Family, friends and fun at the festival

Nhung Lhung, of Melbourne, Austrailia, right, poses for a photo with famous rock climber Alex Honnold at the International Climbers Festival in Lander, Wyo., on Saturday. Honnold recently made headlines by free soloing El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, California. (Photo courtesy of Nhung Lhung)

I love it when a plan comes together.

Two years ago, my family met a Vietnamese woman from Australia who was hitchhiking around the U.S., mostly rock climbing and doing some sightseeing. I was sitting at my campsite at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area when Nhung Lhung walked up with a German dude (Mark) who was on the same mission (they had just met). We all made fast friends and climbed together for nearly a week.

Despite my best efforts, I could never pronounce her name correctly. I gave up and just called her “Noon.”

“It’s OK,” she said. “That’s what most Americans call me.”

Her family fled the fall of Saigon and became refugees for a few years before landing in Australia. She said Australia felt like winning the lottery.

We stayed Facebook friends, and I watched this interesting woman — who worked as a school teacher only long enough to save up travel money (she has a degree in English, history and anthropology) — visit fascinating places around the world. I’d see her in India, Jordan, Indonesia, Colombia and other far-flung places.

She returned to the American West this year.

“If you’re in the neighborhood come to the International Climber’s Festival in Lander, Wyo.,” I wrote to her. The invitation stuck. She replied with a “Maybe.” I kept reminding her.

She bought a clunky 15-year-old Subaru in Los Angeles in late June and drove it to Oglala Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota for a gathering. After that meeting, she headed for Wyoming’s Devils Tower. I heard from her next, stuck in Billings, Mont., trying to get her car fixed.

When I arrived late Wednesday at the Lander city park, my son and I walked through the dark park with tents all about and wondered out loud where friends and family might be set up.

A voice came from one of the tents, “Jerry is that you?”

Nhung popped out of a tent and gave me a hug. “So good to see you again! Talk to you in the morning.” And she went back to bed.

Our group spent the next few days at the climbing festival eating, climbing, and joining the festival games. Nhung’s gregarious personality helps her make instant friends. Her hip Aussie accent seems to help, too.

The nature of rock climbing generally requires people to seek out partners. The community is mostly friendly and outgoing.

During the final presentations of the festival Saturday evening we watched famous pro climbers show us videos and slides to keep us stoked on our activity, I asked my son where Nhung had disappeared to during a brief intermission.

“Back there,” he pointed. I turned to see her sitting next to Alex Honnold, perhaps the most famous rock climber in the world. She took a photo with him, then returned giggling like a little school girl.

“I congratulated him on his recent free solo of El Capitan,” she said, “but then the words just wouldn’t come. I don’t know what was happening to me. I can’t believe it! It was Alex Honnold!”

It was funny to see and hear a woman who is never without words become star struck.

Seeing a friend again after two years separation was icing on the cake of a great climbing festival. It seems the festival gets a little better each year.

“We need a climbing festival like this in Australia,” she said.

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Now is the time to sign up for the HeART of Idaho century ride.

On Aug. 12, the HeART of Idaho century ride will start at 7 a.m. at Snake River Landing. The bike ride will feature three distances: 25, 62 and 100 miles on routes around our fair city. There will be feed/rest stations along the courses. Go to for information.