With less than a week left before Ashley and I depart for a long-overdue Southeastern bouldering vacation, I find myself giddy with anticipation. A few years ago, after dating for a little over a year–and having already survived our first real climbing trip together to the New River Gorge–I gave Ashley a plane ticket to Birmingham, Alabama for Christmas. The gift was met with some snickers from surrounding family and maybe a little bewilderment from Ashley as well. Let’s face it: a trip to rural Alabama is not the most romantic of gifts and, for those not in the know, Alabama does not seem a likely place to take a rock climbing vacation (or any vacation for that matter). Despite a few hiccups (for example, our flight out of Boston was extremely delayed and our baggage arrived a few hours later than we did), our first bouldering trip was not only a huge success, but also destined to become a repeat vacation for us.
Now, heading south to climb has become a near-annual event for us. The great thing about having made the trip a few times is that some of the discovery, mistakes, and leg work have been made on past trips, allowing us to dial in the trip for maximum enjoyment and climbing. We’ve also learned that it’s more economical to drive south than fly. On our last trip south, we stopped at Stone Fort outside Chattanooga, Tennessee to climb for a few days before pushing on to Alabama. We discovered amazing climbing, and stopping in Chattanooga is now a must-do on any southern adventure. (However, my biggest takeaway from the last trip was just because you can get a hotel room for $30 a night in Chattanooga does not mean you want a hotel room for $30 a night in Chattanooga. I could make a strong argument that the $15 camp site we moved on to was nicer, had more amenities, was significantly cleaner, and, most importantly, had far fewer creepy people milling about it.)
As we edge closer to our departure, both Ashley and I are getting psyched to jump on some of our favorite climbs and mentally preparing to do battle with some climbs that were left un-finished last time…and the time before that. I am still haunted that I could not make the mantle on Black Carpet, and am anxiously awaiting my revenge. (Editor/girlfriend note: Black Carpet is MY project. Tim has plenty of others…I’m not sure why he decided to steal mine. Pfft.) Going through the guidebooks this past week, I’ve been able to re-live some proud sends, desperate moves, and humbling moments. Reading the notes written under some of the climbs refreshes old memories of past trips and builds the excitement for new ones. “Too short,” “too tired,” and “too many IPAs with lunch” are all common enough comments but reading them now brings me right back to the moment.
While climbing in the southeast is truly spectacular, it is other moments that make the trip just as memorable. Two Octobers ago, Ashley drinking mystery moonshine pulled out of a pillow case at Boulderween is a moment not soon to be forgotten. Nor will I soon forget taking Ashley on her first trip to Waffle House. Somehow we managed to find a brand new Waffle House and it was pristine, albeit lacking some of what I would call a normal Waffle House’s charm. (It also set an unfair precedent for all future Waffle House visits.) Perhaps my favorite memory is from our first trip south on Ashley’s February break from school: we headed down past the boulders and lazed (or as Ashley would say, “lizzarded”) in the sun in short sleeves while the locals cruised around in down coats in winter hats.
I do not believe I will ever tire of the southern bouldering tour, and I look forward to exploring more areas and more events in a region that for some reason has become special to me. However, as excited as I am to climb, the memories I come back from these trips with are even more important to me…and I’m really looking forward to making more of them.