I can see her coming down the street. More accurately, I can hear her companion yelling at her.
“Where’s ma bottle? You don’t have it?”
“I dun know where it is.”
“I swears you had it.”
“I dun have your bottle!”
Their voices echo through the freshly rain-cleansed street. It’s that calm hour you get this far up north, when it’s no longer day but not quite dark enough to turn on the lights. No sunsets up here in British Columbia, just dull descensions into darkness.
My eyes dance to follow their movements up and down the sidewalk: he stomps ahead then turns back towards her, she does the same. I wonder if this is how they’ve made their way up Cleveland Avenue, in many steps with little progress. They repeat their conversation in the same manner they retrace their steps.
“I thought you had’et in your backpack,” she says.
“It’s not in there. You have it!”
I avert my gaze subtly so the guy talking to me doesn’t think I’m rude. Actually, I don’t really care if he finds me impolite for showing signs of boredom at his small talk and thinly-veiled attempts at flirtation; what I really don’t want is him to see my fixation on the drunken play in the street as a sign that I am not desensitized to it. That I’m too sheltered to shrug off such displays as background noise.
“Don’t worry,” the voice in my head squeaks, “I’ve seen the world. I’ve sat across from men with black-gummed smiles falling asleep on bar tables littered with bottles in La Paz. I’ve fanned my keys between my fingers and clamped down in a white-knuckled fist to pass drug addicts on the bitter cold streets of Reno at 6 a.m. Don’t worry, I’ve seen the world.”
It’s insincere to pretend that the more I witness, the less sensitive I become. Quite the opposite. I only perceive more depth, see more shades than just gray and intoxicated.
I survey the street wondering where the boisterous duo is headed. I realize the coffee shop where I'm sitting and watching their evening unfold is one of the few open doors downtown at this hour.
The realization makes their presence on this street in this town even stranger.
From the cushioned bench of the café porch I see the final tinges of alpenglow fading from the glaciers on Mount Garibaldi. The familiar shapes of the Tantalus Range beyond. Bright city banners hanging from the lamp posts, each depicting a graphic rendition of the Stawamus Chief.
We’re in Squamish. The Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada, as they like to call it.
A place where all the shiny V6-engine trucks come standard with a few full-suspension, top-of-the-line mountain bikes perched over the gate. Where gravel parking lots are packed with Ford Econolines, Mercedes Sprinters and Chevy Astros with meticulously built out interiors, complete with cedar paneling and household items strung up on carabiners. Where a Thule box, a carbon-frame road bike or a whitewater kayak graces the roof of every other Subaru.
Rivers teeming with rapids, perfect breezes for wind surfing, singletrack crisscrossing the forests, dirtbag-worthy rock climbing, mountains to summit every direction you look.
This is meant to be paradise.
Collectively everyone on the patio stops breathing as the short woman nears. Maybe if we all sit still, she won’t notice us.
She comes right up to the café bar and snares the espresso-sipping friend of my drab conversation partner into her world. She sets her plastic water bottle two-thirds full of caramel colored liquid next to his glass mug. She lifts her brown arm up so she can rest an elbow on the bar that’s almost as high as her shoulders.
“Do you know about the Lillooet?” she asks.
The boy responds in hushed tones, knowing all too well that the rest of the patio patrons have their ears perked to eavesdrop – relieved that they weren’t the chosen ones.
I abandon feigning interest in the chap with the perfectly parted hair and his mundane chatter about his engineering studies. I close my laptop and fix my eyes on the Lillooet woman.
She starts to sing. Her voice bellows as long, low notes emerge from the tiny woman. Rhythmic rising and falling. No vocal gymnastics, just soothing, timeless notes that carry on as long as the braided waters of the Squamish River.
It’s beautiful. Entrancing. I find myself wanting to close my eyes and escape into the melody, to ride the long, clear notes as far as they’ll carry me. Far away from this eclectic-chic café, into the woods and the riverbanks where the song originated.
“That’s a gift from the Lillooet people,” she says upon finishing. She circles her arms and opens the palms of her nearly child-sized hands in a gesture of sharing – as if her movements solidify her gift giving to young man in the chair.
“This is our land,” she says, staring straight into his eyes. Pauses. “All of it.”
“Everything you see from here up to the Lillooet River. This belongs to the Lillooet people, my people.”
Her speaking voice carries the same rhythmic camber of her singing. She gently grasps her bottle and takes a sip. Smiles softly. For a moment I think she’s having fun, as though she might do this every Friday night.
“It’s an accelerated program, so I’ll…” the blonde with the pointed chin drones on. I almost audibly grunt my annoyance at his interfering with the sound line between myself and the tiny woman.
“Did you go to school around here?” I blink back to the blue eyes smiling hopefully at me.
“No, I’m from California.”
I finish out the conversation, answering the prerequisite questions of why I’m in Canada, how long I’ve been in Squamish, what I’m doing here.
I ask myself guiltily, honestly: Why do I come here? Why do I deem it okay, or even admirable, to insert myself in this community for months at a time by parking my van on their forest service roads, climbing their sacred rocks with my unappreciative hands, bathing in the rivers that I know the First Nations people consider demigods? Because someone called Squamish a good place for traveling climbers to spend the summer, a good place to swoop in and call home for a while, regardless of the people who really make it their home?
I can’t bring myself to restart work on my Tips for Backpacking with Your Dog article. I feel a tinge of shame at the articles I write for a paycheck. I was trained as a journalist. Why don’t I write about this woman’s story? Or even a simple exposé on the Lillooet culture?
The tiny woman leaves without my noticing. By then dusk has given way to night, so I find a spot inside to finish my work before deadline.
Sometime in the span of typing out a few paragraphs, the tiny woman returns. I glance up from my screen to see that she’s standing right in front of me. She wears a faded blue T-shirt with an equally faded logo. The fabric is stretched tight across her upper abdomen, showcasing one of those sturdy beer bellies normally reserved for men.
She looks straight into my eyes and I see that hers are strikingly round with little blue rings around her black pupils. A milky sheen coats her unblinking eyes.
“Do you know which bathroom I can use? They dun say which is ladies.”
“Oh, you can use any of them. They’re not separated by gender.”
“I can use any of ‘em?” she sways in tiny circles.
“Yeah, whichever one is empty you can use. Just go in any door and you’ll be fine,” I say, trying to sound cheerful. A warm smile spreads across her beautifully round face while she paces back and forth a few times.
“Yeah, yeah go ahead. You’ll be fine.”
“Oh, okay. Thank you!” She spins to face the other bathroom door, pauses, and goes in.
She struts out shortly after, walking straight through the café and out the door onto the street once more. A new song emerges from deep in her belly, echoing throughout the empty street as she meanders away in the direction of the park.
The past three weeks have been a whirlwind, to say the least, and anyone who has seen me during that time can attest to it. Since the beginning of March I have:
In short, I would love to write an elegant blog post full of thoughtful tidbits about the closing one chapter and starting of another, but I really am just too damn tired.
Off to Red Rocks, Nevada on Thursday for a week of climbing with good friends, then further East I go. I promise to write more (and better) blogs about this adventure. :)
You would think that I'd be thrilled to hear the doctor say that I could start climbing again. Don't get me wrong, I cracked a smile bigger than socially acceptable in a doctor's office. But as soon as I walked out, I felt...bummed.
Now that I had finally earned the green light to ease into some climbing, the reality set in: getting back to climbing is going to be a process.
I'm the type of person who wants it all, immediately.
During the months that I've been out with a herniated disc in my lower back, I've tried to keep my eye on the prize. To keep myself motivated while I worked on physical therapy exercises, dealt with MRIs, and had painful injections in my back, I thought about rock climbing. Getting out their with friends and leading routes I'd never done before, wandering off into the woods with just a crash pad to explore new boulders, clipping into the anchors at the top of a cliff. That is what I fantasized about.
But that isn't what I'm getting with my doctor's clearance to get back to climbing. I'm getting sunny afternoons spent in the gym climbing the same boring V0's over and over again. I'll be spending more time stretching and doing strength exercises than actually on the wall. I'm going to be turning down invites to hit up Donner Summit because I can't do that, yet.
Recovering from an injury like this one feels harder to me than rehabbing a torn ACL or a broken ankle. I'm coming back from years of poor compensation patterns to make up for my imperfect spine--which ultimately led to one herniated disc. It feels less like a fall gone wrong and more like my body rebelling against me. Somehow it feels like this injury was my fault. And somehow it feels permanent.
Now let's stop being melodramatic. The disc herniation can heal (kind of), and my muscles can relearn proper movement. But the fear of re-injuring myself is huge. At times it can scare me so much that I wonder if I'd be better off leaving rock climbing in the past.
But that's not an option I'm willing to take. It's not like I was ever an amazing athlete or competing in the sport, nothing like that. I just love it. It has become a part of me. It doesn't really matter to me that I wasn't yet sending V6's or leading 5.12's. What mattered to me was shooting the shit with my friends at the crag, feeling the accomplishment of climbing newer and harder routes, and just flat out loving the rock and where I am. That's what I miss.
I'm going to get that back. It may take a few months, it may take a year. But I'm going to crush 5.9's like nobody's business until I'm there. My strength will come back. My finger calluses will re-emerge. My creativity for figuring out climbing sequences will feel natural again. That will all come with time, patience, effort and training. It probably won't be the most fun I've ever had climbing, but when I'm finally topping out on those anchors and turning around the check out the view, it will all be worth it.
P.S. - Thanks, Kieth for the rad photo from Donner last season!
During a three-day, 37-mile trip in the backcountry of Joshua Tree National Park, I learned a thing or two about the joys of setting out for the trail with a crew of fierce femmes.
Limitless, shameless girl talk.
Any solid group of gal pals knows that your best gab sessions are typically held over wine and cheese snuggled up on your living room sofa. Why not take the girl chat to the great outdoors to enjoy over fresh stream water and trail mix? I'll assure you better views and sillier, freer-flowing conversations. Uninterrupted by phone calls or SnapChats.
Time to talk about all the things that you normally don't talk about.
Religion, philosophy, books, dreams, childhood tales, the future. Let's face it, you and your girlfriends spend countless hours together, but when do you have the time to really get to know these things about them? When you're too busy getting ready for a night out at the bars or studying for midterms together, there's no time to talk about who believes in God or what truly inspires you. When the text messages stop and the endless scrolling of Instagram pictures comes to a halt, and you and your friends have nothing to do but gaze up at the stars as you roll up in your sleeping bags, this is the time to ask the questions you usually don't and share the stories you normally keep to yourself.
Food, food, and more food.
There a few things in the world that give girls the same mood boost as food--which need not be listed here. While backpacking isn't normally associated with fine dining, a little creativity with ingredients and a camp stove can lead to delicious trail cuisine. When you're spending hours scrambling up switchbacks all day and the caloric needs are high, backpacking provides to perfect opportunity to eat as much as you want and still be hungry for more. Food is usually the number one thing on a backpacker's mind while your hamstrings are burning on the last two miles before camp, making it the perfect topic of mouth-watering trail conversation for girls who value their grub.
Be the independent, strong women that you are.
Nothing makes you feel more like a fierce, self-reliant lady than carrying your own food, water, and shelter on your back while navigating through the wilderness with your all-female crew. Gurgling river to cross? 3,000 feet of switchbacks to conquer before lunch? Pouring rain for six straight hours? No problem, because you and your girlfriends are strong-willed problem-solvers laughing your way through the mud, sweat, and lactic acid build-up. When you're backpacking, your only real option is to keep going, so you can set out from the trailhead with the confidence that you and your girls are gonna find your way through the final mile with your wits and your own two legs.
Topless yoga sessions are fair game.
Gotta even out the tanlines and get a good post-hike stretch somehow. Why not do kill two birds with one stone?
Photography is all about exposure. Not only in terms of light entering the camera's lens, but also in the way photographs expose a point of view, a perspective, a reality of the artist who composes them. Never have I seen this lesson so clearly as when I was sweating through my shorts, struggling to concentrate on the colorful Spanish of Cuban photographer, Irolan Marodelli, showing me his work in his rooftop studio in Havana.
In a country where the words "truth" and "reality" are entirely relative terms, one artist is sharing a glimpse of his perspective through his camera lens. Working entirely in the darkroom and using himself as his primary model, Irolan uses powerful metaphors to deliver his criticism on Cuban society and politics.
Irolan's work is strong, visceral, and real. You can understand it in any language. His perspective is his story, and he tells that story boldly and unapologetically as the truth because that is his reality, the reality of his point of view.
"It probably won't happen because my art isn't that well spread, but they could knock on my door any day and tell me that what I'm doing isn't allowed," Irolan explains the threat of government censorship.
Cuba's tradition of censorship began silencing artists in the 1970s, and currently prevents Irolan from exhibiting his most poignant work. Because the bulk of Irolan's portfolio criticizes the island's political leaders, he works under the assumption that most of his art could never be freely put into the public eye. But that doesn't stop him from expressing his point of view.
"I'm going to keep creating no matter what. If I have the idea, I'm gonna express it. You see, they can censor art but what they can't censor is the human mind."
Blistered feet, heavy backpack, sore legs, dirty clothes, constant hunger. Oh, the joys of backpacking. If that list didn't sell you, this one will:
Bye, bye technology.
Freedom, sweet freedom! What greater liberation is there than to break away from the screen? Think of the joy you get from a few hours with no nagging texts, phone calls from mom, or emails from the boss. Now imagine that pause from the digital bombardment lasting for several days. When's the last time you had that much peace of mind? Unplug, unplug and feel like a bird soaring out of the nest!
When you use those two moving things beneath your hips to get from point A to point B, you gain a true appreciation of distance. We are so accustomed to knocking out hundreds of miles in mere hours speeding down the freeway, or flying to distant countries in a day; and we even complain about travel time. When you realize it takes almost a week to cover 100 miles on foot, you gain perspective on how truly big our world is.
Nobody's gonna backpack for you. When you are on the trail, you are self-reliant. Only your own two legs will move you forward, only the food you carry on your back will feed you, only your own wits and judgment will keep you alive. Yes, you can backpack with friends and trail buddies can help you along, but ultimately it's all up to you. The freedom, sense of accomplishment, and most of all, the empowerment you feel from backpacking strengthens the soul.
The goals of backpacking are simple: sustain yourself, walk from one place to another, and enjoy yourself and your surroundings. That's it. Nothing more, nothing less. If you stay alive, put one foot in front of the other, and smile, you win the game of backpacking. It's a sport where everyone wins; no one is a "better" backpacker than anyone else. The simplicity of backpacking reminds us that we can experience true happiness and serenity by treating life like a journey to be enjoyed rather than a rat race to be won.
Become one with nature.
During that moment where you're grabbing onto a rock for dear life, trying not to fall back into the pile of your own droppings and you look over to see a squirrel doing the same thing, it feels damn good. Man and squirrel, in total harmony. That's how you feel during every moment on a backpacking trip. When it rains, you get wet. When the sun sets, you go to sleep. When the sun rises, you wake up. This bona fide, unaltered experience of nature is the craving that draws many of us to the trail.
Go. Forth. &. Explore.
"The simplicity of backpacking reminds us that we can experience true happiness and serenity by treating life like a journey to be enjoyed rather than a rat race to be won."
While I could be sipping mojitos poolside in Vegas or Cabo, instead I'm standing in the pouring rain outside Lawrence and David's tent chanting "Spring break! Spring break!"
A few months ago when Lawrence pitched the idea of backpacking the Lost Coast for spring break, my eyebrows perked up at the fun-filled list of warnings and potential dangers on the trek: isolated coastline, semi-predictable tides, rogue waves, bears, wild elk, and wet, wet, wet. Turns out the trail gets its name from the fact that the builders of California's quintessential Highway 1 opted to go around this stretch of coastline because it was too treacherous...I'm in.
"Everything is going to go exactly as planned," David confidently declared before even turning the corner to leave our neighborhood in Santa Clara. Lawrence and I exchange glances, knowing from our previous backpacking experiences that these kind of trips never turn out according to plan, but the adventure comes from figuring it out on a whim.
After 10 hours cruising in my Jeep up Highway 1, we scour the trailhead parking lot only to see that our other two friends were not there to meet us as planned. This was somewhat expected, considering: a) no cell service, b) we never told them that we were taking the scenic route, adding 5 hours to our travel time, and c) we forgot to clarify which trailhead to meet at, north or south. To put it bluntly, it would have been more surprising if we had somehow ended up at the same place.
Luckily, the next morning on a godforsaken dirt road in between the two locations, we find each other. After a celebratory Keystone each, our spring break is back on track and we head out for the trail.
All of the fun promised in the description came as advertised--aside from the bears, which only haunted us in our dreams. The miles of butt-burning miles kicking up wet, gravelly sand were totally worth the hamstring work-out for the views of pristine coastline and redwood covered cliffside. These stretches were a welcome change from the miles of tramping along rocky coastline, leaping and clambering from boulder to boulder trying not to slip and twist an ankle. The couple flat stretches on the bluffs gave our butts a much needed rest, and treated our eyes to sweeping meadows of wild orchids and golden poppies. And the trail wasn't without its fair share of river crossings, almost all of them swelled above normal levels thanks to the stormy weather and heavy rains during the nights we were there. All the different types of terrain were exciting, beautiful, and challenging in their own ways, making the entire trek feel like a constantly morphing adventure through some of the coolest, strangest, and most untouched coastline northern California has to offer.
View all the photos here.
Yeah, 25 miles of hiking on isolated coastline with a 30-pound pack on my back was my college spring break trip of choice. The only all-night ragers I attended were the restless nights tossing in my cocoon sleeping bag, and the only wet T-shirt contest I competed in was the struggle not to inhale the smell while slipping on the sweat and rain soaked shirt I'd been wearing for three days.
Thanks to the Santa Clara University Global Engagement Office for selecting my photo as a winner
for the Fall 2013 SCU Study Abroad Photo Contest! This shot of the mountain range at
Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, Chile earned first place in the Landscape category.
Repost from my Top Ramen for the College Soul blog
When a friend sent me the link to a blog titled "Don't Date a Girl Who Travels", my eyes were glued to the screen reading each description and seeing how accurate it was to my life.
Only when I reached the bottom of the page and saw the link to the original blog that inspired the writing of this article, did I see the gender roles at play. It was called "Date a Man Who Travels".
Both articles are like mirror images of each other: describing basically the same person, but arguing that a woman with these qualities is undesired and un-dateable. Meanwhile, her male counterpart is the ideal candidate to follow around, marry, and raise children with.
Why do the perceptions of the same personality change based on gender?
Why should guys shy away from a girl who travels because "she tends to speak her mind," and "has chosen a life of uncertainty and goes with the flow and follows her heart"
But every girl should swoon for a guy who "paints a picture that brings you into his world," and marvel at how "he’s not blinded by a single goal but enlivened by many."
Why is the man praised as "fiercely independent," while the girl is bashed as "too independent"?
But don't worry ladies, if you dream of living a fulfilling life, all you have to do is find a traveling man to piggy-back on. Because "you deserve a life of adventure and possibility. You deserve to look at life through the eyes of youth and with your arms wide open."
Yes, of course, because a woman is by nature a sad creature who lives in fear of adventure, seeing through the eyes of an old hag, with her arms crossed over her chest. Thankfully, she still has the opportunity to find joy in the open arms of a man.
So I say, date the girl who travels...if you can keep up.
Chau, chau Buenos Aires
Final exams are over, my bags are packed, and good-byes have been said. The final month of my study abroad (22 Nov - 22 Dec) marks the end of my time in Buenos Aires and the beginning of a new journey traveling outside of Argentina. the word "bittersweet" comes to mind, but ultimately makes me want to pull all my hair out. I'm going to miss Argentina, but I know at some point I'm coming back. Now, it's time to look ahead.