Category Archives: Friends

Life Lessons from Colorado

I just got back from a long trip to Colorado, the home of my heart. I’ve grown to associate feelings with the word “home,” not places, as I’ve always felt like an outsider in most locations. My family, my friends, my husband, my dog and the things I feel when I think of them is what “home” has always been, but in CO, the mountains and the birds of prey and every rock and every person is somehow familiar and embracing of my existence. I hike and I climb there and nearly everyone I meet along the way becomes a friend I will come back and visit. They smile, they share, they expose themselves to me; there is no barrier preventing us from connecting. I feel like everyone has a place where they feel most familiar and in love with life, though some are still searching. For me, Colorado is it.

 

Part of the fun of trips to Colorado is never knowing what to expect. We’ve gone there in May and donned snowshoes on a couple feet of snow in the Rockies. We’ve gone there in December and comfortably climbed with a tank top and shorts. The weather is always entirely unpredictable, but always beautiful in its own way. This trip was no different. The forecast a couple weeks before called for 50’s, 50’s, 50’s. A week later, it changed to negatives, negatives, and maybe some 20’s and 30’s during the day. The initial plan was to sleep in our rental car the whole time. When we saw that forecast, though, we realized this would not be the climbing trip we had envisioned. We connected with our hiking friends in CO and climbing friends of our climbing friends where we live and managed to get a guaranteed four nights of the seven inside out of the freezing cold before we even left. We felt so lucky to have such generous and amazing people in our lives.  This brought us to our first lesson of the trip: Trust connections.

 

After flying into Denver, we picked up a rental car, grabbed some lunch, and headed to our friends in Loveland. They were organizing a Christmas party for that night and had invited us to the party and to stay with them that weekend. D and I are not usually the party people (being former complete introverted wallflowers), but we’ve found over time that friends of friends are usually friends of ours. We kept an open mind and had a blast- D having a heated debate with party guests and I playing fun games with our friends’ family and friends.  Second lesson of the trip: Be genuine and you will receive genuine.

 

The next day, we looked at the frigid temperatures outside and thought “We came to be outside. Let’s go!” We ate breakfast in Estes and headed to Rocky Mountain National Park with our friends. As we headed up the hills to Glacier Gorge parking, the temps continued to climb. When we hit the valley, the numbers dropped again. At 8 degrees Fahrenheit, we reached the trailhead, took a deep breath, put on some yak tracks and balaclavas, gloves, hats, snow pants, and pack on top of three layers of smart wool clothing, and we were off. I’m originally from Florida, so this degree of cold is totally foreign to me. Even with all this gear, my fingers and toes were still cold. I guess that is what -4 degrees does. However, I was comfortable otherwise and warmed up a bit while hiking. I was just so glad to be physically capable of hiking and appreciative that we were with friends (friends we’d met hiking in RMNP a couple years ago) and in this gorgeous place that the cold didn’t matter too much. As we hiked towards Loch Lake, a man in his 70’s+ lapped us at least twice. Then, a nineteen-year-old girl passed us, hiking solo in the wilderness of RMNP. Third lesson of the trip: Don’t make excuses for not doing what you love (not even age or negative temperatures)- Just do it.

 

Monday and it was still too cold to go climbing outdoors, so we decided to hike in Boulder instead and end the day climbing indoors at an awesome climbing gym. Some air outside combined with the variety of new climbing routes was enough to satisfy our outside and climbing desires. We met up with the girl who lapped us in RMNP at the gym and made another new friend. After getting some dinner, we headed to a climbing friend of a friend’s place with beer in hand and settled in for the night. Fourth lesson of the trip: Go with the flow.

Throughout the next few days, we continued to seek good views where we could, layering up for the cold, and meeting up with friends and family in the area. We enjoyed hiking in new and familiar places and exploring on our own as well as meeting new people and sharing time with them in their passion. We found a number of people were raw and open with us when there was nothing between us but time and shared experiences, and we had the opportunity to help people in their time of need. Fifth lesson: Give and you will receive. 

Wednesday, it was finally warm enough (in the 40’s) to climb outdoors. The combination of the floods and snow and ice had wiped away much of the approach trail, so what should have taken 10 minutes took almost an hour of stepping/slipping/sliding in others’ icy footsteps and searching through scree for a path to the route. We came across a couple of people climbing a 5.13. Their impression of the climbing was “It’s cold.” After finding the route and dropping our packs, I sat down to put on my climbing shoes, only to stick both hands into a cactus. Fun times. Another 20 minutes of picking spines out of my hand and we were finally ready to head up a 4-pitch climb. Thankfully, D led, as there were a number of moves that were very height-dependent (as in NOT meant for a person my height). Three pitches up, the belay station was immediately over the top of the canyon and the winds picked up. While belaying D, I was being slammed into the wall numerous times by the wind and only a few feet above me was a sheltered roost. So yes, I think the impression the other climbers had was perfectly accurate- it was freakin’ cold. It was not my most outstanding climbing attitude or day. The coolest part? Seeing a huge, perfect peregrine falcon’s nest up close. It was big enough for me to sit in- and don’t think I wasn’t tempted, as it was sheltered by the wind entirely. Rappelling down was an adventure in itself, as was the approach- which was more like a non-graceful glissade down the icy, snowy, rocky slopes. Sixth lesson: Adventure is not always “fun,” but it is always something to look back on fondly (unless someone dies…). 

After such an adventurous day, we were up for slightly less adventure the next. What did this mean? Aerial pursuits, of course. After seeing an amazing aerial silks performance in Cirque du Soleil earlier in the year, I had been intent on trying it. I knew it would be easier with the climbing skills we possessed. I had seen advertisements for some circus classes in the area and signed us up for a holiday aerial silks sampler. Unfortunately, no pictures as proof, but it was a whole lot of fun. I was impressed the skills I’d acquired in climbing were not only directly physically applicable, but also mentally. Before climbing, I would have been nervous about trying any of it, but I was more than happy to throw myself into moves I’d never tried before and loved it. Seventh lesson: Be open to new experiences.

The rest of the time, we spent time hiking and climbing indoors and hanging out with new and old friends alike. Okay, not unlike the rest of the trip. Still, it reminded me that not all trips need to be “productive,” that really it is all about finding the vacation balance. Moreover, it reminded me that constantly “seeking” something- anything- makes me unhappy. There is a time and a place for just being, for laughing, for socializing, not thinking too much, not working towards something, not having an agenda. Lesson eight: Stop searching for the sake of searching.

Any trips over the holidays that have taught you something?

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The Holiday Debate

One Thanksgiving many years ago, D and I made the long trek to visit my extended family- my very large extended family. In my family, there are two large Thanksgiving get-togethers every year, each in different states. Each get-together consists of forty plus people. There is always one table with the “main” food and appetizers and at least two tables with dessert, as it is custom for each family to bring a homemade dessert. It is also custom that Thanksgiving “dinner” actually starts at 2PM and lasts until at least 8PM.

This was D’s first time meeting my extended family. We walked in the door and ten people greeted us with hugs and kisses on the cheek. Though I warned him, D was in a bit of shock. His family is…let’s say, not this way. My family is honest, loud, rambunctious, and sometimes even raunchy. This is what I know of family.  It’s not that one way of being a family together on the holidays is better over another; we all have our own ways of being together and appreciating each other.

After D became accustomed to the difference in family styles, he happily started heated debates with my not-easily-offended family members and after that year, happily drove hundreds of miles to continue in this ritual Thanksgiving event with me. It was this year that I was especially happy and appreciative to be a part of my family. It was this year that I realized that there is something about being blood relatives that makes a connection different somehow.

A year later, D and I made the trip to the big Thanksgiving event again. This time, just as we had filled our plate and were sitting down to start some heated debates, D got a phone call from work. Being the only IT guy in his specific division, he was essentially on call at all times. He spent from that moment until the end of Thanksgiving “dinner” at his computer fixing a work “emergency.” He was frustrated and I was sad…and angry at the same time. Angry that on Thanksgiving- the one day we have devoted to being with family and giving thanks- he was stripped of his ability to relax, to enjoy life. He was imprisoned by his computer, by his phone, and his job.

I understand there are emergencies in life that often happen at the worst times. I understand that there are life or death situations that require immediate attention- during holidays or not. I understand having someone who has to work for time-sensitive tasks. However, most work “emergencies” in general are not true emergencies. And is it worth forcing people to give up their time with family, their time to relax and not worry about being called in general, their time to be thankful in order for them to provide a large company with slightly more money (while the people making the big bucks in the company enjoy meals with their family, no less)?

D has since acquired a job where his company better understands the need for time with family, time for relaxation, and time to be thankful in life. However, not nearly enough people (in America especially) have this luxury. So many people working in retail and many other non-emergency-related jobs are now being forced to give up their time to relax, to enjoy family, and to be thankful in order to make some more bucks for the big shots in big companies. I know others feel differently, but having experienced so many nights and so many vacations ruined by D’s work, I can say it is a horrible feeling to have no reserved, unimpeded time for a sanctified day of rest, of thanks, of love. I am also disturbed that this is becoming the norm. I am disturbed that there seems to be a higher value placed on consuming, on corporate giants and their overflowing wallets over making connections with friends and family. And I am disturbed that some people are continuing to support these efforts to make the work/life line even more unbalanced for others.

Please consider whose Thanksgiving (and specifically future holidays) you are effecting through your actions this year.

Guest Post: Life is just a Balancing Act!

This is a guest post by a good friend who manages to have a busy job involving lots of travel, climb all over the world, cook healthy food, keep up a climbing blog, a house, a cat, and a very large group of friends! I always ask her how she does it, so here she is telling us how!

By Doris Sanchez from www.climbingjourney.com

 

I often have folks ask me “How do you do it all?” and I just respond, “I am a trained Project Manager in trade, and I somehow am actually really good at transferring those skills to being a Project Manager at Life.”  It may seem like an Infomercial pitch, but truly that is my approach and I am quite successful so far.

Always on the go means priotitize my time against everything I want to do and must do.  Work during the week in Boston, Friday night drive to New Hampshire.  To get an early morning out, I fixed a nice sleeping system in my car, had my crag pack ready and slept in the clothes I was going to climb in the next day.  Just a way to make things easier for myself.
Always on the go means priotitize my time against everything I want to do and must do. Work during the week in Boston, Friday night drive to New Hampshire. To get an early morning out, I fixed a nice sleeping system in my car, had my crag pack ready and slept in the clothes I was going to climb in the next day. Just a way to make things easier for myself.

As a background, here is my story: I am working on an advanced masters, possibly PhD, rock climb around the world, work to cure cancer, hike, bike, exercise, cook fresh meals, blog, Instagram, Facebook personal, Facebook Climbingjourney, interview folks, see my family, help my mom, and so on. Oh my, now I am thinking “how do I do it all?”

There are many ways to balance one’s life and not one right way. There are many learned skills and not one perfect skill.  And when I stated Project Manger of Life, that is how I view it. This is how I categorize my life to make it happen:

Here I spent time in Belize and wanted to volunteer a bunch but have fun a bunch too.  During the day I volunteered part of the morning on the way to something fun in the middle of the day and then……
Here I spent time in Belize and wanted to volunteer a bunch but have fun a bunch too. During the day I volunteered part of the morning on the way to something fun in the middle of the day and then……

Make it a breathing priority – Without breathing, we die.  Not taking it that drastic, but these are the things that we really need to focus on a daily basis.  I categorize it as the must do, I don’t always want to do, the must do to live, the must do to have fun, and the must do to love myself.  These are not scientifically proven to work, but it is how I categorize my day, how I balance my life.

  1. Must do, I don’t always want to do – go to work everyday
  2. Must do to live – eat everyday
  3. Must do to have fun – social media, talk with friends, text, etc.
  4. Must do to love myself – breast check in the shower for lumps, meditate and do yoga for 10 minutes right out of bed every single morning
I had a siesta, regrouped, and did more volunteering in town on the way to dinner.
I had a siesta, regrouped, and did more volunteering in town on the way to dinner.

Make it a frequent habit – This is not breathing, but maybe filling the gas tank type of level of prioritization.  It does not happen every day, but you need to keep an eye on it several times per month.  Here is where I try to schedule in things like paying bills.  I only do this on the 16th and 1st of every month.  If not those two days, I put it aside and revisit just those two days (unless an unexpected bills comes in that I must address).  I also even schedule my laundry 2x per month (don’t have kids, have that luxury for now!) and if not those laundry washing dates, I just parking lot it until my next routine clothes washing day.

Take time to read while resting in between climbing
Take time to read while resting in between climbing

Make it a less frequent habit – This is not filling the gas tank, but this might be like dusting the house, once per month type stuff.   I have routine tasks that I just don’t do as often but need to make sure I visit them every month or every couple months. This could be changing the oil, washing all the sheets, and so on.

While we vacation, I had my group do something fun and touristy on the way to some fun unique climbing.
While we vacation, I had my group do something fun and touristy on the way to some fun unique climbing.

Annual Clock Work Tasks – This is the routine physical exam.  Like clock work, we need to do it, but it is something we just don’t do very often.  I set up milestones and try to stick to them.  I try to set one milestone per month.  January like clockwork is my PE and teeth cleaning.  May of every year is my neighborhood yard sale, so April is when I schedule spring cleaning.  And so on and so on.  By doing this, I tend to get the most important things done around the house and for myself.

Go into the 70’s and dream about it – There are things that seem so far out of our reach, that we must dream about them first.  And out of 10 things we dream up, we can actually make 1-2 of these things a reality.   Things here can be a house renovation project, a road trip, a ½ day at a spa, and so on.  Anything that you want to dream up, do it freely.  It does not hurt to dream at all because that is how typically I may have that 1 or 2 things unexpectedly amazing things I get accomplished.  But because it is a dream, there are no commitments or disappointments; I shift any over to reality if the stars align.  If not, I just keep dreaming and stay in the 70’s.

Overall, many ask how I do all that I do.  Life is a balancing act and truly I have perfected being a project manager at my life.  It may seem a bit overboard, but this allows me to travel everywhere and climb and explore different places while I still carry on a career and pursue other things in life.  It may seem like too much and yes, I will slow down some day, but in the meantime, while I am trying to juggle many awesome things in life, I also do want to actually cherish and enjoy every moment of it too.

Accepting Things The Way They Are

I have reached the end of a trip to Red River Gorge in Kentucky with a friend, a very wise friend may I add. She has been climbing longer than I and has dealt with many of the same climbing (and life) struggles as I am/have.

As I’ve mentioned before, lead climbing (where you bring the rope up with you as you climb and clip in to bolted metal in the rock at various intervals for protection) has always been a very mentally engaging and fear-striking event for me, but I’ve been intent on overcoming my fears about it anyway. Why? Because I started climbing to overcome frustrations with rotation in grad school and then realized it had powerful applications in other parts of my life as well (read more at my guest blog article here). I’ve found every time I push my mental limitations in climbing, I also take on more challenges in life in general and push through struggles with ease.

Similarly, every climbing trip I take, I learn more about myself and my own limitations and mental blocks. This time, I learned a lesson straight from my friend’s mouth. As I was struggling with a move that really wasn’t hard but seemed for me a scary move, I continued down my usual path in times of crisis of blaming everything around me except myself. “I don’t like this.” “This doesn’t feel great.” “This route is dumb.”

My friend belaying calmly reminds me about the book we’ve both read (“The Rock Warrior’s Way” by Arno Ilgner- highly recommended, by the way) and how statements like this are energy leechers. “Accept the way things are; don’t wish them to be different. Work with what you have.” she relays. A lightbulb clicks in my head and midway through an energy leecher, my thoughts change direction. “She’s right. Why am I blaming the rock? The rock is just here, continues to be a rock, and though I love climbing, I am wishing it to be something else. It rained last night, so it is wet- but I can’t change that either. It is what it is,” I think.

This leads me to productive thoughts like: “I have this foot hold and this hand hold and if I hold my body into the wall and slowly inch up, I should be able to reach that better hold there and reach the next bolt. It’s not great, but it will have to do- and I’ve climbed on worse.” And in an instant, when I stop trying to make things different, my body does what I’ve asked it to do and I am safely attached to the next bolt.

Even if you are not a climber, I’m sure you can see how a negative “wishful thinking” mentality is one that applies negatively in life in general as well. When you are taking a test and realize the questions are not what you expected, one option is to blame the test maker and the other is to accept that these are the questions that will determine your grade and so you have to do the best with what you know. And perhaps if you have committed to someone and can’t stand a habit they have, one option is to blame them and continually try to get them to stop and the other is to accept that this is how they are and they will only change if they want to (not you) and it isn’t worth injecting more negative energy into the relationship to make them change.

It is not easy to accept things as they are. I had another moment of realization during this trip in this vein about my respiratory issues (from a heart defect called a vascular ring repaired at 8 years old) which has until the last few years limited me a significant amount from physical activity and even now continues to make it extremely difficult for me to hike uphill with large amounts of weight (read: I sound like I have never exercised a day in my life and huff and puff and look like I am dying.). If you care about details, the problem is that my trachea still has a kink in it from being impinged and is weak and when I am breathing hard due to physical exertion, my trachea collapses in on itself making it even harder to acquire oxygen.

I live for these views, but in order to get there, I have to huff and puff my way up some huge hills. I'm accepting this is just part of my MO.
I live for these views, but in order to get there, I have to huff and puff my way up some huge hills. I’m accepting this is just part of my MO.

It may be overcomeable through intense respiratory training…and it may not. I have asked a few respiratory therapists their opinion given my history and their answers bely a complete lack of knowledge regarding people like me actually getting to the physical capacity that I am at. Basically, it is an amazing feat to have gotten where I am with my condition and at this point, the medical community has nothing to offer me. All invasive procedures (like tracheal splinting or even tracheal replacement- the newest medical advance in this area) that may help have been shown to have horrible side effects or not even be beneficial with exercise tolerance. And I don’t know of any doctor that would do such a risky procedure on someone with the quality of life I do anyway.

Despite all of this, I continue to feel awful when I don’t carry an equal amount of weight as others when climbing or backpacking. I continue to try because damn it, I’ve gotten this far- why can’t I just be like everyone else? I feel in my mind like I should be as capable of others, but then when my body proves me wrong and shows my flaws, I am embarrassed and feel ashamed to be me.

From this trip, I realized I am going to have to accept that my friends love me with flaws and all and most will be willing to take more weight uphill just because they are happy to be sharing moments with me. And if they aren’t, I am going to have to accept that struggling uphill is part of my MO. It will have to be enough.

Moreover, I’ve decided I am going to try my last resort (intense respiratory therapy with packs and hills) and if it doesn’t work, I am going to have to accept this is who I am and how far my body is willing to take me- and be appreciative that it has taken me this far.

Is there something you have a hard time accepting in life? Are there energy leechers you utilize in order to continue preventing acceptance?

Why I Climb

I am the last person anyone in my high school would have predicted would be a climber. Honestly, rock climbing is such an “out there” sport as it stands that I doubt anyone from high school would have predicted any of us would be climbers. Beside the point.

The point is that I used to be a sick person- mentally and physically. A heart defect, depression, and anxiety prevented me from being the person I wanted to be.

You can read more about that here (blog posts I wrote on my friend’s blog about climbing as therapy):

Part 1: http://climbingjourney.com/exotic-caribbean-journeys/its-not-just-how-high-you-climb-but-how-high-climbing-makes-you-feel/
Part 2: http://climbingjourney.com/exotic-caribbean-journeys/if-i-can-you-can-too/
Part 3: http://climbingjourney.com/exotic-caribbean-journeys/what-are-you-really-afraid-of/
Part 4: http://climbingjourney.com/exotic-caribbean-journeys/steps-to-overcoming-your-fears/

The point is that climbing saved me and continues to save me. It has provided me with confidence, self-esteem, an amazing built-in friend group, fear and anxiety reduction, and ultimately happiness. Climbing has been the most incredible avenue for self-reflection, self-discovery, and self-work.

This weekend, I took my first climbing trip without my husband. For me, this was kind of a big deal. D and I have grown up in climbing together and we’ve been climbing partners since day one. I climb with other people, but going outdoor climbing with others is always admittedly more or less “officiated” by D. I’ve never been nearly as confident in systems, rope work, etc. D has never had any issues with confidence in the realm of logic (at least not while I’ve known him). And so until this weekend, I did what my natural tendency is, which is to go “Ok, you’re better at this- you handle it.” A certain amount of this comes with the territory in marriage- I’m better at cooking, so I generally cook more and he is better at cleaning the tub and so he cleans the tub (as examples). Chores are easier when divided. However, when it comes to climbing, the reality is that what prevents me from taking on responsibility is my fear of the outcome in my lack of confidence.

So when I received the offer from an experienced climber friend to come out with her for a weekend, my initial emotion was fear. The offer was appealing and I knew deep down I wanted to go and should go (how many opportunities would come up like this after all?). After too much hmming and hawing, I said yes. My own expectations of myself were high. I knew this friend was pretty picky about who she climbs with, so asking me was a compliment in itself. It meant I passed the initial test of obvious belaying/climbing skills at the gym. It meant she had at least enough faith that I wouldn’t kill her and I would be able to climb the routes she planned on leading. Given that I had little faith in myself doing either of those things, I knew I had to be at the top of my game- refresh my memory on all the skills I let D control otherwise, focus, calm down, and most of all not freak out.

I doubt my friend realized how important this trip was to me, how much I didn’t want to screw up with her. I doubt she realized that at the many times during the climb I knew I would have freaked out in the company of D and my typical climbing crew, I said to myself “You’re scared. That’s fine. But you have to get up this pitch and not embarrass yourself. Just effing do it.” So I did. Without hesitation. I came out of the weekend a more confident climber and with a few new experiences under my belt. It was an amazing feeling to will myself to be who I know I am strong enough to be….and just be that. I am immensely grateful to my friend for the opportunity to climb together and to show me that I don’t need to hide behind others or fear myself. I am imperfect like everyone else, but I am worth putting faith and trust in.

Above and beyond these revelations, I realized that climbing is one of the few (if any) sports where friendships are strengthened through depending on each other (literally- our lives are in each others’ hands), participating in the same experience together, needing to communicate very effectively, encouraging each other in one anothers’ successes, supporting each other in one anothers’ “failures,” and having to revert to some tough love when the going gets tough. When we climb with others, we are there to witness them at their best and their most vulnerable. These moments where fear creeps in, we see who people really are- their rawness, their emotions. There is no time or energy to falsify, create a mask. Accepting someone in their most raw and exposed state is the most loving acceptance there is. And thus, climbing friends are something more than just “friends.” They are unconditionally loving family.

I suppose that is where the saying comes from- “Friends who climb together, stay together.” 🙂