The Cleanest Line

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    Sicily Climbing Vacation, Part 2: Pasta Con Le Sarde

    by Brittany Griffith

    FinishedproductFull disclosure: the following sardines and pasta recipe is not my own. And I know what you are thinking: “Sardines? Gross!” But have you read the fine print about sardines? Printed on the box of the Wild Planet ones I bought: “Ounce for ounce, sardines provide three times more calcium and phosphorous than milk, more iron than cooked spinach, as much protein as steak, and as much potassium as bananas. These sardines are considered a Best Choice for Sustainability by a consensus of environmental organizations.” My point? A) Sardines are where it’s at, and B) I recently came to appreciate the hidden virtues of sardines in Sicily (which actually led me to Point A… so maybe these are a little out of order, but, whatever… just stay with me).

    Editor's note: Today's post is part two of Patagonia ambassador Brittany Griffith and friends' Sicily Climbing Vacation. All photos by JT.

    Chris, Whitney, JT, Burr and myself had been in the car for over an hour. We were headed to the 2000-year-old ruins of Agrigento, and were hungry but couldn’t find a place to eat. JT, desperate for food, pulled the car over in front of a restaurant with a façade that looked like a Long John Silver's with fake anchors, fishnets, and other seafaring paraphernalia.

    Hesitatingly, we followed JT inside. The maître d’ put out his cigarette, warmly shook my hand and spoke to me in French. I told him, in French, that I was American. He smiled wide and then greeted us in English. He was large, bald, and missing a front tooth.

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    Sicily Climbing Vacation

    by Brittany Griffith


    “Why would you come to Sicily to climb when you live in Utah?” the svelte Swiss woman asked in a barely detectible, yet posh accent. I looked at her blankly for a few seconds, wondering if she was attempting “second-language humor” or if she was indeed serious.

    “Uh, we don’t have overhanging tufas along the Mediterranean,” I said, still somewhat unsure if she was putting me on or not.

    “Yes, but there are no creks,” she said, miming a handjam.

    I’ll trade “creks” for good olives, authentic gelato and cheap prosciutto any day of the week I told her.

    “But Sicily is not well known to Americans, no?” She was unflagging (but correct) in debating our choice of European vacation, but still I hesitated…was this one of those Euro rhetorical questions: “no, yes” or “yes, no”?

    “Ah yes, but who doesn’t prefer an adventure?” I said, answering her question with my own. She looked at me like I was a day-old croissant. I giggled.

    And for the next two weeks we – JT, Chris Kalous (JT’s college “Outdoor Adventure Floor” dorm-mate from freshman year) Whitney Boland and myself – got ourselves into plenty of adventure… both climbing and as tourists.

    [Above: Because the temperature was fairly mild, we kinda forgot about the shorter daylight hours of winter. We got back to the base in the dark and had to hike out by iPhone light and the flash of the lighthouse beacon. Photo: JT]

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    Exploding Freezer Beer Pasta

    by Brittany Griffith

    [Another inspired creation is ready for a final toasting in the oven. All photos: Brittany Griffith]

    We leave for Sicily tomorrow and I have to admit that despite new-route potential on 300-meter-tall Mediterranean seaside cliffs, I’m almost as excited to eat and drink wine. I read in the Lonely Planet guide that, “Most Sicilian dishes fall into the category of cucina povera (cooking of the poor), featuring cheap and plentiful ingredients.” Sounds like a perfect dirtbag diet to me!

    I’ll no doubt come home with some great new ideas for dirtbag cooking, but until then, here’s another favorite of mine that is simple, tasty, and most importantly, uses only a couple of dishes.

    Exploding-Freezer Beer Pasta Recipe

    It’s a common occurrence at our house in Salt Lake City; a guest goes to the liquor store to get “real beer” (non 3.2 grocery-store beer), discovers that it’s impossible to purchase chilled “real beer” (yet another convoluted Utah liquor law), buys it anyway, brings it back home, becomes too impatient to wait until it chills in the refrigerator, puts it in the freezer, pilfers our liquor cabinet in the meantime, knocks back a few fingers of our best tequila, forgets about the beer in the freezer, and I find said beer in freezer the next morning when I go looking for the coffee.

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    Seeing Red

    by Brittany Griffith

    [Connecting the dots on a Motherlode classic. Photo: Keith Ladzinski]

    I hung limp on the end of the rope with my forehead resting on the taut line. I felt my throat tighten. I hadn’t been this frustrated in a very long time.
    I realized a long time ago that grades were relative, but it seemed everyone here, 30-40 people, including a seven year old homeschooled girl, could climb the severely steep 5.12s that I was just about ready to shamefully accrue yet another DNS (did not summit) on.

    I pulled back on, twisted up to a small, sharp pocket, stuffed in two fingers, and then lurched up to a heavily chalked flat edge, which was not nearly as large as my belayer (who was currently engrossed in an all-important dialog with another belayer about learning to play the guitar) previously made it look. I held it (and my breath) with a death grip. Gravity eventually won and I fell until the loop of slack hit the GriGri and my belayer was jarred out of her stimulating conversation.

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    I Hate Surfing and Surfers are Lame

    by Brittany Griffith

    JT and I are headed to Baja tomorrow to celebrate his 40th birthday. I totally suck at surfing and I’ve had a few close calls so I’m always anxious when we go on a “surf trip.” It seems we never go someplace mellow – Peru, El Salvador, Nexpa. Isn’t that like taking a 5.4 climber up to the base of El Cap, giving her a rack of cams and saying, “off you go, see you on Heart Ledges”?

    Below is a memory I have from a past trip to Nexpa.

    I hate surfing and surfers are lame. I had just gotten mauled. Again. This time three feet from the shore. The water cruelly sucked me back out and then slammed me into the rocky, thinly foam-covered beach. Shielding my face from the fins of the board with one hand and frantically trying to stand back up with the other, disabled me from repositioning my bikini top. I gained the safety of the sand and panted. Breathing was difficult. A mane of hair webbed across my face and salt water poured from my nose. I pushed away the mess of hair and could see three cool-guy surfers on the porch of their bungalow, staring and snickering. Assholes, I thought. Then I remembered. I yanked my top back into place and stomped off. I tripped over my leash, still attached, and noticed that the right triangle of my bikini was inside out.

    “Oh yeah, well, I climb 5.13!” I wanted to shout. I fought back tears instead.

    [JT tries to console me, “It’s okay baby, I still think you’re cool. No, no, I don’t think you should take the rental car back to Zihuatanejo.” Photo: Ben Moon]

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    Climbing, Catering, Community & Quinoa

    by Brittany Griffith

    When JT and I were in the desert of Algeria, our Touareg guides, after preparing an elaborate four-course meal for the two of us, would prepare their own and then eat it from a single big bowl. They’d sit on the ground, in a tight little circle, each with their own spoon, sometimes no spoon but a bit of bread instead, bent over the bowl, chatting, laughing and eating. Each time I watched them do this, I felt a bit left out and pined to be sitting there in the dirt with them. There was something about their closeness, both physical and intimate, and the cooperative sharing of food that was extraordinary.


    [A warm bowl of soup shared high in the Algerian Hoggar region. Photo: JT]

    I thought about all the meals I’ve shared throughout the years with my climbing friends and although we don’t eat from the same bowl (well, not usually) there is profound harmony between us, as well.

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    Zen and the Art of Rest-Day Laundry

    by Brittany Griffith

    OMG I was so stressed out. I had a million errands to do before meeting Nancy at the climbing gym: post office… liquor store… vacuum bag store (yes, I have this special vacuum that I can only find bags for at one store in SLC)… Whole Foods… bank… the electronics recycling center… UPS… hardware store… a special “local” olive oil store. How did this happen? How did my life become so complicated? I was driving around town in the Gypsy Van and as I anxiously waited for a never-ending red light, I noticed a laundromat on the right. I remembered that I had been wanting to wash the dog-hair-infested throw rug that was in the van. Because it just didn’t seem like I had enough things to do, I impulsively pulled into the parking lot and grabbed the filthy rug.

    As I rummaged around the van trying to find enough coins (this was harder than it used to be) or even cash, I mentally plotted out what I would do with the time it took for the wash cycle to complete. Run over to the post office? Buy a bottle of tequila? Deposit an insurance refund check for $57 that I’d had in my wallet for three months. Get my favorite organic yogurt? Drop off the box of old modems and VCR? The lines on my forehead deepened as I pondered the most efficient use of time.

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    The 48-Hour Dress

    by Brittany Griffith

    As the sun heated up our little apartment, I drifted out of my dream and awoke to a bizarre scene: people sprawled all over the floor, futon and tiny twin beds…I could hear chatter in half a dozen languages, clinking plates and glasses… the faint smell of tobacco, espresso and butter… a marching band playingoutside the open window. We had all really tied one on last night (and a chunk of the next morning) for Zoe and Max’s wedding in Chamonix, France. My muddied mind failed to function. I tried to assess the situation. What time was it? What felt worse: my jetlag or my hangover? Why had I slept in my dress? Who… the… hell… was typing?

    I rolled past JT, got out of bed, stepped over the floor-bivied Janet, turned the corner, and there was Kelly, on the futon, typing away. Kelly! Was he already writing a TCL post about the wedding? That sneaky bastard!

    “Whatcha writin’, Kelly?” I asked suspiciously. He and I both frequently write posts for The Cleanest Line and I was sure he was trying to beat me to the punch and be the first to write about the wedding. He looked like a little troll, propped up on a cushion, salt-and-pepper mullet wildly disheveled and wearing an unbuttoned rumpled dress shirt and Cap 2 Boxer Briefs (shudder). He was squinting intently at his laptop screen while furiously pecking at the keys. He looked up at me without moving his head, kinda like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

    “Ah… no, no… I’m not really doing anything,” he muttered unconvincingly as he slowly continued to type.

    Damn it! He really was already writing a TCL post about the wedding! Not only was he a better writer than me, he could get up with a Level-10 wedding hangover three hours earlier than me and write! Damn alpinists – why can’t they sleep in like normal people?


    [Kelly, telepathically dictating to his laptop back down in town, and I on the train up to the reception. Photo: Jen Olson]

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    Vacation in Croatia

    by Brittany Griffith

    20110501Slovenia-Croatia543 I had only just returned from Algeria, dumped the contents of my well-used Freewheeler Max into the washing machine and put everything right back in there before heading to Croatia. I only had 10 days for the trip, but it was so perfectly set up I couldn’t resist – Kate and Mikey would already be over there with ropes, rack and rental car, AND the Croatian International Climber’s Festival would be happening, WITH a big-wall speed-climbing competition. How could I NOT go?

    [Team America! Wearing our team uniform: pink Houdinis and grey Rock Guides. Photo: Mikey Schaefer]

    And I’ll be completely honest. Like some women have shoe fetishes, I have a passport-stamp fetish. I love to travel. I love everything about it – even the sucky stuff like lost baggage, not being able to read the street signs, corrupt police demanding bribes, goat butter and Charles de Gaulle Airport. And I feel that one of the best things about travel is experiencing it with good friends. Remember when you were little and you could play with certain friends for hours and hours on end and not get bored or annoyed of it? Well, hanging with Kate and Mikey is like that. They eat the same go-to food as me  (yogurt, salami and beer), can sleep 10 hours a night, don’t need to shower or wash their clothes and they laugh at all my jokes.

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    Unusual Suspects

    by Brittany Griffith

    My springtime objective (okay, to be perfectly honest, it has been a dream of mine for a long time) of free climbing Zion’s Moonlight Buttress was quickly unraveling. My partner, Nellie, had spent the previous night projectile vomiting in a rental van. Puke everywhere—in her shoes, on her pack and on the rope.


    [Bummed on the bus. After failing on their first attempt, Nellie and Brittany contemplate their next shot. Photo: Cedar Wright]

    As Nellie shivered and sweated in her sleeping bag, cursing the runny eggs she had eaten the previous morning, her boyfriend, Cedar, suggested I try James as an alternative partner.

    “James?” I grumbled. All these years I had envisioned doing the route with a girlfriend, or at the very least with my husband as he hauled ice water, nori rolls and summit beers behind me. I didn’t even really know James. All I really knew about him was that everyone called him “Big Fall James” because of his miraculous survival from a 200-foot free-soloing fall in Joshua Tree.

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