The walls were closing in on me. After work, I stood in the meadow. El Capitan and Middle Cathedral moved ten feet closer each day. I barely rock climbed any more, spending the majority of my time sanding and painting a house in Yosemite West. I went to the job site late and made up for it by leaving early. The pressure of working a menial job and being too tired to climb tore at me. I needed to escape to find something new. I had contracted ditch fever.
Aaron checking out the climbs at the Red
A native Kentuckian, Aaron wanted to leave Yosemite to visit family and meet up with Hayden, a fresh out of high-school sport wanker and his upcoming partner for a trip to Patagonia. The Red River Gorge, home of the State’s largest concentration of quality sport climbing, sat a mere half hour from Aaron’s home. When he mentioned splitting gas at the job site, I immediately tossed two liters of high octane energy drinks and a batch of homemade brownies into my station wagon. We escaped the vortex of the ditch and the staleness of staying too long in Yosemite, pounding out the 2500 mile drive to Kentucky in a 48 hour continuous push.
Aaron, Matt, and Hayden to break a tree at the Left Flank
Though I’d been in Yosemite for a few months, I arrived at the Red not having climbed for a few weeks. I wasn’t out of shape; I consider round is a shape. I started climbing Monday, checking out every crag, trying as many routes as I could. I was psyched. By the following Monday, I could barely make it up the warm-ups. I was worked. Apparently, seven days of climbing makes one weak. At the top of Tuna Town (12d), one of the uniform jug hauls that the Red is famous for, all the climbing hit me. I got jazz hands and Elvis legs. I pulled up the rope, trying to clip the anchors. My hands slowly opened as I shook like an autumn leaf. I whipped. The ground rushed towards my face. This was insane. The biggest impression I’d leave on the earth would be a two foot crater where I decked. Why couldn’t I find a nice safe desk to sit behind? After seventy feet of screaming, the rope slowed. Hayden launched to the third bolt, and I came level with him.
Local cowboy Cory Herr on Flower Power at the Madness Cave
Hayden climbed with slightly more success. On the left side of the Mother Lode, at the GMC wall, 8 Ball (5.12d) follows an obvious corner system, arching rightwards as it nears the anchor. The fumes off a blunt of “Kentucky Dro” drifted across the Madness Cave as Hayden finished his bowline, and shot up, trying to onsight the technical route. He used his ninja footwork up into the corner and then to the base of its arch. A line of chalked holds followed the arch out right. Instead, Hayden headed straight up a desperate path of unchalked crimps in no man’s land. The vision quest began. He wandered about the face with his elbows pointing skyward and his body shaking. He fought to the anchors and managed to pull it off, despite climbing completely off route.
“I could see how most people get suckered out by those big chalked holds to the right. The crimp sequence above sure was heinous.” For the most part, the climbing at the Red is straight forward. Crimp left hand, crimp right hand, pull up. But even the best get lost. They go on these vision quests, the rights of passage where they struggle, get lost, and realize a bit of who they are.
On the drive back to camp from the Mother Lode, the fall sunset turned the clouds a thousand shades of orange. Hayden choked up. That night, he bought the after adventure beverages from the beer trailer on the county line. Maybe he found a bit of himself because that night he got lost in beer.
Hayden on Take That Katie Brown 13b
After climbing for a few days, Hayden, Aaron and I rested at Aaron’s cousin’s apartment in Richmond. The Slade Weekly ran an article about the local community law enforcement. The chief of police wanted his officers to command more respect so “Officers who grew a mustache received a 66% increase in pay.” The town’s class was made more evident when we ate breakfast at a greasy diner, the Waffle house. The snaggle- toothed waitress said “Ok, sugar” when I ordered pancakes. She said “Uh-huh darling” when I ordered orange juice. I wanted to order bacon but I was afraid she’d call me her boyfriend. While I wanted to get lucky in Kentucky, the idea of trapping myself in a place where most genetic characteristics go to die, scared me. Plus she could have eaten corn on the cob through a chain link fence. Before we left, I stopped to reconsider. Maybe she was the girl for me. After all, she had something the three of us didn’t- a job.
Me climbing some 12a at the Left Flank
Business Weekly discussed the current high rate of unemployment coining the term the “Lost Generation”- the young and unemployed, who have been disproportionately affected by the economic down turn represent an enormous demographic. Unable to even grab the first rung of the corporate ladder and faced with a depressed income due to being stuck in a career below their educated abilities, this group of high-school drop outs and college graduates are lost in America. Some of them, like me, found their way to the Red River Gorge, and more accurately, the camping behind Miguel’s Pizza Shop. They wander about causing trouble, roaming listlessly, and contributing to society only through their basic consumption.
Late night fireworks on the road by Twinkie
A 30 rack of Miller Lite in camouflage cans sat next to a gravity bong at the camp site. A high school student in Richmond kept us in heavy supply of ounces of brown stems and seeds that were bricked together and called “Kentucky Dro”. Our basic consumption, the cheap beer and brick weed usually kept our insanity at bay, but more often it ignited Aaron. After a blunt and a six pack, he’d shout, “I do what I marijuana!” He shot bottle rockets and M-80s at anything that moved then started enormous wax fires causing mushroom cloud explosions that lit up the field around the camp fires. Aaron let loose; he had escaped a long summer of humping haulbags, sanding and painting houses, and stacking wood. He scrounged his dollars and bought his ticket to Patagonia, trading his manual labor for a career in big wall climbing.
Aaron's wax bombs
After more pyrotechnics for Aaron, more huge whips for me, and more desperate onsights for Hayden, we spent another night in Richmond. At midnight, Hayden rustled on an air mattress when the door suddenly opened.
“This is my house and I need to use the phone.” A tweaked out woman barged in screaming, “I won’t kill you.” Hayden evaluated the woman from his sleeping bag on the living room floor.
“Uhh…,”Hayden said. He attempted to listen to her rapid fire gibberish and provide some advice but she only stared and babbled on.
In a moment of complete maturity; Aaron offered the woman some direction. He propped up on one elbow and yelled from the couch, “You’re lost. Now, get the fuck out of here. “
The tweaker pivoted on her heel and bolted from the house, slamming the door behind her.
Hayden pounded up the stairs, running into the guest room, and waking me. “Dude, did you hear that? She was tweaking and randomly came into the house. Weird.” Hayden watched her run across the back yard towards another Kentucky townhouse. “Dood, on a scale of 0 to 1; I think she was a 1.”
Hayden on Table of Colors 13b at the Left Flank
The Kentucky weather soured when we got back to the Red. Hayden and Aaron left for Colorado to train for their upcoming Patagonia trip and prepare for their Gasherbaum 5 adventures. I drove west to the next crag. The radio played a song about a cowboy casanova who broke hearts all across the Midwest. I tuned it all out, watching the odometer click off two thousand miles. The endless flats of Oklahoma forced me to reflect, something the whirlwind of Kentucky hadn’t let me do.
Hayden and I fighting at the Overtow wall
Climbing offers an easy escape, a justifiable excuse to ditch out on sanding and painting, an opportunity to forget about the despondent economy, and the possibility of a life behind a desk or worse, a mop. It’s easier to climb than to grow up. But was I just treading water rock climbing? Was there any sense in it all or was my life just a series of scrambled adventures: tweakers busting into the house, huge whippers, pyrotechnics, and the search for a “1”. I stopped the seriousness of my thought. What would Hayden and Aaron do? They’d say “fuck it”, turn the radio dial, and search for gangster rap in middle America.