Where’s the best place to enter into a story?
I mean really, where should I begin? Everything I’ve experienced has influenced my life’s progression, and its remnants linger into every next choice. All the things I have encountered are tethered together. A thread of influence that connects my streams of thoughts, decisions, steps, paths. I can’t escape who I have been, the moments I’ve experienced, the people in my life, or the choices I’ve made.
I am what I have felt.
Major events have tripped me off my trajectory and created enough of a jolt to disrupt my routine, to lead me to re-evaluate and assess my involvement—within my space, my community, my realm of reality. They have prompted me to ask: What do I want to experience — what memory of my existence do I want to leave behind?
I guess the best place to enter into this story, Climbing Mt. Rainier, is with a phone call. It happened on the morning of July 20, 2017. I was having fun that year and enjoying a quintessential morning: the sun’s light had the dynamic range that brought natures’ details into perspective, a mild humid morning where the warmth was complemented by the stillness in the air. I had just finished a workout and was leaving the gym. My car’s engine was on and in reverse when the music playing was interrupted by an incoming call. The media console read Christina. It was my younger sister. She never called. I felt an immediate premonition—this wasn’t going to be good news. From that phone call until August 21, the total solar eclipse, I tangled with the reality that my younger sister was in her final stages of life.
Relationships are complex. They are never simple to describe, easy to label, completely ideal.
Instead they are layers of feelings embedded into memories, comprising a collection of moments that influence our lasting impression. My relationship with my sister hadn’t always been bad. In the beginning, she was my person. We shared a room, slept in beds bunked together, watched movies, told stories and shared our happenings. We were there comforting each other as life was unfolding. Our relationship became different after we made a choice, decisions that changed our trajectory when we decided to live with different parents after their divorce.
It wasn’t an amicable conclusion for my parents, nor was it an amicable marriage. Looking back I see my mom and dad as young souls who got caught up in their pain, and told the stories that gave them comfort. Our impressionable ears molded those stories into truths that weren’t complete, and we chose our sides. We stopped experiencing life together and ultimately headed off in different directions. Our connection was never the same. We never were able to get back to who we were for each other. We struggled to understand one another’s stories and in the end ran out of time, unable to untangle what we couldn’t figure out. We never had a chance to see each other’s inner beauty again.
After her death I was stricken with immense grief. This wasn’t how I thought our story was going to end. I had envisioned a few more years of individual growth and, later on, reconnecting on a dock that overlooks the water on Arnold Lake. Watching the sun’s rays reflect light across the surface of the water, catching up on each other’s soul’s journey.
I lost my appetite for life. I transferred this indifferent attitude into everything; I didn’t care about my things, what people thought of me, my successes or failures. I couldn’t decide if the experience had made me more spiritual, with a lack of attachment to irrelevant things, or was I just depressed? Each day I got up and carried on. Twinkled when I could, but ready to leave my existence behind and live a transient life. I couldn’t wait to get far away from all that was familiar.
Then the door opened and into my space entered Christopher. I met him at a tennis lesson. I didn’t care for him, probably because he was a similar version of me-to the point and direct, a knowledge seeker who was eager to explain his findings. And he was persistent. I was always busy and he always had an idea of something fun we could do.
Give a person a chance and you can find a complimenting quality.
After a year of being busy our friendship strengthened, and then he asked me the question that planted this seed.
Want to go bouldering?
I said, Nah, it’s not my thing.
He said, Gia, trust me; you’re going to like it. And it’s a great opportunity to meet new friends.
I gave it a chance and he was on to something. I fell in love with a new sport.
I discovered climbing to be much more than just strength and athleticism. It’s very analytical; each course is a problem that needs to be decoded. There is more than one solution. Everyone has unique anatomical strengthens and can traverse the course using a different movement pattern. Climbing has deepened my self-awareness and my understanding of the potential my body has to move through space. This sport is absolutely alluring. I could spend hours watching experienced climbers maneuver from one hold to the next. Their abilities are mystical. Each movement is intentional, controlled and executed with grace. They are connecting to nature on a level that I have never experienced.
At that time, I didn’t know much about this sport. I was working on beginner routes that were basically courses that ran horizontally, meaning all I had to do was step and reach out. As I progressed and needed more of a challenge, I started working on the next level of routes. And I found myself clenching and clinging to rocks, unable to reach for the next hand position that was slightly outside of my comfort zone. The next level required positioning my body into vulnerable postures that increased the likelihood of a harder fall (There are no ropes in bouldering.) I watched younger climbers take risks, stretch for holds, miss and land heavily. My 40-year-old vertebral column no longer had the youthful pliability, and I strongly doubted its ability to handle the force of a fall. I plateaued and wasn’t able to complete routes. My friends were finishing courses and I could only offer support.
Frustrated that I was afraid and reluctant to try and fail, I went home wounded. On the ride back I thought maybe if I deepened my skils set, I would find comfort in reaching for those challenging holds. I went home and googled climbing videos. My search popped up a link that read “the most popular climbing videos of 2017.” I clicked.
They were inspiring stories of professional climbers. These videos were motivating; I wanted to step up my ability and acquire better technique. At that moment my immediate takeaway was this: They were climbing with fear, a discomfort they managed. And they filled up with endorphins when they navigated through the fear. They were able to push outside of their discomfort and reach for that next hold.
This fear that I was experiencing, this discomfort, was the first emotion that I had felt other than grief since my sister’s death. It was the only thing able to rival the anguish, and I found it to be an interesting encounter. It was both uncomfortable and comforting. It gave me a break from the suffering, and I was ready to explore it. I was ready to follow the fear on a solo journey of understanding and internal growth.
After watching the videos, I made a list of all the things that scared me. On that long list was climbing Mt. Rainier. My friend Tiffany had climbed it in 2012. After she made it to the summit and posted pics, I wanted to accomplish that moment for myself. I declared for six years that I’m going to climb Mt. Rainier, but I never followed through on it. This is my moment. I am ready to experience the discomfort of preparing to climb my first mountain of significant height.
Shortly after making this decision—the same week—before I had shared it with anyone, I received a Facebook alert: Tiffany Moon had accepted my friendship request -the one I had sent to her eight years ago. I’m not one to believe in coincidences.