I decided to spend the summer climbing in South East Asia
because two things I’ve always wanted to be identified as is a traveler and a climber.
The climbing started first, when I was small, and it's life within me grew as I did.
When I hit my angst filled teenage years, my climbing did as well- I hardly ever touched rocks, instead focusing on cheerleading, boyfriends and getting a later curfew.
My climbing blossomed when I like to think I did, as well: my first year of college. What began in at the small climbing wall within Portland State’s rec center, flourished into a nearly full time job at the epicenter of indoor rock climbing in Portland: Planet Granite. I spent my weekends begging to borrow cars from friends to head to local crags; when my parents gave me my own ride (I know, right, how lucky am I?), I filled any free day with new heights, rough hands and rope burns.
The traveling has taken much longer to grasp hold of. I’ve always made the joke that I picked the perfect major- international development. I’ve never faltered from this choice, even though it mostly came from an idea of a person I wanted to be, rather than a true interest. I was, up until spring break of my fist year at college, the international development student who had never left the country.
These two titles, these identifications, are important, right?
We humans, we group ourselves and we group others.
We want to be part of something, something bigger and greater than our own self.
And sometimes, we feel like we have to prove our way into that something:
baptisms, frat initiations, leading your first climb outside-
they’re all really the same exact pleading, the same offering, the same asking.
So I decided to spend my summer making myself into the person I’ve always wanted to be, which is actually quite frightening and also a rather large undertaking, meaning
tons of pressure.
As our little wooden boat pulled into the make shift port at Railay Beach, Krabi in Southern Thailand, the grand scenery brought me to tears.
Imagine Jurassic Park mixed with a climber’s wet dream:
literally, wet limestone aching, almost screaming for a calloused hand to grab, pull, and set it free.
After a few complications forcing us to call the day early (malaria but not really), I went in search from cheap and spicy food. I walked the five minutes to the opposite beach and saw tiny ant-humans trying to wrangle rocks and ropes.
And I smiled like the first time I fell in love.
I stubbed my pinky toe in a rather ineffective jaunt through slightly sinking sand covered with crabs, on my way to meet these fellow rock warriors.
I walked up filled with butterflies and sweaty palms, then noticing that most if not all the climbers were being guided by some local organization.
Immediately, I sighed and thought “oh. Ugh.”
I wandered around the beachy crag,
grinning and coming dangerously close to once again crying and climaxing.
A couple guys were about to head up a route, and here, let me just note that both were wearing socks with their climbing shoes,
once again forcing me to think “oh. Ugh”.
I asked if they knew the name of the route or the name of the area, or even the grade.
They didn’t, and asked if I want going to try it (climbing) out.
Offended, like CAN’T YOU TELL I’M A CLIMBER, UGH!, Irambled off some words about how
yes, duh, I’m on a climbing trip and have my own gear and everything, ha, like I need a guide, lol*
And then, I felt like a total ass.
These two guys, nice enough, really
do not care
if I am a new climber, strong climber, guided or otherwise.
So why do I care that they know my (wannabe) title of rock climbing, pebbling wrestling, gym rat mermaid?
Recently, Connor asked what my goals of the trip were.
I babbled along something about
feeling confident in my lead head
imagining myself returning to Mecca (Smith Rock) with the ability to throw for big moves, clip without shaking, and get high off high exposure.
In reality, I guess I want to find my climbing purpose.
That is, after all, why we travel.
And, oddly, it is also why most of us climb:
that existential moment of feeling simultaneously so large from conquering earth and time and space, while also so small because look at all this earth and time and space. And look at all this rock, kicking my ass down again and again.
I yearn for these titles, like climber and traveler and beyond that, writer and yogi and academic and photographer and philanthropist, because I don’t want to walk up to random people and feel this urge to prove myself.
I want to climb for myself.
I want the self-confidence that comes with silent glory.
And I do try,
to climb for myself.
I remind myself before every climb who exactly I’m climbing for.
I say the words out loud: “I’m climbing for me, no one cares about this outcome, so why should I”. I talk to myself while I climb: I say “breathe”, “calm down”, “move with intention” and maybe, most importantly, I ask, “who are you doing this for?”
It’s not easy- I still want everyone to know that
I AM A CLIMBER, SEE ME SEND, WATCH ME FALL BIG AND YELL LOUD AND KICK AND SCREAM AND CRY AND SWEAT AND BLEED.
I will still take and post endless photos.
I hope one day, my climbing becomes like Lynn Hill’s climbing:
“a moving meditation”
she calls it here.
But, until then,
Cheers to the ego of a climber, with stories like sailors.
Cheers to the world travelers we all wish we could be.
& Cheers to exactly who we are, where we fit perfectly,
without asking for any attention.
*I’m too poor to buy extra water (or beer), so I trust you all will do the drinking half of this cheers