Rock climbing is going through some changes these days, with the explosive rise of indoor climbing gyms, joining the Olympics as a competition sport, and the popularity of bouldering. It’s easy to be confused when someone tells you they’re a ‘climber’ — this could entail any number of different activities.
At its most basic, climbing involves using gymnastic ability to reach places generally considered inaccessible by humans. And there is nothing that fits this definition better than a desert tower.
“There’s no way of knowing that your last good day is Your Last Good Day. At the time, it is just another good day.”— John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
You could feel it coming.
As the Coronavirus crisis was mounting in the US, we were in Southeastern Utah, near Moab, rock climbing the impressive desert towers that dot the area.
My climbing partner was a Swedish woman, Anna, a full-time climber who lived on the road. A “dirtbag”, we say in the climbing community. Without a permanent home, remote desert was about the most socially-distanced she could be.
I had a home; but amidst the mounting anxiety, I’ll admit: I wanted to escape. Lockdowns had not yet begun in the USA. But I read the news everyday. Italy closed. France closed. That omnipresent graph, always growing. It was coming.
“There’s no cell service at the Creek.”
Jake’s garbled voice came through Meg’s car speakers. We were testing the ranges of civilization, on I-70 out of Colorado. Red, scrubby desert stretched for miles all around us.
“The only way to communicate at the Creek is by posting a note on the message boards,” the voice on the phone said. “We’ll meet you there tomorrow. Good luck.”
As we cruised through Moab, headed South, I sent the last messages I would send for three days. They bounced up from the Utah desert, hit a satellite, and then redirected across the Atlantic Ocean, to Italy.
We’ll be out of touch for a few days, I said. Let’s use this time to think about things.
Please be careful and come back in one piece? The response came. Otherwise all this pondering will be pointless.
Sure, I said, and the car continued on.
Within seconds: no signal.
Tomorrow would be the first day in four months, or maybe more, that this woman I and would not talk.
We drove on, and for there first time in months, I put my phone aside, my mind at ease.
The American West.
And one of my favorite places in the world.