Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

2020 Reflections

Grey Goose 12b

Anybody else like to look back and do some end of year reflection on how they fared with their goals for the year? In addition to the satisfaction that comes from checking off those goals, it’s also interesting to see how those goals have changed over the course of the year. Sometimes what was deemed “goal-worthy” in January isn’t very important by the time December rolls around, and this year has been the perfect example of this!

January 2020 started off with some lofty dreams, but all of that came to a grinding halt a few weeks later when Covid hit. Climbing areas around us closed, and spring was filled with excitement over crossing toilet paper and hand sanitizer off the grocery list rather than routes off a project list. Our family took the longest hiatus from climbing we’d ever had since we started back in 2006 (including times of pregnancy, newborns, and injuries). By the time we were able to get back out in the summer, all goals were forgotten and we were just grateful for the opportunity to get outside and climb.

But an end of summer trip to Ten Sleep Canyon helped us get our mojo back a little bit, and the amazing weather we’ve enjoyed all fall enabled us to make up for a lot of the time we lost in the spring. That said, the amount of boxes left unchecked isn’t exactly inspiring…but it’s where I’m at!

  1. FINISH THE 12 WALL AT HAWKSBILL. Uncheck. I only made it out to Hawksbill once this year, when my fingers and skin weren’t anywhere close to being up to the task of taking down the last 3 routes I have on this wall.
  2. STEALTH AND MAGIC 12d. Uncheck. Didn’t even try it. Initially I felt like my fingers weren’t strong enough, and then by the time fall came around I was pulled in different directions.
  3. TEN SLEEP 5.13. No dice. The first few days of our trip were spent on goal #3, which didn’t leave a lot of room for harder projects. Honestly I don’t think I would have been in good enough shape to put one down at that point anyway, even if I would’ve had more time.
  4. HIT 100 LIFETIME 5.12’s. CHECK!!! If I had to pick only one thing to cross off, this would have been the one! At the start of the year, I needed 7 more, and after ticking a quick 3 in the early part of the summer, I shifted the goal to hitting 100 before my 40th birthday, which happened at the end of our Ten Sleep trip. And though all my fall projects went unsent, I managed to close the year out with a lifetime 5.12 total of 107. Below is a graph that CragDaddy made for me that maps out where these sends are from.
Atop Cigar Pillar after #99

As the year unfolded, a few more boxes popped up to check.

FIND NEW PROJECTS FOR 2021. CHECK! I invested a fair amount of time into two routes at the New – Logotherapy 13a and Pudd’s Pretty Dress 12d. Though it was disappointing to walk away empty-handed from both of them, especially the latter (see this post for the journey on this one.), having some projects in the hopper has made me super psyched about winter training (and especially about working with Karly over at ProjectDirectTraining!

CONSOLATION PRIZES. CHECK! Working limit routes all season does have some very positive side effects – routes that are NOT at your limit feel easier! Despite not sending any hard projects this fall, I did manage to tick off some really good lines.
MEADOW: We had a lot of fun exploring some new-to-us areas at the Meadow. All of these were sent 2nd go
except a flash of Betty Bravo
– Me Too 11b
– Betty Bravo 11c
– Cargo 12a
– Brown Star 12a
– Grey Goose 12b

NEW RIVER GORGE:
– Truth or Contra-Expenses 12a (1st 12a flash at the New!)
– Powerful Opposition 12a (came back to this one after punting on it a few years back)
– Harmonic Jello 12b (2nd go)
RED RIVER GORGE:
– Mercy the Huff 12b (after trying it a time or two over the years, finally felt fit enough to tackle this
one!)

Here’s how this year’s stats look compared to the lifetime stats…I’m kinda shocked and thrilled to see my success rate percentages higher in all categories but 5.13.

Mercy the Huff 12b


FAMILY TIME. CHECK! Our Ten Sleep trip and fall family adventures are probably the only thing that kept us sane in the monotony and uncertainty of these crazy times. Watching my son rack up an impressive tick list of his own has been so amazing to watch. (For a recap of his 10 10’s at 10yo in 10 sleep, click here.) His list of sends at the New/Meadow this fall are as follows:
– Microbrew 5.5
– Wunderking 5.6
– Gilded Otter 5.7
– Beer Wench 5.8
– Totally Clips 5.8
– Stoned 5.9
– Upheaval 5.9
– With a Little Help From My Friends 5.10a

If I look only at the goals I had written down at this same time last year, it would be easy to write this year off as pretty unsuccessful. But there’s so much more to it than that. This year more than any other has been a good reminder of the reasons climbing is such a big part of my life. And ya know what? Those reasons have very little to do with checking off boxes, and everything to do with the people I’m with while trying to get those boxes checked. This year more than ever has made me pretty darn thankful for the privilege and opportunity to go on crazy family adventures, even with especially with all the unchecked boxes.

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Pudd’s Pretty Dress 12d: Pretty Close, But Not Close Enough…

If you’ve been following me at all on social media, you’ve probably seen videos of me taking whippers on various parts of this beast of a rock climb at the New River Gorge. While this route has taught me so much about the art of projecting as well as myself as a climber, I was holding off on posting about it until I was for sure done with it for the season. With the arrival of snow across the mountainous areas of the East Cost, fall sport climbing season has officially ended for me. Unfortunately (spoiler alert), it did NOT end in a send for me. However the lessons I’ve learned while working this route fortunately don’t have me walking away completely empty-handed.

Compared to how long professional climbers spend on their projects, the time I’ve invested in Pudd’s this fall is really quite miniscule (ie, Tommy Caldwell spending 7 years on the Dawn Wall!) But for someone like myself who rarely spends more than 8 tries on any one route, 14 tries over the course of 5 days this fall is significant! While the physical progress is what kept me coming back for more on it, it was the mental progress that feels like the most valuable takeaway. Here’s how it all played out…

Exiting the stand up move crux at bolt 9

Day 1. 10/3

Attempts 1-3: Pudd’s Pretty Dress has been on my radar since watching 2 guys on it back in 2007, as I was slowly but surely working my way through the nearby moderate slabs (the same slabs my son has been slowly but surely working his way through this fall!) I remember being amazed at watching them casually taking giant whippers, when I had barely taken any lead falls at all. So despite stick clipping almost every bolt on my first attempt, and top-roping the other 2 attempts that day, I was thrilled to be able to not only get up the route, but actually do all the moves.

Day 2. 10/17

Attempt 4: Still stick-clipping my way through most of the bolts. The sequences are long, and many of the bolts have clipping stances at the knees, which makes the sequences seem even longer.

Attempt 5: Still feeling pretty intimidated, so I opted to toprope…again. It took 5 hangs to get to the top, but the beta for each sequence was starting to flow a little bit better.

Attempt 6: After some encouragement from CragDaddy, I managed to get up the route on lead. It wasn’t pretty. Out of 10 bolts, I only linked the first 4. Bolts 9 and 10 were pretty exciting, featuring a combination of big falls, draw-grabbing, and foot popping with a bunch of rope out, but I eventually got to the top (video footage of shenanigans found here.) I felt especially good about clipping bolts 3 and 7, as both of those sections had been pretty intimidating for me. I left this day feeling proud of my progress, but also feeling a little bit in over my head. I thought it would be best to leave it alone and focus on something easier.

Day 3. 11/1

Attempt 7: Somehow I got talked into trying this again. I went bolt to bolt to get draws in, but only had to stick clip bolts 7, 9, and 10. .

Attempt 8: The mental aspect of this route made it too hard to pass up a free toprope, but at this point I’m starting to feel a little stupid for continuing to resort to toproping this deep into the process. However, I did make the best links yet – a 4 hang, with a link from the ground to just above bolt 6.

Stretchy beta at bolt 4

Attempt 9: Feeling pretty tired, and frustrated that I only have stamina to get in a couple of good burns in per day. Usually by the time my beta feels this solid, I’m close to sending, but I just can’t get seem to get this pump under control (not to mention I’ve yet to even get up it on lead without some sort of shenanigans!) The gap between where I was currently at, and where I needed to be seemed insurmountable in the remaining time left in the season, and I decided to cut my losses and walk away.

The next week we changed things up and went to the Red, followed by a weekend at the New that did NOT include Pudd’s. It was a refreshing change of pace, and allowed me to capitalize on the fitness I’d been unknowingly gaining from spending so much time on an enduro 12d. Three 12b’s went down, and my confidence soared. As the end of the season approached, I decided I owed it to myself to get on Pudd’s one more time, give it hell, and see where things stood as a milestone looking ahead to 2021.

Day 4. 11/21

Attempt 10: CragDaddy generously volunteered to hang draws for me, so as not to “waste” a burn just getting draws in. And not only did I get to the top on lead without grabbing draws or stick clipping through anything, but I also managed a new high point, AND for the first time did the crux first try! I linked all the way to right below bolt 8, which meant I made it through the heady sequence to bolt 7 from the ground! I had asked CragDaddy to hang a really long draw in addition to the short one, in case I got scared and wanted to clip early. (I did. Then I also clipped the short one when I got to the better stance where I’m clipping at my knees.) I also got some good rest beta sorted – the whole thing felt a lot more doable when I realized I could stay at the undercling/hand jam rest at bolt 5 for 2-3 minutes and get almost everything back.

Attempt 11: Consensus from the crew (CragDaddy, our friend Greg, and myself) was that I shouldn’t be wasting energy by clipping twice at bolt 7. So this time I clipped the “scared” extended draw, but did not stop to clip the short one…I then fell at the exact same spot as on my first go, and in mid-air wished I had chosen the short draw instead 😉 I pulled back on, got bolt 8 clipped, then took a long rest before then taking it to the top (so allllllmost a one hang, sans 2 moves or so.) This was shocking to me, as it was the first time I’d ever linked any of the last bolts together.

Attempt 12: This time I sacked up and ignored the super extended draw and clipped the short one. Again, fell at the same spot, but this time I felt my hand catch the hold I was going for juuuust as I was falling away.

This session was the first time I actually felt like this route was something within my ability to send, and I stalked the weather all week to see if I’d get a chance to try again. It’s potentially important to note that this (Thanksgiving) week was spent entirely with family, and featured lots of eating, and no training except for walking and pickle ball Seriously, a LOT of pickle ball. We may or may not have been sore…

Getting it all back at bolt 5 with the handjam/undercling

Day 5. 11/29

I hiked in thinking today could actually be the day. With rain and snow in the forecast the next week, and Christmas just a few weeks away, I knew this was for sure the last chance. CragDaddy was again gracious enough to hang draws.

Attempt 13: This go felt amazing. I plowed through the high point I’d fallen at 3x the previous week, and despite feeling slightly alarmed at how the “just okay” rest stance felt, was able to at least get enough shakes to slow my breathing down a bit before feeling like I had to move. The holds in the crux felt farther apart than they usually do (my core was obviously getting tired), but I executed the beta I knew worked and made it through to bolt 9. The only thing left was a big deadpoint off an undercling to a sloping knob, followed by a couple more hand moves before reaching the good rest at bolt 10. In previous sessions, the high feet required for this move caused my forearms to melt, and I had tried many, many other options for this section before finally deciding the undercling was in fact “the way.” But this time around, my forearms felt okay! I got the feet set, launched, but hit the knob a little too low. When I tried to regrip, I fell. I pulled right back on and the nerve-wrackingly delicate slab finish went off without a hitch, leaving me with a very solid one hang at the last bolt. I was thrilled!

Attempt 14: Historically, my best go of the day had always been the 2nd one, so I was feeling pretty optimistic about my chances. But apparently it was not to be. Despite resting a good long while before hopping back on, I felt tired the minute I started climbing. Good news is that I still made it through the high point from the previous week. Bad news is the “just okay” rest felt pretty darn bad. I made a valiant attempt at the crux, and almost got out of it before falling going to the clipping hold at bolt 9, 3 moves lower than the previous attempt. I felt exhausted and daylight was getting scarce, so I decided it was best to go ahead and take it down instead of trying a third time that day.

So that was that. Am I disappointed? Yes, a little bit. It always seems like fall season ends so abruptly, and it’s hard ending knowing I could do it if I had JUST ONE MORE DAY!!!! That said, my body needs a break. The past couple of weeks I have struggled with recovery between weekend trips, but I’ve been holding on for this one route. Now that the weather window has closed, it’s a bit of a relief to walk away feeling proud of my efforts. And of course this route will still be there in the spring! Looking back, I’ve noticed that winter training tends to go better when I still have routes left unsent from the fall. It lights a fire under me that is far more motivating than sending “all the things.” But first….bring on all the Christmas movies, cookies, and pie!!!!!!

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10 5.10’s in 10 Sleep at 10 Years Old! (aka Big C’s Experience)

The Band is Just Fantastic 10a

That’s a mouthful to say, right?!? It’s even more impressive to do, considering that said 10 year old only started lead climbing 7 weeks before our trip to Ten Sleep! Considering his lack of experience on the sharp end, the CragDad and I weren’t really sure how he would do, but we were certain that the experience would be invaluable for him. While the bolts in Ten Sleep tend to be a lot closer together than at our crags back home, limestone can be notoriously hard to read. And while he didn’t have much experience climbing on pockets before this trip, we correctly presumed his little hands wouldn’t have too much of an adjustment.

Considering the hectic and frazzled start to the actual climbing part of this trip (see social media or this post for our altitude-induced ER visit with Zoe), we were ALL up for low-key, low elevation areas for the first few days. We pointed Big C in the direction of easy but classic routes, encouraging him to opt for quality over quantity. However, after the first 3 days on of climbing, he was already learning a ton and had accumulated a surprisingly big tick list already!

Day 1

Home Alone 5.8
Soup Sandwich 5.9+
Plea Bargain 5.10a

Day 2

Water Into Wine 5.9 Amazing position right next to the waterfall on this one (check out our drone footage of
Big C’s send!).
Redneck Woman 5.10d Hardest send to date….
Country Cutie 5.11a ……until this one! First 5.11! (video here)

Water Into Wine 5.9

Despite the emotional highs that came from sending his first 5.10d AND first 5.11, my perfectionist son still hiked out in tears that day, emotionally distraught about giving up and bailing on a 5.10b at day’s end. Dinner time discussion that night included a story telling round where the CragDad and I both recounted the (many) times we have lowered off a route in a flurry of intense fear/emotion, only to immediately regret that decision upon reaching the ground. We explained how adrenaline can make everything seem far more intense than it really is, and why analyzing risk/mitigating fears from the ground is such an important piece of the mental game. After being cheered up by hearing about our own personal failures and what we learned from it, he went to bed happy, but dead set on getting redemption on that same route later in the week.

CragDad and I continued the analysis, noting that the main difference between Big C’s failures and successes earlier that day seemed related to route length. His harder sends, the 10d and 11, while physically difficult for him, were very short-lived – both were no longer than 35 feet or so. From a mental standpoint, he didn’t have to “keep it together” for all that long. In contrast, he had bailed on the 10b after bolt 11 out of 13. The route was close to 100 feet tall, was baking in the sun by the time he got on it, and was the last route of the day for him, so he had to be getting tired. We decided that when it came to harder routes for him, we should probably stick to shorter ones for the time being.

Plea Bargain 10a at the Home Alone Wall

Day 3

This Band is Just Fantastic 5.10a Have you ever had a breakthrough in your climbing (or any other activity, really), where you applied a new concept to something you’d been struggling with….and it worked?!? This route was definitely that for Big C! After hanging draws for him, we talked through it together. I told him where I thought the cruxes would be for him – moving past the 1st bolt, and the final sequence to the chains. We mitigated the first by stick clipping the 2nd bolt. For the latter, I gave him the same advice I’d give a grown-up climbing partner – “Towards the end the holds won’t be as good as you are wanting them to be. But there are giant jugs waiting for you at the anchors. Don’t hesitate or you’ll get pumped.”

Country Cutie 5.11a

Sure enough, the early crux took several tries, but once he got his beta dialed he lowered to the ground and did the moves clean. When he got to the last bolt, he started to stall out a bit. Climb a little, then down climb back to the rest. Up a slightly different way, then back down. Each time he seemed a little more desperate than the last. He started to panic a little. “This is going to end up like yesterday…” is what I thought. “I think you’ll be really proud of yourself if you keep going!” is what I shouted. Something clicked. He chalked up, grabbed the less than ideal holds, and kept moving. Next thing we knew he was shouting for joy from the anchors! When I later asked him what was going through his mind in that moment, he said, “I just didn’t want to feel like I did yesterday when I gave up. I knew I would regret it if I did, so I just kept going.” YES!!!!!!!! Parenting win!

Day 4

Rest Day at Meadowlark Lake

Day 5

Lucky Bozo 8
I Love the Big Top 9 Not gonna lie…I was a proud mama when Big C crushed this onsight after I had
previously overheard a grown man complaining about how polished it was.
Shadows of Crows 10c

Since this day coincided with my 100 5.12 goal (more on that here), Big C started reflecting on his own goals. He realized that he had sent 4 5.10’s so far while on the trip, and decided that since he was 10 years old, and in Ten Sleep Canyon, that he wanted to send 6 more to bring his 5.10 count up to 10. It was a lofty goal considering we only had 3 climbing days left, but it did have a nice ring to it, so why not?!?

Rest Day finds!!!

Day 6

Death Metal Navajo 10b
Purple and Yellow Blast 10a
Nebuchadnezzar 10a

Wow, 3 in one day?!?!? It’s amazing how having a specific, tangible goal can provide motivation!!!

Day 7

Rest day at Ten Sleep Creek…his highlight was finding a gigantic T-rex cow skeleton.

Day 8

Honky Tonkin’ 10a
Wagon Wheel 10c
Boot Scootin’ Boogie 10b
How poetic that his 10th 5.10 of the trip would be redemption on the very route
that had sparked tears on the second day of our trip!!! This time around he stormed up it without any
hesitation, and later said it was his favorite route of the entire trip! (And the CragDad later said he thought it was the most physically demanding route Big C has sent to date.)

Also worth noting is that once again, after an amazing day at the Honky Tonk/Powers Wall, Big C hiked out in tears. Despite the THREE awesome sends he had acquired, he only saw the 11b that he sent all the way to the very last move….and then bailed. Twice. More dinner time conversations about been there/done that scenarios from our own climbing journeys, as well as talk about focusing on success rather than failure.

Even with all that climbing, he still had plenty of time to play with his sister!

Day 9

While he might disagree, I definitely think our last day was his best day. Or at the very least, the day that showed the most growth and maturity as a climber. From hanging on the warm up and not getting upset about it, to toproping all the moves on Mr. Poopy Pants 11b…to then choosing to lead Mr. Poopy Pants, getting scared at the top, coming back down and NOT losing his mind about it, to finally giving House Party 10b everything he had and flashing it in epic style, with everyone at the base of the crag cheering for him, Big C showed so much growth as not only a climber, but also as a growing little boy, and I couldn’t be more proud of him. Thankfully, while he was disappointed about backing off the 11b, he was in a good place about it…and besides, he could still tell everyone at home about why the route is called that. (If you don’t know, you should ask him on social media @canaan_climbs….I’m sure he’d love to tell you!)

Having a new leader around has added an interesting dynamic to our family climbing agenda. We’ve had to plan out where we want to climb a little more carefully to ensure there was enough for everyone. We are also learning to navigate parenting a kidcrusher with lofty goals and sometimes unrealistic expectations of themselves. It’s interesting to see a child process the same emotions outwardly that we as adult climbers usually feel inwardly. At times it was a rollercoaster of emotions, but like all good rollercoasters, we came away happy, adrenalized….and ready to ride again!

Boot Scootin’ Boogie 10b – Redemption!!!

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Ten Sleep 2020 – Birthday Goals!

Always Keep It Loaded

Considering how covid cancelled both our spring climbing season, as well as our gym training options leading up to the trip, we really had no idea what to expect once we actually got on the rocks in Ten Sleep Canyon. (see here for our we prepped using our quarantine purchased treadwall from Brewer Fitness.) Our main goal was to simply get away from the real world for a while as a family in one of our favorite places. I also had a very specific side goal – coming into the trip I was only 4 sends away from 100 lifetime 5.12’s, and I wanted to hit the 100 mark by my 40th birthday, which was happening at the end of our trip.

This meant that for the first part of the trip, I wanted to focus on 12a’s that seemed like they could go down pretty quickly without putting too much of a dent in my tank for subsequent days. This was also the first trip where we had an extra agenda to balance (my 10yo son just started lead climbing earlier this summer). In light of all that, we found ourselves climbing in areas that were totally new to us for all but a couple of our days.

Unlike pretty much everything else in 2020, our strategy worked out according to plan! I was able to knock out sends 97-100 fairly early on in our trip, with CragDaddy also sending all but the first of those 4 (and with Big C knocking out some pretty big goals of his own…more on that here.) Here’s how everything played out:

Day 1: Always Keep it Loaded 12a (Home Alone Wall)
Day 2: Swedish Penis Enlarger 12a (Austin Powers Wall)
Day 3: Floyd Direct 12a (The Cigar Pillar) Here’s some CragDad sending footage.
Day 4: Rest day at Meadowlark Lake (b/c the older we get, the more we need the rest days!!!)
Day 5: The Barnum Route 12a (Circus Wall) Here’s my sending footy.

With my main objective accomplished, I felt free to hop on a little more variety of routes, both easier as well as harder. Here are my highlights from the second half of our trip:

On top of the Cigar Pillar after sending Floyd Direct on Day 3

Day 6: I Just Do Eyes 11b and Psychedelic Milk Painter 11a (FCR). These were the last two routes I needed to tick all the 11’s on the Back Forty. All of those routes are fantastic, and now after having done them all, the 11b is by far my favorite (closely followed by Crazy Wynona 11d, which I did back in 2018.)
Day 7: Rest day at Ten Sleep Creek (where I had a Lynn Hill and Robyn Erbesfield-Rabotou sighting!)
Day 8: MY 40th BIRTHDAY!!! – definitely one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had! This day ended up being my only double 5.12 day of the whole trip – the mammoth 17 bolt Bossa Nova 12b (vid here) and bouldery and dynamic Sharks with Lasers 12a both went down 2nd go.
Day 9: Mater Hater 12b – It might just be some end of trip exhaustion talking, but this felt like my hardest send of the entire trip. Very bouldery, very reachy, but very fun, and a 2nd go send here was a very good way to end a very nearly perfect trip! (Here’s some video of that one.)

Despite our emphasis on “quickly doable” grades for most of this trip, there were a few harder lines that seemed worth hopping on, despite the lower odds of sending. (As I told my perfectionistic son, “You can’t send ALL the things. But the not-sends are just as important in helping you grow as a climber.”) Routes that went unsent but were well worth mentioning were as follows:

Circus in My Pants 12d

The Gravy Train 12b/c (The Cigar Pillar) – I was all for working it more that day until I hit the final boulder problem, which shifted this line from the very doable category into the more work than I want to devote on a road trip category.
Circus in my Pants 12d (Circus Wall) – This was my favorite route of the trip, and also the hardest one I tried. I was tempted to come back a second day for this one, but in the end the skin shredding factor plus the rest of the family’s goals crossed it out. Next year I would love to invest a little more in this one!
Tangerine Fat Explosion 12c (FCR) – Honestly this one was a little bit of a let down for me. Maybe it was that I was too tired from 3 burns on Circus the previous day, maybe all the hype I’d heard about it had built it up too much in my head about it, but it wasn’t as good as I was expecting it to be.
Vitamin K 12b (Valhalla) – My valiant onsight attempt was thwarted at the very top by crimps and pockets that were just a little too tweaky for a last day send. I’d love to get on it earlier in the trip next time.

Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better trip, ESPECIALLY considering the circumstances of this year. I am thrilled to have not only reached, but surpassed my goal of 100 lifetime 5.12’s, and so grateful for the time spent with family. And speaking of family, as I alluded to before, you can check out Big C’s goals and lessons learned here. Until then….did anyone else have any summer goals you were able to complete?

Water Into Wine 5.9 – not part of the 5.12 goal, but perhaps the most photogenic route we did!
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A Cross Country Driving Adventure with Kids!

If you’ve been following our family on social media at all, you’re probably aware that we just got back from a summer escape to Ten Sleep Canyon, WY. When we first started going out there 8 years ago, we had no idea we would keep coming back again and again…,and again! We’ve tried all manner of “getting there” options. In 2012 we flew into Rapid City, SD and also climbed in Spearfish Canyon and the Custer State Park. In 2015 we flew into Salt Lake City, UT and sandwiched Ten Sleep in between Wild Iris and Logan Canyon. Then in 2018 we flew into Casper, WY so we could spend our entire climbing time in Ten Sleep. But this time around, we opted for something I’ve always wanted to do – a long haul drive across the country in our good old Craggin’ Wagon! Due to our wanting to save some of the CragDad’s PTO for later this fall, I made the leg to Wyoming solo with the kiddos. He flew out for the climbing, then flew back home…on the same day my mom flew out to meet us to help with the drive back home. Logistically, driving has always made a lot more sense.

Somewhere along I-70 in Kansas

SAVING MONEY

Belle Ridge Retret in TN

For one thing, this year we only had 1 plane flight to buy, and because it was purchased with flyer miles, we actually only paid around $20 for it! We also saved a lot in rental car fees. Additionally, we saved a lot of money by bringing our own crag food bought in bulk at Costco as opposed to buying individually packaged bars/jerky/etc in the Wyoming grocery stores once we got there. We did have an additional cost of lodging along the way, but we chose pretty budget friendly hotels. Had the CragDad been with me I probably would’ve opted for camping…but I just couldn’t make myself set up and breakdown that tent every single day all by myself! (There’s definitely an incentive here for building out the van with some sort of sleeping set up!!!) Our original plan was to camp once we got to Ten Sleep, but due to covid we felt better about having our own bathroom, so we rented a little bunkhouse from Ten Sleep RV Park. We were thrilled that additional perks of this place included A/C as well as a refrigerator…and because we were driving, the fact that the kitchen only had the fridge and a sink was no biggie because it was easy to bring our camp stove set up. While it was more expensive than camping for sure, it was by far cheaper than an Air BnB, which would have been our only lodging option with flying, unless we wanted to pay a whole bunch of extra baggage fees (climbing gear is heavy and takes up a lot of room!!!)

ENJOYING THE JOURNEY

As a homeschooling family, we love to take advantage of everyday learning experiences. Driving across the country together was an amazing way to experience parts of the United States my kids otherwise would only read about in books. Here’s a brief snapshot of all the amazing learning we were able to experience on either side of our vacation that we would NOT have been able to encounter via airplane.

  • Waterfalls and Swimming Holes in Tennessee
  • Historically significant sites, such as Fort Massac in Illinois, the Gateway Arch in Missouri, and the Ingalls Homestead in South Dakota
  • “Sledding” on St. Mary’s Glacier in Colorado
  • National Park Sites – Rocky Mountain, Badlands, and Mt. Rushmore
  • Creation Museum and Ark Encounter in Kentucky

PLANNING

With the exception of a very scary, altitude-related ER visit in Granby, CO (more on that below), this trip went off smoother than I ever thought it would have! One of the things that was invaluable in trip planning was the Roadtrippers App. While I usually don’t like to pay for apps, I must say this was well worth the $29 (there’s also a free version with limited features which I used to try it out first) I was able to see my entire route, along with any possible stop along the way, even when you’re in the middle of nowhere. (Did you know there’s a Jolly Green Giant Statue in Minnesota? I didn’t, but Roadtrippers did, and it gave us a well-timed stretch break on the way home!)

Hiking the Door Trail in Badlands National Park

Another app that was very useful was Hotels.com. CragDad and I have been using this for a while now, and we love it! First of all, we don’t like paying a lot for hotels, and this app allows you to see a wide range of hotels in the area you’re looking for, as well as reviews. Secondly, booking through the app gives you a “stamp” that you can use to redeem for free stays after every 10 nights, so you get a similar benefit as other “points” programs that are affiliated with specific hotel chains, but without being limited to a certain chain. Twice on this trip we ended up with fabulous locally owned hotels at a very good price that would have been hard to find without the app!

Another important part of planning was providing the kids with stuff to do during the drive. Because I count this as part of our schooling, each kid had an assignment folder they would work in each day, with activities relevant to where we were headed that day. Both had maps to keep track of our travels as well as license plates we saw along the way. (We saw all but three – Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Hawaii!) They also had a coloring sheet for each state and many of the historic sites we visited. At the end of each day they would record their “rose” and “thorn,” (highlights/lowlights of the day), and my 10yo did some math by finding totals and averages with our mileage for each day. We also had loads of books, drawing stuff, audiobooks, and travel games…and of course each kiddo got an allotted amount of screen time each day as well.

While we grabbed take out a couple of times, and ate on a restaurant patio once, the majority of meals were eaten either on the road or park picnic tables. In this regard, being covid-conscious and money-conscious aligned really well. Thankfully my kids are pretty okay with not a lot of variety, and ate their body weight in sandwiches, crackers, mandarin oranges, and canned pineapple. I had brought non-perishable goods for Ten Sleep dinners once we got there (pasta, tortillas, etc), and stopped at a grocery on the way in to purchase meat and produce.

WHEN PLANS GO SIDEWAYS

Well-cared for at Granby Hospital!

As I alluded to before, we had one hiccup in our plan…and it was a big one! The day before we were scheduled to meet the CragDad in Casper, WY, my 6yo daughter ended up in the ER due to altitude sickness. Her very mild symptoms took a big turn for the worse in RMNP. By the time we got to the Granby hospital, she was in pretty bad shape between the nausea, dehydration, and oxygen levels of 80. After several hours she had stabilized, but we were instructed to go back down to Boulder rather than continuing on through higher elevations to Laramie, then Casper the following day. Providentially, the CragDad’s flight connected in Denver, so we ended up just picking him up there and continuing on our way via a lower elevation route than planned. We arrived in Ten Sleep only a few hours later than originally planned, and by the following day, Little Z seemed back to her normal, bouncy self. ‘

Lessons learned? Be careful with altitude, especially with small kids, because they can go downhill in a moment’s notice. I had thought we had done all the right things as far as gradually introducing higher elevations, but the combo of heat + exertion + dehydration put her in a hole she couldn’t dig herself out of. Looking back, none of her symptoms had seemed any different than any of the typical out of sorts type symptoms we’d all been feeling until all of a sudden she was failing fast. So definitely err on the side of cautiousness! (And always have a plan B!!!)

Ark Encounter in Kentucky

Thankfully, all’s well that ends well, and we certainly ended up well, with loads of family memories of fun and adventure! While nobody is ready to hop in the car again any time soon, we all voted that a long road trip is definitely worth the effort, and we would all love to do it again! (That said, we are headed to the Red River Gorge to climb over Labor Day, and after this monster of a trip, that 7 hour drive will feel like a drive to the store. ;)) And speaking of climbing, check out that aspect of our trip here and here.

Driving the covered wagon in De Smet, SD

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