10 Essential Questions: Michael Lai

Meet Michael Lai, a climb leader, Super Volunteer, and dog dad who likes to pretend he has his own cooking show when no one's around.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
December 06, 2019

Each week we bring you a personal story from one of our members. For our member profile this week we talked to...

Name: Michael Lai
Hometown: Born in Taipei, Taiwan; grew up in Findlay, OH
Member Since: November 2016
Occupation: Nurse practitioner (ARNP)
Favorite Activities: Rock climbing and mountaineering during the alpine season, skiing during the snow season. Aside from the outdoors, I'm a retired ballet dancer, social justice advocate, dog dad, and sometimes pretend I have a fake cooking show when I make food at home.

10 Essentials: Questions

How did you get involved with The Mountaineers?

It's sometimes hard to believe I've lived in the PNW for over 8 years. I grew up in the Midwest, where there was more elevation gain walking house-to-house selling Boy Scout popcorn than there was to earn the hiking merit badge. After finishing undergrad and working on the east coast for over a decade, I packed up my car, began driving cross-country from Washington D.C., and along the way decided to move to the PNW. I had heard of these things called mountains and volcanoes - stuff of legend. While in graduate school in Seattle pursuing my Masters in Nursing, I dated a woman whom had been a NOLS instructor, during which she introduced me to climbing. I was... not so great at this. Mostly I resembled a severely wounded emu trying to fling around a sack of potatoes. While my attempt to impress this woman unsurprisingly failed, I found myself excited to learn how to safely travel and enjoy the mountains with which I was falling in love, but knew so little about. I had friends suggest The Mountaineers to me, but frankly, my own anxiety, imposter syndrome, self-doubt, and fear kept me from initially joining; the organization’s name has the words "Mountain" and "eers" in it - that's scary! It wasn't until a very kind, chance encounter with Becca Polglase leading a group of MAC youth cragging at Frenchman Coulee that I realized this was where I wanted to be. I applied for and was fortunate to be accepted into the 2017 Intense Basic program, and the rest has been history.

What motivates you to Get outside with us? 

It's been said by others, to which I echo - the people. I continue to return each year to instruct at Intense Basic; it's like the 9-day outdoors adult summer camp version of the "Real World," but way cooler. Not only have I found folks with common interests and goals, I've found a sense of community and a home. In this community, it doesn't matter how much money you make, your color/sex, or how hard you send, bruh. What matters is the shared desire to learn how to send safely, the genuine care and support we all have for one another, and our shared passion for the outdoors. I've also been so fortune to continue my climbing journey with Everett's Intermediate program, another group of passionate climbers I'm lucky to get to know. In all, these are relationships I find myself motivated to continue to work at, which isn't difficult because of how amazing these people are in the first place. 

What's your favorite Mountaineers memory?

Surprising a student on her Basic graduation climb with a graduation ceremony at the summit of the glacier - helium balloons, banner, diploma, card, cap and gown, confetti cake, ice cream, pomp and circumstance. It was so delightful. (Pro tip: you must deflate the helium balloons slightly prior to the climb!)

Who/What inspires you?

I'm inspired by the people around me that come to climbing (or anything in their life) with their dreams and desires to push their personal limits. We all have our fears and demons, outdoors-related or otherwise. Many of us arrive with trauma, and the stress associated with this is real - physical, social, emotional. We all come to climbing at our own place amidst our own respective journey. I am genuinely awed by those that dare pursue what may be their own impossible, and am passionate about cheering and supporting them however they need.

What does adventure mean to you? 

There was a time when I thought adventure meant pursuing the next gnarly objective, but when I realized there would always be something harder to climb, it made this approach seem self-defeating. More importantly, it became obvious for me that having the most fun on an adventure had everything to do with spending time with the people I love, and accepting myself for who I am. There's a quote I love, which says, "These mountains that you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb." Adventure to me are my fears, uncertainty, and doubt, tempered with stoke, bravery, and bonus points for style. It's often failure, and always trying hard. At the end of the day, it's getting back home, beat-up, tired, and celebrating whatever progress I've made that day towards my goals, as well as recognizing how much more I have to learn.

Lightning Round
Sunrise or sunset? Sunset, since the sun sets over the ocean on this coast. 

Smile or game face? Smile, but sometimes you gotta put the game face on and be brave.
What's your 11th essential? I've been known to lug up summit watermelons, helium balloons, and an entire camp stove to make pancakes.
Post-adventure meal of choice? I never turn down a good taco.
If you could be a rockstar at any outdoor activity overnight, what would it be?  I'd love to master something like watercolor or photography to capture my time in the outdoors.

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    KD Dase
    KD Dase says:
    Nov 22, 2019 04:01 PM

    Yo, we gotta find.some peak in Alaska to ice climb up it :)

    Debbee Lynn
    Debbee Lynn says:
    Dec 03, 2019 08:24 AM

    OMG just saw this! YOU ROCK!!!!

    Tess Wendel
    Tess Wendel says:
    Dec 06, 2019 09:23 AM

    love this!