10 awesome things from 2014

Why does it surprise me when each year is so different than the last? My days feel so linked by routine that I barely notice things are changing unless I look backwards. 

This was 2012.
This was 2013

And here are the 10 defining phenomena of 2014:

1. Nicaragua
We barely glanced at a guidebook before we left, we just went. We didn't kayak, work, teach or do anything useful at all. For the very first time, I drank coconut water out of a coconut. It was monumental. 

2. Reunion
In June, on the outskirts of Yellowstone, the Academy at Adventure Quest had its first reunion in twelve years. Everyone who showed up was happy and healthy, with good jobs and pretty spouses and lives still filled with adventure. For the very first time, we talked about what happened there, why the school dissolved. We had a memorial service and kayaked the Gallatin river. It was strange and wonderful and a little eerie, like we had all suddenly found ourselves in the same dream. But that's how it's always felt with that school. 

3. Riding on Trails with Women

Mountain biking was a new phenomenon to me in 2014. This year was all about the women I rode with. They were my trail guides and technical coaches, and they fixed my chain when it broke. They knew more than me and I liked following them as they darted through trees.

4. The Remodel

David bought a house with holes in the walls. It was filled with shot guns and assault rifles. We emptied it, skinned it, wrenched the carpet off of the floor. Our friends stopped by to pull out hundreds of staples. We yanked out appliances as if they were teeth and replaced them with new ones, bright white and shining. The painting was the easy part, the crumbling kitchen was not. For a while we had no bathroom and no shower, but the work we did was so satisfying that for the most part we kept very cheerful. By the end of the summer it was fit for living, with a polished wood floor and new locks on new doors. I've never done anything like that before.

5. Cohabiting 

After the floors were done, but before we had an indoor shower, I moved in with David. Since then we've been living out that particular portion of life that older people look back on with nostalgia- we filled our house with second hand furniture, we're always happy to see each other and we make our own broth to save money. I've never done anything like this before, either. 

6. The Obed
Where the climbing is so good that my friends make the trek all the way from Seattle. 

7. Chemistry
I will remember exactly two things from the basic chemistry class at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College: one, I got an A, which felt, as my friend So so eloquently puts it,  like "sweet revenge." Two, my teacher spoke with such a strong southern accent that when he said "Flourine" for the first time I burst out laughing. It sounded like he was demanding the attention of a surly waitress at a Waffle House. It was the only time I laughed that semester.

8. The team that couldn't win 
My fall league ultimate frisbee team had the big idea of donating a canned good to the food bank for every point that we scored. It was a hungry, hungry season for Asheville. On the field we were a weekly disaster with flashes of brilliance; on the sidelines this was the warmest, friendliest team I've ever known. We became the kind of friends who would plan a pizza night and then actually all show up. This was as novel to me as the coconuts. 

9. Roots
In my first six months here, I don't think I got it through my head that I was really going to stay.  I felt like a happy tourist, always a few weeks away from flying back to my apartment in Seattle. Then one day I had a house, and a student ID, and a boyfriend who speaks with a heavy southern drawl. The ribbons of trails that surround the town were all of a sudden familiar. Then, as if to drive the point home, I got a writing job as the 'local expert' of the outdoor scene here in Asheville; the organization is called Roots Rated.  When I go out exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains, bizarre thoughts float through my head, things like "This will be a good spot to take our kids in a year or so." 

10. Make more mail 
follow the make more mail initiative in 2015 on instagram @melinadream
I finally figured out the purpose of this blog. 

Speaking of. 

What's on your list from 2014? Tell me something new that you were introduced to in the past year, and you'll be entered to win this week's mystery prize. Which, I have to say, is so incredibly appealing that it's difficult to not open it myself and dig in. It will be the Best Thing Ever to find its way into your mailbox. And the brand 2015 Wilder Coast photo thank you cards turned out pretty well, too. 

Happy New Year my friends!! I can't wait to read about your phenomenal phenomenons. 

The final tally

I'm going to tell you this next thing not because it quite haunts me anymore, but because just a few months ago I was so committed to telling this story and I cannot in good conscious just let it appear like it faded away so easily. Admirable- coveted, even- in our world is this stalwart attitude of moving forward without a doubt, of stealing away the ego and preserving emotional resources purely for what is still to come, never wasting a moment on glancing backwards. But I can relate to none of this. Writing this blog has obliterated my chances of that, as if I had a chance to begin with.

Remember that when Andrew and I broke up, I was the first to admit that there was much more involved besides heartbreak, besides the pure and acceptable emotions of missing a partner that left my life abruptly. There was ego, self doubt, the sour disbelief of somebody new? And of course, the shame and inconvenience of breaking up at a time when everyone around me, it seemed, was getting engaged and getting married and settling down, thanks a lot, Facebook. It was a real bouquet of shadowy, twisty unpleasantness.

So I was genuinely interested to see how all these things had healed, assuming they'd healed, after many months and lots and lots of hard work. I was curious, cautiously so, and also I missed Andrew, mostly the way you miss an old friend, and I wanted to see him. After all, we'd never intended to never see each other again ever, although after I move that will probably be the case.

So we met up a few weeks ago. It had been four months since I'd seen him, and he'd been pretty stiff and I'd been pretty drunk and then I cried at the table. After that fun night you understand my lingering reticence for another dinner, or (even worse) a chance run in.  I'd been dutiful at avoiding old neighborhoods and climbing gyms. And once again I'll  say this was not because he did anything wrong. It was simply because I was doing worse than him, I was taking it much harder.

(This doesn't surprise me. I'm a highly sensitive person on most fronts. One Skittle can ignite a migraine in my brain that will lasts for days, if consumed in the wrong weather or the wrong time of day or on an airplane. Caffeine makes me high as a kite. And my feelings, thoughts and emotions are fierce. I think it's why I'm a writer and why my life is, or at least appears to be sometimes, maybe a little bit unusual.

I take medicine to help curb the sensitivity. If I didn't mention that I would be lying in every post that I write. It take one pill that acts as a migraine preventative, sleeping aide, anti anxiety and anti depressant. I've been on and off of it for years. I can write more on that later.)

So anyhow, Andrew and I meet for a classic climbing and dinner combo, and I learn pretty quickly what has healed and what is still in rehab. The big wins came early: I wasn't nervous, not particularly concerned with what I wore or what my hair looked like, and when he first walked in I felt nothing but happiness. But then we ran into some people and I realized that agreeing to meet at the big crowded public climbing gym may have been a huge mistake.

The people we ran into were some of his friends who I don't know, who had no idea who I am, and who immediately start asking about his girlfriend and where she was and why she isn't there, and all the fun times they had, the lot of them, on climbing trips these past few months.

This felt, for me, just pretty uncomfortable and painful and also just kind of annoying. But my mind was split on the issue. The self preservation side of me was thinking 'what in hell life decisions did you possibly make that landed you here, now, with these people? Flee!' While the other half, perhaps the logical side, was thinking 'buttercup, it might be time to toughen up. You're fine. He's fine. We're all fine.'

In the end, yeah, it's good to feel what you feel, but at some point you do have to toughen up, buttercup, not that I'd ever suggest meeting up with an ex at a climbing gym, those things range from big playground full of friends to HOUSE OF EMOTIONAL TORTURE.

We went out to eat. That was easier. Dinner was nice. Andrew is just a nice guy all around, he was kind and inquisitive and interested in my life. And he seems to be supremely winning at life, which I tried not to resent him for. My friend Dave told me that if I get competitive and start comparing my life to his life, or her life, or anybody else's life, that's a good way to go crazy quickly. Because you can never win. Ever. 

Then at the end, as we were saying goodbye on the street, he said I should meet his girlfriend and I said oh no way. He said we'd probably really hit it off and guys, you need to stop saying that, because of course we'd get along. But your mere existence might prevent that from happening for a little bit.

We hugged goodbye and then I drove home and cried until my ears filled up with tears.


Because I was lying on my back and so the tears slid sideways off my face and into my ears.

Oh, why was I crying? Because Andrew and I had had a really good relationship and I missed that. Simple. For once, simple.

Seth says I have to stop beating myself up for having feelings. He pointed towards his broken thumb and said, "My thumb hurts because I broke the bone. Would you ever tell me that I'm weak for feeling the pain?"

I said no.  He looked at me for a long time and said, "....sooo......"

I get it.

Okay, so here's the final tally:

Heart: just fine (what a workhorse!)
Stomach: can still twist a little if I sit down and think about things, but mostly just hungry, and
                  very flat (!)  
Brain: pretty much concerned with other things
Ego: still bent, but can easily be distracted by posing in sports bra in a full length mirror (see  
         stomach, above.)
Envy: still blocking any people on FB who might post photos of andrew and his girlfriend, so I
           suppose still in recovery?
Senses: mostly returned
Humor: working on it, for christ's sake

Cloud and Dazzle

The Northwest has been dazzling me lately. My God, what a place! Is it me? The light switch in my brain has been clicked back on and now I can truly see where I live? Is it spring, everything coming alive at once and bursting and buzzing, the fat fluffs of pollen that swirl in the air like snow?

It's none of these things. It's just this place.
For memorial day, rain threatened the entire state, but Rip and I and everyone we knew took our chances. By Saturday evening we were three pitches high on Castle Rock, surrounded by cool air, beneath silver clouds that had not yet broken open. Up there, overlooking the now-green Leavenworth and the white raging Tumwater, we talked about important things: dinner, and what type of cookie we might buy for the fire tonight, and whether or not marshmallows were in order.
The free campsite at mile 8 was brimming with people, completely overrun, but we snuck through the woods in the dark, Rip carrying me on his back over streams, and found our friends Molly and Chris and Max. They'd saved us a spot in a patch of lavender colored wildflowers, and built up a big fire. Rip played his guitar. Just a few feet away, down a deadly sharp bank, Icicle creek roared with its springs surge, molecules of water that were once deep snow on the sides of Stevens Pass, and I dreamt, somehow, about water. 
In the morning the rain came, so we hauled off to the Cafe down the road to wait it out and search through the books for routes that might possibly be dry. We waited and waited. The Portland boulderers gave up and went into town to drink beer. We refilled our coffee cups a fifth time. And then we went home. In Sultan we drove through a panoply of weather- a flurry of pollen, rain showers, sun bursts. The rocks in Index were drenched.  
That night, Will came home. And the rain kept up, and the Northwest continued to dazzle. For a kayaker living in the desert for the past year, Will did not complain about the rain. We walked outside for hours. We sat inside a crowded restaurant and drank white wine and saw a late showing of the Great Gatsby. 
The week wore on, Will was gone again, and the days marched by nearly as fantastical and color drenched as the Great Gatsby had been. Even sitting in my nearly empty apartment, mid week, working away on very dull tasks, I caught myself staring out the kitchen window, at the lime green leaves in my neighbor's driveway bowing under rain drops the size of pearls. I was having a hard time focusing, a little bit transfixed by the world.

I think it was that night that Chris and Molly had a bonfire. I held on to the cool neck of a bottle of wine and leaned against the broad shoulders of my old friend Seth, who just today left me for Alaska. I got loopy on woodsmoke, mist and alcohol and spotted a boy through the smoke who I'd once treated pretty bad. Seth said I should apologize and I did. He said I should write about the apology, and I probably will. 
Too much water and woodsmoke, absolutely too much fresh air rolling off the sound (but unarguably the perfect amount to drink) even perhaps too many late night cherries (it's cherry season) but something made me wake up sluggish and slow and heavy in the head the next morning.   I was mostly worthless most of the day and this frustrated me to no end. It wasn't till late in the evening, around sunset, when I finally got a grip on myself and took the whining, restless dog to the beach. 

There, just me and the dog, I was treated, completely undeserving, to this sunset. 
We are so lucky to live here. I hope these weeks keep rolling in, wave after wave. 

(Welcome home, Molly and Chris!)

Statues in Ritzville and other fine things

(For Zen Ben, of course.)

When I was a teenager climbing in Vermont, my first partner was named Ben. Ben was a sweet, soft spoken boy from the town up the road. He drove a tiny rattle trap car, and together we would drive around the green mountains looking for new cliffs to explore. We'd bushwack to the base and he'd lead us, pitch after careful pitch, using a handful of silver iron nuts. Then we'd sit at the top and watch the sunk sink over our home state, and then pick up and figure out how to get down. I was fifteen and he was sixteen.

One day he told me about a bouldering spot he'd discovered in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. "It's like.....Shangri-la up there," he said shyly, eyes on the road. "Do you want to go with me?"

I'll never forget the revery in his voice as he said that. To a young Vermont climber, nothing held the promise like a seemingly endless field of boulders, deep in the splendid Whites, with nobody else around.

But I never made it to that field with Ben, and then he took a long fall in Colorado, about 800 feet, and he left us too early.

Whenever I find myself standing at a new crag, in a valley I've never been to before, I always think of Ben, driving down highway 89 whispering, "It's like Shangri-la."
Two weekends ago I found myself in such a place- Post Falls, Idaho on a misty day with Lisa, Amber, and Jake. There was a torrential, unrunable river to our right and to our left, a crooked path running past route after bolted route of beautiful, empty rock. We had the place to ourselves for the weekend, and with no one to fight over rocks with, we were lazy. In the mornings we slept in for hours, made coffee and drank it by the lake and cooked breakfast. So much better than the usual pop-tart-and-Via-coffee-now-go-stake-out-your-climb approach.
I led all the climbs that weekend. Jake's new, Amber's in an ankle cast and Lisa was in a grad school haze. So we'd agree on a route and I'd climb up, slowly, my mind blissfully empty, calculating only the very next move.

Jake Cooper Photo
I've had so many teachers in this sport, but for now there are no teachers. I don't mean that there is nothing more to learn- nothing could be farther than the truth. There will be more leaders, they always show up when you need them, they'll push you and take you much higher than you've ever been, and on walls so big and grand you never thought to even consider touching them, but lately it's just been me, not afraid and not crazy, climbing what I can and not thinking about the rest.
Amber Jackson Photo
That is, until I saw this project and I knew I'd fail, and fall, a lot, but at the same time I knew it was mine. My big, fun, swinging clean fall project of early summer. Nothing I could throw up the first time, but a very good reason to come back to Idaho. 
Amber Jackson Photo
Amber Jackson Photo
Amber Jackson Photo
We had big plans on Saturday night. Spokane has a redneck bar with a mechanical bull, I'd packed my cowgirl boots, and we'd also spoken of a fire right on the lake. We brought marshmallows in anticipation. But we were so tired after dinner, the climbing and the beer and the general laziness had rendered us completely useless, so we lay on one bed together, the four of us, and we drifted off to Jake's stories. 

The bull, the pile of driftwood on the beach, just more reasons to return. 
Amber Jackson Photo
This winter I struggled to find enjoyment doing anything. I tried. I pooled together the things I loved, I spread them around and then stood back and stared flatly, feeling nothing, wishing I could just go back to sleep. Apathy, the hallmark of depression, life is a long dull road that just keeps going. Winter in a dark and wet city. 

Now, at the dwindling end of May, I find I need very little to feel content. The other day Seth brought me coffee in the morning. The night before we'd had some wine perhaps, and I was sort of crawling around the house, searching for my wallet, and then giving up with my head on the kitchen table, the one I found on the roadside after my roommate took all the furniture. I called Seth and told him I'd pay him a million dollars if he brought me some coffee, and he did and now I owe him a million dollars. The first sip was so delicious I felt this overwhelming sense of joy, more joy than I'd felt for the past six or so months, and I almost burst at the seams. I was on a work call and had to mute the phone so the person on the other end wouldn't hear me laughing. 

Sometimes I find myself laughing when I'm doing the dishes, I don't know why, but it's better than being too serious I suppose. 

The weekend in Idaho was pure contentment. I felt like Ben in a field of boulders, smiling up at the sun, with no reason to hurry.
On the long ride home, we got a little lost and ended up in a ghost town. There were statues of people on the street, doing everyday things, waiting to cross the street, leaning against the library, conversing silently with other statues. But we were the only living people. Maybe a few months ago I would have sided with the statues- pretending, stiff, appearing like a whole person but on closer look, just an effigy. Those days are gone, for now, and after a half hour or so of wandering we all loaded back in the car and made a beeline for the highway, Jake bought us some marshmallow bars and we sang little mermaid songs all the way home.
That's right, we did. Listen, I'm not cool. I'm not one of those really cool outdoors people. I really don't fit in with the scene at all. But still, we have so much fun being here, doing what we do the way that we do it.

the little fellow on the beach

We were down at the beach, having just about the finest picnic a girl could hope for, and the boys were talking about airplanes. They were sitting there talking about airplanes and tracking the airplanes that flew across the sky. I wasn't listening, I prefer boats to planes, I was looking out over the water. It was a grey evening, coming on the heals of an equally grey day, and the couple of fires that smoldered on the shore made it smell like autumn and New England.

But there we were, at the Northwest edge of the Northwest corner of the country. Jake and Seth and Tyler were wearing flannels and wool hats in mid May, after all, and we were all gazing at the black outline of the olympic mountain range as it melted against the sky in the twilight.

I've now lived here in Seattle longer than I've lived anywhere else.

When the sky was clear of planes, we poured wine into coffee mugs and went for a walk down the beach. That's when Tyler spotted a little seal swimming to shore. It was swimming like mad. We were all laughing because it's funny to see a seal gunning it towards you in the water. And then right in front of our eyes the little guy put both flippers on the sand and started wiggling up onto land.

I used to work as the most uninformed naturalist Glacier Bay has ever seen, but I do know there are some pretty strict laws when it comes to getting close to marine wildlife. But this guy was coming to us, determined, flopping and struggling through the sand until it was directly next to Tyler's feet. So Tyler bent down and Jake just happened to have an old fashion disposable camera in his pocket, and together man and seal posed for a photo.

Then the little critter turned around, pulling its smooth round body through the sand with tiny little flippers, and it slipped back into the water and disappeared.

We were all sort of speechless until Tyler said, "That seal literally came up on land just to give us a thumbs up!"

So we returned to our picnic and ate some sandy milanos, and nobody had much to say, and life was good.

The mostly photos report on Squamish

My final year at my beloved and beleaguered high school, the Academy at Adventure Quest, I lived out of a tiny, bright orange, one person tent. It was really no more than a bivy sack with a single curved pole that kept it suspended above my head by a few inches. Most nights I'd drag my sleeping bag outside and sleep under the stars, but when the weather was bad I'd lie on my back in the tent,  staring up at the orange nylon, listening to my discman and eating squares of Black Forest chocolate. I was an extremely content in there.

We spent our final semester in New Zealand. There were only eight of us kids by that point, the school limping towards towards the cliff of its unsettling demise. We were six boys and two girls, and by this point in the year, the boys had turned mean.

One week we did a trek in the Southern Alps. It rained all day, every day. We camped the second night on a hilltop overlooking a massive blue and white glacier. A fierce storm blew in that evening, kicking up wild winds so strong they ripped my English teacher's tent in half. She staked the shredded corners to the ground and to her ankles, and lay splayed on the ground for the duration of the night, a human anchor.
My little tent was stuck to the earth by five tin stakes. Each time the wind blew them out of the ground, I'd hop out and try and shove them back in, but it was no use. The rain fly flapped loudly, like a lose sail. Inside the tent, the fabric pressed so tightly against my face I could feel it against my nose and mouth. It seemed as if the whole thing was going to lift off the ground and blow into the glacier, taking me with it.

That night, I was not content sleeping alone in my tent. I was tired and almost frightened and everything was soaking wet. I remember that the splendor of the storm, the adventurous thrill that should have consumed me at the moment, was lost in a dismal sort of loneliness. The howling winds made it sound like I was the only one on the planet.

What a completely different situation it would be if I had a girlfriend lying next to me, and the two of us were trying to hold down the tent, and if we went sailing over the cliff into the ice, at least we'd be shrieking together. Sleep was out of the question, so I tried to write in my journal. With all the melodrama of the sixteen year old girl I was, I wrote "I'd give my right eye to have a friend with me right now."

I was thinking about that night last week, when Amber and I were falling asleep at the climber's camp beneath the grand wall in Squamish, BC. Our two dogs were curled up at opposite ends of the tent. The climbing that day had been phenomenal, perfect cracks and clean faces, but I'd been fighting off thoughts of Andrew the entire time. The sight of the big walls he'd told me so much about made my stomach flip with the memories of our multi pitch days together. That part of me, the part still tethered to him in my mind, is a real fucking bother.

But finally, after a very lively evening, I lay in the tent next to Amber and the memory of that night in New Zealand came bubbling up. We'd been talking for about an hour in the dark, and I felt a sudden stab of affection for her, of pure, almost giddy gratitude. The connection between old boyfriends (and all the rejection and unworthiness that comes with them) and climbing is dissolving, and once again the sport is starting to belong to me and my friends and the girls I would have, apparently, traded my eyes for twelve years ago.
We went to Squamish! Four people, three dogs, three crash pads and one car. We left on Thursday night at 8:00pm, were hopelessly lost in Vancouver by midnight on the dot, passed out at the camp site by two in the morning.

Four days gave us just a taste of the unending sport and trad routes of that little town on the road to Whistler.  We even spent a half day engaged in the insufferable sport of bouldering. I'm really not into it, it's too hard and tedious for me, but my friends are obsessed, I don't know, they're crazy. But I will say they look good doing it.
This never happened.
Amber Jackson Photo
Things got real interesting when we roped up, as we didn't have a guide book, and when we did find a guide book we didn't know how to read it. We put up some ridiculous difficult routes. By accident.
Amber leading the 5.11d we thought was a 5.9
Sunshine taking a stab at the crux
The result
Me leading a 5.10d we thought was a 5.8 
Amber lent me her tights.
Like any climbing trip, the rewards...
I've been climbing for seventeen years now, in nine countries, and Squamish was some of the best rock I've ever put my hands on. 
As for everything else. Bolt by bolt it gets easier. That long night when I was 16 did not end up with me being swept alone into the blue glacier, and neither will this one. 

Spring Update, Beach Magic

The iron sky winter is melting into a spring that is bright and cold, full of early lilacs and already the biggest full moon I've ever seen rise over this city. I'm happy these days because I like my job; the constant fret of money worries has been suspended, at least until this time next year. There is a crisp satisfaction to paying the bills on time, perfectly, little rows of numbers marching neatly down the checkbook.

Over at Fisherman's Terminal, crews are returning to the boats, they are crowding the Highliner after work, they are charting their course back to Alaska, happy to be back sleeping in tiny berths with their friends. Part of me remembers the camaraderie, forgives the drudgery and forgets the long days, and wishes I was returning with them for another season. Sometimes I join them for cans of New Belgium Shifts or bottles of Amber Ales, brewed in Juneau, but we live now in such separate worlds I don't always have a lot to say.  Which is okay, I've learned recently that if I just shut up for a moment, people will tell me some interesting things.
I have been getting rid of a few of my possessions,  just like I said I would, and as my things go I feel an emptiness in my head and in my chest as well. There is nobody to think about for now. That's good. It allows for freedoms. The days of the week skip from one to the other, with not much to worry about except what to eat and what to write, and occasionally where to go.

This feeling of being unmoored, of sailing along alone and in peace, will probably last about as long as the temporary break in my financial worries.  I'm enjoying them both while I can.

Jesse and I had a beach picnic last week, the laziest of all social engagements, yet still all the organization I could muster. I slow-cooked a brisket all day while I worked from home, and Jess brought bread and tomatoes and beer. We invited everyone we knew and gave them about five hours warning, knowing that if no one showed up we'd still have a nice evening.

But they did show up, not many people can resist the water after a day as warm and clear as that day had been. They came and went, bringing beer and dogs and bicycles; they said hello, sat for a while or stayed all evening. We were treated to a deep hued sunset and a beach full of fires and paper lanterns drifting North towards the Straight of Juan de Fuca.
If I left, the way I left last year on the boat, I would miss all this. I'd miss Jesse, and the sound, all the dogs and all the bicycles. Yet still I find myself tapping my foot under the table, when I'm at home and it's only me, looking around the room in the silence, not entirely trusting myself just to sit still for a moment.
This post is dedicated to Megan and Cary.

Tieton Photobook

I don't trust myself around boys. I let them do everything. It's a bad, bad, bad habit. 

I sit back as they lead the climbs, coil the ropes, start the fires, plan the routes. When I was working at New River Academy I let them load 17 kayaks on top of the van every morning. I'm serious, I don't think I loaded one boat during a paddling road trip that lasted a year. I figured, what the hell, they're taller than me, they're stronger than me, they're better at this than I am, and they don't mind. 

But what do I do when the boys evaporate? Because let me tell you what I've learned: Boys. Evaporate. 

Lisa and I went climbing in Tieton this past weekend, just the two of us. She set up the tent by the side of the road while I got the fire started. I put up slow, halting leads. We learned which cracks lurked with rattlesnakes and which buzzed with wasp nests. Tieton is not for the faint of heart. 

The routes we'll frequent this summer may look different than last year; not so big or majestic or tricky or rugged. But we'll get there, or somewhere close enough, we'll inch along. 

Here are some photos from a weekend where there was nobody taller, nobody better, nobody stronger, nobody more capable than us*. Here is what we did ourselves. (Oh, and as it turns out, when there is one of you climbing and one of you belaying, you can't get too many climbing pictures.)
*Except Jeremy Park, who we keep running into. He's everywhere. And so handsome! 

all in a week

1. eleven girls drinking barley tea at the spa. 2. bluebird days and 60 degrees at the summit. 3. tights and boots weather, my favorite. 4. my boat world girl on a wet, wet powder day. 5. my view every morning. 6. ski day with the boy who does not sugar coat his advice. 7. dinner party in our little house. 8. my office at the ski lodge. 9. the friday powder day grin. 10. sessions with my dream team trainer, Ren. 


On Sunday there was an enormous inversion and the world flipped on its head. On top of the mountain the weather was warm, sixty degrees and blue, while below the normally tepid city froze stiff and smothered in fog.

On saturday I was nearing the very bottom of things, curled up on the kitchen floor in the early afternoon, my head filled with black sand. Then the world did its somersault, and suddenly I was on top of the mountains, looking down at the city as if it were a little map. Suddenly I was okay again.

It was jarring.

Standing on the summit on Sunday morning with a friend, I didn't feel sad. The air was soft and warm and light. My lungs expanded as the weight of the black sand disappeared from my chest, they unfurled like the white wings on a hollywood angel. The snow was old, and it gleamed under an icy crust like meringue. "Such terrible conditions," said everybody. Our skis hissed through grainy piles of snow, like sugar.
On the last run of a long day, I started to think about the workweek ahead of me. I dangled my legs back and forth on the lift, wondering if I'd end up at the bottom of the ladder again, back on the kitchen floor with the cat clock swinging its paw back and forth between seconds. Then I had a brilliant idea. I could just come back here. I work remotely, after all. Why not?

On the way home I called my friend Cindy. Her work is transportable too, and we're both tired of coffee shops and lonely at home. She agreed in an instant.
Morning comes, and we're out of the city before dawn. The inversion layer remains for a second heavenly day in a row and we spend the morning on the back side, neck deep in sunshine.

It is so warm that, pushing through a particularly steep run, heavy with spring slush, we become completely overheated. We stop in the trees, strip away the last of the layers and lie down in the snow. Face against the ice, back against the sun, it is intoxicatingly warm. I am feeling voluminous.

"Hey," I say to Cindy. "Maybe I'm manic!"

"I don't think so," she replies cheerfully. "I think you're just skiing."
Two days ago, my roommate came home in the afternoon and found me on the rug. She knelt down, a flash of black in torn stockings. "I think you should get up," she said gently. This alarmed me; she never sounds gentle. We've known each other since we were seven. "Maybe have some cereal?" She has great big eyes, like an owl, and they were focused on mine. I turned my face to look at the wall. The black sand shifted from one side to the other.

"Sounds complicated." I said.
Now here I am, I'm whirling down the mountain in the middle of a January thaw so warm it feels like I'm swimming. I'm all smiles and laughter and talking a big talk about new writing ideas, new publications, new articles, a book. I'm telling Cindy about seeing Andrew one last time, how I got bombed on martinis and cried at dinner, now I'm wiping my hands together briskly of all that, all better now. Turning to look at the bright dome of the limitless world, breathing deeply. All better!

(It's amazing what the sun will make you think.)
Cindy and I work for a few hours at the lodge, snap together a little office in seconds with coffee and chords and laptops. I squint at spread sheets in my ski boots; we are surprisingly productive. Then the sun drops behind the mountain, and the tiny disk of the moon slides up the side of the sky. We keep skiing into the night, a warm blue basin swimming with stars. I can't explain it, but I feel so strangely new. Like the beginning of someone.

Allow me to introduce myself.


Welcome to Vajanuary, the very special month I invented back when I was the only girl on the staff of an outdoors high school in South America, enduring a never ending onslaught of flaunted muscles, man-fests, bonfires, shirt-lessness and bearded men who were forever declaring their love for whiskey and driving with one elbow out the window NO MATTER HOW COLD IT WAS.
(Why did I leave that place?) (What is it with men talking about whiskey?)

Vajanuary was my antidote to this unending Movember- a month dedicated to spending time outside in the company of ladies, doing essentially whatever you want to do and ordering your drinks extra girly with a twist.  It's a holy month. And I began this year's in Missoula, where Nici and I indulged in all good girlfriend activities.
Late at night, we lay side by side on the living room floor and wrote, both pushing our deadlines to the breaking point. We were constantly interrupting one another's concentration with just one more thing- one more thing we have to discuss about writing or life before I swear, I'll let you work, and she kept putting a fresh martini in my hand until, sometime around midnight, I couldn't figure out what the hell I'd been sad about lately. Life was fantastic!

The thing is, at Nici's house, life is fantastic. I'm tossed awake up from a very peaceful sleep to Margot and Ruby jumping on the bed and pulling away the covers, and Andy puts a double espresso in my hand and then we go sledding. Sledding is followed by more coffee, and food, and card games and books and writing and talking and writing and talking. Then we go to sleep and do it all again.

And my God, but that woman makes a good Martini.
On Monday evening, Nici gathered up her girlfriends and we met a brewery for the things girls do best: talking. At length. About everything. Telling stories about ourselves and everyone we know. Leaving the table only to get another pint of beer, chasing it with red wine and the best burgers in Montana. Becoming louder, our laughter out of control, waving our hands around to get the point across.
No simpler way to say it: I love that woman and her sweet, chill, gorgeous family. I love the way she invites me so warmly into the workings of her household, the way she generously shares her friends with me around a wooden table covered in peanut shells, the way she gets me all liquored up on Montana Juniper and forces me to confront my fear of olives.

Happy Vajanuary! Are you celebrating?

The Pink One: A Love Story

We'd been at sea for four months, give or take a lifetime. The crew planned a midnight galley party on the night we were charted for Dixon Crossing, the rough expanse of open ocean that would take us into Canadian waters. It was The Big One.  We worked all evening to secure the vessel, plate by plate, glass by glass. We tied everything down and tucked away all the wine bottles. In the bridge, the radios squawked warnings of thirteen foot seas. 
The galley party was a costume party. One of the stewards drew up a poster on a piece of cardboard and tacked it up in crew quarters. Best costume gets a prize. A prize! The officers would be the judges and the captain herself would make the final decision.

Because we lived on our ship, the universe Endeavour, the very idea of costumes posed a serious challenge. We had only our stiff blue uniforms to wear, and very few other personal possessions besides that. Any new thing that wound up on the boat was coveted, it didn't matter what it was. Someone once sent me a package with a plastic drinking straw that looped around your eyes like glasses. The crew fought over it and by the end of dinner it was in three pieces.

All this to say: we wanted that prize.
So we docked in Ketchikan, Alaska, and raced into town to hunt for thrift stores until we realized we were in Ketchikan, Alaska and there were no thrift stores. Just overpriced kitch stores for tourists, and that's where I found her, forty dollars steep and pink-beautiful:
Much later that night, after the passengers were sleeping soundly and all the eggs put away, we crept into the galley and we danced. We danced a whole summer's worth of dancing, since this was the first party we'd had after four months of working 15 hour days and nights. We danced like sober sailors who were almost home.

Then we went into The Big One. The floor was rocking back and forth. The waves pounding against the steel bulkheads sounded as loud and hard as waves of splintered ice. We kept dancing. Some times we'd all go crashing against one wall, then slide across the floor and crash into the other wall.

Then the waves got very big indeed, and the ship lost an engine. The captain was on the radio and the engineers went scurrying from the galley to the bridge. We limped into Canadian waters at a pathetic 4 knots, and something was awry with our international papers. The captain and the mates had their hands full. The engineers were down below studying pages and pages of code in their party outfits.

There was no costume judging that night, and there were no prizes.

I felt mega-stiffed. Then the season ended, and the crew parted ways. And I was a lonely soul without them.

Some time later, after I'd lost my sea legs, my wingmen decided to throw a big party at their cabin in Montana. It was Sebby's birthday. The theme of the party was Peter Pan. "Lost boys. Eternal youth," said Ryan over the phone. "Have you any footy pajamas?"

This is when I knew the world was still looking after me.

I told him I was ready. I was ready for confetti. I dug up my Alaskan pink onesie drop seater, threw it in the passenger seat with the dog and we all three hit the road for Montana.

That's the story of how I found the Pink One. But it's not the end.

adventures of the canvas heart

Lindsey's left me for seattle. It's just me and the dog now, the dog is angry at me for some reason, she has her back turned. I pull off of state route 93 to take pictures because there is no hurry. I stop to pour more coffee from another little store because there is no hurry. I'm driving alone through Montana for no particular reason, at the beginning of the year, 2013, because there is no hurry.

The Treasure State

A few miles outside of Moses Lake, God tells us to go thrifting.

We're driving from Seattle to White Fish, Montana, and Lindsey needs a pair of brown cowgirl boots to match her dancing dress.  She's wearing a pair of bright red ones right now, extraordinary shoes, but they're not working for her. "I need brown." She laments. "Desperately."

She types in "thrift" into her phone and exclaims at the results. "Moses Lake is a town of thrift shops! Georgie's Gently used. Salvation Army. Good Will. Bargain town. BARGAIN TOWN??" She looks at me. "We. Have. To. Go."

But we can't go to Bargain Town because we need to keep chugging east down on 1-90 at full speed to hit Lookout Pass in the daylight. It's still hundreds of miles away and the weather is deteriorating. 25 degrees and snowing. In the back seat, the dog is snoozing.

Then we run empty on gas, and we pull off the highway into an old Conoco station. We're blasting our Montana Road trip theme song, Where Have All The Cowboys Gone and I leave it playing as I fill the tank and chip away at the thick crust of ice and dirt on the windshield. That's when god steps in and the car dies. It just dies. I turn the key and there's nothing- no click, no strain of engine turning, no effort.

"This doesn't make sense!" I say out loud. "I took this baby in yesterday for a complete check! I fixed a bunch of shit and they gave my car a glowing review. Look!" I fish around on the floor for a piece of paper, ball it up in my fist and wave it around. "Here's the receipt- everything I fixed. Two hundred bucks!"

But the car is dead. It appears non negotiable.
We skulk into the convenience store. Two small girls, one in bright red cowboy boots, one in bright blue sneakers. We stand in the middle of the store and utter the words I'd hoped to avoid having to say in a gas station in Eastern Washington. "Help. We're stranded."

The men in the store are cowboys- the hats, the jeans, the belts. "We've found where all the cowboys are," Lindsey whispers to me. "They're in Moses Lake and they're 70 years old."

No one in the store has jumper cables, which surprises me, and I don't have jumper cables, which doesn't. But the men fashion some out of some old wires and cables and touch them to the battery while I hover in the background, ready for an explosion. My car reluctantly coughs to life.

"Sorry girls," says the man with a heavy country accent and eyes uncomfortably close together. "Got you started but your battery is shot. You need a new one if you want to get anywhere."

"Or!" I counter, detecting the makings of a delicious misadventure, "We could just keep the car running between now and Whitefish. Never turn it off!" In my head, it sounds completely doable.

The cowboys shake their heads collectively. "Can't do that," they said. "You'd have to keep the car running when you stopped for your dinner. You'd have to sleep in it." One of them takes his phone outs and dials an auto shop in town. "We got two pretty girls here from Seattle, they need your help."

Lindsey says, "Thank you!"

I say, "I don't understand! I fixed this car yesterday!"

And we drive away, following their directions, into a town that does seem to be made entirely of junk stores. And car stores. We're weaving in and out of traffic, I'm too afraid to slow down or pause at a red light.
The men at the shop pry out the old, corroded battery like a bad tooth.

Lindsay says, "thank you!"

I say, "I don't understand, I got the car fixed yesterday."

The man in the jump suit said, "Honey, take a look at that thing. They didn't check nothing."

"Here's the good news," says Lindsey, "We're only a mile away from Bargain Town!"

"Oh boy!" I say. "Bargain Town! Bargain Town here we come!" We're so glad that god stepped in and stranded us in Moses lake, Washington.

But the old man give us a grave look. "No no. Don't go to Bargain town. Don't do it. It's-" he pauses here, grasping for the right words. "It's the worst place in the world."

The younger guy nods solemnly. "It's the worst place."
Now we don't know who to listen to- god, who had stranded us in town to go to Bargain Town, or the men of batteries-r-us, who fixed our car.

We compromise with Georgie's Gently Used, but Georgie, apparently, had never used any brown cowgirl boots. Then we book it into Idaho, and a few hours later crawl over the icy curves of Lookout Pass. We got through in the last few minutes of twilight. Then it is completely dark. We listen to Where Have All the Cowboy Gone again.

The Johnny Cash Cover band is just starting into Ring of Fire when we finally push through the doors of the Great Northern Brewery in Whitefish.

"Five dollars," says the man at the door.

"I don't have any Cash." I say, and then say ha! and crack some Johnny Cash joke. He doesn't smile so I change tactics. "Buddy we just drove from Seattle and we broke down and here we are so you'd better let us in. "

"How did you break down?"

"Dead battery."

"That barely counts," he says, and our friends show up just in time before I clock him. They pay for us, and they buy us whiskey sours.

There is dancing and there are cowboys, younger ones than the cowboys of Moses Lake, and they stand in the bar's shadowy corners and watch Lindsey and I as we dance to Folsom Prison, arms around each other, she in her bright red boots.

Whistler Blackcomb

As it turns out, I survived the blizzard and the bad roads; my bus pulled safely into Logan airport around the same time a tour bus outside Portland, Oregon skidded on an icy patch of highway, crashed through a guard rail and killed nine people on their way to Vancouver, British Columbia.

I was on my way up to Vancouver the next morning as well. My plane landed in Seattle at midnight and I slept a few hours in the new house, still unpacked, unfurnished, the heat not yet turned on. In one month I've slept there only three times. I packed a bag in the still-dark morning, throwing piles of clothes across the bare floors- base layers, jackets, down vests, clothes to sleep in, clothes for nights out in Whistler Village, sparkly things for new years, three different pairs of boots. A passport. Books. Sometimes, when I head off on a little trip like this, I'm not really sure how long I'll be gone for.  
With coffee and the radio for company, I drove North on quiet roads, past Bellingham, through the Canadian border and up the long, winding, snow-swept road to the behemoth peaks of Whistler and Blackcomb, arriving just in time to miss the last chair. Thank God. By that time, six hours of heightened awareness on narrow roads later, the caffeine had worn off and all the airports and interstates caught up with me, and if there is anything more stressful than driving through the manic, olympic-rings-soaked Whistler Village with an extreme need to pee with no parking and no bathrooms and lots of haphazard snow-stoned pedestrians clunking slowly across the road in ski boots, I hope I never experience it.

Ah, but all the tension disappeared the second I found the yurt, in a patch of woods decorated in white christmas lights. I helped myself to some of the bourbon and gin and half eaten cake that covered the one table, and then I collapsed gratefully in my sleeping bag next a wood stove and sunk into a beautiful nap. And when I woke up, the boys were home, back from the mountain.
Curry is through-and-through Alaskan. He's friendly and flannel clad and (devastatingly handsome) and always finished his sentence with 'do you want to come along?'

As in, "My university friends and I are going on our annual whistler trip before new years, and we're staying in a yurt, do you want to come along?"

It was a no brainer. There's nothing cozier than a yurt, and nothing happier than falling asleep in one after a hard day skiing and an easy night drinking beer. At the end of one of the most tirelessly adventurous years of my life, finishing off its final days with such style was perfectly fitting.

Whistler is the grand mal seizure of the ski area world. Huge. Complicated. Completely overwhelming. It's two mountains, Whistler and Blackcomb, with a jaw dropping, record-breaking, cross mountain gondola between the two. We took it first thing to get over to Blackcomb glacier for my inaugural Canadian ski run, and I was very grateful that on my growing list of fears (other people's bad weather driving, drowning, avalanches, multiple sclerosis, olives) heights is not included.
The trip was perfect. It was all my favorite things crushed together: bright layers of warm Patagonia, clean snow, endless runs, mountain sunsets, cheap burgers, amber ales, good sleep, and spending time with these two dudes who knew each other so well they all but spoke their own language. I love watching boys who really love each other interact. Always have.
On New Years eve I said goodbye to the Canadians/Alaskans and drove down to Bellingham. All the radio stations were playing their top 100 count downs and I listened to the same five songs over and over, singing out loud and drinking triple shot americanos, bodily exhausted but lit up with post-skiing cheerfulness. (Try as you may to be hipster but it's always these overplayed pop songs that become the anthem of the year. It just happens. Go with it. Let that ship carry your body safe to shore and then call me, maybe.)  

Only once on the drive South did I turn my head to consider the empty passenger seat, and realize that the adventures are different now.  Now they are all mine. It's good and it's bad.
And this was the my last one of 2012.

water and gold

Cassandra comes for a night. She steps out of the Vermont winter night into the old farmhouse, clunking down the steps in snow boots, clutching a grocery bag full of colorful bottles of alcohol.

'Let's play a game called Goldshlager,' she says by way of hello, and opens the bottle. 'I just made it up.'

She scrounges around the shelves for shot glasses and comes up with an egg cup and a little porceline creamer. 'These will do. Here are the rules. For every bad thing that happened this year, take a shot of goldschlager. For every good thing that happened, take a sip of water.'
We met as flat-chested seventh grade girls who loved theater. We declared ourselves soul mates. Then came many years where we were not allowed to see each other. Someone very dark and terrifying kept us apart. It was a shame. I'm happy that person is dead.

We pour out the shots. Jobs quit, love lost and mysteries of the universe left unsolved add up; two hours and one full bottle of booze later, we're rolling around on the kitchen floor in loud, uncontrollable fits of laughter. We wake up the house. Then we're outside tumbling around in the storm with snow up our shirts. Then we fall into bed and sleep in a tangle. We're as drunk as they come.

But when morning comes we're bright and cheerful and we bounce out of bed. A whole house full of people study the empty bottles and the mess we made and scratch their heads. "How are you not dead?" They ask. We drink a cup of coffee and go walking in the woods to consider that question ourselves.

We're not dead because we drank an ounce of water for every triumph of 2012. Every dollar in the bank. Every greyhound through Montana. Every article published. Every date that ended with a man on the street corner shouting "YOU'RE BEAUTIFUL!" as you walk away.

We must have drank our body weight in water. That's the way to do it, we decide. Take the gold with the booze and the booze with the water, as we always have.

Avalanche One

Randall Tate Photography
And now for a good old fashioned adventure.

Randall and I left Seattle for Bellingham before 5am, and were eagerly anticipating the sun rising for the journey. It never did, and we ended up killing time in a Fairhaven coffee shop, and then in the American Alpine Club classroom for the first hour of lessons before the world lit up even a little bit.

Randall Tate Photography
We stayed in that classroom till 5pm on Friday, except for a lunch break where we drank absurdly sized margaritas which nudged me into a pleasant and warm state of mind for the remainder of the day. Randall and I shared our classroom with eleven others- including a Whitefish pro, a couple of good looking mountaineers and four relatively young, incredibly enthused, Boeing employed snowboarders who I began referring to in my head as simply "The Stoked." We learned all about avalanches and their foundation of snow science: fern, aspect, the avalanche rose, terrain traps, convexity and trigger points. It was the most fun eight hours of EMT continued education credit available.

For the next two days, we carved pits into the snow with shovels and saws and toured the back country of Mt. Baker. At the time, Baker had the most snow of anywhere in North America, although I'm not sure how long that lasted, because Friday night Stevens Pass to the East was buried at a rate of about two feet in an hour, and The Stoked were bemoaning not being there. I'm not sure what we could have done with anymore powder, however. As it was there was already too much of it.

We took turns breaking trail, thank goodness, but either way all movement was exhausting. If, during transition, I placed a single boot off the skin track, I'd fall up to my neck in snow. It would take a day's ration of energy to swim to the surface and right myself. Skiing downhill in untracked powder was a wild rush, and mentally taxing only because the fear of falling translated into the fear of writhing helpless in the snow, carving an ever deepening hole, for an embarrassing long time, for the snow was feather soft and endlessly deep. Other than that the days were peaceful, snowing consistently, a completely quiet, cold world which I observed from the depth of four hooded jackets and the pink-tinged blur of fogged goggles.

That particular avalanche class, although not our first choice (our original class, a yurt trip powder cat trip, was cancelled because of dangerous conditions) was a momentous occasion as we shared three days with Lyle, who I've since come to know to as Lyle Who is All That is Man. Lyle is a mountain guide, a structural firefighter in Seattle, and a former Alaskan longshoremen fishermen. Had he also been a pediatric surgeon it would not have surprised me the slightest. He spoke very quietly and politely, almost as if he were trepidatious of being the center of attention, which is funny because Lyle should be unsure of nothing, ever. Randall and I loved Lyle. 
Randall Tate Photography
The other instructor was a man named Dustin who very much looked the part: he had cheek bones chiseled from ice and stained rose from the wind. Dustin was very quick to make a joke, and brush off the dust from my sweater when I dropped it on the ground, and talk with great about the 'suffering' of guiding on Denali. Randall and I both know the outdoor guiding well, and we felt very fortunate that we avoided entirely the douche-baggery we both slightly expected from our instructors. They were in fact very patient and cheerful and certainly most enjoyable to look at. 

That weekend we stayed at the Mountaineer lodge, which shown warm-bright under a heavy frosting of snow. We shared the lodge with The Stoked and also a handful of similarly windblown and healthy young skiers and three snowboarders who had an affinity for curling up in slippers near the wood stove with their nose in guide books, discussing with great revelry their most recent trip to Peru. (Or perhaps it was Patagonia. Or Perugia?) When I went to bed at 10pm they were thus engaged and when I woke up at 6 there they were, in the same positions, with the same boundless enthusiasm, as if they were barely aware that sleep as a state existed in the first place, much less that it was considered a necessity by some.

That lodge, softened by snow, warmed and lit, was even more dreamy that weekend because, as luck would have it, it was was 'decorating' weekend. The round old woman who ran the place announced at Saturday breakfast that there would be party that evening with 'cake and punch' and that we were all to partake in decorating the place for Christmas.
And so we found ourselves, after ten hours of pushing through relentless powder, skinning up and gliding down hills and chopping countless pits into the drifts, presented with glitter paint, brushes, and an entire window each on which to paint. True to her world, the round woman baked nut cookies, a strawberry cake iced with cool whip and a bowl of Hawaiian punch mixed with ginger ale that when added up, although sickening with regards to sugar accumulation, created an atmosphere so wholesome and sweet I nearly died.
For a little while it was completely quiet as all of us painted on our panes of glass, everyone in sweaters and long underwear, deeply concentrated. The Stoked surprised me by painting four separate lovely designs, mountains and skiers and one Santa Claus surfing a wave, done up in marvelous detail. A family with two tiny red haired girls climbed up on furniture and painted a snowman three panes high. The only window that did not register close to outstanding was that belonging to Randal and I, but mostly me; I'd painted a house floating on the black sky outside the window, and a few small stars and snow drifts, and then I'd lost all inspiration. I'd have filled the whole thing up with snow but the children had all the white paint and weren't giving it up, so I filled the rest of the window with blue. All Randall really added was a stencil of a pine tree in the middle of the air, and everybody asked if our house was a tribute to the Sandy flood victims, which was never the intent.
I slept very well at the lodge, the strain of snow struggle tugging my body into a white, heavy underworld. Randall on the other hand had a different story to tell and claimed that I snored. Which is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard in my life, since I'm a crystal quiet sleeper. Snoring drives me crazy and I would never do it.
Randall Tate Photography
So Randall said he'd video me the following night, and he did. But I refused to listen to the playback the next day in the car because it would crush me and my pristine image of myself. He let it rest for a few days and then ambushed me: along with some photos, he emailed me a sound file: he claimed it was a song he'd heard and thought of me. The song was called Sweet Dreams (in hindsight, did I really not see this coming?) and I literally thought, "How sweet of him." I opened it up and it wasn't a song at all, it was a soundbite which I quickly destroyed.

Aside from that, I can't say the weekend could have at all been improved. We are all Avi I certified now, with Randall and I a few hours closer to continuing our N-EMT registration for another two years.

It concluded, as all good things do, with pints of porter at a ski bar with an overcrowded table and seven hungry souls ordering plates of hot food and talking about upcoming adventures. I challenge you to find a worthy weekend that does not end in such a manner.

Pearly Gates

We had one final adventure before the good weather left, and a lot of other things went with it.

It was a few day's after Lisa's birthday, and we invited her and Colt to climb with us for the weekend in Leavenworth.

Andrew and I did a lot of secret preparations for this trip. We packed all these extravagant snacks and microbrews and whiskey and the good coffee, and a big card with a snail on it and overpriced shower gel in a colorful bottle as a birthday present. We debated over dessert options and settled on a big chocolate cake, and Andrew was very intent on their being candles. I remember thinking that this was good- having a boyfriend who was excited to find the right candles to put on my best friend's surprise birthday cake. This was a very good thing.
The weekend weather was beautiful, although the land around Leavenworth is on fire and so the valley was filled with a heavy bluish haze and the air was thick to breath. On Saturday we hiked a brutally steep, sandy approach to the Pearly Gates wall. Such a lovely name for a wall. Such a demoralizing hike.
The day was brisk with the unmistakable chill of early winter, and in the evening we found a free spot to camp off of the road, built a fire and pulled on down jackets and hats and gloves. Lisa cooked for us over the camp stove while we drank beer and laughed hysterically for an hour or two before launching into those conversations you can only have with your very closest people, and only by the side of the road around a campfire.

Then Andrew and I stepped away and put the sparkly 2 and and the sparkly 8 candles into the cake and lit them and came out singing. The four of us ate the entire thing and then crawled away towards our tents for the night. We fell asleep immediately in long underwear and fat down sleeping bags, the dog at our feet.
Sunday Morning in Leavenworth means one thing- the cafe on Icicle Road where every climber in a fifty mile radius begins their day. We went for coffee and breakfast and saw twenty five different friends from the city, all out to capture what could be the last dry weekend of the year.
The day turned out to be hot. Andrew wanted to climb everything. Lisa and Colt wanted to leave early and get margaritas. There were wasps on the rock. We took photos:
At the end of the day, Andrew and I climbed four pitches up what was probably the most technically fun piece of rock I've ever been on. It was face climbing and I felt like I flew up behind his ever strong and solids leads. The views from up there were stunning, hazy and golden, but the only picture we got was a victory shot of us when we finished, dirty and tired in waning light. As we descended in twilight the colors around us deepened, and the mountains and trail turned blue, then silver, then completely dark. The air tasted like a wood smoke.
I'm writing this all simply, because it was simple: the four of us, sitting exhausted in town drinking basil margaritas with rope-blackened hands, making plans for the next trip, Lisa already typing a grad school essay with her laptop on the corner of the table, my hand on Andrew's leg, mind wandering towards my new job, my new house. All of us happy, all of us going in a good direction. So simple.  
                                                    Happy birthday, Lisa love!!