Wednesday, November 5, 2014

From Oakland, CA to Lander, WY

As I neared the end of a six-month position as Admissions Associate at GirlVentures, I wasn't sure what late summer or fall would hold for me. I was on belay staff (mostly in babytown) at Berkeley Ironworks, but I knew that I wanted additional work. 

I'd unexpectedly embarked on a journey as an outdoor educator when I was offered the opportunity to work a short 7th grade girls backpacking course with GV in Point Reyes. I still need to write a post about that. One experience as a trip leader was enough to convince me that whatever I did next, I wanted it to further me along the path to more such work. At the urging of my coworker Grace, I applied for a fellowship with National Outdoor Leadership School

Soon after the phone interview, I left for a backpacking trip in Yosemite. I was nervous. Nervous that I wouldn't get the job, nervous that I would. Shortly after my return, I was offered the fellowship. It took me a few days to think it over. 

There are less than 600,000 people in all of Wyoming. Lander, where NOLS is based, is a town of around 7,500. In Oakland alone, there are over 400,000 people, but Bay Area cities all blend together, so the sea of people feels endless until you drive out an hour or two.

Asian Americans. Queer/trans folks. People of color. The Pacific Ocean. The Sierra. My loved ones. My lovely housemates. My favorite coffee roaster(s). I'd be leaving them all behind. Not just venturing a few hours north or south, not just for a few days or a couple of a weeks. For a couple of months.

I decided to do it. Because I've been telling myself for years to Do what you're afraid to do, among other mantrasMaybe it's just a part of my life now to spend three months away from home.

And also, of course, there's the access to climbing. I watched and enjoyed the Lander climbing film Wind and Rattlesnakes immensely when it came out last year. The section of Core about Lander climber BJ Tilden is my favorite of the whole film.

[Edit: I also owe a hat-tip to Jared Spaulding's blog for giving me a glimpse inside the Noble Hotel and the life of a NOLS instructor based in Lander.]

So on September 10th, I packed up my car, bundled Audrey into it with me (she flew down from Portland to accompany me), and we set out on I-80 for the 1,018-mile road trip from Oakland to Lander.

We camped in Winnemucca, Nevada, at a campground I'd found called Water Canyon. We built a fire, drank rye whiskey, and wrote.

In Salt Lake City, we stayed with a friend of a friend I knew from Ironworks, and climbed with a friend of a friend of a friend I knew from climbing outside and Twitter. (The climbing community is so great about travelers.)

And then, it was off to Lander. As we crossed the vast, flat land, I repeatedly exclaimed "I'm going to Wyoming!" There was not a little anxiety in my voice, tempered with excitement. As we hurtled along the freeway with an 80 mph speed limit, the fact of my distance from California got closer and closer to reality. 

The moving-in process would have been much more difficult if I hadn't had Audrey's help with the library of books I brought with me, plus climbing gear, my typewriter, and two months' worth of clothing. It was good to be able to walk around town with a friend. When I dropped her off at Riverton Airport, it really settled in that I was alone in Lander, Wyoming.

And, admittedly, that was something I was sort of looking for. Some distance. Some solitude. Space. Time.

Over the last seven weeks, I've come to deeply appreciate life here. Smaller, less dense, less hectic. Snow-capped mountains unobstructed by buildings. This crisp air. 

"It is better to know one mountain than to climb many."

This is a Native American saying that has popped up in various places in my readings about the outdoors, exploration, and outdoor education. I want to get to know the mountains of California better. There are smaller places there, too, for me to get to know. And I want to get to know more of the United States. There is so much still to learn that the small bit of it I've known up to this point.

For most of my life, I dreamed about visiting countries on other continents and rarely considered traveling to the middle parts of the country that I was born and raised in. Those seemed less for me, and more foreign, than foreign countries. But that's changing. Perhaps this is a part of the continuing process of accepting and owning my Americanness, and wanting to have a fuller conception of what that is, what that means for me.

I'll be in Southern California again in a couple weeks to see family and friends for the holidays. I'm bracing myself for the shift back to traffic and density and cars and billboards. And then it's back to Oakland. Traffic, density, billboards. I haven't even left Lander yet and I'm already considering when I might spend time here again. I feel a pull here that is similar to what I tend to feel in other places, but it has an air of possibility and even practicality around it that other places don't.

But I haven't lived this way in that many different places. Miles to go, yet.

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