End of the Rope
How you live is how you climb. That mantra appears repeatedly in Jan Redford’s new book,
In it, Redford writes about how her life was often like how she climbed – some days focussed, confident, fearless and f lowing. But other days did not go so smoothly.
As an author, though, Redford shines. She is alternately – at times simultaneously – entertaining, heart-wrenching, kneeslappingly hilarious and gripping as a steep rock climb with thin, sloping holds.
One main theme of her book is something most climbers can relate to – self-doubt. And, she admitted with total confidence in an interview with “It’s very hard to write a memoir about self-doubt when you’re aff licted with self-doubt.” No doubt. Redford transcends that self-doubt, however, as she progresses from bold teenager to tenacious 20- something rock climber and mountaineer, to grieving her live-in boyfriend’s avalanche death, to overwhelmed mother of two toddlers determined (interrupted by much self-doubt) to gain a university degree despite the challenges of an incompatible marriage to their father.
In life, as in climbing, choosing the right partner, for the right reasons – alignment of goals, style of ascent and desired objectives – can make all the difference between jubilation and exhausting defeat. Those few who figure that out young usually lead relatively harmonious lives with money in the bank and wrinkle-free foreheads. They rarely write readable memoirs.
Those who grab the sharp end, launch into the unknown, sometimes from a shaky foundation, tend to fall occasionally. They get scraped up, bruised, scared and every so often, feel utterly def lated. Thankfully, Redford’s life makes for terrific reading, and she possesses writing skills and talent to send it.
Writing a memoir worth reading demands courage from the author to be unf linchingly honest about episodes that are potentially embarrassing, painful and deeply revealing. Redford charges ahead much like the time she tackled learning to roll her kayak in rushing whitewater and pushing herself beyond her last piece on overhanging trad routes.
But while she bared her own soul on the page, the necessity of exposing others represented her “biggest hurdle.”
“I expose other people in my memoir. How could I not when my life is so intertwined with other people’s lives?” Redford asked. “This has been my biggest hurdle. I try to go through life doing the least amount of damage to others. Writing a memoir is not exactly the best way to stick to that maxim. But I protected people as best I could while still writing my truth.”
To accomplish that, she called people by their first names, and in some cases, changed their names. A Canmore resident from 1981 thru 1988, Redford worked as Camp Chief Hector counsellor, Nakiska ski patroller and cadet camp climbing instructor – during an era when few women climbed, let alone led, taught and guided. Through climbing she found her community, and through writing her true voice.
“Growing up in a household like mine with an alcoholic father, and everyone, my mother, other adults, pretending everything was normal, I learned to question my reality,” Redford said. “This memoir helped me to find my voice in life, internally, not just on paper.”
After years of writing essays and articles, charging ahead into difficult circumstances and, ultimately, learning to accept responsibility for all her decisions – mistakes and successes alike – Redford, 57, said what she’s most proud of is that she rode though the tough times to accomplish her dream of seeing her book published.
“I am so proud that I stuck through the discomfort, the discouragement, and the self-doubt, for however long it’s been, and that I had the self-belief after all, to hound Random House until they accepted my manuscript,” Redford said. “But really, how did I dare dream of being a climber at age 14? How did I dare go back to school with two little kids? It’s amazing what we can achieve when we keep throwing ourselves at ridiculously i mprobable dreams. The act of publishing this memoir, not just writing it, is my act of transferring power from others to myself.”
Expedition to the Edge: Stories of Worldwide Adventure Tales and Trails: Adventures for Everyone in the Canadian Rockies. lynnmartel.ca