Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Same Old Same Old


I stop by the white house around the curve.  I'm not warmed up, but I want to get a photo of the patch of yellow flowers in the morning sun in front of the house.  I take the shot, stow my phone in its pocket and take off running again.

The morning is perfect.  The air is crisp but not really cold.  I'm sore from my mountain bike ride yesterday, but it feels good to be swinging my legs and moving down the quiet road.
 

"We went climbing the other day," my son whined without taking his eyes off of his Minecraft creation on the screen, "I don't want to do the same thing over and over."

My run is over and I stand in Boone's bedroom doorway sweating and still breathing a little hard.  I've asked him to get dressed so we can go out in the woods after breakfast.  Its spring break and we had no sitter.  I conceded a sick day with full intentions of taking all three kids climbing. 
 
I made breakfast for Bean and Ty though it took an act of congress to get Ty to wake up.  If I'd known he was going to stay up all night my caveat to letting him stay would have been an appropriate bedtime for a day of running around in the woods.  Boone flat out refused to eat breakfast despite my stern paternal admonition.  And he doesn't see the irony in his statement as he continues playing Minecraft like he has every day since he discovered the game--or whatever it is--months and months ago.
 
I saw a guy on my run that might have been Harvey Lewis except he's no longer in town according to his Facebook posts.  I ran the five mile loop I normally avoid because I was able to get out early on a weekday.  But still, Harvey Lewis, Badwater ultra champion came and ran on my home trails.  I'm so fat.  I'm so not even close to being an ultrarunner.

My plan was to take Mandy to work, run before the kids wake up, fix breakfast, and they take the kids out in the woods for the day.  Everything goes well through breakfast except Boone refuses to eat until everyone else is ready to hit the road. 
 

I'm sitting under the cliff packing everything up.  Kids have worn me down, Boone with his surly resistance, Lily with her dramatic energy sucking meltdowns and Ty...has been great.  I want to trade him for my biological spawn today.

I'm gripped in the same disappointment and dissatisfaction I used to feel as my climbing career was fading; when I spent all of my time trying to rope solo easy routes in hope of someday being a lonely hardman able to climb anything.  It was fantastical and science fiction and not realistic in any way.  When I finally admitted that to myself it was easy to just  walk away.  Its not so easy to walk back.

I don't know who I am.  I know who I was, but I don't know who or what I want to be anymore.  And I'm surrounded by relics from my old lives.  I feel like a thief who has robbed from the past the accoutrements I try to ply in my daily life now: bikes, climbing gear, old clothes that don't fit anymore.  I'm a sham to myself trying to relive the life I once had.

I'm sitting under sunbathed rock stuffing gear into a recalcitrant pack having climbed nothing.  They're kids and they've gone off to play somewhere around the cliffline leaving me to carry three packs down the trail.  Those packs carry the weight of Lily's meltdown over the boys laughing when she dribbled water on herself drinking from the water bottle.  The packs are heavy with Boone's negative attitude and the kids' increasing bickering.  My own pack drags me down with the weight of years.  Its full of old hurts, shortfalls, and regrets.  I want to walk away and leave it in the woods.

I want to go off by myself and have a good cry.  But the tears wouldn't come anyway.  I can't feel sorry enough for myself to cry.  It all seems so pointless.  None of this garbage is important in the whole scheme of things anyway.  I'm depressed?  Over climbing?!

I don't resent my kids, but when I held their pink, writhing forms twelve and eight years ago I expected something else.  Not the resistance and obstinacy.  I vowed I'd never be the soccer dad of Red River Gorge climbing, but good lord do they not realize how cool it is that their dad is taking them rock climbing on spring break?  They don't have to be Katie Brown and Chris Sharma, but they could possibly refrain from throwing up so many roadblocks to a good time in the woods.  Maybe they could see reason.
 

"What are you doing?" I demand of my son as I jerk my bootlaces tight.  Lily and Ty are in the car.  I'm ready to go, and Boone is standing in the pantry door looking hopeful.

"I'm hungry," he whines.

Red rage washes over me.

"I tried to get you to eat breakfast AN HOUR AGO!"  My voice rises in volume and intensity as my son shrinks back in passive defiance.

"And I told you to GET DRESSED!"

I throw up my hands and storm into the basement to get the packs.  I fume into the musty air.  I clench and unclench my jaw.  I give up.  I resolve to see the day through.  I fantasize about being childless.  I bemoan my fat middle-aged uncoolness.  I resist the wave of despair that pounds onto me.  I marvel that Boone can't understand the simple admonition to get out of the house on a nice day because he can start at the damn screen when it's raining or dark.

From that point on every step forward was a balance on the razor's edge of flat out wanting to give up and the bald faced determination to die trying to have a good time with my kids in the woods.  By the time we reached the base of the intended crag my will had been broken.  I didn't care if any of us every climbed again.

Ty and Lily were heartbroken.  They really wanted to climb.  I gave it my best shot.  And that resulted in my bailing from the second bolt of a thirty foot 5.3.  In my defense it was wet and I was self belaying.

The writing of this post has been the same exercise of swimming through spiritual molasses that my afternoon with the kids ended up being.  The dog got out and chased after the chickens twice because of the kids.  My head has throbbed.  My heart isn't in this day anymore.

But it wasn't all bad.  Driving my wife to work and then going for an early morning run was enjoyable.  I was happy to fix breakfast for two of the heathens anyway.  We enjoyed good music in the car and sunshine on our drama train all day.  We hung out at Miguel's waiting on tasty pizza and sipping Ale-8s in the afternoon.  And finally between dog escapes we sat down to a nice peaceful homemade dinner at the kitchen table with all of the windows open to let in the fresh evening air.

Right now all three kids are playing quiddich in the friscalating dusklight of an early spring evening and I'm staring at my lovely wife as she makes chocolate chip cookies simply because the universe needs them.
 

"I love you Boone," I held my son's shoulders firmly in my hands.  We stood a few yards away from the car in Miller Fork parking lot.  The other two waited on us to head home.

"You guys ruined my day with your attitudes," he nodded in agreement, "but maybe I pushed everyone too hard because I wanted to go climbing so bad,"  he nodded again.  He turns twelve in a week.  His voice is deepening and he's almost as tall as me.  We wear the same size shoes.  He heard the apology in my statement.  It felt like we'd made peace at least. 

I'm not sure if I'm ready to be the father of a teenager.  He's not at that stage yet, but one day we're going to wake up and find there's no kid left in him anymore.  His innocent years are almost gone.  Maybe they'll find my glory days and have a grand old time.

"Are we gonna get Ale-8s?" Lily called from Gump.  I had promised.

"Yes!" I replied.  Boone grinned back at me and we headed for the car together.

Monday, March 30, 2015

There's No Bouldering in the Red River Gorge


I have a strange bruise on the tip of my right ring finger.
Evidence convicts.  Lack of evidence merely intensifies the dramatic ambiance of a case.  Mystery. Enigma.  Withholding—or failing to find—good compelling evidence is a great way to keep people on the edge of their seats.  Or an even better way to lull them to disinterest.
Years ago I tried to make my case.  But you can't drag a dump truck sized boulder into the courtroom.  In this case that judicial purvey happens to be the parking lot of Miguel's Pizza.
But that bruise...
 
It didn't get it smashed by a hammer doing some drudgerous honeydo project. No, I smashed it with the weight of my fat lard body as my limp-noodle arm went taught thrutching for a micro-jug on one of Kipp's pebbled masterpieces. You know its got to be good with a name like Dwarf Warts.
When the full mass of my high density frame jerked against the dishpan pink skin of my weakest finger apparently some damage was done. Thankfully the brutal injury numbed the area and I was able to continue wallowing on the beachhead of bouldering on Red River. Well, not exactly. No, no...I was wallowing. There's photographic and video evidence of that. At least until I can spirit Kipp's smartphone away for a few minutes.

Larger than life
(That's as high as I got)
We weren't in the Red River Gorge.  It’s all semantics.  See, if you use the local sprechen sie  “Gorge” to refer to the area then you’re blatantly deceiving, but if you use the common climber vernacular “the Red” then Kipp’s little bouldering spree and ensuing promotional campaign has been spot on.  Barely.
You may have heard of the BMW Boulders.  No?  Kipp Trummel—aka Pigsteak, aka Piggy, aka Kipp Quixote—has a tax preparation business in Campton.  One of his local clients offered to show Kipp the rocks on his land.  He said Kipp probably wouldn’t be interested in climbing them because they were so short.  Turns out they were the right kind of short.  And Kipp was very interested.
The BMW Boulders were born.  The non-pebble wrasslin’ benefactor bought the land on the courthouse steps.  There’s at least a couple hundred acres of wooded land with a couple of distinct ridge fingers where the bouldering is located.  Kipp’s local friend's laid back attitude toward climbing development on his land and Kipp’s voracious reputation for said development has been just the right cocktail for destruction.  The BMWs were an instant hit.  BMW is short for Breathitt-Magoffin-Wolfe as in the three counties that come together nearby.  At that boundary juncture the Red River (yeah, that one) is born.  Near the parking area for the BMWs the Red is barely a trickling stream.  It has miles to go before it enters its infamous and world renowned Gorge.
From Slade it’s a solid half hour drive deeper into the Eastern Kentucky hills than most climbers are used to making.  For me it’s forty-five minutes from home to reach BMW.  I can be clipping the first bolt on Fuzzy Undercling in twenty from my couch.  Even when Kipp plays hooky and launches off from his office in Campton it’s not hop, skip and jump.  But Kipper has a distinct advantage having based himself conveniently in Wolfe County. 
Back to that bruise.  It’s taken me all fall and winter to finally have committed to visiting the area.  There’s a new area with less certain access than the original BMWs.  And the photos Kipp “leaked” out from the Minefield drew me in.  The boulders are gorgeous.  The rock formation is unique and distinct.  I just had to go.  In shape or no, I wanted to fondle that rock.
 

Poor photo quality, but this was me in my bouldering heyday on Detox at Sky Bridge Ridge
 
More recently on a an FA attempt of Clean and Jerk at the Reactor
 
Years ago I was a prolific moderate boulderer.  In about three years’ time I almost single-handedly put up five hundred problems in and around the Gorge up to V4.  But that was years ago.  That was when I was younger, childless, and thinner.  I was a full time student and worked a series of low paying part time jobs so I would have plenty of free time for climbing.  That is not the living arrangement I currently enjoy.
Chronic tendonitis drove me away.  Kipp’s incessant workweek photos and videos of BMW and the Minefield have drawn me back.  I’ve even been out recleaning my old standards around the Red from fourteen or fifteen years ago.  I can’t do most of them right now, but I know that I’m back on the right track.  And with this bouldering renaissance Piggy has whipped up maybe I can get some help and an occasional spot on my old projects.    
Kipp and I both laugh at the notion that there is no bouldering in the Red River Gorge.  And I know for years to come the naysayers will have their way.  It’s doubtful a new edition of Red River Gorge Bouldering will be published anytime soon.  You’ll still be more likely to see more rope tarps and stick clips than crashpad migrations any time soon.  Traffic will not be diverted onto the Mountain Parkway for boulderers headed to the South’s bouldering destinations.
But give it time, the next generation may look more favorably upon the Red as a bonafide bouldering area.
My 8 yo Bean sending Anna V0- at the Reactor

The proud first ascentionist!
 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Calvin's Flight 240 Non-Stop to Stoney Gulch


"Its not my wagon to give you, Boone."
"But can we use it?"  my son whined.
"No!  That wouldn't be right," I replied with as much finality as I could muster.  He was crestfallen, and I couldn't figure out why he wanted the yard wagon so bad.
"Go up and ask Papaw Chaney.  It might be his, or he might know whose it is."
A grin split my eleven year old son's face and he took off up the road toward his great grandparents' house.  I shook my head sadly.  I was pretty sure the yellow steel wagon the kids had found in a pile of yard waste belonged to my dad's cantankerous youngest brother. 
I took off on my run fully expecting to return to sad kids, but as I rounded the last bend on my way home I saw Ty and Boone in the front yard with the yellow wagon.
"Dad!  You'll never guess!  The wagon was Papaw's...and we can keep it!"
By the end of the day all three kids (including Bean) were taking turns barreling down Chaneyville Road and into the yard. 
A couple days later Mandy stood at the kitchen window shaking her head.
"We should have bought them a wagon a long time ago," she mused.
"I know," I agreed, "They get exercise, they're not just staring at some screen, and they get along!"
It was true.  They cooperated in hauling the wagon to the top of the hill where they took turns riding it down the road and into the yard.
I sat chatting with my lovely wife at the table.  So rarely do we get to or take the time to just sit and be together.  I sipped tea.  And I looked out the window just in time to see the kids push off bob sled style from high up on the bank above the road.  They jounced across the drive with too much speed and not enough skill.  Boone was piloting through crazed cackling but being drowned out by his sister's fever-pitch giggling.  I don't know how they didn't just explode on impact in the road.  But then they entered the blackberry patch at dang near terminal velocity.  How they didn't get decapitated on the wires that the vines entwine on is a mystery to me.
From the instant they hit the road until all action ceased I moved to my feet in slow motion while murmuring in increasing intensity:
"Oh, this isn't going to end...uh oh, that's going to be bad...they're gonna..."
When the wagon transporting my first and second born disappeared behind the shed it was in very real danger of slipping the surly bonds of earth.  A second later Mandy and I were both racing for the door.  She beat me, but only because I stopped to stomp into my boots.
Horrible sounds of pain and suffering echoed off the hills. No, wait, that was laughter. Deep, uncontrollable, from-the-diaphragm type laughter. The wagon was upended just short of the berry row that would have shredded them. Both kids were writhing in the short cropped grass laughing their breath away.
Fighting our own laughter both parents were admonishing that they never, ever, never do that again.
 
It turns out the wagon does in fact belong to my uncle.  My grandmother told Boone he could have the wagon and she was mistaken.  But all is well in the blackberry patch today.  The kids understood.  And they had a good run for a few days with the wagon. 
Last night we took them bouldering.  It was Mandy’s idea.  I had bouldered the day before after work with Kipp at the Minefield near the BMW Boulders.  My tips and love handles were shredded. 
 
Foto by Kipp Quioxte
 
 
She texted me Wednesday morning:
You think we might have time this afternoon to go break in my new climbing shoes at Emerald City?
I may have wept.  I love bouldering.  I love my wife.  She has never loved bouldering.  But the tears weren’t of joy but for my ruined fingertips.  There was a day when I would have climbed on the bloody stumps left over after a twenty-eight day unbroken climbing spree.  Gone is that day my friend!  After wallowing up one V0+ and flailing fatly on a prouder line at the Reactor Sector my dishpan hands are useless.  Emerald City is notoriously coarse rock.  Weep.
It ended up being pretty fun.  Lily bagged a few good lines.  Boone and Radar played in the woods and amongst the boulders.  I pined for glory days and Mandy seemed to be quietly enjoying the nice weather and just being out.
Warming up

Going for the lip on So What V0

Topping it out like a pro!

Sending Ripple V0-
 
On Saturday Mandy and her mom are Running the Bluegrass, so I might take the kids up to Minefield and try to bag that arĂȘte problem Kipp spotted me on.  With fresh tips and stretched out muscles I might be able to pull off one good feat of bouldering.

 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Weakened State


I woke up early Saturday morning from a dream.  In the dream I was attempting an overhanging highball boulder problem.  I easily swung through big holds moving up the rock until I confronted the heady lip moves to top out.
In the dream I remember conceding the problem until I could come back with a couple of good spotters.  I looked down and realized I was too high to jump off, and the face was too steep to downclimb.  I woke up not knowing how I was going to get out of the pickle I had climbed myself into.
I was slow getting east Saturday morning.  I had a time limit.  There was a big reading celebration to do at the school and both of my kids were involved.  Despite my dragged pace from home to woods I detoured to the new Miguel's Climb Shop to get some chalk.  I've been out for nine years.
Aw, what the heck, I bought a new chalkbag too!  And then I was on my way up Middle Fork to Emerald City.  It felt odd to be dragging a crashpad out of Gump's hatch in the pulloff below the Whiteout buttress.  So many times I did that in a previous life--I even rode my bike to Emerald City once with my crashpad on my bike when I Iived at Slade--it still felt alien but familiar.  Long dormant synapses were jerked into service and spit and sputtered to life.
I was sad to see The Fictitious Egg was grown over with moss and lichens.  I spent a good bit of time scrubbing only to see damp rock exposed to the air and sun for the first time in thirteen or fourteen years.  I couldn't yard on the tiny starting crimps.  So I moved on to the Wookie Boulder having climbed nothing at the Egg Boulder.
Shockingly, the traverse problem Let the Wookie Win was completely dry.  Well, maybe it was damp, but there was no condensation and it wasn't wet to the touch.  The start holds to the V3 beginning extension Sweat of the Wookie was gushing water though.  Not that I had a chance of climbing V3.
I cleaned what needed to be cleaned and hung on the start holds.  Synapses continued to smoke and sputter.  Inspiration failed to fire.  With a mighty heave I managed less than an Eric Forman pullup.
After my disappointing flail I began packing up my things to move on to the next boulder.  Then I stopped cold.  That's not the first time I've almost walked away from a problem without really exerting myself.  The day I prepped Dreams was like that.  I cleaned up the base, felt out the holds, scoped the top out, and then started packing up my stuff.  I caught myself.  Almost sent it first go that day after all.
Anyway, I unfolded my pad underneath Wookie and sat back down.  I decided I wasn't leaving until I did at least the first move.  I grabbed on, throttled up, and in a blaze of synaptic combustion blew my manifold clean out in a burst of power.  I latched on to the second hold, flailed in surprise for a few seconds and stepped off.
My neural pathways were purring like glasspacks; idling menacingly.
I gave Wookie another go.  I managed to solidly, but sloppily make the first three moves before being stumped by the long crux move.  I was giddy on my own exhaust fumes at that point.  And I finally did move on up the hill to the Wolverine Boulder.
Wolverine is kind of where it all started—ground zero for my bouldering career.  Dustin and I had been shut down on yet another sport route—the incredible Yellow Brick Road—when I heard him hollering from over the hill.  Finally I wandered down and saw what he had been going on about.  In the center of a pointed boulder was an overhanging offset prow.  Dustin was way more jazzed about it than I was.
The problem was really his vision.  He worked out the moves.  Eventually I was sucked in.  We worked it relentlessly until we finally got it.  There was no crashpad, we didn't know much about spotting, and while we had been shut down on a 5.11b we were determined not to let a V1 be our downfall. 
Dustin got it first, but in the process we became boulderers.  From there we developed Emerald City to the fullest extent possible for mediocre climbers.
I discovered this past weekend that Wolverine needed a lot of cleaning after fourteen years.  Saturday I dropped my stuff under the striking line and started brushing.  I spent enough time that I was able to ponder my impending effort on the line.   I vaguely remembered the moves and became interested in sussing out the holds that were not apparent.
The first move is deceptively easy getting established on the face, but the second move is a weird layback off of the edge of the offset, with a move up onto the face for a tiny crimp with a thumb catch.  I shocked myself by sticking it, but then dropped off.  I was stoked to have gotten so far and almost walked away.  A glance up at the boulder and I saw a small shallow pocket in the shadow of the prow.  I remembered it.  So I got on one more time.  In complete surprise I found myself moving solidly on the crimp and snagging the pocket.  The next move didn't come to me after two more tries, but I left feeling really good about my progress.
With a spotter I’ll send Wolverine next time for sure.  But unlike in my dream, the movement over stone didn't feel effortless and ethereal.  I labored for each incremental movement.  My mind began humming in tune with my environment, but my body is still far behind.
I had decided after my last visit to Emerald City not so long ago that I would get it cleaned up again so I could run the circuit I used to.  The Emerald City and Global Village trails need some serious rehab too.  Maybe they could become mountain bikeable.  It’s a slow process to reclean all of those problems.  Especially since I can’t climb all of the problems right now.  I’ve resolved the thirty pound anchor around my flabdomen is coming off.  I can feel the extra weight as the coarse rock shreds my tender fingertips.  It’s time to reclaim myself.
 
 
 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Finding a Restore Point


I glanced over my shoulder to see the sun turning the high horizon into a blurred flare of shadow-black winter trees and white hot fire.  I let my gaze drop to the grassy meadow across the road.  I could see the car through the trees.  I had time.
I turned back to the green boulder and resumed scrubbing with the wire brush.  Fifteen years will really lay on the carpet of moss!  I remember the Witch’s Castle Boulder being nice and clean when I ran circuits at Emerald City ages before.  I was a little sad all of my younger self’s development efforts were in vain.  None of my old problems were climbable when I walked up to them on Sunday afternoon except the one really good problem on the Toto Boulder I had called Watto.  It was 1999 and I had just watched the Phantom Menace.  The low angle arĂȘte looked vaguely like the Toydarian character’s nose.
After my mini guide came out in Extremz magazine I had no less than three different people and ask to have their first ascent of that problem added to the guide.  I had to keep telling people it was simply an oversight, that I had cleaned and climbed that problem long before my article on bouldering was published.

Not only did I have a controversial bouldering article
on the inside, but I also shot the cover photo!
 
Fifteen years later as I scrubbed moss away from hand and footholds I had to chuckle and acquiesce that maybe I wasn’t the FA of any of those problems.  Except...back when I was a serious boulderer in the Red River Gorge very few people had ever attacked the smaller chunks of rock in the area in such a manner as me and my cousin and the small community of boulderers that were active at that time.  Back then if you cleaned a problem of serious vegetation you were pretty safe to claim it as your own.
That can’t be said with any certainty anymore.  I proved that to myself.  Problems I had climbed literally hundreds of times looked pristine.  Nature had reclaimed them more effectively than I would have ever believed.  And so all of those concerns about the “destruction” wrought by boulderers is pretty moot.  Now, there have been some impacts I’ve seen that went beyond simply moss and lichen eradication.  But for the most part unearthing a few hand and footholds seems to have little lasting effects.
We came home from church Sunday afternoon, and I crawled into bed.  I was partially tired from the big day before and partially trying to escape a cloud of depression.  Mandy let me nap for a while and then was insistent I get up and go with her and the kids to the park to run.  She was insistent but gentle.  I dragged myself out of bed and put on the running clothes she laid out for me.  All I wanted to do was crawl in a hole where no one would find me.
At the park I held back.  She took off running and the kids ran off to the playground.  I walked the track.  I felt numb and detached from the world.  There was little I wanted to do, and little I felt inclined to do.  Eventually I found myself sitting on a picnic table watching the kids play and fiddling with my smartphone.  Finally I put it down and fought the urge to lay my head down on the table.
“Just not motivated?” Mandy asked when she walked up, slightly out of breath after her run.
“Guess not,” I answered.
“Why don’t you take us home and then go out in the woods?  Run a trail.  Boulder.  You’ve got plenty of daylight.”
Relief washed over me, but I was skeptical.  I had been daydreaming a little about bouldering, but I feared a jaunt into the woods would end up turning into another pointless feedback loop that would only magnify my depression.  I knew I couldn’t go hunting for new boulders to climb.  I needed to go and climb something established that I wouldn’t have to think about and would have no excuse not to get on.  I chose Emerald City.
In early 1999 my cousin Dustin and I began systematically cleaning and climbing everything we could find below the cliffs at Emerald City.  We had bouldered from the beginning of our climbing days, but in ’99 I finally owned a crashpad and we set about looking for boulders for their own sake instead of some end-of-the-day consolation prize after failing at roped climbing.
In short order we had established a good number of quality problems and had a nice circuit.  I would often go do two laps there and two laps of all of our established problems at Torrent Falls.  It was a hopping place and I even frequently had people stop in Red River Outdoors to ask about specific problems or get better directions after my Extremz article came out.
I kept wondering what other climbers would think—and were thinking as I saw at least three parties of climbers leaving Lady Slipper as I wallered around on the boulders on Sunday—seeing some out of shape (in a literal sense) middle-aged climber scrubbing at moderate terrain and huffing his way up some obscure line on a boulder they had never noticed before.  But then again I probably shouldn’t have been stemming up the problem Toto in my stretchy running shorts.
Watto fell easily.  I had rated it V0+ so I assumed it would give me fits in my weakened state.  Instead it only took a little bit of courage up high to make the committing reach for the summit jug.  The hard moves had come right out of the gate at the sit start.  Oddly, it was the mere V0 Toto that ultimately thwarted me.  The commitment level at the top was pretty high and I had no spotter.  Maybe I need to rethink the grades on those two.
After climbing out the Toto Boulder I meandered over to the Witch’s Castle in hopes of getting one or two more problems in before sunset.  I was surprised how much cleaning the centerpiece problem there needed.  It was obvious a few more yards further from the trail kept that boulder complex from getting any traffic.  Toto sits right on the approach trail and was clean to climb for the most part.
I stood below the well featured My Sexy Cranberry (don’t ask about the name) and marveled at the thickness of the emerald carpet of moss.  I cleaned it, but neglected to inspect the boulder downclimb.  After foibling my way up the old favorite I discovered the downclimb was thick with damp greenery as well.  I tapped into those years of climbing my way out of tight spots and managed to get down without breaking myself. 
I then took the time to clean the downclimb which led to a cleaning of the topout along that face of the boulder and ultimately to the highball testpiece Sonsphear which we had originally rated V1, but then I went back and called it V3.  Or vice versa.  Regardless, it’s thin and committing with a low and a high crux over an angled landing.  I shook my head remembering the energy and excitement of those days.  We couldn’t get enough of finding and climbing new problems.  A line like Sonsphear we worked until we had each climbed it once and then moved on.  It fell off the circuit because you really needed a good spot, so I probably never climbed it again after the FA.
As I uncovered it’s beginning footholds I began recognizing them like the faces of old friends from childhood.  I remember how the footholds were used, and how they felt under the hard thin rubber of my climbing shoes.  It was like I was able to tap into that long gone time with a straw through the thick stone walls.  I’ll never reclaim those experiences, but I can move forward and create new ones.  I drank in the memories from that flood just beyond the walls of time, sucking desperately knowing I'd never get more than a trickle of data out of my rusty mind.
I hadn’t considered Sonsphear as a potential project in my bouldering reboot, but now I think I have to do it again, to honor those memories and those good times, and to prove to myself that I haven’t lost myself in the intervening years.  It sounds hokey, but right now I am looking for a way to reconcile a lot of bad water.  If I had it my way I would wipe the slate clean, maybe erase all of my memories even, and start over fresh.  But none of us are able to do that as much as we might like.  So I think maybe I’m trying to find a good restore point and work forward from that.
That evening I sat at the table eating my dinner and telling Mandy about the bouldering session and my observations.  She was happy that my spirits were improved, and so was I.  I was truly surprised that I had come out of the afternoon in a better state as many of my most recent bouldering sessions (going back as far as 2006) ended with me in dark places with poisoned thoughts.  I’ve since realized that going off by myself to try and heal isn’t always the best strategy.  But Sunday evening it seemed to be just the ticket.  Slowly I feel like I’m coming back.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Bite Me Mandalorians!


What would you do if a fully armored Mandalorian warrior yelled menacingly at your child?
Yeah, I did the same thing:
"C'mon, let's go," I growled in disgust without adding: "and if you don't want kids picking up your expensive toys then don't put them on display and within reach!"
The kids were ready to leave Lexington Comic Con anyway.  We'd been there for a few hours and we were dead broke and weather beaten by the sensory overload of thousands of excited geeks and literally tons of sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and comic memorabilia, paraphernalia, and novelty items.




 
We were impervious to the glare of the Mandalorian wanna-be burning into our backs as we exited the Lexington Center into a light drizzle and the oddly welcoming hum and buzz of the streetscape.  The boys made out like bandits; oddly enough in cheap comic books.  Lily had a pretty good day too.  I was surprised how much there was to interest an eight year old girl.
I mean, if you don't want kids touching your geeky props then put the sign higher than waist level.  The kids see the helmet before they see the sign.  Good lord.  Yeah, yeah, that’s why you have the sign, but if no one can see it…
The day started early.  The Shamrock Shuffle started at 8:00am.  We were up at 6:00.  The rain beat harder on the car the closer we got to Lexington.  If Beanie hadn't wanted to do it so bad maybe we'd have bailed on the run.  Maybe not.  We all braved the early start and the rain.  It was a lot of fun.  Lily had a great time so it was worth it.
 
Afterward Mandy rode home with her mom and I took Boone and Lily and Ty to Comic Con.  Boone had been looking forward to it since the first time we went two years ago.   Oddly enough I had been looking forward to it too.  Had I had opportunity at eleven years old to go to a comic con somewhere I’d have acted as stupid as my son did over it.  Bless his heart!
It made me super glad that all three kids had a good time.  Ty bought a stack of comic books, Lily just plain enjoyed herself, and Boone was running around getting autographs until he hit the wall of the pay-to-be-a-fan crowd.  He was a little crestfallen, but he took it in stride.  Again, let me rant just a tad:
I’m a fan.  I’ve watched your movies, bought your action figures, and pretended to be you while playing with my friends.  Don’t @#$%ing charge me for your autograph.  Oh, sure, I’ll pay for a nice glossy photo for you to sign, but my event program?  C’mon, I paid over a hundred dollars for our little crew to get into the party.  If the convention can’t pony up a little for the talent I’m not sure why my son has to pay $40 for Deep Roy to throw down his John Hancock.  We’re not made of money.  Do you want my good graces for free or me to pay for the autograph instead of your next mediocre film? 
Well, to be fair I guess the famous amoses get more from a signature than they do from a single Blu-Ray sale.  But still…
Wiley ewoks

I so wish there had been a live person in that costume who went "Boo!"
just has he reached out to touch it

Yes, that is Chewbacca's head in the dewback's mouth

These were not the Mandalorians who were yelling at us


 
 
I sound like a bitter curmudgeon, but that’s just me venting after a day of being completely overwhelmed by being out in the city in a crowd for too long.  I had a good time.  It was great fun and there was lots of cool stuff to see.  And even if the Mandalorian Merc guy annoyed me by yelling at my son I still thought his costume was cool.
When I got home I pondered who I would cosplay as next year.  Maybe Deckard.
 
My work here is through...
 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Crowding the Fire


It seems like I’ve got forty irons in the fire and keep inadvertently putting more in all the time.  I don’t know how to rein it back in I guess.  I’ve been trying to pare away the dead skin.  I’ve been trying even to cut into the living fat and make the whole animal more lean and nimble.  Some days it all seems futile.
Ah, I’m moaning because winter derailed my Yamacraw aspirations.  I’ve not been able to run as much as I needed to have the miles behind me to carry me through my first ultra.  So be it.  I’ve got six weeks still and no excuses.  I don’t believe we can still suffer any lingering winter effects.  It all has to go.  Last week I finally got on the road.  Twenty three miles I ran last week.  That’s not as much as I would like, but it’s a darn sight better than I have managed the previous two weeks. 
I blew off Saturday for some unknown reason.  Laziness.  “Aspirations to write.”  I don’t know…maybe even a bite of apathy thrown in.
Sunday I couldn’t ignore the looming necessity to tick off some miles.  I’ve amended my training plan with a Flying Pig target instead of the onerous 50k bullseye I don’t think I can hit at this point.  That meant instead of running twenty two miles I needed to run fourteen.  Seems reasonable, right?  I mean, I have recently run a half marathon distance and my last trail run (the prologue for the Snowpocalypageddon) was eleven miles.
One of the main factors that have kept me off the roads recently has been the piles of snow and frozen slush which have been lining the roads and narrowing the lanes.  It’s been harrowing in a car driving around as local drivers haven’t shown much consideration for the conditions and have resumed to driving full speed on the county road I live on.  I don’t have much trust or faith in humanity when it comes to sharing the road.  I’m not going to mince words either.  Most people don’t take driving seriously enough.
 

The climb on the east side of Tharpe Ridge
 
Nearby and sunny Paint Creek
 
Anyway, Sunday I felt good about going out for a long run over to town, out Maple Street, over Tharpe Ridge and onto Paint Creek.  It went well.  In fact, it was quite warm in the sun.  I was dressed in a t-shirt and running shorts and sweated like a snowhog.  I was encouraged to see a family of four walking along Paint Creek, seemingly for the unadulterated heck of it.  I saw a few other people out walking or following kids on bikes or walking dogs.  Despite the lingering evidence of the recent winter obliteration people were defiantly enjoying the spring-like weather.
Believe it or not I’m itching to ride my bike these days.  I can hardly believe it myself.
Maybe with the increase in solar exposure my brain will start functioning like the rabid wolverine of obsession it has in the past.  Lord help us all!

 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Patience


Enough already!  I like winter as much or totally more than the next guy, but let's get moving on toward summer.  I say summer because I'm really not a huge fan of spring in Kentucky.  Everyone suffers from the pollen fog when there isn't bucketloads of rain falling.
Maybe the remnants of the blizzard of spiritual bleakness are finally melting off too.  Oh, there will be a couple of big piles of snow remaining.  My lost training due to the actual blizzard: that's a crushing mountain of ice still.  And my car sits wrecked in the driveway as the wheels of insurance turn slowly.  The situation is nuisance though it will melt away in time.
Digging out from my backlog at work is probably going to demand the most energy.  I missed nearly two full weeks during my busiest time of the year (I hope, anyway).  I had too many necessary meetings cancel.  Most have been rescheduled, but not all, and the bulk of them had to be postponed beyond the due date for the work they'll produce.
Dig, dig, diggity, dig.

 
Some new music has helped me through this time of entombment.  I don't listen to the radio for music.  This past year I've turned onto NPR as I commute all over creation, but it's the only radio I can tolerate.  Other talk radio seems terribly shallow and asinine to me and I can't stand listening to other people's playlists of music interspersed with advertising and non-musical filler.  I want to listen to what I want to listen to and not the other crap.  And NPR has current events in a digestible format.
Oh, please oh please comment and tell me how liberal NPR is!  It's still better than most of the other garbage on the radio and there are no commercials.
Anyway, I will listen to Pandora from time to time.  The more I listen to it the more I like it.  Lately it seems like the old frustrations have been addressed.  Nowadays it seems that if you create an Avett Brothers station you hear the Avett Brothers in the rotation.  While initially it was fun, the game of trying to guess which artist to make a station of to hear the artist you really want to hear ended up being almost as frustrating as not playing the game.
AnyWHO!
One of my stations rotated a band called Redbird pretty heavily.  And I came across them during one of my "hmm hmm HIM" moments.  I'd gotten a line stuck in my head: "give me cornbread when I'm hungry; corn whiskey when I'm dry" and it took a week or so before someone suggested it might have been from the film Deliverance.  In the meantime I came across the song “Moonshiner” in a different version by Sturgill Simpson (actually called "Poor Rambler" but still an excellent song!) and another version by Redbird.
During the snowpocalpsageddon I created a Redbird station and it was a real treat.  Pandora played a lot of Jeffrey Foucault, Mandolin Orange, Avett Brothers, Sarah Jarosz, Danny Schmidt, and others.
I fell in love with them all.  In particular I jazzed on "Ring Them Bells" by Jarosz, "Battle Hymn" by Foucault, "Train Song" by Mandolin Orange, and "Patience" by Redbird.  Late to the party was a ditty called "Down in the Valley" by The Head and the Heart.
Let it be known that I don't run or ride to music in general.  Sometimes when I run in a park off the road I'll listen to music, but on the road or trail I don't.  I'm not here to preach fire and brimstone; I just don't do it.  On the road I am not comfortable with my ears plugged up anymore.  I guess I've finally grown up enough to care about not getting run over.  On the trail I just don't want to insulate myself from what's going on around me.  I don't run or ride on trails to block out the natural world, just the built.
Yesterday was nice with the sun and the warmth.  Most of the snow in my neck of the woods is gone though there's atill quite a bit on the ground in Lexington.  I can't believe I'm saying this, but I really can't wait for this short winter to be over.
 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

All the Small Things


It doesn't take much.  A ship's rudder is such a small thing; yet it can avert unholy disaster of epic proportions. 

Yesterday did not go well.  To be honest I’ve been surfing a monster hole in life's rapids fighting to stay out of the mean hydraulic of depression that's been churning at me, threatening to suck me under and hold me until I can breathe no more.  More water analogy.

Anyway, for no good reason I didn't run at lunch time.  When I got home Mandy asked if I wanted to go to the gym and I answered that I wanted to go run at the park.

"Why don't you?" she encouraged.

So I did.  It still felt like trying to bring a boulder to the surface of a lake with just my bare hands, but I finally found myself at the park, out of the car, and the asphalt trail stretched out ahead of me under a sinking sun.  The first few steps weren’t even stiff and lurching.  I took off at an easy lope and picked up gradually into a comfortable pace.
I had decided I was going to run a 10k.  Most of the time it’s hard for me to get in more than three or four miles on the 0.6 mile city park trail.  I get bored or frustrated with humanity too easily.  And at three miles in I doubted I would finish more than four.  Fortuitously four miles ended up falling in the middle of a lap and when I got back to the parking lot I was at closer to four and half so I kept on going to five.  At five something odd happened.
At five miles in it sudden felt as if I had a wellspring of energy.  A freakin’ artesian well as a matter of fact…
I cranked up my pace about a mile an hour faster.  My sixth mile average ended up being 8:13/mi after five miles of struggling to stay under ten.  At five miles I hit a stride.  I felt like I could have gone on for so much longer.  And I guess I would have if the sun hadn’t finally seeped from the sky.  The park has lights, but I wasn’t dressed for the cold that would come with dusk.
I felt better when I got back home.  My mind was clearer.  My mood was definitely elevated and I had a brighter outlook.  I’m not saying I was miraculously cured of my melancholy, but I was a lot closer to being healed.  Such a small action resulted in a major turnaround.
I noticed my hip and knees felt great.  The mandatory rest during the Snowpocalypse was exactly what I needed.  I wouldn’t have voluntarily laid off  running for so long, but providentially I got exactly what I needed.  If I can keep myself injury free now…
As far as the mental aspect of my impending Yamacraw doom I recently read an article that made the point that a marathon isn’t twenty-six times harder than running a single mile despite misconceptions to the contrary.  I think I instinctively understood that, but I had never articulated it in my mind that way.  It makes a lot of sense.
That helps me unshoulder a big load in regard to another big stressor (though far from being in the top five even) and helps me outline a new strategy for tackling my first ultra.  Yes, here comes the proclamation of doomed athleticism you’ve come to expect from me:
I’m going to put in as many miles as I can between now and April 18th.  I’m going to dial in fueling and hydration.  I’m going to remain injury free.  I’m going to continue to go to the gym for conditioning and strength training.
And then I’m going to finish the Yamacraw 50k.