the ledge we were camped on. As the sun slipped away, the pinks and oranges were replaced with purples and lilacs in a kaleidoscope exchange. Perched on a rock with my knees pulled up to my chest, sitting completely still for the longest time in a while, I stared. It was hard not to. It was ridiculously beautiful. And it was easy to feel that, in that moment, nothing in the world was better than sitting there, on that rock. Just staring. Just fully having this moment, absorbing it and drinking it in like a fine wine. Worth a thousand naked hippies indeed.
This trip was not planned. Well, it was planned, but only two days in advance. We saw an opportunity to have an experience, and we took it. People worry so much about having a certain experience in a certain way on a certain day at a certain time. But sometimes, the best adventures, the best experiences, are not the ones you search for. They’re the ones that find you. And adventure certainly found us in Kauai. While our brushes with threatening locals, unreasonable hippies, and the occasional aggressive rooster may have seemed negative at the time, these were important experiences. They were kind of like baking soda. While I would never eat baking soda by itself, it is an essential ingredient in a batch of delectable chocolate chip cookies. And Kauai, with its lush rainforests, astonishing ridges and peaks, and supreme white-gold and turquoise beaches, was one fantastically delicious and memorable cookie.
I don’t remember much from my time in the hospital. I was in and out of consciousness, either all too aware or not at all. I remember the pain though. And the helplessness. It didn’t really hit me until late into the first night in the ICU. Technically, it was morning. It was two am, and I had to pee. They had taken everything else, cut away and discarded so that my broken body could be more closely examined. My favorite sports bra, my Old Navy sale leggings, my blue tank top. Even my socks, all lying bloodied and tattered in the trash. Underneath my hideously ugly hospital gown, I wore only my underwear. They had allowed me to keep them on, as if I was an infant clinging to a lacy Victoria’s Secret teddy bear. I hadn’t cried yet. Not when I fell, not while I was being carried out, not on the gurney rattling through the halls. Now, all was quiet. I rose out of a warm mist of morphine; comforted by the soft and sleepy glow from the hallway and the quiet patter of footsteps. But I wasn’t comfortable. I had to pee. I knew that simply getting up and walking to the bathroom was out of the question. And I couldn’t even get my own underwear off. Stubbornly, I tried to hold it. No use. I had to pee. Now. Reluctantly I pushed the red button on my bed that would call a nurse. Not ten seconds later I heard the soft patter of feet, a door creaking open, and the swoosh of my curtain being pushed aside. To my dismay and embarrassment, the nurse was male. He smiled gently at me and asked what I needed. “Um, I gotta, um. I have to pee”, I stuttered out. Both his eyebrows flew up as I explained to him that I had refused a catheter, wanting to save the little shred of independence I had left. “I see…. well, I’ll see what I can find.” He came back a few minutes later carrying what looked like a walker mixed with a punch bowl. The contraption, what I would later call my “pee-seat”, was actually just a bed pan with legs. I thanked the nurse as he stepped outside the curtain to preserve some of my dignity. He shouldn’t have bothered. First I couldn’t get my underwear off. In a desperate last stand for independence, I insisted that I cut them off myself. As I dropped the bit of fabric into the offered trash can, I felt naked in more than one way. The last of my independence and dignity was gone in a shred of pink lace. I was exposed. And the underwear was the least of my obstacles. I tried to roll to my side, tried holding my legs to move them manually. Nothing. Finally, exhausted and desperate, I muttered shyly that I needed help. With the same gentle smile, the nurse began to scoop me up. The smile fluttered as I cried out in pain. He called for back up. Two more male nurses came rounding the corner as I flopped around with just my ugly hospital gown for privacy. At this point, I thought for sure I was going to pee the bed. Luckily they sensed the urgency, and hoisted me over the bed pan in a net of arms. I was in a horrific amount of pain, but didn’t really care. All I wanted was to pee. I tried to relax and waited for the sweet release of my bladder. Nothing. The nurses turned their heads away as I closed my eyes and imagined waterfalls and leaky faucets. Nothing. My muscles were so shocked from my fall and were so tight around my shattered pelvis that I could do nothing to relax them. I couldn’t pee. Up until now, I hadn’t cried. Not when I realized my legs weren’t working, not having to move for x-rays, not while laying on the gurney waiting for morphine. But now, I couldn’t pee. I just wanted to do one thing, a simple enough thing, and I couldn’t do it. The dam broke, but it was the wrong dam. I cried now. I sobbed in the arms of the male nurses, hovering over the plastic bed pan and shivering in my god-awful hospital gown at two in the morning in the ICU. Though I wouldn’t have thought so at the time, step one of my recovery was completed that morning. It wasn’t quite the release I was wanting, but it was a release I needed. I needed to cry. I needed to start grieving.
The rest is mostly a blur.
Because I was over eighteen, no one had notified my parents yet. It was day two in the ICU at about ten am when I decided that it was time to call my mom. I was drugged out of my mind, and in a fog of morphine thought that the first thing she needed to know was that I wasn’t in pain. So when she answered the phone the first thing I said was “ma! I’m on alotta morphine!”, which is when my energy gave out and I thrust the phone into the doctor’s expectant hands. I slipped back into unconsciousness thinking that I had handled that perfectly, when in fact my mom was now having a panic attack.
It could be night, or it could be day. There is no way for me to tell.
My aunt Vicki arrived a few days after my mom did, along with two of her friends who happened to live in Flagstaff. She and her friends babysat me as my mom ran around campus getting the proper forms filled out and returning textbooks. My aunt’s friends were very nice, from what I can remember, and were named Sherrie and Karen. To my drugged out self, they looked exactly alike. They slipped in and out of the room like soft shiny dolls, bringing me chocolates I couldn’t eat and telling me stories I couldn’t focus on. I called them both Sherkaren.
Snatching at butterflies that aren’t there while my mom quizzes the doctors on the effects of percocet.
My mom can no longer eat double-stuffed oreos. While I was in the hospital, I seemed to be constantly surrounded by an army of food trays. I couldn’t eat any of it. I threw up everything I tried to digest, and there was an air bubble formed by the impact of my fall that made swallowing very painful. I don’t really remember the details of it, I just remember throwing up. A lot. So I was very excited when my mom brought a pack of double-stuffed oreos to my room and I was able to eat one. I waited for the nausea, but it didn’t come. I was ravenous. It had been about four days since I had actually digested anything, and I inhaled the oreos. I ate an entire sleeve before I felt it. The nausea. I groped for my barf bucket and threw my face into it just in time. Pure double-stuffed oreo. It looked like a double oreo milkshake, and smelled like one too. My mom threw away the rest of the oreos, never to buy them again.
All I wanted was a shower. No matter how much pain. I tried to use the handicap shower chair, but I didn’t do it right. The bathroom flooded, and I cried.
One afternoon I was more alert than usual. And once again, I had to pee. This time I was determined to pee one hundred percent under my own command. My pee seat was only a few inches away! I could do this! I was feeling confident and independent; I was on my way to recovery! Onward! I sat up and immediately threw up, then passed out.
The bruise was huge. Where I hit. It scared me.
The pain was there always. I was on morphine, percocet, and oxycodone and still the pain was there. Comfort was an impossible luxury, and most of my time awake was spent adjusting pillows and rolls of blanket. As much pain as I was in, I savored those rare moments of alertness. Just to be there with the world. Even with the pain.
It stung when I cried because of the cuts encircling my right eye. I joked to everyone that I was going to have an awesome Mike Tyson scar. But it stung when I cried.
I hate jello. I absolutely hate it. Nothing edible should jiggle like that. One morning I woke up and seemed to be surrounded by cups of the stuff. There were only about two cups on the food trays, but I was delusional. To me there were thousands. Small shiny pillars in a rainbow of colors, quivering threateningly at me. They commanded the room, seemed to consume it. I was trapped. When the nurse ran in to answer my call button, I was passed out. A small mound of jello lay shuddering in a heap on the floor, the plastic container rolling gently towards the bedside lamp.
My moon boots were meant to increase my circulation so that I wouldn’t get a blood clot. They came with a medical name and a medical explanation. I pretended I was an astronaut.
Blood thinner shots are just awful. I needed them so that my blood wouldn’t clot from my fall, but I still hated them. I had them twice a day, and they had to be administered in my abdomen, right below my belly button. And they hurt. I would squeeze my mom’s hand and look at her so I wouldn’t have to look at the needle. But then she would look at the needle and have this expression of pure horror, so looking at her didn’t really help. The shots left a huge dark tender bruise behind and made me feel like throwing up. Which I did, every time.
My mom is a warrior. When I called her from the hospital that second day, she immediately made a flight to Flagstaff. She likes to joke that that phone call was the worst and best phone call of her life. My mom was a school administrator at the time, and apparently the phone call had gotten her out of a miserable meeting with a parent. She has taught special education for twenty-five years now. You have to be a certain kind of person for this job. You have to be patient and understanding, but also assertive and straightforward. This is my mom. These qualities came in handy during my hospital stay, and during the rest of my recovery at home. She was the one who handled all my physical therapy appointments, got everything out of the doctors there was to be got, and marched all through campus doing everything necessary for a smooth withdrawal process. But a smooth withdrawal process is still a process. There were papers to be signed, faxes to be faxed, documents to be collected, and offices to be waited outside of. And everyone has a breaking point. My mom was in the campus Starbucks getting a much-needed coffee when the friendly barista looked up at her and chirped, “hello! How are you doing today?”. Such a simple question, but one that carries so much weight. And my mom had reached her breaking point. Students in line craned their necks at the woman up front crying into her espresso. This happened outside the student bookstore, getting lost in the Union, and in the waiting area of the transcript office. Though she probably didn’t think so at the time, this was a good step in her own recovery. She needed to cry. She needed to start grieving.
It was snowing in Flagstaff when I was finally discharged from the hospital. The soft flakes made everything more difficult, but I was glad for the snow. It was beautiful. It was like the mountains were saying goodbye.
You would think that going through the airport in a wheelchair would be easier. It’s not. They make you walk through the scanner. Walk. People are awfully impatient at the airport, especially in the security line. They grumble about having to move for a wheelchair, they grumble about me getting to go to the front of the short line, they grumble about having to wait as a TSA agent drags me through the scanner as I wince in pain. Grumble grumble grumble. The takeoff and landing were the worst parts of the flight. I’m just glad I didn’t throw up. My moms new husband, Rafe, picked us up at the airport along with Ava, our mini aussie shepherd. My mom and Rafe had gotten married only a few months earlier, and I felt guilty for intruding on their newlywed life. But Rafe was more than caring, and had built ramps all throughout the house so that I could wheel around in my chair more easily. He had even decorated and painted my new room to look exactly like my old one in the town I grew up in. He and my mom put their best efforts into making me feel at home in a strange city. But I didn’t know anyone in San Jose, and couldn’t exactly go anywhere on my own. I felt alone, and I felt like a burden.
I was bored. I was still on percocet, oxycodone, and Ibuprofen 800, so I was pretty spacy. Luckily, my physical therapy exercises required little brainpower. So that’s what I did. I wasn’t supposed to be doing pt exercises outside of the pt office, but I really just had nothing else to do. And I so badly wanted to climb again. Hell, I just wanted to walk again. I just wanted to be able to stand up and reach something on a shelf. Like my favorite tea. And a mug. Basically, I just wanted to make a damn cup of tea under my own power. It’s good to have goals.
At night, I dreamt of falling. I woke in a frenzied panic almost every night, sweating and breathing heavily. I became an insomniac, for fear of my dreams. I slept in small increments during the day, or not at all. I used my extra nighttime hours to continue with my pt exercises, to read, and to draw. My love for art blossomed during this time, and I often stayed up late into the night to finish a piece. I would wake up with my heads on sheets of paper instead of cotton, markers and pens sprawled over the bedspread. My art took my mind off of falling, and I slept a little more peacefully after a night of drawing.
One morning I woke up with a sore throat. I didn’t think much of it as I drank a cup of warm honeyed milk, assuming that would do the trick. It didn’t. As I wheeled around that day, I didn’t do many pt exercises. My throat was killing me. Eventually my tonsils had swollen so much that I was having trouble breathing, and I called my mom. I ended up having an emergency tonsillectomy that night. Once again I woke up in the hospital, cheeks bulging and in a fog of pain and drugs. I was so sick of this. Lucky for me, I already had a wheelchair to leave the hospital in. When we got home, I felt sick. Anesthesia does that to me. I’ve always felt nauseous after a surgery, but this time it was different. Something wasn’t right. I wheeled over to the toilet just in time to throw up. By seven that night, I had thrown up twenty-six more times. It got to the point where I couldn’t even drink water without throwing up, and I was throwing up the lining of my stomach. I grew incredibly weak and couldn’t even lift my head. All the throwing up had made my body dangerously dehydrated. Once again, it was back to the hospital. I don’t remember the ride over, but I do remember sitting slumped in my wheelchair in the ER watching the Little Mermaid on their TV. So much water. I was so thirsty. I sat there in my chair and glared at Ariel. She didn’t know how good she had it. Finally I was brought into a room where I was assessed and given four bags of IV fluids to rehydrate my body. I was also given anti-nausea pills and a sticker of a frog giving me the thumbs up. I think they thought I was twelve or something; I had lost a decent bit of weight since my accident. Or maybe they thought that because I was in a wheelchair I was mentally disabled as well.
It was interesting to me how differently I was treated in my wheelchair. It was pretty black and white. People either were way over the top with sympathy and helping me (I can blow my own nose, thanks though), or they completely ignored me and almost seemed to go out of their way to act like I didn’t exist. Two contrasting examples that come to mind both happened at the mall. The mall in San Jose is massive, has a ton of stores and, best of all, tile floors that I could roll around on easily. Many days after my mom got off work we would drive the five minutes to the mall so that I could get out of the house and be around people. One day we were grabbing some food from the food court and I was wheeling around searching for an open table while my mom ordered. To my delight, I found an actual handicap table with no chairs specifically for wheelchairs. An older man had pulled up a chair to it and was eating a burger. “Excuse me”, I said, about to ask him if he would mind sharing the table. It was a large table, easily seating six, and my mom and I were happy to share in the crowded food court. The man looked up at me and jumped sideways about three feet. “Oh!” he gasped, “I’m so so sorry! I’ll move! I’m so sorry!” “Hey it’s fine, you can sit-” I started, but he was not having it. “No no no! I’m so sorry! So sorry!”. I thought the guy was going to start crying at any second. Amid my protests that he was welcome to join and didn’t have to move, he ended up buying our food, getting us napkins, and offering to actually play caretaker while I ate- holding a napkin under my chin, holding my bowl of thai noodles up to my face. It got pretty annoying. He eventually left after apologizing a couple hundred more times. I knew his heart was in the right place, and that he was only trying to be kind. But it didn’t feel like kindness. It felt humiliating. He hadn’t bothered to ask why I was in a wheelchair, and just assumed I was born wrong or had a disease. He also talked to me like I was an infant, and I’m sure he thought I was mentally incapacitated as well. He made me feel weak. I already knew I was helpless, I didn’t need it to be on such vivid display. I was a person, not some pathetic shriveled animal.
The second incident actually happened just outside the mall. It was a busy Friday, and the parking lots were packed. Even the handicap spots we relied on were full, some with unmarked cars with no handicap placard. Finally, we drove around to the bank that was in the same lot as the mall. The bank and the mall share the same lot, and it’s difficult to tell who’s spaces were whose. To be safe, we parked in the spot closest to the mall and furthest from the bank, even though all of the bank’s spots were empty. Now was the fun part. Getting out of the car, wrestling out and setting up my wheelchair and pillows, and actually sitting in the chair was a whole process in itself. In the middle of this process, as my mom was wrangling with the wheelchair and I was slowly using my hands to move my legs to the side, a hulking man in a bright yellow traffic vest marched up to us. “You here for the bank?” he barked at us. “Oh, no, we’re going to the mall. All the handicap spots were full” my mom explained, smiling up at him, wheelchair in hand. “Can’t park here” the man said gruffly. “Oh but…. there’s no other parking and no one is parked here, we just thought-” “Well, you thought wrong. Can’t park here.” My mom looked around at the huge empty lot around her and sighed exasperatedly. It wasn’t easily getting out and setting up the wheelchair on her own, and now she had to put it all back. Meanwhile I was gingerly moving my legs by hand, inch by inch, back into the car. “Look lady, you’ve gotta move. Now”. I peered up at the man, loathing him for speaking to my mom like that. “We’re going”. My mom tried to sound nonchalant, but her voice cracked and a single tear slipped off the tip of her nose. “Hey how about helping my mom with my wheelchair?” I asked, infuriated. “I’m on the clock. Not my job.” As he turned on his heel and stomped off, I thought grimly about how lucky he was that I wasn’t exactly at my full physical peak. “Man, if I could move better I woulda clocked him one right in the-“ I stopped as I noticed my mom leaning against the car, face in her hands. She sighed one long shuddering sigh, ran her fingers through her hair, and went back to loading up my chair with red-rimmed eyes.
It wasn’t always bad. Eventually I got sick of people staring but not asking what happened, and I made a sign for my chair that said “don’t fall off cliffs”. The sign actually helped a lot, and more people started coming up to me and asking what the story was, or saying “haha yeah, whaddya do that for?”. Another thing that got me plenty of stares was my back brace, which looked like a giant plastic corset. So I printed out a photo of Scar from my favorite Disney movie, The Lion King, and typed one of Scar’s lines from the movie underneath the photo: “Forgive me for not leaping for joy, bad back you know”. I figured that if I showed people that I didn’t take things too seriously, they wouldn’t feel the need to walk on eggshells around me. And it worked. I got a little bored with telling my story over and over, but it was much better than being stared at all the time. People opened doors for me, got things off high shelves when they saw me reaching, and let me go to the front of lines. I savored these moments, knowing another bank parking attendant could be right around the corner. People are generally kind, and when you’re in a wheelchair you don’t get to be picky about what sort of kindness you receive. The man from the handicap table was sincerely just trying to be nice and sensitive, and I’m grateful for his efforts. I learned to swallow any damaged pride or offense I took, knowing that people’s hearts were in the right place. I figured that if I smiled and said thank you, they were more likely to continue trying to do kind things. And the world could always use a little more kindness.
Fast forward four months. I’m sitting in my chair in my room facing the window and staring at my toes. The house is empty. I grip the black arm rests of my wheelchair. My fingernails dig into the shiny cushy plastic, then relax. My right hand slides down the side of my chair and brushes the small brake lever. Decisively, I thrust the brake down and slap my right hand back onto the armrest. In the words of Rafiki telling Simba to take back his kingdom, “it is time!”. At first it is only my arms doing the work. I push myself up as though I am about to do a dip. This is my pride rock. Legs trembling, I slowly transfer my weight onto my feet. Thunder booms. As I slowly straighten my knees, the rain begins. It starts as a light shower, then billows into a crescendo of fattened droplets as I throw my right hand out and clutch the windowsill. Lionesses roar their approval as my left hand joins my right. My knees straighten, and I look up. The rivulets of drops flowing down the glass are like the heaving stripes of a zebra, exhausted and triumphant. I straighten my spine to the yips of the banished hyena. The rain pounds like an African mother drum. My hands slowly slide off the window sill. The shadow of the rain is like warpaint on them. My palms leave first, and lightening strikes. Small fires appear as my fingers slide away to the stomping of elephants and the screams of baboons. I lift my neck and everything fades. The sky clears. I am standing. The savannah is greening and growing. This is my kingdom.
Fast forward two months. The curb is my enemy. I glare at it. Everything seemed to come pretty quickly after I stood for the first time. My legs couldn’t seem to be convinced to move on their own, so I used crutches to swing my legs forward one at a time to remind them of how the whole “walking” thing worked. Stand, swing, swing, stand. This was how I got around the house for the first month after I stood. It wasn’t exactly efficient, but I was just glad to not be sitting down. One day I leaned forward on my crutches, intent on not swinging my leg forward. This time my leg would move without the use of momentum. My muscles protested, and my pelvis ached, but my foot slowly shuffled forward. Grinning like an idiot, I slowly shuffled my way into the kitchen. I reached up into a cabinet and gently brought out a box of Numi jasmine green tea, my favorite. Careful not to lose my balance, I put on some water, plopped a tea bag into my favorite spiderman mug along with a spoonful of sugar, and made some tea. It was the best cup of tea I’ve ever had. I stall as I think about that cup of tea. The curb isn’t going anywhere. I won’t be getting much climbing done if I can’t step down and back up again. I sigh and squint up at the glaring sun. I shuffle to the edge of the curb, and slowly bend my left knee. My right leg shoots out, and goes over the edge. Too hard and too fast, it meets the asphalt of the street. Pain lancing up my leg and into my pelvis, where it shoots around like a bouncy ball thrown into a dead-end cave. I wince, and tears come to my eyes. I wait for the pain to fade until only a dull ache remains. My left foot comes down much easier. I shuffle around to face the curb. Now back up. It might as well be Everest. I groan, indulging for a second in self-pity. If I squint, I can see a plate of cookies on the kitchen counter through the window. I want a cookie. If I can’t get up this curb, I’m as good as stranded. With no cookie. I slide my right foot forward until it’s touching the curb, then drag my toe up the curb until it crests the edge. I rock my right foot down until it’s flat on the sidewalk. Now the hard part. I shuffle my left foot until my toe is touching the curb. In a burst of pain, I arch my left foot until I am on my toe. I rock back and forth gently and a bead of sweat rolls down my spine. When I have built some momentum, I push off of my left toe and drag it up the curb. My right hip flares in protest, but both feet are now on the sidewalk. The whole process had taken about ten minutes. I am now in pain and exhausted, but triumphant. I eat not one cookie, but three.
Fast forward one month. I am at the top of a forty-foot synthetic climbing wall, and I am terrified. And I feel like an idiot. After mastering the curb, I had convinced my mom to take me to Planet Granite, the local climbing gym. After swaddling up my pelvis and adjusting my soft back brace, I excitedly selected my first post-accident climb. It didn’t even have a rating, just the label “5.fun” with a quirky doodle of a caterpillar underneath. The holds were giant, and climbing it was like climbing a ladder with extra rungs. It took me over an hour to get to the top. And now, I didn’t want to come back down. It wasn’t stubbornness, it wasn’t the pain of the harness. It was fear. Pure, freshly mined fear. The last time I let go, the last time I trusted, I fell. If betrayal by rock, why not betrayal by rope? Or harness? Or structural integrity of gym? I may have been ready to try to climb again, but I was not ready to trust again. I was realizing this too late. My face was ghost-white as I finally pried my fingers from the plastic holds and sank back into my harness. My mom lowered me slowly, sensing my panic. I trembled as I touched down, and there were tears in my eyes, but I was pleased. I had done it. I had trusted. And it had taken over an hour, but I had gone up. I had gone up, trusted, and come back down. Of all the things I knew I needed to overcome in order to climb again, it wasn’t the physical obstacles that worried me. I knew that I could push myself physically as much as I needed. But getting over that fear would truly be a test. I was relieved to have passed that test. I felt cleansed and renewed, almost reborn. This was truly the start of something. The floodgates were officially open.
Special thanks go to everyone who was there for me throughout this ordeal, including my parents, my mom’s husband Rafe, my Aunt Vicki, my aunt’s friends Sherrie and Karen (Sherkaren), the Flagstaff climbing community, the staff at Planet Granite, the amazing doctors and nurses at the Flagstaff Medical Center, the staff at the Drury Inn (my mom thanks you for those extra glasses of wine), and everyone who sent me well-wishing messages. Finally, I’d like to thank my sponsors Five Ten, 3rd Rock, and Bluewater Ropes; my Instagram followers, and those of you reading this blog for your support and love. I wouldn’t be where I am today without you.
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