Last Friday, after working our regular 9 to 5 shifts, Ashley and I ate some dinner and departed on the roughly 18-hour drive to Stone Fort, just outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee. No strangers to being on the road–Ashley and I have done this drive and several others similar to it many times in the last few years–braced ourselves for the long drive through the night. Motivating us was the promise of a week of great bouldering, a favorable weather forecast, the opportunity to spend some quality time together, and an escape from the daily grind. With the car packed, and each of us hopeful that we would be able to get in a little bit of sleep in the car, we headed south.
Taking turns at the wheel, Ashley and I drove through the night only stopping occasionally for gas; seeing that we were driving her hybrid, those stops were few and far between. Around eight o’clock the following morning, Ashley and I finally took a real break at IHOP to fuel up and just get out of the car for a while. On trips like this, it is always enticing to just grab something you can eat in the car and keep heading toward your destination, but in my opinion the half-hour reprieve from the confines of your vehicle is well worth the time penalty. You could tell time in the car was already getting to us, as Ashley ordered a smokehouse platter and I ordered a bacon omelette (there was far more bacon than any other ingredient). Why is it that spending an excessive time in the car makes your body crave the worst possible foods for you?
Fueled by our breakfast of smoked meats, Ashley and I rolled into Chattanooga around two o’clock in the afternoon. Without any real plans or a schedule to stick to, we chose to push on to Horse Pens 40, in Steele, Alabama another two hours away so we could partake in Boulderween. For those not in the loop, Boulderween is an annual fundraiser put on by the Southeastern Climbers Coalition and features the stellar of climbing of Horse Pens during the day, then shifts to a big party at night. I was first introduced to Horse Pens at Boulderween some years ago by a friend living in Atlanta and had a fantastic time. Two years ago, I brought Ashley to the event and at some point in the night, she played moonshine grab bag…the event has held a special place in her heart ever since.
We pulled in to Horse Pens around three in the afternoon (thank you, Central Time Zone) and were stunned to see how busy it was. The majority of the camping was full, a big difference from our last trip to Boulderween, where the attendance was moderate and the vibe more subdued (despite the moonshine grab bag). We quickly picked out a camp site, set up our tent, and despite hours of complaining in the car about getting some rest (it was pretty hard to sleep in the car) we hit the boulder fields. Psyched on just being free of the car and ready to climb, the initial plan was to just head up to front area and do some of the easy warm ups, stretch out a little, and get ready for a long week of climbing. Quickly the climbing won out over road weariness and the long drive, sleep deprivation, and hearty breakfast were quickly forgotten about as we progressed from easy warm ups to some classic problems we had been psyching ourselves up about in the days before the trip.
As the sun began to set, we left the boulders to shower off the dirt, chalk, and grime you somehow collect by just sitting in a car too long. Finally sitting in the tent, lured by the siren call of my sleeping bag, I was ready to sleep. However, I could hear the music start playing from the communal area and knew Boulderween was really just beginning (not to mention I may have finally burned off my breakfast). As ready for bed as I was, Boulderween promises–for a mere ten dollars!–all-you-can-eat chili, all-you-can-drink beer, a costume contest, a limbo contest (which I don’t know how Ashley lost…I thought being five feet tall and flexible assured a victory), and another contest which involved touching your nose to a bottle on the ground while balancing on one foot (I really thought Ashley had a chance to win this one…until the semi-finals, when they made everyone do shots of tequila before continuing). In addition to the activities there is a pretty good raffle, with proceeds benefiting the SCC. I was not about to miss out on any of the activities no matter how tired I was and, after a few beers and a few bowls of chili, I found myself getting my fourth wind. I could tell that Ashley was in high spirits as well and that, despite the travel, we were ready for a long night.
As expected, Ashley and I both survived the night and won nothing at the raffle. While we tend to have some pretty good luck when traveling, neither of us has ever had much success with raffles (I am 0 for 3 at the Boulderween raffle) or lotteries. Ashley and I woke later than normal Sunday morning, and after some coffee and Krispy Kremes we were ready to get back on the rock. By early Sunday afternoon, people began to trickle out of Horse Pens; by Sunday night, we seemed to have the place to ourselves. After our hectic two days, Ashley and I enjoyed the quiet and finally began to slow down.