Tuesday, October 30, 2007

JTree Pre-Trip Post

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In less than two days, I'll be arriving in Joshua Tree for my seventh time. The picture above was taken the first time I was there, in December of 2004, from near my campsite in Hidden Valley Campground. I love getting up early to watch the sun rise over the formations.....

This and my last trip to the Tree have been kicked off by parties known as SushiFests, where a group of climbers(mostly) from Supertopo(mostly) gather in a camp space and...have sushi. LOTS of sushi. GOOD sushi! Sushi by Nature! Here's one of his creations from the April event, out at Snow Canyon in Utah....
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Now, I couldn't eat a whole...prawn?.... legs and all, deep-fried and smothered in - I think it's called Uni. But plenty of the others sure did, and they seemed to be ecstatic. I do know that his sushi is really, really good, and I have been on a sushi fast in preparation for the sushi fest! I can't afford the high quality that Nature provides, and because I've been trying to save for this trip - not even the delicatessen sushi at $10 an dish! It's strictly been canned tuna for my fish intake this last few weeks.... I'm ready for some fresh fish!

The party will be this upcoming weekend, with climbing at Joshua Tree during daylight, and live music, wonderful food, and fabulous folks after sundown. Should be fun....and that's an understatement.

Then, I will stick around and have another week of climbing, relaxation and general Joshua Tree living. Can't wait to meet new people, climb new routes, get spanked on some others and take some time out to live the life.

My return will allow me the weekend before Thanksgiving to get another Gunks weekend in, so long as the weather permits, and then....it's holiday season(lots of work for me) and the dreaded...cold months of winter(I haven't started climbing ice, and though I do like the idea, I think my dislike for the cold is going to be...an issue).

I'll keep this site posted as to my goings-on while out there. Recently I purchased a laptop and so I will be able to update as I go. I'm worried that I won't be able to upload pictures though, since this system runs on...Vista. Guess I'd better sign off and see what I can do about that, in case I need to deal with some horror of the evil Microsoft Empire.....

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Humble, Yet Delectable Potato(e)

I am not a Cliff Bar and coffee, nor a liver on beer alone sort of climber. I like real food, and while car(less) camping may reduce options, I'm not about to go without.

This last weekend was the annual Gear Swap at Rock and Snow, and I had stuff to sell. So, I had a choice -bring the gear, or bring my cooler. With a one-ass width and perfect height for sitting, it doubles as a camp chair, but the real reason I bring it is so I can have real eggs, fresh cheese and a packet of sandwich meat(for Teddy). And icy water, cold juice, un-melted chocolates....you get the idea.

But, autumn has begun to fall, and I figured, that with a little innovation, I could pack a full weekend's worth of good food that would be fine without being iced. You have to understand what an issue this is for me....

I am overly picayune about the freshness of food, and have always been so. Even as a kid, I would get grossed out by some of the food prep methods I witnessed, like when Kelly Hinkley's mom basted a Thanksgiving Day turkey with - UGGGHHHH - mayonnaise! This would NOT do, I thought, and there was no way on EARTH I was touching that bird. I can't recall how I got around it without arousing notice, but I do remember being extremely grateful, and knowing there was a God, when she whipped out the Knorr's Brown Gravy packet..... My own mom knew gravy, and how to create a wonderful sauce with the pan drippings. But Mrs H was a modern, platinum blond, 1970's divorcee; cooking was not the one way to a man's heart in her experience.....

I had been dreading the dinner, since the gravy is the binding ingredient in a T/Day dinner. It graces the potato(e)s AND the stuffing, and makes a dry bird palatable. Not to mention leftovers and the final base for soup stock.... I feared it would be green beans and cranberry sauce for me that year. Knorr's saved the event that year.....

And so - I will tell you that my potato(e) recipes to follow here are graced with the magic Knorr's Brown Gravy; surprisingly good, actually, considering how overly salty and otherwise tasteless most packet-based food products can be.

But back to the supposed reason for my food phobia...... Several years ago, one of my friends talked me into visiting a spiritual channeler, who would look into my eternal life, and explain where I'd been and what had happened while I was there...

At one point he mentioned my food issues, and how I felt a real need to insure the preservation/ preparation was properly done. He talked about how I would never - ever - order a deli sandwich consisting of something like tuna or chicken salad, which could have...gagggg, even writing the words....been sitting on a back counter courting Sal Monella and who knows what other unsavory sorts of characters.

It seemed, he said, that I had inadvertently poisoned, and subsequently killed, my own daughter. This was back in the medieval period, before refrigeration, you see. It wasn't totally my fault. But a mother guilt is not so easily diminished, as we have found through - well, certainly not through Freud. But somewhere. Who hasn't heard a mother exclaim "What did I do wrong!" whenever her darling(usually son) was naughty?

So - I poisoned my kid and was apparently skittish about having history repeat itself. And that's why I was a Tupperware Locked-In Freshness sort of girl(I DID love their old tv spots where the fruits and vegetables had deadbolt locks and skeleton key closures... Hmmmmm, it's all falling into place now....).

But first, I have to tell you how I took care of Teddy, who NEEDS meat! At least on Sunday during the trail work lunchbreak, when Dick pulls out roast chicken or a roast beef sandwich.... He won't STND to be excluded from the meat fest, and I can tell you - when teddy talks, people listen. He's part Jack Russel, and he is....persistent.

This was a quandary, because I just didn't know what meat, besides a stick of sausage, I could keep for two and a half days without eliciting my fear of poisoning a loved one. Of course, there was the old standby - canned tuna. But what to do about the (insert late night television horror music) dreaded mayo malaise?

Well - I came up with an idea while scouting my kitchen. I had figured that an onion(which will come into play in the potatao(e) portion of this program) would be okay if I sliced off a bit on Friday night, and kept it in a cool, shady spot for Sunday. This was risky, I tell you, but I thought the temps would probably be in the forties at night, and not rise above the low sixties.

Same with a green pepper, though his fist cut would come on Saturday morning(again - potoao(e) recipe following.....

And when the weather was sunny and warm, I did have a moment, or three, where I second-guessed my commitment. It was bad enough that I had brought a chunk of butter(you'll see...po(e).... But that HAD to be okay, since my mom had kept the quarter in the kitchen cupboard twelve months out of a year, shielded from evildoer microbes by only a plastic-lidded butter dish, and not even Tupperware!

So - the mayo-less tuna salad recipe secret ingredient was....balsamic vinegar! Yeah! I was saved. And - it was damned good, I can tell you. teddy like it too.

What I did was - Dice the onion, dice the pepper, and put them in a (sandwich-bag sized) ziplock baggie. Sprinkle the vegetable liberally with good ground pepper, and toss in a tablespoon or so of the balsamic. Shake it up, zip it good, toss it in another plastic sack(to protect my backpack from the hazard of a toxic spill - I guess maybe that was a bit of transference, but one has to care about something, don't they?).

Don't add the tuna! Let the vinegar do it's marinade mamba for the morning. At lunchtime, open that tuna(I used a can, because for one thing, those packet things are a price rip-off, but also because the portion would be too small to share with Teddy, and also because I wanted to have the additional moisture of the water - well, I had accidentally gotten packed-in-oil, and it was just right. Maybe add a little olive oil if you use water-packed or the rip-off packet).

Don't forget a can opener if you don't have a flip-top can, by the way. So, add the drained tuna to the marinated veggies, and shake it all about. Don't forget a fork either, I suppose I should say. Unless you want to use it on bread, and then you can sort of pour/squish the mixture out of the baggie.

I found this quite refreshing,. and will most likely repeat the thing this week. And Teddy was happy too, especially since he had to exert himself a bit to get to the corners at the bottom. Plus the licking! A dog loves to lick, as everyone knows, and Teddy was in seventh heaven. licking that baggie clean.

So...."What about the potato(e)s?" you are maybe asking. Finally - Here's the potato(e) part:

I bought a bunch of Red Jackets, but maybe I will try Yukon Golds next time. The point is - don't go with boring bakers. Go for the flavor a good potato(e) offers. You're not going to be skinning them alive, so utilize the thinner-skinned tubers.

For Friday night, it was sumptuous mashed potato(e)s and gravy. No more is needed for a comfort food feats, if you ask me. Saturday morning, I used the leftovers for a meal of home fries. Laced with the leftover Knorr's Brown gravy - oh, dear...yummy.

If you're going for the double duty dishes - you've got to plan and cook the batch all at once. Cut them up into small, but not too small, chunks. The smaller you go, the less fuel used to cook, and the faster you get to eat!

Don't start the water heating beforehand. Fill your biggest pot, but not too full; it's fine if the potato(e)s aren't submerged. Cut up all those potato(e)s and commit to reserving some of them for tomorrow's breakfast. Don't forget!

Start cooking, stirring on occasion to get the bottom ones atop and vice versa. While doing that, start the Knorr's Brown Gravy mix. When the potato(e)s are soft, but not quite mashable, remove the biggest ones from the pot and set aside. Those will be the home fries for the morning. let those cool, then put in a ziplock or some other container.

Back to your mashies....Don't forget to keep an eye on the gravy! Stir it often to avoid lumps and burning.

So - the potato(e)s are ready for mashing.....

Pour off a good amount of the water, into a container. You'll need some of it, probably, to get the right consistency, and since you're in camp, you don't want to waste perfectly good water.

Add some butter to the potato(e)s and chop them up a bit. Then add some pepper and sprinkle some dried milk on the top. There's already some water left in the bottom, so start mashing it all together. A camp fork is fine - no, I do not bring a potato(e) masher along on my camping trips.....


If you need a softer consistency, add some of that potato(e) water, but be careful unless you want a soup!

Done! Dish it out, or leave in the pot. Top with the gravy and dig in!

For breakfast, chop some onions and green pepper. Put a chunk of butter in a pot(don't use the fry pan, unless you have a big one.... Fry pan, I mean. Sheeeesh!).

Cut up the potato(e)s into chunks the size you prefer. Start cooking.

Warm up the leftover gravy from last night(if you saved any, that is).

Be sure to keep an eye on the tater(s)..... Don't let them burn. Cook until they're at least heated through, they were pre-cooked last night so that's not an issue, unless you didn't cook long enough. Then, it's an issue. Think about how crispy you like them; if you're like me - you like them crisy, and that means more butter and careful tending, as you need to cook longer without turning, but not tooooo long.

Done? Pour on some gravy. or not. And have a delicious hot breakfast.

That's it! Gotta catch the 2:51 Metro North to Poughkeepsie..... Hope you have as good a weekend as I intend to. Climbing tomorrow with a great partner, and then heading into town for the Fred Beckey slideshow.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Lost In Transit

This morning I was reading the free newspaper(and I use the term loosely, but you'd have to be familiar with the thing to know what I mean) AM New York, and saw a blurb about missing baggage at the airport, and how to reduce the time factor in the return of the prodigal duffels.... The article said that in August of this year, passengers filed 437,141 reports on mishandled baggage. Or 7.55% per 1,000 passengers. The "good news" is that the number is down, from 8.10 per 1,000 for the same month last year....

Of course I recalled(how could I forget!?) the debacles that have been my lost bags over the years. But particularly irking have been the ones since I started climbing(and carrying attractive-to-thieves gear, I'm assuming).

On my very first excursion where I was responsible for the cooking gear, my brand new, never been used, Brinkman two-burner stove was removed from my checked bag. When I went to make dinner - and we were in a wilderness area miles form even the nearest small town - rummaged to the bottom of the bag, and there was no stove.

I distinctly remembered placing it in the bag, along with most of the other items, because I fit things together like I was completing a puzzle, adding the extra component of weight restriction to the equation. I could see it with my mind's eye. It did not make me happy to hear my partner bitching that I'd friggin' forgot the stove.....

Then I noticed something. There, upon the top of the bag's contents, sat a rectangle of paper. A notice from the Department of Homeland Security. It said my bag had been randomly chosen to be inspected. It also said that if any items had been removed during the inspection, they had been replaced. I could rest assured of that fact, because if they hadn't been replaced, it would have been because I'd have been pulled from the flight and taken into questioning about the confiscated item.

The notice gave me a phone number to call if I had an issue.....But when I went to make that call, the run-around I endured was an engineering masterpiece. As designed, I eventually gave up, never receiving so much as an acknowledgment I was attempting to deal with a problem, much less compensation for or return of the stolen goods.

Another time, my entire bag went AWOL, never to be seen again. This time I don't think it was the contents the person was after, but a disgruntled skycap. I unfortunately had not remembered to have cash for a tip, and only had twenties in my wallet. I thought it would be stupid and irritating to ask for change(especially if he didn't have it), and the better way was to do nothing. A big mistake.

That bag simply vanished, and when I looked for it at my destination the baggage claim personnel were of stalwart resistance. They had the system down. Of course, I filled out the paperwork. They insisted the bag would most likely show up on the next flight, or soon thereafter.

But it didn't. And when I would call the toll-free number to check status, all I could get was "We have no information on this item. please check back in a few hours."

This went on for a day and a half, and since the luggage contained ALL my camping gear(except the stove, which my travel mate supplied....), we could not head off to our destination.

Finally I went back to the airport, to talk to someone in person. Alas, the system is not set up for that. And all I received was surliness. yet, the phone number I'd been given had no option whatsoever, except to hear the repeated "no information, check later." Even calling the various numbers for the airline were useless, as there was simply no way to reach a human. The one option for lost baggage did politely explain(in a recorded message) that it was the "baggage handlers" who were responsible, and that they were not affiliated with the airport, who was not liable.

Plenty of ageda later, I realized that my bag was not coming, nor would it ever arrive. There was nothing to be done but to go to Walmart and buy a shirt to replace the one on my back, a few pairs of panties and some cookware, and get on with my climbing trip.

I was, of course, furious, but the airlines are used to it. They must just go to their happy place whenever a customer finds a chink in the electronic armor and they are actually forced to endure some form of complaint. The most I could get was to be told to fill out a form describing in minute detail what the bag looked like and the exact contents. This would be entered into a system.

Apparently, if I am to believe what I was told, there is a sort of morgue for unclaimed luggage, and that was probably where mine had ended up. Hundreds of bags, warehoused - somewhere - with their person left waiting for the hookup that will never come......

You can bet I made the most of my compensation claim. After all, my entire climbing wardrobe had been lost, as well as all my camp supplies(except the stove which had not yet been replaced). I will admit that Delta(carrier in question) did not give me any problems with the claim, although part of it entails advising if one has ever made a claim for lost luggage before, and the details of the claim(date/airline, etc.). I can't help buy believe that if I ever make another claim, it will be flagged as suspect.

And so - I have come up with some ideas to minimize the trauma of lost/delayed luggage. Since the local climbing season will soon be over for many of us here in the northeast(and Ice is not an attractive/viable alternative), we will be loading up and flying out often enough in the upcoming months.

The article I mentioned at this post's beginning did little more than suggest being expedient about going to the baggage claims office as soon as you see your luggage hasn't come off the carousel, and being able to accurately describe the bag's appearance. But little more. What good will that do? When you are on a climbing trip, perhaps without the funds to replace lost gear immediately?

Offense is the best defense, and that's applies throughout life, not just in football. Here's my list of offensive tactics, when it comes to flying with climbing/camping gear. If you have a trick or tip to add - feel free to leave it in the comment section below. I'm off for Joshua Tree in a week, and I can use all the help I can get!

- Write your name and cel phone number in LARGE print on a sheet of paper or cardboard, and place it atop your bag's contents in the main compartment. If your outer tag has come off, this may at least get the bag returned to you....some day.

It goes without saying to have the outer tags as well. But make sure the information is legible, and the tag securely attached.

- When you arrive at your destination, do a quick bag check BEFORE leaving the airport carousel area. I always do this now, and you can bet the first item I look for is my stove! If something is "missing," time is of the essence.

No - I don't mean in the hopes you can get the airline/baggage people to fess up and hand it over. Face it - your goods have been stolen.(At JFK last week, a ring of baggage handlers was arrested in a long term operation as assisting drug smugglers in the import/export business. Not all who work in this field are criminals, of course. But it's no secret that there's an underground market for stolen goods and some handlers participate.

The crucial timing I refer to is the trip you are on. Most of us leave the airport and it's environs and high-tail it away from the metropolitan area. We gas up with provisions and go! So, if you find your (whatever) has left the premises, at least you have more options about replacing it, whereas once you're ten miles into the backcountry, your choice are pretty much limited to going without.

- DON'T PUT irreplaceable items in checked baggage! I carry on my harness, shoes, and climbing gear, including guidebooks. And my camera. I do check my rope, as I don't know if security would allow it on the plane.

I know someone who has successfully carried rope on, but I am guessing it's not a gimme, and if worse comes to worst, you can probably climb on someone else's rope if you are desperate. But, by the time you're headed through the carry-on checkpoint, you and your checked bags have parted ways long ago. To get that bag out of the system to add the item, you will consume time that may not be available before your flight departs. The airlines do not care. You will have the option of missing your flight or throwing away the item. They will not be able to offer an alternative.

One benefit of carrying on my rack is that it takes some of the weight off my load! What I mean is that, instead of being part of the 50 lbs. Allowed in a checked bag, the gear goes on for free. Carry on bags are not weighed; they are restricted by size(well, maybe they do go by weight too, but I've never had my carry on weighed. It just has to fit in a little cube near the gate).

So, I use a soft duffel for my gear(rack, harness, shoes, guidebooks) and other heavy items. As long as the thing isn't stuffed so well that it can't "mold" to a cobe-shaped facsimile, there's no problem. I would swear that my carry-on has often weighed more than my checked bags.....

And don't put items in your carry-on that have potential for confiscation! My last flight, it hadn't occurred to me that my suntan lotion was more than the 4 oz allowed on planes. They threw it in the trash in front of me. A $35 bottle of Origins. Not only that, but they took my toothpaste, too. It was down to the last eight of the tube - just enough to get me through the trip. But....the original size was more than 4 oz, and that, I was told, was what they went by.

- Tip the skycap, if you use them. If you don't want to do that, go to the check in counter inside. Tips may supposedly be optional here in the US, but just try stiffing a waitperson or a cab driver, and you'll quickly see that is not the case. Though I don't doubt skycaps are used to not receiving the suggested dollar a bag, they also have the power to ruin your trip. A misdirected bag, and a quick snap of the id tag, and your bag will wind up at the luggage morgue.

- Be courteous to those who handle your bags. They have a sucky job. Sure, it's their choice,certainly some people would say. I'm not here to get into arguments about socio-economics; I'm here to tell you that it's not unreasonable that some people may not be the happiest with their lot in life. Perhaps, for whatever reasons, they cannot see themselves ever being able to afford the vacation you're about to embark on. Perhaps they have a jerk for a boss, but a family at home that depend on them, and cannot quit. Maybe you remind them of that jerky boss, talking on your cel phone instead of interacting with this person left holding the bags.... That can be annoying. Aggravating even. And even infuriating, to someone who feels unappreciated....

Remember that these people are people, and that they are doing a service for you. Everyone likes to be appreciated. Unplug the Ipod, close your damned phone for christ's sake(I hate cel phone blabbers, in case you haven't guessed), and look the person in the eye while you're there. Don't be a jerk, and thank them for handling your bags, with words as well as a cash tip. They'll feel better, and so will you.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

My Worst Nightmare - Jackie T Leads 5.9

A few nights ago, I dreamed I was belaying Jackie T* on a 5.9. It had been raining and the route was wet, but Jackie soldiered on and went through the crux like it was a walk in the park. What a send! This was her first season climbing and already she was a burly leader.

And then....I woke up.

The problem is - Jackie T is not a climber, or at least I highly doubt it. I haven't seen or heard anything about her in more than twenty years.

She was in my class during grade school and the first two years of high, and was the "it" girl that each classroom must have. Most kids had the 24 pack of crayons and that was the standard. Jackie had, as you have guessed, the 64-pack with the built-in sharpener. And a mother who made her delicious packed lunches that included the latest in premium brand sugar-laced snacks. Most of the cold-lunchers had PBJ or bologna, or warm, smelly tunafish sandwiches, pulled from brown paper bags, and were definitely seen as being in a class lower than the hot lunch crowd. Not Jackie, who always had a thermos(matching her fashionable Scooby Doo lunchbox, of course) with hot soup to complement her fare.

And in fifth grade, she was the first to have a boyfriend, when she started dating Steve B, the beautiful blond boy wonder, who was bright, decent and an all-around athlete. Well, until eight grade, when she dumped him for Tim C, which was a shocker. A girl, going DOWN a grade!? Unheard of! Tim was also a powerhouse athlete, but he was short. Shorter than Jackie, another taboo. Within a few months though, she had ditched Tim for his senior in high school, older brother Terry, who was...hot by any standard. Tall and thin, with wavy shoulder lenght brown hair and a full-on well tended beard and mustache.... Now it all made sense. "How...sophisticated" we though. She had a more worldy view than any of us parochial school girls had even so much as read about in our romance paperbacks.

Jackie was, clearly, the star of Presentation, BVM(Blessed Virgin Mary) in North Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and she reigned the entire eight years. High school was a more wobbly throne for her, since she had the competition of all the various princess' from other schools in the district. Especially with PVBM being the lowest on the cool school totem pole. And, even though she had had the top man as a beau, things were different now. He was from the suburb town and not FDL proper, significantly lowering his status.

Still, she was stiff competition, and a lot of the St. Mary's Springs boys followed her in awe.

I changed schools in my junior year, and lost track of Jackie, along with most of the other kids I'd grown up with, but as a young adult I'd occasionally hear news of their whereabouts - usually the bad news, of course.... Like when Jean C actually made infamy by drunkenly running over a pedestrian on the side of a country road, or Marty R's name was splattered all over the Reporter's Police Blotter by pistol-whipping the poor old lady at Badger Liquor, the packaged goods store that was attached to a bar the sort of which saw most of it's business in the afternoon hours(when the men still had a few dollars in their pockets and hadn't...dozed off....watching the football game on the overhead TV).

Jackie's second coming wasn't one for the papers; it was a rumor that rumbled through the lower section of society - word of mouth. Gossip. But the source was impeccable, my own brother Oney. Oney, who had loved Jackie T, and had a brief courtship with her during one of her breaks with Steve B., and held her in high regard even though she eventually rebuffed him to get back with her sweetheart.

My brother told me that he'd been to Summer Stage in Milwaukee, a big event... And had seen Jackie. She was onstage, flanked by two...large...Harley-rider types with dirty hair and beer bellies; men too old for a nineteen year old pretty girl with any sense to be associated with.

And not only that, along with being stumble-down drunk, she was sopping wet. As you may have guessed, she was a participant in a pageant of sorts. the Wet T-Shirt Contest.

Oney told me that Jackie was a fallen woman, how everyone had seen the spectacle and would never respect her again for as long as she lived, and how it only go'ed to show you that character is the mark of true beauty in a soul.....

So - it must go without saying that I, dreaming that Jackie T is kicking ass on a climb I would be hard-pressed to follow, must have layers and layers of deep, mysterious meaning....

This weekend I am climbing on Saturday and even if I don't lead anything - I am going to use that dream to my advantage. If I come to a tough spot, I am going to show that Jackie what I'm made of! And in two weeks when I get myself to JTree for the SushiFest and my autumn holiday, I am going to kick ass like the title of Donald Trump's new book....Grrrr.

* Some names have been altered to protect the innocent, and/or because my memory is faulty and I can't summon the correct one.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Apples, Oranges and Backpacks.....

I've always been lucky; looking back over my entire life, it's very easy to see how serendipitous events led me on a clear path over the years. Despite many circumstances most people would never choose, I can honestly say that I wouldn't change my life for any other that I have witnessed. That's sort of nice, being content....

When I tell people of the things that go on with me, they are sometimes fairly astonished at the level of good will the universe seems to deal me. While I can't say why this is for certain, I have come to believe that the connection lies with my desire and ability to be generous with what I have, whether it's times spent volunteering with a project, providing emotional support to my clients(I am a dog walker, but it seems the actual dog walk is only a small portion of the job), or recognizing a person in need of directions while walking down the street, and stopping to be available.

Once I began committing to this sort of interaction with others, I started to notice that my own life became easier - at least in some respects. It's also much harder, because I take a different path than one focusing on the acquisition of goods.... But that's a different topic.

The subway train is pulling into the station nine times out of ten is one example of how my life flows. "So what?" someone might think. But - if you use that train ten or more times in the average day, as I do(to travel between clients), that is not a small thing. I hear people complain all the time, about delays due to the subway. But I simply don't have that experience.

Whether the connection(between giving and receiving) is real, I can't say. But....I'm superstitious, and greedy! I don't want my good fortune to end, and so I keep stoking the furnace with acts of giving. The problem is - the more you give, the more you get! Of course, it's not apples for apples; If I hand out an apple, sure enough it will be that within a short time and orange is handed to me(hence, this post's title).

Then, I get that orange, and I feel obligated, because I have so many oranges, to give some of them away....As you can imagine, this will result in more apples arriving. Or some more oranges. Occasionally a pineapple or pomegranate, too.... Abundance.

So - it really was no surprise to me that last weekend I won a new backpack in the New Paltz Film Festival raffle. I actually did need one, although I kept telling myself that the one I have still has plenty of life to it. It does... There are some holes in it, and it never did fit my body quite right, but I like that pack, and it has served me well.

Still - it had gotten in my head, several months ago, that a new pack would be nice.... And so I began to look around a bit. The first thing I noticed was that I would not be able to afford a new pack. Sticker shock, accompanied by the need for a decent fit, made my old Lowe Alpine pack seem like it had plenty of life left. So what if it never quite fit exactly right. It almost fit perfectly....

When I got to the Film Festival, I had looked over my funds and allocated $10 to go toward raffle tickets. I was distinctly and consciously hoping that, if I won a prize, it would be a backpack. I certainly didn't need a new rope, having gotten one from Sterling for helping out at the JTree Goddesses on the Rocks event in April AND a second one when I volunteered last month for another GotR workshop in New Hampshire. I told myself that, if I won a rope, I would forfeit the gift and ask them to draw another ticket.

Now, I love winning as much as the next person, but I also told myself that, if I didn't win anything, the money paid was going to a good cause and that was, in and of itself, worth donating to.

....When they called out the number that matched my ticket, I couldn't believe I had won just what I had been hoping for. I double checked my number, worried I'd jump up yelling "Me!" only to find myself echoing another winner.... But, it was true, and I couldn't wait until after the event to go up and see what the pack looked like.

It is actually the quintessential climbing pack, the Phenom from Mountain Hardware - AND it fits very well! I field-tested it this last weekend, and felt like I was living in the lap of luxury; it molds perfectly to my back, feels compact and well balanced, and has great features. It's a much slimmer profile than my old pack, but it holds the same and more.

Well....now I owe the universe, I suppose. So this Saturday I'll be out at the Access Fund Adopt-a-Crag event at Peterskill, helping with whatever needs to be done and having an enjoyable day with other like-minded people.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Guest Blogger - Michelle Waitzman - "Sex in a Tent: A Wild Couple’s Guide to Getting Naughty in Nature "

Guest blogger Michelle Waitzman is the author of Sex in a Tent: A Wild Couple’s Guide to Getting Naughty in Nature (Wilderness Press 2007). The book is available at REI stores across the US, and at Amazon.com from October 15. She also has a blog called Love in a Tent.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Sex in a Tent is a new book that tells you everything you need to know (but were too embarrassed to ask) about thoroughly enjoying the outdoors with a romantic partner.

It features stories from outdoor lovers around the world, who share their sexual adventures, mishaps and advice. Author Michelle Waitzman covers every subject from introducing newcomers to the outdoors experience, preventing a wilderness shouting match, looking and smelling sexy without a shower, and supplying lots of inspirational ideas for couple who want to combine their love of the outdoors with their love lives.

Once you’ve found your inspiration, Sex in a Tent also dishes up recipes for delicious alfresco meals, and gives you the lowdown on some of the most romantic places in the world to pitch a tent.

Why Climbers Are Sexy

Rock climbers have to be the sexiest people in the outdoors community. And I’m not saying that because it applies to me – sadly my climbing experience is limited to one or two tries on an indoor wall. But you folks who do it all of the time sure make good eye candy! I had a think about what makes climbers so hot, and I came up with a few answers:

1. Climbers are toned
It’s hard to maneuver yourself around those tough spots with a big, pot belly in the way, so most climbers are quite sleek in build. All of that flexing and clinging makes for some good muscle tone as well, which shows even when you’re not half-way up a cliff. People who are in good climbing condition are in good-looking condition too.

2. Climbers are flexible
Getting your leg up to a hold next to your shoulder ain’t easy, and the dividends can be seen in the bedroom! All of that practise getting into awkward positions makes you very supple lovers, and don’t believe for a moment that people aren’t thinking about that when they watch you climb. It also makes you less likely to get a cramp at an inconvenient time, or pull a muscle when you try a new lovemaking position.

3. Climbers have hot outfits
Sure, climbing clothes are designed to be snug so that they don’t get in your way. But the side effect is that they show off your spectacular, toned bodies (see 1.) and make you look much more attractive than, for instance, the zip-off pants worn by hikers! Companies like Prana are making technical clothes so attractive you could get away with wearing them to a night club. It could save you from having two wardrobes.

4. Climbers are trustworthy
This one goes beyond appearances. If you’re going to have someone belay you, they’ve got to be trustworthy. Your life depends on it. This makes climbing a great activity for one-on-one bonding (and possibly bondage, with all those ropes and harnesses around) because you’re forced to rely on each other. Unless you’re a solo climber, in which case it doesn’t really matter how hot you are, because nobody is there to see it.

5. Climbers go for it
Sometimes it’s hard to get things started with a new love interest. Climbers are used to setting goals and then taking action to see them through. That’s the sort of behavior that will see them getting a lot more action in their social lives too! Being a do-er instead of a spectator is the way to get the most out of life, whether it’s trying a new route, or a new mate.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Off the Clock!

Something happened for me this season at the Gunks. Except for transportation between NYC and the cliffs(and back) my mode of travel has been by foot. Maybe it's just my perception of time that changed because of it, but I'm not entirely convinced of that.

I mean...if our perception is our reality, life is but a dream, and all....then the fact is that, in these days of speedy express service that exasperates people at the slightest hint of a slowdown, we've created a monster with all our efforts at getting the jump on that dimension called time.

Most everyone who knows me is aware that, for a short time, I had a cute little 4WD 'Yota minivan. I'd brought him from a Gunkie(and when he had the van, he was a she....) who had found her in California and road-tripped cross country. She, or he, had the spirit going on. I plastered Junior(as s/he'd been renamed) with those magnetic poetry stickers and every day, upon return from climbing, I'd read the snippets people had created while I was away. That, the KRASHPAD plates, and Teddy the Wonderhound ambassador, and we went quickly from nobodies to well-known regulars.

What a luxury that time was. I could drive to and from whenever I felt a desire, run into town for those delicious salmon burritos at Mexicali Blue, cruise the surrounding area to explore on rain days and generally have an easy time of things with my away-from home on wheels.

Before that, I occasionally got a ride form someone heading out of the city, but mostly relied on the bus between Port Authority and New Paltz, with a climbing partner picking me at the station. I was new to climbing, and it was enough for me, just getting a day at the crag.

But once I partnered up with that van, everything changed, as I discovered more of what the area offered.

Junior passed away in June of 2006, and I went into despair at the instant cut-off from my Gunks lifestyle. I'd become accustomed to having Teddy along(and so had he!) and the withdrawal was hard on us both. Luckily, I happened along on a new climbing partner, Diane, who had an SUV and no problem whatsoever with having us along for the ride each weekend, whether we climbed together or not.

Those were really great times too, with the addition of a human companion who knew all the ins and outs of the area, and who enjoyed a good restaurant meal after a day at the crags. I was back!

Alas.....all thing pass with time, and shortly so did this. I started out the 2007 season mightily wigged out. I had developed an entire existence in the Gunks, one that made the weekdays in the city acceptable, as I planned and plotted for the upcoming weekend. No I was back to square one. No transportation, except the bus. Which didn't take dogs.

Uh oh.

Teddy would get so excited as I packed my pack for a day trip, and the look on his face when he realized he wasn't coming was truly heartbreaking. This would not do.... He let me know that in no uncertain terms(Yes, Teddy can communicate clearly with humans. If they are receptive.)

I remembered one time the previous season when I'd not had a ride, and had to do my damnedest to "find a way." I'd discovered that Metro North railroad allows dogs, and so I posted to Gunks.com seeking a helping hand. If someone would just pick us up at the Poughkeepsie station(20-30 minutes drive from New Paltz), we were willing to pay gas, time and a "Teddy Tax" (my way of saying I'd pay for the extra effort of having a dog and all my accompanying luggage, as I did not travel light).

That worked out great.


Although I also did snag another set of rides off a visiting Colorado guy who had learned to climb at the Gunks(Cute as could be, too. Plus, he had a beautiful blue Weimerheiner who could boulder). That worked out nicely.

So....this season, having forgotten about the Poughkeepsie Connection, I put a post on Craigslist(NYC), for a rideshare situation, offering, of course, to pay the gas and Teddy Tax. Talk about nutjob responses from hell.... Finally, one "seemed" okay, and at the appointed hour, he called supposedly from a payphone around the corner, saying he'd be there in a minute.... never showed up. Giving benefit of the doubt(was he in a crash up between the call and my house?), I called the cel phone number he'd given me when we'd made plans in the first place(umm....yeah. It didn't escape me either, the pay phone call from a cel-phone holder). The guy who answered had no idea who I was or what I was talking about.....

As miracles do happen(to me, quite often), Diane just happened to call at that very moment, saying she was heading up and wondering if I was looking for a ride. At that very moment! before I'd even begun hauling my gear back into the apartment.

Anyway..... Time passed, and I was stuck each weekend trying to snag rides with great levels of unsuccessfulness. I was missing out a LOT, often having to choose from a day trip of climbing or one of trail work, because I couldn't afford both days, and couldn't bear the idea of leaving Teddy home all weekend with just the dog sitter stopping by.

It was awful.

I can't remember what jogged my mind about the Poughkeepsie train; I think I was perusing Craigslist for something, and I noticed they'd added a Hudson Valley forum. A light must have went off in my head, as I realized I might have some luck by posting for a paid pick up through that forum. Oh...I recall...I had been checking into taxi service from the train to the cliffs($50 plus tip each way).

At any rate, I posted the ad, and within an hour received a very nice response from a SUNY new Paltz student, a woman, who appeared....normal. When i spoke with her on the phone, it seemed almost too good to be true. She was pleasant, able to process information, and clear in her ability to communicate. She'd stated her fee, and it was acceptable(I pay $50 for a ride to and from with her and the various people she has hooked up rides for me with).

Lauren showed up on time, and was such a pleasure. I know every generation says the youth is (insert whatever negative term you desire), but this person was a gem. And, when she wasn't able to do the job a few weeks later, she got a housemate to pick me up! Every time since we've been able to coordinate rides that work out for me, and work out for these young people. I've met 4 or 5 of them, including boyfriends, and each is as nice as Lauren. What a lucky person I am to have found this group. THANK YOU LAUREN, et al!

Which brings me back to the topic I started with.....

So, these people pick me and Teddy up at Poughkeepsie each Friday at the agreed upon time(they're ALWAYS there or soon to arrive) and we head toward New Paltz, where I pick up a bag of ice for my cooler and a couple jugs of water. Then they drop me at Camp Slime, and we agree on a Sunday evening pick up time(they're ALWAYS on time, if not early).

The time between, while I'm homing away from home at Slime, I use pedestrian tactics to get around.

I've gotten a few rides from Dick Williams to Split Rock after trail work this summer, and it was a luxury one can't possibly imagine if they haven't tramped the Shawangunk Trail to get there in 90-degree, high humidity, temperatures. AFTER having spent 5 hours doing heavy manual labor, which trail work involves(digging trenches, lifting 50 pound rocks, and ratcheting the grip hoist as it moves rocks from between microwave to dorm fridge size and larger.

Most people jump in their car from the Trapps parking lot, or the Overlook, and drive the few miles. I walked that (Shawahngunk)trail often, this summer, and I can tell you it's a small minority of climbers who hike the thing to get a dip in the swimming hole. I've probably seen only one or two most times, and often nobody, as I made the trek.

and I recently acquired a new climbing partner who has a car and knows how to use it! After climbing, it's a cold one on the tailgate, before heading into town for dinner at a local eatery. he also enjoys Teddy, and allows him free run of his nice, clean vehicle. Which CANNOT be taken for granted. Sometimes Teddy is dirty from having dug in dirt, or if it was a wet day. And Teddy likes to nest....

But, those drives into town are now a special event, and one to be appreciated, because they're not standard operating procedure.

Conversely, one might consider having to make the sort of effort I do, in getting to the Gunks, to be too much effort. I've seen people who refuse the bus because it's inconvenient or too expensive. I well remember how people were all too happy to get a ride from me when I had the van, offering a share for gas money and then handing $5 for door to door service(it cost me $30 round trip, at the time).

So, there I was, all summer. getting dropped at Camp Slime on Friday evening, and pretty much on my own until getting a ride back to the Poughkeepsie station on Sunday.

At first, I really - really - missed the convenience of being able to run into town. On one trip, I neglected to pack a second fuel cannister, and when I went to make dinner the first nite....the can I had was so light I didn't expect I'd be able to heat a cup of water for coffee.... What to do!?

Well - what Ii did was, I revised my meal planning and chose options that entailed less cooking time. As luck would have it(for I always am lucky), the propane DID last me the weekend - slowly fizzling out as I heated the water for my past dish washing of the weekend!

And I surely missed the Salmon burritos at Mexicali Blue and the delicious Walnut Citron bread french toast at Main Street Bistro.... At first, I felt really deprived - for even the breakfast burritos down at the deli on the corner were beyond my reach(with Teddy, the walk down the road or through the talus would have been unsafe and/or more time-consuming than was efficient).

But soon enough, I had developed some new meal options that had me feeling really luxurious. (My next post will include a set of these; and I hope you will try them out yourself).

And of course, there was no weekly visit to Rock & Snow....

What I discovered through all this purported deprivation, of course, was that I was spending a LOT less money on my trips! Even with my extravagant food purchases(eggs, fresh bread and tomatoes; not the easiest items to transport in my situation), I was happily finding my cash on hand still on hand on Monday morning!

The biggest gift though, was that I began to view time differently. I couldn't simply zoom away and get somewhere quickly. The Split Rock afternoon swim really did take an afternoon, when I factored in travel time. On the other hand, because I wasn't going to the deli for breakfast, I had no need for concern about meeting partners on time(I am fastidious about being considerate in this area). Mornings were an easy rise from sleep, slowly waking as my coffee brewed and breakfast preparations began. I felt like I was living the life - no lines, no hassles, no delays, no problems.

Days seemed to pass in a slower, gentler fashion when my ability to "just get there" was removed. This forced me to be more present within myself, which is always beneficial. The practice allows one to become aware of how we interact in our surroundings. I found myself becoming less interested in dramatic energy, and being drawn to more calm situations.

When I would come back to the city - the juxtaposition was jarring, unfortunately. The masses of people rushing around, hooked into ipods and cel phones, oblivious to their surroundings, was unsettling. It was apparent that a majority of people go through their day barely taking the time to be apart of a bigger picture, so focused in "getting there," wherever that might be.

It really was grating on my nerves, those weekday travels around town, and I found myself longing for my quiet weekends, in part to heal from the trauma of the city rush. As well, I realized the importance of removing extraneous activity from my own schedule. Some things just really don't need to be taken care of immediately....

And finally, this time perception shift has shown me that, though living in New York City does have some advantages, the emotional cost outweighs the benefits I have been receiving lately. It's time to find my way out, and though it is a frightening prospect, I'm taking the initial steps in doing so. The good news is - I don't have to "get there now!" I can walk my way through this transition; just as I walked my way through weekends at the Gunks this season.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

The Monkey Pitch

Yesterday I met up with some people visiting the Gunks on their traditional autumn tour. They were folks I'd met and gotten to know doing trailwork last year(also part of their vacation tradition, which is about as opposite a stance as the "But I only have weekends to climb" ethic that stops plenty a local from pitching in once in a while!).

Anyway, Sherry and Preston are cavers from a bit further south, and apparently Preston spreads that southern hospitality by letting his network of friends know where he's headed, inviting any and all to join up with him along the way. He'd landed a big catch this trip, with people from Kansas, Chicago and New Jersey in his net. I found them as I was headed to the Trapps in search of a climbing partner for the day, and they invited me to come along with them.

It was a nice day, hanging with such friendly, easy-going people, and interesting because their primary connection is through caving, an activity that I've always been intrigued by but know next to nothing about.

Most of the group also had experience climbing, but one was totally new. When I asked about it, she said that the day was her second one out, and then went on to describe the books she'd been reading to learn about climbing.

Very earnest, she clearly wanted to become self-sufficient, knowledgeable and responsible; giving the impression of a safe climber-to-be, in my book. She asked questions to be sure she understood the rope systems we were using, climbing jargon and to clarify general details on some things she had read.

At one point, two of her friends were talking about some Gunks classic, and mentioned "that second pitch".... By voice inflection, it was obvious that the storyteller had found it exceptional.

Joining in, our newbie climber added "So, that's the monkey pitch, then. Right?"

..... Well - why not, I say!? It seems to me that the pitches that have given me the most bang for my buck also required a level of climbing that needed more than my standard human movements. I'm forever hearing people comparing themselves to each other in regards to their Ape Index. And I've listened to someone more than once dismissing a monkey's climbing due to their having feet that are more like hands("sure...if only I had opposable thumbs on my feet, I wouldn't need sticky rubber either!"). And forget penis envy - what about strength/flexible of the tail envy? One can just see it in the eyes of a climber watching the little primates dangling from a limb, swinging carelessly into a controlled penji.....

Monkey pitch sounds about right to me!

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Major Minor Breakthrough(continued)

(This is a continuation of the previous post, so if you haven't read the first part, you might like to start at the beginning.)

So there we were, David, Irina and I, at the belay of Raunchy, with David looking to get started on the second pitch.....

He glances at the sequence, and mentions the massive fir tree that is directly in front of it. Something about being able to get on without backstepping into the it.

He and Irina are discussing that, and I tell them I've heard about one climb where the tree was used by most people, and that maybe this is it.(Though it was me who'd chosen the route, I had done it blindly, and not taken more than a cursory look at the starting description. So - I didn't know the guidebook specifically said it was "okay to use the tree.").

David gave....the impression....that it was a burly start. Not only that, but gear was nonexistent. For several feet. No, make that several meters! He was very careful and focused in his movement, but made his way easily enough.

Of course, David climbs several grades harder than I do.....

Irina went second, and she started out with the tree giving her a leg up too. But she didn't pop to the wall right away, and found getting there more difficult because of that choice.

Watching these two work so hard, and not having checked the book, I did what I am wont to do... Which is - I look at the rock and read the route choices that I see. I am not a stickler for guidebook guidance, actually, and as of yet I haven't had any problems because of it. I use the guide as a route locater, and then - if I am leading, or discussing the line with the leader, I'll read through and see if what I'm reading follows what I see. But that's about it, and once I'm on the route, I let the rock take me where I want to go(up, mostly).

So....I take a look around. And, I see start variations within a few feet. One consists of an easy way onto the face, with a delicate bit of traversing up and back tot the right. Only the first move is easier - much - than what my partners took, and I simply cannot resist taking the path of least resistance.

Once up and in the thick of it, I am making the same sorts of moves David and Irina did, at the same level of difficulty, but I find myself doing the Shawangunk Shuffle, a beautiful dancing sequence back and forth, stepping up and dipping down, for progress. I'm slightly to the left of their route at times, picking away at lichen to uncover holds, and other sections take me through the same path. I am thrilled with the adventure!

Here I am, ecstatic that I'd been able to send the first pitch which, if you read this story's beginning, was a big accomplishment for me. And now I'm "off the book" and discovering marvelous, beautiful movement within the climb.

Then I come to the overhanging section, about two-thirds of the way through the pitch.....

While I was belaying David, I did watch him as he went through that section. I had to - in case he fell, of course. But I noticed something in the rock, a hold that I felt I'd have chosen in lieu of the one he did. I had made a note of it and was looking forward to seeing what I would do when confronted with the reality.

Irina also chose a different way through the overhang, and in her case, I simply watched to see her progress, believing I would not be going that way; it looked more difficult than David's way, and more difficult than what I had envisioned, too.

As I came up to that section, I saw my hold, and it was as good as I'd expected. But there was something that was causing me issue..... David had placed gear right next to and just atop that yardable jug, and of course it needed to come out before I could step up. I'd have preferred, in a perfect world, the gear to be available for my protection, as I'd be heading in a traversing direction, but if it was too close to the move. I'd be struggling into a stance like a little kid crawling into a bed that had been short-sheeted, if I didn't pop the piece.

So, of course I racked the gear, and watched the rope fall into reposition. Unfortunately, the next gear available hadn't set me up for an easy fall. A clean one - as it turned out - and as you can guess, I say that from experience. But before I took that fall, I still had a sequence to figure out and move through.

Seeing the lay of the rope, I fell into old habit. I knew that, if I came off the route, I'd swing. And depending on where I came off, the swing might....hurt. The jug I'd anticipated now was much less an attractive option as the potential for pain in case of fall increased. I didn't even take a look at the sequence to see how difficult it would be. Instead I began a hand traverse in keeping with the rope's line.

On that traverse, my feet encountered...loose rock. Biiiig, rattling loose stones, seemingly sitting on a ledge like glass bottles on the shelf in a curio cabinet.

That was disconcerting.

David had mentioned loose rock, but I wasn't expecting the extent of what my feet had just....moved.

I didn't want to be there, but more certainly I didn't want to add pressure with my legs to gain altitude. I was...uncomfortable. Quickly, I moved back to a stance where I had feet on solid rock to regroup.

The jug step up would have been much safer(for anyone under me!), but it just was no longer viable to me, because I was on auto-pilot and not analyzing my situation clearly. And so I continued on, to make the move I'd seen Irina pull.

Arriving at the section I knew was the meat, I could tell the sequence was going to rely on strength and power, my least developed climbing abilities. But, I went for it. What else could I do? Unfortunately, I wasn't fully in control. I hadn't truly committed to hucking the thing, and as my weight came onto my right arm, I knew I was off my balance. Maybe my right leg was even in air - not sure, but I knew at that moment that I needed an incredible bit of force to propel myself through the move.

I gave it what I had, but I didn't have enough, and off I came.

That was dissapointing, of course, but at least I fell straight down, landing in clean air. Just a few feet below the overhang..... Too far to get back on the route without lowering down to a stance. GRRRRR.

Not that I didn't try, of course, to swing into the face. I did. It was fruitless and I admitted the fact, asking to lower a few feet. Which brought me right to those friggin' loose pieces. Nice.....

I was unhappy.

But I got myself back in line for another attempt. And promptly failed.

Mad at myself for not making the clean move in the first attempt, I decided to prussik and get the hell out of there. I didn't want to waste my partner's time...right back into my old thinking mode.

Unfortunately, something was causing me some fear issues with the prusiking, and I didn't want to stand tall on the leg loop! Actually, what had happened was I made the first step up and was off balance. I fell. Which was a little scary, waiting for that looped accessory cord to catch on the rope..... The damage was done; I didn't want it to happen again, and so I began high-stepping into the foot loop, bending at the knee and sitting on my leg to weight the friction knot.

That gave me an incredibly reduced length available in moving the upper prussik cord. I think I was getting about four to six inches instead of the couple of feet I would have if I was standing on my foot instead of sitting on bent leg.

The added effort was quickly tiring, and after three or four repeats, I looked to check the slack between the prussik knots and my tie in point. It was barely even perceptable! And I had...a way...to go.

That sucked. And I was tired. The adrenaline rush I'd gotten from the original fall, compounded with the second, and more intense, jolt on the prussik, had zapped me. I looked up at my partners, saw the sympathy in their faces and felt I'd let them down.

Then I looked down. And saw the belay we'd been at, directly below.....

The decision was mine. I could continue the prusik - and move my butt - get back on the rock and finish the route. Or lower back to the belay and wait for them, since they'd be coming to it on the rap descent anyway.

To me it seemed a non-choice. I'd fallen off the route; my game had ended. Why draw things out? I lowered.

A strange mixture of feelings swelled within me as David sent me to the ledge below. On the one hand, I'd taken the most efficient choice. They were finished and waiting for me at the top, and I'd been unable to make the climb clean. On the other hand, I was aware that I had given up. Old school says "lower," but I don't think I know anyone who really follows that ethic anymore. I certainly don't climb with them.

The one consolation I came up with during those moments was that, since I'd surrendered at my point of failure, instead of forcing my way through, it would allow me a fresh chance at another time to do the last part of the route with no preview. That has to be worth something.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Major Minor Breakthrough

This weekend I cruised, albeit slowly and with trepidation, the start of Raunchy(Gunks, 5.8). For a lot of people who know the route, the response to that sentence would be a variation of "....And?", but for anyone who knows me, the response is probably much more enthusiastic.

You see - I seem to have a commitment problem. Or fear of failure, or success, issues. Or something! For much of my climbing path, I've consistently found myself giving up before even trying whenever I come to a place where I can't fully guarantee success.

It wasn't always like that... Well, that's not true. It has been always like that. I recall my first time on real rock(with maybe 10 gym days under my harness) and coming to a mantle sequence. I stopped and sort of went into suspended animation. The guide, who I'd had some conflict with because he thought I was too know-it-allish for a newly minted gymbie, said "So...in the gym, when you come to a tough spot, do you wait for the guys to stop and encourage you?"

He was implying that I was an attention-seeker, I am pretty sure, waiting for all eyes to adore me...

Well...that stung. It really, really did. But how could I explain how utterly opposite the reality was; that when I needed to struggle, or to analyze, or to attempt and then regroup, that what I most desired was to be completely invisible to everyone? That words of encouragement were more apt to shut me down further than to motivate me?

But that was, and often still is, the case. It's an aspect, so far as I can figure, of the PTSD I live with. The feeling of being in a vulnerable place, with others aware of my predicament, sends shock waves through my system. Fight or flight.

I always chose flight. It was the option that included an outcome I could control. In climbing, my version of flight amounts to failing and asking to lower off.

That same guide mentioned above, was partnered with a real old schooler. They were both excellent teachers, but the older one had softened his edge over the years and was more aware of things going on. These guys worked together taking adjudicated kids on wilderness tours; not the "tough love/bootcamp" approach, but to develop teamwork skills and to show them that the world had more to offer than an urban life of crime.

Anyway - the older guy, whose name escapes me, told us that in climbing we would be confronted with our life issues. Our weaknesses, our fears, our defense mechanisms, out ignorance and naivety.

He was certainly correct. At least that's been my experience.

Climbing and the inherent lifestyle has shown me a lot of my insecurities, down to the simplest aspect of fear of being left without(a tent space in a group setting, a climbing partner, a decent belay).

But back to Raunchy.....

I was partnered with my friends Irina and David for the day, with David as the ropegun. As we walked the carriage road, Irina suggested we get on the climb "Columbia." Which we did. It was a nice, enjoyable route, which I didn't have much trouble with until the last move, which entails an overly high step and rockover onto one foot.

I balked.

Couldn't guarantee that move.... And I was peeved especially because right over to the right, just the other side of a tree, was climbing so easy I could have done it unroped.

But the rope wasn't on that side of the tree..... I always choose the path of least resistance and gave David some guff for taking the more difficult line just because he could. He countered, saying the rope drag would have been increased by taking the route I was pointing to. Grrrrr.

After suggesting I might swing the rope over the (15-20 foot tall) tree, and David agreeing, probably just to get me moving somewhere, I realized I was being a wanker. I decided to try the route as my partners had gone, and....made it. Surprised myself, too.

We rapped to the cliff base and David decided he'd like to lead Hyjeck's Horror, which - he did. Then he set a toprope and I lowered him so Irina and I could have a go.

I'd attempted the route(on TR) once early this season, with my friend Diane, and couldn't commit to the step up move onto the little edge about 10 feet up. Fairly certain I'd be watching a rerun, I found myself in the same place, doing the same thing. Or, not doing, actually.... I simply wouldn't commit, even with a steady belayer that I knew wouldn't let me hit the ground.

Irina made the climb and I tried again, only to find myself refusing at the same place. Of course, after I got off, untied my shoes and started to pack up for the next route, I started in with the excuses and through them, began to see(as usual) where I'd foiled myself....

David told me that it's my turn to pick a climb, since he and Irina had chosen the other two. I tried to get out of it, and I know why - I don't want to be the one who makes a bad choice that others have to contend with. For a person who is frequently told I exude confidence, I find it odd that I undermine myself and worry about inconveniencing others so often.

I flipped through the guidebook as we are gathering our gear and snacking, looking for something nearby that would be of a level to challenge David on lead and be something off the three-star beaten path for Irina, who likes to climb onsight. As for myself, I am just hoping to go along for the ride and enjoy myself. I always do - even when I don't climb well.

The routes nearby weren't fitting the above criteria, but finally I come across Raunchy, which I have never heard a word about. But, it has two stars, and so I figure it's probably not going to be a disappointment.

Reading the route description, I note the phrase "thin, bouldery start," and think "Well, it's probably like Classic; a move or two and then a safe stance"....

David accepts the decision, though not with overt enthusiasm, and as we continue to talk, I try to come up with another option...in case(doubting myself). I mention Higher Stannard, and that excites him. He says he doesn't think he's ever actually led the route, which surprises me. So, we get moving and head in that direction, along the base of the cliff.

Not far from Hyjecks, David stops and says "Here's raunchy. What do you think?"

I look at the route - and am.....dismayed. The start is a replay of Hyjeck's Horror. On steroids. I can't even SEE the sequence. Of course, I'm standing 10 feet away, but...still. "Thin" is accurate. The first possible protection is 20 feet off the ground, too.

David gears up, and I tell him I'll spot him until he hits the stance for pro. He tells me he has slipped off the route once before and accepts my offer, reminding me not to try to catch him if it happens, but to push him forward. He casts off and I watch, believing there's no way I can pull the moves, and feeling upset with myself thinking I'll be giving up and sitting the climb out as my partners continue to the second pitch.

Though he doesn't seem in danger of coming off, he doesn't make the climbing look easy, either. That I can plainly see, and I'm glad when he's reached the first, bomber, protection point.

Irina goes second, and she gets the sequence too, but not without working hard for it. I make a pointed effort not to watch her for beta. I didn't notice David's choices either, since I was watching him as a spotter. Even though I don't believe I can make the route, I still have my standards. Beta is a form of lowering the climb's difficulty to me. I like onsight climbing too, and piecing together the puzzle is is my favorite part of the game.

After Irina is safely onto the upper portion of the pitch, I begin to look at the route's start. The internal dialog, telling me where I will probably fall, has begun, but at that point, I recalled a different conversation I'd had with myself as I fixed breakfast earlier that morning.

I'd told myself that, when I came to a difficult part, I was not going to give up; I was going to focus my energy and work through the thing.

And so, as I looked at the thin, slablike face ahead of me, I took note of the divets, crimps and rough patches I could smear on. I heard a voice inside say "David did it, and so did Irina. Others have done this route too. So can I."

I specifically hunted the various points of contact, and told myself "They're big enough. They'll hold me. They're thin, but the pieces are all there; I see the sequence, and I will commit to it."

When I started up, I was challenged as soon as my second foot stepped the ground. But I landed myself, and had good balance. I was on the climb.

I recall that I began to feel the familiar feelings, of vulnerability, insecurity, and the worst of all - that I would waste my partner's time.

This is a very persistent problem for me, and one that takes a big toll. Others will hangdog up climbs, and I'll belay them patiently, but I can't turn the table. I cling to the old school "fall, get lowered off" credo, but it's not an ethic I'm adhering too. Something inside tells me I don't have the right to take more than the smallest share of whatever's being served up.

On lead, this doesn't tend to happen, but that's probably because I am honestly in survival mode. It's one place where I will take what I need, though I take care not to get on routes that have a high potential for risk. But I do know that, in times when I have been struggling to commit, and my belayer voiced impatience, my anger surfaced immediately.

Following or on toprope, though, and these issues are there.

Anyway, there I was. Four points of contact, a decision as to what to do next to be made, and voices telling me I probably can't do it so I should just blow the sequence with a half-hearted attempt.

But then, as I said, I recalled my earlier self-instruction and promise. "NO," I heard myself tell me. "THERE is the foothold. You SAW it on the ground, and you KNOW it is good. TAKE IT."

I did, and I made it! Shifting my weight onto that foot, a sensation of pride coursed through my body at the same time. Solidity! My brain and my body were in unison.

Then I had to make the next move..... The fearful body memories began to bubble again, and I consciously shut them down. "Look! Where's the move? Find it and commit to it.," I commanded myself. I did.

I was making progress, and a hideous crimper I'd spied from below was the hold I needed next. "Dime-edged" like Bachar tends to say, I heard somewhere in myself. "But, it's more like a quarter...I wonder if that is technically dime-edg...." I silenced that dialog, and reminded myself that hundred of people had been able to pull down with only that bit of rock, and so could I. I committed, squeezed down, bounced up, and....made it.

I was actually elated when I got through that one, because that had been a "no way" hold when I first saw it. And yet - it held me just fine. I have never in my life gone off something that thin, and the paradox of such a small edge having such an ability to assist me was a pretty amazing revelation. I knew other people made use of such holds, but I didn't think I would be able to.

Once I got to the section of the climb where I could fully rest, I gave myself the time to enjoy my success, and I even took more time than a minimal "I did it" would require. In fact, I took so much time that I think my partners were ready to tell me to get a move on.....

The crux of the pitch lay ahead, and it gave me a challenge too. I moved a little higher than I should have, where a move upward would be 5.9(as per the guidebook). I knew I was supposed to move left, but I couldn't figure it out, and that sucked. Then David made a comment about going lower, and...well, it was what it was. It was correct, of course. Whether I'd have stepped down on my own, or fallen off trying something else, I will never know. But the step over left was no gimme at any rate; I earned the reward I felt in successfully navigating through that section.

What an incredible sense of accomplishment I felt, when I gained the belay. I'd honestly not believed I would get ten feet off the ground before I'd stepped off it.

Pitch two was an interesting experience too, and if I had made it all the way through, I think my partners would have had to cork my mouth in order to get a word in edgewise the rest of the day. Lucky for them I fell off at the overhang.

Too be continued......

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Upcoming - Fred Beckey Slide Show

The man is scheduled for a visit at Rock & Snow on Saturday, October 27th.

This may be a hot contender for the largest audience in the venue...AS some may remember, last season when Lynn Hill did a show, the place was packed tighter than a pair of 38DD's in a 36B brasierre(c'mon - this post is about Beckey; that makes the turn of phrase appropriate).

Lynn is a Gunkie from back in the day, who put up hard, sparsely protected routes, so that may give her an edge. But....the meeting of Mr. Beckey is something on most every real climber's tick list.

Mentioning the show to another world class climber the other day, he said (something like)"Beckey's put up more routes than any other climber in all of history." No doubt - I remember seeing a photo of him on a route and he must have been in his early 20's. He's been climbing for how many years? He's something like 80 years old now - and STILL throwing down.

Fred Beckey, as a symbol of climbing, is sort of important to me. I have only been climbing 4 years, and I'm 45 years old. When I started, I was hooked. Hard. I devoured any materials I could find on the topic, wanting to immerse myself at every opportunity, whether I was out there on something or not. And so - like many others - I'd grab climbing magazines of the racks like they were bags of chips and could snarf them down in one sitting.

One day, I was thumbing through an issue, and all the pictures of young, beautiful climbers climbing incredible stuff(posed on sport routes, most likely) started to get me down. I started to think about how much I had missed out on. Here I was(I thought) beginning a thing that would probably be over for me in a few years. Climbing was..... the pursuit of the youthful(as well it may be; if age is only a state of mind, but that's not how I was thinking that day....).

So, page after page, beauty after beauty, I found myself slinking into self-absorbed sadness. I was pretty well suckered into the depths of that emotional off-width, really feeling sorry for myself.... And then, as with OW's, I moved the smallest muscle (I turned the page), and was free and clear. The sun was shining on my cloudy day, for there was a full-paged photo of Beckey, pulling up over a bulge, with the biggest grin on the wrinkliest face I'd ever seen. The myth I'd been believing in that moment, that climbing is for the kids, was busted wide open. And I owe that to Beckey, for being SO out there.

The man does live up to his various legends; that I can say is true. Having been introduced informally to him one evening in Jtree, the moment I made eye contact, he lit up like the panty-melter he's suggested of being. Maybe I started it, looking at him with gratitude, but he sure wasn't missing a step. An octagenarian - and STILL getting down? Surely, I couldn't say, but....that's the rumor... You'll just have to come to Rock & Snow and see for yourself.

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