“DUDE! You’ve got to get photos from far away!” Leah said, examining my camera. “These closeups of my ass are NOT flattering!” Angela was getting harnessed in. She was next to climb. I sat on a big rock drinking my 1.5 litre bottle of water and watching Angela grab hold of her first ledge of the face, while Leah took photos of her. We did 4 climbs up the karst face, each growing in difficulty. The sun got higher and we could feel it beaming down on our backs as we climbed above the the bamboo refuge at the bottom of the face.
I looked up squinty eyed. I was almost there. I said in a whisper, “Why the hell am I doing this again?” Sweat was dripping down my face. My right hand was holding my body to the wall as I reached my clammy left hand behind me into the chalk bag. I got a couple of small pieces and rolled the around in my palms like I was rotating brass Chinese stress balls. I then reached my hand up to the only crevice I could find. I had to pat the rock a few times before feeling the indention that would be my next crutch. I threw my leg up to the rough spot on the wall below my left hand, trying to keep my heartbeat slowed and my moment from hurling my torso too far. I used me wrist rotation to pull myself into a standing position, with my wrist now rubbing my waist. I stabilized the shaking in my supporting leg. I looked beyond the face to see all around me the karst peaks spiking towards the air, engulfing the rice fields just beyond my base’s bamboo grove. The view was marvelous! The next thing I heard Leah yell from below, “Nice bum! Where ya from?”
When I came to Yangshou, I saw that it was one of the most popular rock climbing spots in Asia. I didn’t even think twice about it until I met two Canadian girls in my hostel who were going to do it. “Where do I sign up?” I said, not giving any cognitive regard to what I was signing up for. The reality is that I hate rock climbing, but when you’re confronted with the opportunity to climb a karst face in China, you just learn to say “Hell yes!” Especially when you’re in good company. You can always freak out or recoil later. I cycled around Lake Lucern in Switzerland with Joe & his family, I bungee jumped into a river gorge in Nepal with Maya and Grace, I climbed Mt. Fuji in Japan with James! I could go rock climbing with Angela & Leah. You learn to just go, against your insurance agent’s advice, and live while you can… or die trying with everyone else.
We celebrated our victorious climb over an afternoon beer. We sat around reminiscing about the adrenaline pumping moment when Leah fell. We laughed remembering when the guy belaying the Chinese girl answered his phone in the middle of her climb. She looked down nauseously at him being “Chatty Cathy” while she dangled from a cliff. We showed off our tan lines and the cuts on our legs. We repeated the words of our instructor as he repelled us: “Lean back and spread your legs!” We pondered why I was the only one who had to ride on the back of a motorbike with the climb guide, while everyone else got to ride in the air-conditioned van… very awkward. Then we made plans to rent motorbikes ourselves, and that’s how our afternoon was spent. I don’t know if I would have had so much fun in worse company.
You meet the best people while traveling. They are here for the same reason as you: to live a little… or a lot! You strike up a quick conversation that ends up lasting several hours. Then you make time to grab a beer with them. Over drinks, you learn about who they are, where they’ve been, and where they’re going. You are both travelers and have stories to tell. You are joined by this thing called “being a stranger in a foreign land.” You exchange information about the road, life philosophies, email addresses, interesting websites, worn out books, road snacks, and invitations. Leah & Angela only crossed my path for a day and half, but I feel like I have known them forever. So when I had the opportunity to go rock climbing with them, I didn’t think twice about my history of vertigo. I made it to the top on all four climbs though, despite Leah telling me that I had a long legged advantage. I liked it better when she said I had a “nice bum.”
When you are deprived of the company of close friends, you learn to quench your social desires with a patchwork of temporary encounters. So you smile sincerely as your new acquaintance tells a story. You trust genuinely that they want to be talking to you too as well. Your emotions become as real as the sunrise because you both know that there’s no craving for carelessness or foes. If you can’t be yourself while traveling alone then you cannot have the capacity for new adventures and new friends. So the relationships that we may deem temporary have the quality of eternal lasting, yet there’s no real risk of gaining or losing too much in your short period of time. You live in the moment, and there’s nothing that the next second can’t bring: a new thought, a new friend, a new story, a opportunity to live while you can.
“If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald