The Valley

It’s been four days now since we have been out of Yosemite, and I still can’t really write anything to do it justice. Here’s my best shot. Thank you for reading!

Everything in Yosemite is big. The granite is exposed, unbroken, and so massive that your eyes keep trying to adjust, to focus, to fathom, because the sheer size of this place is disorienting for the human mind. Your body has never felt smaller. The waterfalls are dizzying because of their power, so much energy and movement and change being produced by their flow, with gallons upon gallons of new water in every moment.

I think Joe said it best, as we stood in a sweeping, grassy meadow in front of Half Dome within an hour of arriving in the Valley. He looks out in the distance, then looks at me, out at Half Dome again, and back to me. He furrows his brow. I don’t get it, Joe says.

And that’s really the best way to describe Yosemite–unfathomable. Even after having been there numerous times now, since I was a little girl, from my experience you never really adjust. I still can’t go for a run across the valley floor without my head tingling. And on this particular trip, from the moment we got there, my fingers were tingling as well.

I wanted to climb everything.

One may think, why would someone want to climb in Yosemite? All of the rock is so big, so exposed, so in your face, there’s nowhere to hide once you’re up there. Every direction you look–up or down, full circle around you–there is space. Massive amounts of it. Unlike some places where you can get 500 feet up but are still surrounded by trees or ledges of rock, in the valley there is no hiding from the fact that you’re way the hell off the ground. When you look down, you see the earth. There is nothing to distort your perception of space. If you look out, your eyes roll around for a minute just to understand the vastness of air around you. Tourists point up at you and snap pictures, they are the size of your thumbnail. This adds a whole layer of difficulty to the climbing here. At first, your body naturally tenses up, you cling and scrape at the rock instead of move with it, and with even the easiest moves you’re giving 100% of your effort, because your mind thinks you have to.

Sounds pretty terrifying, right?

Well, it is terrifying. And that was interesting for me. I wondered, why do I want to climb all of this if it’s so big, so scary, so uncomfortable? That question was answered as soon as I got on the rock.

As I climbed on our first day, even though I was dealing with fear, I also felt strangely comforted. And the comfort was coming from the very things that were making me feel vulnerable and exposed–the granite, the vast views, the loud waterfalls. I felt invited, drawn in, and I noticed myself thanking the rock, out loud, as I climbed and found a good hold. It sounds crazy, I know. So began this back and forth play with the granite, some moments it caused me great fear, the next it felt nurturing, like it was caring for me. This happened constantly on the trip, even when I was not climbing. In one moment we’re standing in shock in the thick of the forest watching a bear rip a tree in half searching for grubs, the next we see a deer with her babies grazing on the grasses. One second we’re dunking our heads in the freezing Merced river, losing our breath as our lungs pause, the next we’re sprawled out like lizards on the warm ground, thawing in the afternoon sun. I frantically run from an afternoon thunderstorm to enter a cozy, quiet room filled with climbers on their laptops. A climber dies on El Cap from a rock fall, Alex sees a duckling take flight for the first time ever. I swat mosquitos as they swarm my legs, hundreds of lady bugs land on my belly as I’m doing a midday backbend. As the giant redwoods and sequoias tower over you tiny body, the dogwoods are blooming and seem to soften everything.

I’ve been in love before. Now that I’m at the whopping age of 24 I can say that without you all rolling your eyes. Right? Well, Yosemite felt a lot like being in love–that insanity of being comforted and nurtured by the very thing that also makes you feel more exposed and vulnerable and scared than anything in this wide world. Do you notice how in relationships we tend to mess up, cheat, hurt each other, say something stupid, or flee when the time comes to be vulnerable? It’s too much for us, we can’t take any more fear, any more open wounds, so we throw it all away in hopes of avoidance. On the first day of the trip, when the climbing got scary I automatically down climbed and froze up. But by the last day, I was moving through the times of exposure with my eyes and heart wide open. Then, without doubt, I would eventually find a place to rest, to take shelter.

I’m trying to stay open, to take with me what I saw in the valley. To trust that moments of vulnerability are rewarded with feelings of true safety and comfort. Instead of grasping and clinging, I’m releasing my grip, I’m noticing when my mind causes me to tense up just because I’m way. the hell. up there.

It’s working, and I’m not as afraid anymore.

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How to leave

Alright. This is one of those posts that I have been meaning to write for quite some time, and I am finally getting around to it. So very many of you have asked/told me some version of these things over the past few years, regarding my life of traveling and climbing:

That I am so lucky.

That you don’t understand how I can afford to travel as much as I do.

That I am living the dream.

And most commonly, that you wish you could do what I do.

Well my dears, I have a secret to share with you: I am not special. You are just as capable as I am of living the dream, of living on the road, and of spending your life doing what you love–whether that be climbing, writing, yoga-ing, hiking, painting, being a Mom, cooking, traveling, making music, or whatever else it is that makes you feel like this life is one of endless bliss.

So let’s start with this common comment: “Georgie, you are so lucky.” Well, you’re right. I am lucky. I have two parents who very graciously let me live with them whenever I need to, and who encourage me to climb. They may not even really understand why I do what I do, but they still support me. I also have friends who, also very graciously, let me sleep on their couch if I am passing through their city. So yes, I am blessed in the sense that I am surrounded by people who emotionally support my desire to climb.

But for argument’s sake, let’s say you have really crappy parents and no friends. I highly doubt that is the case, but these things are not requirements to live the way that I do. Yes, I appreciate my family and friends every day and they definitely make my life a million times easier, but you could do this on your own. It will just take a little more confidence.

Now as for the second thing that I am frequently told, that people don’t understand how I can afford to travel so much, might be more difficult for some people to grasp. I spend my money differently from the normal person. The equation goes something like this: work my ass off for a few months, save as much of that money as I possibly can, spend it on traveling, repeat. Living this way can make some people extremely nervous and I don’t blame them. But if you truly want to live on the road or travel, you will have to make certain sacrifices and spending money is one of them. It’s just a matter of being okay with it.

I also spend my money on different things from the everyday person. I very rarely go out to eat, buy beers at a bar, buy new clothes, new gadgets, coffee, or expensive groceries. My money is spent solely on traveling. For this reason I wouldn’t suggest having kids during the times you’d like to be traveling 🙂 If you already have kids, no worries, wait a few years until they are grown and supporting themselves and not living with you (like I am with my parents) and then go do your thing.

Thankfully I have also found a few jobs that I can do over the internet, so I am making a little money as I travel this time around. Telecommuting is something that anyone with any kind of skill set can do. You could even find a way to make money off of the thing that you love to do. That would be desirable.

On to number 3: I am living the dream. You are correct, I am living the dream. Well, I’m living my dream. But what I don’t understand is why everyone isn’t living the dream. If you stick to the American way of things: go to college, get a job, make money, have kids, retire and finally spend your money, well, that’s fine and all, but personally that sounds pretty boring. I don’t want to wait until I’m old to live the dream. Besides, how many retired people do you know that are living the dream? I think that when we tell ourselves, next year will be the year I truly start living, or, just wait until I’m 65, yeah, then I will be able to have my fun…we completely lose the moment and our only happiness comes from the empty promise of a better future. Life doesn’t work that way. Do it now, do it now, do it now. Living a life of waiting around for the good days to happen will rob you of bliss. These are the good days. Wake up.

And lastly, the most common thing I am told is that people wish they could do what I do. My sweet friends, please do not think that you cannot do this. YOU CAN. If living a life of travel, meeting new people, getting lost, being surrounded by beauty, finding yourself, challenging ideas you accept to be true, sleeping under the stars, and eating a lot of peanut butter sounds like your idea of dreamy–then DO IT. Leave. If you have even the slightest desire to do something like this, believe me, you will never be satisfied until you at least try it. Otherwise, you will always wonder. This kind of emotion doesn’t just go away if you try to bury it deep. In fact, it will only get stronger.

A word of caution–this kind of living isn’t easy. You will be challenged, you will get dirty, you will get lost, you’ll probably cry, you’ll yell and hoot and holler, you will be scared, confused, homesick, you might get sick or realize that you aren’t cut out for something like this. You might get robbed, a mountain pass might be closed, your friend might get hurt, plans will change, you could lose your glasses, you might only last two days. You will stand under a redwood tree and think, what the hell am I doing here, I had a perfectly good job and life back in the city, I traded all of that just to look up at this redwood and sleep in the back of a goddamn car?

All of that happens. More often than any of us admit. But even with all of its intensity, confusion, and loneliness, life on the road and in nature is worth it. It will change you, and I would even argue that it is necessary in order to heal, to find yourself. It’s definitely necessary for me.

The easiest thing for people to do when it comes to doing something like this is to make up an excuse for why you can’t leave. You have a job, you have a dog, you have a lease, you have laundry to do. Maybe you don’t think you deserve to do something like this. Maybe you think it’s selfish. Well, yeah, it is selfish in a way.

But the only thing truly holding you back from doing something like this: kids. Can’t be selfish if you’ve got little ones running around.

So, my friends, I hope you now understand that I am not any different from you. This is a somewhat glossed over version of HOW TO LEAVE, but you get the idea.

Arguably, there is really only one thing that is mandatory to live this way: bravery. You must be brave enough to leave, to believe you can leave in the first place, to face the hardships that you will encounter, to live a life that society doesn’t understand.

But just try it. Go.