Monday, August 16, 2010

The Battle of Mobility – OR - Two Legs vs Four Wheels

My friend left her car with me for the month of July, while she sublet my place in Manhattan. She did it partly so her vehicle would get some exercise while she was away, but mostly as a gift to me, since I do not have one. I was a bit reluctant to accept the thing, partly because I couldn't help but feeling responsible for it's welfare, imagining some unforeseen accident not of my fault but damaging the car nonetheless. But mostly because I must have know in my heart that, though I said I'd use it only for the occasional run to town for groceries, the lure of easy transport would be harder to resist than I was admitting.

It was.

Lauren left the car on the last Tuesday night in June, and by Wednesday noon, I had decided it was okay to use the car to get to a trailhead on the western edge of Minnewaska Preserve, several miles away.

Now THAT decision was partly due to the fact that I HAVE wanted to check out the farther reaches of the park, and I am really not a fit 12-mile a day hiker, but more like a 3 to 4 hours and I'm ready to call it a day type. But mostly it was because the guy who I have had a giant crush on since last October, and who has been visiting me on and off since, and who had spent much of June staying at my place, had left that morning to road trip in the western states. There is more, as one would expect, but this post is about the relationship between me and cars, and not me and men, though I suppose I should mention that Peter did have a van, which made forays into town for groceries and laptop recharging much more convenient. Perhaps that is where the slippery slope began to erode.

As regular readers of the Happiegrrrl chronicles know, I got the opportunity to live on a nature preserve for three months in the fall of 2009, and this year I am there for the entire season - May 1st through some time in November. Though at first it sounds idyllic, for "most" people this would actually be an unattractive situation, since the cabin I reside in has no electricity or plumbing, and is situated under a canopy of trees which make the inside dark even on sunny days. It's chief draw, to the uninitiated, would be it's immediate proximity to world-class rock climbing, but upon further inspection, most would find it unacceptable for more than a very short time period. And that would be people who own a car and can simply get up and go whenever they please. I came up last year without a car, knowing I would be dependent on others, paid or out of friendship, for anything requiring a drive.

I packed my gear in on two weekends, arriving via train at the Poughkeepsie station twenty-plus miles away. A friend was paid to transport me from the station to the cabin, and we made an agreement that i would call upon her once or twice a week for rides to and from town as needed for errands and supply replenishment. Included in the deal was the occasional trip to her house for a hot shower. It seemed workable to me, though a potential hassle getting coordinated, since my location is not within cel phone service range.

The first trip went well, though my efforts at planning the various errands I wanted to do ended up including too much to be accomplished in the available time. The second request was problematic because she got a full-time job that would make her assisting me an inconvenience for her, and she offered to set me up with another friend for the future. Instead, I began hitching rides into town and taking people up on serendipitous offers of a ride. That meant I had to ration what could be achieved on planned outings, and also be ready to go with the flow for those who offered rides. What I ended up doing was using the rides, if they included a return trip, to include ice for my cooler and really stocking up. On trips where I would have to carry everything, I had to limit myself to amounts which would fit within my climbing backpack.

If I wanted to do laundry, I could bring my laptop along and work online while there, but nothing more. For a grocery run, I needed to carefully list what I needed, so as not to forget something I found coffee. For days when I would go into town intending on doing online work(I run several online subsistence businesses, which you can visit by clicking the "ads" to the right on this page), I would bring my laptop, and need to locate a source to plug into. Since I often brought Teddy on those days, as I would be there for 4 or more hours, it had to be a resource that allowed him to accompany me. I would tell you those places, but I depend on them being available, and the more who know about them, the less likely that becomes. Sorry - you're on your own!

The big problem has been rainy days. The cabin, being too dark to work in without a headlamp even at mid-day, becomes my only protection once a real downpour begins. For most rains, though, I can remain on the spacious porch, which is really the main living space of the cabin. Unless the rains are coming at oblique angles, the area stays almost completely dry. Needless to say, when nature wets her pants for days on end, there is only so much a person can do to amuse themselves. In the five months I have been here so far, I think I have only been "rescued" two or three times by someone stopping in to offer me a ride into town and a way out of what has become an hermitage...

However, the inability to zoom miles within minutes has not been a negative experience for the most part and in truth it has been sublime. Time slows greatly when one walks, and life becomes simpler. Nature moves from a background to the fore, something many people never really experience except when trekking for multiple days in the back country. The hills ARE alive with the sound of music, and the scent-sations of Hemlock, wildflowers, and muddy wetland bogs. Television, for me, consists of watching the winds blow through grasses, hearing the winds shake the leaves of high trees like mini tambourines, and following the flight paths of various birds as they flit about. Evenings are spent, often, in anticipation of the owls in their revelry. I have come to recognize distinct 'voices" of several of the local Barred and Screech Owls, and even twice have heard the supposed sole Great-Horned owl who resides in these woods. With a car, it's so easy to miss out on all that, since I can so easily have the car whisk me away, like a magic genie accepting my wish of being somewhere as it's command.

On the other hand, four-heel mobility does have it's advantages. The most luxurious, in the heat of summer, is the ability to keep my cooler iced. With no car, the only way I can do that is when someone is giving me a ride immediately home from town, and willing to stop while I run into a store. Since I hitch-hike nearly exclusively, that's just not possible, for my bag of ice would be a (leaking) bag of water by the time I got back. I can wait up to half an hour waiting for a pick up. and the nearest store, the Mountain Bistro, is an hour's walk away.. Only once have I gotten a ride from someone I thought I could ask if they minded pulling into the place, but in the end I chickened out. Besides, I didn't know that they would take me right to my cabin area. Most people drop me at the Scenic Overlook or the Steel Bridge on 44/55, and I have a 20 minute walk still to go.

Between May 1st this year and June 30th, I purchased a total of 4 bags of ice. Considering they last about two days, you can easily surmise that mostly I went without. The interesting thing is that many foods actually don't require refrigeration anyway. It's a convenience, really. Of course I use dried milk and don't keep meats, but eggs last and so do cheeses. and vegetables. Still, on a hot day there is no cold one waiting in the icebox., Instead I have a tepid half bottle of juice that should have been guzzled before the ice melted.

The other battle being fought, in my mind as well as body, was the Battle of the Bulge. Last year, I lost more than twenty pounds, and two pants sizes, in the three months I was here, simply because I didn't have easy access to prepared foods, cel service or even climbing. Those pounds were lost mainly along the Shongum Path, which I used at least every other day, and by the end of October, the change was so obvious that everyone began to comment.

Wintering back in New York, I gained back ten of the pounds, even though I KNEW what I had to do to keep them off(just not eat restaurant take-out food or nibble sweets while I whiled away time online at home). Luckily, I got back down to size within a month of my return. My body hasn't looked this good since I was sixteen years old - more than thirty years ago.

While having the car, I felt myself slipping within the first week. The Magic Weight Loss trail, .I mean the Shongum Path... hadn't felt the pad of my foot in several days. On my second trip into town, to use the internet in the air-conditioned comfort of the local coffee house, Cafeteria, I decided to stop in at Jenkin-Luekens farm stand and see what fresh fruits they had available.

Jenkinss, a farm stand along HWY 299 is a quaint old family stand, with seasonal fruits and an incredible selection of farm-grown apples each fall. They also have seasonal berries, peaches and cherries, which were just finishing at the writing of this post. I pass the stand every time I go to and from town and secretly always want to stop in. I like supporting personally owned businesses over corporate shops, and always like to see how they are holding up in their own battle against the progress of society. But I don't want to ask friends to stop if they are driving, and I surely can't ask a stranger whose picked me up hitch-hiking!

But now I had a car! I could stop whenever I want!

Well - I did get a box of wonderful sweet cherries, but was somewhat pleasantly surprised to see the changes in store. They have added local beef for sale and bags of dried fruits and nuts which are not local. Though it is a little sad to see a farm market has had to buy wholesale, I know they needed to do so in order to stay in business. But did I choose to buy nuts and berries? Noooo....I found my way to the back of the store, where I KNEW in the back of my mind, they kept fresh-baked pies. They had blueberry and Strawberry-Rhubarb, which were still warn.

You can easily guess what happened.

I came back to Jenkins on another occasion and picked up a fresh Cherry pie as well. Now, it wouldn't be so bad if I had a cadre of friends stopping in for sweets and tea in the afternoon, but for the most part, I don't, and of those who do visit, most would cross their hands in front of themselves, warding off that pie as if it were a vampire. And so, instead of having a raw apple or orange, my sweet fixation was refocused on the fattening crust(but it was sooooo delicious) and sugar-laced fruit compote.

On the other hand, I DID purchase a nice piece of steak from Jenkins; freshly frozen, locally raised beef from Millbrook Farms. And I did pick up green peppers, onions and potatoes, along with hand-picked blackberries and a sack of wonderful peaches during "car month." That I provided a bit of support to a local stand, as opposed to sending money away from the area, via a chain grocery store's chain of command., felt great.

Now that I'm relegated to foot traffic, I feel at a bit of a loss, knowing that humongous blackberries await those who venture amongst the Jenkins bushes and that I, for the most part, will not be one of the pickers. It's back to picking up prepackaged Driscoll's strawberries at the supermarket, and being disgusted as I take note two days later that the "freshly picked" harvest has already begun to mold.

Another facet of my life that underwent changes in having a car was my internet usage. When I am a pedestrian, my time online is limited to that which I can get in before using up my laptop's battery. I have a mobile broadband connection, and so my "office" gets set up on the short rock retaining wall near the Gerdie Block at the Trapps. Usually, I have a bout 2 1/2 hours available before I need to shut down.

Most people would probably think that it is outrageous to be spending such a chunk of time online when I could be - well, climbing! But I run several businesses which depend on my internet connection. First is the bread-and-butter companion animal care service I started in 2002, Premier Pet Care, but my online usuage for that is just a matter of keeping abreast of schedule changes and invoicing clients.

I also sell hair accessories made form vintage sewing buttons through Talisman Studios at Etsy. Because I need to ship the goods in a timely manner, it's imperative that I check in every 2-3 days at a minimum. Of course, I also need to keep the shop stocked with items, and the uploading of images/descriptive listings take up some time.

Then I have the "time-sinks," ventures to which I dedicate an exorbitant amount of time with a very small yield in return. I am an artist by nature, and though I am not the best graphic designer, I do like to create t-shirt designs, which I market online. The climbing-related shop is ClimbAddict, which I began in 2005, and have seen slow but steady increases in views and sales each quarter since. Still, it won't (yet) pay the bills(and it likely never will).

Because ClimbAddict has such a small audience(not rock climbers as a whole, but those climbers who would purchase graphic t-shirts of the type I create), and because I am hoping to create more income via online venues(enabling me to have a mobile lifestyle), I began a group fo general t-shirt shops last winter. There are 5 shops, which I have umbrella'd under

Creating each graphic takes time; often more than I can get within a single battery charge. Then there is the uploading to the venue and creation of the various products. Depending on the design and venue, this can take anywhere from 1 to 8 or more hours of work. But that's not the end of it, for without marketing, no one would ever come across the designs, in enough number to possibly support the efforts involved. So - I need copious amount of time, not only online, but with an electrical connection powering my laptop.

Having a car made it so much easier to pop into town and while away the hours, working on these ventures, all the time warming up the battery so I could come back to the cabin - a much more inspiring place to do the creative aspects of the work.

This July happened to be comprised of almost exclusively above-90 degree days. Teddy didn't want to go hiking any further than to the field for his poop walk, and frankly, neither did I. I certainly couldn't expect him to walk the mile needed to hitch a ride, and then sit patiently at one of my (top-secret) outdoors electrical outlets in New Paltz. Even in the shade it was uncomfortable. So, for me, the ability to get into town in 10 minutes vs. the more likely an hour commute via walk/ride hitch, was a real benefit. To be able to work in air-conditioning instead of out in the hot sun was almost too luxurious.

Still - this also had it's side effects. Because I was using 4-5 hour blocks of time for the work, I would often want something to eat. Even without food, I still spend $2.75 each and every session, for the beverage that is minimally required to be taking up space in the coffee house. I suppose I could have gone to the library., but the heat was so stifling that by the time I had driven the few miles to town, I was desperate for a cold drink to refresh my dehydrated body. The walk from car to library would have been a whole extra block, too.... which sound absurd, especially since I had been accustomed to walking at least a mile before the car came into my hands, Yet here I was, feeling that extra effort was just that - an extra effort.

It wasn't only that. One day I didn't need to go into town, really. The laptop battery was fully charged, and I wasn't in the mood for an extended work session. I just wanted to check my emails and see if I had gotten any phone messages. The problem was that I had solemnly vowed to not drive that car to the Trapps. Not for climbing, nor trailwork or internet work.

The thought occurred to me that I could drive up to the Overlook to check on things(which I DID do, each night, in order to not be waiting at the gate as the daylight waned, wishing the latecomers would go away so I could close that gate! That was a benefit the general public of Split Rock-goers received out of my having the vehicle....

But it was not night time; it was mid-day, and thus the parking at the Overlook had a 30-minute limit. That would be enough to check emails, but I knew I would straggle online, and stretch it out for a longer time. The Overlook was out.

I thought "Well, I COULD park in the Trapps and go to my outdoor office." And then - I am embarrassed to admit - a groaning thought popped into my head. It just seemed sooooo far a walk, in comparison to the relative ease I'd been having to log on lately. I simply didn't want to walk from the parking lot to the Gerdie Block!

That was a bit of a rude awakening, and I worried how I would fare once the car was gone and I would be forced back into the old routine, especially since August is historically the month when we see the worst of the high heat and humidity. The good news is that it has been a very easy adjustment, although I haven't hitched Teddy into town yet; he's just come on the Shongum Path to Gerdie Block.

Back to the food issue. Because I spent so many hour in town, online, and had either snacked or eaten something more substantial, I often wasn't hungry when it came time for dinner back at the cabin. I'd make some little thing, or eat some not-so-good for me thing(like a piece of the Jenkins pie).

Not being the brightest star in the galaxy, I didn't make the connection between the change in my eating habits and my purchasing of food. I would go to the grocery and stock as usual, and then wonder why my fresh produce was wilted when I went to eat it. If I cooked a pasta or grain dish for dinner, chances were the next night I wasn't interested, since I had snacked on an oversized cookie in town. It was upsetting when, about half-way through the month, I realized that this wastage was due to, not only my missed brain connections, but that damned car!

It's been about two weeks since Lauren came to pick up her car, and I admit that as that time drew nearer, I began having very slight anxiety issues over the idea of being carless. I'd become dependent. I even had fantasies of not wanting to return the thing! And the thought that maybe I DID need a car after all occurred to me, and that I should considering beginning to look for a decent deal.

The good news is that things have reverted very easily to the old mode. I'm feeling a level of fitness in my body again, enjoying the scents of the Shongum Path, and renewing my connection with passersby as I type away at my laptop in the Trapps. I'm certainly spending less money. I spent about a hundred dollars in gas, sixty for ice, and who even knows how much in food, simply because of having that vehicle.

Imagining the change that having a car would have on my life(not only vehicle cost/maintenance and insurance, but those incidental expense increases I mentioned above), I am a bit concerned about the future, as I intend to live in the southwest this winter, in a nomadic existence. Unlike the Gunks, with it's immedate proximity to climbing, and my cabin in the woods, this phase won't go carless with such ease, though some people do it(young men, able to subsist on Ramen Noodles, who don't have a dog).

However, for now, no wheels IS doable, and actually quite nice. Sure, I don't have the conveniences and range of mobility I enjoyed while driving, but the benefits of NOT having a car definitely do outweigh the benefits of having one!

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Climbs Well With Others - I SWEAR!

A lot of people who live very near the Shawangunk ridge, who say they used to be obsessed with climbing, tell me they moved here from New York City or elsewhere specifically to allow for more climbing days, but once they had been here a while, they came to the realization that they were actually getting out less! Funny, how what had been an every weekend dedication for those people had morphed into the occasional day out or even, for some, a complete hiatus in climbing.

I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that once you can climb on weekdays, the chaotic weekend energy at the Trapps, or even the Near Trapps, becomes fairly unappealing. If one's dance card was previously filled by other weekenders, the transition to partnering with people during the week may not come as easily as one might have hoped, as well. Too, if one has spurned their old stand-bys in hopes of the quietude of weekday climbing, they are likely to find themselves with no willing ropemates when they DO make that booty call.....

Within this type of scenario, I can see how time could fly by quickly, and one might wake up to realize they hadn't been climbing in days, weeks, or even - gulp – months. Luckily, this hasn't been completely my case, but I have to admit that I didn't climb a single day the week before last, and it wasn't because the temperatures were in the upper 90's, as they had been for much of July.

I'm the type who isn't truly proactive when it comes to inter-relationships, and climbing partnerships are no different. I wait for people to call me, or post a request for partners online without answering any of the requests made by others for the same time! I have great days out with most everyone I have ever climbed with, but don't make the effort to set up another day of climbing. Unconsciously, I fear rejection, just as in other aspects of life, but this post isn't intended to be a psycho-self-analysis and I won't be delving into that realm.

My 2010 season has been a bouquet of sometimes old, sometimes new partners, along with sometimes rosy, sometimes blue days for me. I started climbing in the spring of 2004, and though I have partnered with well over a hundred different people, the dedicated partnership has been fairly elusive for me all along.

Some people thrive on that intimate companionship, and the relationship enables them to push harder at their grade limits, and enjoy a lower level of stress, since the partners know each others quirks, strengths, weaknesses and personalities. Personally, I can't imagine climbing each and every route with the same person, even if it were someone I was in a romantic relationship with. I like the diversity of different experiences even at the expense of continuity and increased stress from unfamiliarity that comes with climbing ala carte. Besides - since we're not getting psychoanalytical - people leave; relationships deteriorate, and even worse, they sometimes die(in non-climbing-related situations, hopefully!). I've seen it happen to others - the significant other, or even just another girlfriend or boyfriend moves on, and suddenly they find themselves touching the void, climbing partner-wise. Death, of course, is entirely different; I intended the previous mention in a jocular way. May those loved ones of anyone reading this piece rest in peace.

Nevertheless, with a variety of partners, one has room for the ebb and flow of life's relationships tide. It's OKAY if the person you want to climb with has some commitment that means they can't get out on a stellar day. The fact that they are getting married, attending a funeral(there's that death sentence fragment again - oh dear!), or spending Fathers/Mothers Day with their children doesn't have to ruin MY day....

Seriously though, a variety of partners means a mixture of experiences. I have people I tramp miles into wilderness for FA's with, partners with whom I swing leads, others I teach the basics of climbing, people visiting from other areas, and even a few top-rope troupes. Some are serious Type A's, others debauched drunkards who'd surely have been sailors had they been born when the high seas were still uncharted. Most fall somewhere in-between; light-hearted, fun people just looking for a good day of climbing. I like the mix-and-matchedness.

So - what has my season been like, now that I am in my fourth month of living within walking distance of the famed Gunks ridge? Both pretty good, and not so great, depending on my perspective in the moment.

As has been my tradition, I started the season in Joshua Tree. This year my trip was a week later than usual; I arrived just as March was thinking of renaming itself April, and enjoyed another marvelous early desert spring. Flowers were not in as much abundance as some previous years(remember, climbing isn't only about climbing), and amazingly enough, even though it was Easter weekend and the park campsites were packed, I snagged the very last available spot in Hidden Valley upon arrival. A good site too - morning sun, an interesting backdrop of rock formations, yucca and other brush.

While still in Las Vegas, I checked my emails and had a message from someone answering my request for partners(which I always post on Jtree trips, even though I have developed a nice group of local friends to climb with). Brenden, who happened to also be from New York, had just arrived in Joshua Tree on a leg of an extended road trip, and had about a week before the rest of his group arrived. We ended up with him sharing my campsite, and he cooked most of the meals with ingredients I supplied. He also played the part of rope-gun extraordinaire, leading Pope's Crack onsight, his first day, and first time ever in Joshua Tree.

I also hooked up with James, Brandt, Sonya and Reilly - all locals to the area - for a day or two of friendship and cragging, and though it wasn't a first ascent, I did follow my new tradition of getting deeply into the further reaches of the park with Todd Gordon, Tucker Tech and others, as we wound our way to the southwest face of North Astrodome and climbed a 5.7 sport-bolted rope-stretcher called Let Your Fleak Flag Fly.

Back in New York City, I had two weeks to prepare my apartment for seven months of being sublet while I moved to what is technically within Gardiner, though I have no actual street address. I am caretaker for a second season, living in and off-the-grid cabin with no plumbing, and loving the quarter mile walk to the well for drinking water, and one mile walk to the cliffs.

Within days of getting here, my friend Peter also arrived, and stayed with me on and off throughout May and June. This was as close to having a significant other as climbing partner as I have ever experienced, though our friendship remained platonic, and I can see how easily one slips into the cocoon-like comfort of such a climbing partnership. Peter was leading 5.8's and 9's, and patiently coaching me as I worked my way up the the routes. The fact that he is absolutely beautiful in body and character was an exquisite perk to which I quickly became accustomed. I could wax on, and oh - how I would like to - but the chapters within that story remain untold, and so I will keep the notes private, at least for now. At any rate, climbing with Peter was so enjoyable that I simply had no desire to link up with internet strangers, and though I made some attempts to get out with old partners in the days when he was away, I was happy enough keeping myself occupied with other activities, waiting to return to the high of climbing with someone I am incredibly attracted to.

But like I wrote earlier - the problem having all one's eggs in one basket(now that could be a double entendre if only I'd taken a bit of effort....) is that people leave. Or die. The good news is that he is alive and well; the bad news that he's gone, though I don't assume forever. He's currently out west, traveling and climbing in the mountain regions out west and California.

But, like so many before me who have fallen prey to the myopic partnership, I found I had unintentionally created distance between myself and several partners I climbed with in the past. It should be noted that none of these partnerships were committed relationships that I dodged, and I did keep in touch throughout the time he was here, inquiring about getting out and expressing hopes to do so. Usually, our schedules simply didn't match up.

Nonetheless, I couldn't help but get a sense of some irritation from a few people who asked what I had been climbing since we'd last talked. That hurt; I am not one who is constantly partnered up with someone, dropping my friends until my heart is broken and needing their emotional glue to help me piece life back together. To be treated as such - even if it was only in my imagination - seemed unfair.

At any rate, once I didn't have Peter to climb with, I realized that I was going to have to start from scratch and build new partnerships, just like I had been doing each season previously. As I said, I have climbed with hundreds of people, even here at the Gunks, but not really developed reliable partnerships with any of them.

Partly, it is due to the fact that our initial day of climbing has generally been due to the fact that one of THEIR regular partners was unavailable; I was the fill-in, and amounted to just one number in their address book of people to call when their preferred partner couldn't climb. But I also have to admit that, for whatever reason, I seem not to have the interpersonal skills required to build sustaining partnerships.

Still, I wanted to climb, of course, and posted partner requests on the climbing forums I frequent, and though I would like to say I redoubled my efforts and reconnecting with previous partners, I fell into my old ways, for the most part, of waiting for their calls and wondering why they weren't forthcoming(though in one case I had made the effort, and we did finally get a nice day out recently). The only "old" climbing partner who I easily fell back into routine with was Whiskey Mike, whom anyone acquainted with Gunks climbing is familiar with.

I did get responses, which is nice. But, oh, how I had forgotten the stumble and bumble of hooking up with new people. Though I was as clear as I could be in stating my skill/experience level and what sorts of partners I looked for, I was immediately besieged with people who had been climbing only in the gym and wanted to try outdoors, and others who "definitely wanted to climb a lot this season," but weren't available when I suggested we set up a day(even when I left the dates to their choice). Complementing those, I had at least three who notes from people were coming to the Gunks on a climbing trip, and seemed excited to partner up. Each of them subsequently canceled their trip; often without bothering to let me know in advance.

Out of about 20 inquiries, so far I have only gotten out climbing with one person from the batch. We have been having some nice days in, where I am leading all the pitches and generally setting the day's agenda. This is good for me, since I have always tended to go along with the flow of my partner to an extent which put the burden of decisions on their lap, and I also tended to decline taking leads, since my level was usually lower than theirs to the point I worried they'd be bored following me.

So - here we are, about mid-season in the Shawangunks(I consider my season here to be from mid-March through mid-November), and where do I stand? I HAVE ticked off a few leads I was anticipating(an onsight of Black Fly, and Fingerlocks or Ceder Box, which I had been on once before, as my singular "mock lead" back in 2005). I've followed Peter on several routes which were challenging for me, and fell off some others(he patiently waited while I prussiked 20 feet of the rope on Ape Call after falling out of the corner into the air and being unable to get back on stance). I have repeated some routes and taken note of the increased ease I had in the leading, and backed off one I previously led(first pitch of Snowpatch), swung leads with Pauline, and perhaps most important to my development, I have been the leader of the day with a new partner.

My current agenda is to continue leading the "under 5's which I previously swung leads on, so I have experienced being on the sharp end for all the pitches, ticking off a few previously led routes, such as Horseman, just to check my progress, and working through the 5.5's I haven't yet lead. Then I'll begin getting on some of the G-rated 5.6's and continue my way upward, as is the tradition in traditional climbing.

I've not yet led some routes rated sub-5.5, such as Sixish and Hawk, and with good reason. I'd have tried Hawk by now, but several people whose opinions I trust have indicated that last year's rockfall has made the route unpalatable, and considering it's reputation as a sandbag, I prefer not to ignore their advise at risk of an "I told you so." With Sixish, I asked Pauline to lead for me the other day, as I wasn't entirely sure where the 5.4 route ran. The route has a well-earned reputation as risky for the unequipped leader, and last year I asked someone to lead it so I could suss the line beforehand. That person went up the G-rated 5.6 variation, which nullified the effort for me, since I specifically wanted the 5.4 section. After following Pauline, I think I'll continue to put off that lead. The first placement area is bomber, with room for as many pieces as one wants to use, but one has to climb with no gear to a height where a fall would certainly cause at least some injury before getting there. The second stance for placement comes at an awkward stand that, if blown, is high enough that the risk of injury is again present. And then a bit of run-out. I have no health insurance, and my life insurance isn't even enough to cover a cremation - good thing I've donated my body to medical science!

Since I mentioned Whiskey Mike before, I should say that I will most certainly continue getting out once in a while with him. I am one of his fill-in partners; someone he will look for when a better match for his abilities isn't available. With Mike, I (try to) follow his leads or top-rope set-ups on 5.9's and 10's, and occasionally he will run up an easier route in order to set the TR.

I'll also hopefully get more days of swinging leads with Pauline, which I'm looking forward to. Now that I realize the added stress of making the day's agenda decisions, I intend to be more proactive in offering suggestions for climbs, and will work to resist my urge to decline on leading my turn. Even though I pride myself in being a competent second who does their share of the work, I just hadn't fully realized the added burden it puts on someone who has to take that on themselves. I have a new-found appreciation for all the people I've climbed with who lead the day.

As well, I am still available, and willing, to climb with new partners and old, and also those visiting the area who might appreciate having a partner who is familiar with the cliffs. In September, I head off to Yosemite for the Facelift again. While I don't climb a LOT during those trips, I'll certainly get out a little bit, and am looking forward to that. Perhaps I can even relax my stringent practice of barely allowing myself a day out, and even get in a long route.

And, soon enough, the Gunks season will begin to wane as November approaches. This is going to be a big transition period for me this year, as I have made the decision NOT to return to New York City, and live as a southwestern nomad for the winter. But that's a whole other subject, and one I am sure I will write about soon.

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