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The Love Letter: An Interview With Becca Cahall

April 27th, 2011

For 10 years, a dream lingered, but the clutter of modern living pressed it into submission. Still clinging to the pull of wild places and adventure, Fitz and Becca Cahall revived their youthful vision of summits and faint trails by abandoning work and the city for the wilderness. The Love Letter follows a pair of climbers in search of new and classic routes along the difficult to reach stretches of the Sierra spine, focusing not just on the summits themselves, but the process of attaining them. In the clutter of the modern world, can wilderness still restore the human spirit? We would like to think so.

We caught up with Becca Cahall, of The Love Letter, and asked her some questions…

It sounds like The Love Letter was a dream in the making for a long time. What first sparked your inspiration for this project?

The inspiration for the trip and the movie came from Fitz. I loved the Sierra and wanted to see it in a different way, so I was along for the ride. Yet when we talked about doing it over the last few years, it always seemed so far away… a goal that wasn’t getting any closer. When we started talking about it early last year, it started to consume our thoughts — a culmination of longing and inspiration.

You say “In the clutter of the modern world, can wilderness still restore the human spirit?” How does wilderness restore your spirit individually, and as a couple? How do you think it restores others?

Being out in the wilderness quiets my mind. There are only a few things that my mind has to focus on, and then otherwise it’s free to wander. If I’m immersed in absorbing the scenery, or focusing on breathing steady, my mind doesn’t have to “do” anything. And somehow, it expands my ability to feel and recognize those fleeting moments and details that are easy to miss. It’s a soulful feeling of contentedness that the day-to-day routine can erode. As a couple, it brought a shared understanding, or mind meld. As for others, I think you can individually take what you need from it, whatever that might be.

What was the biggest challenge/obstacle you came up against on your adventure in the Sierras? How did you overcome it?

Our final day on the trail, we exited the Sierra in a snowstorm. We crossed talus passes with 8+ inches of snow and lightening struck on the ridgelines nearby. The challenge was staying calm, and moving quickly but cautiously. Fitz and I would each make a decision when a question arose, then share. We wanted to make sure we didn’t pull the other into mistaken logic. I used every bit of know-how that I’ve gained from spending time outdoors over the last 11 years. We kept it together pretty well. Though, at one point, I did scream into the clouds as thunder boomed again, “Will you just F-ing quit it?” For the record, my plea was not answered, but it was a great tension reliever.

That day, and giardia. That little bugger sucked.

What is your most cherished moment of the trip?

We woke up at 5 a.m. to climb a second day in a row in a north-facing canyon in late September. We had both stumbled into camp the evening before exhausted, but still thought maybe we would climb the next day. And it was cold. Recognizing that we had a finite amount of reserve, we respected that our bodies were telling us they were tired. So instead of climbing up, we fled downhill to the sun, checked out some granite crags, meandered over an 11,000 foot pass, and hiked 9 miles that day. After inadvertently passing our intended stopping place, we camped near Big McGee Lake, and whiled away the afternoon in the sun. Since we felt like we were ahead of schedule, we didn’t hurry or worry about how we were progressing along the map lines. The intentions of this day made it memorable and feel like a gift.

Often when people embark on adventures like this, the reaction is “oh, I wish I could do that too.” What’s your response to that?

You can. Yes, there are logistical obstacles to making it happen, but start with the dream and go from there. When we started looking at maps we wanted to be out for months on end, but that wasn’t going to be able to happen. From the elements of time off, climbs we wanted to do, and miles we could reasonably hike in a day, we concocted a basic itinerary, and from there the trip grew. A trip doesn’t have to be X weeks long for it to be meaningful. That comes from you.

You say in one of the trailers “have we fallen for something that cannot love us back?” Do you have an answer to that question? If we give ourselves to nature, how does it give back?

Nature rewards with beauty. It loves by showing me the intricacies of an ecosystem and the grand elements that remind me that I am not the center of anything. There’s a powerful force in feeling small. I don’t feel it at every moment, but when I do, it’s an overwhelming sense of comfort. I’d call that love.

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