Starting Over: You Don’t Know a Road…

You don’t know a road until you’ve walked it.

It’s something I learned once I moved up here to Bishop, where the roads are closed off at the beginning of winter, forcing us all to add the extra miles and elevation gain simply to arrive at the trailheads. It puts the backcountry even farther away. It heightens the effort to stride, glide, tromp, or posthole in order to achieve those summer objectives which may seem trivial.

Walking these roads, and the others criss-crossing the Owens Valley and up into the Whites, allows me to slow down a bit, to really examine every detail etched into the trees and rocks lining the borders. It teaches me the curves, the slight inclines and declines, just how far a mile is when your feet are struggling for purchase. I can hear how the winter winds whistle or howl through the pines. I can feel the heat rising from the desert sand. I can feel why the road bed was chosen on this particular grade, and not directly over the next rise, or why the quads and dirt bikes chose their particular path straight up the ridge.

The road I took last year had its definite ups and downs, hindered by my knee and by my own actions, or rather, inaction. I still got out there, had some incredible adventures and trips, but it took someone else reminding me of the good times to realize that I had achieved quite a bit. When I looked back at the pictures from 2011, I was indeed reminded of the amazing places I had explored, the sights seen, the stories I chose to share and those I kept to myself.

The storyteller in me hadn’t faded. In fact, in reviewing all of the pictures, I was reminded of each step I took on those fabulous days, both alone and with friends. I remembered snippets of phrases that had come to me while striding and gliding, my breath coming hard but the focus never changing. Other phrases also came to mind: feedback suggesting that I wrote and posted my stories for benefit of my ego alone, to show off my accomplishments. Like a sharp pebble deep in my boot, those words would shift into my consciousness whenever I would sit at the computer screen, and the happiness of my trip would fade into questioning why I was writing about it.

So I had to step back from writing for a bit. I took the words of criticism to heart, but used them to really think about what and why I was writing, why I enjoyed sharing my adventures so very much. And while driving for hours this past week through the Oregon Outback I finally came to terms with it all:

Telling stories is fun.

I know, entirely too simplistic, right? There has to be a deeper meaning, something that ties the ego and id and so on. I write to gain attention and accolades, to bring the spotlight onto my little world and keep it there, because without the adulation I would wither to dust.


I don’t have time for the naysayers anymore. There’s just entirely too much of the world to explore. There are too many roads to travel. There isn’t enough time to do it all. When I was up north, visiting my friend, MC, she asked what 2012 held for me. “I just need to get back into… everything!” was my response. She laughed out loud, commenting on the little pause that had come while I was thinking about what I wanted to do. I think meeting Gene Hall up on Mt. Dana was one of the most profound events of 2011 for me. Gene, whose smile conveyed such amazing contentment and happiness, who had worked with my dad for years and called him “famous” in their workplace, who so openly shared his own stories of adventure as I excitedly told him about that day of climbing the couloir, died unexpectedly a few days later in his tent. If there was ever a clearer example of grabbing hold of life and running with it, I don’t know it.

Now, the biggest naysayer I had to overcome was myself. A few years ago, I actually had to make a New Year’s resolution to stop calling myself fat, and slow, and whatever other nasty name came to mind while playing in the hills. But this past year, as I become one with my desk chair instead of eating properly and exercising, it was too easy to fall into old habits. I admit I am my own worst enemy when it comes to self-abuse: my good friend Joan called me on it 5 weeks after knee surgery on the summit of Mt. Gould when I couldn’t weight my left leg enough to step up to the summit block. More often than not, I found, I bullied myself into thinking I wasn’t strong enough, or fit enough, to head up into the hills anymore. I placed such high expectations on myself to perform that there was no way I could realistically follow through, and that ended up forcing me onto my butt more often than not. After all, how could I possibly top what I had already accomplished?

Again, please.

So I now have a plan. And I have some incredible people lined up to join me. There’s an anniversary to celebrate; miles of roads to explore, both outside and in. And now that the figurative clouds are clearing, there’s a lot of sunlight guiding the way.

And here’s the twist: I won’t be doing it just for myself.

Let’s face it, mountaineering it a pretty self-indulgent sport. Sure, there are fund-raising groups out there (Summit for Someone comes to mind, and the Leukemia Society has started hiking groups as well), but I have never liked asking people for money. Recently, my friend Gary was excited over achieving 100,000 vertical feet in a year. And my dear friend Chris donated to charity in my name as a Christmas gift. While bagging a peak, or fishing a lake, or exploring my backyard has its own rewards, how could I turn this into something special for someone else?

The Plan: One penny for every vertical foot gained. That is what I will set aside myself, to be donated at the end of the year. Every hike counts: training hikes, strolls for flowers, backcountry skis (if it ever snows!!). My GPS will be my friend and accomplice, and I’ll try to back up the data through TOPO! software.

The charity to which I will be donating is

I can’t say I’ve ever really been bullied in my life, except by myself, but I can say that being called Moose as a young girl wasn’t exactly flattering. Neither was being called a “Pudgy Plebe” while at the Naval Academy. Neither was being reminded of my size when trying to get into a rescue sled at Mammoth Mountain by a so-called “friend”. Bullying is pervasive, cruel, and destructive, and it’s leading to painful consequences everywhere.

My good friend Sam, as we were skiing last year, looked at me and said, “Laura, you’re the type who makes dreams come true.” His meaning was simple: I got an idea, and I got to work making it happen. My adventures this year will not only fulfill some of my own dreams, but I hope that with some small contribution, I can help make someone else’s dreams come true as well. So with each step up, each grunt and groan, each pause to look around and marvel at the wonders of this world, I’ll make a difference in both my own life and health and that of someone else. I hope this effort might give someone else a chance to write their own story, to see their own horizons, to wonder what’s on the other side of the ridge.

It’s a new year, folks. The weather is holding, I’ve got all the gear I could ever want or need. Let’s go for a walk. I started last night, hiking 1668 feet up into the foothills of the Whites. My knee was solid, even as I jogged a bit on the downhills. My breath came in gasps, my lungs and legs burned as I pushed hard up the steep roads. It took me one hour to hit my turn-around. I need the training, what with all the ideas and trips rolling around in my head. And you know what I see when I walk these roads? Divots from where I’ve pushed off my toes at the end of my stride. That’s the power to make a change.

This is going to be epic.

But most of all, it’s going to be fun.

Time to let the phoenix out of her cage. Let’s fly!

From the luckiest girl in the world,

Climb Hard, Be Safe.




14 Responses to “Starting Over: You Don’t Know a Road…”

  1. chriswernerphoto Says:

    Fantastic 🙂

  2. Elmichael Says:

    Welcome back, love…you’ve been missed!

  3. Please never stop writing and sharing your stories…I love them, they provide so much joy and laughter just when I seem to need it. You are such a good writer too! Talking about bullying..I can share another aspect to your story, I was bullied and beat up several times in grade school and once even in high school. I was a skinny string bean with the knobbiest knees you ever saw…I weighed about 70 pounds and I was bullied by larger girls, some overweight, some not. Neighborhood boys got some action as well, making comparisons to certain “lacking” body developments. It made me feel inadequate, and consequently the only place I could compete with other girls was in sports. I always loved sports, and this pushed me into sports even more. I can’t complain now as it is such a rewarding part of my life but it wasn’t a very fun way to grow up. I will pick a few climbs this season and match your penny per vertical foot! Maybe we can do one together.

  4. I have been following your wonderful stories for many years now! From the very 1st TR I read and continue to read…I have always felt your passion and love for what you are doing out in the wilds…I can truely feel that in your writing with your words how you express how happy your adventures make you feel..and that is something very special that you should be proud of..and to share it with all of us is wonderful and I appreciate it very much Laura!

    You truely have a talent with your words..your stories always take me away for that short time to those special places!

    Thank you Laura!


  5. Damn Girl! Great post, brilliant idea!!!!

  6. I can’t wait to get back to reading your adventures!!! 🙂

  7. Laure, you are such an inspiration. I am stealing your idea with a slight modification since I do not live in Bishop so I would raise just a few pennies. Every mile I run, bike or hike… that might add up to a few $. Thank you. Maybe one of these days I will bump into you on the trails.

  8. This is the Moosie I started following over at the Whitney Portal Board years ago! The way you live your dreams with passion is something that I wish I would have done when I was a lot younger. You were missed in 2011 by those of us who get to live life through your adventures. I’m looking forward to 2012!

  9. Oh…. And I still keep my eyes peeled for the TOF whenever I’m in Bishop. Hope to actually get to shake your hand some day.

  10. SILENT HIKER Says:

    L, nice to see you again. I have been on the board for a few years, love your pictures and TR. Loved the picture of your pad and bag next to a stream with the comment ( lousy camping spot). Funny how things slow us down some time, I get frustrated when I am standing next to a stream or below a waterfall and can not hear anything ( hearing impeared), I want to scream !!!! I have to remind myself that there are so many other reasons why I am there. When we see your pictures and read your words, I am the luckiest girl in the world, we believe you. Wish you the best in 2012.


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