real talk

A few nights ago, a windstorm blew through Cala Gonone. It ripped thick branches off of trees, blew pine needles and brush and leaves into the streets, and closed down most of the shops in town. The sea waves were flung from their usual flow, spraying their water in haphazard directions. The windows of our apartment howled and debris was thrown against their glass. The entire apartment creaked and moaned. Neither of us slept.

The next morning it was still breezy but the air was crisp and clear, we could see down the coast for many more miles than in days prior. The horizon of the Mediterranean was well-defined and the sky was a truer shade of blue. The curls in my hair from the humid air started to let go and uncoil.
We both noticed how conducive these conditions were to rock climbing, so we stuffed our gear into our packs and drove out on the winding road that curves with the coast of the island and parked our rental car near the mouth of the limestone-dense canyon. But we never did go climbing that day.
I have always struggled to know exactly what this blog is, what I should share and what I should keep to myself, what is worthy of something as silly as the internet and what should be left as a conversation with a close friend over a glass of wine. But the value of the internet is that we can reach millions of people, and the only reason I write on such a public platform is because I think that my struggle is your struggle too. Sharing the ways in which our hearts have broken is the only way to love each other and be loved back, and the only way to heal. I think what needs to be kept as mine are the small details, the drama, the not-so-real stuff.
We sat in the car and looked out at the sea, her waves calmer now, the sun sprinkled glitter all over its surface. We always knew in a very quiet way that our relationship was, for reasons that are only worthy of spoken word, not working. It wasn’t until that moment however that we were brave enough and clear-headed enough to let that truth breathe. The why and the what happened doesn’t even really matter, because you all know exactly how it goes. You’ve all been there.
What I will share is this—it wasn’t for lack of love. From either of us. Anyone who spent even one moment around us knows that to be true.
The next day was the solar eclipse and the new moon, and there was something within in me that felt brighter, something was glowing. A week or so back, we took a boat out to Cala Goloritze, I leaned over the side as my hair whipped in the wind. The sea water looked different, it didn’t appear clear like I knew it to be, but opaque, a rich aqua marine with gold woven throughout. It was glowing, the only other thing I knew to glow with that kind of power was the sun. But then, I realized there was something else that could glow in that way too, it is something housed within my own self. And it’s within Ethan too. It’s in the stray cat who has become our house cat who we named Hannie Mavis and it’s in the little boy who rides his bike what I think is too fast down our steep hill and it’s within his small dog who runs alongside him. It’s in Chensia and the Kennedys and the woman who rings up my groceries and wears heavy eyeliner and it’s in the mosquitoes that buzz around my head as I try to sleep. It’s in the lizards with bright blue tails and the ants swarming our compost bin, it’s in the limestone that rips through the Sardinian hillsides, the grasses, the thick, thorny vines that choke the rocky foot trails, the sea urchin nestled in to a small scoop inside of a coastal cave, the school of fish that glimmered below my legs, the birds riding the wind that I saw while floating face up in the sea with my limbs and fingers and toes splayed out wide, like I meant it, but softly, releasing my grip, letting go, letting go, letting it all go, my ears were under the water’s surface so all I could hear was my own breath, coming and going, rising and falling, my face in the sun, jaw unclenched. Tears, saline as the sea, run down my face like rivers that finally found the ocean.
Things come and go like the passing of the seasons and the phases of the moon and the tide and the winds. But one thing must always remain, it will always remain whether we want it or not, and that is our truth. The key is not to fight it, to let it breathe and to trust it, to speak of it, let that be where all of your movement comes from. It will never lead you into darkness.
And now, we are enjoying each other more than ever. Enjoying each other as two people who want a relationship that is different from the one we used to have, two people who want to focus on themselves and feel free, two people who maybe don’t even want a relationship at all, two people who are being totally honest with each other and with themselves, two friends, or maybe that’s a weird word, two people who simply love each other and think the other person is hilarious and adorable. God it feels good, and we are having more fun than we ever have.
So no need to worry about us. This trip has been exactly what each of us needed it to be.

a failed birthday challenge!

I’m having some formatting/spacing issues with this post, sorry if it’s hard to read! Here’s the latest: Almost nightly, I have a version of this dream: I am back in California and something reminds me that I am not in Sardinia anymore and a sadness sweeps over me that’s so intense, it wakes me up.

That’s how badly I don’t want this trip to end. I love it here.
It was unbearably hot and humid for a week or so, the air was dense and still. It was a level of humidity that made climbing almost impossible, and that’s saying a lot coming from my mouth,  I’ve spent summers bouldering in south Georgia. It was like someone’s hot breath on you, constant and without escape. Even sleeping was difficult. Humidity always makes everything feel like it’s suspended in a standstill, the air just gets heavier and heavier, begging for rain. The whole thing made me itch, like I was waiting for something.
Then, a few days ago, as we ate pizza and drank wine on the front patio of a trattoria, the rain finally came. Big, heavy drops that held a lot of water. Thankfully our table was under a roof.
Since that night, the air has been fresh, cool, and breezy, and climbing and everything else has felt a whole lot easier.
We finally met some other Americans, and who they are is a testament to how small this world actually is. Michael and Julie Kennedy are a couple from Carbondale, parents of Hayden Kennedy—a professional climber and friend of Ethan’s. Ethan heard them speaking English in the produce section and asked where they’re from, and it took about ten minutes of chatting before Ethan realized that we know their son.
Yesterday we went climbing with them and then they had us over for a delicious dinner. They’re really good folks, the kind of people you feel lucky to know. That’s how I’m feeling this morning, that out of all the Americans we could have been on this island with, we got Julie and Michael.
I had the grand, last minute idea to do a birthday challenge yesterday. A birthday challenge is this ridiculously stupid thing that climbers do on their birthdays—they create some kind of challenge for themselves, usually in the form on a physical feat, that involves the number of the age they’re turning. Ever since my other birthday challenge fell through, I’ve been wanting to go for another one. We got the the crag and I realized there were about 40 routes there, right next to each other, and I couldn’t help but think that I could probably send 26 pitches.
I didn’t have a plan, and I knew that almost all of the pitches were 6’s–5.10+ or 5.11 in the American rating system–a grade that I can usually do first try but after ten or fifteen of them, I would probably start falling. I also didn’t have enough time, realistically, to complete all 26 before the cliff was to go in the sun, and not nearly enough food or water, but I did have a whole lot of psych, support from the people around me, and a willing belayer. So, I roped up and started climbing.
I was gonna have to climb fast and without falling if I wanted to do this.
I flew up the first several pitches, and I was getting little glimmers of confidence, maybe I could send all 26 before 2pm, the time when the sun was going to hit the cliff. Those first pitches gave me everything I seek while climbing–fluid movement and steady breath with a mind clear as water.
Around pitch 9 or 10, I started slowing down, way down. My old tendon injury flared up, my feet were aching, my shoulders were sore from the day before, and my mind was getting tired of route finding. The routes at that cliff are all incredibly long, and their length not only weighed on my body but also on my mind. Reading limestone has always been hard for me, that kind of rock creates a sea of features that all appear equally positive. The options for your next hand hold are endless, and choosing the right hold is the difference between sending and falling. Dealing with that for meters upon meters of rock started to exhaust me.
I don’t know about this, I told Ethan after pitch 11. I’m sick of easy routes that feel hard just because I’m tired. I wanted to try something truly hard for me, with difficult moves, that’s what I love most about sport climbing after all. I was so tired though, that I wasn’t sure if I could climb anything at all, let alone something that would challenge me even if I was fresh.
Before I could think about anything too much, like how trying something hard would probably jeopardize my chances of finishing the challenge, or let any of the million things that were working against me get to my head, I was tying in under one of the 7’s. I slipped on my big pair of TC pros, the shoes I wear for long days of trad climbing, because my feet were too swollen to fit into the shoes that I normally wear for sport climbing.
I had no expectations about sending, no thoughts of when or where I would fall, I was just gonna go see what it was like up there, I was just gonna go climbing.
The crux was low on the route and I could tell that the sequence was going to be truly difficult for me, it wasn’t going to feel hard just because of my fatigue. But before any thoughts like “this is going to be hard” or “I might fall here” or “I’m going to have to heel hook in my TC pros” had time to surface, I chalked up, took a few deep breaths and just went for it.
Despite the fact that I was trying my very hardest, there was an ease about those moves that I believe came from a balanced mix of commitment, confidence, a love for climbing, and the undeniable power that one receives from being in the present moment.
I ended up onsighting the entire route.
I climbed another route after that and then decided that I was done climbing for the day. I didn’t feel like I had given up, I was just letting my psych guide and pull me, and in that moment I was really psyched to get out of the sun and eat some dates under a tree with my sweet boyfriend.
That’s the cool thing about climbing, as long as you’re putting your heart forward and leaving your ego on the ground, you’ll always have fun and be successful, because you’ll be aligned with what you really want to be doing.
So I didn’t complete the challenge, but I can’t even describe how little of a deal that is to me, because what came out of it was something way more valuable than the ability to say that I sent 26 pitches in a day. What I got was a reminder of how to climb, how to be strong, how to enjoy every single moment of this life we have, how to be show up and be present for all of it. That dream I’ve been having is about the sadness that is created when we wish for something other than what is, and yesterday was the opposite of that, it was an acknowledgment of what is, it was about savoring it, because it’s all happening and it’s all pretty good.
And, I’m stronger than I thought I was. I can pull hard moves when I’m completely exhausted. That’s the real reason we do these challenges, as a test, as a way to know our limits. And so far, I haven’t even come close to seeing where my true, egoless physical limits are. I didn’t experience any physical limitations yesterday, only mental. Maybe that’s how it always is. Getting out of my own way feels pretty awesome.
More soon. Love,
G

first days of Sardinia

After three plane rides, a three hour drive through the heart of Sardinia, navigating our way through Italian streets so narrow we would have scraped the walls if the side mirrors weren’t turned in, a few nights at a noisy Bed and Breakfast in Doragli, many cappuccinos, five days spent fighting jet lag, and a few glasses of Cannanaou, we are finally settled in to an apartment in the picturesque town of Cala Gonone.

Cala Gonone is right on the coast of the Mediterranean, and our apartment couldn’t be any closer to the water. We can hear waves crashing on the rocks below our balcony, there are olive trees lining the steps to our front door, we can walk to get an espresso or a beer or a plate of pasta, or to go climbing. We pass the mornings reading, writing, drinking coffee, eating mangoes, doing yoga, and lounging on our balcony that overlooks the sea. The apartment is tiny, smells like wood, Italian as can be. I adore it.
We haven’t found the gumption to get out of bed early enough to have any early morning climbing sessions, so we wait until afternoon shade to go to the cliffs.
We are renting the place from a woman named Vinchesia–Chensia for short–and I try to be especially charming around her with the hopes that she will invite us over for dinner. She is just one of those people that you want to be around, she’s friendly but doesn’t sugar-coat anything and I bet she makes some really good pesto.
We haven’t met any other Americans. We met a couple from Canada but that’s as close as it gets so far. This is different from the mainland of Italy, where you can walk up to just about anyone that looks like a tourist and they’ll probably be from the US. There is also less English here, I really have to try to speak Italian if I need something. It’s not like when you’re in Florence and the bartender knows perfect English but pretends not to, just to humor you a little so you feel like you’re really far from home, somewhere foreign.
In fact, the longer we’re here, the more I notice how different Sardinia is from Italy. Sardinia is actually underpopulated, the vast majority of the land is wild. The coastlines are rugged and steep and cliffy, which makes for spectacular seaside climbing.
Ah, the climbing. It’s just heavenly. I have always had a special place in my heart for limestone, living in California we don’t get much of it, and this rock is some of the best quality and most unique I’ve ever seen. It also offers a wide variety of angles and terrain—yesterday we climbed on low-angle slabs with tiny holds, the day before we were on almost-horizontal roofs, hanging like bats from huge stalactites and tufas.
The pace here is sloooow. The vibe, mellow as I’ve ever seen. I guess living by the ocean does that to people. Lots of folks walking around in hiking boots and shorts. This is different from the bigger cities like Rome, where cars zoom around corners and women glide through the streets in high heels and tight skirts.
Summer of 2009, I am twenty and hungover. We just arrived in Rome after a four hour bus ride from Montepulciano, the teachers are lecturing about staying together and when we’ll meet, but none of us are really listening. Our heads spin and throb. The summer sun is suffocating. Katie’s head is on my shoulder with a water bottle pressed to her temple. I am wearing jean shorts that are fraying at the ends that I’ve had since highschool, a striped tank top, and Chaco sandals. My wavy hair has turned to frizz and I haven’t worn makeup in months.
She walks with perfect posture on the other side of the street, gliding glamorously in shiny black stilettos. Her deep brown hair is pulled back into a neat bun, with big sunglasses propped on top of her head. She carries a small black leather purse, and her lips are the richest shade of red I have ever seen, like a ripe cherry. Her nails are painted the same color. I bet she smells like Chanel and cigarettes. These kind of women have always fascinated me, the glamorous, fashionable ones that I’m sure wear expensive lingerie everyday of the week. I wonder about them because I am so unlike them. I wonder how it would feel, walking through the streets of Rome freshly showered and manicured, wearing a tight dress and dark mascara, knowing how to walk in heels. I start to feel the slight tug of wishing I was more like this woman. She’s so beautiful, I think to myself, so fashionable, so womanly, and look at me. I’m sitting here looking like a total ragamuffin. She can feel me looking at her, her glance darts in my direction. I don’t have the energy to pretend I wasn’t staring, so we catch eyes. I smile faintly. Her face stays serious but she winks at me, holds my gaze for one moment longer and then looks forward again, stomping like a runway model as she carries on with her day.
A fraction of a second, such a small gesture, that taught me a whole lot about what it means to be a woman. It’s all about self-love in a culture that encourages self-abandonment. May you never self-abandon again, I told myself, this is who you are and it is just as beautiful and womanly as anyone else. If you want to put on red lipstick and walk around Rome, do it, but don’t think for one second that doing that makes you any more beautiful than you are when you haven’t brushed your hair in a few days.
I was having a really hard time in the Bay Area these last few months. I was in a funk, the kind of funk whose depth you don’t even realize until it lifts. I think it grew from fear, from insecurity, from self-abaondonment. And this time, I didn’t have some Roman woman’s wink to tell me, hey, don’t go talking all that shit to yourself, you’re doing just fine, you’ve still got it, stay true.
This time, it wasn’t wishing that I was the kind of woman who could rock a pair of heels, but wishing that I was the kind of woman who had her shit figured out on some level, someone responsible and mature, with direction. I spent the entire summer climbing rocks. That’s silly, I told myself. Get real, Georgie. You’re so out of touch with reality, you’re being stupid and irresponsible.
And that’s the funny thing about wishing you were someone different than yourself—it doesn’t change you into the person you yearn to be–it backfires, drains your power and makes you tired and depressed, because you’re living based on fear.
Then, I arrived in Sardinia, and it was like I took a magic pill that made me okay with myself and my lifestyle. In fact, I was psyched all over again about myself and my lifestyle. It is why I am here, it is what brought me to this amazing place.
Well, that, and the generous grant from the American Alpine Club.
And I know this all sounds very cliche, very Eat Pray Love, very predictable. We all know this story—Girl Goes to Europe and Finds Herself. It is kind of like that, except I already know who I am, I’ve never not known, it was just a matter of becoming okay with it all again.
Maybe this is just something we have to do every once in a while.
I am someone who falls in love with places—town and cities, mountain ranges and seas, streets and cafes. I feel a connection to certain areas of this earth that is strong and obvious. Everyone has at least one place that feels especially meaningful to them, probably somewhere that they’ve evolved on some level, that is home to their most cherished memories, that when visited makes them feel brave and spontaneous and wild again. For me, that place is Italy.
I am so glad to be here, I didn’t realize how bad I needed this.