130 Kilometers an Hour in the Wrong Lane


 

[Photo] Traveler Taj Terpening

Reluctantly oozing from the airport's cool bowels, I pondered the questions: "Where is the climbing, how do I get there, and why is it so damn hot?" The first two questions I decided to address immediately. In response to disappointing trips elsewhere in the world with no plan and no climbing partner, I developed a technique I dubbed "trolling." In the sea of people that usually congeal outside a plane, bus or train, the climbers in the horde are not always as obvious as one might think. With the popularity of climbing these days, many climbers are clean, perfectly respectable people who seamlessly blend into civilized society. Trolling is often necessary to separate these people from a crowd. The idea is simple: if you look like a climber and a bit like a lost puppy, other climbers will come to you and hopefully take you in. In the old days it seemed life for a marauding climber was easier. I would simply scan for the nearest guy sporting a three-day shadow with a bit of tuna stuck to it, and that person was most likely a pillar of the climbing community.

I began trolling by strapping my new bright yellow rope to the outside of my pack and clipping every bit of climbing hardware I owned to its many straps. Stumbling through the Spanish mob, I pretended to look intent and purposeful but I suppose I came off as merely sweaty and desperate. After a while I sat down on a bus bench, defeated. Leaning back with my eyed closed to the sun, a shadow covered my face. Expecting the worst I peered up to find two immense Norse goddesses towering above me. Success! The younger one began speaking in blather. I stared blankly for some time before she said, in perfect English, "You're obviously not Swedish. Do you speak English?" Less than one hour in Spain and I had meet two Swedish climber women with a car. What a place!

They obviously had engaged in something they called "planning" before leaving home: they were in possession of not only a car, but also numerous maps and descriptions for every climbing area for miles. From the airport we made our way north along the Mediterranean coast, then inland to a crag perched high on the hillside overlooking orange orchards and distant, white limestone cliffs. Gandia is known for its very short and powerful routes. When I left Berlin I thought I was in shape, but climbing with these women made me feel like a mortal belaying Gods. They were more attractive, better climbers, fluent in more languages and even spoke better English than I. In general, they were superior human beings.

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Though the climbing at Gandia was fantastic, unfortunately the crag sticks in my mind as the place where the Swedes ditched me and I ended up sleeping alone in a cave for six days while a family of pack rats harvested my down sleeping bag for their nests. Surviving on nothing but oranges pilfered from the nearby orchards, I made the startling discovery that one can get too much vitamin C after all.

After nearly a week sleeping in the cave, I anxiously watched as two cars—enveloped in a plume of dust, pumping British garage hip-hop—approached the crag. The Brits that emerged were socially inept, weak and fun as hell... I felt right at home. We climbed together for a few hours before I laid out my whole desperate situation.

"Look" I said, "I don't have any money, and I barely speak the native tongue. I haven't bathed in a week and pack rats have eaten most of my sleeping bag. I really don't have much to offer your group, but you seem like a great bunch of guys and I'd like to come with you." Either responding to my tearful honesty or out of pity, they took me into their circle with warmth and good humor.

They were engineers on holiday from England, and as far as I could make out, they survived solely on tea, white bread, booze and crude humor. Cass was the youngest of the group and also the funniest. He was happy to belay and climb in a laid-back, but safe manner for hours, joking and teaching me new bits of British slang.

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