When I was 23 years old, I moved to Davis, California, to start a graduate creative writing program. Almost immediately, I was homesick, heartsick, and restless. I’d just come from working at Grand Teton National Park for the summer and spent most of my free time in Davis dreaming about going back to the mountains. When I wasn’t dreaming of the Tetons, I was dreaming of Kansas, my true home, and the place where I’d left everyone I had ever known and loved. I remember laying on the floor of my new bedroom in Davis, the empty walls roaring around me, thinking, How do I get out of here?
When I wasn’t writing, I was searching Craigslist for jobs in Jackson Hole and Lawrence. I called my mother and my friends every other day, trying to talk through the pros and cons of dropping out of school and hightailing it back to Wyoming or Kansas. I wanted to be anywhere other than Davis, a town that seemed too clean, too boring, too vanilla to inspire anything in the way of writing. It provided neither the natural beauty of the Tetons nor the weirdo artsy culture of Lawrence. Sure, it was California, but everything good about California was at least two hours away: Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada to the east, the Bay Area to the west, Big Sur and the desert to the south, and Lassen to the north. Despite having grown up in Kansas, I had never felt more geographically secluded. Nothing I loved was nearby.
Then, a couple weeks into the first quarter of school, a guy in my cohort, Jacob, asked if I wanted to go climbing with him. It was something we’d discussed during Visiting Day the spring before, but I figured it was just a drunken idea, one of those promises people don’t actually follow up on. But Jacob had just come from D.C. and seemed equally bored with Davis. He was going to buy shoes and a harness and would pick me up every Tuesday and Thursday morning before workshop. We were going to climb together.