When I Grow Up, I Want to Be a Firefighting Border Patrol Agent Dog Trainer Engineer Physical Therapist Who Sells Weed


There are some who would say that job hunting while living out of the passenger’s seat of a Subaru in the middle of the Southwest desert is not the best place to job hunt. And while they would technically be correct, this has not stopped me from conducting informational interviews with nearly everyone we’ve met along the way.

Quizzing the people I meet at climbing areas on what they do to maintain their climbing habit predates my current jobless state. However, unemployment has undeniably increased the fervor with which I ply these people with questions.

Multipitch climbing does not, for the most part, lend itself to meeting new people. In an ideal world (according to the handbook of serious climbers), if you are unimaginative enough to be on a climb popular enough to have several other parties on it, by the time your leader reaches the next belay ledge, the follower from the party ahead has already left. And vice versa for a party behind you. This allows you to maximize the illusion that you are alone on the rockface going mano-a-mano with nature.

This perfect system breaks down when the party in front is slower than the party behind. And it really breaks down when the party in front gets their rope stuck rappelling the pitch the other party is climbing. This was how we met Dan and Monica at the bottom of pitch 3 of The Nightcrawler. 

They were cruising up the climb. Dan, a slight, mustached man joined us on the ledge as we began pulling our rope. It became clear that our rope was stuck, so we chatted with him while his partner, Monica, a short haired woman with glasses followed the squeeze chimney pitch.

We complemented Dan on the speed with which he was ascending. He explained that he was training to climb Cloud Tower in another three weeks by going up every corner system he could find in the park. Cloud Tower is the climb that keeps me motivated when I start to think that trad climbing is a needlessly scary and reckless pastime. Last winter, I’d made it ten feet from the top (thanks to Dante’s ability to lead the harder pitches. I’d failed ten feet from the top because of my foolish decision to lead the last pitch which went at 5.11c, over a grade above my hardest successful trad lead at the time). While The Nightcrawler is a far cry from Cloud Tower, learning that a route I’d just led was being used as someone else’s training made me think I might one day be ready to go back and try to lead the harder pitches of Cloud Tower myself.

Small talk out of the way, I asked Dan what he did for a living that allowed him to climb in Red Rocks on a weekday in November. He explained that he was completing PT school. This magical-sounding school involved a rotation that had placed Dan and Monica in a series of locations no more than half an hour from some of the best climbing in the USA. They were currently based in Vegas. Before that, they’d been living in Bishop, and their next stop was St. George. By now, Monica had joined us. She’d studied mechanical engineering at Yale and currently works remotely, allowing her to move with Dan. While working remotely as a mechanical engineer is probably not in the cards, a PT school that necessitates living near some of the best climbing areas in the USA doesn’t sound too bad.

The next interview I conducted with the woman waiting on us at a place that advertises itself as the world’s largest weed dispensary (in case the people conducting Sarah’s background check are reading this, Sarah did not come with me on this adventure. The “us” refers to a handful of friends from New Haven). While my friends asked her about the effects of various different gummies, hard candies, and cannabis-laced beers, I asked her what the hiring process was like for her job.

It had involved the typical interview followed by a drug test. “To test if she used weed,” her husband had joked at the time. She’d then had to complete a weeklong course which educated her in the science of weed and the specific products sold in the store.

“Are you hiring?” One of my friends asked. Everyone laughed at his joke, but I had been contemplating asking the question seriously moments before. His joke brought me to my senses. While it would be great to live near Red Rocks and go climbing whenever I wasn’t selling tourists gummy bears with a one to one THC to CBD ratio, the fact remains that I’m not a huge fan of weed or customer service jobs. If those qualities didn’t render me unhirable, chances were I’d come to hate the job. On top of that, I’d be stuck living in Las Vegas.

After Vegas, Sarah and I shivered our way through Utah and into northern New Mexico. On November 27, we woke up just outside Diablo Canyon, a crag that claims to have some of the best climbing in New Mexico. It was 15 degrees when the sun hit our tent. All of my water bottles had frozen shut. Our normal routine for climbing involves making breakfast, packing for the day, and heading out in short succession. On this day, we finished getting ready and sat in the sun for another hour drinking coffee and wearing all of our warm layers. Not long after we hit the crag, a couple who looked to be in their mid 30s approached us. Matt and Amber were the only other people staying at the crag campground. We chatted briefly while Matt warmed up on my intended project for the day. They then left to try some harder routes in the nearby cave.

In the evening, as Sarah and I were making dinner, Amber approached and invited us to join them by their fire. It was another frigid night. They could have been serial killers, and we probably would have agreed. 

At the fire, we had the opportunity to find out more about what they did that allowed them to take the month of November off to climb. Amber owns a dog training company in Durango where they live. Being a business owner with a couple employees allows her to tailor the time she takes off to fit Matt’s schedule. I have a fear bordering on phobeia of dog saliva, so I quickly ruled this out. 

Matt is a firefighter for Farmington, a conservative town in northern New Mexico. His department has them on a two day on, four day off schedule. He’s able to trade shifts with friends. If he gets a single shift covered, he gets ten consecutive days off. He and Amber have made a habit of taking November off to climb and have gone to exotic climbing destinations ranging from Thailand to South Africa. On top of that, Matt gets healthcare through his job. I’ve never been particularly oriented toward making a lot of money; all I really ask out of a job is the flexibility to climb and health coverage when I’m old. Firefighting sounded perfect.

Sure, I’d probably be one of only a few women at the station (in Matt’s case there were no women working at his station) and I had a history of asthma which might not combine well with hanging around fires, but what was a little discomfort in exchange for a lifetime of climbing and healthcare? On top of that, it wasn’t like firefighters were answering calls 24/7 during shifts. Matt had seen all the latest movies and had plenty of time leftover to workout and nap. I could get a masters and finally achieve my dream of having a six pack all while collecting a paycheck.

Matt, sensing that there was more to my questions than polite interest, suggested that wildland firefighting might be an even better option for a climber looking for steady (but not too steady) employment. Wildland firefighters work from May to September or so, and make enough to live the rest of the year. Depending on the level of risk your specific branch of wildland firefighting requires (anything from preventative brush clearance to jumping out of a plane to fight fires inaccessible by roadways), you could make quite a good living. While I appreciated that Matt was trying to help, this sounded less appealing than regular firefighting for two main reasons: 1) I’d met a wildland firefighter earlier on the trip and he did not have health coverage during the part of the year when he was not working and 2) I was much more likely to die working as a wildland firefighter. Dying in the line of duty appeared nowhere on my list of job requisites.

Firefighter now ranking at the top of my list of potential jobs, we headed south toward El Paso, TX and the Carlsbad Caverns. The National Border Patrol Museum had drawn us to El Paso, a partched city at the westernmost tip of Texas. It’s a tiny museum, more like a PowerPoint you can walk through than anything else. We wandered through border patrol paraphanelia of the past century and read plaques informing us that border patrol’s original purpose had been to keep Chinese from entering the country illegally.

To the right of the exit, a large poster board read, “Interested in a career in law enforcement?” Below were pamphlets about the process and benefits of becoming a border patrol agent. “Not a desk job” it read in large font across the front. I pictured a lifetime of wearing a green uniform and sunglasses, holding a giant German Shepard, stopping cars at checkpoints across the southwest (preferably checkpoints within 60 miles of a killer climbing destination) and asking drivers if they were American citizens.

Definitely not a customer service job, but also not a job that would get me killed, hopefully. A government job, so medical benefits and a pension. The application process involved many steps: an application, a written test, a physical test, a polygraph, and then time at the border patrol academy if all went well. I could already do 20 push-ups in 60 seconds, so I figured I had this job in the bag.

I called my parents to tell them their baby was going to be serving her country as a border patrol agent.

“Yo creo que es una buena idea,” (it’s a good idea) my father said.

My mother, however, was even less enthusiastic than she’d been when I’d called earlier in the trip to tell them I was going to be a firefighter and she’d reminded me about my childhood asthma. 

“Yo creo que es una buena idea,” my father repeated. He offered no further explanation. It’s often hard to take him seriously. This is the man who used to yell “brinca” (jump) whenever my sister and I were climbing on the roof of the garage as kids.

As I compared the relative weight of my parents’ differing opinions, I continued reading about the benefits of life as a border patrol agent. Compared to firefighters, they didn’t get much time off at all!

My mom was right, I decided. Being a border patrol agent sounded pretty lame. 

As Sarah and I headed east, watching desert turn to swamp and menu items become increasingly deep fried, I remained directionless as ever. But at least I’d ruled out becoming a firefighting border patrol agent dog trainer engineer physical therapist who sells weed.

Stuck

“Come on!” I heard Sarah grunt, followed by manic scraping, the sound of the cam being bludgeoned by her nut tool (a hooked piece of metal used to remove gear stuck in the rock) and labored breathing. 

And then silence.

“Ceri, it’s stuck. I don’t think it’s coming out.”

I’d never had to leave behind a piece of gear because it was stuck and had trouble believing this was the case. Plus, chances were it was my fault if it was stuck, and I did not like what this said about my ability to place trad gear. 

Was it stuck or did it have yet to move? I wondered. If you had the right attitude, maybe nothing ever seemed stuck. And all glasses of milk were half full.

Positive thinking, however, would not change the fact that it was now 2:30 pm. Sarah had been struggling with this cam for over an hour. I was cold from lack of movement, and we were running out of daylight.

“That’s fine,” I called down to Sarah, “I can try to get it when we rappel.”

We climbed one pitch higher and assessed our situation. I wanted to continue up the next pitch of the climb which was described as “exciting.” Sarah thought we should head down given our limited daylight and the fact that our first rappel ran the length of a rope-eating crack, perfect for getting our rope stuck when we pulled it to begin the next rappel. With all the grace of someone whose ego-fueled desire to reach the top is telling her to continue, I acquiesced to Sarah’s plan.

We set up our double rope rappel and made it down to the top of the pitch with the stuck cam. We began pulling the rope now anchored over 120 feet above. We heard a whoosh as the rope descended toward us, then a slap as it contacted the rock 20 feet above. I gave the rope a tug, expecting it to continue its downward trajectory. It didn’t budge from the crack. I gave it a flick and another tug but still nothing. Sarah made a similar attempt with similar results. I gave it a series of exasperated tugs, each one lodging the rope deeper in the crack. We then conceded that our rope was stuck (or at least had yet to move and seemed unlikely to given our current efforts). Which meant that we were also stuck.

“Let’s just cut it,” Sarah said. I shook my head. While that was the quickest way out of our predicament and the lowest risk, it would reduce Sarah’s rope to a half rope only fit for the gym.

Our other option was to lead climb back up to where it was stuck and throw it down. This would involve re-climbing the most difficult section of the route, but I was fairly confident I could do it safely and not willing to classify the rope as irretrievably stuck. My pride wouldn’t stand for it.

“Are you sure? It’s my rope. I’m fine with it.” Sarah is incredibly safety conscience, a quality I value in a climbing partner, but also a quality that constantly leaves me feeling like I’m being reckless and pushing the boundaries of what is sane.

I had Sarah put me on belay on the other end of the rope and proceeded to climb back up the crack, plugging gear to protect myself from a fall and using the gear slings as hand holds to make climbing easier. I got back up to where the rope was stuck. It had doubled over itself and caught in the crack. Beneath it lay a graveyard of abandoned rope segments, a testament to the many before us whose ropes had been eaten alive by the crack.

I threw the rope down to Sarah and was then faced with the choice of building an anchor and lowering, or climbing back down the 20 feet I’d just gone up, pulling the gear meant to protect me as I went. The first was a safer option but one that would require leaving behind a couple pieces of gear. It should not be difficult to guess which option I chose.

Lowering myself over the bulge was the scariest part. I unclipped my top cam, which would be out of reach once I lowered. My next cam was at my feet. I reminded myself that this was no different than a potential fall while lead climbing. I would fall twice the distance to the next cam. I might be bruised, but I would 100% still be alive at the end of it. 

Learning to trad climb with a modicum of confidence has been a series of finding myself in situations like this where my brain says, “oh, shit, we’re gonna die!” and I start to panic. In these moments, I have to slow my breathing and remind my brain that falling does not equate to death because, unlike Alex Honnold, I’m attached to a rope.

I jammed my fist into the crack and lowered myself on that arm until I could grab the sling of the cam below. With tentative, cautious movements, I made my way back down to the belay ledge. Sarah thanked me for the intact retrieval of her rope, noting that it was good we had turned around when we did so we could carry out Mission Impossible: Rope Retrieval in the light.

Our next discussion was how best to retrieve the stuck #3 cam. The rappel had taken us to lookers right of the cam. Getting there would require a lateral traverse of at least 25 feet. I’d then need to anchor myself with another cam to keep from penduluming across the rock face. I played out the physics in my mind, watching myself careen uncontrollably when I made a misstep on the traverse. While I very much subscribe to a no cam left behind philosophy (a product of my incredible cheapness) and while I felt personally responsible for having gotten the cam stuck, the sun was setting. The prospect of careening through darkness was unnerving and as Sarah sagely put it, “probably not worth it.”

The cam was stuck, or at least, it had yet to move until another party with superior cam unsticking skills climbed the route and claimed it as booty.

The rest of the rappel went smoothly. The sky was a deep blue green when we reached the ground, and we hiked out in the dark.


This was only the beginning of our misadventures with getting things stuck in Red Rocks. The following day, we got our rope stuck pulling it from the top of Mushroom People. The rope wrapped around a horn protruding from the rock face and would not come down no matter how hard we tugged. Later that day, we learned that we were stuck in Vegas on our cross-country road trip until Sarah could determine if they’d refill her prescription or if she needed to return to LA for blood tests. The following day, we got the rope stuck rappelling the crux pitch of The Night Crawler and had to wait for the party behind us to climb the pitch and toss the rope down. Dan and Monica of Los Angeles were very kind and did not make us feel inept for what was clearly becoming a chronic problem.

At this point, it began to feel like everything in my life was stagnating, flat-lining, stuck. Not only were we stuck in Vegas with what seemed to be a proclivity for getting everything we owned stuck in the rock, but I was also stuck in life, unable to pick a path forward. I realized I’d felt a little stuck ever since I’d graduated from college. Up until that point in my life, I’d been on a path, making steady forward progress. Post college, I’d lost that path. I remembered a discussion with a friend who was ecstatic to have graduated and said he’d never felt more free; he could do whatever he wanted, go wherever he wanted. For me, that was the problem. But perhaps, like the cam we’d left behind, I was not stuck; I just had yet to move. My sense of stagnation was a mental state and only real as long as I believed it.

I excitedly related my breakthrough to Sarah who pointed out that walking a path, while it might not equate to stagnation, was certainly not freedom. In a sense, I was never really free.

Prescription in hand, we hit the road again, heading north to the Utah high desert.

September 29: Shooting Stars

Located just about 100 miles north of Los Angeles and largely devoid of what Angelenos would describe as “sites of cultural significance,” Bakersfield is not the typical Friday night destination.

As we pulled into town at sunset, we passed windowless buildings, chainlink fences, and oil wells. The air was dry and filled with particulate matter. While it’s population makes it the 52nd largest city in America, in 2015, Bakersfield earned the distinction of being the 2nd most polluted city in the country. We parked along the side of the road to avoid paying and joined the throng of Bakersfieldians making their way toward the large ferris wheel silhouetted by orange sky. The sound of mariachi music and arcade games became increasingly loud, and the breeze began to smell of fried dough. After a 2.5 hour drive and a ten minute walk, we had arrived at The Kern County Fair.

How, you might be wondering, did three good-looking, intelligent millennials with a car end up in Bakersfield on a Friday night? While the rest of our peers were heading out to bars and movies and art museums (or staying home and pulling up The Office on their parents’ Netflix accounts), we were on our way to see Smash Mouth, the one-hit wonder whose song All Star had spawned countless Shrek-themed memes.

I’d had to select my companions for this adventure with great care. It’s not just anyone who will drop everything, duck out of work early, and spend hours commuting at rush hour to one of the least exciting cities in California in order to see a band they don’t care about. Jared and Katie were temperamentally well-suited for this idiotic mission–good-natured people who are routinely kind to those around them. Katie’s the kind of person who’s up for pretty much anything out of the ordinary and has a good time no matter what. Jared DJs in his spare time and engages with music as a craft. He’d been ready to turn down my invitation until he learned that the concert was free with the price of admission to the fair ($10). In particular, I worried he would regret the decision to come.

Unlike Jared and Katie, I am as close to an un-ironic lover of Smash Mouth as a millennial can be. In early September, when I heard the lead singer, Steve Harwell (a Guy Fieri look-alike), had suffered from some kind of heart episode and had had to cancel shows, I knew I needed to act fast or risk never seeing Smash Mouth perform live. While in the early 2000s, the zenith of the band’s popularity, they’d won a Kid’s Choice Award, featured prominently in the Shrek opening credits, and filled stadiums, in 2017, they were mostly performing at county and state fairs. The Kern County Fair was the only place they’d be performing in California during the month of September, so it was either make the pilgrimage to Bakersfield, or gamble on Steve’s heart lasting into October.

We had some time to kill before Smash Mouth was scheduled to perform at the Budweiser Pavilion, so we headed for the second most exciting entertainment option listed in the fair’s program, The Great American Duck Race.

Robert Duck (who claimed that this was his actual last name), served as MC. He introduced us to his ducks who have won The Great American Duck Race hosted annually in Deming, New Mexico twelve times. He selected volunteers from the audience to come up and hold the ducks. When the whistle blew, the lucky duck-holders would drop their ducks into channels with water (like lanes in a pool), and the ducks would swim to the other side. The person with the fastest duck would move on to the finals.

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No matter how many times I raised my hand, I was never chosen. This may have had something to do with the fact that I was competing with 6-year-olds for Robert’s attention. The first round of racing ducks had names like Michael Phelps, Simone Manuel, and Katie Le-ducky. The next heat was filled with ducks named after NASCAR drivers. The third heat was a Duck Dynasty round. I was very impressed by Robert’s ability to tell all the seemingly identical mallards apart (how could he distinguish Michael from Simone every time?), until he let each kid name their own duck in the finals and I realized they were randomly assigned jokes. In the finals, most of the competitors selected duck puns for names, except for the two littlest kids who named their ducks Lucy and Jake. After a short but intense race, Jake proved victorious, and his temporary owner was crowned with a duck mask. After the ceremony, Robert said he wished he could give everyone a chance to race the ducks, but there just wasn’t time. However, for only $5.00, we could buy the right to race a duck. This $5.00 purchase included a complementary duck whistle. A tempting offer, but Jared, Katie, and I had places to be.

After purchasing the most expensive, least satisfying burrito bowl of my life (for $9.50 it only included meat, rice, and beans. Everything beyond that was an “add-on,” including salsa), we got in line to enter the pavilion. Jared and Katie were shocked by how many people had come to see the has-been band. Nearly all of the pavilion’s 3,000 seats were full. There was even a VIP section cordoned off with rope. Who these VIPers were and what exactly they were hoping to get from this experience remains a mystery. The band was scheduled to go on at 8pm. When 8:30pm came and went, and there was still no sign of the performers, the audience began to chant “Smash Mouth.” Logan, the eight-year-old in front of us, informed Katie that Smash Mouth was a fake band that did not actually exist.

Just as I began to despair that Steve had actually suffered the fatal heart attack, the man himself walked on stage, red solo cup in hand. The band launched into their first song, “Can’t Get Enough of You, Baby,” and the crowd went nuts (several people were wearing Shrek masks). I’ve been to a number of concerts for bands I actually admit to liking, but this was the first concert where I knew the majority of songs on the setlist. I was embarrassed and proud at the same time. Up on stage, Steve didn’t seem to know how to interact with the audience. While he sang, he paced back and forth between the bassist and the guitarist. He’d encroach on their bubble of space, placing an arm on their shoulder and singing directly to them. At one point, he kicked the guitarist on the butt. I wondered if there were women out there who fantasized about being romantically involved with Steve.

Logan turned again to Katie and told her that the man on stage was not the real Steve Harwell. He pulled up images of Steve on his iPhone as evidence. It was hard to say from such a distance if the man on stage was really Steve. He’d lost weight since the band’s early years and was now bleached blond. He didn’t sound like the recordings, but then again, neither does Katy Perry.

As the performance wore on, the anticipation built. There was one song everyone there had come to hear, and it wasn’t Walkin’ on the Sun, Holiday in my Head, Pacific Coast Party, Road Man, or even their cover of I’m a Believer. The couple behind me started chanting “All Star” every time a song ended. What’s it like to be a band and know that the thing you’ve created far surpasses you in terms of significance?

All Star was the very last song of the night, and it was glorious. The people in the Shrek masks jumped up and down in time with the beat. The crowd lit up with cellphone screens as people recorded the moment for their Instagram accounts. 3,000 voices joined Steve’s for the chorus that has scored this milenium. The concert ended with Steve softly repeating, like a mantra or a prayer, the words “only shooting stars break the mold.”

“That was awesome,” Jared commented as we walked back to the car in the dark. Katie nodded in agreement. I felt inspired, rejuvenated, a part of something much larger than myself (like a generation or a social media platform or something). I looked up at the night sky, searching for a sign, maybe a shooting star. There were none to be found, of course. The air in the 2nd most polluted city in the USA does not lend itself to stargazing.

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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).