Wow wow wow,
So it really looks like I’m leaving again, leaving the comfort and laziness of east LA and heading up the 5, again, for Oregon. For Smith Rock. This place that captured my heart three years ago and has me fucked up for it still.
There were a lot of factors that have gone into my adoration and ceaseless fangirling over Smith Rock. I was on my first ever climbing road trip, a haphazard misadventure that opened my eyes to a lifestyle I’d only barely let myself dream of. I took my first outdoor lead fall in Kentucky and was traveling around with this pretty green-eyed boy I’d met a couple months before. We had three big dogs, dirty climbing packs, were both vegetarian, and spent our days chain-smoking cigarettes and rock climbing all over the country for two months. It felt like I was living my teenaged self’s fantasy life. One of the final places we wound up was Smith Rock State Park, and I fell in fucking love.
I remember finishing a route, after a full day of climbing, and looking around me as the sun began to set, a low and gentle pink haze illuminating the park. The river below the crag shimmered, otters playing along the banks and geese floating their babies downstream behind them. I looked around at the jagged gargoyle cliffs on top of the Smith Rock group, at the juniper trees and sage brush that lined the trails and the clouds turning pink and fiery red in the sky. The rock faces across the river looked purple. I looked around me at my little life, at the ways my meticulous planning went to hell on this trip (I was absolutely not originally planning on hoping in some random guy’s truck and driving around the country with him, that’s for sure), and I thought, I am so glad I didn’t kill myself in high school.
I sat at the base of my climb, endorphin-high, covered in dust, feeling that kinda blissful lightness you only feel after a couple months on the road barely eating and living outside all the time, and I started to cry these fat happy tears. Just let them roll down my face, streaking dirt down my neck. My partner went “uhhhhhh” and I managed to say, “I’m just so glad I never killed myself”, to which he nodded and then walked away because how do you even respond to that?
But Smith Rock was the culmination of my early twenties. It was a turning point. It was the proof that I’d at least managed to get out of Phoenix, to learn a hobby that could take me places and introduce me to rad people, and that, again, I’d managed to not kill myself like I always figured I eventually would. Smith Rock was physical proof that things were alright, that I was doing ok, that I could still exist in a world that had broken my heart so many times before.
I guess what I’m saying is Smith has been a metaphor for me. It’s been the solid, physical manifestation of the hope I’d lost over the years. It meant something to me, to be there, to be a “climber”, to be sleeping next to someone who wasn’t cruel to me like my ex, to feel good about my body for the first time in my life post teenage anorexia. I looked around my at the birthplace of American sport climbing and I felt reborn too.
That was just about three years ago. I’ve spent the last three years steady goofing off, mostly in LA where I coached climbing at the gym I learned at. Every spring and every fall I returned to Smith Rock and kept right on falling in love with it. I love the climbing style, I love the spell of juniper and sage all over the place, I love the community, and last year I was offered a job at the gear, beer and coffee shop I’d spent countless weeks loitering at. Last year I was at Smith for eight months, and lemme tell you, when you make a vacation spot your home shit gets insane. I’ll tell you all about it.
Now I’m heading back. I don’t know where I’ll work yet, but I know I’m living in my Subaru on BLM land. I know its going to be different from last year for a variety of reasons, but I’m not sure exactly how. I know I’ve missed my friends this winter while I’ve hung out at my dad’s, and I know I’m itching to finish some climbs I didn’t get to last year. I also know now, it is less about the place and more about what it took for me to get to this place, and this year I finally feel like I’m ready to go further. I want more this year. I want more love, more healing, more genuine friendships, more deep campfire conversations, more sends, more guitar playing, more chess, more poker nights, more skinny-dipping in the Deschutes, more community involvement, etc. etc. I’m psyched.
...and also scared shitless that I’m going to freeze to death as soon as I get there.