Grapefruit Rocks and a Slice of Fatman

After two weeks of being in Fairbanks I finally left the city area and drove north to go rock climbing.  It was the first warm and sunny weekend, with the temperature up in the 50s, and just feeling the sun was enough to make me smile.  I had been wanting to explore beyond the city limits, so when I heard Edge was going climbing, I asked to go along.

The hour drive brought us to an area called Grapefruit Rocks and the Twin Towers, which are large tors rising up from the side of mountains.  Along the way Edge pointed out farms tucked behind trees and hidden from the view of the road, and we shared stories of our travels, his to Mexico and mine to New Zealand.  “I found that I like slow travel best, and I like getting to really know a place instead of checking things off a list so I can say I saw it,” I said, and he agreed.  Edge is going into his fourth year living in Ester, and he said, “There are some places I haven’t climbed, but I really like the area we’re going to today, and I discover something new each time I go there.”  The value of a place is rarely found in a quick glance, but it is learned through observation, awareness, and the willingness to listen and sink into the land without the rush of time.

When we arrived at the first crag, I warmed up on an easy 30-foot route and free-climbed to the top.  I didn’t start out with the intention to go all the way up, but as my hands found holds, my shoes stuck to the rock, and my body remembered the way to move, I kept going.  When I got to the top I said, “That wasn’t as scary as I thought it’d be!”  Edge shouted up, “That’s the perfect answer!”  It felt like springtime all morning, with snow on the ground but sun in the sky, and we climbed at the Grapefruit rocks until they were covered in shade, then drove down the road to another pull-off and hiked up to the Twin Towers.  The steep walk up to the tors warmed us up again, and it felt like summer as we rolled up our pants and took off upper-layers to climb in t-shirts.  Surprisingly, we ran into two other climbing pairs, which Edge told me is rare up here, and I thought of climbing at the Gunks in New Paltz, NY, and how the rocks are swarmed each weekend there.  Alaska is so big, though, and being the only one at a climbing area is common up here.

For most of the day Edge practiced lead climbing and I followed to clean up the gear.  As we looked through guide book (which is only about 40 pages long) to decide which climb to do next, I noticed the ratings and said I’d try a 5.6 to 5.8, but I wasn’t sure how I’d do on a 5.9.  “We’ve been climbing 5.9s all day!” Edge said, and he assured me I could do some more.  I was surprised but said, “I guess when I just go for it and don’t think about the rating, than I don’t stop myself from doing it.  I think I like not knowing what the climb is rated!”

The clouds set in and the wind picked up for our last few climbs, and it felt like the season had shifted to fall.  When I checked the time as we cleaned up the gear from our last climb, I expected it to be around 5:30 based on the amount of light, but my watch read 8:30 pm.  That’s one of the things I love about climbing—time falls away and I am totally in the moment, body and mind in harmony with the rock.  As the days get longer, though, the amount of light makes me forget time all together, and I wonder how much sleep I’ll get this summer.

We stopped at a truck stop/restaurant on the way back and ordered slices of pie called the fatman: a pecan butter crust with a layer of cream cheese, then a chocolate cream filling, then an inch of whipped cream sprinkled with chocolate chips and drizzled chocolate sauce.  It was enormous.  It was delicious!  When I finally arrived back home around 10:30, dusk had really settled in, and I fell asleep tired and happy.

No Great Expectations

After one missed flight, two days, and three plane rides, I am finally in Anchorage.  I arrived yesterday afternoon overtired and underfed, and was greeted at the airport by my father’s long-time friends, Bill and Pat, who welcomed me and brought me to the Moose’s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria.  There I ate a delicious pizza called “the backpacker” and had my first pint of a dark red Alaskan beer, brewed by the pub–It was the perfect post-travel meal.

Today we drove around Anchorage so I could get my bearings.  It’s a big city (at least it is to a Vermonter).  It is strange to see box stores and high-rises in “the last frontier”, though I admit that my eyes constantly drift even higher to the mountains that encircle the city.  They remind me of the wild I expected to see. Oh, but expectations: I don’t want to have any.

When I studied abroad in Northern Ireland in the spring of 2008, I held many expectations, even unconscious ones, and found myself disappointed and frustrated because of them.  Expectations took me away from the actual place I was in and caused me to look for what I envisioned instead of seeing what was actually there.  This time, I want to see things fresh, to look upon a landscape with wonder and newness, although I know it is difficult not to have expectations, for they have a way of growing in the shadows of the mind where one rarely looks.

How do you free yourself enough to be able to enter each moment with the same freshness, with a clear mind, a wild heart, and an openness to accept all that is present?  How many times do you have to travel and see a new place before you learn how to see it the first time in wholeness?  Or does it take many moments, exploration and hidden spots uncovered to be able to see the whole?  Perhaps the journey of learning how to view and live in wholeness is equally important as the attainment of it.

The whole of Alaska is not just the mountains and frontier, but it includes the cities and towns and people.  Do these things infringe upon the wild or accentuate it?  I have ideas about this, but I cannot truly answer this question until I spend more time here.  So I will soak it up and fall into it.  Alaska, I am yours.  Take me into your terrain.  Teach me.  Show me.  Help me see.