everything changes.


I packed up my van for the first time when I was 23 years old. It was springtime when I pulled into Moab and I was alone. I didn’t know where I was supposed to sleep or even what I was supposed to be doing. All I knew was that something was missing my from life and that rock climbing would give me that thing.

It gave me that thing. I came back to myself in this big way, and I pulled the identity of “climber” over my shoulders and buttoned it up tight. It made me feel wild.

Years went by in this manner. Everything I did was because of climbing. Climbing was what pushed the blood through my veins. It was my compass and my map. I drove around this country as if it was the only thing in the world to do. I went to Yosemite and Joshua Tree, Red Rocks and Clark Mountain, Bishop, Colorado, Wyoming, Sardinia, the Red River Gorge, Indian Creek, and every place in between. I handcrafted a life where I could go climbing whenever I wanted to. I worked remotely and lived out of my car. It was simple.

The first years of my life as a climber were so lush and dreamlike. I’ve written about those days extensively on this blog. But slowly, towards the end, I had this clear sense that climbing and writing about climbing was depleting me. There were so many parts of me that felt thirsty, like a dried up sponge. But I didn’t know how to move away from that life because my identity was so tightly braided into it. Eventually, life intervened and helped me out with the whole letting go of being a climber thing.

I am stopped at a red light. The car behind me slams into me, and I slam into the car in front of me. Minor concussion, whiplash, and a torn trapezius. No climbing, no running, no yoga. Just physical therapy.

I got into an actual car accident last November, but I’m pretty sure that the majority of this country felt like it got into a car accident last November too.

Trump is elected president. This deep and layered rage blossoms in my jaw. I sit in bed and don’t miss rock climbing. I don’t even think of rock climbing. I don’t understand how people can write social media posts and articles about rock climbing. I feel a twinge of envy towards those people, because driving up Buttermilk Rd. without a care in the world would be so much easier than feeling this.

But for the first time in six years, I am unable to run to the mountains. I can’t even run down the street. I am in bed with a heat pack on my neck and I have to feel every last drop of whatever this is.

It was sadness, and some of it wasn’t even about the election. The election was just a portal into my other pain that was usually inaccessible. I realized how something had been tugging at my belly for the last few years, telling me that the climbing life wasn’t good for me anymore. I would often come home from long trips and think, it’s time to slow down, it’s time to stay in the same place for more than a few months, it’s time for a change. But I never did it. Climbing was so much easier.

In between physical therapy appointments and wondering why the hell 53% of white women voted for Trump, I apply for grad school. I take the GRE. I don’t apply because of some fiery passion to get my masters, I do it because when I got really still and quiet, that’s what I felt like doing. I think some decisions in life are like that, you don’t get some huge billboard with flashing lights screaming GO THIS WAY. Sometimes it’s just a thought, a small flicker of light, that nudges you in the right direction.

I consider the fact that I may not get into grad school. Even though I have good grades from undergrad and did well on the GRE, “crushing rocks all day every day with my hood rat friends” doesn’t exactly count as volunteer work or related experience. I fluff up the fact that I’m a writer and decide that I’ll figure out what to do if I don’t get in when the time comes. All I know is that no matter what happens, I will not go back to Bishop in the fall.

This decision makes me feel like a person I have never been before. I am not the sort of woman who plays it safe, I tell myself. What are you doing, G? Getting a masters is for normal people. Is this really who you’re becoming? What happened to you?

I publish a book of poetry you know, just to remind myself that I’m still weird and all.

After a winter of no climbing, spring comes and starts to thaw the planet. I go to my favorite cafe and try to write, but that river that usually flows from me is dry and arid. The only thing I can manage to get out is this: everything changes. I underline it twice and stare at the words. Everything changes. Everything. Changes. I carry those words with me for months, repeating them in my head like a mantra. I say them silently, trying to convince myself that what’s happening is natural, that I can change, that all is well.

We get into a lot of trouble when we cling to things, people, identities, and ways of life that don’t serve us anymore. I know this, I teach this, but when faced with actually DOING this, I felt like I was dying.

After I heal from the car accident, I head out for a climbing trip with Tanner. We go to Arizona, Indian Creek, Colorado, and then Ten Sleep. It starts out feeling so refreshing and healing, but eventually feels draining. I get rejected from three schools and come to terms with the fact that I probably won’t be going to school in the fall. But just as I cross the border back into California to go home, I get accepted at a school in the Bay Area to study somatic psychology and get my masters.

And now, I’m here. I am still trying to get used to this new version of myself. I don’t really feel like a climber anymore, at least, not like I used to. I don’t spend all of my time rock climbing or writing about rock climbing and have no desire to. Sure, going up to Tahoe for a few days of granite sounds fun, but my life does not depend on it. If I don’t go, I won’t feel like I’m missing something.

I can see now that if I were to keep climbing all the time, it wouldn’t be brave. It would be too easy. And even though everything changes, something that I’ve always wanted is to feel wild. Going to grad school feels wild for me. It feels scary and new and exciting and healing and vast.

It makes me feel the way climbing used to make me feel.

I start classes in one month. Wish me luck.