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FeMaelstrom

Driving to a climbing competition in Laval, France, Susan Price and I uneasily discussed some careless belaying practices we’d seen at World Cup events. It was autumn 1992. Yesterday a climber had tied his knot wrongly and hit the floor, breaking his wrists. His accident wasn’t the belayer’s fault, but we were all skittish.”You know,” I said, “one of these days somebody’s going to get dropped in one of these things. But don’t worry, it won’t be us.”Hours later Susan started her climb and, 20 or 25 feet up, began flaming out. Just then someone emerged from behind a curtain and spoke to her belayer, who turned his head to reply, paying out slack. She fell – to the floor. Fortunately, her head and upper body hit a gym mat. She broke no bones, but could barely walk for days.Oddly enough, at a national competition in Berkeley the next year, a belayer using an unfamiliar rope-handling device lost control while lowering Susan from 30 feet up. Susan – a medical doctor, and the safest, most careful of climbers – hit the deck again. Fortunately, the climbing-gym floor was covered in soft rubber pellets.I marveled, “What’s the chance of even being dropped ONCE?! It has to be less than being struck by lightning.”Susan laughed so hard her chin hit her chest: “I have been struck by lightning.” High in the Cascades, she and friends, crouching in a cave during a storm, got juiced by a ground charge.In Europe, I had started out sharing a rental car with two young climber guys. We were very congenial, but they didn’t trust me to maintain vehicular velocity. I sat in the rear, looking at the backs of their heads, hairstyles reversed: Tim’s (beaded and be-feathered) long on top and shaved underneath; Kurt’s buzzed on the crown and long down his back.Susan arrived with a friend from Oregon, who had flown to France after a final stormy breakup with his girlfriend, and who shortly returned home to resume the fight. Susan joined our car, and we two talked in the back over the miles, and began climbing together.Today we are both married; I have two little boys. Susan (motto: “retire early and often”) has left anesthesiology, and is a Ph.D. candidate in computer science in Portland, Ore. We still take a climbing trip every year.When my sons were tiny, our trips, unfortunately for Susan, meant her coming here, but climbing at Rifle is superb, and she’d arrive with friends. By now our trips have stretched from Monterrey, Mexico, to, last week, Penticton in British Columbia. On each trip we scheme the next.We laze over coffees in the morning, talk about everything, solve the problems of the world; laugh a lot; climb until 9 at night (we don’t like to waste climbing time, except in the morning).”So, I heard you left the guys behind!” a smiling woman in her 70s said in our last campground, an RV site.I laughed. “Yes.” “You got your husband taking care of the kids?””Oh, don’t cry for him,” I said. “He goes hunting.”Two male friends, married and fathers, also climbed in Penticton that week, but no one noticed that.Susan’s mother-in-law is baffled by our trips, and now that I think about it, I don’t ever remember my mother going off without our family, but others among my women friends today do as well.On these trips, I consider it my ordained duty to belay flawlessly. From Susan, too, comes reliability: She is up for a trip, wants to climb, and is guaranteed to be fun, thoughtful company. Susan and I climb at a fairly difficult standard, but not as hard as we used to. And sometimes we miss that – trying that hard, improving and attaining, being so psyched and motivated. And sometimes we don’t.Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at aosius@hotmail.com. (Write GSPI as subject heading.)Alison Osius lives in Carbondale and can be reached at aosius@hotmail.com. (Write GSPI as subject heading.)


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