Childhood Memories: Growing Up In Small Outdoor Shops
My spring has been filled with travel around the country to visit shops, stores and climbing gyms. It’s been a great way to get out and see all the different climbing communities across the country, but I am looking forward to six uninterrupted weeks at home.
On a recent trip to Maine, I was able to visit with the good people of Alpenglow Adventure Sports. They own a small outdoor store in northern Maine, which reminded me of the outdoor stores that I grew up with: quirky shops with every bit of space filled to the brim.
I grew up with Alpine West. It was a small outdoor store located in a corner spot of a long, skinny, brown building in downtown Davis, California. Bordering the train tracks, it was filled wall to wall with all sorts of outdoor goodies. From sleeping bags to climbing gear, ski boots to water filters. Not an inch of the store was empty. My dad is an avid outdoor enthusiast, and while his interests have changed over the years from skiing, to climbing, and now to kayaking, I associate the outdoor stores with childhood memories.
Going to Alpine West was like a field trip to me . I knew that I had no more than an hour to play and explore in the store. It was my version of going to the zoo or to Toys R Us. I had a routine for my hour in the store (yes, even at that age I was all about routines). As I entered the dimly lit, nylon and fleece filled store, I would first make my way back to the sleeping bags, passing the glass case of brightly colored cams, the array of pocket knives and dozens of sunglasses. Standing no more than 4-feet-tall, I stood in front of the billowing bags and dreamed about the places I could go with each bag. To Everest with the -40 degree, Mount Whitney with the 0 degree, and to summer camp with the 20 degree. How I knew what every bag could be used for just goes to show you how much I quizzed my dad about things in the store.
After my daydream of sleeping bag travel I made my way to the skis and ski boots. I have never been very enamored with skiing, nor had much desire to become a skier. But as a kid, the colors, designs and logos on the skis were mesmerizing to look at. I would sit and gaze at the skis, wondering which ones were faster or which ones my dad used.
Finally, after gazing at the skis, I meandered into the climbing area. My face became glued to the glass case of cams, nuts, biners, pocket knives and sunglasses. I’m sure the owner of the store went through bottles of Windex to erase my hands and
face prints that smudged the case after each visit. Each cam took on a life of it’s own. I didn’t know the numbers or sizes, but simply the colors. I made up stories on where each one could be used — green ones for the Sierras, purple ones for Europe and the grey one in Africa. Clearly my logic did not correspond with anything, but the gear provided enough imagination to last for weeks at a time.
After picking out the sunglasses that I would want for Christmas, my field trip was usually about finished. My dad would check out at the cash register, finish up his conversation with the familiar store employee, and we would make our way back to the doldrums of home.
Visiting Alpenglow Adventure Sports reminded me how much I loved the small inmate outdoor store. The owner Jon Tierney is an accomplished climber in his own right, developing more routes than I could ever imagine. Having a gem of a store like his is like having a playground and candy store in one. If you have one near you, go in for a visit. Normally the employees are very knowledgeable, kind, and more often than not they are some sort of closet outdoor badass. I loved Alpine and was very sad to hear when it finally shut down. Luckily for me, the Yosemite Mountain Shop fits the build perfectly. If you see me staring at the wall of sleeping bags, mumbling to myself about the adventures I can have with each bag, now you’ll know why. Let’s just hope I don’t categorize my cams in the same fashion as I did as a kid.
Climber Beth Rodden made the first ascent of what is likely Yosemite’s single hardest traditional pitch: Meltdown, a 70-foot 5.14 crack at Upper Cascade Falls. Beth lives near Yosemite and loves to bake in between climbs and travels.