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Adventures in outdoor romance installment #3: It's the small, routine things.

Sara Lingafelter
Sara Lingafelter
6 min read

Departing, a bit, from the many wonderful stories of “we met over our mutual love of kayaking / climbing / biking / [insert outdoor adventure sport here], fell in love, hijinks ensued, and then we got married and lived happily ever after,” here’s installment #3 from my girl KT. I’ve got all sorts of thoughts and responses to this one myself, but I don’t want to clutter your reading of the story with all that. Read on, and enjoy.

Katie Trembley (aka, KT in these parts) is one of my climbing / hiking / playing outside / eating avocados at picnic tables / drinking wine and watching ultimate fighting for girls’ night partners, based now in Seattle, WA. Katie blogs about life, and not much about rock climbing, at http://kntrembley.blogspot.com/.

Enjoy KT’s story.

I love outdoor sports and activities of every kind. I’m heterosexual. I’m single. With a profile such as this and an outdoor guy/girl ratio of 4:1, it would be safe to assume there would be some moments of romancing in my outdoor career.


Like the time my Fabio-esque mountaineering partner snuck away wine and cheese to be presented on summit. Or the under-the-stars, by-the-creek, away-from-civilization back massage. Or perhaps the time I sprained my ankle and was carried out of the wilderness by a bulging-muscle, bare-chested prince charming while my wispy, almost see through, lingerie hiking dress struggled to stay on my oiled body. I could write a book on the ways I would like to be romanced on the trail, either advising climbing guys on how to make their female climbing friends long term partners, or at least creating the newest and most tantalizing penny novel for Walmart shelves around America. Unfortunately, the attempts at romancing I have experienced have been awkward at best, if not more than a little creepy.

My creepiest experience took place about a year ago. I took a road trip to the deserts of Utah with a friends-only hiking partner. First lesson learned, if you are not into a guy, don’t take a 10 day road/backpacking trip with him. The trip was awkward from the time we left Washington. I picked up on the attention and tried my hardest to send unspoken messages that I was not interested. Unfortunately, one’s energy gets a little worn down after 10 hours in the car. Under the cold and frosted car windows somewhere near Twin Falls, Idaho, I awoke to gentle strokes of my friends-only partner brushing my hair from my face. I pretended to be asleep and quietly thanked Honda for the stick shift separation between the seats. We were to meet up with a group of my climbing friends at Indian Creek, UT followed by some backpacking in Canyonlands National Park. I couldn’t wait for a break from my partner and the safety of a group.

As chance would have it, we missed the rendezvous and ended up starting our backpacking trip early, at the suggestion of my partner, strangely enough just the two of us. We got into camp, made food, and I lay down as quickly as possible, not wanting to share the amazing desert night sky with someone that I was desperately trying to avoid. The second morning I woke up to more stroking of the hair and still pretended to be asleep. This had to stop. We set out on a day hike and I finally got enough nerve to explain that I was not interested in him as anything more than a climbing partner and would he please stop paying me so much physical affection. He understood, but also explained he was a very physical person and showed even his best of friends as much affection as he could get away with. Creepy, leave me alone. I yelled in my head, but knew I still had 8 days with this person. “Let’s keep it to a minimum. I don’t like to be touched.” Second lesson learned from this trip, always carry a one person tent. Inspired by this trip, I bought my little Black Diamond Oneshot as soon as I got home. The touching stopped, minus a few stiff hugs and inappropriate sexual comments. Needless to say, the end of the trip was the end of our hiking partnership.

Now that the immediate memories of my creepy experiences have past, I do remember the attempts at romancing made by partners of mutual interest. A couple summers ago I went on a 3 day backpacking trip with my boyfriend at the time. By the evening of day two, we had hiked 24 miles and were feeling pretty beat up. While I prepared the tent for our much needed night of rest, he started a fire by the river. I came looking for him and dinner, only to find a little bench in front of the fire with Cheesy Mac and a steamy cup of hot chocolate waiting for me. We sat on the river wood bench and watched the surrounding mountains turn pink with the sunset as we shared memories from the day and compared sore muscles. 

Another experience came shortly after Valentine’s Day when I was dating a route setter at the local gym. Valentine’s Day had come and gone and I didn’t even get a flower from my climbing partner. Wow, climber guys are terrible at this romancing stuff, I thought while on the verge of breaking up with my negligent partner. We were meeting up at the gym after he finished a couple hours of route setting. Our work-out would start with me climbing some of his new routes so I could give him a second opinion on his route grades. I did three before he led me to a new red 10a in the corner. I climbed it and sat back ready to be lower, my arms burning from their warm-up and feeling a little light headed. I wasn’t being lowered. “Try and find the Easter egg,” he shouted from the bottom. I thought he was messing with me. Several people watching on directed me to look behind me. There, taped to the pillar at the top of the climb, was a shiny new Gri-Gri with my nick name affectionately scribed on top of the box. “Happy Valentine’s Day,” I heard from my belayer as he lowered me. “I wanted to do this earlier but Petzel didn’t send the order in time.” In his odd and indirect way, the route was later named, “I Got 99 Problems.”

Growing up with only brothers and their friends, I’m familiar with the age old decision climbing guys face when considering dating. Should they date a climbing girl or work to create their own? I’ve seen my brothers and hiking partners go both ways with scattered success. As I think about the apparent lack of response to this contest as well as reflect on my own experiences, I think one of three things: 1) Climbing guys do not make the effort and therefore there are no great stories out there to be told. 2) Girls that have found their match and enjoy the happiness of romance and outdoors are too afraid to write about the experiences for fear of cursing a very good thing. 3) The problem isn’t them after all, but us, the climbing girl.

I know it is a tough world for girls who are wild at heart. We spend our lives convincing ourselves and the people around us that we are “just one of the boys.” To prove our worth as climbing partners, we shoot down weakness in ourselves and others, enduring all sorts of pain for longer periods of time than a sane person would allow. We live whole weekends dirty and bloody, only to collapse on our beds Sunday night and dream of the next trip. As a result, we have strong backs and souls that could hold up the world longer than the Atlas of Greek mythology. But in this struggle, have we sacrificed our ability to be romanced? Do we notice and remember the small gestures of our partners, or forget them in our rush for bigger and better? Do we accept the flowers or scoff at the vulnerability and apparent weakness the
rein? I know I am guilty of this and wouldn’t be surprised if this was a sentiment shared by many.

Perhaps next time I am out and about with a prospective or current partner, I should remember several things: 1) A bottle of wine is very heavy. Perhaps a beer in the local tavern is a more sensible expectation. Besides, who wants to mess with a descent severely buzzed? 2) Romantic massages can go both ways and scented oils smell better on clean skin. 3) Having a guy run several miles for help over my sprained ankle is just as good as (better than) being carried out by Fabio with our malfunctioning clothing. 4) The romance might be hidden in the small, routine movements rather than the larger gestures.

One friend wrote to me in response to our discussing this topic and I find some truth in his jest. “As his hand gingerly touched my ‘Black Diamond Momentum Climbing Harness 2008’ he checked my figure eight knot, stared into my eyes approvingly and said, “On belay.” Is the small romance, the hot chocolate, the route labeling, or the tender belay check enough? In the end, it depends on at least one of the climbing partners, either myself or the other.

Sara Lingafelter

Sara (Grace) Lingafelter takes steps forward and backward toward a right-sized life on a daily basis.