Hi everyone! We are Rachel Māia and Katie Jo Myers, two professional climbers who embarked on a somewhat crazy adventure together this summer. We live on opposite sides of the world, and had been planning this trip for much of the pandemic, so it was really exciting to finally see it all happen. Two near strangers traveling for two months! What could possibly go wrong?
Katie: 39, from Los Angeles, CA.
I am a climber and photographer/filmmaker based out of Los Angeles, where I live part time on my sailboat. I love being outdoors in any capacity and am so lucky that work and climbing take me to a lot of amazing places. Since 2018, I have been photographing IFSC World Cup and World Championship events, focusing mostly on paraclimbing events, which is how I came to meet Rachel.
Rachel: also 39, from New Zealand.
I am a competitive paraclimber, public speaker, and most importantly, a mum of three amazing kids! I compete in the AL2 category in paraclimbing, which is the category for lower limb differences/amputations. My first IFSC event was the 2018 World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria, where I briefly met Katie for the first time. A couple years later, in true pandemic fashion, we became good friends online and planned to travel the 2022 World Cup Circuit together as a competitor and photographer respectively.
We wanted to make our trip a Mizu Mission as one way to help reduce our impact. Protecting the environment is so important and we are aware that travel creates a large footprint. Always bringing reusable products, and avoiding single use plastic is just one small way to help. Katie had already been using Mizu products on her adventures for years, so we were really excited to collaborate!
Where did your mission take you and what did you do?
Our mission took us on an adventure that would span two months and six countries! The majority of our travels were centered around attending the three IFSC Paraclimbing World Cup Competitions, which were hosted in Salt Lake City, Utah, Innsbruck, Austria, and Villars, Switzerland. After the competition circuit ended, we also spent two weeks exploring outdoor crags in Switzerland, France, and Germany. Along the way, Katie filmed our trip as part of her first documentary, related to climbing and mental health, so there were lots of exciting things happening!
Overall the trip was amazing! We got to visit so many beautiful places, enjoyed a lot of success in our climbing, and had the best time reconnecting with our climbing friends and family after the pandemic. However, a lot can happen in two months, and the trip was definitely not without setbacks. In fact, we started to joke pretty early on that Katie’s film was really just going to be one long blooper reel.
Covid, bronchitis, quarantine, rescheduling travel, nagging injuries, emergency room visits in four countries, broken and lost camera gear, rain, hail, and thunderstorms for weeks on end that meant no climbing…we faced a lot of challenges along the way, and for several weeks in the middle of the trip, it really seemed like anything that could go wrong, did!
But you have to accept that setbacks are part of the journey too, and we just kept trying to laugh our way through it and appreciate all the unique memories we were making. After all, you’ll never forget that one time you got lost leaving the hospital and were laughing hysterically, running down the streets of Old Town Innsbruck with a slightly stolen wheelchair at 2am…
Towards the end of the trip, the skies cleared, literally and metaphorically, and we finished things on a high note. Rachel completed the World Cup season making finals at every competition, earning two fourths and a silver, after which, we set out on a whirlwind tour of crags around Europe. In total we climbed at eight different locations, and had such an amazing time meeting and traveling with climbers from all over the world.
Things might not have gone the way we originally hoped or planned, but in the end we had an incredible, pretty hilarious adventure, and that’s something we would never change.
What are some highlights you’d like to share with our readers?
One of the biggest highlights of the trip for me, was being outside of my comfort zone on so many levels. New places, new people and new adversity; these experiences shape the way I see myself and give me new confidence as an athlete and adventurer. For me, the community is the heart and soul of why l love climbing, so another highlight was reuniting with my paraclimbing family after the pandemic. There is such a sense of homecoming when I am around my adaptive whanau! And of course, bringing home a New Zealand record, a silver medal, and the first ever World Cup medal for New Zealand (able or, disabled/male or female) was a real buzz! Doing something that has never been done before, lights me up inside. By creating this little bit of history for my country I get to show my kids that the world is big and that anything is possible.
(Rachel Māia of New Zealand, Sara Larcombe of Australia, Tonia Chavez of Portugal)
The biggest highlight for me was really just being amidst the community again. It’s been a long couple years and it was so great to be out there shooting photos and catching up with friends. Other highlights included visiting world famous climbing areas Magic Wood in Switzerland, and Frankenjura in Germany, and taking a gondola ride over Mont Blanc, from France to Italy! Throughout this trip, I also learned so much about filmmaking and storytelling, and am really grateful for the entire experience!
What inspires you to get outdoors and explore?
The outdoors is a place where I have always felt alive and free. After my accident, I didn’t have an adaptive community around me and I wasn’t challenged to adapt and fight for adventure in my life. So for nearly two decades I gave up on it. When I amputated my leg 18 years after the original climbing accident, I finally had to accept the word disability and embrace my body, rather than waiting and hoping my mobility would improve. This forced me to adapt and start exploring again, and very quickly I found that the outdoors was a place where I felt quite free from pain, where I felt more limitless than in everyday life, and where I still felt alive.
Being outside is my happy place! When I’m outside having an adventure, that’s just when I feel most peaceful and comfortable in my own skin. Working on hard climbs or overcoming any other challenge in the outdoors is so much fun, and it always teaches me a lot about myself and my capabilities. Over the years, climbing specifically, and being part of the climbing community, has really helped to improve my mental health and given me a lot more confidence in all areas of my life. That’s a big part of why I love the sport so much, and why I love creating stories and sharing it with others!
How do you manage to adventure while also taking care of the planet along the way?
As outdoor enthusiasts, it’s important to be aware that we leave behind a big footprint whenever we travel. Some things you can do are to choose flights that offset carbon emissions, or you can offset your own emissions through various organizations. Walk, bike, or take public transport as much as possible, and if you are driving, always carpool! On this trip, we needed a car for mobility reasons, but we always made sure to travel with other climbers or competitors to save on fuel use. There was almost never an empty seat!
Bringing reusable items with you, such as grocery bags, bottles, straws, and cutlery is super helpful to prevent using single use plastics. Portable water filters are also helpful so you can always have access to safe water without buying plastic bottles.
What was your favorite Mizu product/s used through the mission and why?
The cutlery sets and the M5! Traveling from place to place or out at the crag, we used our Mizu cutlery sets constantly! I started keeping a set accessible at all times, so that whether we were traveling, at a competition all day, or out at the crag, I was never tempted to use plastic. The M5 was also a favorite. I love the slim design for slipping in a camera or climbing bag. It was really practical for everyday use.
For me, it was a toss up between the insulated V5 and the coffee mug. I almost never go anywhere without hot coffee or tea, so whenever I wasn’t climbing, one of these was probably in my hand at all times. Sometimes both of them. Haha.
Any tips and tricks for keeping a low footprint while hitting the road?
Always remember your reusable grocery bags! We also bought local whenever we could, from farmers markets and stalls, and cooked for ourselves versus eating out. Eating a local, majority plant based diet, is another way to reduce packaging and limit impact. Besides that, make sure to always pack it in and pack it out, and practice your leave no travel ethics. Let’s leave our outdoor spaces beautiful for the next person to enjoy!
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