Thursday, January 3, 2019

Growing Upward: Gabrielle Tourtellotte

Finding her way around rocks and through National Parks, Gabby is a college student with a zeal for life. Her story is one of a growing love for the journey, along which she accumulates knowledge of what nature has to offer. Anticipating future adventures, she's looking ahead to carrying out her many plans and is determined to achieve her high-reaching goals.

Meet Gabrielle Tourtellotte

Go-to outdoor activity:
Climbing is always my favorite go-to outdoor activity but the closest, decent crag to the Washington, D.C. area is the New River Gorge in West Virginia, a solid five hour drive. So my second go-to outdoor activity is hiking. There’s so many good trails covering a range of difficulty, in Virginia especially, and they are so beautiful.

Rainy day back-up plan:
Go check out a museum! There are so many good ones in D.C.! I recently went to the Postal Museum and got to geek out over some vintage stamps! The National Archives and the Museum of Natural History are two of my faves as well. I’ve also played hide and seek in the National Gallery of Art before with friends. Part of the fun in that is not getting caught and/or kicked out by security guards!

Favorite snack:
Peanut butter. Anything and everything peanut butter.

Favorite piece of gear:
ATC belay device! I always get so much bull for lead belaying at the gym AND the crag with one. I never learned how to use a gri-gri. ATC for life!

Worst adventure advice you’ve heard:
I’ve actually never had any bad travel advice which has been pretty great so far. Knock on wood!

Something you won’t do or are afraid of:
Crack climbing. In addition to being a climber I’m also a writer and a musician (I play the viola) and need my hands intact. I absolutely can’t risk injuring them which I’ve done before while crack climbing.

What you never travel without:
READING MATERIAL. I read so much, oh my gosh. I always have at least two fairly lengthy books on me, sometimes three depending on the adventure. And earbuds so I can listen to music. I can’t live without Spotify.

Always on your road trip playlist:
The Sonny Alven remix of Boardwalks by Little May
Welcome Home Son by Radical Face

The Interview

What outdoor activities are you into?I’m into climbing of course, but I’m also into hiking, and camping. But here’s the thing, I didn’t always like hiking, in fact I kind of hated it. I didn’t go camping for the first time until I was 19. And it wasn’t until I started exploring the National Parks that the outdoors really started to grow on me.

What inspires you?There is so much to see, and I practically (and sometimes literally) salivate just thinking about it. There’s no shortage of incredible things to experience and the fact that there’s always another adventure to be had is what inspires me to keep chasing the next thing.

When that inspiration hits you, how do you respond?I write. A LOT. But I also tend to go take a hike or head into the climbing gym because that’s what keeps my brain loosened up so that I can write. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

Tell us about a time when the realization dawned on you that you could do something adventurous:
A year ago I went out to Colorado for my first Open Sport and Speed Climbing Nationals. I stayed with a friend in Boulder and the day before qualifiers we went to Rocky Mountain National Park, which I’d heard of but never been to. At the time I’d only been to one National Park, Shenandoah, but I didn’t really know of many others or have a solid grip on what a National Park was. Going to Rocky Mountain really blew my mind. We did a chill, five mile hike that day; the Emerald Lake trail. But the whole park was, pardon the cliche here, unlike anything I’d ever seen. I was absolutely blown away that something like this actually existed in real life after only ever having seen pictures in NatGeo magazines, or on the internet. I bombed horrendously in qualies the next day, so instead of going to semis the day after, we went to “this park that my friend said we should go to, it’s got lots of sand.” (my friend’s words not mine, I promise). This park with lots of sand was the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

The whole day was an adventure. We got up about two hours later than we’d anticipated, made a pit stop at a Walmart in the middle of nowhere, and we finally made it there. Upon setting foot on the sand, we set our sights on making it to the top of the Star Dune before the park closed that day. It was a total blast, and the whole park was beautiful. It was windy though, and as we got closer to the top, we realized exactly how under dressed we were. There were hikers up there with buffs covering their eyes, long pants, and jackets, and all we had on were t-shirts, not quite full length pants, and light jackets! We got so much sand in our eyes and lungs. But we made it, the view from up top was absolutely incredible, and we definitely made fun of rolling as much of the way down as we could.

I’m a patch and pin collector though, and later on, after we were done getting sand in our clothes, I found a copy of the National Geographic guide to the U.S. National Parks in the visitor center gift shop. It was while paging through it, that I realized there were so many other places like this out there. So I made a goal for myself right there, that one day I’d visit all 59 National Parks in the U.S. I’m 13 in so far and am in love. I’ve developed a serious passion for public lands protection and conservation. I’m always reading about our parks and monuments (the history behind them is really incredible) and it has made me look into joining organizations like AmeriCorps, or the Student Conservation Association after I graduate. I’d love to join the Park Service one day.

This experience was my “dawning”, it was when I realized that, “wow the outdoors are pretty amazing and man do I want to see more of it”. Prior to then I wasn’t even really much of an outdoors person, save for climbing. But even then, I hated the hiking involved in getting to a crag. I only wanted to climb. The National Parks have opened up a whole new lens to enjoy the outdoors through. I no longer hate hiking. If anything, it’s now one of my favorite things, and I can’t wait to do even more of it.

What is one of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Competing and my desire to get outside are starting to butt heads. Competitions are expensive and so is travel. That's been the biggest obstacle I've had to overcome. It just involves a lot of strategic saving, picking up extra hours at work and getting creative when necessary, and sometimes just acknowledging that I can't afford everything on a college budget.

What is a common question you are asked?
I train a lot. If I'm not at school, I'm in the gym, and if I'm not training in the gym, I'm catching up on classwork and studying. It requires a lot of discipline and dedication. I don't have much of a social life outside the gym and I'm pretty busy and stressed out all the time. So the question I get asked the most is, how on Earth do you handle this? Or, another common variation, what keeps you going? The answer to those two, is a pretty dogged sense of unwavering motivation and determination to achieve my goals. And a lot of coffee. I just really want to achieve those goals, and if that means missing out on a lot of normal college experiences, then so be it. I love what I do.

What’s next for you?
I’m always looking forward to the next thing! I never really stop thinking of the next trip, and at the moment I’m looking at my travel plans for 2019. I’m hoping to use my spring break in March (ten days) to hit Sequoia and Kings Canyon NP, Death Valley NP and the Pinnacles NP. A friend of mine and I have been talking logistics about taking a week long trip to Acadia NP in June next year, and I’m trying to find a way to also get to Cuyahoga Valley and the Great Smoky Mountains NP before I leave the East Coast.

I’m rehabbing a finger tendon injury at the moment. I strained my A2 pulley tendon while climbing back in June and I’m still in rest mode. So I’m waiting on that to heal so I can start training again in preparation for my competition season. I’ve committed to Tri State Bouldering Series and my very last Collegiate Climbing Series and maybe Open Sport and Speed Nationals, so it’s safe to say I’m looking forward to getting back on the wall, and back on the comp circuit ASAP!

What encouragement do you have for someone ready for adventure?

Oh my gosh, GO FOR IT!!! Seriously though, don’t think about it too hard. Just go for it. Pursue whatever your heart desires with unbridled enthusiasm, whatever it may be. Don’t be scared of new experiences, because that’s part of the adventure too.

How can people get in touch with you or follow your adventures?
Full confession: I’m pretty terrible at social media, and I barely know how to use my own phone. The only thing I really have is Instagram. I’m always down to swap emails too!

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