Day Ten: 15 August 2007
In the morning, we made pancakes. PANCAKES! My favorite breakfast food ever! Kathryn and I cooked them while discussing my first impressions of Fire Bringer. I wanted to hang on a little longer. Finish the book, maybe. Now pros at this, we packed up the campsite yet again because we would be sadly driving back to Camp Sombrero. But before leaving, we had the choice of going on a hike up Bell Rock in Sedona, which Counselor Rocco wanted to do.
I opted out of Bell Rock, along with Carley and Laura, because it was 99 degrees and full sun, and because we’d be doing another hike shortly afterward. Margaret let us stay while the other counselors filled up with gas, and Allison the counselor told us that Rocco was going way too fast, and it was too hot for just about everyone.
After the group returned, we drove to Beaver Creek, having to hike about a half-mile through the tall grasses and hot sun to get there. But we were rewarded with a deep stream with lots of boulders on which to sit.
The water was deep and cool, like up to my waist when I finally climbed in to walk through the stream to a boulder. Carley, Meghan, Laura, Alexis, Taylor, Michelle, Ripley and I all swam out to the rock and I remember wading, with my water shoes on, while my shorts and the bottom of my WHITE shirt were totally soaked.
A few of the counselors took the girls who wanted to go, downstream, so I lent Carley my sandals so she could go while I stayed in the shade, dried off, and read my book.
We headed back to the vans and took off for Phoenix “about 3.” On the way back, my group discussed making t-shirts to remember our trip — if I remember correctly, it was Carley’s idea (but if I remember wrong, then it wasn’t). We decided on light blue, the least desert-ish color of them all, and drove to a Michaels/Joann’s/undeterminedcraftstore to buy them, along with fabric paints in all different colors and permanent markers. With the help of the group and my journal, I completed a list of every inside joke, some of which, sadly, I don’t even remember, or wasn’t part of. But many of them I do remember, because many of them were based on jokes we made up to pass the time backpacking, or to poke fun of backpacking culture. Such as: “Don’t wanna use a bush? I don’t know how to pee in the woods!” or “IS YOUR PEE CLEAR?” or “Where’s Meghan? It’s your turn to watch her!”
Some were based on each other. We joked about Kathryn’s Taiwan experience, because she was fair-skinned and blonde, and softspoken southern belle Laura told the best boy stories, including one where she ran out in her underwear, I think to go swimming.
I noticed as I made this list that I spent much more time observing than participating. But that was okay. I was just a little more introspective and quiet, and that suited me fine.
When we returned to camp, I remember walking to the showers, feeling completely alone, and washing my hair and shaving. It was difficult to comprehend that the trip was almost over. The last time we had set up our mattresses and sleeping bags, we had been getting prepared, incomprehensibly, for Powell’s Great Unknown. We had no idea what awaited us or what it would look like, or what it would feel like when it was over.
Well, now i knew how it felt.
We spent most of the night making those t-shirts. Mine has a huge sun on the back, and it says “A Man, Duh: THE WISE ONE” (as pointed out by Margaret’s quiz), that someone else helped me write. At the end of the evening, instead of having fun with friends, I decided to, in true Amanda fashion, sit in the corner and continue reading Fire Bringer. It was better than having to deal with pesky emotions.
Day Eleven: 16 August 2007
Our only itinerary for the day included a rock climbing gym at 1 p.m. and (unfortunately) sorting and cleaning our equipment, which was a dreaded and daunting task. Kathryn, Alison and I were put in charge of the tents.
That meant putting them up and getting all the dirt out (which was quite a lot!) and then taking them back down. Being out in the heat with the sauna/greenhouse -like tents was excruciating and it took SO long, but finally we got to go back inside and get ready for the rock climbing gym.
No, we weren’t in the Canyon anymore, but Phoenix is still in the Southern Arizonan portion of the Sonoran Desert, which stretches from lower California and Arizona to Mexico. It is hot and dry, with little to no life besides cacti and palms. In other words, we escaped the Canyon to the upper, cooler forests of the Rim and grasslands in Sedona to go right back to the same climate that resides at the bottom of the Canyon: Sonoran Desert. It is harsh, and the sun direct and strong. It is dangerous, and even though we weren’t hiking, we made sure to continue to drink water. It was still the desert. I laughed a little to myself thinking of when Meghan and I thought an evening jog would be “fun.”
Incidentally, once I read Twilight for the first time, sometime later that year, I was thrilled to see places like the American West (Phoenix and Forks) take center stage. Especially Phoenix, of which I was so familiar. Before the Twilight Hype, I genuinely enjoyed the first book and its story, which follows average, non-supermodel-nor-popular-girl protagonist (which later borderlines on ‘irritating’ and useless’) and her confusion at her crush’s actions. As a 15-year-old, I was head-over-heels with the concept because literature understood my plight. I, too, was confused by my crush’s mood swing-y actions and wanted to break free of being just another average girl to being adored and noticed. Bella does all this effortlessly. Later, I realized it was stupid, but I still remember enjoying the stories as a teenager.
But the best part is that Phoenix is included in the book. The very first scene describes Bella’s uncertainty about boarding a plane from dry, sunny, hot Phoenix to rainy, cloudy and constantly-50-degree Washington state. Being from the Northeast, I realized what a jump that was. I mean, any reader can understand the jump from nice, familiar climate to totally-different climate, but I had actually been in Phoenix and all around Arizona’s dust hills. I knew how different it would be. And it was amazing to see Phoenix again in the latter parts of the book. I remembered the streets and the homes, the loose rocky mounds that rise out of nothing, and the flat dust plains covered in cacti. I remembered how brightly the sun beams upon the bleached soil and saguaro skeletons, and how everything appears to be made of rock, which small green patches of grass here and there.
The city of Phoenix was known to me.
August 2007 was my first experience in a rock climbing gym, but certainly not the last. I spent several college years rock climbing at the Central Rock Gym in Worcester on Barber Ave., just down the street from the Higgins Armory. I went with the Outdoors club and had a fabulous time. Bouldering, however, wasn’t so easy for me.
Anyway, my journal states explicitly that “I’d never been to a gym for rock climbers before, and it was really neat.”
Taylor and I were rock climbing partners. We were taught (it doesn’t take long) how to use the equipment, trace the figure-8 knot in our ropes, and how to support your partner while belaying as well as give specific vocal signals. Most of all, it is important to trust your partner who is on the ground while you climb. Your partner will remove slack in your line so that you don’t fall. Your partner will let you down if you want, and your partner will push you to the next handhold.
For those of you who haven’t been, a rock climbing gym has “routes” that have different grades based on difficulty. At just about any gym, each “route” is named, graded, and marked by a different color of duct tape. You follow the color to the top, utilizing marked holds as you go (the actual holds aren’t all the same color, though sometimes they can be. It’s the duct tape that is the same color under each hold). You don’t have to use them all, but you can’t deviate to another route. That is called cheating, and it also can interfere with another climber’s climb.
I wasn’t afraid of heights but I was afraid of falling off the wall. I got to the top of some 5.6, 5.7, and 5.8 walls, and to the top of a chimney wall. That is two walls pretty tight together facing each together, and you have to climb between them. It was a fun and easy climb.
In Worcester, several years later, I began back at a 5.6 again and quickly progressed to 5.8. After that, you require more skill and balance to climb. And a little more risk. You are pushing your body to itslimits as you gain grades (they can get up to 5.11 or even higher. As far as I know, 5.5 is the “lowest,” but I’m not going to claim to be an expert or put that for sure).
As an observation essay in college, I chose to write about rock climbing — both my experience in it and watching other climbers who were more experienced. As climbers go, I am a typical amateur, who is doing it for fun, but who would require way more practice to be considered “good.” Yes, I can make it to the top of some tough walls, but it is a lot of work and there are ways to move your body so that you aren’t being inefficient.
My friend Steph can climb a 5.11 now (the grading system for climbing walls in the Central Rock gym goes from a basic 5.5 to a 5.13) with the grace of a dancer. That’s exactly how I see rock climbers—as dancers. Their movements are slow, deliberate, and their touch on the holds is light. They shift body weight easily, pivot their feet, and are absolutely fearless.
Climbing entails a physical exertion most people do not expect, particularly around the areas of: the inner forearm (the muscles from your wrist to your elbow), the shoulders, abs and legs. I have been climbing walls that expect you to contort your body in strange ways—I have to bring my knee up into my stomach to put my toes on the next foothold, then extend my entire leg and stand on my tiptoes, praying I don’t slip, while I reach far over to my right to grab a handhold that may or may not be a good grip. If I happen to get tired and can’t pull myself up with my arms or I need to contemplate my next step, I can turn my left hip to the wall and sit in my harness in midair. Usually I need to reload my hands with chalk about halfway through my climb. Around my waist, above my harness, I have a chalk bag in case my hands start to sweat—and they do.
-Amanda Bollacker’s Observation Essay (Fall 2011)
I haven’t been rock climbing in a few years, but I’d like to go back — there’s a new CRG open in Glastonbury, CT. I’ve definitely climbed enough times to feel comfortable enough going, and possibly buy some of my own equipment rather than pay for rentals. And even through my observation essay, which talks about the fear of falling off a high wall and the feeling of vulnerability, I learned something valuable that pertains specifically to rock climbing in the essay but actually doesn’t after all in the grand scheme:
For the most part, we climbers forget about the height and simply focus on climbing (which is the best and only way to truly do well). But it happens sometimes. I still get jittery about falling, like many climbers do, because it’s a little scary and definitely embarrassing, but it’s truthfully part of climbing. The best climbers fall off the wall. Even lead climbers definitely do sometimes, and the really awesome-at-bouldering guys I tend to see at the Gym. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them, it just is something that happens as we learn.
Everyone falls sometimes.
That doesn’t really have anything to do with climbing, now does it?
The only time I would say to IGNORE THIS ADVICE COMPLETELY is if you’re actually trying to backpack the Grand Canyon. Please, do not heed the advice that “everyone falls,” because as I’ve said 2048 times, making a mistake in the Canyon is not “oopsie… Someone will come save me;” it’s lethal. Do not be the 99% of the population that goes about the day thinking “it’s just another normal day and nothing can happen!”
Something can happen.
Anyway, my point above in that quote is that in life (excluding survival situations), everyone falls, and being one of those people whose friends voted her as “Pride” in a Seven Deadly Sins group costume, I am guilty of letting my pride overcome me to the point where I would rather sit out than someone see me fail. In other words, I prefer to have 100 percent confidence that I will succeed before taking a risk. I think most people are like this.
So, back to my story (go rock climbing sometime; it’s fun!).
We drove back to Sombrero for our last day. I was still in pure denial that I would ever be going home. It had been eleven days, and too much had happened. We weren’t allowed in the Lodge because the staff was setting up our surprise goodbye dinner, so I sat and (surprise, surprise) read Fire Bringer instead.
We were instructed to donate our cameras’ memory cards to Christophe, who compiled all of the groups’ pictures and videos into CDs for each of us to take home. This was the period of time, by the way, during which disposable cameras were on the way out and digital cameras for every family were on the way in. This was during the time of flip phones and Razrs, and was prior to the first iPhone. Therefore, we each had big, bulky digital cameras that we toted around, along with plenty of spare AA batteries, if I remember correctly. I was happy because my camera, along with taking several seconds to snap a picture, showed a preview of what I took on the back, unlike the disposable that I used in Page, which you had to wind up and had no idea if your picture even came out.
We were finally invited inside, and my group and I made sure to put on our new t-shirts. I gasped — the white walls and plain camp tables were completely changed. In one corner, GS-ACPC member “Matt” (aka Tom Cruise) had put up a Smartboard projector on which he played a slideshow of all our pictures. The tables had bouquets of flowers and tablecloths and candles, and my whole group sat together wearing the shirts we’d made the night before. It was terribly sad to be at the dinner, knowing it was the last evening we’d be together and that we’d probably never see each other again.
Though we live so far away, we’d become such good friends. I learned so much about them and felt like I’d known them forever, even though we’d only met 11 days earlier. My homesickness was a thing of the past. Soon, I knew, I’d be homesick — for Arizona, and so restless I wouldn’t know what to do with myself.
The dinner ended quietly, with the groups posing together for a last shot, and ours holding a rock — of course. The rocks were coming.
We exchanged Swaps — in Girl Scouts, you bring a small piece of “home” with you, along with your name and contact information, to give to all the girls you meet so they would remember you. I had never heard of Swaps and so didn’t bring any, but I received quite a few from Ripley, Carley, Amy, and some other friends, who provided me with things like a piece of gypsum (from Kansas — or Idaho?), a bookmark, a carabiner (that I still use), patches from the Texas Girl Scout Council, and other odds and ends with the girls’ names.
The dinner ended quietly as the groups split off a last time and everyone signed the Canyon Odyssey shirts we had received. It took me a couple more hours, but I ended up finishing that book and handed it back to Kathryn. That was the last chance I got to talk to her. I missed waking up at 5:30 to tell her and Melanie and Alison goodbye. I fell asleep and couldn’t get up in time.
Day Twelve: 17 August 2015
There is only one sentence in my journal on this page:
The Trip has Ended.
Afterward, on the plane, I wrote a letter of reflection. Since my friends all had earlier flights than me, because I was taking a direct flight back to Bradley Int’l in Windsor Locks, I got the pleasure of waving all of them goodbye.
I woke up around 7 a.m. in time to say goodbye to the largest group of girls, who were heading to the airport for 8 a.m., and the last group was leaving at 9:15. After that, I would be alone until 1:45, when it was my turn to go to the Phoenix airport. I got up, knowing that I could stay asleep if I wanted. But I knew I would regret not saying goodbye to those I could.
Cara, Michelle, Alyssa, Ripley, Alexis, Malinda, Sarah, Claire, Leigh, Hanna, Cori, and Amy were leaving, and there was a group that I had already missed — which left just a few of us, and coincidentally, my closest friends — Laura, Taylor, Meghan, Carley, and Sam.
I wanted to go to the airport, but I knew it would be too hard, and I wouldn’t be able to get past the gate anyway. So we had a tearful farewell at Sombrero. I spent the next few hours trying not to think about it, the inevitable, so as the staff slowly came to the camp for a meeting, I helped clean and watched the slideshow that was cycling on our pictures, on Group 3’s, and not looking at the shirt I’d worked so hard on with my friends. We promised we’d wear them on the plane ride home. The staff that were at camp — Rocko, David, Crazy, Hobbes, Allison, Karen and Margaret, once the cleaning was done and I still had 2 and 1/2 hours left to spend — decided they’d take me out to lunch, which helped me not to think about leaving.
We got THE BEST FOOD IN EXISTENCE –in other words, my favorite — Mexican, but it was REAL Mexican, from Arizona. at a delicious place called Poncho’s. The lunch was fun, but I don’t remember much except sitting in a huge booth and feeling somewhat spoiled to be the last to leave. I got out just in time to go to the airport.
As a last treat, I got Starbucks at the airport, and waited with Allison at Gate A28, and still a whole 45 minutes early, even after the trainwreck that was Phoenix’s security line. I was feeling ready to go home now that I was, well, actually sitting and ready to go home.
Once I got on the plane, however, and sat in my window seat on the left side, just as I had on the ride there, I started crying. I waved to some kid outside, who was lucky enough to be staying in Phoenix, and he waved back. But I was still upset.
I am alone. Utterly and completely alone.
It’s to the point now where I just don’t want to remember yet, because it’s so painful to say goodbye. It feels like I’ve been in Arizona my entire life, when I know that’s not true. Somehow it feels to me that no matter if I’m homesick, whenever it’s time to go home I just am not ready. I don’t want to leave.
I am now on my way, thinking back on everything and how I am now looking down on my memories like I am the Arizona landscape — vast and full of adventure. No one at home will understand. Not my friends… it’s sad to think that I have to share this experience with only a few — those girls that are spread clear across the country.
I think the thing about an adventure like this is that it teaches you something about yourself. If there’s something I learned, it’s what I found when I stepped from Connecticut to the gate of the plane on August 5th.
Quoting an old Winnie the Pooh movie, “You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
So ends the greatest account of my life. It’s sad to say it’s over, but time, like all things, is the enemy. There isn’t really much to do now but sit back, read through my accounts of what happened, and be proud to say that I accomplished it all — with the help of some very good friends.
My family was waiting. They had parked in the garage, and I flew into their arms.
Don’t say we have come now to the end
White shores are calling
You and I will meet again.