One warm winter morning in mid-December, I arrived at First Ascent Uptown ready for a day’s work. Instead of teaching a Learning the Ropes class for Avondale’s tall walls or checking customers in at the front desk, this day was going to be different. Uptown was still under construction – little did I know the amount of construction left to be done. The climbing walls were only just going up. Our fitness equipment was still in California. Our sound system was just speakers in boxes and wire on spools. Our foam mats were still three weeks away. And the flooring in the yoga room was only a quarter of the way done.

 

Joe Zentmyer, one of the First Ascent founders, and I met for an “alpine start” at 6 am, and we immediately began laying the bamboo floorboard that, in less than a month, would be supporting downward facing dogs, warrior poses and sun salutations.The sun wasn’t even up as we hammered and pried the first row into place. But the work became easier as we progressed. Eventually, we fell into a rhythm. Joe spread the glue while I slotted the floorboards into each other. Eight hours, ten gallons of glue, and a couple sore backs later, the yoga floor was approaching completion. A few days later it would be finished. In the next couple weeks, Walltopia would screw in the last wall, Futurist would install the flooring, I’d savagely break down the wooden crates that held the treadmills and I would even have the eleven speakers hung and wired and playing Rage Against the Machine.

All the while I was clocking in and clocking out, working a job – my job. And if you asked me then what I was doing I would have said, “I’m pulling speaker wire through the ceiling at Uptown.” But as I’ve finished those projects, and as I write this blog, I realize there was something more to that work. There is something more to all the work we do.

 speckpondattwilight

SPECK POND AT TWILIGHT.

For a summer, a few years back, I worked for the Appalachian Mountain Club as a Backcountry Caretaker. My campsite was Speck Pond: Maine’s highest body of water, and a five-mile hike from the nearest road. My first trip in, I was crushed under a seventy-pound pack (provisions for an eleven-day stint). Fog swirled through the valley as I descended into the campsite, and I was overcome by a vague sense of foreboding. That first night at Speck I was wet, cold and scared. The next day, a couple Appalachian Trail hikers passed through and, knowing more than me, they told me about the area. I listened and tried in vain to keep my down jacket dry. Later on in the stint, when the sun finally did shine, black flies swarmed. One even had the courtesy of flying into my ear and dying there. My job was as a caretaker, but how could I take care of a place that left me on the verge of hypothermia, bleeding out of my ear?

I decided that somehow, I needed to make Speck Pond my home, and I worked to make it so. I built a rock step on the small trail leading to the shore. I learned the names of the trees and birds. I tended the trails. And I composted the privy’s human waste (please ask me about this; I’d love to share).

Because of that work, I could tell hikers that that bird calling was a Junco. That the next resupply is in another twenty miles, but watch out for those bog bridges in the alpine; they’re completely submerged. Doing that work transformed my perception of Speck Pond from an ominous place into an outdoor playground. And most importantly, that work allowed me to welcome visitors to my home.

At Uptown, we’ve done the work. The routes are up. The yoga floor is finally finished. The fitness equipment has been un-boxed and put into place. And as I write this, Sam Cooke is crooning over the sound system. Now, all that’s left is to fill it with climbers, yogis and fitness enthusiasts like you.

Welcome to First Ascent: Uptown!