Sunday, Sept. 08, 2019 @ 11:33 pm
We are camping in the van in the gravel parking lot of the climbing area. Other van campers are around us, and the forest flickers with headlamps and campfires. The bang of the outhouse door slamming shut. A burst of laughter. The clinking of climbing gear being sorted.
We sit on camp chairs and talk late into the night. I am loose from drinking alcohol, giddy for the adventure that we have planned for tomorrow.
“Whoa!” we exclaim in unison, having both seen the same shooting star.
Conversation meanders. There is a pause.
“Change of topic,” I preface. “What is your biggest concern in life at this moment?”
We leave town mid-afternoon, escaping from work early to arrive at the crags with enough time for a couple of climbs.
We drive up the winding highway, the ocean glittering below, and I’m a non-stop chatterbox. We pull into the parking lot, get out of the van, and begin to sort our climbing gear on the asphalt. I’m jumping up and down on the spot, impatient with the calculations of required number of quick draws, of locking carabiners.
The plan for this evening is for me to lead my first route.
I’ve studied him lead. I’ve watched hours of instructional videos. I’ve watched climbers at the gym lead route upon route, their graceful reaching of arms, the snap of the rope through the gates. The clatter of draws hanging from Russell’s harness. The tradition, the elegance.
“I want to learn to lead, Russell.”
“You already know how to lead. We’ll go up and do the ten-pitch route that you’ve been lusting after, and you will lead the whole thing. I’ve seen you studying lead climbers. You know what to do, and you are going to be great at it.”
We hike up into the woods. We stand at the base of a crag and study the routes. I tie into the rope.
“Have fun,” he says.
“Climbing,” I say.
“Climb on,” he replies.
I start up the rock, the rope below me. I reach the first draw, pull up the rope, and snap it into the protection. Climbing again, up and up, following the cracks and fissures in the rock. Pressing the toes of my climbing shoes onto tiny imperfections in the fine granite. The rope becomes heavier and heavier the higher I climb. Pulling up all of that length of rope and sliding it through the gates of the carabiners to protect me from falling to the ground. I reach the top anchor. I secure myself to the bolts. I pull a bite of rope through the rappel rings, tie an overhand knot, then secure the new loop of rope to my harness with a locker. I untie my original figure eight, check my work, then call down for Russell to lower me to the ground.
I land beside him on the roots and dirt at the foot of the crag.
“See?” he says. “No problem.”
“My biggest concern in life? Hah. You and your deep questions.”
Stars shoot across the sky. The Milky Way a foggy path across the expansive star-dusted sky.
In the morning, we drink coffee and organize our gear. Pack lunch and water. Re-read the route description to ensure that we have the correct equipment.
We hike to the base of the rocky mountain. Russell watches with humor as I lead up the first pitch. He arrives at the platform beside me, checks my work, then sends me on up the next pitch. Again and again. I lead us up the mountain.
A rain shower blows against us. Mountain weather. Steam rises from the warm rock.
Halfway up the mountain, I am belaying Russell up behind me. I pull arm after arm of rope up, gathering it in a pile in front of me. Cyclists pack the highway, the annual Fondo happening today. Daniel is in the Fondo.
I watch the cyclists and know that he is passing by me at some time today, barely one hundred meters as the crow flies. I’m missing this - his first race. The race that for which he’s been training for years. The cycling that we did together, the touring, the long day rides. I missed his convocation too, for that goddamn Master’s degree. The thesis that I never read, not until now. I downloaded it, and there is it:
Most of all thank you Shannon for your love and support.
I read it over and over. This sums us up. I gave him love and support. I gave and gave and gave. You’re welcome.
The rain falls on us, on my bare arms.
Russell joins me on the ledge and walks back on the rope to take a photo of me. The light dramatic, my beaming smile.
At the top, we eat smoked salmon and stare across the river valley at the glaciers that cling to the north faces of the mountains. We did this together, we climbed this mountain together. Five hours of climbing, of being tied together on opposite ends of a sixty meter long rope. Have I ever been physically tied to another human being for this long before? Have I ever been emotionally bonded to another human being as strongly as this before?
We stand on the side of the mountain, and he puts on music and shows me some dance steps. I mirror him, and we are dancing together in the rain, still wearing our climbing gear. The draws that are clipped to my gear loops clink around me like a jingle dress.
Eventually, we hike down the back of the mountain to the van. The highway has reopened. Daniel has passed and is gone. I take a deep breath.
These moments. The greatest of days. Learning, achieving. Growing together.
“My biggest concern? Well, I actually have multiple smaller concerns rather than one large one. Here’s the list: our relationship, finances, and my contribution to society.”
“What about our relationship?”
“How it’s going. I mean, it’s going well. But I do think about whether you are having enough time to yourself, if I am having enough time for myself. If you are OK, if you are happy. We are moving into a new phase in our relationship where we are starting to really see each other. The other night you were a bit grumpy, and I was glad to see that side of you.”
Back in the city, I sleep over at his apartment. Storms buffet against the concrete tower during the night. We wake early to the sound of rain falling.
He rises to make coffee and returns to bed with two mugs. We lay in bed together reading. He reads me passages from his magazine. I place my hand on his leg, and in response he covers my hand with his.
Are you there for me? Yes, yes, I’m here for you.