The Climbing Part
After five years of climbing, I finally made it to Indian Creek. The first day, I ran along the base of Supercrack Buttress and put my hand or fingers into every crack within reach. I noticed that as I pulled down, it felt like the sandstone pushed back. Everything felt incredibly climbable.
I noticed a lovely looking off-fingers crack that I assumed would go well. With hardly a glance a the guidebook, I racked all of my gear to my harness plus a few borrowed cams, which felt like a lot, and did the customary hands-on-hips pre-climb appraisal of the route. I chalked my hands and started up.
The first 15 feet went well. I was climbing a left-facing corner with tight, secure hand jams. I felt confident and placed gear accordingly. Then I arrived at a bulge. I had good feet and was able to take a rest to contemplate the moves ahead.
I moved away from my relatively comfortable position and began jamming my way up the bulge, for lack of an opportunity to lieback because of an inconvenient flare. The most logical feet for the moves were at hip height. Having climbed through the flare, it became time to lieback. I worked my feet up and my arms immediately began screaming to my brain, “THIS AIN’T GONNA LAST LONG!” Suddenly I became acutely aware of where the rope was beneath me and the prospect of taking an upside-down whipper. At this point, my breath was most certainly audible to my partner 30′ below. I reached down to my hip, fumbled a piece of protection into the crack, and mentally prepared myself to pull enough slack rope up to clip the piece. Ain’t no time like the present when your arms feel like they want nothing more than to give out on you, so I yanked the rope up, barely managed to clip the piece and half screamed to my partner: “I’m gonna fall!”
The Creek did not disappoint. I’ve heard a few people mention getting humbled by the climbing there, but I figured I’d been crack climbing long enough to be able to hang in there. Actually, I suspected that I might even excel because of my small hand size. (Haha, in retrospect, that’s cute.)
It’s true that the jams are so good that it feels like the crack grabs you back, but what I’d failed to account for was the length of the routes and what it feels like to climb with minimal rests and without other features. Nothing but pure crack. (If you’re not a climber, that sentence probably sounds weird.)
Over the course of the week, I got to climb at Supercrack Buttress, Selfish Wall, Scarface and Battle of the Bulge. After destroying the backs of my hands at Battle of the Bulge, we took a day to clip bolts on Potash Road. Despite the gobies, I feel like I barely scratched the surface. We started after noon most days. This was not my choice.
I assumed that after a few days, I would literally get into the groove and be able to send something beyond my warmups. I thought I would pick a project for myself. Not this trip.
Rain rolled in right around the time I started to collect a little confidence. Snow, too. Besides the weather, I’d also been confronted with the gnawing discomfort of an incompatible partnership. Not the typical minor spat that turns a day sour, but an entire week of misalignment. We disagreed on most everything. In the most Jersey Shore moment of my life, after trying to talk things through and establish reasonable boundaries, I finally gave up. In the middle of the woods somewhere outside of Bryce Canyon, I angrily packed up all of my shit and my tent (which I’d had to do every night for a week of cragging in the same area, which was obnoxious, due to indecision and my van-dwelling partner’s inability to plan) and took off walking down the side of the road.
Utah: The Not-Climbing Part
For lack of a vehicle, I was relatively stranded. I came upon an RV campground and asked where the nearest Greyhound station was. The young man on the other side of the counter had emo-styled, bleached-blonde hair, several piercings and a lisp. He blinked and looked at the backpacks on my chest and my back, quizzically.
“I don’t know where the nearest one is,” he said flatly.
Another employee behind the desk looked up from his screen and said simply, “I’ll take you.” Thank god.
For the record: there is no taxi service operating near the woods outside of Bryce Canyon. And I’m fairly confident that there aren’t any taxi services within an hour drive in any of the small towns in the surrounding area. (I later asked a motel owner in Parowon, she laughed, and offered to give me a ride to where I needed to go. Utah is very hospitable.)
So that’s how I found myself in the passenger seat of a Ford Taurus traveling 60mph through the desolate Utah desert at night in pre-tourism shoulder season having the lyrics of “Into the Coven” sung/explained to me. It was approximately 9pm. As an aside, I listen to a podcast with the catchphrase: “Stay Sexy, Don’t Get Murdered.” Between the lyrics about bleeding the blood, smashing the cross, etc. I was praying to the creators of the podcast, Karen and Georgia, that this hour long drive wouldn’t be my last. (Spoiler: I didn’t get murdered.)
That’s when my driver surprised me: “I’m a Mormon.” His demeanor and sincerity was enough to convince me. Apparently, his musical tastes juxtapose sharply against his lifestyle choices. Utah, you’re wonderful, never change.
The next bus outta there wasn’t until 1pm the following day. So I stayed in a motel room with paper thin walls, scratchy sheets and creaky floors. Fifty dollars was a small price to pay to insulate myself from prolonged circular discussions about nothing leading nowhere; possible tickets from camping in inappropriate places; and the possibility of being ruthlessly teased by endless climbing made inaccessible by a partner decidedly unavailable to climb, despite being on a climbing trip. (?!?!) I fell asleep listening to a channel dedicated to true crime, scrolling indifferently on my phone. My mind was caught up in how something as simple as a climbing trip – what most people consider a vacation – could be so miserable.
The following day, I arrived at the bus stop 45 minutes early. I’d eaten a bagel and some pretzels the day before; we’d last shopped for groceries a week prior. The stop was many things in one: a gas station, a truckers’ rest stop, a bus station, a prime people-watching opportunity. There was a Subway and a Taco Bell inside the building, too. Hungry and disinterested in gas-station ham & cheese, I dropped my bags at a table and stood in line at Subway.
“What kind of bread do you want?” the woman barked at me from the other side of the glass. She seemed generally offended by my presence.
Forty-five minutes slipped by. At 12:55, I became concerned. No bus. 1pm came and went. I panicked at the thought of missing the only northbound bus out of the Middle-of-Nowhere, Utah. I searched through my phone and found a bus tracker. I was relieved to learn that the bus was running 45 minutes behind. In that email, I also learned that I would not get onto the bus without a printed ticket. Stranded, in the middle of the desert, I was without a printer. Go figure.
The bus rolled in and people piled out. The bus driver was quick to light a cigarette and adept at avoiding eye-contact with me as I crossed the parking lot to him. He walked around the back of the bus and I closed the gap by walking around the front.
“Sorry to bother you,” I said as I rounded the corner of the bus, “But I noticed that my email confirmation said that I needed a printed ticket. We’re kind of out here in the middle of the desert. I don’t have the ability to print a ticket.”
He took a pensive drag from his cigarette, gave me a kind of creepy old man smirk and said, “Frankly, I don’t give a shit if you have a ticket or not.” It was at this moment that I noticed that he was missing the pointer finger on his right hand. He took one of my bags and stowed it beneath the bus. I got on.
The second I became separated from my backpack containing literally all of the climbing equipment I own, I became very anxious. I thought about how tourists’ backpacks were regularly stolen from night buses in Thailand. But then the bus started and we were off.
I groped around in a smaller bag for my headphones. No dice. They were beneath the bus. Given that we were departing an hour behind schedule, it dawned on me that I would miss my connecting bus out of Salt Lake City. Great.
I called a general customer service line and spoke to someone that generally spoke English. He was unable to answer my simple question: My bus is going to be late. When is the next bus out of Salt Lake City to Seattle? I requested to speak to someone else. The next representative said that I would have to direct my question to someone in Salt Lake City. No, he cannot transfer me. I dialed the number provided and got the same general customer service line. A woman answered. Trying to use as few words as possible, I explained my situation a third time. Provided my information a third time.
A man on the bus approached me and asked me if he could use my phone, as I was obviously engaged in a conversation on the aforementioned phone. I probably failed to conceal my incredulity. Being a female product of society, conditioned to be nice, I blurted a “Yeah, but I’m using the phone right now.”
“What?” said the woman on the other end of the line.
Ultimately, I received zero useful information from three customer service representatives. I resigned myself to figuring it out upon arrival in Salt Lake.
The man on the bus began to speak to me rapidly about how honorable I was and how generous I was to loan him my phone. I reluctantly handed it over to him with the dial screen already pulled up. He continued to talk to me as he began using my phone. Not wishing to engage in further conversation, I opened my book and waited for him to finish his phone call. He then thrust the phone back in my direction and asked me if I knew about this band because he was involved with the band and helped them get started and he really liked this band and this band made great music. Rapid fire, the sentences didn’t end or begin. He just talked. Endlessly. Apparently, he was affiliated with Fitz and the Tantrums. Hmm.
About halfway through the third song, playing out loud on my phone, another man a seat ahead had made two fists with his hands and was visibly trembling with rage. I leaned back in my seat and mouthed silently to Talking Man, “He’s mad,” pointing to Angry Man. Talking Man paused only momentarily and continued talking over the music. Angry Man spun around and stood up and told him that the music had to stop.
Not wanting to witness a fistfight 30 minutes into a 24 hour plus bus adventure, I announced: “I have a phone call to make!” And proceeded to call my mom. Talking Man stood up, unphased, and began asking the other passengers on the bus if there might be a phone available for him to use. No phone call was ever made.
Several long hours later, and more than an hour behind schedule, we arrived in Salt Lake City. Talking Man had visited me for much of the ride, although I’d moved away from Angry Man for fear of physical violence.
When the bus stopped, I collected my bags and basically ran toward the nearest brewery. I knew that Utah beer was going to be, well, state-regulated Utah beer, but I was desperate.
I made it a block from the bus station when a man walked up to me and asked, “Did you come off a train?” Not sure why my method of transportation was relevant, I told him no. He then told me that he was trying to hop the next freight train because Utah sucked because you couldn’t buy or have weed there. He also informed me, repeatedly, that I was in a very sketchy area. Surveying my loaded backpacks, he told me that I needed to figure out how to travel light. Without missing a beat, I told him that I had a lot of climbing equipment on me. That I hadn’t been planning to walk with all of it. (Cue mental facepalm. “Yeah, I’m carrying a bunch of valuable shit today. It’s heavy!” My city smarts are lacking, I’m now well aware.)
My phone started ringing. It was my boyfriend, Tim. Trying to act nonchalant, I told Tim everything I knew about the guy that had followed me for three blocks. Apparently, being known was enough to get the guy to bugger off, because he suddenly ducked into a parking garage without a word. I was alone again. Just me and my big-ass backpacks. Thankfully.
My soggy Subway sandwich was the most substantial thing I’d eaten in 2 days, several hours earlier. Despite the beer (all the beer on draft) topping out at a rowdy 4% ABV, I felt calmed halfway through my gose. I killed time, a salad and the end of my book before I ordered another beer. This time an IPA. 4%. I pulled a new book from my bag.
A man sat down beside me and flashed me a smile. I made some kind of friendly offhand comment and went back to my book. He ordered a beer and some dinner and struck up a conversation. I learned that he worked for a company that sold medical devices that helped straighten spines. He told me about being in the OR, he agreed with me that Utah beer was pathetic, and we discovered that we had a mutual appreciation of Bend beer. Boneyard Brewing was a shared favorite. He was a nice guy. I indicated to him that on the scale of crazy, he was near the bar counter whereas most everyone else I’d interacted with in the last 24 hours were a full arm-length above the bar on my improvised crazy scale. He laughed. He got to hear this full story in person. He even bought me another weak Utah beer, compliments of the company he worked for. What a guy.
Reluctantly, I paid $10 to Uber the half mile that I’d walked to the brewery. I was pleasantly surprised to have my first female Uber driver. After I told her the abridged version of the last 24 hours, she said, “Oh honey, you have to take this,” and gave me a small pink can of Mace. “I’ve never felt like I needed to use it. Sounds like you need it.” Women support women.
Just before midnight, I queued up with the other Greyhound riders headed to Boise, Portland and beyond. A friendly young guy spun around and asked me about my bags and where I was headed. I told him that I’d been on a climbing trip and that I was headed home to Seattle. Within the span of a 10 minute conversation, he asked me to guess his ethnicity, demonstrated to me that he’d come prepared with a 40 stashed in his jacket pocket, and let me know that he was a virgin. Congratulations!
We boarded the bus. Talking Man was back and snatched up my bag before I could say anything otherwise and let me know that he would take care of it for me because I didn’t need to carry it because it looked heavy and he would love to help me out and that I was a mountain goddess and that I was from Seattle and that he was from Seattle too and on and on. Talking Man sat beside me again. Talking Man asked for my phone again. Not knowing what else to do, I handed it over again. And this time he made calls. Six of them.
“Mama? Mama, can you hear me? Mama? It’s me. Can you hear me mama? Can you speak up, Mama? It’s awful hard to hear you Mama. Don’t be mad, Mama. I just wanted to talk to you, Mama.” After his call with Mama, I indicated that it was 1:02am and that I’d like my phone back at 1:07am. I wanted to listen to music. “Ok, ok. I’ll give your phone back. I just want to listen to three songs. Is that ok? You’re so honorable for letting me borrow your phone. I just want to listen to three songs. You said that I could.” Trying to be gently firm, I repeated: “1:07.” Well, 1:07 came and went. “Hey, it’s 1:10, can I please have my phone back?” He reluctantly handed it over, talking to me the whole time. And he did not stop talking to me until after 1:30am. At this point, I was only able to muster the occasional, “Mmhmm.” His babbling was nonsensical. I told him that he could continue to talk to me, but I was going to go to sleep.
I put headphones in and put on my favorite podcast. In this particular episode, of the hundreds of episodes that I’d listened to before, and of all the topics in the world to cover I learned:
“Because you can board a Greyhound bus with cash and absolutely no paper trail Greyhound is usually the preferred form of travel for people who have found themselves on a Do-Not-Fly List. Fugitives, convicted felons, drug dealers, registered sex offenders, etc.” (Listen to this particular episode here and start at 19:40. Enjoy. #Murderino)
Meanwhile, on my first Greyhound bus ever, confronted with a man that literally would not stop talking to me and would not stop talking for the full 8 hour bus ride to Boise, ID from Salt Lake City, UT, I thought to myself: GREAT. I must have fallen asleep at some point, because Talking Man poked me upon arrival in the Middle-of-Nowhere, ID, and I nearly jumped a foot out of my seat. He asked if he could use my phone again. This time, I said no.
We eventually parted ways, mercifully, somewhere in Oregon. The rest of the ride was uneventful by comparison, but all I can say is that I’ve never been so grateful to see evergreen trees and a Northwest downpour. My climbing trip was an utter failure, but hey, I guess I got a semi-decent story out of it.