A Place in Our Hearts

“I was really excited to meet up with you because I knew you’d be gone in two weeks.”

Maybe I should have read the writing on the wall.

It’s that modern romance, man, the kind that starts with a match. We got to talking during a dreary February in Budapest, a city known for arresting architecture, stag dos, and Eastern Europe’s most blatant political swindler. I’d come to the city with dreams of writing and soaking in thermal baths, the idea stemming from a Wes Anderson flick that actually had nothing to do with Budapest itself. I’d only end up doing one of those things.

She caught my eye, and my swipe, because she was into climbing and had a rad photo of her scaling a steep sun-baked rock face with a siren’s call of sparkling emerald water in the background. That day, the sun shone brightly in the pixelated universe, you could feel the heat emanating from the screen.

We messaged back and forth and she’d speak to deeper topics, respond with thought and care. Intriguing. I’m no good at flirting, but we did a little of that too. We planned to meet at a bouldering gym for our first date. 

Photo source: Ujjerő Boulder Terem


The match moved towards the striker.

We met at UjjeroBoulder Terem, which loosely translates to “Finger Force,” on the south side of Buda, near the Petőfi Bridge.

She was taller than I expected, and late, which would be something I’d get used to during our relationship of ups and downs and angst over delayed periods.

She came striding into the cave-like entrance in a grey petticoat that she tied around her waist with the built-in belt, mid-calf black leather riding boots, and a blood red scarf wrapped around her neck. 

I stood up to greet her.

The climbing goes and we spoke all the while like lost souls do: About life, dreams, poetry, the call of the mountains. 

It all sounded wondrous, impressive, inspiring. I’d never met a woman who had climbed so extensively and she talked about these things cooly, like they were nothing special. She was smooth and smart and funny. I thought I’d hit the jackpot, and that the date was only going so-so.

It was my first time back to climbing in nearly 8 months, and she was much stronger and more technically sound. We ended with her traversing the entirety of the gym and my forearms too pumped and fingers too weak to do much but watch. I tried to act cool and not focus too intently on the leggings she wore. I decided to start climbing again that evening.

On the walk to the tram we were in the middle of a conversation about personal values and what it means to live well. We were about to part ways, or so I thought, when she asked if I wanted to get drinks. 

I had tempered my expectations about the evening, figured she was only mildly interested and that maybe we’d have a second date. I guess I wasn’t so good at reading the route that night.

“This is an interesting conversation, so I’d like to continue it,” she said.

She’d end up making the first move after two fröccs, a Hungarian wine spritzer. She shuffled around the table to sit next to me and gave me a look that invited me to kiss her. So I did. 

The match struck.

We fell for each other and decided to give it a go. 

But not before some discussion. In a moment of blunt honesty before I left for Boston, she’d tell me, “I was really excited to meet up with you because I knew you’d be gone in two weeks.” She wasn’t of the mind to date, she said, but I had thrown a wrench in her plans.

We were together for the better part of the year. She’d teach me to lead and we parlayed that into my first and second ever climbing trips. 

And yet imprinting is hard to shake, her comment would run through our months of quasi-commitment. I learned to expect the unexpected on the terrain ahead, that trust in your belayer is as important as the trust you have in yourself, that a partnership needs a common goal to succeed. 

My guess is you can read the writing on the wall at this point.

Photo source: Ujjerő Boulder Terem


The funny thing is, the gym no longer exists. They shut the doors and moved on to a new venture with the hope they could make it work out better.

Spaces come and go, but they hold memories, that’s what gives them significance: She’d learned to climb there and I’d gotten back into the sport because of it. Our lives danced about because of climbing, and it started at that gym.

Eventually the lights turned off and we’d never be able to go back to that place again.

31 for 31: The Grateful List

You’d think there would be big epiphanies after 31 years of existence. But that’s not the case. At least for me anyway.

On one hand growing older feels like a discerning scribe capturing acute particulars of a scene. They are bringing the details into ever increasing sharpness. On the other hand it’s like taking a step back from a picture you’ve been staring intently at, only to realize the painting is much larger in scope and complexity than you realized from your first, narrow vantage point. And you appreciate that the things you look at change in composition depending on just how close you are to it.

Thus the boundary between 30 and 31 came to pass, and nothing perceptible really happened. I was flooded with a sense of sadness upon waking, got caught up in comparisons to a vague sense of where I thought I ought to be, rollicked in joy at all the years I (hopefully) have in front of me, and grappled with day-to-day existence type shit, like where to go for lunch and “I should really respond to that email.”

In the end, I got to climb and play with a dog so it was a good day (as are all days where I get to climb and play with dogs).

As part and parcel of aging, I like to reflect on the past year. Rather than share lessons learned (which tend to be overly generalized in order to be relatable), here is a list of 31 things I’m grateful for (which make me feel good to think about, and might add some brightness to your day too):

  1. Supportive and loving family. Those that put up with your shit when you are younger, who encourage you as you grow, which are are there for you through good and bad… No idea where I’d be without them
  2. Healthy body that let’s me move in the world on my own volition, that let’s me express myself through motion
  3. The open, random, dance of the world; That you never really know where a day may lead
  4. Good coffee and a good book
  5. Moments of silence and stillness. Of feeling light, like you might float away; When weight becomes discarded and you are left simply buoyant, unburdened
  6. The sense of no separation that arises in rare moments, typically in nature; An electric expansiveness you don’t know whether it will ever stop, is beyond your conception of space, and which is unimportant in the moment, because. Everything.
  7. Lounging (and otherwise) in bed until the afternoon with someone you love. No cares but to be close, as close as you can
  8. Running light and free through forests, fields, city streets, across hills, along trails, in puddles, up stairs, weaving between crowds
  9. A big meal after a long run (usually pizza)
  10. Wandering, openly, absentmindedly in nature. And, walking around cities without a direction other than to follow the initial twitch of interest toward a certain place
  11. The way you feel engaged and tuned in to each movement on a rock face
  12. Poetry and art that shakes you
  13. Laughing so hard it hurts
  14. That once-in-a-while orange that is otherworldly sweet. Fresh apples off the tree, sliced. Ripe peaches that unleash torrents of nectar down your chin and hand when you bite into it. Frozen grapes that crunch and cool. Blueberries off the bush in the mountains. Has citrus ever been so tangy?
  15. For ocean spray spritzing away and the sound of rolling waves, especially over a pebble beach; A vacuuming crash then rainstick needles falling and spreading, all the small bits, rolling along, rocking back and forth, click click click, silence and air drawn in. Repeat
  16. For sun rises over water or mountain, and sunsets from a hill
  17. Watching dumb movies with friends and genuinely enjoying it
  18. Of learning self-love and compassion. I’m pretty alright after all
  19. Oh hands in dirt and watching plants grow. That smell of richly alive soil, fuming with a sense of time immemorial, which also happens to smell like minerals, decaying leaves, and belonging
  20. For animals, so many animals: Puppies (they are all puppies), kitties (same story), sheep, chickens, goofy ducks, cows, etc.
  21. The smell of fresh snow in a pine forest. The sound of it crunching underfoot. Similarly, the shuffling, swishing, crackling of leaves as you walk about in Autumn 
  22. The smell of a light rain on a warm summer day, all metallic and crisp
  23. That look you get when you know she loves you
  24. Laying in piles of powder and watching the whirling flakes dance across your vision. The feeling of snow sprinkles melting on your face. For that matter, drifting away in open fields on a pillow of grass and letting the sky fill up your visual field
  25. The way Ollie still tinkles himself when he’s excited. The way Brin still runs away
  26. Giving a small gift, or thoughtful compliment, or cracking a joke just to see her smile
  27. Pocket-sized notebooks and a pen with ink that flows just right
  28. The shedding that comes with a good laugh and a good cry
  29. Getting up extra early for no damn reason, having the city to yourself and watching it wake up
  30. People, books, and music that seem to come into your life just when you need them
  31. That first step into a new land after a long, long ride

For the Love of Climbing: Two Tales of Why We Climb

The sun beat down on the orange-hued sandstone, the faces of our party burned red and their shoulders glowed. I was surprised by the heat at Smith Rock in May. The sweltering sun couldn’t diminish how much fun I was having. That experience, that exposure, would influence my life in unexpected ways years later.

What is it about climbing that is so powerfully transformative? 

For me, climbing was about being outdoors and the freedom of movement. I loved it at first pitch. That’s not the case for everyone.

For Stormy Saint-Val, climbing has been about catharsis and rejuvenation. It’s been about feeling comfortable in her own skin and learning to appreciate what you can accomplish today, while maintaining dreams of progress for the future.

She fell in love with climbing eventually, you could say. 

“Do black people climb?”

It’s emotionally taxing to be a stranger in a strange land. When Stormy started climbing she only ever met two other black people at the gym, and one of the guys worked there. 

Naturally, one might wonder, “do black people climb?”

“I’m black, I know I climb,” She laughed over the phone. “Is there a like a group or a Meetup? Some[place] where I didn’t feel marginalized?”

She wanted to know the answer, so she googled it. Naturally.

That’s how she found Color the Crag. CtC is a climbing festival in Alabama with a mission to help build community among historically marginalized peoples in the outdoor space.

She found her answer but she needed to figure out how to make her way down there, and how to pay for it all.

“I was so excited [to find it], but then I thought, I can’t afford this,” Stormy noted, dismayed.

Group photo at Color the Crag. Photo source: Color the Crag


Climbing isn’t cheap

The irony of course is that climbing can be free if you just walk into the woods and find a large rock to scale. 

But it’s rarely that simple, especially as a beginner in a sport that requires a slew of technique and safety equipment. For perspective, climbing has become somewhat of a hoity-toity trending activity where a day pass at a swanky gym in NYC costs close to 50 bucks. Want to buy your own gear? An intro trad set, biners, a rope, shoes, and harness can easily put you back $500+. If you’re a working adult, sure, maybe that’s nothing for you, but for a college student or a guy working at a self-financed startup, money can be hard to scrape up. 

For years I was living a white color paycheck-to-paycheck existence, meeting investors whose car cost more than I would make in the next 36 months. (Yea, I’ve made some questionable career choices, but that’s a topic for another day).

In Stormy’s case, five months at her local climbing gym would put her back nearly $800. As a student on a barista salary that’s taxing.

She resorted to clandestine tactics like pretending to be her friend and using her membership card. (She doesn’t recommend that). Eventually the gym worked out a special deal for her as a local ambassador. 

Sometimes you need a helping hand

Stormy found out about the American Alpine Club’s Live Your Dream Grant, which was an opportunity to fund her training and trip.

She hemmed and hawed, but eventually applied.

“I found the grant three days before it was due. ‘Oh my god, is it worth it?,'” she asked herself. “‘Is this worth my time? How late am I going to stay up to write this application [tonight]? What are my intentions and goals [with this]?’”
 
She went back and forth contemplating the fear and disappointment of not receiving the grant, “And then [I thought], what if I do get it? It’s so much greater. And it was. I didn’t want to miss out on the potential opportunity.”

The everyperson adventure grant

The LYD grant is designed to help “the majority of climbers to pursue their goals, whatever those goals are,” according to Howard Sebold, the Metro NY Section Chair and head of the LYD Northeast selection committee.

This is specifically not for the professional climber. After all, they already get free gear, sponsorship dollars, and most grant money anyways.

Howard relays his own story, “I remember when I was first getting into climbing, and reading the mags—you read all this stuff these guys are doing that are rad, badass kind of things, and you’re like, ‘yea, I’m probably never gonna do that.’ Then occasionally you come across a story about [someone] going to Wind Rivers [or the like], and you’re like ‘whoa, that’s totally accessible to me, that’s something I could do.’ And that got me personally excited.”

That’s why the AAC decided to start the grant, “[the thing is] most of the membership is the everyday climber, the weekend warrior, guys [and women] like me— work five days a week, got a family, don’t climb as hard as I used to. I bring my kids out to the crag, just have fun.”

In the end, it’s about helping people go out and accomplish their own mountain dreams, “it really gives back to our members to help them get outside and climb, to pursue their personal goal.” Whatever they may be.

Author leading his first 5.11a in Geyikbayiri, Turkey. Photo courtesy of friend of the author


For the love of climbing

Life is often punctuated and defined by key inflection points, with a lot of smaller connecting-the-dots in between.

According to Stormy, Color the Crag has been a life changer: “Months later, thinking about all the experience and friendship that I gained from the festival, it completely changed my life.”

She goes on to say, “I’ve been able to eradicate this false narrative that black people don’t climb. There were 500 people there! These are a bunch of people that are also climbing that don’t look like what the magazines are showing, and what narratives you have grown up with.”

“It’s been a fuel,” she accentuates.

She still stays in touch with friends she made at CtC and has found a deeper appreciation for the sport as she’s progressed from VB to V2: “That’s what Color the Crag taught me: ‘be proud of your achievements and honor them for what they are.'”

Overall, the sport has “been a big tool in helping me build my awareness and my confidence in myself. It’s more than physical. And the problem solving aspect of it, too, is so fun. [I’ve been able to] apply problem solving to my own life [outside of climbing].” She’s come a long way from sneaking in to the gym and feeling intimidated by the VBs. She’s hoping to get over her fear of the harness and start sport climbing this year.

On my end, from that initial day at Smith Rock to leading my first 5.11a this past year, learning to climb has been a process of pushing through the fear and going after what I truly want to pursue. That is, in the face of the self-doubt, financial concerns, or whatever other objection I make up for myself.

This year, I’ve got a lot of normal, everyman-achievable goals: Climb 5.11 consistently. Do a multi-pitch trad route. Summit a 5,000m peak. 

In the past I may have chalked these ideas up as unattainable, or at least highly unlikely. Probably wouldn’t even have tried. I’ve learned to let go of pre-conceived notions and to let myself dream, even if just a little. 

We all have our reasons for climbing, and for some, our love of the sport is really about finding love for ourselves. Sometimes a little help along the way–a friend, a community, a dream–can make all the difference.




Want to apply for the Live Your Dream grant?

Howard shares some advice on what they look for:

  • 1) Well-researched climbing objective. Be specific of the why, what, and how. For example, some people have detailed spreadsheets outlining their training plan and gear list.
  • 2) Be clear with how this goal will help you personally progress as a climber.
    3) Think about what it is like to review hundreds of applications. How will your application stand out? For one, tell a good story. (Everyone has a story to tell).

For even more advice, Ben Beck-Coon and Anthony Nguyen, winners of a 2013 Live Your Dream grant, have more tips on writing a great proposal.

The deadline for applications is March 31.





Feature photo courtesy of Stormy Saint-Val

The Sound of Waking up Before Your Alarm Clock

I awoke at 5:56, been beating the clock for weeks. Why?

One. It’s probably because the bed is uncomfortable, a couch conversion that dips in the middle and barely fits my anything but tall frame. I go to sleep laying lengthwise and wake up diagonally, splayed.

Two. Maybe it’s the light flickering on from across the street, the automatic front entrance luminescence–that alien spaceship open-hatch beaming out into the night. 

Three. It’s a bad dream. Eventually, I’ll lay my head back on the damp salty pillow. 

I’m envious of the people who can remember theirs. The good ones. They talk of outlandish tales and I sit gripped pondering the Jungian symbolism.

I do my dreaming in the day. They consist of places to see, mountains to climb, of the woman I’d like to do it all with. 

I try not to wake up early from these. Sometimes life beeps and bleeps and reality catches up with you.




Next week is February 14th. 

That’s seven days.

You know how many girlfriends I’ve had, to bring chocolate and flowers to on this day of sugar hearts and Hershey kisses? 

Zero. 

Cupid’s slacking. 

Or maybe slow. Though, I met my last two girlfriends in the week between Valentine’s Day and my birthday. Will this year make it three in a row?

Periods also come in threes. Ellipses twinkling the continuation of, a break in the story so… to be continued, Beau.




“Do you like spending time alone?,” she asked.

“I do. I have a lot of practice with it.” I said.

I’ve spent 9.5 of my 12 adult years single. But who’s counting.

In two weeks I’ll be 31.

I’ve got an average of 48 years left to live.

Numbers. 

Numbers, numbers, numbers. 

I wonder if maybe I look hard enough I can find a pattern in them all. There is one common denominator. 




Math used to be fun.

Then life made it into a practical matter of quarterly reviews, your income statement, and if you really can afford that vacation you’ve always wanted to take.

I had to learn to like math again. To understand it means you can play the odds.

I figure life is a lottery, except we don’t really know the rules, and the house didn’t stack the game in their favor. Well they did, sorta.

Anyway, you take your chances in a 79 year average lifespan–look for the opportunities with upside, minimize your exposure, bet big on the things you believe in–and bask in the favor of Fortune once or twice.

In the end, math tells you things like we all approach zero over time. History is a fine complementary subject, if you’re curious.

An any rate, while you’re marked 1 and not 0, the key is to keep playing the game. Or something like that.




Illustration by Pete Lloyd


I don’t know much. But I’m good at parroting other people’s words.

A wise man once said that the life you live is a combination of the here and now and a fantasy for how you thought it all would be. 

Analyze any of your disappointments and you’ll see it’s the discrepancy between what you’d hoped for and what is.

A scientist enumerated that love comes in all forms, and that’s the beauty and difficulty of it.

A drunk said you should find what you love and let it kill you.

A preacher said to do great things. And if you can’t do that to do little things in a great way.

A climber said the real problem is that you think you have all this time. When you don’t.

A psychologist said that the health of our world is dependent on the integrity of the individual.

Well hoot, Japhy, what’s it all mean?

Maybe it’s that your life matters and you get too few spins of the roulette wheel. Maybe it’s that you should roll that damn ball for as long as ya can. Because you want to play, and not be a spectator, aye?




“Beep-beep!”

That your alarm clock going off?



Feature photo source: A Reciprocating Saw

The Day I Learned My Cousin Is a Professional Climber

I learned a few things that day.

Like how someone can hum with crystal glass vibrancy–the kind you can hear and feel.

Or how a gleam in their eye is gonna stick to you like burdock burrs after a hike in the woods. There’s no escaping it.

That’s how it was, talking with him about climbing. 

Beer at the Gardiner Liquid Mercantile. Photo source: Gardiner Liquid Mercantile


Perhaps my memory is faulty. If it is, I blame the craft beer.

We’d already drank two glasses each and they caused his cheeks to flush and my speech to slur slightly. It was summer in the Hudson Valley and the days were simple and long. Perspiration dribbled down our foreheads and the glass flutes.

We were sitting outside the Gardiner Liquid Mercantile talking about growing up and family. He was raised in Long Island and had longed to get away from the cramped quarters of that thin slice of land. 

He went to school at SUNY New Paltz and fell hard for climbing and mountain biking and his girlfriend. I can’t remember if he chose the school based off proximity to the Shawangunks. My memory is a bit hazy, like I said.

So the story goes, he climbed throughout college learning the trade of trad on the cliffs outside of town. Now he was the manager at the local climbing gym. “The Danager,” as the high school staff called him. 

This is where I sunk my teeth into climbing for the first time. That I do remember.

I hadn’t lived in a climber’s town before and wouldn’t have come through New Paltz if it wasn’t for the farm.

But there I was and I needed an outlet from the manual labor. The idea of climbing had been like a splinter in my brain, lodged in there from somewhere unrecognized long ago. I had wanted to try it yet never did. I started going to the gym, hence I met Dan.

As the season progressed, I fell into a rhythm and started climbing 3-4x per week. Mostly in the gym, go figure. It was like falling in love and the excitement of climbing got me through some damn drawn out days of hoeing and weeding.

I learned that the area had a long history: From Fritz Wiessner and Hans Krauss establishing lines in the 1930s and ’40s to a Nobel Prize winner coming up from Manhattan to set routes on the weekends (i.e., Shockley’s Ceiling, for William Shockley, a complicated character known equally for his racist ideas as his contribution to the semiconductor) to Lynn Hill’s first ascent of Vandals, which ushered in a wave of 5.13 climbs on the East Coast. 

More recently, Andy Salo, the almost Gunks lifer and local superhero had just completed the first ascent of Bro-Zone, a 5.14b extension, and the hardest route in the area.

On the other hand, it’s a quiet hippy-dip college town with plenty else going on. If you didn’t look for it, you could easily miss that this was a place pro climbers move to for their craft.

Dan asked why I was here in New Paltz.

I told him I had wanted to try farming for years, that I used to be in startups but wanted to pursue things that felt more right for me going forward. 

We clinked glasses to celebrate doing what moves you. As he raised his hand, I could see into his glass where his finger should have been.

Inside the bar of the Gardiner Liquid Mercantile. Photo source: Gardiner Liquid Mercantile


He asked if I knew anyone in the area. 

I said not really, that my cousin lived here, but we weren’t that close.

“He’s sort a of semi-pro climber, actually,” I added.

“Who is your cousin?,” he asked.

“Andy Salo.”

Your cousin is AaaannDDDDYYY SAAAAlllOOOOO?!?!” He practically fell out of his chair.

“I mean, he’s sponsored by like La Sportiva. He’s not semi, dude, he’s pro. He’s like a local legend.” 

His eyes were teacup saucer wide. His voice rose a few octaves and he emphasized the “d”, “y”, and the “a”,“o”. Bingo was his name-o.

I knew Andy had been sponsored but never really paid attention to the brands. The whole idea of him living out of a truck for years, traveling around and climbing, seemed alien. It didn’t fit into my world view when I was younger. I guess I kinda ignored it, chalked it up to frivolous vagabonding. Still, there was an element of intrigue that I couldn’t shake.

Was he the source of the sliver?

To be honest, I wasn’t close with Andy and wouldn’t see him my whole time in New Paltz. 

Well there was one instance when I’m pretty sure he walked past the cafe I was sitting in. But you get the point.

He had always struck me as aloof, a “my way or the highway” kinda guy. He certainly marched to the beat of his own drum, and I often felt I wasn’t welcome to join his parade when our families got together for the holidays or that one summer vacation in Colorado.

Maybe it was because I was young and we didn’t share a lot in common back in the day. Maybe it was because he was a “step-“cousin; we didn’t grow up together and haven’t had the chance to get to know each other much. 

My impression softened when I learned about his feats, from someone else

Andy and I spoke at my sister’s wedding–his cousin–in September. It was probably the longest chat we’ve had to date.

I learned that Andy is a pretty humble guy, and that his motivations are driven as much by climbing as the history of a place. (He studied geology in college because, “it seemed the least terrible” thing to major in, which is his way of saying he likes history. That’s my take anyway). 

We talked about the pursuit of what interests you (and the sometimes friction against societal pressure). We like to think we are all going after what we want, but in practice that’s not true. Andy certainly has beat that drum a bit harder than most.

Like the quartz conglomerate cliffs of the Shawangunk Ridge, there’s more layers to my cousin than I could see at first glance.

Before we parted, he invited me to go climbing with him.

After we finished our beers, Dan packed up and headed out.

I stayed to enjoy the last rays and ponder: What was my judgement of Andy really about? 

Often, the things that trouble us about another is a reflection of our own desires or behavior.

Certainly, I’ve felt a tension towards devoting myself to one thing. That singular focus appealed to me. Was I jealous of him for actually doing it? Was I projecting my own “my way or the highway” nature unfairly onto Andy? Maybe.

The last seven years had been spent in startups and at one point I thought that would be my shtick. Yet, here I was working on a farm gaining a pointedly new perspective. 

I wondered about unfair judgements I have cast on other people.

Sunset over the Gunks. Photo by the author


All that summer I had been grappling with what to do (for a career, in life, etc.). 

By the end of the season there was just one clear-ambiguous thought: I wanted to keep gaining a broader perspective of the world. 

In rare moments when I let myself dream–without all that bullshit of what’s practical or not– what I really wanted to do was to travel through Europe for the next year. 

I wanted to climb more. I wanted to learn mountaineering. I wanted to write.

A round of cheers brought me to. Their clanging glasses clamored about in my ear.

I got up and walked back to the farm in the setting sun, a burdock burr was stuck to my pant leg.


Header Image: Andy Salo sending Bro-Zone, the hardest route in the Gunks. Photo source: Whitney Boland




It Won’t Go: On Breaking Up After a Climbing Trip

I’d never wanted a vacation to be over before it started.

Maybe it was because I knew we’d be over when the trip ended. Maybe I was trying to delay the inevitable.

But we were 10 months in and things still weren’t working. 

We tried of course, but when it came down to it, you kept holding back. Something didn’t feel right, you said.

We decided it was time to move on. But not before some fun.

A two-week climbing trip in Turkey awaited. A nice way to end things after the shit that was Kraków. Let’s go out on an upswing, we thought.

Photo by the author

I knocked on your door in Budapest. 

We hadn’t seen each other since that fateful weekend. We were filled with trepidation.

I entered. You gave me a look. I threw myself into your arms. 

We moved to the bedroom and eliminated the distance between us. We fucked then held each other. Hours passed. Sometimes it was so easy.

They were good days. Then we left for Geyikbayiri.

Maybe this will work.

Budapest went well, maybe this will work. Maybe.

I repeated those words to myself like a prayer. I had a bad feeling but tried to be hopeful. My stomach began to knot up at Atatürk airport, not a good sign. 

We caught a flight to Antalya, then took a shuttle to our hostel. I’d tip the driver too much.

Photo by S

It was dark when we arrived. 

The air smelled sweet. Oranges and pomegranates wafted ripe around us. 

There was something else too, the citrus masked a pungent aroma. I breathed a sort of goat, orange, mountain air mélange. It reminded me of the farm. A memory of mixed associations: The smell of verdant life and an imminent season of change; Of the infinite cycle and of confinement. 

The bungalows where we’d stay were coupled off with fruit trees in little vistas of privacy. They were small cottages like gingerbread homes with a Turkish twist. Inside, an Ottoman gourd diffused light through shimmering gems of red, orange, and green. The lamp was too weak to read by.

That night we settled around the fireplace to shoot the shit with our new camp mates. She’d sync in with the rhythm of the place more easily than I would.

She was so god damned cool with everything. 

It was the lightest I’d ever seen her, just carefree and enjoying herself.

I wasn’t able to match the buoyancy.

Why? I didn’t quite understand.

How could she be so at ease when nothing (and everything) was on the line?, I questioned myself. I questioned her.

Photo by the author
Photo by S

We’d talk again about our thoughts on love — how we love.

She’d say, I’d rather give and receive love when it’s there. 

I admitted it sounds good in theory.

I’m not sure why it is like this for me, though. I do find the clarity of knowing things will end to be a relief. It makes it easier. 

Not that I’m happy about things ending, but it helps to have resolution.

I do wonder if I’m the one with the weird strategy, she offered.

She’d told me before that she always feels the emotional pains of a breakup months later. I wondered about the mechanics of regret and grieving.

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The trip would be a tug-of-war with myself.

I was frustrated as hell and felt uncomfortable with us. What we were. It was hard for me to love so freely knowing it was over. It felt pointless at times.

I wondered why I put myself in this mess.

Days passed. It wasn’t working. I needed to get away.

Away from the room, away from the camp, away from her.

We talked and I said I wanted to go for a hike the next day, to get some space to think. She misheard me and thought I was asking her to join.

The next morning, I left two hours before sunrise. Mostly, I stumbled around in the dark. My headlamp was too dim in the blackness, it made me near-sighted. I kept going off-route. 

Come on sun, rise and take me with you. I want to go fast. I want to go far. I want to explode.

In time the sun came. It shone out onto the kingdom in long streaks of color and flare. My feeble eyes tilted towards the sky. I could see a path forward. I ran.

I needed to feel the freedom of movement. 

Photo by the author
Photo by the author
Photo by S

We settled into an up-and-down rhythm.

We had a cadence of a few good days then a fight. I was mainly the instigator. She was always the more understanding one.

On one day the Slovakians went into town for a rest and to re-stock on cigarettes. Only the ear, nose, and throat doctor stayed behind.

We invited her to join us climbing, which made four. We paired off and I chose to climb with Doc. I wanted a day away from her. I felt tight and distracted. Not good for belaying.

I’d lead my hardest climbs to date.



On another day we’d hitchhike to town to buy food. We’d end up with bottles of wine from the driver’s private vineyard and Toblerone. S has her unique social charms, and conversational German. 

It was my first hitchhiking experience. We’d toast to our fortune later on.



On another day I’d surprise her by dressing up the bungalow with birthday decorations. I got her some small things and we enjoyed the morning sipping coffee and talking on the porch. I decided not to make a cake.



Yet another day I’d be cold and distant.

We’d talk through our frustrations and challenges which ironically brought us closer. When we were relaxed we found harmony in continuous laughter. At points we’d feel the closest we ever felt.

It was emotionally taxing.

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The days marched on.

Nearing the end we looked back and wondered where the time went.

I had been agonizing, which had made the days feel slow. Now our time was fleeting and it felt like everything was slipping through my hands.

We left camp and drove down the Turkish coast along the Mediterranean Sea, taking the D400 from Antalya to Çıralı. Three days left, just the two of us.

We each chose one activity: She wanted to go hiking, I wanted to see ruins, and we both wanted to climb.

Photo by S

We walked among the dead.

The mausoleum had fallen into the sea. The foundation was washing away and the walls now spilled into the sand. The cacophonous chambers were aired and quietly filling with empty water bottles.

I seek the ancient world because it reminds me that it was once the present. We will all topple some day.

Phaselis was a prosperous port city that passed hands from Greek to Roman to Persian and on and on, before eventually falling out of favor for larger ports nearby. The slow decline lasted until the 11th century when it stopped being of any importance. Quite a good run, though.

That night she’d tell me, When we were in the car, you were talking with Nico about something — I was only half-paying attention — I was looking at you in the sideview mirror and just felt this overwhelming sense rise up; This swell of love for you filled me.

We did love each other after all.

I pulled her close, held her. What am I supposed to do with that?, I thought.

Quite a good run, though.

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December first. Our last night.

We jumped into the Mediterranean naked.

We’d swam in the ocean — in December — and were all giggles and shivers over it.

Over it. That’s what we were. Tomorrow we’d both fly out from Antalya. You’d leave half an hour before me. We had separate flights because I had bought my ticket later. Because I wasn’t sure if I’d want to jet before the trip was done.

It had been hard. But I was glad I stayed.

A small part of me hoped that I’d run into you on the layover in Istanbul. That wouldn’t happen.

The ocean waves bristled with electricity, the shock absorbed us. We swam with the current then broke the circuit. The lights dimmed.

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We left on good terms.

We had a joke that these were the best breakups we’d ever had. Or maybe it was only me that said that.

Parting at the airport was confusing, difficult. We both admitted we felt closer, more open, more honest. We agreed not to talk for awhile.

Back home she’d show pictures of the trip to her grandmother.

I popped up on the screen here and there. She asked who I was. She said something about a complicated relationship.

Her grandmother said a few words and they both moved on. She told me she really liked her grandmother because she didn’t judge.

In Istanbul I was going through some old emails.

I can trace our time together in the flight details in my inbox. We covered a lot of miles.

In the end, no matter how far we went, we couldn’t bridge that final distance.

Photo by S

The Black Magic and Heart Break of Zakrzówek Quarry

We walked to the quarry and had our first talk of the end. 

She’d come to visit from Budapest and was staying for a long weekend. We’d last seen each other five weeks before and spent the ensuing time apart on separate continents. We left on good turns.

Now we were back in Krakow and a lot had changed. I hadn’t realized how much. She had no idea.


We were feeling claustrophobic in the apartment, and in our own heads.

We needed to get out.

Krakow contains several parks. We sought refuge in nature.

The Zakrzówek quarry is rumored to contain black magic. Pan Twardowski, a sorcerer from the 16th century, made a deal with the devil for great knowledge and supernatural power. He allegedly practiced his dark art among the rocks.

Pan is said to still be alive: He lives on the moon and keeps tabs on Krakovian gossip via a spider’s thread spun down to the city center.

Zakrzówek Quarry


Today, we were trying to disentangle our own web.

We walked from the apartment to the quarry, 4km west from Kazimierez. We strode along the Vistula and atop hard concrete sidewalks desperate for fresh air.

The weather was cold, clouds hung heavy and damp. It smelled of decaying leaves, slightly sweet. Like stale black tea. Oranges, reds, yellows and dark grays were sprayed along paths and dusted the windshields of parked cars.

At the conclusion of a few sharp turns, the quarry strode open and evoked an antediluvian fortress or a secret garden. Sheer limestone walls enclose old apple trees and a shrunken deciduous forest. The trees were lithe and thin. We walked in. I had to piss. She kept on.

Zakrzówek Quarry
To our right, chalky stains ran along the wall. It’s the closest outdoor climbing in Krakow and the cues are all over.

There were signs marking our relationship too: Difficulty fully committing to each other, a chasing of narratives and expectations across cities, countries, continents. In the process we ended up in different places and at different conclusions.

It sucks.

We moved to the long crack in the rock face and played on the limestone in street clothes and inappropriate shoes. We scaled a short traverse, the stone was slick. Climbing had been a way for us to bond. I had learned to lead climb with her.

All around it was quiet. The winter breeze rushed into the valley and swirled around the posthole quarry. It felt like a day for endings.

We made our way to the top of the rock and peered about. We sat at the edge and observed the pastel colors of fall and a sunken sky.

Zakrzówek Quarry


We talked about us and the future.

It was the first of several conversations we would have that week.

I moved away and became cold and despondent. We walked on and spoke in terse tones.

Tension was strung between us, the spider’s line might snap at any moment. I wasn’t being compassionate.

We walked around the lake. The vibrancy of the fall palette and crisp air remained fixed in view. I was moving down a hole.

“You don’t have to wait here for me,” she urged as she sat staring out glassy-eyed over the water. “I need some time to myself, since I’m not getting any empathy from you.”

I was being a jerk, detached. I was falling into old patterns. Needs were met with ice. A stonewalled heart. My gut tightened with regret. Past car crash moments flashed by. My shoulders and back tensed, the breath became shallow and rapid. It’s fight or flight.

I tried to get out of my own head, to stop the record and listen. There she was, right there, you could reach out and touch her, offer support. You could throw a lifeline.

You’re iced through.

Cold to the touch, prickly.

Why? Why do this? You ask yourself often over the coming days.