In the morning we spend some time waking up while a mystery helicopter circles over and over again nearby. Search and rescue? Firefighters? Eventually the noise chases us away from the campground, and we head to Smith Rock, with a stop in Sisters for late breakfast.
Backup kindly brought me my hiking gear, my climbing gear, and a duffel bag full of clothing and stuff I thought I might want in San Diego when I finished the trail. At Smith Rock I sort through it all to find my climbing stuff, and then we head out to find some routes. It’s mid-afternoon by now, and it take us a while to find an area that’s not too crowded and has some lines we feel like we can tackle. Neither of us have done much climbing lately, to say the least, and I’ve never lead belayed (though I know the theory) and have only cleaned an outdoor route (following a lead climber, removing gear along the way, and rappelling down) a couple of times.
We finally settle on a 5.7 called Easy Reader, and I successfully belay Backup up it and lower him back down. Now I have to climb it — all his quick-draws are up there, and it’s my job to pull them down as I climb. I regret that I’ve committed to do this almost immediately. The crux of the route is in the first few moves, and it takes me about a million attempts and lots of panicked yelps of “take!” just to get to the first bolt. Backup did this part entirely without protection, since my belay was useless until he’d clipped into the bolt. Now I’m on top-rope, which limits any falls I might take to very short ones, but I’m still breathing hard and my legs and arms are almost vibrating with tension.
Past the crux, the climbing is a tiny bit easier, but the height is harder. A guy climbing nearby offers me encouragement on his way down as his partner lowers him. “You’re doing it!” he says. “I always kinda freak when I get up here too. Like, why am I doing this? Why do we do this?”
“It’s kind of a ridiculous pursuit,” I agree, clutching the rock.
“But it feels so good when you get to the top!” Backup calls from below. For me, usually it starts feeling so good once I’m all the way on the ground again. For now, though, I’m only halfway up. But I make it. I even power through a couple tricky sections, moving from hold to hold quickly and purposefully, mentally high-fiving myself when I get to a spot where I can rest.
Finally I’m at the anchor at the top. I clip in with my personal protection and yell at Backup that I’m off belay. He takes the rope out of his belay device so I can pull it up and set up my rappel. When I toss the end of the rope back down, it tangles — I’ll have to stop midway through my rappel to untangle it. Oh well; rappelling, at least, I have practiced dozens of times, though I still let myself down very slowly and carefully, walking backwards down the rock.
Terra firma. Yeah, that climb felt good. Backup is pumped and wants to keep climbing; a really popular line nearby, Five Gallon Buckets, is open and unoccupied for the first time since the heat of the day. It’s evening now, and as I belay him up, the sun fades away, and a few bats swoop through the air chasing insects. I’m not climbing this one in the dark, so Backup rappels and cleans the route himself on his way down. We walk back to the bivy area — Smith’s super cool walk-in campground — and make dinner, then find a spot to pitch a tent and sack out.
I think a lot about quitting today. Do I really need to quit? Is my knee really that bad? I don’t even feel it walking on flat or only mildly sloping ground, and I climbed on it okay today. (But it hurt both up and down stairs, and on anything more than a very moderate incline; chances are that continuing to ride on it would only make it worse.) And my subletter says she’d help me look for a replacement. (But would she find someone I could trust to care for my cats?) On some level I feel ready to come home. I have some next steps to tackle in my path towards a rewarding livelihood, though they’re still a little hazy and intimidating. The sooner I get started, the sooner I’ll get where I want to be. Somewhere I want to stay, I mean — not the border monument in Campo, where I’d just be passing through to celebrate for a minute.
I wanted to take this long north-to-south trip for a lot of reasons. To see beautiful places, to challenge my body and my mind, to meet interesting characters, to accomplish a big goal. I wanted time to think about what I want from my life, and I have done a lot of that. I also, frankly, wanted time away from relationships. I wanted to be forced to put romance and sex on pause, to let prospects move on without me if that’s what should happen, to be alone for a few months. I’ve been historically bad at being alone, and, sometimes, at listening to my best self instead of my lonely self in my decisions. That part, the being alone, I have not done on this trip, not really. I hiked across Washington with Backup, my ex-boyfriend, and it was rewarding to travel with someone who knows me well in that way, but also difficult and complicated. I have not really been alone or all that self-reliant. I asked Backup to come meet me here in central Oregon, and he did. Before that, my parents drove me to Trout Lake, and then across the Hood River Bridge, and before that, my mom picked us up at Trout Lake, and before that, she dropped us off at Hart’s Pass. She mailed the resupply boxes we packed. Anne picked us up at Snoqualmie Pass and helped us get ready for the next section of trail. And so on and so forth…
At the end of my cross-country bike trip, I visited my grandparents in Maine, and they asked me to do a little presentation about my trip at their church. One of the things I talked about was the support I got on that trip from friends and strangers: “I did it alone, but I couldn’t have done it alone.” I think there are very few things that we ever really do alone, and I think that’s a good and beautiful thing about being human. I feel like we as humans (at least, we as WEIRD humans) have these warring instincts, to be part of community and also to differentiate ourselves from the people around us, to “get in touch with ourselves,” to imagine, however irrationally, that our choices and paths are uninfluenced by the people around us. I guess I don’t know what this all means about the desire I had — have — to go be alone in the mountains and the desert, but it’s a thing I’ve been thinking about. Why do I think that “finding myself” mean being alone and separate? Is that how it should be? Can I find and know myself while finding and knowing others? If not, why not?
I’m going home and I’ll try to figure this stuff out. I mentioned “Galileo” the other day; today I have another Indigo Girls song stuck in my head:
there’s more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in crooked line
the less I seek my source for some definitive
the closer I am to fine