August 2: Forks

Nobody wanted to plan the road trip from Seattle to Los Angeles. My mom was burnt out after all the planning she’d done for the family vacation to Italy earlier in the summer (and still a little pissed that, though her ingrate children had refused to help plan it, they’d still reserved the right to complain about it after the fact). My sister and I had this romantic idea that we’d just flip through Auto Club books as we drove and providence would guide us to all the life-changing tourists destinations on the west coast. The date arrived for us to leave Seattle, and we had no idea where we wanted to go or what we wanted to do. After googling “best tours in Washington state,” my mom and sister settled on touring the Boeing factory. I’d forgotten I lived with two airplane aficionados. To be accurate, one airplane aficionado and one factory aficionado. Whether it’s a candy factory, a shoelace factory, or an airplane factory, my mom wants to tour it. As my mom loves to remind me, I was a kid who happily toured museums and sites of cultural interest. I’ve since grown into a young adult with a short attention span and intolerance for reading plaques. I think this transition took place during the last four years (coincidentally the four years I was at Yale). “You can pick the next place we go,” my mom and sister promised. This was more of a burden than a gift since all of us were ultimately trying to get out of planning. If you plan things in this family, you run a high risk of getting blamed. “Ok,” I said grinning, “I want to go to Forks.”

Forks, WA is a small, economically depressed town on the Olympic Peninsula. It’s economic depression has been recently somewhat alleviated by the publication of the best selling series, Twilight. Forks is the setting for these page-turning novels filled with sparkly vampires and teenage longing. After my utterance, I waited for my sister and mother to call me out, to tell me that I didn’t actually want to go to Forks, but they didn’t.

“I want to go there because it’s where Twilight’s set,” I elaborated in case they were unaware. Still no pushback. They began looking for places to stay on the Olympic Peninsual. Their reaction left me disappointed. Why bother to make ridiculous pronouncements if people behave like they’re reasonable statements? Now, before you think that I only said this to start an argument with my family members or to get the burden of planning the trip lifted from my shoulders, there was some sincerity to this statement. Mid high school, I read the entire Twilight series on a dare. A friend gave me three months to read the series, thinking I wouldn’t be able to stomach it. I read the four books in a week. I waited a month before admitting I’d finished them, lest someone suspect that I’d actually enjoyed them. 

As with many things I do, I was somewhere between seriously wanting to make the pilgrimage to the Twilight promise land and wanting to go as a joke. This is probably why those close to me have such a hard time knowing when to take me seriously.

 After the Boeing factory tour (a tour I will remember thanks to this dude my age who informed our tour group he was a future Boeing employee and seemed to have memorized the Boeing book of trivia, the same one our tour guide got all his questions from. He monopolized the question asking parts of the tour, peppering our polite, midwestern tour guide with an associates degree in criminology with technical questions about engines.) we drove 4 hours in a northwestern direction to the Olympic Peninsula. We arrived in Forks. I hopped out of the car, snapped a picture in front of the “welcome to Forks” sign, texted it to a friend, and announced I was ready to leave. It was then that my mother and sister learned why I wanted to go to the Olympic Peninsula. And it was then that I learned that my mother and sister thought the whole Twilight thing was a joke, that I wanted to go to the Olympic Peninsula because of the rainforest and hiking and nature stuff. A lot of learning went on in the span of a few minutes. We then piled back in the Subaru and drove in a strictly southern direction.

Day 55 (July 29): Home Stretch

We climbed the morning of July 28. I got in some final moments of self-berating and crying, and sent a 5.11b on my third go. Mico attempted a “top 100” 5.13a titled “Ibiza.” My theory is that there are more than 100 climbs that round out the top 100, a rating the guidebook uses in place of five stars. They make an effort to spread the “top 100” throughout climbing areas in Squamish, and preference climbs that are “unique” for the area. Like the word “interesting,” “unique” is a rather bland word that can mean a good deal of other words. Sometimes unique means good or special, but just as often unique can mean atypical or strange.

We drove back to Seattle, stopping in Vancouver for ice cream and dosas. The ice cream place, La Casa Gelato, serves 238 flavors of ice creams and sorbets. They serve everything from the mundane–chocolate, mint chip, vanilla–to the utterly bizarre–garlic, spicy mango, cherry cotton candy. I sampled what amounted to many scoops worth of sorbet. Then, drowning in a sea of ice cream choices, I played it safe and paired an iced coffee sorbet with a chocolate one. Mico boldly paired spicy mango with cannoli ice cream, a combo he maintains he does not regret.

We read about the early east coast rap scene and the evolution of sampling on my cellular device as we drove down to Seattle. On arrival, we were greeted by the entire Suzuki family. Though it was pretty late, everyone was wide awake because they’d recently returned from Japan. We had a lovely breakfast with bacon and coffee, and cleaned the car in the morning. In the afternoon, we went raspberry picking with the boys while Chiaki and Keiichiro finalized the purchase of their ridiculously discounted minivan. Though Keiichiro works for Amazon, his true passion is haggling with car dealers. His face lit up when he talked about the prospect of spending an entire Saturday at the dealership. He says his goal is to reduce the dealer to tears. In the evening, we had an indoor barbecue and played Settlers of Catan. Mico is incredibly kind and attentive when he interacts with old people, children, and dogs. However, this did not stop him from mercilessly taking advantage of the boys while we played Settlers. After a late night nerf gun fight, we went to bed so we could get a few hours of sleep before our 4am airport trip.

 
 
 

Day 53 (July 27): A Change of Pace

Post-Opal, we were ready for a change of pace. We briefly discussed booking it to Smith in Oregon to finish out the trip, but quickly realized most of our time would be spent driving. The best we could do was drive north half an hour to the Cheakamus area. Unlike most of the climbing near the Chief in Squamish, Cheakamus consists almost entirely of sport routes. Mico was able to revisit and ultimately send a 5.13 he’d tried on a previous trip. I proved to myself that, while I can usually do all the moves on a 5.12a climb, I’m still not a 5.12a climber. We met a local named Dale, a large, barrel-chested dude who, in peak condition had climbed 5.12 while weighing somewhere between 215 and 230 lbs. For me, a woman built more for rugby than rock climbing, this was inspirational. I’d thought that all people who climbed 5.12 and above were of a naturally stringy build.

That night, our final camping dinner, we tried to finish most of our food, but failed when it came to consuming a tin of canned mushrooms and bamboo shoots, our two worst food purchases the entire trip. They were slimy and chewy in all the wrong ways. Would not recommend to a friend, or even a recent acquaintance. We spent the evening talking about friendship and fears. Though I’d joked about some of my fears in the past, I think this was the first time Mico realized they were serious concerns, that I am someone who will joke about the things that cause me the most pain. Perhaps this is an indication that I need to reevaluate the way I express myself if I want to be understood by those close to me.

Day 29: Face Value

Ceri loves the limestone cliffs of Ten Sleep Canyon. Short and tall, slab, vertical and overhung, pockety, edgy, and cracky, the cliff bands of bighorn dolomite that line the canyon provide endless possibility of adventure.

On arrival we saw a dirty green subaru full of unkempt youth circling around the ten sleep campsites. They drove up and down the road, stopping in front of white camper vans. Quickly they’d creep from their vehicle, glance around, and then dart into the depths of the sites. We naively assumed they were looking for bears. We’d seen one earlier, we were sure of it. Driving north out of the canyon a large black loping furry mammal trundled through the tall grass on the right of the road. Large, like a refrigerator or perhaps two harly davidsons. It was big and we were frightened so we drove on, eyes glued to the road.

We met a women. She was tall, slightly chinese, and in need of a shower. A vagabond we thought. As a friend of a friend we got to know her better. She likes whiskey and offers it around at the end of a hard climbing day. Once a masters student at UCLA, now a climbing celebrity, she’s an organizer for all things women + climber. On her off days she produces films professionally with three close friends.

In Tensleep, we’d heard that locals sleep late and spend long afternoons on the south east facing walls. While partial to this shade searching, we were tight on time and planned to make the most of every day. On our first day climbing we selected a small shady out of the way wall. Our first climb was an easy five ten up horizontal pocket bands. then a slightly harder ten using underclings and side pulls. More fun but fewer stars. While Ceri was leading the third route, a hard eleven arete, sounds of civilization, clinkying metal and janglying chains broke through the bird calls and bear growls of the forest. Oh yes, the serial killers had final found us. First their dogs appeared, one, two, three, four and finally five knashing hounds rounded the corner of crag. Their handlers appeared, six in totally, two where just there for the show. They tried to play innocent, which climbs did you like, what do you reccomend, how about this one? But then they asked about the festival, are you going? Growing up I was taught not to take candy from strangers, look for their lost dogs, or get rides in their cars, especially if the windows were painted out. Here they were offering a festival, great food from a cart, a raffle, silent auction on climbing gear, live music, fire works, and painted out vans galore. Ceri and I decide we had to outlast them. No way could we go back to the car, they’d follow us. We continued to climb.

Later Ceri led 12a, this one with four stars. Yet where ever we went, who ever we spoke with, they all ended their convesations with “Maybe I’ll see you at the festival”. How did they know I was going? Whats with this maybe, like maybe you’ll last that long? It was a cult we determined, a dog loving, thrill seeking, gear giving, climb climbing cult at which we would be initiates (hopefully) or ritual sacrifices (more likely).

Day 15: Double or Nothing or Ice Cream

We went back to the aircraft carrier boulder to see if our stunt doubles could finally send the V6- and V11 boulder problems they had been working on respectively. It would have been the hardest boulder problem either of our stunt doubles had ever sent outside. Mico’s stunt double had been one move away from sending, so there was a lot of hope there. All he had to do was catch and hold onto a rather sharp lip after launching himself from shitty little crimps with less than ideal feet. My stunt double had some extra work to put in but miracles are always possible, that’s what makes them miracles. We got a late start (characteristic of our time in Leadville), stopping in town to pick up a Leadville sticker for my beloved sister. By the time we got to the boulder, we had two hours to warm up and finish the problems before we had to leave for Denver to visit Mico’s geat uncle. We tried so hard and got so far and kept pushing back our departure time. We kept trying to bust through that ceiling, but by the time 2pm rolled around (an hour after we said we’d leave), we had time for one last attempt. I, though a move closer to the top, was still nowhere near sending. Mico, after exhausting all methods for reaching the lip statically, had resolved to try the jump and hold on really hard method. He went for gold, launching himself at the lip, and managed to grab it with his left hand. He held on for a fraction of a second while his legs swung out and I prayed for a spotting miracle, before slipping off. Safely on the ground, he was clutching his left hand, admiring a medium-sized flapper on his middle finger.

Because of his perfect genetics, this was the first flapper Mico’d ever gotten, a testament to the sharpness of the lip. Lesser humans would have been ready to throw in the towel, but not Mico. He wanted to give it one more go. Unfortunately, we had just finished our roll of tape. All the tape we had with us was on his and my hands. Stellar, supportive, beneficent, goodlooking person that I am, I immediately volunteered the tape on my hands. It was a shirt off my back moment. If he sent the problem on the next attempt, I would have felt like I’d just sent V11 as well. If this were a movie, this would have been the moment where everything came together, and against a ticking clock and bleeding hand, Mico sent. Sadly, there was no camera crew; everything in this blog is mostly nonfiction. His final attempt was unsuccessful. My spotting, on the other hand, was very successful. We got back in the car to Denver, pausing only at a supermarket for lunch where we each purchased a tub of ice cream. I did a good job with my pint of chocolate sorbet. Mico, however, struggled to finish his quart and a half of Reese’s peanut butter cup ice cream and had to throw in the towel somewhere around the quart mark. We think we’re going to give the ice cream a rest for a little while. Consuming it in such quantities is very exhausting.

Day 10: Bacon and Ice Cream and a Small Amount of Exercise

Today we took a well-deserved rest day. My fingers needed it. 8/10 had cuts on the tips that would start bleeding anytime I touched anything–granite, sandstone, my toothbrush, a banana–the texture of the thing didn’t really matter, just the fact that I was using my hands. Like all good rest days, we got off to a restful start with bacon followed by some core and upper body exercises done from rings we suspended from an unsuspecting pine tree. As with most things physical, the exercises Mico performed with ease, I struggled to complete; the exercises he struggled to complete, I failed to perform entirely. We had a 4+ hour drive from Durango to Leadville but planned to break up the drive with a fun activity. As we drove, we did some research. It came down to berry picking or a 9 mile round trip hike to a hot spring. Since it was our rest day, we thought it best to go with the 9 mile hike which started at just above 9,000ft.

The day ended with a blissful trip to Walmart where we feasted our eyes on the near-infinite power of Capitalism and shared a pint of chocolate cookies and cream cashew milk ice cream.

Day 6: On the Road to Durango

I’d long known that the place to look for potential offspring names was the American west. There are a lot of names to admire, a lot of names you can imagine giving to tykes, names they will thank you for later in life–Blythe, Laramie, Cody, Phoenix, Odessa, Mesa Verde… the list is virtually endless. But there is one name in my mind that has always stood head and shoulders above all others, a beautiful, polysyllabic name that screams “hello I am a badass” like no other. You’ve probably guess it from my description (or the title of this post), but the name is Durango. Initially Mico and I weren’t going to go through Durango, which nearly broke my heart, but due to a very slow packing day yesterday and learning that a friend I’d met in Alaska (also a climber) was now based in Durango, we rerouted. We broke up the drive, arriving in Flagstaff around 11pm. I suffered a heart attack that night when I heard footsteps near where we were sleeping. My first thought was serial killer, but when I noticed the figure creeping toward us in the dark had four legs, my second thought was bear! Fortunately for us, on closer inspection it turned out to be a friendly relative of Bambi. We were still alive in the morning, so we went bouldering at Priest Draw. After that, we hit the road again, stopping briefly at the four corners. Well, actually, we drove by it the first time, but turned around five miles down the road because there’s really a very limited number of times you find yourself in the four corners in your lifetime. While Mico waited in line to squat on piece of metal that indicated he was in four places at once, I purchased frybread from a dude about our age. He explained that frybread is consumed with everything from sugar and cinnamon to mutton. We got the cinnamon sugar topping. After a snack and a selfie, we drove into Colorado with a beautiful sunset at our backs (much to Mico’s irritation because he wanted to take pictures). We’re arriving in Durango a bit later than we’d hoped because we failed to account for the fact that Arizona doesn’t observe daylight savings.