You are in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain in July for the 4th Annual Rope Meeting. Aerialists who specialize in rope are there from all over the world to train and share skills and rope battle for love at La Central Del Circ. At the conference’s after-party, sipping mojitos at the edge of the dance floor, a couple of your new friends start talking about an aerial rope expedition to the mountains an elite few are going on in the morning. The famous and also yearly Extreme Rope Meeting.
You are Famous. You like mountains. You were raised in the wild forests of Canada. You have camping skills and this smells like adventure!
You roll over to your Argentinian rope teacher and one of the ring leaders of the expedition and ask, “Hey Emi, the mountain trip – what is the place like? Do you think I could go?”
“It’s a little up, then flat like this and then a little bit more up. You can do it, why not?” He gestures with his hands to show mild changes in the terrain and then shrugs casually. No big deal.
So, you show up at the rendezvous cafe the next morning with a small backpack of the best clothes you can manage considering that you originally packed for a trip that was going to be all beach and circus.
You have no tent, no sleeping bag, no cool hiking gear. You ask Emi, “So, what are we going to eat?”
“If we don’t have tents and we don’t have sleeping bags, we sure don’t have cooking equipment! It’s a rope life extreme reality show!” He jokes. Now you shrug. No point in burdening a perfectly spontaneous adventure by worrying about minor details. Instead, go through your list of your adventure assets: Your wheelchair, your sweet upper body muscles, and 15-20 experienced adventure babes.
Rodellar is in the Sierra de Guara National Park in Aragon, Spain. Generally people travel to the gorge for the awesome climbing spots. You have a different goal. You and your pack of babes are going to hike down the side of the gorge into the valley, cross a river and then climb back up the other side to rig an aerial rope from the top of an arch of rock known as ‘el delfin’. Once there, you will do aerial rope tricks for the sake of glory and photo ops.
That tiny cut out way the hell up that abstractly resembles a dolphin is El Delfin, your destination. (photo cred: Excursiones por Hesca)
A photo of Madelene Eriksson as an example of glory. (photo cred: Javier Gama)
Before you get to that, make camp. Your group gets a spot at the well-appointed Camping Mescun. You borrow a single person tent, a sleeping bag and an inflatable pad from the pool of gear the more equipped among you brought. Supervise as camp transforms from bare ground to a fine collection of tents, vehicles, and a hammock slung between two young trees as per your special request. A dining area is made out of a tarp covering the air space between two of your crew’s sleek camper-vans and an unstable folding table. The groceries you all bought on the way to Rodellar are piled up as evidence of your collective abundance and wilderness preparedness skills.
When all the work is done, one of your adventure babes quietly hands you a key. It’s for the exclusive use of the accessible washroom and shower on the campsite. You are nature’s Beyonce.
You normally do not discuss how your body functions with your public. You prefer to discuss your sex appeal and humanitarian nature as this is a more interesting and accurate reflection of your identity. Identity is power. The reductive co-opting of disabled bodies In the media and society is relentlessly disempowering. As an international sex icon it is your mission to be relentlessly empowering. And in the feminist spirit of equal treatment, if you are going to be objectified, you should be objectified like everyone else. The same as your peers. As a woman. Sexually.
However, this story is about how you got your wonderland of a body through the Spanish mountains, so a quick note on the topic is appropriate and considerate to your readers. You were born partially paralyzed below the waist. Sensation and useable muscle in your legs and feet is mildly present and wildly inconsistent. Your body is a twisty asymmetrical abstract piece of art. As a result, you have always used a wheelchair to get around on land. One time someone attempted to map your body for public edification and this was the result: www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCqUu_bKZBs
The important factor here is that, when you travel and adventure, your chair is always with you. The twist in this story is that you are not always with your chair.
Your chair in the mountains, safe in the company of babes. You are not with it. (photo cred: the author)
The ideal adventure entourage for a sex icon includes several babes. One to carry your chair, two or three to offer you their steady arms, to spot you up and down the climbing spots, make up hiking songs in honor of your regal glory in Spanish and English, and to flirt with you while you rest. Rolling over the grass and large chunks of rocks is really a matter of brute force, either yours or someone pushing from behind. When one person pushing from behind gets boring or you encounter short spots in the path that are too rocky to traverse or actual gullies appear before you, babes will fight over who will get to carry you in your chair like a royal litter. This pleases you.
The day starts on a wide, slightly inclined path. Someone takes your backpack so you are unencumbered and others walk ahead, clearing larger rocks off the path, frequently hiking back to bring you a drink of water.
Eventually, this strenuous but reasonable roll ends at the edge of the escarpment and it is time to scramble down into the valley.
“What’s the best way for you?” Someone asks.
“Steeper terrain is better for me.” You like to sprawl, distributing your weight more evenly between your arms and legs, allowing you to rely on the beastly pulling muscles in your arms more than your weaker leg muscles.
Scouts are sent to determine the steepest route and off you go. Someone takes your Tilite brand, titanium-crafted wheelchair, resting the cushion of the seat on their head with the backrest behind their head and hikes off. You will see your chair again once you arrive at your destination. It will be tucked safely into a thick bramble at the side of the trail between the walking part and the drop-off that is sheer and immediate.
At times the land flattens out and you must travel in a more uprightly, physics-rebelling manner. You hold on to someone’s forearm, one in front, one behind to fit on the narrow trail. You do your best imitation of walking. It is actually you pulling yourself forward by your arms and swinging your legs out and landing them on the ground ahead of you before falling over. You only have to instruct your babes to go faster so you have some momentum to work with once. Those sturdy men understand your flow. Periodically someone from the group ahead tracks back and asks for a turn helping the Queen descend the mountain. One of your more experienced babes describes the proper technique in Spanish and a new forearm is yours to grasp as needed.
When this gets tiring, your babes make a basket by crossing their arms and holding on to each other’s hands and carry you for a while. Adventuring with experienced rock climbers who are also circus acrobats is a special treat.
Take a water break. Your most dedicated pair of babes sit with you in the middle of the wilderness, where you are, totally without your chair. Which feels like getting away with something. The thing you’re getting away with is being exactly who you are: Intrepid. This is the kind of place that calls to you. You always want to get deep inside the wild world and feel the terrain between your fingers. When it comes to adventuring in general, you are guided by a precise belief: If you want to be on a mountain, you belong on a mountain. The trust you get to put in your mountain babes and in yourself in order to make it happen is part of the thrill of it. You giggle a touch hysterically and crush a patch of wild thyme under your hands to release the scent. You have stolen this glory from all those ‘no wheelchairs can go here or do this’ messages in the world around you. You are here by the grace of the gods who give no fucks. Your babes giggle with you and teach you the Spanish word for the female equivalent of ‘macho’. Hembra. You roll your tongue around your mouth when you repeat it. It tastes salty and there’s grit in there.
Crossing the river over stepping stones is the best part. You insist on smeagling over them yourself. Smeagling is a verb you invent that describes a low crawl from one river stone to another while avoiding getting your socks wet in the river as you cross it. Ideally your butt is tilted upward toward the sky for maximum rock reaching leverage. it can also involve perching frog-like on a single stone while resting, but never involves simply standing up and stepping from one to another. A group of fellow hikers collect on the opposite bank and wait for you to make your majestic way across. The people behind you trail in a patient and single file as though you have been charged with the responsibility of leading them through the wilderness.
Sadly, some of the stones are simply too far apart to reach them on hands and knees. Only then do you consent to be carried. Do not worry, the most handsome and valiant of your babes is selected to cradle you in his arms as he takes sure and steady strides from stone to stone. No pictures are taken of this as it is a private and special time for the both of you.
Once across the river, the terrain is pretty much straight up over loose and sharp stones. Mercifully steep, but with a treacherous edge. Put on the pair of rubber gardening gloves you borrowed to protect your hands and tape your feet with cotton medical tape in the areas that make the most contact with the ground (which is the sides more than the bottoms). Because your feet flop uncontrollably, much like a muppet, shoes are just heavy inconveniences so wear two layers of socks instead.
Adventure socks and gardening gloves are this year’s top mountain fashion must haves. (photo cred: Sergio Lopez)
The sun is intense. Sweat drips into your eyes in rivers. Your fitted crop top and tropical leggings can’t afford extra fabric and your hands are occupied as you are essentially walking on them, so when you need it call ‘towel’ and Chapa will come to you and wipe your face with the front of his t-shirt.
You are almost at the peak. Soaked and delirious from imminent triumph. Someone mentions that the loose stones on this steep incline are peligroso. Dangerous.
“Peligroso is my middle name!’ you exclaim in a sun stupor.
“Erin Peligroso Clark. Epc.” Someone says, trying to sound your new initials into a word.
“Erin. Peligroso. Internacional. Clark.” You say. “EPIC” Your dedicated babes start chanting your new name while a group of beauties, visible now at the top, dance and cheer in your honor.
And then you are there. In the midst of your tribe of extreme aerialists. You drag yourself into the flattest piece of shade you can find, tucked into the back wall of the enclave and quietly watch your fellow adventurists defy gravity on the aerial rope rigged from the top of the rock cutout known as el delfin while you come down off your exertion high.
Breathless and blissed out on pheromones, you ask how high you are. Someone hands you a GPS with a set of numbers digitally lit up on the small screen. Altura. Altitude. 768m.
The trail down to the river which is the peak of turquoise magic that you see on the left. (photo cred: Sergio Lopez)
This seems like a great time to mention that, despite your aerial circus training, you are scared of heights. Clinging to the sides of the gorge as you climb is okay. You can feel the solid stone in your hand, your body close enough to earth to know viscerally where you are oriented in space. But the rope? The aerial death rope of death dangling over the abyss? That is just a vertigo devil waiting to possess you. Looking at it sends a surge of adrenaline through you so sharp it chokes you with your own breath and makes you cry. But you didn’t make it all the way to el delfin to choke, did you? No. So, un-phased by your own tears and surrounded by your babes, you take your turn at the rope.
It turns out like this:
You are technically off the ground, hanging onto the rope of your own free will. You just are not very high. (photo cred: Sergio Lopez)
If you want to do adventurous things, especially ones that frighten you, find people who want to do adventurous things too and surround yourself with them. Like, literally. Have them stand around you, enclosing you in a shoulder-to-shoulder circle of protection, vowing to catch you and hold you if you need them to, chanting to you in their Spanish accents that you can do it, smoldering their dark-eyed love up at you as you cling terrified to the rope. You may not have an amazing, death-defying, extreme-aerialism photo to make your facebook profile, but you will always have Rodellar. You are still the Queen.
Erin Clark is Queen of Aerial Rope, an International Sex Icon and a world traveller. Known as the most intimidating half of Flaming Mermaid Broken Star, NYC’s most famous aerial comedy duo, Erin left to pursue a European lifestyle. She is now a solo performer, writer and the genius behind #HowToBeASexIcon. She is an aspiring documentary-magical-realism-reality-tv-travel-show host and according to Deepak Chopra she is also the sun.