Friday, March 27, 2015

Chattanooga Snapshot

Not one for stasis (see: previous blog posts), I’m on the road again. After a brief stint in Oregon, I have recommenced the road trip:

You know that saying, “it’s the journey, not the destination”? Yeah, I think about that one a lot. It’s one of the many small truths I frequently wrestle with. This most recent leg of my US adventure has given my ample time to consider the implications.

It’s a forty six hour drive from Portland, Oregon to Chattanooga, Tennessee. The last half is prime reflection country. Not much going on there, in the fly over  states. Cruise control, 70 on 70, just gotta stay between the lines. 

Nate Drolet on Interplanetary Escape

I’d never been to the southeast before this trip, only saw the photos, heard the stories. Schultz family firearms, the difficulty of living in a vehicle thanks to strict views on trespassing and a disdain for strangers. The storied south had always intimidated me, but the draw of the immaculate sandstone was unmistakable. 

Myriad opportunities converged to make this trip feasible. I had a pretty nice gig in Portland, OR, but that had ran its course. Aside from the yearly ABS nationals forerunning gig, I was agenda free. Might as well spend the season pitching off mantles and dodging birdshot.

Middle Creek
There were hitches, of course. There always are. I had no agenda, climbing partners lined up for only the first week, and a mysterious finger injury. But, if I were to let inconveniences like that prevent me from making moves, I’d never leave the couch.

The first order of business was, and always is, to find a place to sleep. Poking around the rolodex of traveling climbers yielded key information. Not only is south eastern car life not all that difficult, but there would be a crew in a similar boat. Walmart base, daily breakfasts at a near by park, and every boulderer’s favorite hang, Whole Foods. It’s not roughing it. 

With lodging and rest days squared away the only remaining order of business was climbing. Every new area offers the same question: to buy a guidebook or not to buy a guidebook? Traveling as much as I do, new zones every couple months, it gets to the point where purchasing a new guide for every area isn’t spatially efficient. Guidebooks would take over, I’d be sleeping on them, landing on them, eating from them. It wouldn’t do. 
Drexel Bakker on Pearl Dyno

Instead, I’ve gained a preternatural ability to deal with being lost. As it turns out, being mildly turned around for months at at a time isn’t really that big a deal, as long as you have no where to be. The mental maps begin muddled, primordial soup of time and space based on vague directions from friends and intermittent Google maps. But they don’t stay that way. One of my favorite things about travel is watching my understanding of a place grow, develop from a basic understanding of the shortest distance between A and B to a three dimensional map noting all the places of importance, from dope boulders to the best coffee.

This mapping of the south eastern constellation was tangentially assisted by my mysterious finger injury. In preparation for forerunning ABS Nationals I did what any dedicated professional climber would do, I stopped climbing at all. This left me with loads of time on my hands, and a well placed emphasis on healing while maintaining fighting weight. Rather than spend my days drooling over, and occasionally on, my friend’s projects, I hiked, and hiked, and hiked, only rarely knowing where I was. Sometimes, those who wander really are lost. 

So, I walked, dropping pins and I went. I was either Hansel, or Gretel, or maybe a little bit of both, and apathy was the witch in that candy covered house. I prepped for exploratory day as I would to climb. Water, cheesy crackers, chalk. The only thing missing was the weight of a pad on my back and smell of my shoes in my bag. It’s a subtle difference between a long approach and not knowing where you’re heading, obvious to only the most observant, and if I put my head down and hiked with purpose I could even trick myself. 

Me on Bumboy
Thankfully, the hours spent loping over uneven, thorny ground yielded more than just ripped jeans. I found scenic vistas, waterfalls, roadkill, and even a couple boulders. While I never found the next Golden Harvest, I do have information about a sick (and now cleaned), double digit project. And it’s only an hour hike. It’s the journey, right?


(All photos thanks to Paul Nadler)

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