Monday, October 24, 2016

Taken to Church

I once got bent out of shape because a friend countered my excuse for not rock climbing on a Sunday due to church with “I’d rather be in the mountains thinking about God than in church thinking about mountains.”  At the time I didn’t feel like his sentiment was valid in a strictly Christian sense. 

Back then I didn’t see spending time in the woods as a particularly spiritual endeavor.  For me getting into nature was an escape from adult responsibility.  I’m not saying that’s not what it is now, but I realize that even back then the desire to be out under the open sky was partly mental health maintenance and partly communing with something greater than myself.  It didn’t fit together with my Judeo-Christian puzzle, but in the years since I’ve come to accept that I can seek God outside of a church building, and sometimes in the out of doors I do feel closer to the Divine.

Lily Bean ran her state competition on Saturday morning.  She did really well—no PR—but well all the same.  Afterward she and I decided to go bouldering while Mandy went for a walk with her mom.  We trucked up toward the Gorge, dodged a few tourons, and then landed at the startlingly unoccupied parking spot for Lower Small Wall.

At Muscle Beach last week the problems I revisited were low angle or vertical.  At Lower Small Wall the problems were short but overhanging. The lower boulders are notoriously abrasive as well.  When we arrived I spent a good bit of time cleaning the Stump Boulder, the Bowling Pin and the Aptly Named Boulder.  Aptly Named is one of my all-time favorite boulder problems. 

Once I was finished cleaning I sat down under Grimace of Coolness, a short, steep V2 on the Stump Boulder.  I couldn’t do a single move on the sharp, severe crimps.  Maybe if I warmed up first… So I got on Seven-Ten Split.  After one try I was able to do the single move dynamic problem.  It’s all about foot placement.  After that we moved up to try Aptly Named, a high quality V0+ on rock that appears to be chossy when in fact its solid and good quality.
Pulling off Seven-Ten Split with old-man ligaments
photo by Bean
Looking for my try-hard on Aptly Named
photo by Bean
I couldn’t do two moves consecutively on it.  At first.  But after a few more tries I was able to do a couple of moves, a couple more moves, and I felt like I was going to be able to link them, but in the end I just didn’t have it in me to make the moves on the problem.  I finally gave it up.  I need to drop pounds and do some conditioning.  So we headed home. On Sunday I was sore all day.  My back muscles hummed in pain whenever I moved or picked something up.  It was a good sore.

A friend posted a pic from Blackburn Rock on Instagram late Saturday, and it inspired me to take the family back out there on Sunday afternoon.  The kids had both been there, but Mandy never had.  The watershed moment came: bike out the ridge or hike up Powder Mill Trail.  We opted for mountain biking.

I loaded up the bikes on the back of the Jeep and we drove over through Montgomery County into Menifee and then out Hatton Ridge.  We didn’t see anyone as we drove out and seemed to have the place to ourselves.  When we got to Hatton Cemetery we made an interesting discovery: the gate is open.

Hatton Ridge and the two roads that make up the Short Creek rim to the west are gated Forest Roads.  Quite a few years ago a climber friend and myself made the discovery that the Forest Service opens the gates during hunting season.  We had biked out the ridge between Short Creek and Cane Creek to Wild Country Wall and as I was getting ready to clip the anchors on a sport route we heard a vehicle approaching.  We looked over toward the road and top our wonder and amazement saw a pickup truck pulling an airstream camper.


So yeah, the gate was open, but we still decided to ride out to Blackburn from the cemetery, though the new development opened up some positive and negative possibilities.  Like, would Bean clam up and insist we go get the car and drive back to rescue her when the return trip got too hard (she didn’t)?  Or, would it maybe be possible to run up to Blackburn next Friday evening for more fall photos and to watch the sun set (that’s the plan)?

The ride out went well and we spent a good bit of time chilling at the overlook.  I pondered a ride from home estimating fifteen to eighteen miles one way coming up through either Cane Creek/Pumpkin Hollow or up Spaas Creek (when I got home and mapped it I found it was twenty-two miles one way).

I finally got the panovista photo I wanted.  Seeing Becky’s on Instagram (I’d seen others from that viewpoint before) inspired me to get back out there and get my own shot from the photographer’s point due south of the impressive overlook.  The fall colors still aren’t at their peak, and I know it’s going to be tricky catching everything just right.  I may have to take a day off work if there’s a particularly amazing light and color day.
I call this one "Old Man and Mountain Bike"
photo by Mandy

Cell phone shot of Blackburn Rock from the south
We lingered still at the overlook after I got my photos.  Finally we decided to head back toward the car and eventually home.  For whatever reason I again felt no urgency in getting out of the woods or of traveling to and fro during the day.  Hatton Ridge had worked its time-freezing magic on me again.

As we pedaled north on the road I couldn’t help but marvel, mouth agape, at the sunlight flooding through the canopy and creating a ceiling of stained glass overhead.  There were peaches, umbers, and golden panels catching and diffusing the sunlight and painting amazing pixeled pointillisms across the surface of my brain.  My vision problems of late have subsided for the most part, but I think I must still be sensitive to light on some level.  While this is typically annoying, when it causes such fireworks in my brain it’s absolutely Divine.

It was a great day and we had some quality family time in the out of doors in the best season of all seasons.  I didn’t even feel guilty crashing into the recliner when we got back home to watch TV and edit photos.  When I got up from time to time I could feel my muscles protest.  But these are good aches, not the debilitating old age sharps and pinches I’ve felt for the past couple of years.  However, the aches I feel now are from activities that once would have felt less than warm-ups for me and would have been movements I could have repeated all the livelong day without consequence.  Each groan made me think of a quote I heard on NPR over the weekend; a snippet of a Leonard Cohen song:

I ache in the places where I used to play

This pretty much sums up how my body feels at this moment in time.  But I’m happy and content and that’s all that matters.

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