Wednesday, August 15, 2012

a sense of community

Greetings from Montana! It's been a wild and well-traveled couple of weeks since we left California. Our journey has taken us through the heart of the Oregon Cascades past Crater Lake, across the eastern Oregon desert, and through the unbelievably beautiful gem that is Idaho. As I reflect on all the places we've seen, things we've done, and feelings we've experienced, I'm struck the most by the people we met in a special place in Oregon - Smith Rock State Park. Although the climbing here was fantastic, the sense of community we felt and camaraderie we discovered was unrivaled elsewhere on our journey.

Most of the time spent on the road has been somewhat isolated. It's typically Eric and myself, driving through scenic byways, searching for a place to park the van or finding our next climbing destination. At times, we both miss friends and family and pine for some social interaction outside of our collection of inside jokes. When you spend everyday with the same person, you quickly run out of topics to engage in actual conversation, and the day's talks turn into sounds and gestures. At Smith, we discovered a thriving rock community with people of all ages and from all walks of life. Prior to Smith, we had been traveling with Nikolas, a burley Austrian mountainman I became close friends with when I worked in Happy Camp two summers ago. Nik, on holiday from his new job in Vienna, flew all the way to good' ol America to spend a month in the Pacific Northwest. After the Happy Camp reunion at the end of July, Nik loaded up in the van and joined us to head North on his way to Portland. Although Nik enjoys other pursuits besides climbing, he agreed to chill with us for a few days at Smith, hiking and riding my mountain bike around the trail system. We camped for three nights outside of the park in the middle of a sage brush brush meadow in a national grassland.

When we went separate ways, Eric and I decided to stay at the bivouac camp ground right above the north rim of the Crooked River canyon in the park. The bivvy, as it's referred to by locals and dirtbags who post up there for an entire summer, is a magical place. Tents are staked in a designated sleeping area away from the parking lot, and a communal cooking area by the sink and showers is where friendships are forged by French presses at 6 a.m. and stories are shared over brews at 9 p.m. It was here we met several groups of great people, all traveling their own journeys to climb on the coveted volcanic tuff of the Smith spires. Amy and Darrel, a power climbing couple from San Francisco. Holger and Melanie, an energetic and entertaining couple from New Zealand. Olivier and Kitty, a talented climbing couple from France. Justin, a late-twenties climber who quit his job in Ohio and is driving solo across the country, quite similar to us. Lucas, a young kid with ambition to become better. The group gelled instantly as we geared up for three days of excellent climbing. One of the most enjoyable parts of the group experience was our ability to facilitate the climbing through gear sharing, route beta and some basic teaching. Amy and Darrell were self-sufficient climbers, but the other groups were on trips that, for some reason or another, kept them from being able to climb. Holger's wife Melanie doesn't climb, Kitty and Olivier, flying from France, didn't have enough gear, Justin didn't have a belayer, and Lucas had never climbed outdoors. Being able to partner up, swap gear, and teach some skills made the experience extremely rewarding. Eric, who's passionate about becoming an AMGA-certified guide, really enjoyed contributing to everyone's climbs.

After just three short days, it felt like we had known these people for months. I was quite bummed to leave Smith. In the past, Eric and I had always looked forward to moving on, leaving our memories with the rock and forests that so quietly oblige us along our solitary experiences. Leaving Smith was different, and it was that feeling that made me realize the importance of meeting people on the road. Justin put it nicely, explaining how his solo experience across the country has taken him through amazing places, but what he's taken most from his trip was from the people he met. Perhaps in our constant quest to avoid people in wilderness settings, we lose sight of the fact that there are others like us out there with much to learn and teach.

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