The interwebs have been all abuzz over the Always ad “Like a Girl” that became a hit during the Super Bowl. The message has obviously resonated with many of us, myself included. After watching the full length version of the advertisement, I really got to thinking about all of my “like a girl” moments and how that phrase being used in a negative way has affected me over the years.

I mean, I think of myself as a pretty independent, strong woman, but if I’m being honest, even I cut myself down for being a girl in many areas of my life, especially in the sports arena.

One example is as a runner. I have been running for almost ten years now and am proud of how far I have come from the 25-year-old who couldn’t even run half a mile. But get me out running with my boyfriend and I suddenly become an apologist. “I’m sorry, I know I’m slow. It’s not my fault. I’m a girl. I’ll always be slower than you.” What? For years, my inner monologue has been all about how it doesn’t matter that I’m slower than other runners as long as I am getting out there and doing better each time I run, whether by running farther or running faster. Yet, here I am, 10 years in, and every time I run with my boyfriend I end up begging him to just run ahead of me because I hate the feeling that I am slowing him down. He just wants to run with me. He wants to spend time together. He doesn’t care how fast we go. But I just can’t let it go.

Another example comes from climbing. A few years back, before I started a year abroad, I began training pretty intensely as a climber. When people would ask me why I was training so hard, I would tell them it was because I was going to be traveling alone but wanted to climb, so I needed to be able to show the male climbers out there (because they are the majority) that I could keep up with them. I didn’t want anybody refusing to climb with me because they thought I was weak. Upping my climbing ability definitely helped in this area, but this fear of being seen as “a girl” made me do some climbs that really scared me. The worst part about this is that had something gone wrong, I could have been seriously hurt. Climbing is no joke. This was really brought home to me after an experience I had in Australia.

I was climbing in Arapiles with some newfound friends. Like I said, I was traveling alone, so I was always having to make friends if I wanted to climb. I was a pretty strong climber at this time, but I had never tried trad climbing before. On my third day there, one climber really wanted to try a multi-pitch route that interested me. He didn’t have a partner, so I agreed to follow him up. Everything was going OK, until we reached the first belay station, when the wind suddenly picked up and the temperature started to drop. As I was belaying him up the second pitch, I started shivering relentlessly and my hands were turning bright pink. No problem, I’ll warm up as I climb, I thought. But as I was climbing, each time I needed to remove a nut from the wall, I’d accidently jam my hands against the wall because I couldn’t feel anything. By the time I reached the belay station, I had a couple of bloody spots and a ton of scrapes. But whatever, I’m a “real” climber, it comes with the territory.

To this point, I was determined to continue. But then, as my partner headed up the third pitch, it began to rain. It was just a sprinkle at first, so he continued up, hoping it wouldn’t get worse. It got worse. By the time it was my turn to climb, it was raining hard and the wind was whipping against my face. I was shivering uncontrollably, and I was beginning to panic. As my partner started to pull the rope up so I could climb, I began to cry. “Cry now, so he won’t see you being such a girl,” I told myself. And then I sucked it up and I climbed. Again, I fumbled with the gear all the way up. I also began to strain my muscles because I was gripping everything so tightly for fear of slipping on the now wet rock. As I ascended, the panic in me continued to rise. All I wanted was to get off of that wall, but now we were 450 feet up with no repel station in sight. When I arrived at the belay station, my partner asked if I felt OK to continue despite the weather. “I really want to be brave and say yes. I don’t want you to regret having come up here with a girl, but I really don’t want to continue. I’m freaking out and I don’t think it’s a good idea to keep going. I’ll do it if you really want to, but I’ll warn you that you may have a panicked, crying girl on your hands by the end.” (Little did he know that he already had a panicked, crying girl on his hands). So we hooked in some cams, tied our ropes together, and repelled while praying we’d have enough rope to get to the first belay station, where there was a bolted anchor.

When we made it down safely, I apologized for making it so he couldn’t finish his climb. I’d known he’d really wanted to do this climb and he would be bummed not to have finished it. Surprisingly, he told me he was glad that I’d said we should come down. He had been afraid to continue also, but he hadn’t wanted to admit it. Later, when I told some other climbing friends about the incident and told them how embarrassed I’d been about panicking and wanting to go back, they also surprised me with their response. “Climbing is an inherently dangerous sport. If you feel something isn’t safe, you should always say so. Nobody would say you’re afraid because you’re a girl – and if they do, you shouldn’t be climbing with them anyway. When someone literally has your life in their hands, you have every right to say that you think something is unsafe.” This statement is so true, and yet I’d let my fear of being seen “as a girl” almost put me into a potentially dangerous situation.

To put it mildly, I hope the “Like a Girl” ad and others like it can really change how we treat girls and women and think about how much words can really affect us. Sticks and stones and all that, but words really do hurt too. And they are so much more lasting than broken bones.

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My Arapiles Camp Digs

Hi friends! Sorry I’ve been incommunicado for such a long time. I’ve been spending a lot of time in the outdoors, which means no Interwebs. About two weeks ago I journeyed to Melbourne in the hopes of finding a way to get to The Grampians and Arapiles – two well-known climbing areas in Victoria, Australia.

Not getting a quick enough response via the Interwebs, I went to two local climbing gyms where I posted on the bulletin boards and accosted other climbers to ask whether they were making any trips out west. While accosting people at the climbing gym may be looked down upon, it does work. Within a few hours of arriving I had found an awesome climbing couple who was planning to make a weekend trip to The Grampians and were happy to share the cost of a rental car and gas to get there. I crashed on their couch the following night and after a quick morning run we headed off for a weekend of bouldering with a couple of their friends who were visiting from New Zealand.

Helen bouldering.

I’m terrible at bouldering because I’m seriously afraid of falling without a rope attached to me, but I was perfectly happy doing some V0s (the easiest climbing grade for bouldering) and then watching the others do the tough stuff. Helen, the female half of the couple I drove up with, was incredible and found lots of easy stuff for me to practice on. Helen and Josh left Sunday evening because they had to get back to Melbourne to work the next day. I stayed on at Stapylton Campground with their Kiwi friends, James and Matt, who drove me to Arapiles Tuesday morning and did a three-pitch 5.7 climb with me. While it was an easy climb for all of us, I think we were all just excited to be climbing (I know I was!).

Matt and James at Arapiles

Matt and James went back to the Grampians the next day while I stayed behind in Arapiles and climbed for the next four days with a couple of guys who adopted me into their way-better-than-just-my-tent campsite (pictured above – my tent is the yellow one off to the side of our digs). Despite four days of heavy rain, it was a super successful trip that left me with a lot of awesome climbing friends, who I’ll hopefully see again, and allowed me the opportunity to use my climbing gear and try out a lot of new things (like trad climbing! and multi-pitch routes!). I seriously considered skipping my trip to Tasmania to stay at Arapiles for a couple more weeks, but knew I’d regret it even though I was having an amazing time in Arapiles. Verdict: Must come back and stay for at least one month.

Me, totally stoked after my first day of climbing.

Getting There: When I was in Melbourne nobody could tell me how to get to these two spots via public transit, so here you go…

Arapiles: Catch a Vline train from Southern Cross Station to Ararat. Catch a bus from in front of the Ararat Station to Horsham. From Horsham take a shuttle from out front of the Safeway (or hitchhike – there are plenty of climbers going through who will take pity on you). Getting there is difficult, but getting home is easy because you’ll have made friends at camp and can easily hitch a ride into Horsham from someone (this is what I did).

The Grampians: Take a Vline train from Southern Cross Station to Hall’s Gap. Hike in or hitch a ride to the campground. Make friends! Most bouldering areas are accessible via a trail that leads out of Stapylton Campground.

Other info: Camping in The Grampians is $14.60 per night and a permit needs to be bought at the info center in Hall’s Gap ahead of time. Arapiles camping is only $2 per night and can be paid via a little drop box at the camp site. Showers can be had at Horsham’s Aquatic Center for $3.60 (well worth it on a cold/rainy day) and up to two hours of  free wifi is available at Horsham’s Public Library, otherwise pay $2.60 to use their computers.

I read High Infatuation as a way to gain some inspiration to keep me rock climbing and also to get some insight into the sport. Steph Davis is one of the top female climbers in the world and has accomplished several firsts for women in the sport so I was excited to get her book and read about her experiences. When I bought the book I had expected it to be more of a memoir, but I have to say I was really pleased with the essay format.

High Infatuation is a collection of journal entries, photos and published articles by Davis as she finished difficult climbs through the years. While I probably would have preferred the essays to be in chronological order, or at least given more background so we understood where she was at the time and where she was coming from, I don’t think it was necessary. Once I got to the end of the book I could see why she ordered it the way she did. If I had to read six essays about Patagonia in a row, I may have ended up getting bored with the book. Each of her quests was amazing to read about, with the last one (the Salathe wall in Yosemite) being my favorite. Her attempt of the Salathe in Yosemite was a difficult climb for her and it made me realize that even the pros still have challenges when it comes to climbing (that’s why they’re still climbing, right?).

The photos in the book really helped me to understand better what she was talking about. They also made me want to get out and climb right away. Unfortunately my climbing partner has a bruised rib so we haven’t been out in a few weeks, but hopefully we’ll get out there before the weather gets too much warmer (it was 103 here yesterday!). This book definitely inspired me as much as I hoped it would … but it also made me realize how much I still have to learn about rock climbing. There are about ten techniques I have written down that I have to go look up now and beg someone to teach me about. But then I just have to remind myself that Steph Davis has been climbing for more than 15 years and I feel a little better about my novice climbing skills.

In the book I also loved the short clips she included. There was one about running that was only about two paragraphs long, but it was a beautiful image of running and why it feels so great. If you’re a climber and want some inspiration (and tons of words you may not have heard before), then I’d recommend checking out this book. Also, if you’ve never heard of Steph Davis, you can check out her Web site or this video of her base jumping and talking about why she loves being in the wild. The video was featured by Timex’s “Return to the Outdoors” series, you can check out some of the other videos here, and also enter to win an outdoor adventure vacation.

Do you remember how cool it was to show off your injuries when you were in elementary school? Someone would get stitches or a broken arm and everyone would gather around as the injured person removed bandages or described how the injury took place. When I was younger I always wanted to break a bone just so I could have a cool cast for everyone to write on. But my parents had kids with strong bones. Out of nine children, only one of us has ever broken a bone and it was my youngest sister Kati just last year.

On the other hand I was a bit of a klutz. I had my fair share of scrapes and cuts. And I did manage to get stitches once from a gash caused by our back door. I got 14 stitches in my foot, but then my dad wouldn’t let me go to school to show it off. He said the doctor said I had to keep it wrapped up because feet tend to get dirty (who knew?) and my dad knew the first thing I was going to do is unwrap it and show it off (duh!). So I didn’t even get to revel in my glory when it was mine to have.

Today though I feel like a little kid all over again. I went rock climbing yesterday and managed to get up the 90-foot wall at Eagle Creek Canyon on my second attempt. However, this wasn’t graceful rock climbing like the some of the climbers who were with us. This was me using any part of my body to hurl myself up the wall. I used my knees, elbows and back as needed. And to show for my triumph I have some pretty banged up armed and legs. I was just proud that I made it up the wall because my first attempt was not pretty (I made it to the first foot hold and fell off).

Oh, and for those of you who are still interested in my reading challenge. I finished book 14 this weekend: Candyfreak by Steve Almond. This book was amazing and made me salivate regularly. I wanted candy more than I have wanted candy in a very long time. Almond writes about the evolution of candy bars and tours a number of candy bar factories. He does not tour any of the big three, however, because they are too secretive and denied him access. The book is basically a nostalgic look at the candy bar industry and shows that, just like in every other American industry, the little guys are being pushed out by the big guys.

One thing I learned is that candy companies have to pay grocery stores a “stocking fee” to put their candies in the register line. The fee is $20,000 or more (I don’t know how often this is paid though). This should explain why we only see Hershey’s and Mars products at the front of the store. No independent candy companies can afford such a large amount of money.

The book itself is amazingly well written. The author is hilarious and the book never gets too dry even when he’s feeding us statistics instead of candy descriptions. I recommend it for a fun read.

I did my first 10K on Thanksgiving and I managed to do the whole thing without walking. My jogging is about as fast as walking though. I had an average 12.5 minute mile, but I was so proud of myself for making it through. I only wish Steph could have been there again to laugh with me when I got passed up by some 80-year-old man who was speed walking. Tony, Sof, my sister Jess and I ran it all. I was the last of the crowd, but only came in 10 minutes after the first of us (Tony). Final time 1:18:32. Only one minute faster than double my 5K time. Heck yes!

I also went rock climbing yesterday with Tony and Jess. Now my legs and back are SO sore. I’m definitely a weekend warrior when it comes to working out. There’s just so much extra time to plan adventures on the weekends. I should really try to workout more often though so I don’t get as sore.

Luckily it’s a long weekend though so we have time to recoup and Tony showed me how to play some video games. Ahem, he even got kicked off for about four hours today while me and my sister had a bit of sibling rivalry going on. I can totally see how these things are addictive.

I hope everyone had a great turkey day! Now it’s onward to Christmas. Make sure to spend, spend, spend.