Glacial Pace: With ice axes, you put your wrist through a loop at the bottom of the handle. The inside of the loop is usually made out of leather or rubber so that it won't slide off should you lose your grip on the axe. This saves you the embarrassment of having to look up at an ice axe firmly planted in the slope, capable of holding someone twice your weight... as you fall backward toward the rock field below you. That loop is also the reason why some people choose not to climb with gloves on. You lose your grip on that handle, your wrist falls back onto the loop, it catches your glove, everything slides off. Down you go. Climbing without gloves also provides pretty good incentive for developing your swing. Aim for a hard, smooth spot in the ice; just the right angle. Hit the spot, and you're as good as 3 feet higher on that wall. Miss, and your knuckles smash into a patch of rough, fragmented ice, like you're punching through a car window. The blood runs down your arm faster than you would think, lubricating itself with sweat. Then it freezes in bright lines down your arm like thin, gory veins. There's a special kind of pain you feel when you sustain tissue injury in the cold, when your flesh is already numb. Maybe because of the cold, but the pain doesn't register as fast. When you hit your knuckles on that ice, grind the back of your neck on the lip of that snowboard jump, drive a crampon blade into your calf; the nerves are a little slower to act. They do, though. They get pissed off and send an angry letter to your brain. The message travels up your spinal cord and into an area of the brain called the thalamus - a sort of switching station located in the middle of your head. The brain gets the message and lets you know what's going on by relaying it on to three other areas: the somatosensory cortex, the frontal cortex and the limbic system. That first one will let you know what happened and also remind you how f***ing cold it is, the frontal cortex will tell you not to do it again, and that limbic thing might make you cry if you're a big enough sissy. Or you might get mad. A funny thing about the brain is that it is also capable of ignoring pain completely; simply not recognizing it. The thalamus, that switching station, can bury the original message. After you take the skin off your knuckle, you shove your other hand into a vat of boiling, liquid iron. Suddenly your knuckles don't hurt at all. That's how Jaelyn explained all the drinking. Wake up at 3:30 in the afternoon feeling like someone hit you in the face with a cinderblock, and suddenly the fact that her mom refuses to tell her who her dad is doesn't really matter. She travels halfway across the world to get away from her problems. She gets black-out drunk, mind-crushing hangovers and myriad drinking injuries so she doesn't have to bother herself with little things like where she's going to live when she gets home. She taught me the joys of snowboarding after a couple rounds of scotch. The NCADD's (National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence) self-check test for alcoholism include the following questions: • Have you ever been unable to remember part of the previous evening? • Do you sometimes feel uncomfortable if alcohol is not available? • Do you sometimes have the "shakes" in the morning and find that it helps to have a "little" drink or tranquilizer medication of some kind? If "who the f*** are you, and get out of my bed", "I once threw a phone out a window because someone spilled my last beer" and "the only way I can level myself out in the morning is with about a pound of weed", respectively, are answers that indicate a proclivity for alcohol abuse, then she might have had a problem. I met Jaelyn on the Franz Josef glacier on the South Island of New Zealand. She had purposely separated herself from her climbing group and was diligently working with her ice axe to loosen a Volkswagen-sized piece of ice from its slope, in hopes that it would fall into a deep crevice. It's worth taking the time at this point to explain that the expression "glacial pace" to describe something slow and boring is somewhat of a misnomer. Sure, a colossal, mountain-sized sheet of ice takes a full year to move 10 feet in any given direction. It's also f***ing terrifying when it does. I saw an ice block fall away from a cliff the first day I was on the glacier from about a half a mile away and the physical reverberation almost knocked me off of my feet. Hearing the glacial shifts themselves are equally impressive; an almost metallic roar like God had reached down from the heavens and torn a cruise ship in half directly below you. So there was Jaelyn, swinging away at patch of ice that formed a sort of connective tissue with the larger mass beside her, trying to quicken the "glacial pace". "What the f*** are you doing?" Our climb leader yelled at her as we approached. She looked up at us with the expression of a toddler bringing home its first finger painting. "Going to knock this into the crevice. It's going to be awesome!" "WHAT? Get the hell away from there!" Her axe arm fell limp by her side and she scowled with disappointment. I remember looking at her, and at the boulder of ice and conjuring up the image of Aron Ralston, a Utah rock climber. He was alone when a boulder pinned his arm down, but it was so cold out that when the extremity died, it went numb and he was able to cut it off using a dull knife and a pair of needle-nosed pliers. A big ice boulder would be extra cold, I thought to myself as our climb leader hiked closer so he could yell at Jaelyn. We joked about it over a teapot of liquor that night (vodka, cranberry juice, imitation Cointreau and redbull in a big teapot - the bar's $8 cocktail special). She reminded me of Tara Llanes, the mountain biker I had read about (and ogled) in Maxim; attractive enough to show it off, but confidant enough not to bother. She kept her dark hair tied up behind her and draped her figure in ski pants and a hooded sweatshirt. Talking to her over drinks was a blast. She had the sort of coal-black humor that I could pander to without censoring myself. She was even able to trip me up a few times. "What do your parents do?" I asked at some point in the conversation. "Mom works in the garden, collects government checks and talks to herself. And she's always told me that dad was run over by a truck when I was 8." It was a quick jab, but I was staggered. "Seriously?" "I'm pretty sure she's lying, but whatever happened to him, I'm not sure what he's doing now. Maybe he's dead; just fertilizing plants, like mom! Hah!" I thought the last girl to tell me that her father was dead was just f***ing with me, so I had laughed. "Shot twice in the head," she had said. Turns out that that isn't actually much of a stretch if the girl is an ex-pat Russian with "good connections". So my laughing turned me into the bad guy in that conversation. Lesson learned, so this time I didn't laugh: "That's horrible. I'm really sorry." "Don't worry about it. Wherever he is, he left us, so f*** him." "That's fair." She seemed alright at that point, but something glinted in her eyes. It looked like a tear was about to form, before she crushed the emotion under her practiced irreverence and took another quaff from her oversized teacup. She had spent the first 21 years of her life taking her care of her mentally crippled mother until the two of them had a fight. I didn't get all the details, but I know that it involved a point of contention Jaelyn wouldn't disclose, the police, and the 4 inch scar that ran down the side of Jaelyn's right arm. She had left after that and had been traveling for the past 3 years. When I hit the ice with my fist while climbing, it hurts. But the hurt is replaced by my fascination with the way the blood runs down my forearm. The despair and desire to quit are rubbed into nothingness by the frustration I would feel at having hurt myself without making it to the top of the wall. No amount of pain should be for nothing - it drives me to finish what I started, and it tells me when I have done something wrong. Failure and pain are the best teachers I've ever had. I told all of that to Jaelyn the night before we were to part ways. It was one of the deep, late-night talks that we had both started getting used to, and that we would both miss. I showed her the scrapes on my knuckles and told her what they meant. I asked her if she had learned anything similar from all of her self-destructive behavior. I was holding her hand, and put my fingers across a recently bandaged gash that she had suffered trying to climb a building. Verbally postulating that her tendencies were indicative of a deeply seeded self-loathing or depression hardly seemed necessary. We both knew it. A part of her wanted to die, but the rest of her didn't know how to go about doing it. She came back to my analogy and asked, "What if you're exhausted and bleeding... and haven't even started to climb?" I still don't know the answer to that.