I just got back to Durango after a long weekend in Joe’s Valley, Utah.
I did a lot of living these past four days.
Joe’s Valley is quite literally in the middle of nowhere. Nothing but cows, a few ranches, oil mines and a river. But there are boulders. Thousands of them.
I arrive on a bright Friday evening, drive into the Right Fork area of the valley to find a place to camp and possibly climb if I don’t run out of day light. My cell phone searches for service, but there is none. My van is hot from the five hour drive through the desert and I find a shady campsite under some trees for me and my Mazda girl to get settled. I thank her for making yet another drive (she’s old, and yes I know it’s weird that I talk to my van and refer to her as a her) and step outside. It’s quiet out here. There are some other tents scattered across the valley but not a person in sight. The walls of the canyon tower above me, solid and red as they meet the sky. The hillsides in the distance look like they’ve been scattered with black and tan Nerds candy. Boulders. More than I’ve ever seen in one place before.
I’m alone. I’m alone a lot, but never this alone. Never without cell phone service alone, not able to send my Dad a picture of my campsite, or to call my Mom, to text a friend or check emails in the back of the van as I fall asleep. Never without a camping neighbor, someone to at least say hi to and talk climbing with. There’s daylight left so I pack up my crash pad and get ready to climb.
Because I’m alone and don’t have someone spotting me, I only climb problems that are way below what I am capable of, which is just as fun and rewarding as climbing something extremely hard. I actually prefer climbing easy most of the time, and this past weekend was definitely one of those times. After I know what direction to walk in, I take one more look in the Utah bouldering guidebook with all of the route names and grades and rules and orders to “sit start this” or “don’t use the big jug” and “this problem sucks” or “this one is great” and “doesn’t count if you use the boulder to your right for the top out”…and decide to throw it in the back of my van on top of some dirty socks. I don’t need an instructional manual on how to haul my ass up the side of a rock with a declaration of how hard it will be for me, made by some six foot two dude with 2% body fat and a center of gravity completely different from mine. It’s not that kind of weekend.
I just want to climb.
So that’s what I did.
I climbed most of the time at least, the other parts of my days were filled with swimming in the river, doing yoga, reading, writing, taking walks, searching for new boulders, watching the cows walk by the campground at dusk, looking at the stars. Sometimes, I did nothing at all. Sometimes I just sat down and daydreamed. Sometimes I sat down and didn’t think about anything at all.
On a hot afternoon after a full day of climbing I find a trail down to the river. Turquoise pools swirl gently, just downstream of noisy, sizzling rapids. I can see to the bottom, just about five feet down. I walk in until the cold water comes up to my hips and then slowly let myself fall in the rest of the way. The dirt and sweat and energy of the day washes off, downstream, away from me. My raw hands sting and pulse, the otherwise subconscious scrapes and nicks on my legs start to brighten. As I take a deep inhale and dive down, submerging my head, the chilled river steals my breath. It takes a while before it gives it back. Whole body tingles and feels more alive, clean, aware, reborn. I find a rock to lean back on and let the sun thaw my torso, the droplets of water tickling as they run down my sides. Body and spirt filled, to the brim.
This weekend I received what I think I was hoping to get by heading out on the road in the first place–a slice of isolation. No one to make or influence my choices, no one telling me yes this is a good idea, no one needing me to take care of them, no one to cheer me up, no one to laugh with. It was just me and my breath.
More importantly, there wasn’t anyone telling me how I should climb. Being a woman in a male dominated sport can get interesting. I am constantly being told how I should be climbing, how I should probably move my left foot up a little higher to make that move, to buy these shoes, to try this problem, to move a little faster because otherwise I’ll get tired, to reach for that crimp instead of the sloper. And I know that their intentions are of good nature, that they just want to help me and see me send. But after a while, the constant stream of telling me how to move takes away from my climbing experience.
This weekend, I relearned how to move like myself.
“Move like yourself” is something that my yoga teacher’s teacher (does that make her my yogi grandma?) says a lot. Her name is Dana Trixie Flynn and she is just the coolest. She has this way about her where she will suggest something, like moving like yourself, and you just have to try it. You just have to do it. It’s like she says, “tag, you’re it!” and you’ve gotta go with it.
I was making moves more fluidly, with more grace, using my flexibility and balance to climb, instead of acting like a dude and throwing big and being powerful and doing one armed pull ups on the last move just for giggles. I am just as strong, but in a different way. In my own way.
Being alone reminded me how to move like myself in all areas of my life, not just climbing. I would wake up in the morning and be able to ask myself, what do I want to do today? Sometimes that was a hard question to answer, because I didn’t have anything or anyone to influence my choices. I realize that even when I am not alone, when I am in society and not in the middle of a valley, I can still approach my days with that mindset. What do I want?
Now, I definitely couldn’t be one of those people who is always alone, tucked away in some little cottage up in the mountains. I love people. I love my family and and friends and meeting new people. I love connection, community, good conversation and laughter. But every once in a while, being alone is important.
The one day I wasn’t completely alone, I met up with a girl and her husband who were my camping neighbors. It was nice to have conversation and someone to spot me on harder climbs. Immediately I noticed the husband suggesting I put my foot on a different foot hold. Maybe I’m being a little hard on the dude climbers of the world, but none of what I’m saying is a stretch of the truth. I ain’t lying.
The girl came over to my van one night and shared a beer with me. I talked to her about being alone, and she said that she thought it was very brave of me, being a woman, to come out here by myself. But being alone isn’t just for girls. Guys need it too. Humans need it. Disconnect. Hang out with yourself. Be alone. Be with your breath. See what happens.
There is a good chance you will freak out. With how connected we are today, being alone, like really alone, doesn’t feel natural at first. But slowly you will feel better, more alive, and most importantly, more like yourself. So try it. Be alone, even if it’s for just an hour. Rediscover the way you like to move, the way you like to live and choose. You already know these things you just have to remind yourself.
Tag, you’re it!