I feel like I should have a lot to say. I feel like I should regale all of you with tales of the last weeks of our journey, but everything was such a whirlwind after our stay in Kansas. We saw Colorado. We saw Utah. We saw Idaho, Oregon and Washington. But most significantly (to me at least) we saw the ocean.
Living in Michigan, surrounded by bodies of water, I’ve come to love damp, cool lake air and the movement of the water. But the ocean is something completely different. It possesses a primal energy that speaks to the core of me. I can feel it in my soul. This was my first experience with the Pacific Ocean and I must say, our days driving the 101 on the Oregon and Washington coasts were my favourite of the entire trip. The climate reminded me of that of Ireland where I visited when I was 11. It was green and misty and after spending several days in the arid mountains of Colorado, Utah and Idaho it was a much welcome reprieve. We ran barefoot on the beach, splashing in the icy waves and inspecting alien-like kelp. The sand there is black and fine and feels like a carpet under your feet.
One day, I will live contentedly by the sea.
Well, we survived the storm that I last wrote about. Then we got lost in the Shawnee National Forest while looking for a crag. So we did some exploring instead. We finally found our crag (and the way out of it), but didn’t feel much like climbing after our crazy hike so we got ice cream instead. The next day was much too hot for any sort of outdoor excursions so we visited Metropolis, IL the home of Superman. It was perfectly cheesy and we especially enjoyed the giant statue of Superman that resides in front of their court house. The next day we found a used bookstore and stocked up on some new reading material as we’ve already devoured all of the books we brought with us. We spent the next two days reading around our picnic table and trying to stay cool.
Sunday we left Illinois and got ourselves a nice comfy hotel room in Saint Louis, MO. It was fabulously extravagant (compared to our tent living, that is) and totally worth it. We had dinner at a great little pizzeria called Joanie’s and stuffed ourselves to bursting.
This morning we were complete tourists and visited the Arch. This was also my first time traveling west of Illinois and I’m so excited for this leg of the adventure. Tonight we find ourselves visiting one of my cousins and his family in Kansas and we are glad to see some familiar faces and eat a home-cooked meal. We plan to stay here for the next few days and then we are off to Colorado!
On Saturday we made the decision to depart from Kentucky. As lovely as our time there has been, we were ready for some new scenery and new climbing experiences. We left that morning and despite a lost and found wallet we made it there safe and sound that evening. We opted for a hotel room for our first night and enjoyed a hot shower that lasted more than 8 minutes and a real bed with pillows! For dinner we had BBQ at the 17th Street BBQ in Marion, IL. So delicious!
Sunday we traveled 30 mins. south of Marion to Goreville, IL and we are now delightfully settled and the Ferne Clyffe State Park. It’s a sleepy little place with lots of trails and private campsites and is located near some great climbing spots in the area. Fortunately we visited an outfitter in Carbondale, the Shawnee Trader, and got a lot of tips on where to climb from an employee there.
Today we visited Cedar Bluffs, a nearby climbing and hiking spot. The rock here is still sandstone, but feels very different from the sandstone we experienced in Red River Gorge. It’s very beautiful and much more of what we were expecting of outdoor climbing.
We had to cut our climbing short today as a storm front rolled in. We packed up our gear just as the rain started to fall and now we are borrowing wifi from a McDonald’s in Marion. We will pick up a few groceries and then head back to camp to see how our tent had fared during the onslaught.
Tomorrow we hope to head back to Cedar Bluffs and explore that area further.
Photos: 1. Our home in Illinois for the next few days. 2. Matt at the base of Cedar Bluffs. 3. Africa route at Cedar Bluffs. 4. Storm front.
Sunday we rested. We took the day off from gallivanting and slept in and read books. It was a lovely day.
Monday we headed back to Muir Valley to check out the Animal Crackers wall. A nice little crag made up mostly of 5.8s. At the top of this wall, we noticed a warning on the stone in chalk some other climber had written stating that there was a snake up there. Nervously we clipped into the anchors and quickly made our way back down again. Something we’ve never encountered in the gym :).
The sky opened up for a short while, letting the rain down. To not waste our climbing day we went back to the Boneyard crag (which has some nice overhangs and roofs) so Matt could attempt a send on the Stealing Melinda 5.9 he lead the other day. He made it successfully to the top with no takes or falls, allowing him another check on the list of Red River routes.
Today we decided to try climbing in a new area and visited the Left Flank crag located in Gray’s Branch. This is a truly beautiful area, further into the backwoods of Kentucky than we have traveled yet. To get there we had to travel through a one-lane tunnel under a portion of the mountain (Matt loved this. It was, admittedly, pretty cool). The hike was probably the nicest so far. A bit of a romp up the hill-moutnainside, but all downhill on the way back. The rock here is some of the most beautiful I have ever seen in person and really, all I wanted to do was sit and stare at it. We came upon a stunning natural outdoor amphitheater and I couldn’t resist just feeling the vibration in the stone. It made me want to go back to school to become a geologist.
We climbed some super fun 5.8s in this area and were thankful to finally find some routes with jug holds instead of only slabs and crimps to haul yourself up on.
One thing we have noticed about all of the outdoor routes we have encountered is that the first bolt on each route is at least 15 feet off the ground with a nice patch of sharp rocks or shorn treetrunks to land on should you fall before the first clip-in. A very discouraging situation. Many of the climbers that we have met carry a stick-clip (a long-ish pole with a clip to hold a quickdraw in) to remedy this situation. With the stick-clip they are able to clip a quickdraw threaded through the rope into the first bolt without ever having to leave the ground. We are thinking we might head to a gear shop today or tomorrow to get one of our own. Some climbers frown upon stick-clips, but personally, being safe and able to continue our trip, not to mention walking upright unaided, are my priorities.
We have begun our second week in Kentucky and as much as we are enjoying our time here, I will be glad for a change of scenery. After this week we intend to head to Cedar Bluffs in southern Illinois. There seems to be some interesting bourldering there and it’s also fairly close to Metropolis, IL where the Superman Museum is!
Let’s hope by the end of this week we have our stick-clip situation worked out and we can try to get some more difficult climbs in.
Photos: 1. Matt rappels down Stealing Melinda. 2. A large overhanging at the Boneyard crag. 3. Sandstone roof. 4. Rhododendron jungle. 5. The Left Flank wall natural amphitheater at Gray’s Branch. 6. Another view of the amphitheater. 7. Red sandstone.
The rain let up enough on Friday for us to make another visit to the Bruise Brothers wall. We were able to play on a few harder routes. We’ve noticed that most of the routes we’ve climbed have rather difficult or boulder-like starts and that the rest of the route is fairly simple. We are still getting used to climbing on rocks rather than plastic and finding the transition to be rather difficult. I know that we are outside and that there will be dirt and all of that, but somehow I didn’t expect all the spiders. And because we are in Kentucky, I keep expecting to run into some snakes while on the wall (some of the overhangs are perfect chillin’ spots for snakes).
Yesterday we visited the Boneyard crag, also in Muir Valley. Matt was able to climb a 5.9m but I wasn’t up for much more than belaying. I’m feeling extremely tired and calling in a mandatory rest day for today.
Photos: 1. A salamander friend we made at the Bruise Brothers wall. 2. Matt at the top of Stealing Melinda. A 5.9 at the Boneyard. 3. Miguel’s basement.
Thursday we woke up bright and early and breakfasted on oranges and peanut butter sandwiches. After hiking awkwardly with our rope yesterday , we decided to head into Lexington for a visit to the Phillip Gall outfitter store. We left with a new crag bag, a pair of waterproof hiking boots for me and a raincoat (also for me). We grabbed a bite to eat the Hugh Jass Burgers (pun intended) near the University of Kentucky campus and then made our way to the Bruise Brothers wall in Muir Valley.
We will definitely be coming back to this wall later in the week. So far, we are sticking to easier routes (5.7s and 5.8s) as we get acclimated to outdoor climbing. We stayed at Bruise Brothers until the early evening and then traveled back to camp and enjoyed some Ale 8s and a can of pineapple for dinner (the over-sized portions at Hugh Jass left us full and satiated).
Today the weather is damp and rainy and has turned this into a laundry/book reading day. Right now we are tucked in Miguel’s basement rec area and amusing ourselves with internet and Ale 8 drinking. It looks like today is going to be a day for relaxing. I’m hoping for some mac and cheese with tuna for lunch today.
Tomorrow the sun is supposed to come back out and I expect we will visit Muir Valley again for some climbing. So far we are finding the hikes to the crags more exhausting than the actual climbing itself.
Well, I’m off to check on laundry. I hope to check in again tomorrow or the next day.
Photos: 1. CH 4 route at the Bruise Brothers wall in Muir Valley. 2. Matt preparing to lead a route. 3. I made it to the top! 4. Matt in the basement at Miguel’s getting our internet fix.
On Tuesday morning the sun woke us up, turning our tent into a nylon oven. We slowly got ourselves up and dressed and we payed our wifi fee so we could check back in with home and the real world. After sending e-mails and a few rounds of solitaire we decided to head out of camp and check out some nearby climbing spots. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans for us. As we were eating our breakfast in a nearby park we heard thunder and saw the accompanying dark clouds come rolling in. We opted to postpone climbing for a drier day and instead ventured out to find the post office (the Fawn Relic shop is traveling with us and is still open for business!).
The post office in Slade was permanently closed last week so we had to travel to a town about 11 miles west of here named Stanton. I was able to ship off a package as well as locate a grocery store.
By afternoon the rain still hadn’t let up so we decided to go for a hike on the trails in Natural Bridge State Park. It was a little damp but the scenery there is stunning. This was the first time I’ve ever had the opportunity to walk across a natural bridge, an experience I’m not soon to forget. We spent most of the rest of the day in the park and made it back to Miguel’s in time for some delicious pizza (kielbasa and mushroom!). We ended by being serenaded by one of our neighbors who has some talent with the fiddle.
Today there was no rain and we were able to try our hand at climbing real rocks for the first time. The first wall we wanted to climb, Roadside Crag, was closed for maintenance so we had to change our climbing plans. We hiked through some woods and up some steep hills to The Zoo wall, but after looking at the easiest route there, a 5.9, we decided to head to The Practice wall in Muir Valley. Muir Valley is truly beautiful. It is owned and maintained by a middle-aged couple and is free of charge to hike through and climb in.
The Practice wall is just like it sounds: a good place to start if you’re new to out door climbing (that’s us!). Matt and I really have our work cut out for us. Outdoor climbing is totally different from the gym climbing we are used to. We managed our way up several routes and ended up spending the entire afternoon at The Practice wall. Around 5 p.m. we made our way back to Miguel’s for some dinner. We made a puppy friend named Sumo, who really wanted to share Matt’s pasta bowl. Also, we tried Ale 8 for the first time, a most excellent ginger ale brewed solely in Kentucky.
After dinner, we drove into Stanton to grab some groceries and gasoline (only $3.49 a gallon!). Now we are all set for food for the rest of the week. As delicious as Miguel’s is, we are on a budget and have to make our money last for the next few months.
It was nice to finally get on some real rock, but we have a huge learning curve to overcome as well as lots of conditioning!
Photos: 1. Matt crossing the plank bridge into Natural Bridge State Park. 2. Natural Bridge State Park trail. 3. The natural bridge. 4. View from natural bridge. 5.The front door to Miguel’s Pizza carved and painted by Miguel himself. 6. Ale 8 ginger ale. 7. Me waiting for dinner to be served!