Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My South America Story: Being a gimp

So I had hitchhiked all the way to South America, on the way down my buddy Dan and I had done a little sport climbing in Peru, but we had a larger destination in mind, Frey, on the northern edge of Patagonia. Beyond that we weren't sure where we were going to travel or what we were going to do. We didn't even know when we were going to return home. Frey is a rad land of impeccable, well developed Granite towers.

Things were going awesome, I was climbing really well. Just as I was hitting my grove climbing wise I decided to check out some offwidth climbing on the back of the largest most impressive tower. The offwidths were okay. On the way back down I remarked to my climbing partner that my knee felt funny. I didn't really think much of it. Just a case of offwidth knee. 

In the morning my knee continued to feel 'funny' Despite that I decided to team up with a new partner and go repeat some awesome classics that I had done earlier in the week. Everything started to feel wrong. I fell on a route that I had cruised with ease. Something was not right, I came down from that route and the funny feeling had turned into pain.

Despite this I did what any climbing idiot would do. I kept climbing. Dan and I had previously made plans to climb the longest route up the tallest face. Supposedly 8 pitches of awesome. On the hike up to the principal, my knee seized up. Under the weight of my pack I buckled and pain shot up my leg. I realized I was fucked, something was terribly wrong. Later in the states a doctor would tell me that I had put a tear in my meniscus. Feeling that something was horribly wrong, I did the rational thing...climb the tower anyway. We just decided to go up the four pitch 5.7 instead. Even this was a struggle, as anytime I put pressure on my left leg I felt pain.

In pain, on the summit.
The walk down took me two hours longer than it took Dan and the next morning I was limping. My good luck continued as all of this coincided with an approaching Patagonian Storm. I had two options, an excruciating hike into town that would probably take me all day and likely make my knee even worse, or hunkering down in my three season tent. I hunkered down and Dan, being a true friend, stayed up with me to keep me company. Let me tell you, one of the seasons of my tent is not Patagonian summer. Oh by the way, it was my birthday.

Getting blasted by weather. This is the equivalent of late July.
After this climbing was off the table, so I started doing what I really do best, drink. The one saving grace of being in Argentina and just wanting to climb is that alcohol is really cheap there. I was depressed, once a day in private I screamed to myself "I hitchhiked all the way down here!" I drank and cursed my bad luck. I stared at the rock and wanted to go up. I wondered if my whole trip was pointless and I should just head back to North America, or if was worth waiting to see if I'd start to heal. I drank. Then fatefully, Dan decided he wanted to go check out a nearby climbing area in Chile called Cochamo that we had been hearing rumors about. I didn't care. I could be a gimp here or be a gimp there. So we decided to move and I hoped things would get better, I had no idea what I was in store for........

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Great Trip South-Prologue

It all started in Canada. I guess it always does. It was my second summer in rock climbing mecca and dirtbag paradise Squamish, British Columbia. With an assortment of various homeless rock climbers, aka dirtbags, I was living in an unofficial campground by the river dubbed ´hippy camp´. We were a motley group that summer, there was Brad, the hard-climbing, pastry-eating, broken-footed friend who I had come up with. Kristen a health nut who ran the 1500 foot tall chief trail every morning, so gorgeous that she looked out of place. There were also a pair of mystery women living in a 40 ft tall teepee they had erected months earlier, a French Canadian fire dancer who went by the name of Axel and a smattering of others coming and going.

Showing up mid-summer was travel buddy Dan Petty. Dan and I had met in Mexico that winter and had traveled around the southwest together before meeting up again in Squamish. Dan was an interesting fellow, although American he had grown up in Caracus, Venezuala. When he turned 18 he inexplicably joined the US army and spent the next 7 years there. After getting out, he took a full swing in the other dirrection, bought a mini-van and went on the road, living out of it.

Then there was me, King of Dirtbags, I had come to Squamish with only a few hundred dollars in my pocket and the intent to live off of it for the entire summer. I had vague plans for the fall that involved climbing in Yosemite and Smith Rock, and no plans for the winter. One thing I knew, it's too fucking cold in the US in winter.

Trying to stay warm, winter 2010.
One night Dan posited the question to me, ¨Do you think it would be possible to hitchhike to Argentina?¨
Without really thinking about it I replied, ¨Sure I think it would be easy.¨
There was a moments pause, ¨Well, do you want to do it with me this winter?¨
My mind cleared for a moment as I actually considered the question. What would such a trip take? Where would we be going? How much time would it take? What hazzards were there? After a few moments I could only come up with one objection.
¨Man, I only have like 200 dollars, but if I can get some sort of work, I´d definitely go.¨

What started out as that simple conversation pretty soon evolved into a full fledged plan. How would we get around the dense roadless jungle that lies between Panama and Columbia, the infamous Darian Gap? What was the safest way through drug-war riddled Mexico? Would Columbia be safe to hitch through?

¨When I lived in Venzuala, Columbia was the kidnapping capital of the world.¨ Dan mentioned.
 I nodded and shrugged, giving my stock answer. ¨It´ll probably be fine¨

Real photo of me on the Titanic!

September rolled around and the Squamish hippy camp started to disperse when the rain started to fall. Dan, Brad and I all retreated south to the Oregon desert sanctuary of Smith Rock. At Smith Rock we met up with uber-motivated hardman Scott. Scott is as motivated a climber as has ever been, he had also been to Patagonia and was planning on going again. He had the beta for all things down there, including our decided destination of Frey, supposedly filled with granite towers in an alpine environment.

As Dan, Scott and I talked politics and South America, my already meager money supply continued to dwindle and I eventually had to resort to one of my least favorite activities: Work. Calling in a favor I secured some work for October, that left me time to road trip with Dan down to Yosemite, Bishop and Lake Tahoe in rapid succession before we split ways, me hitching to California to work, and him driving to his sisters in Colorado to stash his belongings and van and prepare for the trip.

As I launched myself into work, the same doubts started resurfacing. With my cash reserves increasing I realized I could comfortably dirtbag in the states for the whole winter season, knowing the familiar climbing haunts like I knew the gobies on the back of my hand. Hitching south was a different animal and the conflict between security and adventure battled in my mind. Fuck it though, if I wanted security I could work a 9 to 5 and watch reruns on TV all day. I finished work and hitched to Las Vegas.

After a week of climbing in freezing Red Rocks, two friends (who ironically had driven me out of Mexico last year.) showed up with plans to go into Mexico  down the western coast to pick up a sailboat.This was the start of exact route Dan and I planned on taking. They offered us a ride if we were willing to leave that day. Off we went.

I admit that I was probably not the best of company during those two days of travel and climbing through Arizona to the Mexico border. Internal anxiety flared up and I became moody and short tempered. Part of me wanted out of a long and committing trip. These anxieties were increased because I had been paid in cash for my job, and our rapid departure had not left me time to open a bank account in Las Vegas or secure a debit card. This meant that I would carry all the money I had in the world with me through the whole Latin American Odyssey. (Hidden carefully in the sole of my shoe.)

Nevertheless my mood increased substantially as the next day we found ourselves in Mexico......