“Every time I feel like I don’t take advantage of my time off, I’m like, ‘What am I doing? There’s so many better places I could be’… It’s weird but I feel like I have an urgency to see everything as fast as I can.
When Jo had five days off from work last March (which turned into six after she called out), she texted a handful of climbers she knew and headed for Bishop. She reached out to old friends from college, people she met on the road while travelling solo, and someone she had actually never met in person. I was part of the group of people she met while travelling solo—about 4 months prior, we shared a climbing adventure in Nevada.
Once in Bishop, we met up at Owens River Gorge where she rolled up in her dusty red Corolla. Covered in stickers and filled to the brim with climbing and camping gear, it’s obvious that the little sedan she occasionally sleeps in was well loved with countless trips. We spent most of our time in the Gorge, but spent a day at Little Egypt with a ragtag team of rock climbers that were connected to her in some way or was a friend of a friend.
That day started with the group of us fording a river, some bushwhacking, and a few big climbing falls, and it ended with beers at the local brewery. We traded numbers and made plans to meet up in the future, and Jo was ecstatic to see strangers become friends. Although she’s comfortable traveling on her own, she knows how valuable good company can be. During a lull in one of our days together, I asked her about her solo travels, what brought her to the west coast, and what she loves about the outdoors.
How did you get hooked to rock climbing?
I really like that you can visibly see your progress and improvement with climbing. I can definitely feel myself getting better. I grew up as a runner and you don’t see progress there. It’s like ‘Cool, one second faster’.
But there are points where I find myself getting frustrated if I don’t think I’m getting better at climbing. I don’t want that to happen, because it’s supposed to be about just enjoying it and getting outdoors. Looking back on how far I’ve come in a year, I’m like, ‘You know what, I shouldn’t be so hard on myself’. Because a year ago, I had no idea how to tie a figure eight knot, and now I can lead and I’ve climbed multi-pitch in Yosemite.
Do you have a favorite outdoor area?
I think this area, the Eastern Sierras. When I was in elementary school I had a weird fascination with California. I don’t why—I have no logical explanation behind it. I’d never been to the state [or even] the West Coast until I moved out here a year ago. I heard about Yosemite and the stereotypical California attitude, and I was just like ‘I’m supposed to be over there, that’s where I was meant to be’. It’s not exactly what the stereotypes made it out to be, but the Sierras—they meet my expectations.
It seems like you’ve been able to take a ton of climbing trips since we first met. Does your work give you a lot of time off or is it something you prioritize over everything else?
It’s both. I’m lucky with my work giving me a lot of time off, but I definitely also prioritize it. Like, have I gone on trips where I should’ve saved money? Yes. Have I gone on trips where I ran out of money? Yes. I live like paycheck to paycheck, and I don’t need to with what I’m doing right now. But [I do] because I prioritize my time outdoors.
I try to get out of the Bay Area as much as I can. California’s so huge and the west coast has so much to offer. Every time I feel like I don’t take advantage of my time off, I’m like, ‘What am I doing? There’s so many better places I could be, and there’s so much I still haven’t seen.’ It’s weird but I feel like I have an urgency to see everything as fast as I can.
You mentioned you like your job because it brings you outside. How did you get into outdoor education?
I kind of fell into it, honestly. I started off on the research side of things with the biology and environmental studies degree. I thought I wanted to work with animals for a while—I was pretty set on not working with people at all. [Laughs] But as I was getting more involved in that, I realized I missed the social aspect of things. And when it comes down to the environment, people are the most integral part of protecting it and promoting stewardship.
So I was just looking for anything that would let me be outside and use my degree essentially, and this opened up and I was like ‘Yeah that sounds like it’d be fun’.
It seems like you travel solo a lot, how’d that come to be?
I got tired of waiting on other people to make plans, and having them flake or not be able to commit. I felt like I spent a lot of time not doing the things I wanted to do, because I had no one else to go with. And I just got sick of it.
With travelling solo, it’s really nice to be as flexible as you want—you can do everything on your own agenda. I think everyone needs to have that solo time. It’s really important, but a lot of people are afraid of being alone. But it goes both ways. I’ve been in situations where I’m like ‘Wow this is amazing and I’m glad I’m having this experience, but it’d be great to share this with someone’.
Have you been in any sketchy situations while travelling alone?
I’ve been pretty lucky; I haven’t run into too many situations where I felt uncomfortable. Since getting more involved in climbing I’ve gotten used to pulling over in my car wherever I can and sleeping in it and being a little less concerned about my safety, which is not a good thing necessarily. More of [what worries me] is driving on questionable roads in questionable conditions with no service and not sure if my car would make it or not. Like what do I do if I don’t make it?
I’ve been lucky because there are all these stories of solo travelers and not so great experiences. But I mean, you only hear about the bad stories. Obviously trust your instincts, but I think people are more paranoid than they need to be.
Last question: what do you love about the outdoors?
I think what drove my passion in the outdoors was growing up playing in the woods a lot. My backyard was a huge conservation land—my dog and I would go out and run all the trails. Living in suburbia, it was nice to be able to get away from everything and not run into another person if I didn’t want to. My father pushed us into living an outdoor lifestyle—I was lucky to have that experience.
I feel like it gets more complicated as I get older; my reasons and passions change. When I was in college, a big part of [wanting to spend time outside] was because I was studying biology and environmental studies. I was like, ‘This is the Earth I need to protect. I need to be out in it and know as much about it as I can, so I can share with people why it matters’.
Now, I feel the most at home or the most myself—life makes the most sense when I’m in these outdoor places. I think it’s an integral part of what everyone needs, whether or not they realize it. I feel like this is where people should be; this is what we were intended to do. In the middle of the city, I never get that feeling. I’m like, ‘Why is everyone so mad at each other? I don’t understand’.
After moving out here, I meet all these kids that have only grown up in an urban environment, and they don’t have that connection [to the outdoors]. I think that’s why I’m so passionate about wanting to share the outdoors with people that haven’t had that experience like mine and aren’t so lucky.
This interview has been trimmed and edited to fit this format. If you would like to access the unedited interview audio and unposted photography, see my Patreon page.