Monday, October 17, 2016

Muscle Memories


 Truth be told the fall foliage is far from its peak.  The seasons shifted late.  Right now there's still a lot of green vistas in the region.  Of course under the canopy there's no doubt fall has arrived.  Things will change fast though.

For me fall has always meant the promise of cooler weather.  I loathe heat and humidity.  I love sunny days, but I prefer them in February over bright days in July.  If I had my way work would be suspended from the beginning of October until the end of the year.  I see this time of year as the ideal vacation season.

Most rock climbers would agree that fall is the ideal season for climbing.  The Red River Gorge Climbers Coalition's iconic annual festival/fundraiser which just took place is Rocktoberfest.  Right now the crags are packed like a New York subway at rush hour but with trees and rocks.  When the humidity of summer evaporates the sandstone of the Gorge become grippier.  In a sense the climbs become easier, as sweat and condensation no longer combine to make hand and footholds greasy and hard to hold onto.

Non-climbers flock here for seasonal pilgrimages too.  The Gorge area is popular with the leaf viewing crowd. Cooler nights make for clear star gazing, better sleeping while camping, and fewer biting bugs and venomous critters.  The foliage is the draw, but all those other things are the hook that brings you back.

On Saturday Bean and I took to the woods to wrassle some pebbles.  I had the strong, sudden urge to revisit the Muscle Beach bouldering area.  In my younger days I had spent many a day climbing lines on the low sandstone outcropping at the northwest corner of the ridge that makes up the actual roped climbing crag.  The pinnacle Minas Ithil perches on top of the narrow spine of rock and the exposed sandstone layer averages about ten feet thick with regular breaks.  Some of the rock chunks are boulders, but the bulk of the climbing is on formations I referred to as “blocks” because they are just segments of a low cliffline and not slump block boulders.  “Block” is my term and not a geologic term.  Unless it is.

Boulders and blocks

Bean seemed excited about the prospect of bouldering.  I couldn’t roust the teenager.  At 9:00am he rolled over and replied to my inquiry into his interest level for going out in the woods with a: “I just woke up, Dad” though he really hadn’t. 

She didn’t even fuss on the half mile hike in.  The trail is overgrown and follows an old logging road.  It’s really not a bad walk in the winter, but now, at the close of summer, the weeds, greenbriars, and low hanging limbs mostly obscure the trail.

Once we reached the boulders memories came flittering back.  I chose to drop our gear at a rock I called “Tennis Shoe Boulder” back in the early Aughts.  Likely I put up the problems fifteen years ago.  Bean put on her shoes and started slumming around as I walked amongst the boulders letting my soft, pink hands glide over the moss and lichen covered rocks.

Doin' her dad proud on Strider Left V0-

Some quality father/daughter time

Finally I put on my own shoes and waltzed up a problem called Strider Left.  Apparently I never climbed Strider, which is the vertical right side of a featured arĂȘte.  The left variation is a lower angle easy problem which also serves as the downclimb for the boulder.  Bean followed me up and then we had fun getting her back down.  I extolled her on the value of developing solid downclimbing skillz. 

We moved next door to the Summer Block and I did some light brushing.  But for the most part the holds were good.  Without much ado I grabbed onto the starting holds of another featured arĂȘte called Sleepwalker and balanced up the vertical corner on excellent holds.  Despite the fact that I probably only climbed the line half a dozen times or less well over a decade ago muscle memory kicked in.  My body remembered the holds and the movements required to ascend twelve feet into the air and deposit itself on the flat summit of the block.  

There was a surreal moment when my fingers wrapped around an iron oxide protrusion and the synapses in my brain all lit up in recognition.  The previous holds on the climb had seemed familiar, but one in particular triggered a flood of memory.  Images and sensations flashed through my mind and threatened to drop me off the corner onto the crashpad below.  I smiled to myself, contracted flabby old muscles in an organic reboot of how they would have moved so long ago, and I finished the problem.

Attempting Eye of the Dragon V1
Did every move except the dirty top out

Bean got bored until I let her take photos with my expensive camera.  And then I finally decided the better part of valor was leaving while I could still walk the next day and open jars of pickles with my bare hands over the course of the next week.  I reluctantly packed up the gear and pointed Bean toward the car. 

It’s a long path back to peak climbing levels.  I know that.   Since I’m not a full time climbing bum anymore I need to be smarter about any return to climbing status.  I can’t count on frequency and volume to get me into shape.  I must cross train my body.  I have to take care of myself better than I did in my stupider days.  And I need to maintain perspective and priority in my life.  Balance.

I’ve only put mountain biking on hold as I cure up the inflammation in my eyes.  I visited the optometrist last week and he gave me these miracle eye drops which are curing me pretty good.  I pick up new contact lenses later this week, and then I should be back in business.  I figured bouldering was a safe bet with glasses, but I cursed and raged against the perpetual fogging and obscuring of my vision.  I’m really sick of being blind.


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