Late Stage Quarantine

What’s a climber without climbing? Allow me to be the first to tell you, if you don’t have another cagey climber cooped up in your life: lost. And not in the fun route-finding kind of way. Just stuck in a seemingly perpetual, “Huh?”

Usually, I’m most inspired to write when I’m fresh off an adventure. Inspiration comes when I’ve had the chance to discover something new that I wouldn’t otherwise encounter in my day-to-day. In this extended time off, we’ve all had plenty of time for introspection. And then we had some more time. And some more introspection. And now we have more time. So I’d like to invite you on an adventure through my quarantine journey, just to help you pass some of that time. We can compare notes and you can determine whether you’re more self-realized or if you have your shit more together (I’m willing to bet that you do.) We’ll do it in stages. Shall we?

Stage One: Denial

Over the last few weeks, we’ve had plenty of time to consume plenty of news media. If there was ever a time to do it, the time is now. Apparently, decision-makers knew that a storm was coming but we chose not to heed the warning. Or perhaps we didn’t know how to formulate an appropriate response. Or perhaps we chose not to. However you slice it, life was different back then. I remember swinging tools into ice and being merry. Hugging friends. Washing my hands with less intensity. Touching my face without a thought. Petting dogs. Going places. Having (marginal) income. Times were different back then. Take me back (mostly to Bozeman during the winter.)

Week by week as Seattle waded into March we watched the floodlights flicker out row by row, business by business as our bustling city gradually froze to a halt. The city became rapidly more bikeable by the week. I even enjoyed the privilege of working right up until Jay Inslee announced the Shelter In Place order. For the third time in a year, I found myself on involuntary vacation with no income. (Twice before, I’d previously had guiding work lined up that fell through for one reason or another. This isn’t a personal finance post, but it’s a goddamn miracle what I’ve been able to do on what my mom calls a “shoestring.”) Speaking of, I suddenly found myself living with my parents in late March. A bit of a shock and a surprise to all of us, really.

The last week of March and first few days of April were a dissociative time. I had uprooted from a place where I had a few feeble roots, which really compounded the sensation of being unable to escape the tumbling washing-machine sensation in my mind. My thoughts would just slosh and flop around in my mind, day after day, always darks.

I watched all of Tiger King, amused but mostly bored. I probably scrolled simultaneously through at least half of it. When I finished the series, I told my parents about it. Since they were similarly house-bound, they decided to watch it too. So I watched it again. There was more scrolling. I am genuinely curious to know how many miles of text, images and nonsense I scrolled through. If there are 5,280 feet in a mile, I’m willing to bet I scrolled at least one.

When depression decides to engulf your mind in it’s muted, hazy malaise, it’s rather difficult to keep up appearances, internal and external. It’s all the more difficult to maintain healthy, functional relationships. While some of my more important personal relationships took a hit, I clung to others like I was top roping above hot lava. You know who you are if you carried me through. I’m not sure how to say a proper thank you but I do hope to be your belayer the next time you need someone.

Stage Two: Sheets to the Goddamn Wind

I think my baseline affinity for Rage Against the Machine, despite having no other punk influence in my life save my buddy Craig, speaks to a flavor of my personality. The gnashing, gnawing sheer determination is what propels me through long days, higher and higher. It’s also what makes me what I like to call a “hot potato.” I have a lot of energy. Rage Against the Machine makes music rife with angsty energy. I dig it.

Anyways, putting this hot potato on a bed of ice just doesn’t bode well. You end up with a puddle where you don’t want a puddle and a soggy, misshapen potato. Not good. So, as you do with a hot potato, I flung myself into the air not really knowing where I was going to land or if anyone was going to catch me.

Craving the familiar release of an endorphin high, I drove to a mountain several hours away only to discover the potential for a hefty fine that would set me back further than any climb could prop me up. Not worth it. So I kept driving. I arrived at my friend Adrienne’s doorstep with a bottle of wine in hand and no plans for the foreseeable future. Observing quarantine time and circadian rhythms, we eventually got to bed around 4am.

I’m not sure about you, but sometimes a hangover can distill a unique sense of clarity in my mind. For example, a hangover once resulted in the confident purchase of the supplies to make a terrarium. Normally I would quibble about whether the 20-odd dollars would serve me better in terrarium format or if it would get me that much closer to a lacking piece of my climbing rack. Not when I’m hungover. The heart wants what the heart wants.

This quarantine time hangover shook me loose of my washing machine thoughts. Momentarily, I felt an extreme sense of self-efficacy in which I was a contained unit within the limits of my small Subaru. I didn’t have anybody, I didn’t need anybody and I was going to be okay. (Fast forward a few hours and we discover the reason for the preface “momentarily.” I do need my people.)

And that’s when I stumbled upon my temporary abode: the she shed. A shelter from the wind and a home for my sheets.

Stage Three: Mental Sweat Lodge

I’ve never been the type of woman to feather her nest. Ever. Home is usually where I sleep sometimes and prefer not to be. Alternatively, if I am home, I’m sitting at my computer like I am now pounding keys and hoping I make something that makes sense. Or I’m waiting to leave again. Obviously this is a very rough sketch of what I do at home, but this is what I think I do at home. And that is worth something.

I arrived at the She Shed, winded, with most of the things I needed to survive. Some of my belongings were an hour away on an island, some of my belongings were on the other side of the state. Far from convenient. But I did have a plush camping sleeping pad and a camp chair. So in a matter of minutes, I was effectively moved in. No frills.

I don’t remember what I ate in that first week of my new home, but I do know that it wasn’t much. Certainly not anything with legitimate nutritional value. I discovered a pile of sticks in the backyard and decided that it would be perfectly normal to have a noon o’clock fire with an audience of one. My small twiggy fire was evidently recently cut, because the noxious smoke it produced was enough to make the neighbors slam a window shut. (I do apologize for that and also, hello neighbor!)

At one point, I discovered that I could crawl out of a window and onto the top of my house. Standing there in a slight breeze, I felt a simulated sense of what it’s like to summit a mountain. There was nowhere higher to go. At the same time, I had nowhere else to be. Obviously topping your house out is not the same as climbing, but the faint tickle of the wind and the sun on my skin reminded me of better times and the person who had lived through them. Oh right, that’s me. I’m not just a meaningless lump of Ghostbusters goo with an affinity for Rage Against the Machine.

In my new and unsettled space, my mind had the opportunity to flow places it hadn’t been in a while. I was free of the distractions of my previous headspace. As my thoughts began to freely wander, I also began exploring the space around my place. I started taking daily walks to the ocean past springtime trees in bloom.

For the first time in weeks since the world shut down around me, I felt inspired enough to peek into my guidebooks and dream about the routes I hoped to do. In all honesty, I savored the break from my obsessive one-track, climbing oriented mind. It was a relief when I couldn’t go. The stonewall no to climbing made me discover the ways that parts of my life have languished.

Climbing is a rich and powerful tool for discovery, but you don’t need to travel more than a mile from your house to discover something incredible. Some of the things that I’ve discovered meaning in are short, impromptu walks; small bonfires with my small circle of people; eating foods made with care (so far granola, fry bread and a pie come to mind;) bike rides with dance music; cute little leafy green things in similarly cute little pots. I think instead of resisting the idea that life can be fun without climbing, I’m learning to go with the flow and looking forward to watching my garden grow. I’m looking forward to the next bomber hand jam, but I’ll be okay without it in the meantime.

Published by mallorie estenson

Mallorie is an alpine guide, writer and climber based in Seattle, WA.

One thought on “Late Stage Quarantine

  1. Mallorie,

    This is such beautiful and thoughtful writing. I am really happy you found your place even if it is a temporary means to end. You would have been squelched in Pullman. Sadly, I know I am, but I also know things can turn around with a perspective shift. I have not felt this lonely in my life ever. I do not have a tribe here and I am tying to find my way and it is hard and sad. I will get through this time, but for now I just accept what is happening although it is uncomfortable. Dad and I really enjoyed our visit with you on your birthday. You mean the world to us. I love the person you are. There are no two Mallorie’s in the world. Keep beating to your own drum, it is one quality I admire most. You are not just physically strong but emotionally strong. You have such an awesome future ahead of you. I really hope the MSR thing comes through for you. Your knowledge & experience seems like a match made in heaven. Love you tons! ❤️Mom

    On Mon, Apr 27, 2020 at 1:21 PM mallorie estenson wrote:

    > mallorie estenson posted: ” What’s a climber without climbing? Allow me to > be the first to tell you, if you don’t have another cagey climber cooped up > in your life: lost. And not in the fun route-finding kind of way. Just > stuck in a seemingly perpetual, “Huh?” Usually, I’m most ” >

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