Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Easy does it

The final installation for Chile 2014.  Hot tip, if you ever want a lot of email responses while traveling, try telling a story involving someone hurting your feelings :)  Thanks to everyone that reads these funny little notes. I love writing them so I hope you get a kick out of them.



I ask, hesitating.  I am at the bottom of a rope that hasn't moved in over five minutes.  Lost in day dreaming, 1000 meters above the valley floor, my partner hasn't made a move closer to the summit as the light begins to fade and I have been shivering in the shade of a protruding rock for over an hour.

"Its the hard part! Uugh."  

Pato, my Chilean climbing partner, gives another of his manly whines.  We are on the sixth of 10 pitches in a 550 meter route up Cerro Trinidad in Cochamó Valley in central Chile.  This place is called the Yosemite of Chile but comparisons are for the uncreative: it is valley upon valley of huge (2000 meter) granite rocks; surrounded by rainforest, watched over by condors.

Climbing in Cochamó was the only thing I had really set intentions on and aimed my rutters for from the beginning of my trip.  I didnt know what to expect out of the arduous mission of even getting to the valley, besides my uncertainty if I could keep up in such a world class 'climbing destination.'  Nevertheless,  I waited 5 days for a storm to pass, hitchhiked to the pueblo, chartered a horse and started up with the hopes of smiling my way into a climbing partner. 

Turn out, I missed the other million climbers in the valley this summer and only caught the last three as they were packing to leave after three months of rain forest climbing/waiting for dry weather. Cochamó is so vast and relatively new that development of new routes is constant and difficult.  Cracks are dirty and often, once cleaned for inspection, found to be flaring and/or unclimbable. Heaps of climbers invest the whole summer of time and money just to establish new lines for the sake of exploration.   The only promise that IF a guide book is ever published, their name will be printed along with their route. 

Tactical smiles from both sides were no use, I would not leave to climb in Argentina and they would not stay for another week of expected sunshine in the valley.  And then walked up Patricio...

Handsome, in a city boy sort of way.  English speaking, in the general sense.  Pato wanted to climb Cerro Trinidad and needed a belay.  Well, perfect because I'll climb anything and you could say I'm kind of a professional belayer- 100 lbs of guaranteed soft catch.  It wasn't until we were packed to hike to the base of the mountain that I actually got to see for myself the route map and details: I had been sandbagged.

"Uh. You're going to have to lead all 10 pitches,  Pato." I'm pretty new to crack climbing and was about to climb 550 meters of pretty sustained intermediate crack.

"Ah, yes, okay, I think its fine."

I've never climbed with a stranger before and was working hard to trust my instincts as well as my own abilities to take care of myself and others on a wall.  What's the worse that can happen?

Don't worry, this isn't when I launch into a tale of terror at 1500 meters.  The climbing was beautiful, if not very very slow.  Turns out, Pato bit off more than he was truly capable of and used a lot of cheap, slow technique to get up the wall.  Besides that, I wont even tell you about the 2 hour scramble up a crumbling gully to the base of the route or reaching the summit at dark and then taking 3 hours to find our rappels and scramble back down the gully in the rain to get to camp at midnight in the rain.

I will, however, tell you that a condor visited us several times as we climbed.  It came as low as about 20 meters overhead, just gliding with a condor's curious expression.  As I sat on belay, it would return every hour or so, casting its humongous shadow on the granite. I will also tell you that it's hard to find words for what it was like to be up there, high above such an incredibly beautiful and vast valley of granite formations.  Pictures don't cut it,  long passionate storytelling would only scratch the surface.  The best I can do is tell you how it felt.  The whole 17 hour day felt more physically difficult than anything I have ever completed.  It felt like living three days in one.  It felt like the bliss of single pointed focus, of meditation and stimulation all at once.  It felt like work and, dammit, I really like working hard for things I love and feeling, deep in my tired muscles and bones that I am strong and capable.  Maybe that's what love feels like, at once beautiful and challenging till you're so spent you can only laugh because any other response is just going to smother the experience. Yes, it felt a bit like all of that.

It is the humble opinion of this very self opinionated writer that climbing has the propensity towards some figurative dick measuring.  Some talk big about ascents, scoff at 'gumbies' in a quiet patronizing way, and generally can link identity and worth to climbing resumes.  To some Climbers, this summit was cool but not incredible.   

Oh, that's cute, you top roped a whole mountain. High five.  

And to others, this is almost unimaginable, complicated and scary.  The only thing I know is that I loved it, was inspired and humbled by it.  I loved every hand jamming, freezing, laughing, thirsty, hiking through rain, exhausting, lost in translating, breathtaking minute.  Now, when I flex my scrappy little muscles, there will be tiny little fibers straight out of that day in Valle de Cochamó and that's pretty awesome, in the true sense of the word.  

I don't know how all that converts into genital comparisons, though.

But really, who cares about any of it; Chile, Cochamo, or otherwise. In the end, its just an elaborate ruse.  The geography of travel across borders, or resume of routes ascended is merely a catalyst and outlet for our own internal travel, its outcome judged by where we start and end up within ourselves.  

So, there's that.

Turn and face the change

Human I love!
     You may or may not have know from my last email, but it was pretty hard for me to leave the states this time around.  For the first time in my life, I felt like I had made a home for myself.  Dont get me wrong, I traveled to find home in other ways; humans are Home, adventure is Home, my self is Home.  Yet, Salt Lake had allowed me to set roots and build community within a geographical boundary for the first time since I was 15.  I was nervous to put my gypsy-girl ways back in practice, insecure about my Spanish abilities, and sincerely enjoying security and new relationships.  Nevertheless, I packed my car, drove to California, packed my trusty old backpack and greeted Chile after 30 hours of sitting and waiting on planes and in airports. 
     Months before I departed, I contacted farms in Chile looking for ones with horses I could learn from and lovely mountains to explore.  I found that suited my fancy and made arrangements to stay for about six of my total eight weeks.  Illani, the farm owner, is an American who has been living between Chile, Europe and the US with her Chilean husband for the passed 40 years.  Her farm lies at the base of rolling hills that over look the Catrica Valley and Villarrica Volcano.  It truly is a magical valley; lush and green, I´m told it looks like southern France. 
     The farm was entirely more bustling and crowded than I expected.  At one point, our lunch table sat 25 people.  On average, there were five Chilano workers, eight volunteers (like me), family and friends.  It was full and Illani´s attention was in short order.  I struggled to find things to do and Illani´s quiet passivity meant I was given little direction.  Seeing other people lay about and not contribute much made me feel even more that I wanted to add to Illani´s farm and help support the space she had created for so many to enjoy.  After about a week, I had found jobs to keep me busy and came to recognize other tasks needing doing.  It felt good to have a base and be able to contribute as well as take care of my own needs for time and space.  It felt a bit like home.
     After two weeks on the farm, I had ridden the horses a few times, sanded and painted the new bathroom, chopped wood for days, cooked, taught yoga, hiked the hill every day, and had a few blessed times of one on one conversation with Illani.  I was happy as a clam is happy.  One afternoon, after a long day in the sun, Illani said she had something she wanted to talk to me about so we walked into her rustic bedroom.  She turned to face me, “Blake, I just dont feel we have a connection.  I think it would be better if you left.”
Whoa.  Hold the phone and shut the front door.  What.
     That was almost exactly what went through my mind.  Then, WHAT THE FUCK AM I GOING TO DO NOW?!  Then, ouch, that´s not very nice to suddenly kick me out because you don´t like me.  I felt like I had been punched.  Illani didn´t like me.  Working hard to keep it together, I asked why.  She had no answer, said she had considered it and couldn´t figure it out but that she also needed the space as she wanted to rent the volunteers´ house to curb her growing debts.  I left and walked to the volunteer house.  Louisa was there, my partner in fun and work and conversation since she arrived.  She is a French cowgirl.  I love her.
     I told her, through very sad and hurt tears, what had happened.  That I didn´t understand it and didnt know what to do.  I had no other plans and was honestly afraid to travel.  I had been so home sick I had grown complacent and felt I had forgotten how to travel thought it was my life for years.  I hadn´t felt strong enough to do it and this had done nothing to instill confidence in the world at large.  We sat and talked, I said maybe I´d go home, I dunno.  She was shocked, kept wondering how Illani could even say she knew me when she had so little time for us.  It felt like high school, when I felt alienated from my friends and bullied in the special ways that girls bully.  It hurt to not be liked.  So, I walked up the hill for the twentieth time to be by myself.

News flash.  Sometimes people don´t like me.  Sometimes people I like don´t like me, or you, or your mom.

     Crazy, I know.  But, I guess I had forgotten it or hadn´t had that fact pull the rug out from under me so strongly.  Watching the clouds move over the valley, I thought about what I needed and what I wanted.  I wanted to transpose the same feelings I was loving in Salt Lake to a farm in Chile, I didn't want to push my comfort zone like I had for so many years.  I wanted to feel secure.  My  needs were almost entirely opposite; I needed to recognize that feelings are context specific and I´m not in Chile for the same reasons I am in Salt Lake.  I needed to remain strong and flexible and understand that I can make plans and then the world can change them.

News update. Its okay that people don't like me.  I don't have to change or be afraid.  Yes, I can be an insufferable beast.  Yes, I can be many other things that you love.  Its okay to not be everyone´s cup of tea.

     I came down from the hill and felt better.  Way better.  I was still in shock and wanted to talk more with Illani, but I knew that Illani had done the best thing she could have done for my trip.  She gave me a kick and got me moving again. I never got any explanation for Illani´s actions, but I know there are a myriad of good arguments for why I am an acquired taste.  While I don´t have anything to prove with this trip, I definitely have more to see than one valley and one set of people.  More to learn than horses, more to challenge me than one woman´s opinion of me. 
     In the end, its all okay.  Haters gonna hate.  She probably couldn´t stand how smart, and funny and pretty I am.  This must be how Britney Spears feels.


As for the rest of my trip, I left the farm last week and went backpacking in an incredible forest with Louisa for 4 days.  Now we are headed to another farm in Huelmo, on the ocean farther south.  At some point, when the weather looks dry, I´ll head to climb huge granite walls in Cochamo Valley and then I don´t know.
I still miss home in a way, think of the someone that waits for me there, excited to return to play and adventure with people I love.  Yet, I´m in Chile and that is really, really cool.  Now, I´m all the more ready to give it my best side for the remaining weeks I have here.  Thanks Illani.

So, what challenges you these days?  What heals you or makes you laugh? 

Another go round

The first of this round of stories and quips:

And so it begins, the organization of my life into boxes vs.  backpack.  Will I need This in the next two months?  I have no idea.  I feel that vague excitement of all that I don’t know.  Practicing my español, collecting climbing beta, digging out summer clothes- all of it is like a nesting instinct but for travelling.

There was a long period in my life that wrapped itself around travel.  During these years, I floated (ran), unattached (detached) and exploring (looking wildly for Something).  The world around me was in constant movement and it felt safe.  When the music is so loud and the skirts twirl so fast, it is much easier to make sense of the white noise that rises to the surface.  I can see now that all of that instability formed me into the woman I am- I know my shit and I am still looking like everyone else, as Sam Comen once put it.

While I was busy racking up the sum total of my young life, I shied away from attachment and deep connection like it was that kissing disease your friends got in high school.  Mono, was it?  Yea, mono.  Lucky for me, however, there are people on this planet that saw through the part that screams, I KNOW MY SHIT, and loved me for the child that was still searching.  How lucky are we that there are people like that.  People like Melody Mo, who curled up with me on the back bench of a terrible, bumpy 12 hour bus ride to Bamako after a two day ferry trip out of Timbuktu, during which I barfed off the side of the boat… on Christmas.  Or Greg Washburn, who gave me my playa name, Pan, and made sure to give a sincere goodbye on my final foreseeable departure from the Burning Man’s BlackRockDesert.  Lorraine Ishak, do you remember mobbing through Lesotho in your lovely Rover to collect the Nik from Cape Town?  South Africa would not have been the same if not for you two being there to put up with me.   How did I get so lucky to have met all of these incredible humans?  

As I write these words, a hundred faces rise to the surface of my memory and I am stunned with emotion and pure loving gratitude.  Gratitude for all the moments that became stories, that become memories, that are now part of my flesh and bone.  Thank you for being part of my tribe.  Thank you for being a part of where I am now, my past and my future adventures; all of them, from love, to South Africa, to Connecticut, to choosing to set roots over moving again, to surviving the wilderness. Even, a -20 degree week on trail with Wade Landon when I got frost bite. Crazy.

Once upon a time, the stories I collected were more clear and pre-told in my mind.  Now, it seems, those distinct floor boards of life are getting worn away; covered in snow, sand, river water, and various forms of smelly wilderness-play gear.  What once seemed a peak experience can eventually become part of the scenery, another stitch in the breathtaking life we are busy living.  

Maybe that is why this upcoming international outing feels extra different.  I mean, we all greet every bout of travelling from its own unique launching point: it’s that whole you never step in the same river twice sort of deal.  True, yes.  And, yet… beyond two months in Chile (where, I dunno I’m going to live on a farm and stuff) my future is entirely unknown and in the hands of graduate school admissions.  For the girl that lived life finessing things to go her way, this is very humbling.  There is no real finessing of those bastards ‘cept with cold hard cash and influence, two things that grow in short order out of Bakersfield, CA.  I haven’t felt so humbled and less in control in a long time- no expectations, no ability to form more than cursory plans, fueled by enough experience to demonstrate that it will be exactly what, where, and how it needs to be. I  have nothing to prove with my Grand Adventure de Chile, finally.  Exhale.  My trip to Chile, and my future, has me on the edge of my seat and, somehow, sitting relaxed.  Finally.    
Is it just me or have you ever lost track of yourself?  Taken one or seven ill-thought out turns, started wandering and when you looked around again, you were like; wait, that’s not what I meant to happen.  Yea, me too (or seven).  Center can be a hard place to find if you’re walking on your hands without realizing the world looks a little downside-up.  This is not where I ramble off with advice, don’t worry.  Screw advice, pardon my French.  I guess sometimes I just like to sit and smile about how cool things can be and how I still have no flippin’ idea about anything.  And maybe that resonates with the What’s, Where’s, and How’s of your life.

But, enough about how incredibly unique and interesting I am… How are you?  I mean, really, how? As I await that response:

I hope you sit for long periods of time doing nothing.  No more than staring at a wall, a sunset, the hands of a loved one.  I hope you listen more to what surrounds you and less to what envelops you.  When you get up in the morning, I hope you have time to yawn and stretch.  I hope you read more.  I hope you tell more people you love them.  I hope you fight and do not accept; that you swim through the mud to the nirvana on the other side.  

In the meantime, oh man, how I love you, you beautiful sparkly human that has allowed me to know you.