Once again, just as the routine settles in, we've moved onto our next location. It's been said that climbers, similar to migratory birds, blow in the direction of the best weather windows for sending (optimal) temperatures. While I'm not complaining, it's definitely nice to have a daily routine or regiment, but the nature of any longterm road trip is that no day is same as the last. You'd think that after four months of being on the road, you'd learn this by now; but I'm a hard learner. More difficult is the omnipresent knowledge that your reunion with your friends in this paradise can end instantaneously without the knowledge of of when another reunion will ever take place.
But here we are now, five days spent in the New River Gorge, a quick four days in St. Louis, and after a torrential spring downpour so intense you can't see out of your windshield, we've arrived at a friend's family's home in St. Paul, Minnesota. The home is a beautiful wooden cathedral which faces a lake, and the Harris family are kind beyond all measure. And while I know I've said this before about the Flores family in San Antonio, Texas, people have been so welcoming to both Ben and myself. Our arrival was met with made beds and fresh towels, followed by a series of genuinely curious questions about our endeavor. But now that there's time to reflect upon our quick whirlwind tour of stops in a warm home. I find myself writing to the sound of ducks upon the water while the others have went on a run around the lake on a brisk spring morning.
For all who are wondering which is better between the two world class climbing destinations, the Red River Gorge or the New River Gorge? The answer depends on what you're looking for as a climber. If you're a St. Louis resident, you probably wouldn't go past the Red River Gorge given that the New brings your drive to a grand total of ten hours instead of four; all the while, the Red too, offers a lifetime supply of climbing. However, if you're coming from Ohio, the New River Gorge would be worth checking out because they are relatively the same distance. However, as a beginning rock climber at best, I feel I've made some rather simple, but relatively astute observations about the differences between both locations.
The New River Gorge offers an abundance "techy," climbing. The scenery, in my humble opinion, is significantly more picturesque, but has a more touristy vibe. The American Alpine Club Campground at the moment has barely any facilities except "Port-a-Potties," and a potable water spigot, but is more than sufficient. The Adventure Center, no further than .2 miles, down the road offers free, unlimited, lukewarm showers and proper toilets. However, I hadn't noticed as many strong climbers pushing 5.12+ at the New in comparison to the Red. Perhaps it's because season is nearly at a close, or it's simply the nature of this crag, but there seemed to be plenty more intermediate to beginner climbers in the area.
The Red River Gorge has an endless supply of jug-hauls and seems to be more fitness oriented in its climbing; while having fewer climbs that are slab or balance in nature. However, that shouldn't be a deterrence from visiting one over the other. Another notable difference is that the Red is significantly more humid and more populated by bugs this time of spring. The social scene is also more lively, and after a long day at the crag, hordes of rock climbers and tourists alike gather nightly at Miguel's to talk and hang out. The New is significantly quieter and groups are more isolated, but for those searching solitude, this is an obvious plus. However, if Miguel's is too lively of a scene, your other quality option is Lago Linda's at the Red.
Our stay in St. Louis was a half-way point between the New River Gorge and Colorado, and thanks to our friend Deena, we were able to stay in her apartment amongst her international roommates. Ben had suggested we check into a climbing gym to continue our fitness, and it so happens that a friend I had met at the Red River Gorge was one of the owners of the facility, Climb So iLL. The gym's facilities were absolutely amazing, and the route setting was simply incredible. If you're in the area, take time to visit the gym. The owners try to get to know each and every one of their clients, and there's even a bar atop of the roof.
St. Paul, Minnesota is great. Our first night, the seven of us headed out to an ultra-classic dive bar, The Otter Saloon, full of locals blasting away at karaoke. The patrons and newcomers alike were all singing at the top of their lungs throughout the night, while sports games were being broadcasted across multiple humble TV screens. The entrance, a dingy dark hole of a door amongst a beautiful sea of red bricks gave way into a single common area with a standard bar top. Two bartenders worked feverishly throughout the night while a broad shouldered man in a red shirt and a cowboy hat checked IDs. It felt like the essence of Americana. Characters of all sorts trickled in and out and the cheery Mid-west vibe felt so visceral. I feel pathetic that the only reference that comes to mind is the episode where Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," comes on in a Family Guy episode, but it was heartwarming.
Sadly, we ended the night early when someone started to sing, "I Kissed a Girl," by Katy Perry, changing the lyrics to "I KILLED a girl and I liked it." We probably wouldn't have left had he not looked like a possessed version of Moby in an USA Flag jacket with clear framed glasses and kept repeatedly screaming, "I KILLED A GIRL!"
Through the weekend, we spent time fishing at the Harris family's cabin upon the lake, rekindling friendships and sharing stories about our travels. However, it's not always sunshine and rainbows. My brother and I get into arguments, heartbreak and personal relationships are put at a strain, torrential storms relegate us to rest stops on the side of a random highway, and our muffler recently broke off the undercarriage of our truck. With a quick stop in South Dakota to see Mt. Rushmore before heading to Colorado, we leave June 2nd, 2015 making our way ever westward.