The Move Mountains Tour: An Adventurous Road Trip in Philanthropy
My mail goes to my parents in CA, and my cards and license are attached to a PO Box in Boulder, CO.
However, Mexico feels as much as a home base as Colorado and California.
When Climbing Borders started in 2014, I climbed with kids and helped with USA fundraising. Now the program is grown, and we’re climbing strong as a climbing team, and building the gym in a 3-year donated space from the government. Move Mountains Tour was to help open a highly mis-publicized and poorly understood Mexico to climbers and clarify the over-hyped risks posed to visitors.
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Long story short, The Move Mountains Tour was a sponsored 3 months of slideshows, collecting $10,000 in gear and funds while I bounced my Sprinter van “Wall-E” from state to state. Myself, sometimes with Rory and Ramon, who flew out to join me for large sections of the road trip, talked to groups at gyms about building at-risk youth climbing refuges as a model for incredible NGO programs in developing countries, like Climbing Borders in Mexico. In the Bay Area, Squamish, even with booths at the OR Show’s Reel Rock Premier and Psicocomp in SLC, we educated the public about volunteering/climbing in Mexico with our youth program. We inspired a lot of people to go to Mexico, and answered a lot of questions – mainly, do you feel it’s dangerous to go to Mexico? Yes, if you walk across the border in a “I Heart Donald Trump” t-shirt. Otherwise, no. Oakland, CA was far more sketchy.
It’s a long story. The Move Mountains Tour traveled from Santa Cruz, CA (my hometown) over 4,000 miles, up north to Squamish, west to Colorado, and south to Monterrey, Mexico. We held a dozen slideshows, presented to hundreds, and twice partnered with bigger fundraising events. UrbanAscent in Idaho donated 50% of proceeds in their competition Urban Legends, where Rory and I gave our first stage-fright-fueled speech on the gym’s counter with a microphone, and Matt Fultz competed and gave the crowd an unforgettable performance.
The second, in climbing bubble Boulder, CO, BEYONDTalks with Asa Firestone, Andrew Lenz of Brazil’s youth climbing project, myself as a director with CB/EF, and one of our program founders, Rory Smith which presented in Boulder, CO at Twisted Pine Brewing and unveiled a part of Three Peak’s then-unreleased film “Hecho en Mexico”. Christopher Weidner wrote a piece about it that published in the Daily Camera.
Success and Impact: We were unbelievably successful, I think mostly in part because we kept ourselves open to unexpected resources (another of saying that we were, basically, desperate). Also, gyms are transitioning to color-coordinated setting to save tape and cleaning out their old holds. At the second slideshow, we walked away with 300 good climbing holds from GWPC. In Seattle the SBP gym gave us hundreds of shoes in ten large bags.
On a Friday evening, when Valerie and I sat in the Redpoint Depot in Smith Rocks, we were given a lead on EntrePrise. “Wow, it’s just an hour away in Bend? Wait a minute.” I called them.”If you can get here in an hour, we’ve got some stuff for you.” I look at my climbing partner, Valerie, this small German girl enjoying a spontaneous vacation away from the tail end of an obscenely boring, unpaid internship in Vancouver. “Can we leave, like, right now?” I ask. We didn’t even put down her light-weight tent, just threw in in the back of Wall-E and booked it to Bend.
That day, on another hunch, we called Bend Rock Gym. It was as easy as, “Totally. We have two big bins for you.”
I was so excited that I broke the window shield with my spine while taking a photo of BRG’s donations.
The Move Mountain Tour had a massive outreach in the global climbing community.
I feel as if everyone’s heard about us somehow by now, because we tried to hit the key nerves of the community, from the OR Show, Psicocomp, Reel Rock, and our incredible Ambassadors. We thanked Renan and Honnold personally for their support (though they were as tired of socializing at OR as we were) and garnered a lot of information about fundraising and events for the next tour.
We reached over a thousand, face-to-face, taking into account the Craggin Classic and other events we crashed, unannounced and sometimes without paying. And the crags of course. We reached easily a hundred thousand through media like Chris’ write-up in the Daily, from gym events, sponsors, web pages, and the social media channels of all of the above in the US, Canada, and Mexico. We promoted ourselves and other youth projects, with a mission of youth outdoor education and stewardship. We increased interest and gave information on climbing tourism in Mexico.
We even connected with similar NGOs like The Boulders and Climb’n’Conquer in Vancouver to swap notes and share psych.
I managed to squeeze in Episode 44 with ChalkTalk’s John Blomquist (it was hard to follow up the Ep.43 w/ Alex Puccio) somewhere on the side of Highway 5 in Washington, south of Seattle, on my way to the Portland Boulder Rally, where I got to sit with half of America’s strongest and interview them for the Live Stream, and mention our program in Mexico.
When Ramon helped me drive it all across the border to Mexico through the town of Laredo, fresh from picking up donations at ClimbTech’s HQ in Austin, the sprinter set off the weight alarm, and so we opened the back to customs. They had a field day: here were hangboards, ropes, harnesses, jackets, massive bin on top of massive bin, all well over the max import donation value. We could have brought more holds and donations, crash pad flooring, more workout equipment. We should have had a trailer. Maybe next time.
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So. Mexico. How did I get there? Here’s a longer explanation.
My first time in Mexico, I went on an initial scout with documenting-obsessed (typically British) climbing area developer named Gaz Leah, author of NY Bouldering Guide, who I had begged, pleaded, and coaxed into going with me for just a week, insisting that he needed to take a break from divorce problems and the NY grind. That week went well, he was stoked, but we weren’t able to meet with the youth project’s director, who was on vacation. I dropped him off in Austin to fly back to the big apple, and I considered going back south.
The suggested guidelines of travel in Mexico by the Mexican Embassy are: Don’t drive in the night. Don’t go alone. Don’t ask for directions.
I knew the second exploratory mission was a mess from the start. I had had a momentary panic attack in the McDonalds in Nuevo Laredo, just after crossing the border, when all the fears I had of Mexico ganged up on me – like how little money I had, that I’d forgotten to change for pesos at the border, and that I, really, had no idea what I was doing. Was this responsible? Was this the right choice?
After I got lost driving in the city well after nightfall, and asked strangers for directions, I thought – well, to hell with it. Just like the 6-month road trip I had come from, and everything else in my life at the time, visiting this project (and coming down a second time alone) was all on a whim. There was no serious plan here, so I may as well break all the rules and enjoy the fire-juggling happening at the intersection while I’m rapid-firing texting expensive messages to the US for directions.
But the full seriousness of the city’s problems, and the importance of this program, all struck home, all at once, on day one. Driving to the neighborhood, Nadia confirmed for me the corruption, the endless social and economic problems, including drug addiction. This was stuff I’d read about my whole life, as an unsocial introvert in a sheltered lifestyle in luxurious California. What would I see? As we walk up a dirt street, breeze block shacks on the sides, Nadia checks in on families like a social worker, asks about school, family members, and tells them I was a professional climber (which I could argue I wasn’t, but this obviously inspired the kids) and at last, my strongest memory. I bump fists with long-time drug addicts who are so far gone they look like zombies. (I still jokingly refer to them as zombies with the kids, though they are very often relatives of theirs.) The most profound element about the experience was seeing them actually in the vice of their addiction – they opening huffed paint thinner, like it was a cigarette, and we were in France. What. The. Fuck.
I had been intimidated by the concept of going south. Everyone – parents, friends, strangers – told me it was dangerous. They had seen headlines, heard horror stories about that one guy who was hacked to pieces. I was terrified at first to go to this Iran of the PanAm; I was white, a girl, broke, in an obvious van with ridiculous stickers, spoke piss-poor Spanish, in a van that didn’t even lock properly, with a just the bark of an excitable and harmless collie to protect it from marauders. But I know people are always afraid of things they don’t know enough about. So any threat of violence to myself was not actually scary. Isolated areas of poverty where harmful drug abuse was socially acceptable because education and development were blunted by a lack of resources – that was scary. The fact that it can happen, that you can grow up being that kid who is stunted emotionally and physically because of violence, neglect, and malnutrition.
The following 6 months after finishing the whimful roadtrip, I scrapped up money in the used gear store in Boulder (Boulder Sports Recycler) and slept in my van in the parking lot, emailing sponsors and planning to go back for four months, and use my van to help the program.
I thought the idea was crazy, and up in the air, until the day we left. I was broke still, paying to fix my van, and just three months before launch date I broke my ankle with a large flake on Rainbow Highway, on which we enjoyed a pleasant 3-mile hobble out in a thunderstorm, fortunately with the ever-ready, amazing, now YOSAR-employed Helen Sinclair.
That four month stint in Mexico turned into almost a year because I picked up teaching English. In case you’re wondering, no, I have never taken a teaching course. However, it paid 50% better than the intensely knowledgeable position at the used gear store in Colorado, and pretty much required no special academic expertise aside from making conversation about whatever (politics, religion, life, NPR articles, etc). As a plus, the moped commute between classes on Mexican highways was far more exciting than sitting behind the counter answering questions about the difference between water-proof and water-resistant TNF Mountain Series jackets.
(If you’re interested in working in the large city next to four major climbing areas, including Potrero Chico and El Salto, and speak English natively, just ask.)
I established a base in Mexico, and decided to do the reverse in 2015. I’d go to the States (which weirdly now felt like “abroad”) for 4 months to do a road trip and fundraising tour.
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THE MOVE MOUNTAINS TOUR: Organizing a 3-Month, 4,000-Mile Tour To Raise $10,000 In Gear
Why Move Mountains Tour? Well, I thought naïvely that I could easily combine the original impulsive dirtbag climbing road trip of North America with a philanthropic slideshow tour. I could use the same sponsors who promoted my climbing to now promote a climbing project, climbing a shit ton between presentations, and teach clinics to stay afloat. I’d start in Santa Cruz, CA where I grew up, go north to Squamish (because it’s Squamish) and hit Idaho and Utah on the way to the finale in Colorado. I was broke, and I was terrified of speaking. But forgetting all that…
Although ‘staying afloat’ and ‘climbing a shit ton’ is the dirtbag way, it was far from smooth sailing. Because I planned the events up the West Coast and out to Colorado so they were spread out in major cities with a few days in between, the trip offered very clear, inflexible deadlines. It was stressful to plan public speaking when I have severa stage fright, but I was also irresponsibly broke, and halfway through was obliged to sell my beloved Canon, which I’d bought half a decade ago. parting with my camera was necessary, though, to take advantage of detours to learn from NGOs similar to Climbing Borders.
One example is The Boulders on Vancouver Island, an UNbelievably successful (and possibly the only) not-for-profit climbing gym in North America. I’d only planned to visit the Climb And Conquer Project in the Vancouver on shore, for which I am an Ambassador, and I didn’t know The Boulders existed until a few days before leaving Canada, via the Climbing Business Journal. My college student Chase Bank account could barely handle the $12 overnight Park-and-Go fee at the Tsawwassen ferry port, so I cut the visit very short – 24 hours – and asked every goddamn question I could think of. My gracious and hospitable host, Kimanda Jarzebiak, founder, answered everything she could in a surprisingly transparent way. I sent all my notes in a document to the other directors, and it was an incredible resource. Well worth the last $20. I felt, at the time, that it even validated the whole Tour to see an NGO so focused, organized, successful. Here was a 3 million dollar gym, a model we could look up to, in a town with a population of 16,000 when our city has 1.4 million. The Boulders was physical proof that the sky was possible in the realm of NGO climbing gyms.
I also spent a lot of time on my computer doing emails for Mad Rock, interviews, and organizing slideshows, instead of actually climbing. Another 150+ of those hours was driving.
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Psicocomp & Reel Rock in Salt Lake City, UT
Before starting the trip, I flew straight from Mexico to Los Angeles, and sat for 3 weeks in the offices of my employer Mad Rock Climbing. For me, office work in a chair and cubicle sounds like living hell. I have nightmares of sitting in a cubicle that go back as far as first grade – though I have no idea why. Mad Rock headquarters, however, was not so bad, I know and understand the crew, and simply I slaved away to pay the over-worked credit card, bagging my first online-published interview on Rock&Ice for Mad Rock athlete Jesse Grupper, and creating a more enabled level of the Team for dedicated athletes much like myself (but far cooler) to pursue their dreams.
The three weeks finished in a fantastic blur of motion, with an incredible successful outdoor brands convention (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market) for both Mad Rock and the sponsorship of the Move Mountains Tour.
Ramon flew in to help with Climbing Borders, so after my allotted time at the MR booth, at 12pm we speed-walked to sponsors for the Tour and gave the shpeal. It went something like, “Our youth project in Mexico is Climbing Borders, we’re doing a 7-state slideshow tour at major climbing gyms and need gear raffle sponsors. Here’s the website, our email. We have a booth at Reel Rock and Psicocomp. Who do we talk to/ What can you give?” Friends introduced us to new connections, and we wrote emails on our hands. If we managed to talk to the marketing or sponsoring director, they always said yes.
Yes, we had a booth at Reel Rock’s premier in SLC and the Psicobloc Masters deep-water-soloing competition.
The Move Mountain Tour sponsors we collected in SLC are mostly brands I already know and work with. Mad Rock Climbing, of course, they had readily donated very essential gear for the program, mostly adjustable rental harnesses and shoes. Rob from Maxim Ropes promised giveaway ropes, the main lure to the Move Mountain Tour’s fundraising gear raffles. The up-beat brand KAVU said, “No problem, we’ll send a big box of stuff”. Julianne from Voltaic Systems, our friend Matt from NiteIze, and even Petzl threw in.