The Pre-Game Mountain

By the numbers, I shouldn’t be more nervous climbing Mt. Baker this weekend than Mt. Kilimanjaro in September. A hunky looming beaut visible from my parents’ backyard, you can’t miss Baker if you live in Whatcom County (or the lower mainland of BC).

I took this
This one too (my mom hates this tree in the middle)
This is pure internet screenshot

Per Wikipedia “Mount Baker, also known as Koma Kulshan or simply Kulshan, is a 10,781 ft active glacier-covered andesitic stratovolcano in the Cascade Volcanic Arc and the North Cascades of Washington in the United States. Mount Baker has the second-most thermally active crater in the Cascade Range after Mount St. Helens.” YEAH I’M CLIMBING A VOLCANO, FAM.

Our main girl Kilimanjaro is 19,341ft. Almost double the height of Baker. But Kilimanjaro isn’t a technical climb – which is a weird phrase to say considering it’s one of the Seven Summits – but it’s really just a long, hard hike at high altitude. It doesn’t require any true technical mountain climbing gear like Baker: helmet, harness, ropes, crampons (aka them shoe spikes), ice axe, there are crevasses to fall into, you carry all your gear (Kili has porters), etc.

Which…is pretty obvious from the photos above ^^ that thing looks technical as all hayllll

Kili just has a lil snow at the top/last day of your hike and is managed in boots/with trekking poles. I understand Kili. I feel like I know Kili. As much as possible without actually going (yet). I’ve been devouring content about it for almost 2 years – blogs and videos, my computer (and phone) wallpaper is Kili, a tapestry of Kili on my wall, following the #kilimanjaro tag on Instagram, reading books and packing (and repacking) lists, my OBGYN telling me at my annual last year about her trip in 2012 (you have not lived until you’ve talked about the right and wrong type of leg gaiters as a speculum is inside you, trust).

Climbing Baker entered my brain last summer when I half-joking asked my sister Brianna, ‘did you still want to climb Baker before you turn 30? Because I’ll climb it with you.” AND THEN SHE SAID YES.

…it scares me. I feel like I’ve been watching the date grow closer and closer out of the side of my eye. Like when you don’t look right at a spider because then it KNOWS and it might JUMP at you because you shouldn’t look them in the eye(s) and INVITE them into your PERSONAL SPACE. It’s like 8-legged smol bears. It’s bears you shouldn’t look in the eye, right?

Baker is my hometown mountain. I see it every time I go home because you literally cannot miss it. Its straight out the kitchen window. It’s driving right at it east on Badger Rd. It’s the end of the eyeline on (no joke) Bakerview Rd. in Bellingham. I know several people who have climbed it; people I went to high school with, people’s spouses that I went to high school with, and I’m sure a myriad of people I don’t know about but do know have climbed it. I’ve skied on it. Hiked around it. Randomly someone I work with at Le ‘hub climbed it 3 weeks ago and summited.

I’ve been training for almost 2 years to climb a mountain and I’m terrified of what it will mean for me if I can’t do it. I know there are a load of reasons why we may not summit – legitimately – bad weather, a fellow climber’s injury, a guide making a safety call, etc. But I just am so scared it’s going to be me. That I will be the weak link. Mentally or physically that something will go wrong in me and I’ll have to look at that mountain every Christmas and Raspberry Festival and family milestone and hold a little shame nugget in my heart.

2 years of sweat and tears and gear lists and telling people and another mountain in 6 weeks and if I can’t climb Baker, can I climb Kili? Its not great mental game/sports psychology to think about not making it, but I think I need to. I wrote down this quote I read awhile back “The finish line is for the ego. The journey is for the soul” on my whiteboard and I hate it.

I need it but I hate it. Because I recognize my ego creeping up.

I think some wonderful things have happened in my soul over the last 19 months of mountain prep.

  • Organically met several people that have climbed Kili – my aforementioned OBGYN, a REI employee helping me with packs, a fellow guest at Jason & Reagan’s wedding – the absolute joy at talking Kili with people is amazing. They have been changed by this trip. And not once did I think to ask any of them “did you summit?”
  • Made a true friend in my randomly-assigned-by-LSAC personal trainer, Brian – I’m sure I will write a wildly emotional post about how his partnership in this process has been crucial – and how I was doubtful the head of triathlons was my ‘person.’ But through injuries and my emotions and a pandemic and no gear (we were literally having me do kettlebell swings with a grocery tote and 5/7 Harry Potter books for awhile) his creativity and care has helped shape this journey and kindly nudge me back on course.
  • Had a north star to mentally and physically focus on when the world went to…absolutely uncertainty this past year+. Even though the Kili date has changed twice I always knew it was going to happen. And telling myself that each workout, each dumb PT stretch (I look so, so foolish doing them), every emotional breakdown as I still CANNOT DO A NON MODIFIED PUSH UP I just tried to look at this wall tapestry and whisper ‘keep going.’
(this is a stock photo not my apt)
  • I’ve actually learned about my body; what it is capable of, what it really has opinions on (hello hip flexors, my nemeses), how feeding it right during a long, multi-hour workout makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE and its taken me far, far too long to get here. I grew up playing sports. Lots of sports. How did I not know some of this?! But you know, better today than tomorrow. I’m better at listening to what hurts, dissecting it, knowing what’s ‘mind over matter’ and what’s worth slowing down on. ALSO did you guys know that quad means FOUR like FOUR MUSCLES IN YOUR THIGH I’m 33 how did no one tell me this until TWENTY TWENTY ONE you should have seen Brian’s face I’ve never seen someone so disappointed and trying to hide it as I truly howled with laughter.
  • Had A Wild Adventure to Plan; it’s been a long time since I felt like I was on a true new adventure. I moved to Chicago 6 years ago from Korea and while there have been several mini-adventures, there hasn’t been a truly wild one since. One of my favorite Kili books has been “Kilimanjaro Diaries,” by Eva Melusine Thieme. I spent several long walks around Chicago listening to the audiobook and at the end (or jump to it in the link above) she writes a list of ‘What the Mountain Taught Me.’ I highly recommend checking out the post above because it’s also excellent life lessons but these ones ring especially true in me:
    “- Wherever you are in life, it’s always a good idea to plan a new adventure. (But get yourself some good boots and take a few extra packs of wet wipes.)
    Everyone needs a mountain to scale in their lives. When you’re younger, life supplies many a mountain – graduation from high school, going to college, landing a good job, getting married. But during the middle years of your life, things get awfully flat (though often rather bumpy). Climbing a real mountain almost certainly helps put things in perspective.
    Consequently, it’s okay to do what you want or must do, even if it sometimes means doing it alone, when others don’t want to come along for the ride.
    You can always take another small step. Pole pole. There is almost no limit to what you might accomplish in life if you just go about it pole pole, one step at a time. If you’re overwhelmed by the task (or mountain) ahead, concentrate on the feet in front of you. Or on the garden trowel, if you must.
    It’s always good to have a change in scenery. If your life seems drab at sea level, maybe you need to take it to high altitude. At least that’s how it worked for us. The higher we climbed, the thinner the air, the more we laughed.”

So I know there’s been a wonderful and good journey in my soul. But my lizard self; the dragon that guards my soft pink heart at the center of my hoard of gold coins, she wants a summit. I don’t know how she’s going to react if she doesn’t get it. She wants it bad, y’all. She wants to stand on the mountain and look down at those clouds and open her jaw and ROAR. That’s the heart siren at full volume. To scream that it was all worth it. And is it still worth it if she can’t roar? Logically I know the answer is yes. But she wouldn’t be satisfied.

In re-reading that paragraph I feel it’s vital I tell you I could not be more sober. I haven’t even had a Diet Coke today.

I guess that’s the ego then, the dragon. My scaly self that wants to summit. That wants to cross the finish line. That isn’t sure if its worth it (time, money, effort, etc.) unless I stand at the top. I need to sit and reckon with the dragon and the logic of knowing this has all been worth it even if I don’t summit. That I’m a changed person from this journey regardless of where my boots land.

So as I make my packing spreadsheet sitting among a nest of REI Garage Sale finds and prioritizing the fancy performance laundry that needs to air dry for 2 days before flying ORD > SEA this week – I want to tell you (me) something.

I am scared and I’m doing it anyways.

I’m fully packed and I’m convinced I forgot something.

I’m taking my ego, yes, and I know my soul holds a certainty that I’ve done all I could.

I haven’t come this far to give up before the race even starts. Also I’m mildly convinced my body will activate some latent Pacific Northwest super power upon landing and it’ll boost me up Easton Glacier and if one of you says it’s weed I will ban you I swear it by the power vested in me by the state of…the internet.

So if you’re into sending vibes or prayers send some over:

  • That Brianna and I won’t murder each other in our tent for 2 nights we are not known for smooth camping skills
  • That the THREE different types of bug repellent I have will keep the biting flies and mozzies away from my sweet juicy body
  • That Tom Hiddleston will quote Shakespearean sonnets to lull me to sleep by earbud or by presence (I’m not picky)
  • That I take at least one good picture of Baker to justify buying a fancy polarized filter and lugging a DSLR up there
  • That some raspberries will still be in season because the one thing I’ve asked my Mom for post-climb is a raspberry pie and we are at end-of-season barrel levels
  • That I don’t revert to my improviser default of MAKE THE PERSON LAUGH when trying to distract our guide from some physical thing about myself (likely trying to put on a harness right (why must there be SO MANY LOOPS))
  • That my body doesn’t do what handsome PT calls a ‘textbook inflammation response’ where my knee got BIG MAD in Zion in April but had never happened to me before in 33 years of sports life #themgoodknees
  • That no matter what happens on the side (or top) of the mountain I have grown up orienting my life around, my dragon and my soft pink heart will be satisfied by my effort and still hungry for the next one.

See you Sunday, pals.

Gettin’ Grown

Things that are not news to other people but was news to me: It is a fascinating perspective, watching someone go from newborn to adult. I can feel all the parents, grandparents, aunts, etc. side-eyeing me with a soft, ‘duh, Bails.’

But I’m not a parent (or grandparent), and while I am an aunt, I’m not talking about my nieces or nephew.

Less than 2 weeks ago, my youngest sister, Emmalee, graduated from Grand Canyon University’s Nursing School and I cried, y’all.

With my trip cancelled in January, I didn’t have another other adventuring on the books until Baker (sub-90 days now! It’s real! I had to pay the grown-ass invoice!). My parents invited me to come to AZ for Em’s graduation and some post-grad National Park work – and at this stage in the game anywhere with hikes/elevation is helpful to the game. Flat Chicago is my boo but also, she flat and the mountains I’m gonna climb are decidedly not.

My relationship with the 4th born gap bb as a 2nd-born-but-headstrong-1st-girl-vibes has always been strong one. I was a middle kid for a long time. 2.5 years after Z, and 3.5 years before B. Senior : Freshman to Senior : Freshman for the 3 of us in school.

I was in Mr. DeBoer’s 5th grade class, a month shy of 11 when Em was born in November of ’98. I remember laying next to B in the back room of Nana & Papa’s old house; we knew Mom was in labor, but you know, bedtime rules at Nana’s house wait for no baby. We were almost asleep when Nana came in and told us – Mom had had a girl.

What a girl. What a baby. Happy cheeks. Happy laugh. Happy smiles. We used to sneak in to wake her up from her naps because she was so cute (and also you were her favorite if you took her out of the crib). Good gawd, she was popular with my friends. Everyone loved her – she made my teen season easier with her easy smile – and so many of my friends’ siblings were past their baby years.

My college season in Oklahoma was punctuated with visits home – seeing the leaps in her experience, her height, her basketball skills – and the gut-wrenching difficult goodbyes, every time. She’d weep, clutching my neck and sob out, “Can’t you just go to Whatcom (Community College)? You make such good sandwiches; can’t you just work at Subway?”

1 – 1000% true. A direct quote. And also 2 – yeah – I do rock a great sandwich. Subway could never.

But the HEARTSTRINGS whew. I’ve spent my adult life leaving and re-leaving and those were some of the first leavings and they still make my emotions well up.

After college I still came home about twice a year; she was in her teen phase and sports, school, all of it. I did 2 years in Korea, moved to Chicago – she finished high school and started at GCU in Phoenix. Being with her were always some of the best moments – driving to get sandwiches, watch her games, her practices, belting out Ke$ha.

And yet. Despite me not living with her for over half her life…what a kid. What a woman. What a nurse.

I don’t need to live close to know to see the kind of woman she’s become. I see her influence in the community she’s knit around her. The Instagram comments, the adventures, the brilliant sound of her laugh among friends.

I don’t need to see her in a hospital to know how she touches every life she meets – body, mind and spirit. There’s a reason her fellow nursing students in her cohort gave her the Florence Nightingale Award.

I don’t need to live with her to know she’s the kind of person who asks if you want anything when she runs to town. She’ll tell you when there’s food in your teeth, too. I KNOW. Put that on your resume under ‘special skills,’ Em.

A coffee junkie, someone who doesn’t have a piece of clothing that looks bad on her (I’m serious, I’ve seen her wear a huge random Old Navy t-shirt of our Dad’s and it WORKS?! SOMEHOW?! It should be a crime), can double-french braid her own hair, can appreciate the hits of Cascada (truly great), a study NUT (you should see her notebooks), and now – a nurse. Still-to-take-the-NCLEX-but-still!

As B pinned Em, now the third nurse in the family (B and our sister-in-law Laura being 1 & 2), I stood there, hot as hell, in my thrifted jumpsuit, hiding my shiny tears behind my fancy camera and clicked away. Documenting this grown-ass adult shining. Proud. Happy.

I changed this person’s diapers (Sorry, not sorry, Em).

And now she’s holding a diploma with a her grad cap.

Spending the next few days eating her dust as we hiked (I plod, she billy goats), spending ~15 hours in a car, shouting ALAN ALAN down the Narrows with her and B – a gift. A gift to be friends with this fellow adult. To take our first spin class together. To belt One Direction. To tetris her belongings into a storage unit before she moves into her first apartment.

She’s got her human side, yeah, I promise. But today’s post is for celebrating her – she can have a pass – and maybe I’ll make her a sandwich. If she’s good.

2 Branches Off the Old Tree

My whole life I’ve been told I look like my Dad. And y’all I do. From our freckles to our face shape to our 70/30% red/brown curly hair to our smiles – there’s no hospital mixup here. But I see him under my SPF 70-prone skin too in my hands, my heart and my voice. 

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If my mom is who I text flower photos to then my Dad is who I reach out to with the ‘handsy’ things. The ‘I think I have to take apart my Kitchenaid mixer and replace the grease after 20+ years’ and he sends back a Youtube video. He’s the one I call when my toilet tank is making sounds/has stopped making the RIGHT sounds. Trying to choose the right IKEA toolkit for my apartment. Who sends me Amazon links to the right type of superglue to keep my chair bolts together. If you can put hands on it and fiddle with it, that’s Dad turf. He can probably be found in Carharrt overalls, splotched with evidence of fixes past, pulling apart and putting things back together, safety glasses and a t-shirt that probably has a hole in it catching on a piece of a project somewhere.  

He’s the one I try to make laugh; getting his laugh is a currency that throws all your other laughter dollars forgotten on the floor. The two of us will go toe-to-toe on puns as everyone else in the family waits, head in palm, for us to finish trying to outdo each other. Usually at the dinner table. While everyone is just waiting for us to pray so they can eat. Our humor comes from the same tree trunk but our branches do eventually diverge. We conspiratorially cackled sharing Far Side books back and forth. He’s legendary for long, rambling 5-minute jokes and I have NO PATIENCE to get to that punchline. I can fall into fits at an episode of The Office and he huffs, “I just don’t get this.” 

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My  did a tour in the Navy after high school and I remember touching the coins from Hong Kong with wide eyes listening to heightened yarns of the guys he served with. We would all squeeze into bed as he told us long, detail-filled stories of “Spunky the Monkey” as we screamed with laughter, usually involving our plucky hero and bodily functions. I fell in love with books and my Dad was the one to tell me, gently, in high school “Make sure you have your own adventures too, ok?” On the morning of my 18th birthday I remember the local Navy recruiter calling my house – when I told him that night he laughed saying “They don’t miss a minute!” He once told me after college that I was the only kid of his he could have seen surviving and thriving in the military. I can’t tell you how that comment has strangely sustained me, making me feel powerful and capable because my Dad saw me as powerful and capable. 

My Dad is mischievous as ANYONE I HAVE EVER HEARD. I know there are pranks my Dad and pals pulled in high school he still can’t talk about, apparently. IT HAS BEEN ALMOST 40 YEARS. And these are just some of the ones I do know about: the legendary Ferndale High School food fight that he started while wearing a gorilla costume to stay incognito?! A battle of the bands where he was in a white suit and used ketchup packets to look like he was bleeding?! A reputation that apparently made my grandma nervous when people heard her daughter was dating him?! And it didn’t stop there: to this day anytime my Dad has any scratch/bruise/scuff and you ask him how he got it the answer will be (say it with me, siblings): “Oh, that? Your mom bit me.” 

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But my Dad doesn’t sacrifice a soft heart for all those tough, funny things. He’s a loving husband married to my mom 35+ years. He’s a Dad genuinely interested in our worlds. He’s a devoted grandpa to 3 happy little nuggets.

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When my parents left me at ORU for my freshman year…that was the first time I saw my Dad cry. I’d seen his eyes ‘glisten’ before, but this was monumental. I remember I was whole-body sobbing, shaking, standing on the bridge between chapel and the parking lot. That’s normal, right? For me to cry, visualizing living 2,152 miles from home. But it wasn’t just me. My mom was crying too. And so was this jokester, prankster, fix-anything-with-moving-pieces tough man. Which made me cry harder because anything that can break that kind of guy is worth sobbing about. It wasn’t until later that I realized as scared and sad and nervous but hopeful as I was…maybe he was too. He was losing (for awhile) the pun pal. The branch buddy. Someone who tried so hard to understand his machines but didn’t speak the language. Someone who wanted to hear all his stories. Someone who also appreciated a hearty Carharrt beanie and reading adventure stories and watching Young Frankenstein. 

It’s been almost 14 years since that sweltering, August day in Tulsa and I haven’t lived at home since. I’d come home for breaks and summers, and I still find myself boomeranging back to the nest 2-3 times a year. I’m living my adventures and stories like he told me, but there’s always someone I want to share them with. The weird bits of the stories and people I’ve met on the way. To show Morroccan and Korean and Thai coins to; to ping pong puns with, to quote Marty Feldman with, to try and fix some machinery with, to shoot targets with, to lovingly debate and discuss with. Sometimes, a branch misses another branch just knowing who they are in a way no one else does. 

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I am lucky, I am loved, I am blessed with this Dad who knows and adores me. And I am so excited to share him with someone else someday. To watch their eyes light up hearing about a work prank that apparently involved a fake spider in a paper cup that made a grown man cry. 

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. You’re all these things and more, every day. But today I finally kept typing through the tears to say all of it. I love you. 

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