I woke up early on Saturday morning. My two friends and I drove down that horrendous strip of I-40 West, through Knoxville and into the endless cliffs of the Wild and Scenic Obed River. I left behind all the stress of chemistry lab, and the maps of the cardiac system that tend to overwhelm, and all the shitty phone calls from doctors. We brought the dog, Rocket Girl Beer, a complete trad rack and too many ropes and instant coffee. We sailed down to into Tennessee with weak arms and all the dust that had collected on our climbing gear and so much excitement that I don't think I stopped talking, once, ever, the whole trip.
It's been forever since I've been on a climbing trip. I didn't realize that when I left Seattle, when I left Index and Leavenworth and the Exits and the Tieton and Squamish, Snow Creek Wall, Orbit and Outer Space and Heart of Gold and Total Soul and Infinite bliss and all of the rest, that I would quit climbing nearly completely. I never intended to do that, but I fell into other things.
I sunk a lot of money into a mountain bike and I fell in love with the endless tangle of trails that are right down the road. Then I fell in love with a redhead who claims to be afraid of heights, although I know that's just code for I'd-really-rather-kayak, and we got a house that needed to be skinned and gutted, and I went back to school, and I got a job, and I got a little lazy about meeting new climbing partners.
I have a lot of excuses but I think it boils down to this: I let myself forget how purely and perfectly and I love to be outside on rocks, and the cool nights of woodsmoke and the sore, slow early mornings that follow.
And then Rip moved to the Southeast. Rip, one of my best friends from Seattle, moved to Nashville two weeks ago, and now the Obed is directly between us.
So if you think about it, I didn't quit climbing. I just waited around until my favorite climbing partner to join me. And it took him just over a year.
Thankfully, Nell and Josh were in the same place as me- they'd taken a rest day that had lasted about a year, so we all struggled and fell and slowly made our way to the top of the some not-too-crazy routes. The woods were red and apple green, a mix of sweltering summer and new autumn, and the dog barked at every leaf that twirled down from the sky.
I remember one glorious moment where Rip, belaying me from far below, said two words, some Arrested Development joke we used to say all the time, and I laughed so hard that I fell off. I was leading, a foot above the bolt, and I landed halfway down the route. I have rope burns on my back from getting twisted up at the impact and all I was thinking is, "This must have been how Tina Fey felt when Amy Poehler joined SNL; 'My friend is here! My friend is here!'"
That night we slept at Lily Pad campground with a lot of other climbers. Nell and I drank the Rocket Girls and then the marshmallow lover's hot chocolate with the little packs of freeze dried marshmallows. On the tin roof on top a the shed, a dog named Monster dropped tennis balls on our heads.
There was a crowd around the campfire but everyone was tired out, and sat at Rip's feet and tipped my head back, watching the white smoke turn into a fresh white spray of stars. The crickets were very loud, and in the shed behind us four musicians played Angel from Montgomery and House of the Rising Sun. Hometeam made a few discerning laps around the fire before choosing a young blonde man to curl up with for the the evening. When I went off to bed a few hours later and carried her with me, she was obviously angry at being pulled away from such a scene.
Dave spent the weekend paddling the Gauley River in West Virginia. We got home at the same time on Sunday night, and used our last shred of energy to bike into West Asheville for dinner. Then we went back home and struggled to stay awake through one episode of Breaking Bad before that hard-won fatigue caught us in its jaws.
I used to climb every weekend in Seattle. But this was the piece of the puzzle that I'd been missing for so long. I'd always been elated to leave the city on a Friday night and drive towards mountains and rivers and rocks. And I still am. But now on Sunday I'm elated to come home. And between the happy leaving and the happy return, I think that covers it all.
For more photos of adventures, coffee & dog, follow @melinadream on Instagram