So I wrote a song…

Actually, I’ve finished thirty-something songs now. I make a rough recording whenever I finish one, but I don’t know what to do with them. However, I happen to really like the way these two tunes turned out, and things have happened in the last handful of months that make me feel like putting them out there isn’t such a bad idea. They’re far from studio-perfect, but I’ve gotten mostly positive feedback from the few friends I send all of my songs to. So, court of public opinion, here they are.

The first one is “Angry Little Bear,” lyrics/music/vocals by me (lyrically probably NSFW).

 

The second song is “Let Yourself Be Loved,” lyrics/music by me and vocals by Aili Kotnik (barely lyrically NSFW, just one spontaneous F-bomb that fits in there perfectly…your boss/kids probably won’t even notice).

 

If anyone is curious — I recorded them both in GarageBand with an SM58 mic (lacking a pop filter obviously) and a cheap digital interface. The piano was recorded on a digital Kawai at a piano store, and the guitar was recorded with the aforementioned mic and the on-board pickup. I don’t know how to do a lot of fancy editing, so I pretty much just recorded the parts, adjusted the highs/mids/lows and reverb a bit, and converted the files to MP3’s.

And if you don’t like the songs…well, hopefully you get a kick out of this picture of Dave posing with my guitar.

The cover shot for Dave's forthcoming EP, "Reflections of a Mewsing Mouser."

The cover shot for Dave’s forthcoming EP, “Reflections of a Mewsing Mouser.”

Let’s be honest, that picture is the best part of this post.

Year 29: A Triumphant Disaster

Tomorrow marks the first day of December and the beginning of the ten day countdown to my birthday. I’m normally not that fixated on my own birthday — after all, it is just another day — but this one feels different. December 10th represents the conclusion of my 29th year of life and the commencement of my 30th.

I know, I still have a whole year before I hit thirty, but this year feels significant…like I need to accomplish some goals, change some things, and become a better person than I was for the last 365 days. Year 29 was really an interesting mix. I finished a two year process of paying off a pretty huge amount of of debt, and it feels amazing. However, I also realized just how much money (and therefore time and freedom) I wasted during that time. I completed my downsizing campaign that I started after my divorce in an attempt to live more simply, but it made me almost sick thinking about how much money I squandered away on meaningless possessions. I started gunning for, and eventually succeeded in obtaining, a significant job promotion and hefty raise with my company. BUT I had to leave a lot of family and friends that I love dearly and move 2000 miles across the country. I fell head over heels for a girl and we had some grand adventures, but I made the same relationship error that I’ve made several times now, and that relationship is no more.

So now you see the reason for the title. There wasn’t a lot of middle ground this year; things were either amazing or kinda shitty. I’ve been asking myself the same question for the last couple weeks: How do I make my 30th year of life better, happier, more productive, and more beneficial to people in my life? I don’t know if there’s a simple answer or a list of steps to complete that would accomplish those four things, but I’ve compiled a list of personal decisions and determinations for my next year of life that I think are going to help. None of them are earth-shatteringly genius or revolutionary, but I feel confident and right when I read the list.

  • Spend time every day exercising and meditating. I do this most days, but with my schedule, I don’t really have an excuse for skipping a day.
  • Take the entire first thirty days of my year to focus on personal growth more intensely. That includes journaling about the last year, listening to podcasts, and reading.
  • Take “living simply” to a whole new level. I thought I was living minimally because I’m socking away 75% of my income into savings, but I actually still have quite a bit of padding in the “fun area” of my budget. I can do better, and it’ll be 100% worth it when I’m hanging out with Dave in my Port Townsend cottage!
  • Look before I leap. I’m a pretty impulsive person in almost everything I do…relationships, financial matters, etc. Sometimes it works out great, but other times I get burned. I am going to get better at slowing down, thinking things through, and doing my due diligence.
  • Reach $50k in savings by December 10, 2017. I am already well on my way there, but hitting this goal is going to require living very minimally and probably picking up some sort of side hustle. This amount of money should be enough to buy my property AND build most of foundation/shell of my little house.
  • Find a way to give back to people I know and people I don’t. I have no clue what this looks like, although I’m hoping I can think of some ideas during month one. I kind of hate that the one goal about helping others is so nebulous, but I’m going to work on that.

So there you have it: my plans for year thirty. No trips planned, although I have enough airline miles for a free trip up to WA to climb with my brother. No grand adventures laid out, although I’m sure some will come along here and there. This year is about preparation, as boring as that might sound. Part of me is terrified to take time from my (relative) youth and focus on responsible things, but I can’t rid myself of my conviction that living debt-free, mortgage-free, and baggage-free near my brother and close to the mountains and sea will be worth this short time of focus.

Now that the serious stuff is concluded, let’s talk briefly about Sir Dave, Adventure Cat. He’s nearly doubled in size since I got him, and he’s only gotten more cuddly, hilarious, devious, and crazy. He now has his own Instagram (I don’t have one, just him), and below are a few pictures of what you’re missing out on if you neglect to follow him @da_daily_dave.

Sir Dave, Barista Cat

Sir Dave, Barista Cat

Downtown San Jose is a big place for a little kitty.

Downtown San Jose is a big place for a little kitty.

The four phases of Dave's car rides.

The four phases of Dave’s car rides.

Hanging out on a rainy Sunday.

Hanging out on a rainy Sunday.

He's trying his best to do the hind-leg-walking thing.

He’s trying his best to do the hind-leg-walking thing.

I’m just saying…who wouldn’t want to see a new picture (or two or three) of that guy every day?

Cheers!

The F word, the B word, and the C word

Calm down Mom, I haven’t quite stooped to that level of vulgarity in public discourse. I’m talking about Frugality, Budgets, and Cost. What the hell do those three terms have to do with a blog that is supposedly focused on climbing? Well, it’s simple. The length of time before I am permanently relocated to the mountainous Pacific Northwest with a paid-for little mountain cottage on a paid-for chunk of land and a debt free lifestyle is inversely proportional to my discipline in understanding and adhering to those three concepts.

Part of my mind is constantly screaming “You’re young and strong now! Climb and travel and adventure while you can and worry about fiscal responsibility later!” However, the logical part of my brain – thankfully the majority – is smart enough to know that if I play my cards right for the next 2-3 years, I can remain debt free and be financially set for the rest of my life. I can live my life with no mortgage, no car payment, no credit card debt, and a monthly cost of living that I can easily support with a part-time job.

Maybe that doesn’t appeal to you, and perhaps you are more on board with the “live now and worry about paying for it later” philosophy. That’s fine, and I’m not saying that your way is  wrong…but I am currently debt free and on my way to living my dream life, and I love it. If that idea appeals to you, read on!

Frugality

Let me throw a disclaimer out there: I have not mastered living frugally, not by a long shot. I like craft beer and good coffee, and if you happened to read my last blog post, you know I spent an ungodly amount of money on a really sick mountain bike in recent history. Frugality doesn’t have to mean living like a hermit and not having any fun, and I think it should mean something different to everyone! For me, it means cutting back on unnecessary expenditures within reason. I’ve learned that if I live as frugally as I possibly can:

  • I don’t live a physically healthy life
  • I don’t live an emotionally healthy life
  • I get depressed
  • My splurge-o-meter gets all pent up until it explodes and I go on a reckless spending spree

Maybe those bullet points mean I’m weak or undisciplined, but I know from practical experience that they’re true. So how does one live frugally but reasonably?

Budgets

You do it with a budget! Here’s the thing about budgets – they suck. I wasn’t raised with any kind of financial education, and I’m a little ashamed to say that I just got on the budget train about two years ago (at the ripe old age of 26). Transitioning from spending more than I earned every month to drastically less than I earned was HARD. Some months saw a major regression in the form of me deleting the budget file on my Mac halfway through the month and yelling “fuck it, I’ll start being responsible in (insert any month)!” During the two years and four months it took me to pay off $35k of post-divorce debt, I know for a fact that I blew my budget more often than not. Spending money is fun!

Some of the gear stash, stored per my OCD tendencies.

Gear and Beer not only rhyme and provide endless entertainment; they’re also expensive.

But you know what? Just having a monthly budget made me conscious of my frivolous spending, and I still paid off all that debt. The willingness to try, fail, adjust, and try again is the important thing. Make a basic spreadsheet with categories for your anticipated monthly spending, and track every cent you spend on a daily basis. Be ambitious with your spending limits – it’s amazing how little you actually need to make it through a month and still maintain a great standard of living!

Cost

So, you’ve embraced the idea of a frugal lifestyle? Great! You have a budget in place and you’re determined to stick to it? Wonderful! However, vital to truly living frugally and indispensable to creating an effective budget is understanding the truth of cost. It’s simple really (and maybe even stupid to someone with a better financial education), but my concept of cost inspired a sense of positive desperation in me. Honestly, it’s the reason I’m debt free and on track to have well over $10k in savings by the end of 2016.

It goes like this. Let’s assume you take home $150 a day from your job after taxes. It’s a Monday-Friday gig, so you take home $750 per week, $39k per year. I didn’t go to college, but I think that’s a fairly respectable post-tax income for your average college grad. Now let’s say you want to buy a new car to replace your aging junkmobile…it runs fine, but your coworkers are giving you crap for driving that rust bucket. For easy math, let’s say you save up and pay for a $20k vehicle. One way of looking at it is that you got a shiny new car! Another way is that you just condemned yourself to roughly six more months of slaving away at that job that you bitch about on your always-too-short weekends. That $150 bar tab from a crazy night on the town? Another day in the office. That $1500 tropical vacation because January was cold and dreary and you deserved some time away? Another two weeks at your desk.

I'd much rather be here than sitting behind a desk.

I’d much rather be here than sitting behind a desk.

That’s half of the equation. The other half is what I call the Twice What It Seems formula. This might not make sense to anyone else, and that’s okay. It works wonders for me. You wake up on a Sunday morning with no plans and a bit of a hangover, and suddenly brunch seems like a good idea…brunch with a mimosa! Hair of the dog, right? Here’s where the formula comes into play. That $25 you’re about to spend on brunch is actually $50. You’re about to go from positive $25 in your checking account to a negative potential $25 in your savings account. The amount is still $25, but it’s a $50 swing based on your decision to spend or save.

Now. Does that actually make sense? Empirically speaking, I’m actually a very intelligent person, yet no matter how much I think about it, I still have no idea. I do know that the idea of the formula literally doubles the consequence of each potential purchase I make, and that has been a very good thing for me. If it’s actually a bunch of nonsense, please don’t tell me. It would be a blow to both my pride and my financial future.

Happy savings!

 

3 Months Later

My blog seems to have lost its way over the last year or so. I started posting some of my journal entries, training records, and climbing plans/goals two and a half years ago with my mind firmly focused on alpine climbing. I had several clearly defined goals to achieve before I turned thirty (only 402 days now, that’s terrifying), and I had a plan in place to reach those goals.

Climbing in March 2015 when the stoke was high.

Climbing Canadian ice in March 2015 when the stoke was high.

Everything went great at first. I trained hard for ten months after my divorce was finalized in February of 2014. In September, I went shopping for airline tickets. Christmas and New Years were spent smashing and crashing my way up ice climbs in Wyoming and Montana on an eight day climbing blitz with my friend Olin. Two months later, I flew to Europe and spent over two weeks on world class ice and mixed lines in Kandersteg, Switzerland. I flew home with swollen knuckles and a thirst for more adrenaline, and drove up to climb Canadian ice three days later. And then…well, I’m not sure what happened then. I crashed and burned one relationship after another, lost one of the people I loved most in this world to cancer, started drinking way too much, bought a guitar, and started playing and writing songs obsessively. All the while, my climbing gear sat in bins and hung on the wall gathering dust.

Now I’m out in California for work, and that gear is still packed neatly away in my room. It’s created a strange dichotomy in my heart: I still feel like a climber, and a pretty good one at that. However, a person is what they do. Having a lot of expensive gear and memories and pictures of routes climbed and adventures undertaken does not make someone a climber. It makes them a has-been and perhaps a wanna-be.

Just typing those words makes me feel ashamed and guilty somehow. I haven’t renounced climbing and sold all my gear, and I don’t just sit on the couch drinking beer and eating Flamin’ Hot Cheetos (usually). I still get a thrill in my heart and chills up and down my spine thinking about slamming my Nomics into hero ice, racing ropeless up a steep snow couloir, or delicately picking my way up a thin, delaminated mixed pitch of ice and rock in the mountains. I know the stoke will return someday – and maybe someday soon – but for now it’s dormant, hidden, unreachable. I’m trying to learn to be okay with the roller coaster ride that is my relationship with hard climbing. I’ve given up trying to understand it, but maybe I can learn to accept it.

So that brings up the obvious question: if I haven’t been climbing, what HAVE I been doing out here in California? Since the last update three months ago, there have really only been three things occupying my mind and taking up my time (besides work of course).

First, I have been constantly fixated on planning and saving for land and a little cottage in Port Townsend, WA. I had a bit of a financial setback with an unplanned bill for $3000, but I am still debt-free and adding to my savings account every month. I should have well over $10k in savings by the end of the year. I intend to purchase land in late spring, so I’ve been online A LOT looking at different properties. And finally, my friend finished the 3D modeling for my house design, so now I just need to turn it over to a Port Townsend-based architect who is familiar with local zoning and building codes so he/she can convert it to building plans.

A screenshot of the finalized house plan. The large ground-level opening on the invisible wall is a flip-up garage door that I am really excited about!

A screenshot of the finalized house plan. The large ground-level opening on the invisible wall is a flip-up garage door that I am really excited about!

Second, I’ve turned to mountain biking to get my adrenaline fix. The trails around Santa Cruz, Scott’s Valley, and Los Gatos are world class for both hill climbing and hardcore downhill riding. That’s the other reason I’m going to be quite a bit shy of my original goal to have $20k in savings by December 31st – I invested a significant amount of cash into a bike that can handle this kind of terrain. I’ve never spent that kind of money on a single piece of gear, but I have no regrets. Dropping off cliffs, hitting big tabletop jumps, and blasting through rock gardens is FUN! Mountain biking has also helped me meet some really great friends, and I was starting to get pretty lonely out here by myself.

Taking a break with Donovon on some random train bridge while riding in Santa Cruz.

Taking a break with Donovon on some random train bridge while riding in Santa Cruz.

Post-ride with Lance (center) and other Jimmy (right), two of my best friends out here.

Post-ride with Lance (center) and other Jimmy (right), two of my best friends out here.

I think Specialized should use this photo for an ad.

I think Specialized should use this photo for an ad.

Finally, I did something I thought I would never do. I adopted an eight week old kitten and named him Dave. He’s actually sitting on my shoulder watching me type this, and he’s been an all-around amazing little buddy. I think I’m going to update the house plans to have a catwalk go along one wall from the loft to the big picture window on the far wall (not visible in the house photo because I took that wall out to see inside).

Sir Dave, Adventure Cat (that's his full name)

Sir Dave, Adventure Cat (that’s his full name)

I think he was trying to help with the laundry.

I think he was trying to help with the laundry.

He likes to hang out up there and watch me make coffee or work on the computer.

He likes to hang out up there and watch me make coffee or work on the computer.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I have no big adventure or traveling plans made for the future, but I’ll try to post before another three months go by. Cheers!

 

 

News Flash From Sunny CA

I can hardly believe it, but it’s been four and a half months since I have posted anything…no updates, no stories, no pictures, nothing. A lot has happened and changed, but I’m going to keep some things close to the vest until I see how the next few months shake out. However, that still leaves plenty to write about!

The big news first: I moved to California! On June 6, Nate and I packed all of my possessions into the trunk and backseat of my Corolla, and we headed out on a three-day trip to Bay Area. I’ll forgo a  detailed account of what turned out to be a really fun adventure, but here are the picture highlights:

Packed up and ready to leave Minnesota.

Packed up and ready to leave Minnesota.

The view out the front door of one of the coolest breweries I have ever been to. Ruby Mountain Brewing Company is owned and operated by a rancher who occasionally takes days off both jobs to ski in his backyard mountain range.

The view out the front door of one of the coolest breweries I have ever been to. Ruby Mountain Brewing Company is owned/operated by a rancher who occasionally takes days off both jobs to ski in his backyard mountain range.

Nate getting the sleeping bags out for night two.

Nate getting the sleeping bags out for night two.

It was chilly enough to make my fingers go numb, but we had an impromptu mountain jam session anyway.

It was chilly enough to make my fingers go numb, but we had an impromptu mountain jam session anyway.

At the beach in Santa Cruz.

At the beach in Santa Cruz.

Standing in front of the tallest redwood in the bunch at Henry Cowell Redwood State Park.

Standing in front of the tallest redwood in the bunch at Henry Cowell Redwood State Park.

Nate on board one of the old, wooden ships moored at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.

Nate on board one of the old, wooden ships moored at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.

Captain J making ready to set sail.

Captain J ready to set sail.

A makeshift swing at a beautiful, deserted beach about 10 miles north of Santa Cruz.

A makeshift swing at a beautiful, deserted beach about 10 miles north of Santa Cruz.

In other news: in spite of the higher-than-anticipated cost of moving out here and getting settled in, I’m still debt free and on track to have $20,000 cash (or damn close) in the bank by the end of the calendar year. Honestly, it feels pretty amazing to even write that number. I have never had more than a couple thousand dollars in my savings account at any given time, and I have carried one form of bad debt or another since I got my first credit card at 18 years old. Now I wake up every morning, brew my first cup of coffee…

Good equipment + good coffee beans + good technique = good coffee.

Good equipment + good coffee beans + good technique = good coffee.

…and savor the delicious thought that, in just under three more years, I should have more than enough money in the bank to pay cash for a little piece of land in Port Townsend and a little house. A cozy cottage of my own design, a big garden, maybe a fluffy husky, and NO DEBT. Not even a house payment!

One of my friends in MN is a commercial architect, and she’s helping me with the design of the house. Here are a couple screenshots of the concept so far:

Simple and inexpensive are my goals. The ground floor is about 530 square feet, and the lofted bedroom area will be about 230 with storage built into the knee walls.

Simple and sturdy are my goals. The ground floor is about 530 square feet, and the lofted bedroom area will be about 230 with storage built into the knee walls. Steel roof, plenty of windows, and a lofted bedroom.

Sealed concrete floors, a spiral staircase to the loft, butcher block counter tops, and a stainless steel breakfast bar. The sliding door to the left of the refrigerator will walk out onto a simple patio.

Sealed concrete floors, a spiral staircase to the loft, butcher block counter tops, and a stainless steel breakfast bar. The sliding door to the left of the refrigerator will walk out onto a simple patio.

I wrote in a post almost two years ago that “I was going to move out to Washington and finish whatever life I have left living.” Since that decision, I’ve been working steadily towards the goal of ending up in Port Townsend, having my own tiny house, and being near my brother so we can go on all the adventures we talked about as kids. Some days, that day has seemed so close; others, I’ve felt like I’m slogging through knee deep mud. I’ve made a few financial decisions that have sent me sliding a few steps backward, and a lot of decisions that have moved me slowly but surely toward that prize. And do you know what I just realized a few days ago? It’s working. I’m actually doing this. The prize is in sight, and the hardest part is over. I know there will be bumps and frustrations and delays along the way…but I’m on track and well on my way.

Random Thursday Thoughts

Practicing my California look.

Practicing my California look, less than 3 months left to get it dialed in.

One of my favorite blogs regularly features posts titled “Early Morning Confessions.” It’s not really early morning anymore, and I don’t have anything to confess, but I’m going to mimic her bullet point format and squeeze a bunch of unrelated thoughts into this little blurb.

  • I will be relocating to San Jose, CA for my job at the end of May. My company offered me a position and a pay raise I couldn’t refuse, and I’ll be fairly close to big mountains and only 3 hours from Yosemite.
  • I am only 51 days from being debt free. That in conjunction with the salary increase for my new job position means that – if I live frugally and work my ass off – I can have enough cash in the bank in 3 years to pay cash for a little piece of land and a tiny house on the Olympic Peninsula in WA. No debt, no house payment besides property tax and utilities, and minimal living expenses…I’m drooling as I think about the lifestyle opportunities that kind of financial track can create.
  • I will be going on my first climbing adventure in a while this August. I read about a crazy old guy named Roy in a Rock And Ice article, and I’m going to try to help him climb some of the last few mountains on his tick list. Read the article, he’s funny and pretty amazing…signs his emails “Roy the Locomotive.” Hopefully I can keep up with him.
  • I’ve written 20-something songs now that I consider to be good. I like them anyway,  especially one called Experimental Mice that I wrote and recorded in Peru after ingesting a fairly significant quantity of a questionable, conscious-altering substance. I’m not sure what to do with them, but writing them has helped me work through a lot of crap in my mind.
  • I have downsized even further. With the exception of my bed (which isn’t coming with me to CA), I can literally fit everything I own into the trunk and backseat of my car. It’s funny, but the more material possessions I get rid of, the richer and freer I feel.
  • “Freer” looks funny, and I had to consult Google to make sure I was spelling it right.
  • I have never worked in any kind of food service job, but I’m considering getting a weekend job at a brewery or coffee shop out in San Jose. If the goal is to bank cash like crazy, why not? It would be a pretty good way to meet people too.
  • I miss my Grams. It was a year ago Tuesday that I got back from a two-week climbing trip to Switzerland and realized how much she had changed in just a few weeks, and that she wasn’t going to be around for too much longer. Grams, if you’re listening, I’d give anything to smoke another one with you on the patio. I miss you.

That’s about it – pretty much everything that’s been running through my head lately. Time to start another day of work and get psyched for the weekend!

11 Questions From Sarah

 

Remember those chain letters from the days when people used to stuff folded paper in letters and send it off on a two or three day journey to its recipient? You know, the ones that threatened supernatural consequences if you broke the chain? I got one of those from a friend when I was in middle school, and as my mom wouldn’t let me waste ten stamps to follow the instructions in the letter, I broke the chain. Nothing bad ever happened as a result, so I’m going to tempt fate and do the same thing again.

Sarah Anne Perry of the blog Eat & Climb nominated me for an award that involves answering eleven of her questions, and then coming up with my own questions and choosing three blogs to interview. I’m generally not interested in that kind of thing, so I always ignore or turn down any queries. However, I read the questions she came up with, and I found them intriguing. They made me stop and really think, so while I’m not going to pass the award on, I decided to go ahead and post the Q&A session here.

What keeps you outside?

Discipline. I’m a very lazy person by nature, and I could easily waste an entire weekend online or in front of the television. I occasionally need a day like that, or even a week of being a couch potato after a big trip, but as a lifestyle I know that’s not healthy. That’s why I don’t have internet access or TV service where I live – if it’s not there, I can’t be tempted to waste time on it.

What got you outside in the first place?

I grew up outside a tiny town on more than 100 acres of woods and farmland. We didn’t have cable TV or video games, so we five kids were always outside running around (and if we tried to stay inside, our parents would kick us outside so we didn’t tear the house apart). There was nothing to climb except trees, but we all did plenty of that.

What’s the most miserable you’ve ever been on an adventure?

A number of planned and unplanned bivouacs come to mind, although I think there is one clear winner. When I was 19 and living in Bozeman, I hitchhiked up into Hyalite Canyon to spend a couple days soloing some moderate ice routes. That night, the temperature dropped well below zero (almost 35 degrees F below the forecast low), and my paper-thin bivy sack and cheap summer-weight sleeping bag proved to be woefully inadequate. I was shivering uncontrollably by midnight and I didn’t really want to die of hypothermia, so I packed my gear and started walking the 15 miles back to cell phone reception. I warmed up after a few miles, but I was wearing brand new ice climbing boots and they didn’t fit properly. By the time I had good enough cell service to call my sister, my feet were bleeding and I laid down on my pack on the side of the road and waited for her to come rescue me 🙂

Have you learned any “enduring life lessons” outside?

Yeah. I’ve lost several friends and acquaintances in the mountains, and most of them were young. At the risk of sounding like an old man, I’ve learned that it’s better to play it safe and live to climb another day.

Of course, the flip side of that statement is that any time you play in the mountains, you accept that certain objective hazards that can kill you are out of your control. Then it’s a personal decision of whether or not the reward is worth the risk.

Did you play sports as a kid?

Baseball and soccer, although I wasn’t particularly great at either.

Best gear purchase?

Unquestionably my Petzl Nomic ice tools. I’m not sponsored by them in any way, I promise. They just happen to make what I think is the best all-around ice tool on the market. Drytooling, mixed climbing, ice climbing, alpine climbing, my Nomics do it all.

Leading the last pitch of the last day on the stellar WI5+ route that I called Pair Of Titties (I could never remember the real name).

Swinging the Nomics in Kandersteg, Switzerland.

Biggest gear regret?

I decided (in the aftermath of a very messy breakup and while highly intoxicated) that, despite having never run a race, I was going to run an ultramarathon. I signed up for a 50K trail race, bought new running shoes, and ordered a $200 GPS running watch, all while drunk and brimming with naive confidence. I think I used the watch three times before realizing that I am just not a distance runner (and that I in fact HATE running long distances), and now it is gathering dust somewhere on my gear shelf.

That $200 could have been 3.4 new ice screws…

Jetboils: overrated or actual magic?

Actual magic. They have their limitations (mainly cold and wind), but I won’t carry anything else when I’m climbing. After I learned to bring a homemade foil wind shield and keep the fuel canister warm in my sleeping bag at night, I’ve never had a problem with it.

My trusty Jetboil at the top of the Stuart Glacier Couloir...the highest Jetboil in WA?

My trusty Jetboil at the top of the Stuart Glacier Couloir…the highest Jetboil in WA?

How do you feel about fruit leather?

I don’t know what that is…

What is something that all outdoors-people can be better about?

Rant time. Stop treating the great outdoors like it’s your personal gym. Leave it wild, leave it untouched, leave some sense of adventure for the kids 500 years from now. Stop bolting here there and everywhere just so you can be the first to climb something.

Adventure dogs or adventure babies?

DOGS. One of my life mottoes is “No Babies.” I don’t have a problem with kids – I love my extremely cute  eight nieces and nephews –  but I do know I couldn’t live my current lifestyle if I were responsible for a helpless, pooping, crying, money-draining Mini-Me. As soon as I settle somewhere in the mountains and I know I’m going to be there for a while, I’m getting a husky.

I ripped the pic off Google, but I picture my future dog looking/acting exactly like this guy.

I ripped the pic off Google, but I picture my future dog looking/acting exactly like this guy.

 

2015 – WTF?

It’s been a strange year. A lot has happened, and a lot has changed. Some old friends moved away, and some new friends have become best friends. Some family members were born, and others died. One relationship ended, and another one started. Weeks and months were spent grieving and drinking way too much, and others were spent living life to the fullest and creating experiences and memories that I like daydreaming about.

I went from being 100% fixated on this:

Placing psychological pro in bad ice on the Reflection Wall in Nipigon, Canada.

Ice climbing in Nipigon, Canada in March.

To doing a lot more of this:

And by "this" I mean playing, writing, and recording music, not dressing up like a furry. My girlfriend got me a Wookie onesie for my birthday and it's very comfortable.

And by “this” I mean playing, writing, and recording music, not dressing up like a furry. My girlfriend got me a Wookie onesie for my birthday and it’s very comfortable.

And now that there’s ice to climb again, I’m easing back into that hobby.

I didn’t get completely debt-free in 2015 like I had planned, but I did make a lot of progress toward that goal and I still squeezed in a lot of trips and adventures that I don’t regret at all (most recently, a short trip to Peru that I just wrote up under Trips and Adventures).

I discovered that while it’s not the location I want to live in for the rest of my life, Minnesota isn’t a bad place to be for now.

A beautiful place filled with a lot of amazing friends and family.

A beautiful place filled with a lot of amazing friends and family.

I’d like to think I learned a lot this year, but I guess the proof will be my actions and accomplishments in 2016. I really only have one major goal for the next twelve months: to get absolutely totally debt free before the year ends. I should be able to pull that off without any problem, as well as put away some significant savings. To keep myself accountable though, I’m not going on any climbing trips, international adventures, or vacations until the deed is done.

Anyway, 2015 is (mostly) finished. Time to pop the cork off a bottle of good wine and drink to a fresh start and a heart full of hopes and dreams for the new year. Cheers!

 

DNF: my first attempt at an ultramarathon

As promised, here’s the update from my first attempt at an ultramarathon (and my first race). In short, I failed. The race was 33.4 miles, and I made it 22.3 before my body shut down and gave me the finger. If you want more detail than that, read on.

I was credited with finishing the 25K...

I was credited with finishing the 25K…

…but the 12-year old who was branding the plaques wanted to make sure I remembered that I DNF (Did Not Finish) the distance I had signed up for.

…but the 12-year old who was branding the plaques wanted to make sure I remembered that I DNF (Did Not Finish) the distance I had signed up for.

First, I have a confession to make. I lied about my training plan/progress to everyone who asked. If you’re one of the many friends or family who asked how long my longest training run was, the answer I gave you was somewhere in the 19-22 mile range depending on what number popped into my head first. Don’t be offended – I had a good reason for the deception. Frankly, it was easier to say that and move on with the conversation than to explain that after working up to a single 11.61 mile jog about 3.5 months ago, my knees were in such agony that I had to drastically reduce my mileage and just hope for the best on race day. I tried the honest answer a couple times, but the raised eyebrows, verbalized doubt, and unsolicited advice were annoying.

I really didn’t know what was going to happen yesterday, and I didn’t go crazy with race prep. I ate a lot of donuts and pizza in the days before, because obviously I wasn’t going to miss out on the most enjoyable part of whole ordeal: CARB-LOADING! I drank a bottle of wine and ate fish tacos the night before, simply because I like wine and fish tacos. I might stick with just a glass of wine next time though…

Saturday morning dawned windy and wet, and we started the race in the dark. The 50K course is two 16.7 mile loops with five aid stations per loop. The first 5.5 miles and the last couple miles are hills…hills, hills, and more hills. The rain that had soaked the trails for the preceding 24 hours had turned everything into a muddy mess – people were slipping, falling, and occasionally losing shoes. I had never attempted to run terrain that challenging, and it took everything I had just to stay upright and keep moving.

My running shoes AFTER a round of cleaning and scraping. It was a muddy race.

My running shoes AFTER a round of cleaning and scraping. It was a very muddy race.

I finished the first 16.7 mile loop in just under three hours, and I was actually feeling pretty good. I started the next circuit, and my second round on those hills destroyed me. My upper legs started cramping on the downhills, and my pace slowed dramatically. I fell in with two ladies named Janet (J-Squared), and we stumbled our way up and down the rolling terrain together until we reached the aid station at 5.5 miles.

Course map with aid stations marked. Not shown: all the damn hills and mud.

Course map with aid stations marked. Not shown: all the damn hills and mud.

At this point, the course leveled out for about 8 miles, and I was feeling pretty good about my chances of completing the race in under 8 hours. I took about 10 minutes to stretch, hydrate, and eat some food, and then Janet 1, Janet 2 and I continued down the trail at a slow jog. We had only gone about 100 yards when my vision suddenly got blurry and I dropped to my knees, vomiting up everything I had in my stomach. I limped my way back to the aid station to refuel and rest for a bit, but had only been sitting down for a minute or two when my vision got blurry again and I blacked out.

When I came to, people were freaking out and covering me in coats while the aid station manager propped my feet up on a chair. Apparently, my body had had enough and decided to shut down for a bit. The race director drove me back to the start/finish line, and just like that my race was done.

I’m really not too bummed about the way things turned out. I more than doubled the distance of my furthest training run, and I did it on some crazy trails in shitty conditions. I had tons of (Type 2) fun, got a sweet new tshirt, and learned a LOT:

  • For my next 50K, I’m going to have to find a way to train harder…something that doesn’t brutalize my knees. Elliptical? Biking? Suggestions are welcome!
  • A full bottle of wine the night before is probably not a great idea, although I didn’t actually notice any obvious adverse effects.
  • I need to start slower. My first lap time was fast and I was passing more experienced runners. A slower pace might have prevented my body from flaming out and shutting down.
  • Road running shoes are fine for dry trails, but a more aggressive tread would have been awesome for the muddy conditions.
  • Having a stoked and encouraging support crew to meet me at the aid stations was incredible – thanks Nate and Kaity!

Here’s to finishing the next one!

Testing a theory

So here’s the deal. This Saturday, the starting gun will boom at 0700 for the Surph The Murph 50K. It’s actually 53.75K, but who’s counting, right?

I am registered for that race, so I SHOULD be writing a blog post about my last few months of training, or maybe my nutrition plan. Instead, I’m contemplating putting my phone down for a minute so I can get a donut to go with this cup of coffee.

YoYo Donuts makes the best POF donuts you've ever wrapped your lips around.

YoYo Donuts makes the best POF donuts you’ve ever wrapped your lips around. Don’t question my dietary decisions, it’s four days till the race and I’m carb-loading. Duh.

Ahh, that’s better. So about this race…I stopped training about two months ago, and that was only about a month after I had started training. My knees, already rickety from a childhood bout with Lyme Disease, were producing such an exquisite brand of pain that I honestly couldn’t take it anymore. In the last sixty days, I’ve run exactly four three mile loops near my house and one grueling four mile hill run at Barn Bluff in Red Wing, MN.

That’s hardly the normal mileage you’d find in a “Run Your First Ultra-Marathon” training plan, and I very seriously considered just dropping out. However:

  • I already paid the entry fee
  • I want my race tshirt
  • The snacks at the aid stations sound delicious
  • I want to prove to myself that I can do it and then never ever do it again
  • I have nothing else going on Saturday

With those compelling arguments to prop up my resolve, I am going to show up and test my theory: that all of the wine, pizza, and donuts I’ve consumed and my decent all-around physical condition will allow me to run/limp/walk/stagger 33.4 miles of winding, hilly trails on Saturday morning. My main goal is to finish, but I’m secretly hoping to complete the course with a sub seven hour time.

Or maybe I’ll just make it to the first aid station and hang out by the fire eating PB&J sandwiches and GU and cheer people on. Either way, I’ll post something about the adventure on Sunday. Wish me luck!

Unplugged

I get the feeling at some point during every foray into the wilderness. Sometimes I feel it only seconds after locking the car and shouldering my pack, and sometimes it hits me after a day or two of the simplistic routine of climbing, eating, sleeping, repeat. It’s the sudden feeling of relief at being completely and utterly unplugged from the modern world.

No texts or phone calls.

No work emails or electronic bills.

No Facebook news feed updates.

Without my smartphone, WiFi, or computer, existence is simplified. Communication is basic and happens the old fashioned way, and staying warm and dry is suddenly a much higher priority than checking Billy Bob’s FB status to see his half-masticated dinner from the night before.

I’m technologically inept – my brother will attest to that fact – so my social networking footprint was pretty small as it was. I don’t have a LinkedIn profile, Instagram account, or Twitter feed, and my friend list on FB was fairly modest (sub 200 and I knew every one of them personally).

Still, I found myself becoming disgusted with the amount of time and mental energy I squandered seeking out and viewing the picture and status updates of friends, family, and coworkers. Even more appalling was the realization that I was constantly in search of another great picture, adventure, or status update to post on my own wall…but why?

One of my favorite lines from the movie Fight Club comes from character Tyler Durden:

“Self-improvement is masturbation.”

Apparently it feels extra good if you take pictures of all that self-improvement and post it online for people who don’t actually give fuck all about your travels, adventures, CrossFit obsession, marketing scheme, imperceptibly pregnant belly,  or half-consumed meal from an overpriced downtown eatery. But they’ll “like” your picture because you either A) recently gave one of their pictures that pathetic sign of virtual acceptance and approval or B) they’re hoping you do the same for them soon.

I know, I know, I’m acting the part of a cynic and an asshole. The perceptive reader will see through the caustic words and recognize that a large part of this rant stems from internal frustration at my willing participation in so primitive and base a pleasure for so many hours and days over the years.

So I’m out.

My job would have a real problem with me ditching email, and texts and calls are how a climbing bum lines up partners and a hopeless romantic maintains a constant stream of sappy messages back and forth with his girlfriend. But Facebook? Sorry not sorry, see you never again. I’ve rolled my eyes over your flexing selfie in the mirror, groaned about the endless stream of pregnant belly pictures, bitten my tongue because of your political or religious stupidity and obstinacy…all for the last time.

If you want to climb, let’s put away the damn camera and climb (safer that way anyway).

If you want to travel, let’s go somewhere amazing and take pictures to jog our memories when we’re old, not to impress friends and coworkers.

And if you want to talk, let’s actually talk…

…especially if there’s wine involved.

First you laugh, then you know.

“When the tears come streaming down your face,

’cause you lose something you can’t replace,

when you love someone but it goes to waste,

what could be worse?”

Fix You, Coldplay

Nothing. Fucking nothing.

The First Foray: Climbing the Chadwick-Bowman on Granite Peak, Part IV

The north face of Granite Peak in August 2008. The Chadwick-Bowman Route goes directly up the face, just left of the main pillar.

The north face of Granite Peak in August 2008. The Chadwick-Bowman Route goes directly up the face, just left of the main pillar.

Procrastination isn’t usually my thing, but it’s been a rough first half of the year on a couple different fronts and I haven’t been too stoked to finish the story. Here it is though – the final chapter, and the conclusion of one of the defining adventures of my life. I’ll move it to the “Stories” tab in a few weeks, but you can find the earlier chapters there now if you haven’t read them already.

Loren traversing on the first roped pitch.

Loren traversing on the first roped pitch.

0740 on August 26, 2008

A faint shout reached my ears, but the words were torn away by the gusting wind. I looked down, my eyes following the gentle arc of the rope to where my partner was climbing almost sixty meters below me. We had been simul-climbing the moderately technical rock face to save time and stay warm, but now I could faintly make out the word “belay” as he continued moving towards me. I shrugged. The terrain ahead didn’t seem difficult enough to merit the safety of belayed climbing, but Loren was more experienced and maybe he knew something I didn’t.

I placed two solid cams in a hand-sized crack to my right and used a pair of clove hitches on our twin climbing ropes to anchor myself safely to the wall. Loren seemed to be almost running up the pitch, and it was all I could do to keep up with him as I pulled the slack rope through my belay device. He reached me just a couple minutes later, breathing hard.

“Give me the gear,” he said in a flat voice between breaths.

I started to unclip the remaining pieces of protection from my gear loops, handing them over to him one at a time as he arranged the nuts and cams on his harness.

“Are we belaying from here?” I asked. “It doesn’t look that hard for the next bit.”

Loren didn’t look up. “You’re moving too fucking slow, Bambi,” he said as he continued clipping gear around his waist. “I want to get up and off this thing before a storm rolls in. Slings?”

I ducked my head and pulled the tangle of slings off my shoulder without saying a word. I was embarrassed, furious, and surprised. I thought that I had been moving quickly and confidently, running it out between pieces as much as I dared and placing just enough gear to keep us from going to the ground in the event of a fall. I kept my mouth shut and focused on rearranging the anchor to account for an upward pull if Loren peeled off the rock above me.

Following Loren's lead two pitches below the ridge.

Following Loren’s lead two pitches below the ridge.

“You’re on belay,” I said through clenched teeth as he looked at me. I huddled into the rock as he moved swiftly up the blocky terrain above us. The sun’s rays had not yet kissed the wind-blown north wall, and I couldn’t feel my feet anymore.

1035

“Ok, climb!” came the shout from the ridge forty meters above me. I couldn’t see Loren, but I was eager to get off this shadowy face and into the warmth of the sunlight. I disassembled the anchor with numb fingers and made a few tentative moves upwards. After a moment’s pause, the two ropes snapped tight against my harness, and I knew my partner was paying attention. I jammed bloodied fists into the wide crack above me and worked my feet upwards, hating the weight of my pack and craving a hot drink.

1120

We stood together on the tiny summit block, arms thrown around each other’s shoulders. The sun had disappeared behind clouds that had materialized seemingly out of nowhere, but at least the wind had died. I was filled with a contentment unlike any I had ever experienced, and I felt closer to Loren at that moment than I had ever felt with anyone else in my life. Thoughts of the descent lingered at the edge of my mind, but I was determined to be fully present in the moment at hand. I looked over at my partner.

On the summit block of Granite Peak after a seven hour ascent of the Chadwick-Bowman.

On the summit block of Granite Peak after a seven hour ascent of the Chadwick-Bowman.

A final summit shot before starting the descent.

A final summit shot before starting the descent.

“We did pretty good, huh?”

Loren grinned. “Yeah, Bambi, that wasn’t too bad. Still gotta get down, but I’ve done the east ridge descent before and it’s not hard.”

I nodded, feeling physically drained but emotionally charged. I gazed out at the view of mountains and glaciers for a minute before glancing over at him once more.

“Again sometime? And soon?”

He looked back at me for a moment before a slow smile spread across his face.

“Yeah. Yeah, I think we could do that.”

Going Horizontal – Surf the Murph Ultra

The subtitle for my blog boldly declares the following:

A repository for thoughts, reports, pictures, and opinions about going vertical.

However, I haven’t really climbed since my ice climbing adventures to Switzerland and Canada in February and March, unless you count my Memorial Day Weekend misadventures in Washington. Oh, I’ve tied in at the climbing gym a few times, and I have lapped a few familiar pitches at Taylor’s Falls, but the desire just isn’t there right now. I know the reasons – there are two of them, and they’re both personal and likely wouldn’t be considered rational by most. The last few times I’ve thought about packing my rope and rack for a day of jamming and crimping, I either felt nauseous or my eyes starting misting. I know myself well enough not to force it, and I needed a distraction in the meantime…something to keep me busy, un-fat, and something that gives me time and space to think.

BASE jumping was an option, but I don’t have the money for it right now. I’m SCUBA certified and there is some great diving in Lake Superior, but that’s not a great hobby for maintaining physical fitness. Mountain biking would require a financial investment that I don’t want to make at this point, so I settled on training for and running a race. Well, actually a marathon. An ULTRA-marathon. A goddamned thirty-one mile trail run on October 24th.

The course map for the Surf the Murph 50K ultra.

The course map for the Surf the Murph 50K ultra.

Here’s the problem: I’ve never run a race before, and I hate running.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the runner’s high after a long run, and I really appreciate the scenery when I’m running with (and slightly behind) an attractive female partner. I’m in decent shape, and I can fire off six miles without trying too hard. But the act of running itself? I hate it. I get bored easily, and I can’t stand listening to music when I run – it messes with my pace. I have rickety knees already, and I’m not sure what a three month training plan and a fifty kilometer trail run is going to do to them.

I wasn’t going to sign up for it at all, but then I had a bit of an epiphany. Don’t laugh, but this thought came while I was reading The Oatmeal’s excellent comic book The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances. He talks in the book about running being a form of practiced stoicism, and how the pain lends perspective to the problems and complications of everyday life. He writes about running to the point where the world seems to stand still and questions of why seem to melt away into insignificance.

The last few months have been wonderful in ways, but completely shitty in others. I lost two people I love dearly, one to death and one for reasons I still can’t understand fully. I could use some perspective, and some silence from the constant internal barrage of self-doubt and questioning. I crave clarity, and when I run the pictures seem a little less fuzzy. Things seem simpler, clearer, more decipherable. Maybe this is a knee-jerk reaction, and maybe I won’t even finish the damn thing. But I’ll pass out on the trail trying, and who knows – maybe I’ll find some answers along the way.

Sidenote: I know some of you are distance runners, and I clearly am not. Any tips or advice on training, pace, nutrition, cross-training, injury prevention, hydration, etc. would be greatly appreciated.

Missing You

An evening to remember with two of the best people I know.

An evening to remember with two of the best people I know.

Dear Grams,

Tomorrow morning will mark two weeks since you left. I’d like to think you’re in heaven. I realize that might just be my attempt to cope with the fact that you’re gone, but if ever such a place existed, you are surely qualified for admittance.

I haven’t done a great job of dealing with your rapid decline or your absence. I drink too much, eat too much, and haven’t gone climbing or exercised for months. Somehow it seems morally wrong to find pleasure and fulfillment in willfully risking my existence when you would have given anything for another month or two of life. Maybe I’ll get back into the game, but for now I find comfort in a glass of good wine and a few hours on the piano. I like to play songs for you, the same ones I played for you the day before you passed. Maybe you can hear them now, or maybe not. I’d like to think you can.

I find myself wishing a lot of things. They’re not regrets really; I treasure every memory of time spent with you, and we had some incredible times together…memories so beautiful and wonderful that I cry when I think about them. And yet, I still wish some things could be true.

I wish I could take you and Pops out to Don Julio’s one more time. Do you remember when I put too much of that green hot sauce on my enchilada and drank an entire pitcher of water trying to drown the fire in my mouth? God, how you laughed. I think we brought that up at every subsequent dinner there. Or how about the time that Pops spilled his drink all over the table and drowned my cell phone and the menus? That was right after you had been diagnosed with lung cancer, and that spilt beer brought some much-needed laughter to our table.

I wish I could smoke one more cigarette with you. I know those little bastards are what killed you, but there was something wonderful about lighting one up with you. I don’t smoke anymore, so don’t worry about me…but goddamn, I wish I could have one more with you out on the patio. I remember near the end when I had to light your cigarette for you and make sure you didn’t drop it and set yourself on fire! Watching you grow so frail and weak was heartbreaking, and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry every time you nearly went up in flames.

I wish we could tackle one more project together. I was just looking at the realtor’s listing of your house online, and I gotta say – we did one hell of a nice job for a couple of amateurs. The rock beds around the house, the gutters, the raised flower bed, and countless attempts to eradicate weeds from the lawn…I would give anything to spend one more sunny July weekend working in the yard with you.

I wish I could take you climbing again. That was amazing, and you were one hell of a tough lady. I don’t know too many seventy year olds that would be willing to strap themselves into a harness and learn how to rappel and use ascenders on the rugged cliffs of the North Shore. I think I can safely speak for my brother when I say this, Grams – that night at Palisade Head will always be one of our favorite memories with you. I broke down sobbing when I found out that you had chosen a picture from that night to be on the bulletin for your funeral.

Most of all, Grams, I wish I could hug you one more time. I’m so glad you’re not suffering anymore, but goddamn, I wish I could wrap my arms around you and hold you. I miss the way you smelled…that mixture of cigarette smoke and perfume and whatever else was the way a grandma should smell. I wish I could tell you I loved you one last time as I felt your lips on my left cheek. You always kissed me on the left cheek.

I miss you terribly, and I’m afraid I am not so great at doing life without one of my best friends. You were always there, and now you’re gone…and it just doesn’t seem right. I hope I’ll see you again someday, and you’re always welcome to visit my thoughts and dreams. You were the best, and I love you so much.

Rest in peace, Grams. You earned it.

Bye.

Uncaging the Tiger

Today’s post is something special. I’ve never posted anything that I didn’t personally write; I have a very specific vision and desire for the voice and direction of my blog, and I’m an incurable control freak. That said, Magdalena’s story is one that needs to be told. It’s a story of self-discovery that I hope everyone is fortunate enough to experience personally. English is her second language as she’s native Polish, but you’d never guess it when reading her writing. Enjoy!

Magdalena at the top of the  stellar fourth pitch of Namenloss.

Magdalena at the top of the stellar fourth pitch of Namenlos.

“Hey Turbo, why don’t you lead that next pitch? I think you should because you have bigger balls than the three of us combined!”

The shout came from the curly-haired American that I had met only twenty-four hours before. I was just about to finish following my partner on the second pitch of Rattenpissoir on our first day of our ice climbing trip to Kandersteg. Following with a top rope again, as it almost always used to be. Too many excuses, too little courage, or whatever else it was that stopped me from believing I actually could be more than just a self-propelled belay device when ice climbing. A simple question from a guy I barely knew changed it all. 

I knew I was not going to find any excuse for backing off this time. Tempting as it was, the thought of rappelling down and getting a glass of hot wine in the fancy Randez-Vous restaurant, as my partner suggested, had just lost meaning. I wanted to lead for the first time in my ice climbing career. I actually wanted to lead a pitch, and it felt like the only right thing to do.

Magdalena with a smooth lead on the steep first pitch of Namenlos.

Me leading the steep first pitch of Namenlos in Kandersteg.

“Yeah, why not..?” I murmured, seeing from the corner of my eye the most startled look on my partner’s face. He wasn’t used to me taking charge.

I was not scared. Not for a second. All of a sudden I knew I was able to climb it without a problem. For the last several years, I had been climbing on many grade six ice pitches – following of course, but still doing pretty fine (except for the first trip to Kandersteg five years before, when I had been taken on a grade six route on my first ever day of ice climbing. I’m pretty sure the cute little Kandersteg valley has never heard so much Polish cursing as they did on that memorable day). 

Still, I had never dared to lead more than perhaps three easy pitches during all those years of ice climbing. Leading ice routes used to scare the shit out of me, for no good reason. I guess it was always easier to be scared and give up than try and succeed. Or fail. This time was different though. This time changed everything.

The third pitch on Rattenpissoir is easy; most parties climb only the first two because the upper part is full of snow-covered ledges. It wasn’t hard, but it was enough to remind me of a Tibetan maxim that I chose to be my one and only life philosophy a long time ago.

Better to live one day as a tiger than a thousand years as a sheep.”

Most of us live as sheep these days. We eat, drink, sleep, and follow our shepherd, whoever or whatever the hell he is. I chose this maxim to be mine because I wanted to be wild and free like a tiger instead of going through life on autopilot. I chose to follow these words, and then I forgot about them. Pathetic and ridiculous, but it actually happened. Why? Because it was easier to be just growing wool like a sheep than being fierce and self-sufficient like a tiger. Now, however, I was slowly gaining courage and uncaging the tiger that had been slumbering inside me for too damn long. 

Was it that simple? I guess so, because all that happened after that first fully-aware lead only proved it. I became a real climbing partner, willing and even demanding to always lead the first pitch on each route. This led me to sending the hardest pitch I had ever done before – the first grade six pitch on Rubezahl. I couldn’t describe how special and magical this moment was and how much it meant to me, even if I tried for a hundred years. There are times in your life when you feel truly alive without even trying, and that was one of them.

Turbo living up to her nickname on Rubezahl, WI6. Her lead on the first crux pitch was her hardest to date.

Following the second pitch of Rubezahl, WI6. My lead on the crux first pitch was my hardest to date and one of the proudest moments of my life.

My tiger is awake now, and I am well aware of the fact that life begins at the end of your comfort zone. You just have to get your ass off your comfy chair, deal with the consequences and move on. Stop simply existing and start living. Even if – as the proverb says – that life lasts for just one day.

 

image2 (2)Magdalena (aka Turbo) is a Polish rock and ice climber trying to make her dreams of great alpine adventures come true. She currently lives in Krakow, Poland where polluted air, endless winters, slippery rocks, an absolute lack of ice climbs, and murderously potent vodka make for quite an interesting existence. When she’s not working as a marketing manager in an IT corporation, she devotes her time to training, climbing, hiking, and trying to live her life full speed. She’s proud to have the maturity level of a fourteen year old boy and hopes to never grow up.

Worth Dying For

Loren simul-soloing on one of the purest alpine climbs I've ever done. We went light, fast, and with a minimum of technology; we truly met the mountain.

Loren simul-soloing on one of the purest alpine climbs I have ever done. We went light, fast, and with a minimum of technology; we truly met the mountain.

I have been called a purist, old-fashioned, and an idealist. Those terms I usually take as a complement if I have any respect at all for the person labeling me. I have also been told that I am stuck in the past, hindering the progress of our sport, and afraid of change. The first is true, the second debatable depending on your definition of our sport, and the third patently false. I have never put a drill bit to rock, and I know for a fact I never will. I usually wear that distinction among my peers quietly, but always with pride.

Mark Twight once wrote an essay about bolting entitled “Barbarians at the Gate.” I first saw it nine years ago, and the proud, angry words resonated strongly with my impressionable young mind. Some primitive, righteous entity was birthed inside me as I worked my way through his discourse, and I felt the nervous thrill of encountering some great pearl of truth. Having not lived the words the way Twight had, I couldn’t grasp the full weight of what he wrote, but the concepts fit together with my desired evolved self like a puzzle piece. I have read it scores of times since, and the idealistic phrases and uncompromising lines are now permanently imprinted on my heart.

Perhaps that obsession with his words is why I now find myself unable to write anything worth reading on the same subject. Anything I pen either sounds like plagiarism or weakness; I’ve torn up or erased several attempts over the last three months. Quitting is not my usual modus operandi, but I am of the opinion that Twight’s words were complete, lacking nothing. Since I’m not interested in producing an inferior product solely for the sake of autonomy, I have posted a link below to his original piece. If you read it carefully, you will understand – although perhaps not agree with – my title for this post.

“Barbarians at the Gate” – by Mark Twight

As a final note…I was texting my brother yesterday, telling him what I had decided to do with this piece. I remarked that Twight had said everything there was to say on the subject of bolting ethics, and in my opinion he had said it perfectly. Matt’s response was thought-provoking:

“…[John] Muir said it all. Twight only needed to say anything because people forgot Muir…you didn’t need climbers to talk about climbing ethics at all until climbers forgot to appreciate the mountains and just treated them as a big gym for their personal use.”

Truer words were never spoken.

 

Lost and Found

I got lost this morning.

I laced up my running shoes, flipped the hood of my sweatshirt over my disheveled mop, and walked out the front door of the townhouse at exactly 0437. I jogged slowly down the street past flickering streetlights and silent cars and trucks. Even the neighbor’s dog must have been sleeping, as none of the usual frantic barking answered the sound of my soles slapping the pavement.

When I got to the first traffic light – the place where I always turn right – a little voice in the back of my head told me to turn left. Half asleep still, and with no reason to resist, I scanned the empty road for signs of life and then ran across to the sidewalk heading towards the highway.

I crossed the bridge over the interstate, turning left and then right into a part of town that I had never visited. Houses, businesses, and churches passed by me in a blur as my mind wandered. Another right turn and the icy wind cut through my sweaty clothing like a knife. It was miserable and I was shivering, but the discomfort was cathartic somehow.

Ten minutes and a few turns later, I was lost. I stood on a dimly-lit street corner beneath a sprawling willow tree, watching as the shadows of the branches played a chaotic dance on the sidewalk. Tears welled up as I stood there…tears of sorrow for recently lost relationships? Maybe it was just the bitter wind on my eyes.

Ten more minutes and I found a street I recognized. As my pounding footsteps carried me closer to home, I thought hard about the last two months, about what I had lost and what I had found. What I had gained didn’t trivialize what I had cut or let slip away, but it did justify the loss.

Lost and found, or sometimes found and then lost. Those simple sequences repeat themselves every single day in big and small ways. It’s the way life works, and it’s one of the reasons that life and love are never as easy or simple as I think they should be.

The important thing – and I’m learning this slowly – is to be able to recognize when you find what you’ve been looking for, what you have been moving towards and preparing for all your life whether you knew it or not. To recognize it, and then fight for it and never let it go…that’s what matters.

The Evolution

The landscape was desolate, a steaming wasteland of muddy pools and stinking slime that stretched as far as the eye could see. The monotonous scene continued seemingly indefinitely, save for one curious exception. In the very middle of the deepest part of the swamp rose a small island of sharp, crumbly volcanic rock, empty but for a single fixture. A tall, slender mirror stood in the center of the tiny oasis, brightly illuminated by some unseen light source. Angels and demons alike stood concealed in the shadows, their motionless eyes looking on with intense curiosity at the unoccupied stage in front of them.

The stillness was broken suddenly by a commotion from the fetid pool nearest the island. Large bubbles boiled up at the surface, as if some undersea vent was releasing poisonous fumes into the noxious atmosphere. A shape began to rise from the mud; it rather looked like it could have been a man once, and yet a second glance was sufficient to cast serious doubt on this initial impression. The thing had legs and arms and a head, but it was there that the resemblance to humanity stopped. Gargantuan was an inadequate description; huge, greasy blobs of oozing flesh protruded in every possible direction, and great patches of long, oily hair hung from the mass at irregular intervals. A dark cloud seemed to surround it, and the thing’s foul odor made even the vilest of the demons recoil in disgust.

Inch by agonizing inch, the shape dragged itself out of the muck and onto the fragile black rock of the tiny island. The sharp edges of the stone cut into the outer layers of flesh, releasing a fresh fountain of pus and blood. Apparently undeterred by the injuries, the thing continued its progress, snail-like, towards the mirror at the center of the rock. Once there, it paused for a long moment on its knees, studying the grotesque reflection through yellowed, bulbous eyes. One fleshy, bleeding hand rose then, ragged with bloody strips of flesh torn by the struggle with the rock. A glittering edge caught the light from the mirror; the hand held a knife aloft, the blade suspended for an endless second.

Then hand and blade descended, and the shape began to cut away at itself. A wailing, soul-wrenching scream of pain rose from the thing, and yet it continued to slice and tear at its body. Great steaming chunks of bloodied flesh fell at the shape’s feet as it quivered in agony, but still the cutting continued. The knife seemed to be alive, animated, and hungrier with each vicious laceration. There appeared to be no elegance or specific intent driving the mutilation, and yet a curious thing happened as the minutes dragged into hours. A recognizable form began to emerge from the carnage, reminiscent to the ancient eyes in the shadows of the way David was birthed from a block of marble under the skilled hands of Michelangelo. A human form…not perfect, nor beautiful, but undoubtedly the shape of a man.

knife

The intended message behind the story?

The human organism, as both an animal and a spirit, is perpetually in a state of either evolution or degeneration. Equilibrium is a myth; there is no actual physical manifestation of the concept of balance in life. There is only the choice between the slothful, corpulent, groveling crawl towards the death of dreams and ambition, or the willing submission to the knife that cuts away all that is weak and pathetic in humanity and leaves a person free from that which would hold them back from achievement. The choice cannot not made for life and forgotten – no autopilot exists for the soul of man. This decision between the perceived comfort of cowardice and the self-induced pain of discipline is presented minute by minute, case by case. The balance recording the weights of each choice is more visible to the rest of humanity than you might think, but there is one who will curse you louder than the rest should you make a habit of picking foolishly.

The choice is yours, as are the consequences.

The Only 3 Excuses

Placing psychological pro in bad ice on the Reflection Wall in Nipigon, Canada.

Placing psychological pro in bad ice on the Reflection Wall.

I was busy planning an alpine climbing trip with Nate and halfway through my second pint of Surly when my phone rang. I glanced down at the screen to see who was calling at 2030 on a Wednesday, and the name Adam Dailey was blinking on the screen. Adam is the strongest mixed and drytool climber in the entire Midwest, and he wasn’t the kind of guy to call just to say hello and shoot the breeze.

“Hey, what’s going on?” I answered as I mouthed the word “Adam” to Nate.

“What are you doing tomorrow?” Adam asked. No small talk, just straight to the point.

“Umm, well I just got back from two and a half weeks in Switzerland so I’ll be at work trying to catch up. Why?”

Adam laughed. “Dude, that’s a horrible idea. Nope, you are going to pack your shit and drive up to Duluth tomorrow by noon. Jon and I are picking up Whit Magro at the airport in Thunder Bay, and we’re headed up to Canada for the Nipigon Ice Fest. We need a fourth climber, someone strong.”

Adam, Jon, and Whit approaching the routes on the first day in Nipigon.

Jon, Whit, Adam, and James approaching the routes on our first day in Nipigon.

I hesitated. I had only been back at my job for three days, and I had a lot of work to take care of from the preceding two weeks. On the other hand, it was a chance to climb and hang out with a world class climber; Whit Magro had climbed and established hard ice, rock, and alpine routes all over the world, and I knew him from my time in Bozeman to be a genuinely nice guy who always had a lot of stoke and power.

“I’m sorry, bro, but I just can’t. I don’t know if I would have a job on Monday if I took off again.”

He laughed again. “Perfect! If you get fired, you can move up to Duluth. I could use another good climbing partner up here. Just think about it and call me back in an hour, ok?”

I hung up the phone and filled Nate in on the situation, mentally scrambling for a way to make it all work. I ran through a dozen possible scenarios in my head; all of them either concluded with me being unemployed on Monday or missing an incredible weekend of climbing in Canada. I was about to send a text to Adam declining the offer,  when my mind suddenly flashed back to a moment in Kandersteg a week earlier. While sipping our daily espresso, Magdalena told me that her entire life philosophy could be summarized in a single, ancient Tibetan maxim:

Better to live one day as a tiger than a thousand years as a sheep.”

I picked up the phone to call Adam back – potential consequences be damned, I was going to live as a tiger this weekend. The phone rang twice before he picked up.

“Yeah?”

“Fuck it, bro. I’m in.”

Ready to warm up on the route "Ten Percent Real" (WI5) for my first climb in Nipigon.

Ready to warm up on the route “Ten Percent Real” (WI5) for my first climb in Nipigon.

Ten Percent Real felt 100% real - 55 meters of sustained vertical ice, and a thin, steep finish.

Ten Percent Real felt 100% real – 55 meters of sustained vertical ice with a thin, steep finish.

Despite my close proximity to our neighboring country, I had never actually crossed the border into Canada to climb. This glaring omission on my climbing resume, I quickly discovered, had been a huge oversight. Nipigon may not have the vertical relief or huge routes found on the Stanley Headwall in British Columbia, but the routes there are fantastic and absolutely worth the pilgrimage. Wall after wall of steep ice and mixed pitches lined the winding roads like a scene out of alpine hardman’s dream. Orient Bay climbing is no picnic; normal winter temperatures require double boots and a double portion of desire. The approaches range from roadside strolls to multi-hour ski tours, and hundreds of hard lines stand waiting for a first ascent from someone with the vision and guts to search them out and put them up.

Following Jon's lead up a fun WI4.

Following Jon’s lead up a fun WI4.

At the top of the route with most of Peter and half of Jon.

At the top of the route with most of Peter and half of Jon.

Adam, Jon, Whit, and I shared a large, comfortable room at the Beaver Motel in Nipigon. After a full day of climbing and socializing on Friday, we set off Saturday morning to teach the advanced ice clinic to a large group of stoked climbers. We quickly set up top rope anchors on three classic routes so the clinic participants could take several laps on each and work on technique. As I belayed, I listened carefully to the instruction that Whit, Jon, and Adam were giving to the climbers, trying to glean some new knowledge that could give me an edge in the mountains. We had a ridiculous amount of fun, but I didn’t really learn anything new (other than the fact that leashes on modern tools are sadly still around in some remote corners of the world).

Whit racing up a stellar WI5 pitch to set up a top rope for the clinic.

Whit Magro racing up a stellar WI5 pitch to set up a top rope for the clinic.

Helping Whit, Jon, and Adam teach the advanced ice/mixed climbing clinic on Saturday. Ted G is the climber on the rock line; I'm not sure I've ever seen someone try so hard on a pitch. There was no quit in that guy.

Helping Whit, Jon, and Adam teach the advanced ice/mixed climbing clinic on Saturday. Ted G is the climber on the rock line; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone try so hard on a pitch. There was no quit in that guy.

That night, Whit presented an inspirational slideshow filled with pictures, videos, and stories that made me long to get back home and start training and planning for my next big adventure in the mountains. I fell asleep that night excited out of my mind for the future and the course I was on, but slightly disappointed at the same time. I had come on this trip fully expecting to learn something life-changing; after all, I was with some of the strongest, best climbers I had ever met. The trip had been incredible, but it was the last night in Canada and I hadn’t yet experienced the “aha” moment I was expecting.

A scary lead on the Reflection Wall, WI5. It was steep and the whole way, and the ice was hollow, sun-leeched crap.

A scary lead on the Reflection Wall, WI5. It was steep the whole way, and the ice was hollow, sun-leeched crap.

Jon and I finished up the trip with a fun, wet  two-pitch WI3 route.

Jon and I finished up the trip with a fun, wet, two-pitch WI3 route.

On Sunday – the final day of the ice season for me – we split up into pairs. Jon and I went wall to wall with the goal of getting in as many good pitches of ice as possible, and Adam and Whit went to attempt Road To Nowhere, the hardest mixed route in the area at M10. Jon and I managed to get in four good pitches of ice in three different sectors before my fractured left hand was in too much pain to whack against the ice again. We walked back to the car to wait for Adam and Whit, Jon munching on a sandwich and me crunching on pain pills as we listened to Blue October and napped.

Whit strolled up a few minutes ahead of Adam, smiling and shaking his head as we asked him if he sent the route.

“No,” he said, “but it’s an awesome route and I’ll be back to finish it.”

Just then Adam walked up. He had completed the first ascent of the route in 2013, so I expected that he would have sent it today without any problem.

Adam on Road To Nowhere in 2013.

Adam on Road To Nowhere in 2013.

“You send?” I questioned as he walked up the final hill to the car.

“Nope,” he answered. “Fell at the lip.”

“Damn,” I said. “Too windy? Too cold?”

He stopped untying his boot and studied me for a second before he replied.

“Three excuses.”

“Three excuses? What does that mean?” I asked, confused.

“Scott Backes taught me a long time ago that there are only three excuses that are ever acceptable when it comes to climbing.” He paused to yank at the knot on his boot, and then continued. “Excuse number one, I wasn’t strong enough. Number two is that I wasn’t brave enough, and acceptable excuse number three is that I wasn’t good enough.” He paused one more time. “And that, Jimmy, is all. Everything else is bullshit.”

I finished packing the gear into the car in silence. There were so many thoughts swirling through my head that I didn’t trust myself to speak. I had gotten what I came for, and I wanted to process it before I lost the moment of stunning clarity that had just overcome me. What Adam had said was true, and the acceptance of that truth was the door guarding the next level of personal and psychological evolution. I won’t write exactly what those words mean to me; I can’t fully explain it with words, and I wouldn’t if I could. Maybe your eyes will glaze over these last paragraphs and this post will just be entertainment, ice climbing porn, nice pictures of people doing crazy things in colorful clothing. But maybe there’s someone out there like me who is ready to receive and live those words. Someone who needs those words. I hope so.