Archive | adventure

Home Sweet Home

Near the Flatiron

Last night, Dar and I returned home from New York City. I was beyond exhausted. More even than after twelve hours climbing on the Matterhorn. My muscles twitched and my back ached from the flight. My head hurt from not having drank enough water. Forget about vacation, I thought, I just want to stay home.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines vacation as “a respite or a time of respite from something,” and “a scheduled period during which activity is suspended.” I have never taken a vacation like that. I heard rumors of people resting on the beach, reading a book and drinking margaritas. I saw pictures from my friends’ trips in which they appear to be doing exactly that. But somehow whenever I go on vacation, I never sit down.

There is so much to do, new places to go, people to see. On this visit to NYC, Dar and I wore out our shoes walking some six miles a day, enjoying the Hudson, admiring the parks, window shopping and watching people. We checked out the city’s farmers’ markets and gluten-free restaurants. We met my family for dinner in Hell’s Kitchen after going on a tour of the Tenement Museum in the Lower East Village. We walked Broadway North to South. The only time we rested was when we ate, or when we sat through (only half) a musical.

Broadway

I love adventure. I love the thrill of discovering a new park, seeing a new street, eating at a new restaurant. I want to walk down the side streets and into dead-ends, just to see where they go. I like to leave the hotel early in the morning and get back late at night. And I don’t like to sit down. Not for long. And only if I have something to do, like eat or read a book, or better yet — both at the same time.

Running ourselves rugged in New York City was good, but my favorite moment was putting down the bags and opening my arms to the wriggling, tail-wagging doggies welcoming us home. There is no place like home. No matter how many times the thorns in my backside force me up from my chair and away to the wild world outside, I just love coming home. I haven’t seen a place in the world I would rather be than right here, where I am, at my messy desk, near my open window, with my oaks growing crookedly on the hills outside.

I wish I remembered that longer. Before July is over, I will begin making plans: camping in King’s Canyon, kayaking in San Juan Islands, climbing in Inyo National Forest. I’m just going to stop calling those trips a vacation, and admit to myself that I love my home, but I also love running around. Around the corner adventure beckons, my friends, and I must heed the call. I want to, because, after all, it is mine.

The Thief of Complex Plotting

Just as I stopped complaining to myslf, a week or so ago, about not finding a really good book to read, a book that would carry me away to far lands, I picked up Megan Whalen Turner’s magnificent The Thief. Sucked into the landsape of Eddis, Sounis and Attolia without a last glance behind me, I fell in love with Eugenides, the narrator, and his adventures. Three books later, and I’m worried — Megan Whalen Turner had written four books so far, but I am not ready to say goodbye.

Turner is a master plotter. Her prose sings. Her landscape maerializes before my eyes like a movie, sometimes a grim black and white film, at other times a colorful, musical adventure. Reading her novel is like taking a deep breath and diving into the clearest water, expecting to find the bottom of the pool below, instead discovering the rich life of a sprawling reef.

Have I told you yet that I love this book?

Rich, a rich tapestry of life and intrigue, a longing for adventure, love and life, the complexitie of being — I don’t know how she did it. How do you create such a world, so alive? No wonder that in each novel’s end note Turner says that the events there described are fiction, for how can one author’s mind encompass so much unless it was the truth?

I have always admired composers, their ability to hear separate threads of music, themes, instruments and turn them into one cohesive, melodic piece. Mozart, for example, surely was a genius. Or Bach. Beethoven. How were they able to hold all this music together to create their perfect concertos? I had not thought about novels the same way — yet here, in Megan Whalen Turner’s work, is a symphony of voices, characters, action, threads upon threads that somehow coalesce again and again into the most amazing, unexpected conclusions, shining a new light upon every written word.

Have I told you already that I love this book?

Eugenides is flesh and blood in mythological proportions. The gods speak directly to him, giving him their answers in short, clear sentences: go to sleep, stop whining. He is elusive, strong, a master swordsman, yet fragile, with an undeniable fatal flaw. I don’t want to tell you the plot of either novel, because there is no way to do that without spoiling the story. I read the first novel without an idea as to what to expect. Caught by the story, I read Eugenides’ adventure as he wished to tell it, in his own order and words.

What I loved about the series: Eugenides’ voice, the shifting landscape of his journey, the sea of olives, the dirtiness of prison, the arrogance of weak men, the beautiful yet cruel queen and the second, pants-wearing queen whose nose is broken. I loved the gods and their easy intervention in human life, the hidden temple, the isolation of Eddis, the friendliness of Sophos, the myths told by Eugenides and the mage. I loved the delicate, gentle love affair which slowly unfolds before the reader’s eyes without ever being acknowledged. And above all, the figure of the Thief, sitting high above the city, shrouded in the darkness of the night.


Which books do you love whose story, characters, or landscape carry you far far and away like this?

How I Climbed the Matterhorn and Came Back Alive — Last Chance

Evening in the High Sierra. After a surprisingly delicious dinner of gluten-free pasta, smoked salmon and steamed green beans, Dar and I lay on a boulder by the lake and watched the sun paint the Matterhorn in pink hues.

“We’ll go to sleep,” Dar said, “and you can make up your mind about climbing in the morning.”

“Cliff will be disappointed if I don’t climb,” I said, tracing in my mind the line of the north arete on the Matterhorn, certain that I will never set foot up there.

My head hurt with the heat of the day, not enough water, and the effect of the elevation. I took two advil and got into my sleeping bag, falling into a restless sleep from which I awoke frequently. The wind howled, shaking our tent and the trees outside as though trying to uproot and carry us back down to the Twin Lakes valley. All through the night, whenever I awoke, I could feel the soreness and exhaustion of my body and my mind, and I knew with certainty that I would not be climbing.

Heading out. Find my shadow

The morning dawned bright and sunny. Cliff woke us with a steaming cup of green tea and crackers and hummus for breakfast. I stretched, checking my body for signs of fatigue, but my tiredness had flown away with the night’s wind. My headache gone, I realized I wanted my adventure. The Matterhorn had been my dream for over three years, and here it stood, at my tent’s doorstep, beckoning.

“I might only walk as far as the beginning of the climb and decide to walk back,” I warned Cliff.

Cliff smiled.

The lake reflected back to me the faces of the mountains as we set out. Watching us from the lake, Dar grew smaller as we hiked farther up the steep uphill. There was no trail, just the rocks and the trees and the ridge top, and the two of us making our way through. I could feel no trace of the previous day’s exhaustion. I was strong and fit and ready for anything.

My only moment of joy

At the bottom of the glacier we strapped on our crampons and headed out. I loved every minute of it, the feeling of the snow crunching under my feet, the glow of it around me. Up and up and up we walked, making a staircase in the snow, till we reached the bottom of the Matterhorn and another slippery scree slope. There, we took off our crampons and hiked farther up, gaining more elevation, heading toward the beginning of the climb.

I looked back, searching for Tarn Lake, and wondered how we would ever get down. The glacier and the scree seemed so steep, the ridge so far. Tarn lake had disappeared as though it had never existed, and my heart quacked at the thought of all that ground.

High Sierra Climbing described the route as “not too difficult,” and rated the climb well within my abilities. I turned my attention up instead of down, tied on my climbing shoes, double-backed my harness, put Cliff on belay, and got ready for a few hours of fun.

The terror of the way down

I couldn’t have been more wrong about that.

To be continued….

How I Climbed the Matterhorn and Came Back Alive — Up, Up and Up

Up, up and up we walked, single file, Cliff leading, Dar following, and I struggling in the back. High Sierra Climbing describes the approach to the Matterhorn: “This is a HUGE approach that starts out pleasant and gradually gets steeper, more difficult, and less fun.” Cliff estimated that we would take five hours to hike the five miles to Tarn Lake. I felt comforted by this number. To me, it meant we were going to walk slowly. To Cliff, it was a reflection of the steep and strenuous trail.

The path climbed steadily uphill, switchbacking by a creek that stampeded down a series of waterfalls. So symbolic, I thought as I fought to keep my shoulders back under the pulling weight of the pack: Here I am, once again, walking against the current.

The trail, meandering surreptitiously

After an hour, we had covered a thousand feet in altitude and about two miles distance. I quickly calculated: fifteen hundred feet in altitude and three miles to go. Not too bad, I thought. Everything is going to be okay. But the trail flattened, meandering in a lovely meadow by the creek, seemingly forgetting the “HUGE approach” promised in the book. I relaxed, let my guard down, started to enjoy the walk.

We had lunch on some rocks, basking in the sun, listening to the gushing creek. Collecting our packs, we found ourselves before our first real obstacle. The trail faded under a garden of boulders, reappearing to tantalize us only to disappear again below the rocks. Beyond the boulder field stretched the scree slope, reaching steeply to the sky. Suspended in limbo, no matter how often my legs lifted, my knees bent, or my feet struck the rocks, the scree slope still limited my horizon.

The scree slope. Try to find Dar and Cliff

My face heated. Dar and Cliff shrank, their tan clothing merging with the scree. The earth concentrated its malevolent gravity on my pack, my feet struggling to keep moving forward in the never-ending rocky landscape. Finally Cliff and Dar stopped against the trees. The end, I breathed out, wrestling with the last few steps to reach them. But no, beyond them the scree stretched upward, relentless, and above that, Cliff said, one more ridge.

My brain shut down. I slipped and slid on the rocks and the dirt, barely avoiding the trees. We stopped for a rest. Suddenly, a voice, a head. A Brit hopped up, jauntily swinging his long legs and arms. “Only a few feet, I think!” he announced, and continued his dash up.

Cliff smiled indulgently. “People always wonder why climbers have to turn around sixty feet from the summit,” he commented. “Sixty vertical feet are not the same as sixty feet distance.” Feeling wise and realistic, we followed the Brit’s hopeful footsteps. And there, not sixty feet from us, lay Tarn Lake, warming its frigid, glacial  waters in the sunny afternoon.

Tarn Lake

It had taken us six hours to get here. I stumbled, exhausted, barely taking in the scenery, as the Matterhorn serenely watched.  When I nearly crushed my finger, helping Dar set up the tent, he asked me to please sit aside. I looked at the snow and stones, the steep terrain leading up to the mountain, and in my head only one thought ran in circle: there’s no way I’m going to do this climb tomorrow. No way at all.

To be continued….

How I Climbed the Matterhorn and Came Back Alive — Part II

Carrying an over 40lbs pack on Mt Olympus

In Hebrew, we say about restless children that they have thorns in their rear end. An apt metaphor, I always thought. As a child, I did not have this particular problem. I sat for hours, engulfed in a book. But how long can I read about adventure before I wish to experience one for my self?

Every few years, I’d dip my feet in the sea of adventure, only to pull them back quickly in dismay. In the IDF, after enlisting with idealistic hopes and fervor, I found myself buried in boring offices with a boring job. Later, at Stanford, I decided to stay living at home. I  avoided interactions with my fellow students, becoming perhaps the only student in the world who had never been to a college party.

I came to have these beliefs about myself: I believed in my own physical weakness, my need for comfort, my inability to handle physical hardship. I believed that while hiking (a favorite activity in which I limited myself to no more than 5 or so miles) I could not possibly carry a bag. I believed that I was a hermit, hiding from the world within the pages of books, unable truly to experience life.

Boy, was I wrong about that!

On Muir Snow Field, Mt Rainier

I suppose after years of yearning for adventure I should not be surprised when adventures catch up to me and flash-flood my life, but the me who lacks confidence in my survival skills still freezes with fright when an adventure arrives. As the Matterhorn trip came closer, I began to freak out, unconsciously knowing, perhaps, that this adventure was planning on breaking all the rules and leaving no easy way out.

I stressed. I reread the chapter on the Matterhorn in the book. I looked at trip reports on the web. I studied the map. Cliff sent an email with details. You’ll need boots and crampons, he said. I read about the glacier in the book, but somehow did not expect to cross it. Weight accumulated. I feared I would not be able to carry my pack. I worried about what Dar and I would eat for lunch, for snacks. I worried about not having a bathroom. I worried about the climb. I worried about my fitness level. I worried that I would not come back alive.

Solo campsite on Bear Mtn, Coe SP

At the same time, with all my heart, I believed that this trip would not come to pass. And why worry about something that is not going to happen? I tried to put the Matterhorn, Cliff, backpacks, crampons and glaciers out of my mind. I found other, more important stuff to worry about.

But the clock, persistent as ever, kept ticking. Days rolled by. And before I knew it, Monday was here, the car was packed, and the road was beckoning Dar and I toward the High Sierra, the Matterhorn, and an adventure out of this life.

To be continued…..

How I Climbed the Matterhorn and Came Back Alive — Part I

Behind me is Mount Starr King

My adored Yosemite Climbing Guide, Nate Kerr, was always suggesting adventurous climbs for me. He had early on realized that my rock climbing ambition did not apply to climbing more technically-difficult routes but rather to getting to out-of-the-way, wild places, where hardly anyone ever comes. Thus, he carried me on a glorious day to Mount Starr King, frightened me out of my wits on three or four pitches on the rarely-climbed Arrowhead Spire, and told me stories about Bear Creek Spire, Mount Russell, and the Matterhorn.

The dreaded Arrowhead Spire

Of all his stories, I fell in love with the Matterhorn. I studied the map, tracing my finger over Matterhorn Canyon, the Sawtooth Range, the excitingly-named Incredible Hulk, and a scattering of lakes and creeks which drew from my imagination the unstoppable desire of going there. After checking with the Mountaineering School in Yosemite, however, Nate came back with bad news. The Matterhorn was located in Toiyabe National Forest, outside the boundaries of Yosemite, and he couldn’t take me there.

The Matterhorn remained a dream, a place I wanted to visit. I read and reread the description of the route in Chris McNamara’s High Sierra Climbing. It seemed perfect, and I am quoting from the book: “It is not the best climbing in the Sierra, but appeals because it is not too difficult, and ascends a striking arete on a big and aesthetic peak. It’s one of the easier climbs that gives a complete alpine experience: a glacier, a striking summit, incredible views.” Trip reports on the web and their photos only strengthened in me the desire one day to climb this fabulous peak.

The Matterhorn serenely waiting for unsuspecting climbers

Fortunately for me, Nate is not the only rock climbing guide I know. A few years ago, crying at the bottom of Mount Rainier instead of the summit (as I did the year after), I told Cliff Agocs, representative of Bay Area Wilderness Training, that I will not be climbing Mount Rainier with the Climbing for Kids group. I felt I was not ready to handle the climb at that time. Though I did not climb the mountain that year, my involvement with BAWT remained stable, and my friendship with Cliff slowly grew.

Some time later Cliff left BAWT and began to guide climbers on Mount Hood, another mountain I had wanted to climb ever since I first saw it. We reconnected and began to talk about where we want to go, and when I mentioned my dream of climbing the Matterhorn, Cliff enthusiastically announced that he had also always wanted to climb it and can take me there. Dates and plans were swiftly put in place. The stage was set for the most unbelievable adventure of my life, and I didn’t even know it yet.

To be continued…..

On Wings of Exhaustion

My title this morning is literally true. I am sitting on an airplane heading to Phoenix, with a clear view of the plane’s wings out my window. And I am exhausted. I’m tired because I woke up at 5am San Antonio time, which is 3am California time and 6am New York time, and I don’t have a clue which time zone my body is in anymore. My weariness stems from physical causes and from the emotional toll of last weekend’s funeral and being separated from Dar on and off for four weeks. Cumulative tiredness.

Yesterday I walked around the Riverwalk. I started in downtown San Antonio, walking by the many restaurants, clubs, and cafes, and turned south toward the missions. The sun shone brightly, and after a while I removed my jacket. I was happy I had the forethought to bring a light shirt and less thrilled about having forgotten my sun screen. The park surrounding the Riverwalk is lovely. Trees, shrubs, and lawns glowed green to perfection against a clear blue sky. Butterflies fluttered like colorful flying flowers and birds chirped in the trees. Heaven.

Near King William neighborhood the houses turned to old Southern homes with huge balconies and porches and front yards beautifully-groomed. I discovered Mad Hatter’s Cafe and ordered myself some tea, sitting down to write my blog. When the waiter arrived with my teapot he explained that I must pick my own cup from the many cups and saucers, each unique, piled on the shelves.

For lunch I sat above the river in a partly shaded patio. I watched water taxis gliding below, filled with tourists, and couples meandering hand in hand in the romantic pathways. I walked north for over a mile, enjoying the waterfalls that many hotels built flowing into the river and which I later learned add oxygen to the water. I watched the ducks and cormorants diving into the murky river to catch whatever food there is in there for them to eat. For a while, all yesterday, I felt renewed, rejuvenated, fresh.

And then I had to wake up this morning to get on the plane, and blah, I’m tired again.

But maybe not. Maybe the light blue and white skies outside of my oval airplane window fill me with energy, and the brown and green  squares of agricultural, the lines of rivers, ridges, roads and the rounded lakes that create the landscape below inspire me with wonder, a longing to explore, the pull of adventure. And suddenly I’m not tired at all.

The world is spreading its pink rounded edges before me, full of possibility and promise of a new day. I am grateful for being here, for experiencing the miracle of sunrise, for taking deep breaths and being able to write to you. I don’t know what the rest of my day holds, but this is how I’d like live it: with gratitude, love and attention to the moment. I’m excited to be going home.

Where Adventure and Home Meet

I love adventure. The idea of hanging on a rope between heaven and earth, holding onto nothing but steep, slick rocks delights me. I like to go far into the wilderness, sleep in a tent, discover new paths, light a campfire, and shiver as I bravely slide into a freezing lake. The lake especially is a challenge, because I don’t like to be cold, but the exhilaration I feel swimming surpasses most of my life’s greatest joys.

At the same time, I am a home body. I dislike leaving my routine. I’m not flexible in uncomfortable situations, and I like to have my own way. I get upset if I don’t have space to write, and I‘m attached to my quiet morning time eating and reading. I easily get overwhelmed and anxious in unfamiliar places, and if I don’t eat on time or enough I can get moody, headachy and unpleasant.

Paradoxical me, living with a dual temperament in one body, with one part that craves excitement and danger, and another that requires safety and routine. An odd combination, seemingly impossible to bridge. And yet, somehow, I have been straddling these lines for forty years, exploring the world’s wild places but also making myself a home where, despite the abundance of wildlife and trails all around, I rarely set foot outside.

Adventure is where I challenge who I believe I am. Sometimes I discover that I am capable of so much more than I thought, and other times I smash into a wall of limitations and weaknesses. When I climbed Mount Shasta five years ago, I leaped over the barriers of cold wind and darkness and found within myself the strength to keep moving and the knowledge that I can reach the summit. When I first arrived at Paradise to climb Mount Rainier, only a few months later that year, I grew overwhelmed by fears and found myself declaring defeat and retreating home without even trying.

In Kauai a few months ago, my creativity blossomed. Nothing, not heavy rain or Dar’s disability at the time could mar my enjoyment of the island. I wrote. I ran. I swam. I had endless patience to walk with Dar as he hobbled along on his crutches. But on Roatan, a Honduran island with every promise of heaven, I felt trapped, stressed and unable to handle any of the discomforts of the trip. Nothing, not our beautiful rented house, the promise of kayaking, or the glorious jungle could relieve the tension headache from hell that I had.

Perhaps it is time for me to stop defining success in adventure by whether I followed through with my plans and start appreciating that I left on adventure in the first place. I travel into the world, secure in the knowledge that I can always return home, my safe base from which I can challenge myself farther and to which I can return to lick any bruises to my courage. Like a baby who peeks out of her mother’s skirts, testing the waters. That’s how I am.

The Joy of Banishing My Disbelief

Miracles happen. Especially in books. A burning bush talks to Moses? Sure, I accept that. A bunch of bones become an army of ghosts? Umm, creepy, but ok, I can swallow that. Elves, hobbits, flying kids, witches, people who incarnate over and over again over thousands of years. I believe it. I do. My imagination can accept quite a lot of marvelous happenings.

This is called, in literary terms, suspension of disbelief. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, one of my favorite poets, is the one who came up with the term. It is poetic faith, the reader’s willingness to accept incredible, romantic and supernatural people or events as possible within the framework of a novel, poem or play.

Poetic faith allows me to enjoy fictional writing. Take, for example, this story about a normal girl who is chosen to act as an adventurer in fairy tale worlds. That’s an imaginative idea, right? I don’t know any girl who actually does that. But, as long as the girl’s story sticks to the rules which the novel sets starting out, I am willing to accept and enjoy flying frogs, sheep with no mouths, a wizard who is a clown (how terrifying!) and a main character who is an expert in cliches.

The story I’m describing is Anna Staniszewski’s middle grade novel My Very Unfairytale Life. Jenny, the main character, does not fear the danger inherent in adventuring. She easily pops in and out of worlds saving creatures and countries, but she misses her everyday life. Yes, she’s rich with jewels and treasures, but she has no friends.

I like novels where the main character needs to balance their innermost desires with the conditions of their life and the limitations of the world around them. Staniszewski’s  novel, though short, cute, and easy-to-read, still manages to enfold within its pages a discussion of friendship, the power of laughing without a care in the world, and following our heart.

I think the novel’s innate charm is what made me so willing to suspend my disbelief. A lot of Staniszewski’s seemingly impossible details add charm as well as a shadow of menacing darkness and complexity to a story teeming with humor: the wizard’s castle is a huge circus tent and his grounds a mini-golf garden. He tortures Prince Lamb by forcing him to swing on a trapeze. The committee members who send Jenny on her adventures are exact copies of each other, looking alike, speaking in the same voice and at the same time.

I allowed myself to be swept along in Jenny’s adventure, rarely bringing my head up for air, following the twists of the plot through possible, impossible, credible, incredible, just letting myself have fun. And by the end of it, a reaffirmation of family and friends, I was very glad that I allowed myself to rest in belief for at least this one time.

Sigal Tzoore (650) 815-5109