The circuit is the pathway between climbing areas for a year. It takes you round and round, from Yosemite to Red Rocks, to Indian Creek, to Joshua Tree, back to Indian Creek, Red Rocks, Smith Rock, Squamish, Index... It chases the good weather (read: sunshine) and the sending temps (read: mildly cool). When you jump on you typically meet a few people who are riding the same wave as you. You’ll see them in Indian Creek, lose track of them for a few months and then see them again in Squamish. The circuit brings you around and around, like a merry-go-round of climbing destinations. After getting on, it can be difficult to get off.
Most of the time money pulls people off. They hold on for as long as they can. Stretching their last few dollars and the bag of rice and beans in the back of their Subaru until they reluctantly let go and spin off, back home to find security and work.
And still the circuit spins. Round and round. New people jumping on, spinning off, holding on for dear life.
Few manage to hold on for weeks, months, even years. Eventually everyone is thrown off, and still the circuit spins.
The first time I jumped on the circuit I didn’t even know it was there. I knew I wanted to live full time in the van and follow the weather. I had an idea of the circuit, but I didn’t know it was a real tangible force that pulled people like me from place to place, pulling them away when the weather turned and pushing them in a new direction.
I had broken up with my boyfriend a few weeks before. I was raw and hollow and looking for something to fill me up.
I fled to the desert.
My first destination was Joshua Tree. I knew the weather was good and I had heard it was the perfect place for climbing. Not to mention the Joshua Trees and the silent open roads. During my first drive through I flashed my parks pass, blasted Where the Streets Have No Names from the U2 album Joshua Tree and sobbed as I drove through the desert. Feeling like I was on an alien planet, the Joshua Trees standing silent witness to the cracking open of my heart.
Hidden Valley Campground.
I remember sitting on the front step of my sliding door. The air was cold and crisp, a hint of a warm breeze was blowing through the campground, signaling the coming of the sun an the 80+ day it was going to be. I had more coffee than I knew what to do with and out of the distance a woman was walking towards me.
She had brown shoulder length hair, the kind that hasn’t been trimmed in a long time. It fell around her face like loose feathers. She had the kind of casual beauty that comes from strong women who once cared deeply about their looks, but have recently stopped showering and traded the make up for a splash of cold water in the morning and a stiff cup of coffee. She was smoking a cigarette and drinking something out of a mug. She was slender, dressed in baggy sweat pants, leather boots, a large warm looking jacket and mittens with finger holes. She had a white husky dog trotting next to her.
The dog came to me first, like dogs do. Looking for validation from a stranger, hoping for food and possibly a belly rub. I nuzzled the husky’s white fur and scratched his nose. The woman walked over to me, smiling and introduced herself as Genevive.
I offered her coffee, wanting her to stay and talk to me, wanting anyone to stay and talk to me, wanting to not be alone in the cold gray morning again. Wanting to fill up the hollowness with the casual company of a stranger.
She had been a dancer in Florida. She got into the outdoors with a friend and had a movie crew lined up to film their road trip across the US when her friend had gotten pregnant and bailed.
She said 'fuck it' and drove out anyway. The movie crew bailed, the friend bailed, and she became a dirtbag and then a climber.
Our conversation lasted maybe 5 minutes, and then, as happens to beautiful women, a man in a yellow puffy jacket walked past and said hello. They began chatting and I shrank back into my van. But she gave me her number to call her for a climbing partner before she left.
I didn’t know it at the time but she was my gateway to the circuit. She stood at the entrance and held the red velvet cord that divided my old life from the new one open. Smiling, she beckoned me, her feather earrings, cigaret dangling in one hand, dog at her heels. That husky staring with his white blue eyes, signaling something wild and untamable.
On that trip I stepped right up to the entrance, looked out at the circuit, saw the others grasping on to the painted horses manes, laughing maniacally, whisky bottles in hand. I didn’t understand what I was looking at, I didn’t see what it could be or what it meant to ride the circuit. That mad merry-go-round.
So I stepped back. Genevive hooked the cord back in it’s place, turned, swaggered up to the ride and hopped on.
I couldn’t do it yet.
Months later, I was back in Santa Cruz. Staring at my computer screen, fighting off the heartbreak. Looking for something, anything, to fill that gaping hollowness inside me, when Genevive texted me.
Hey! I’m in the Creek with some friends, we’re all climbing. You should come out here! Creek Pasture Campground.
Indian Creek? Just outside of Moab Utah? Could I go there?
There she was again, standing with the red velvet cord pulled back at the gateway of the circuit. This time she was just barely holding it for me. Casually beckoning with her phone in one hand, but obviously distracted by the music on the other side. She was getting ready to close the gate and walk out of my life forever. It would have been so easy to ignore her. So easy for me to pass by the text and drive to some other destination instead. But I didn't ignore her, this time I couldn't ignore her, I needed to know what was on the other side of that cord. The crazy carnival music was calling and I desperately wanted out of the life I had lived before.
And this time I went.
I had nothing to go on, except the name of a campground 2,000 miles away in a town I’d never been to, at a climbing destination I didn’t know, that required gear I didn’t have. No guide book, no trad gear, no crack technique, no partner. Just a name.
Genevieve, Creek Pasture Campground.