On Tuesday, April 17 at 7p.m., Paper and Cup will be hosting a Q&A and Book signing with Author Jan Redford, who recently published a book called, End of the Rope – Mountains, Marriage, and Motherhood.
Redford lives with her family in Squamish, B.C., where she mountain bikes, trail runs, climbs and skis. Her stories, articles and personal essays have been published in The Globe and Mail, National Post, Mountain Life, Explore and anthologies, and have won or been shortlisted in several writing contests. She is a graduate of the Writer’s Studio at SFU and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from UBC.
End of the Rope is a memoir that tells Redford’s story, her love of rock climbing, and how it changed her life.
At a young age Redford fell in love with climbing, and set her sights on doing so, after running away from home. She eventually grew close to a tight-knit climbing community, which is how she met her boyfriend at the time, Dan Guthrie.
Guthrie however was killed, which ultimately led Redford to marry his best friend. He becomes the father of her two children.
According to a press release from the book’s publisher, Random House Canada, End of the Rope is raw and real, “mountains challenge Jan, marriage almost annihilates her, and motherhood could have been the last straw…but it isn’t. How she climbs out of the hole she digs for herself is as thrilling and inspiring as any of her climbs, and just as much an act of bravery.”
When asked why she was drawn to climbing, Redford says she has always been an athletic, thrill-seeker and that climbing brought control to her life both physically and mentally.
“I was always out-of-control physical – climbing trees, rock faces, sign posts, jumping off cliffs into water. I was also a competitive gymnast and a sprinter,” said Redford. “A high school boyfriend once told me I was a boy in a girl’s body, as though it were unnatural for me to be so active. I also had a dream of going back to the Yukon and living off the land, so when I discovered climbing, it seemed the perfect combination of risk, mountains, and the graceful, controlled movement of a gymnast.
“On a darker note, I didn’t have much control of my life growing up with a father who drank. You never knew what was going to happen next. I think I saw climbers as the ultimate controllers of their own body, their own minds, their own fate and I so badly wanted to be the ‘master of my fate, the captain of my soul’. I felt so vulnerable and I wanted to be tough.”
Climbing also taught her life lessons.
“Climbing and the outdoor life in general taught me to tolerate extreme discomfort and fear,” Redford said. “I pushed myself beyond what I thought were my limits, so I was able to keep expanding those limits. Sort of like a hermit crab. I kept trading my shell in for a bigger one. It made me pretty tough, on the outside, at any rate. It took a lot longer to feel tough and in control on the inside.
“Ultimately, it was lead climbing that taught me the life lessons I needed most – moving through fear, staying with the discomfort, committing, really knowing on a cellular level that no one could swoop in and save me because I was on the sharp end. At tough times in my life, when I thought I’d given up on myself, those skills kicked in, almost as thought they were a mind and muscle memory.”
Although her kids do climb, Redford says her two children have completely different views on it.
“My son is actually a very natural athlete, including climbing…” said Redford. “[But] he has no interest in the hippy climbing scene. He’s very urban, works in the film industry, likes money. He’s very fit and works out, but more in the gym. I’m fine with him not doing high risk sports. He’s too much like me. He’s bound to get in trouble.
“My daughter, however, has fully embraced the mountain life. I’m in awe of her skill. She’s a strong climber and snowboarder who lives in Squamish. She’s a teacher and an artist, and she’s into yoga. She thinks before she acts; her approach to risk is very calculated. She doesn’t huck herself off cliffs, forgetting that minor detail about wings, like me and her brother.”
In terms of her hopes for the book, Redford quoted Sally Armstrong, “if you can’t talk about it, you can’t change it.”
“Reading other women’s honest, ugly, messy, triumphant stories is how I gained strength, wisdom, resolve, and the belief that I deserved more,” said Redford. “As I wrote this memoir, I always had the question in my mind: how did I get past my inertia, my fear, to get out of my marriage and get on with the rest of my life? I’m hoping people in that same situation will see that if I can get out of the very deep hole that I dug myself, anyone can. I’m hoping they get the message I have to remind myself of every day: don’t wait for permission. For anything. Especially not to grow and learn and follow your dreams.”