My Time on Planet Earth

Photo by Rachel Melville

In the middle of winter, I began calling the Virgin River Gorge (VRG) the “Twilight Zone.” According to Cambridge Dictionary, the Twilight Zone is an area where two different ways of life or states of existence meet.

This description came to me on a particularly cold and damp January afternoon. I was sitting on the slab perch beneath the Planet Earth Wall, at the base of Dirt Cowboy, preparing to climb. The temperature hovered around 42 degrees, but without a breeze, all of us were shedding layers as we climbed.

The VRG draws fame from its juxtaposition—the common refrain jokes that the cliff houses the best limestone in America, but in the worst location. Anyone who has spent time here understands that the VRG’s paradox only begins superficially with its freeway-adjacent location and mind-boggling weather patterns that vary minute-to-minute. In one way or another, the physical contradictions of the place infect your bloodstream and color your experience.

I found early on that there was an immediate contrast to my individual climbing days and how I viewed my season.

For me, the outcome of my time here felt both completely unimaginable yet altogether inevitable.

Continue reading “My Time on Planet Earth”


The urgency of the afternoon felt palpable: All I wanted was to take a jar and run it through the air, capturing fireflies and embers of the moment. I knew my chest would never rise and fall like this again. That the taut rope pulling my throat and my heart would weaken after I walked away. That the warm touch and comforting pressure would never feel so close.

And yet all I could really feel, see, smell, and hear was how climbing could be a dagger, wedging itself between the knot of wood binding two people and splintering the whole thing apart. A simple flick of the wrist.

I marinated in the aftermath for the next twenty-five hours, as my body navigated a steering wheel, engaged pedals, bought fuel, and made a firm journey towards the Southwest. The distance between where I was and where I was going began to grow. It seemed obvious that the meaning was not shared, that it was understood so differently. And in that difference a numbness crept: I felt I was leaving something unrecoverable behind.

I sensed the lives surrounding and moving around me. For once, I had nothing to say. Suddenly, the conscious mind that gave rise to my mental habits was absent. I was an empty carcass, sapped of energy. A genuine lack of empathy and attention towards others was the only way to protect the rest of what I could give, to save this small devotion for myself.

Myself, and the habit of making meaning, stripped away, I suddenly tasted freedom. Because I knew nothing really happened. I am adding nuance to the wind, the sound, the decisions, to make a narrative of my waking sensations.

The insight was just on the periphery of my understanding, like a fog it descended over me until its blurry contours faded beyond my body and I couldn’t tell where my world began and ended. Instead, the further away I observed, the crisper it became. If I could live in this void between ideas, if only I could not be remade by thoughts, sounds, music, and words, I could have my self-respect.

And a few days later, as I listen to music and hike to the cliff, a rising sensation of purpose fills my bloodstream like a drug. I reveled in the seduction of a task whose success forces the rare alignment of a normally defensive mind with a primed body. I welcomed the familiar pleasure of existing in the discomfort of the process – a home I know well, a home where I could sleep soundly at night.

And this feels right, even though I know it is a myth. Of course, there is no meaning. But doesn’t it feel so good to be the one holding the pen and writing the story? To have your soul be swallowed up by something? So, I keep running into the rabbit hole and off to work to continue to make meaning.

And as I hike down and the purpose rests in its natural rhythm, I slip up and I can’t help but think of you. But it all feels a little bit better because this time, when I tell myself to stop, I do.

The pain of loneliness, of being misunderstood, of failing will be nothing compared to the pain of losing my agency. And so, in a way, everything opened up suddenly before me.

I also know I will pass through this time as I have again and again.

And that all the things that happened to me will remain buried deep in the soil of my body.

A Publication

I am proud to announce that I, with the major support of several colleagues, have published a paper in the journal Ecology that summarizes a large part of my doctoral work. In the paper, we summarize our analysis of a large-scale vegetation dataset collected by the National Park Service. Our results suggest that hemiparasitic plants are associated with greater community evenness across North America, a finding which has implications for our understanding of the mechanisms promoting and sustaining biological diversity.

Introducing: You Can Climb Whatever You Like

#Desertvibes, or whatever. Tom Moulin and I spending the first days of 2021 completely ignoring the splitter cracks at Cat Wall and setting up a bunch of SICK topropes, because we were too lazy to go get the pads out of the vans.

Last week, I found myself in Moab.

Not exactly known for my crack prowess, I wasn’t here for some sick splittah’s, or to #gethigh on some even sicker desert towers. I was here to laugh.

I came off a shorter-than-expected season at Mt. Charleston, Nevada, with a win, and a loss. Nearly five months of being without work, and still with no real plan in sight, the anxiety of “what to do” began to strengthen, and position its way in front of my mind, filling the space left by the end of a projecting cycle.

I craved something lighter, and so, showed up at my best friend’s house.

Maggie lives in a walk in community in Moab, which is lovely and quaint, but really annoying when you forget something in your car. She, for reasons I still don’t really understand, hasn’t had internet for as long as I have ever visited her here. The “modern homesteader,” I call her – I’m hoping to make it big with a non-fiction book I am entitling “Little House in the Hippie Walk-in Community in Moab” (it’s a work in progress).

Maggie and I feed off of each other’s wit and shared sense of humor, which I would like to think is intelligent, yet capitalizes on silly, trivial moments. It was when we both, surrounded by others, could not stop laughing while listening to James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful” (trying, of course, to write a grief-stricken parody to routes we will never climb called “You’re Morpho”), Howie Day’s “Collide” (a love song from a climber to her crash pad) and Coldplay’s “Fix You” (about fixing ropes, naturally), that I realized, our big masterpiece, which we wrote five years ago, needed to be released. What better platform than my seldom-read, and very poorly promoted, personal blog!

So, for something different, to all of my many #instatwitter followers, I am releasing “You Can Climb Whatever You Like” to the world.

For reference – and to truly understand the depth of our magnum opus – I would suggest listening to (and carefully reading the lyrics of) T.I.’s original 2008 smash hit ” Whatever You Like” found here.

Continue reading “Introducing: You Can Climb Whatever You Like”

RED-S: A Recovery

Finding my rhythm. (Photo: Trúc Nguyen Allen)

This is a follow-up to a post I wrote one year ago, which can be found here

Most of us remember our 30th birthday. No longer young, yet neither old, the third decade is said to be a period of clarity, bringing heightened self-awareness and confidence. 

For me, it certainly felt like a transition: finishing up five years of graduate school, I was preparing to embrace change. Yet, I was also preoccupied with another deadline – around 30, we stop building bone.

At 26, I went to see my gynecologist, hoping to change my birth control. Feeling healthy and strong, I expected a routine appointment. Yet, over a series of visits, I discovered that, despite no noticeable loss in energy, strength, or weight, my bone density had been silently decreasing for years. It was severe enough that I had osteopenia, a condition in which the body does not make new bone as quickly as it reabsorbs old bone. Were it to continue, I would certainly develop osteoporosis, an irreversible disease in which bones are brittle and fracture easily.

I was diagnosed with relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S), a condition where the body does not take in enough energy to meet the demands placed on it. For women, this results in hormonal imbalances that reduce estrogen, a hormone critical for bone health.

The conversations I had with doctors and specialists remain muffled in my memory. But, the numbers are glass, clear and sharp: In parts of my body, I had 81% of normal bone density; I had around four years (until I turned 30) left to build the bone back. 

I read a number of personal accounts of men and women diagnosed with RED-S, yet, never found a story of recovered bone density loss. It was easy to feel alone in my journey without a timeline, without benchmarks, and without a roadmap. I had to trust that my body would set itself right, if, mentally, I was on its side.

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The Space Between

Returning to Smith. (Photo: Tara Kerzhner)

The room was dimly lit, with teal linoleum chairs, a grumbling AC, and late Nevadan light penetrating even the darkest of curtains. It was large, meant for meetings or  presentations for an audience. The woman I had just met, who led me into the room, told me that I was welcome to use the kitchenette, and I wondered where she came from, considering how comical it was that this woman was a critical part of a day I had been planning for years.

I chose a chair and placed it against the most unadorned part of the beige wall. I filled the cup I had brought with water from the kitchenette. I took out a few snacks from my small backpack and placed them neatly near me, just in case I got hungry.  

Three hours later, I closed my laptop and leaned back uncomfortably against my chair. The whine of the AC suddenly grew louder as it started another cycle. For the first time, I heard the footsteps of the guests milling about on the other side of the wall. Doors closing, muffled conversations fading away.

It felt strange being a newly minted Dr. Hodzic alone in this hotel conference room in Nevada. Having attended many defenses during my time in Seattle, I knew the drill: you hope to get Douglass hall, because it is the nicest room, with large windows revealing the vibrant greenery of the botanic gardens. But, you will settle if you have to go to Bloedel. Everyone in your lab brings snacks. You socialize during the 5 minutes you have to breathe after your defense and before your private deliberation with your committee. Then, you throw a party at a house, at a brewery, wherever; all that mattered was that you let go of everything. I craved the same celebration for myself.

In that moment, the air was mute, numb, unsaturated, unpalpable, disappointing.

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At the end of May, I successfully completed my PhD. Commonly, the research chapters of a dissertation are written and submitted as manuscripts to academic journals. However, other parts of the text (synthesis, introduction, etc.) mostly go unread except by the committee.

In an effort to give a proper and more public expression of gratitude to those whose help and support I was fortunate enough to receive, I share my acknowledgements page below.

The final stage of a PhD—communicating the answers to my research questions—was, not, in my opinion, the hard part. The hard part was the beginning: trying to find interesting and different questions to make my doctoral work matter. I struggled with the niche nature of a PhD, fearful of the idea that it would ultimately only serve to make me an expert in a very narrow subject field. I have come to realize that the opposite is true. Over the past four and a half years, I have been tasked with learning what the right questions to ask are and discovering how to best seek out their answers. This is a skill which I will never fully master—one that takes as much creativity as it does knowledge, and which will only serve to enrich and enhance my life.

Continue reading ” Acknowledgements”


This was originally written for Gnarly Nutrition

No matter what I did, the heel hook would not stick.

the heel hook on “Gription” v9 at Moe’s Valley; which gave me some trouble

I tried to use different pairs of shoes. I showed up when it was crisp.  I recorded myself to see if there was a difference in my hip position between when I stuck the move and when I did not. I meticulously focused on comparing each potential body position – was it better if my left foot smeared as I pulled with the right heel, or if I used it as a back-flag?

Yet, whether or not my heel-hook would stay on – allowing me to pull with it and reach the final hold of the problem – seemed more related to luck and cosmic forces rather than skill or technique. This bothered me. For days, I walked away frustrated, but also intrigued. What was so mystical about this heel hook that made it so difficult? The grade of the boulder was hard for me, but not novel. Every other move was difficult but consistently repeatable.

I considered changing my beta, using the more typical left heel hook that would be harder to reach for my short frame, yet, once established, easier to move off of. There was a chance that if I committed to the left outro, the time invested in the new method would lead to a quicker tick than if I kept trudging forward with my beta.

But I was stubborn.

Continue reading “Mastery”

Living in Fear

“It was as if, because of the very strangeness of my heritage and the worlds I straddled, I was from everywhere and nowhere at once, a combination of ill-fitting parts, like a platypus or some imaginary beast, confined to a fragile habitat, unsure of where I belonged. And I sensed, without fully understanding why or how, that unless I could stitch my life together and situate myself along some firm axis, I might end up in some basic way living my life alone.”

Barack Obama, A Promised Land

My tongue will tell the anger of my heart, or else my heart concealing it will break

William Shakespeare

For my parents , with immense gratitude

For a few weeks afterwards, I often lied awake and wondered what finally lead me to my tipping point.

Just before I was to leave Seattle, on a gray December afternoon, I walked into my advisor’s office.

With five words I released what demons had been haunting me for the last year, as I moved apathetically through a Ph.D. program.

“I can’t do this anymore.”

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Projecting 101

To the reader: Gnarly Nutrition asked me to write an article about tactics for projecting that could be applied to all sports What follows is my full-length article that is more geared to climbing, a condensed version can be found on Gnarly’s blog.

“Our great mistake is to try to exact from each person virtues which he does not possess, and to neglect the cultivation of those which he has.

Marguerite Yourcenar, Memoirs of Hadrian
Myself setting up on the crux move of “Deep Blue” (13b, 1300ft), a brilliant route on Washington’s Mt. Baring. In September, I was supported by Matt Carroll on belay, and many others with logistics, as I tried and succeeded with a no-fall ascent. Photo by Nathan Hadley.

I once existed most beautifully between the moment when I pulled onto a particular rock climb and the moment in which, for the only time, I did not fall off.

It was my first real climbing project and I was enraptured by what it was giving me. The process altered  the view of my own possibilities, lengthened  the horizon upon which I now gaze. 

Still, when the dust of my eventual success settled,  my priorities were left in a harsh light for me to examine.  Due to my neglect, a good relationship that brought me joy stagnated and ultimately failed. While I nurtured an incredibly enriching and life-long friendship with my climbing partner, I strayed away from others and lost valuable work and life experiences.

It was simple, in the end, to realize that the positive outcome was so rewarding because it was never guaranteed. It’s a rule true in any field — the larger the investment and risk, the greater the payoff. For me, this payoff came in the form of strong and profound feelings of flow, a direct result from how much the route demanded of me. Throughout the process, I discovered great enthusiasm and devotion. In essence, I liked the way it made me climb, and, despite what I later viewed as sacrifices, liked the way it made me live. 

Equally, when you strip away the nuances of a sport — of running your fastest, lifting your heaviest, or climbing your hardest — you will be left with what makes a project incredibly difficult, and incredibly special.

When you try, there is always an inherent risk that your aspirations may not align with your abilities or your opportunities. You will, consequently, expose yourself to failure and vulnerability. When it doesn’t work out, the ensuing sting can weave its way straight to your core, a part of which is normally guarded during the pursuit of goals in which success is highly likely. 

Though I have never regretted a project, I have become more intelligent about respecting their complexity.  Each and every time, I learn that the mental approach I take  before I pull onto the wall is as important as the climbing itself.

The advice presented here is geared towards the rarer, large projects which demand a significant investment of time and sacrifice, but are useful for a project of any type.

So, you want to project…

Continue reading “Projecting 101”