Wednesday, October 31, 2007

After the Wedding

Again, it has been a long time since I have written. I've been quite busy. I got married last week.

For a long time, I thought of marriage to be this vague, theoretic concept. Sort of like algebra. I thought, sure, it will affect my life someday, but don't ask me to explain what it looks like or how it works. It was just smoke and mirrors to me.

Well, all of that changed in the months leading up to the wedding. This concept, which previously was so ephemeral, became very very real. Marriage took the form of Kayte saying, "Honey, please remember to get your haircut tomorrow." Or, "What do you think of this dress for the rehearsal dinner?" Evidently, my reflexive shrug (what, she thinks I could have an opinion on a dress?) precipitated a flurry of stress (on her part) and confusion (on my part) as she instantly packed the dress up and shipped it off to be returned for a model that didn't bring about the reflexive shrug. When she showed me the new one, I went to my happy place and smiled. All was right with the dress.

It was months of this. As I dozed happily in the bed on weekend mornings, Kayte would be up at her computer, with her mom on the phone, saying things like "We can't put the place cards on the table until AFTER the plates arrive." I became very comfortable in my happy place, which was much simpler than the world of charger plates (?), guest lists, first dances (don't even get me started), and the dreaded vows. We wrote our own, mine on hotel stationary the night before the big day and Kayte's on nicely-printed paper that matched the programs.

My last-minute, cobbled-together vows are not to suggest that I wasn't invested in the process. I loved the idea of joining with the most wonderful woman I have ever met, who is smart, beautiful, and also happens to be a fantastic climber. I also loved the idea of friends from all aspects of my life in the same room with my family. And honestly, the wedding went off perfectly, at least in my eyes, though there could have been some unforeseen snafu with the charger plates clashing with the place cards. Maybe the program had a misprint. If so, I was blissfully unaware of such things.

I remember wanting to get another plate of food at the reception. It was good food, and as is always the case with good food, I wanted more. Somehow, though I got distracted. I remember doing the heralded "leg-dance" on the dance floor. To my knowledge, this dance had not been seen by the general public since one night at a bar in Oshkosh, WI, in 2001. I remember looking across the room at Kayte in all of her radiant bride-glow, the stress subsided, replaced by enjoyment, and from the looks of it, a slight twinge of satisfaction. It was a great wedding. It really was.

Now I have time to do all of those things that were so easily placed in the "after the wedding" column of my life. I can get out to Rumney and climb more. I'm able to write this blog. I can focus a bit more on my health, and less on things such as tuxes for my guys. That, by the way, was my only responsibility and I nailed it. So, this begins the after-the-wedding segment of my life, and it's a wonderful place to be. It's a quiet, calm, simple place, and it's next to my beautiful bride.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Independence Pass

The summer is drawing to a close. I haven't written in a while because I have been living in a tent, climbing during the days and generally living the simple life of life on the road. Climb all day, eat dinner, go to bed at 9pm and wake up the next morning at 7am and repeat, that is until it's time to go into town and get groceries, do laundry and, for the love of God, take a shower.

This summer has been different from previous summers, however. Whereas last summer I was super excited to go to Rifle, to test myself in the arena, to climb hard, talk about climbing hard, and climb hard a little more. Last summer I did exactly that and I came back completely tired, but with a few memorable hard climbs under my belt. It was exactly what I wanted.

This summer, I thought I wanted the same thing. I got to Rifle, ready to throw myself at a hard route and I thought I was willing to climb on for the whole summer. Maybe sending, maybe not, I told myself I didn't care. I just wanted to climb. At least that's what I told myself.

I got to the cliffs and found myself unmotivated. It is a very strange feeling to desire something completely and then when on the cusp of attaining it, to feel nothing. No, that's not correct; I didn't feel nothing. I felt indifferent. I just didn't care. When I tried a route, I didn't care if I sent or not. When I listened to the people talk about climbing, as they invariably do at Rifle, I didn't care about what they were saying. Okay, Simply Read may be the hardest 13d in the canyon, nay, the world, but you know I just don't really care.

Let me embark on a brief interlude here: We camped at a the same campsite at Rifle this year as we had last year. Every morning, both this year and last, I would sip my coffee and sit at the picnic table. My bleary-eyed scan of the campground would always stop at the hill across the way. The hill had a faint trail heading, where? I don't know. I would always wonder where that trail headed. What did it look like at the top of the hill, at the end of the trail. Yet, for some reason (pre-coffee laziness?), I never took that trail. I sat, morning after morning, at the table and wondered where the trail went. I did this for going on two years. I always wondered, but never looked.

So back to my Rifle funk. And it was a funk. I slept later and later every morning. I began to avoid people and make excuses for yet another rest day. After some serious deliberation with Kayte, we left. We went to Independence Pass, outside of Aspen, ostensibly for just a few days to get away from the arena. We still haven't left. The climbing and the ambiance at the Pass was so fantastic, that it is going on a month and we are just now thinking of leaving.

Before writing this blog, Rifle was the farthest thing from my mind. Talk of this 13c being harder than that 13d was eclipsed with the low rustle of the deer that come right into our campsite. Screams on redpoint burns were replaced by my wheezing lungs while hiking up the trail. It's at 11,000 feet, you know. And the Aspens, the trees of Ansel Adams' famous photos surround us up there. And the climbing is stellar, steep, technical, amazing, and with no one to tell me the right beta for the move or that so and so did the route is six tries before he decided to leave for the trade show. For me, up in the mountains, the incessant chatter of those canyon-voices have been replaced by a still mind and a renewed sense if inspiration. And what's at the top of the trail across the way? I don't know. I'm never going back.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

You Can't Go Home Again

I have been told that if there is one book you read in your 20s, it should be "You Can't Go Home Again," by Thomas Wolfe. Nevermind that you should read more than one book in ten years. Anyway, the protagonist in Wolfe's novel, George Webber, has just written a successful novel in which his hometown gossip is used for fodder. Webber expects a hero's welcome, but as more and more people read the book, he experiences the opposite from his townspeople: anger, guilt, shame. He becomes an outcast in his own home town because, in effect, he left and became successful.

Maybe some of you know where I'm going with this. I'm not going to claim success, however, and I wouldn't go so far as to label myself an outcast now that I have returned home for the summer. There a lot of differences between Webber and me, yet I admit that I empathise with him. Having moved to New Hampshire, started on a burgeoning career (I'll try to overlook the distinct lack of monetary success for purposes of this comparison), and become a slightly more accomplished climber, I thought that returning home would be a sort of triumphant homecoming, with a parade, and floats, and parents who have to hoist their kids to shoulder height in order for them to see. At the very least, I thought things would be different, because, well, I'm so different.

I have come home to realize that things are exactly the same. The climbs that were difficult before are still difficult. The climbers at Devil's Lake who didn't know me before still don't know me. My life and my accomplishments still have had little influence on the aging in-crowd of Devil's Lake locals. They still sit in the parkinglot and talk about the same stories. I still have to pay for chalk at the local climbing shop. Things are pretty much the same. Though as far as Webber's concerned I have it pretty well. I have not yet been shunned. Misunderstood, yes; shunned, no. I don't have that pesky Great Depression looming over my head so I've got that going for me.

At any rate, I still have a core group of friends, a wonderful family, and the same climbs on which I have tested myself for going on fifteen years now. I should count myself lucky for that. There's always the chance that we can schedule the parade for next year.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Summer

It is a beautiful morning and I am sitting outside on the deck while typing into my computer. Behind me is my mom’s house, situated in the Baraboo Hills. About ten miles directly in front of me, Devil’s Lake sits nestled among large bluffs. I can close my eyes and picture the bluffs, the subtle features of the talus, the cliffs above, the trail underfoot.

This, by my current estimation, is home. I built this house. Mom, Grandpa, and I did over the course of about three years. We did everything. I began my life path at Devil’s Lake, first by running around it while on the cross country team, and later by climbing on the cliffs. This area is as much me as my middle name, perhaps more so.

I’ll climb this afternoon. I’ll drive to the cliff on roads I have driven countless times, with the music loud. I’ll drive past Steinke Basin, the site of so many quick 5 mile runs, the pace steadily quickening in order to stay abreast of the swarm of mosquitoes and black flies. Then there was the time when I tried to ski it. I am about as graceful on cross country skis as a moose is in a shopping mall. That little escapade ended with stitches in my left knee.

It’s pretty hot right now for 11 in the morning, though my tan is progressing nicely. I used to say that my mental state is in direct correlation to my tan—the more tan, the happier. Despite initial appearances, this isn’t a vain self-image thing. This is about what the tan represents. It means that I have been spending ample time outside on nice sunny days.

It feels like summer, the slightly acrid smell of burning flesh. The sweat beginning to form on my forehead. The promise of climbing this afternoon, that is, after the cliffs go into the shade. The thought of climbing in Rifle next month, of loading the car and heading farther west, past the humidity. This is summer to me, and my most happy time to be alive.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Time to leave

Every year at about this time, Kayte and I pack up our stuff and leave New Hampshire. I work in education, so the summer is a time for mindless outside work and for climbing trips. Every year, we get out the bins and start cramming our possessions into our 10 by 5 storage unit. We throw things away, give things away, and generally compress so as to fit all of our material things into this tiny metal box with a sliding garage door.

I have mixed feelings about this. We usually leave June first and this is the time when the hills around Rumney tend to get shrouded in humidity. The days of perfect conditions on the rock are long in the past as the moisture descends on the state. Plus, I usually go home and I am blessed with a wonderful and supportive family that welcomes my return to Wisconsin. Our off-season rental cottage helps ease the financial load in the summer as rent money is transformed into gas money.

Yet, as the summer begins and as I pack the same things into the same bins, I have come to realize that I have built something closely resembling a life in New Hampshire. I climbed with Jay for most of the weekend at Cathedral Ledge, at crag that is feeling a bit more like home. Today, Kayte and I spent the morning at Rumney with Jay, Leesa, and Nick, all of whom are becoming close and important friends.

This leads me to question where, exactly, I should consider home. Is it Baraboo, WI, where I went to high school, built a house, and where I can count on parents to share their spare rooms and the food in the fridge? Or is home in this new place, where Kayte and I have been steadily laying down roots and culivating friendships? Can it be both?

Maybe it is both, or maybe it has to be. I am a Wisconsinite through and through. Unlike practically everone in New Hampshire, I refuse to use "wicked" as a modifier for anything. ("That move was wicked hard." or "It's wicked hot today.") I found myself strangely cheering for Tommy Thompson during the Republican presidential debate, despite the fact that I disagreed with almost everything he said. That's not entirely true. He did say, during a gubernatorial debate some years back, "I want Wisconsin to be the best state in the world." I do agree with him that Wisconsin's pretty close.

It's been slow, but I am beginning to understand the way things work out here in New Hampshire. People are stand-offish at first. Then, as they get to know you, they can be the warmest most generous people you've ever met. The dump-guy continually talks to me about the weather. The guy at the post office is one of the happiest guys I've ever seen, though his two-hour lunch breaks probably help. I have had some of my best days hanging out at Rumney, braving inclement weather, yet still climbing. That's another New England thing--hardiness. Oh, it's raining, snowing, and thundering at the same time? Oh well, that won't hamper our day of being outside. At least the bugs aren't out.

Well, the bugs are out now and that means it's time to leave. So, it's off to Wisconsin for some Devil's Lake climbing and some chatting with parents. But, I have to say, I'll be happy to be back in New Hampshire. It will be fall by the time I get back. And the leaves should look wicked beautiful.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

It's the bubbles.

I love seltzer. There is depth and sacrifice to my love. A few nights ago, I was thirsty and left the house, drove to the store in the next town, and bought some seltzer. Not once during this whole situation did it occur to me to drink water out of the tap. Not once. It has become seltzer or nothing.

It's the bubbles. This goes way back. Back in college, I fell in with a bad crowd and I began drinking Mountain Dew. I'm not talking about casual drinking; rather I'm talking about six cans a day. I was in the grip of the sweet carbonated drink. If cut, I would bleed yellow.

Each can of Mountain Dew has about 200 calories. Multiply that by six and I was drinking over a thousand empty calories a day. I told myself that this has got to stop, and in the spirit of a heroin user switching to methadone, I switched to Diet Coke. After doing so, I promptly lost fifteen pounds and my climbing went up a number grade.

Then, I started thinking about aspertame and how it causes lab animals to both grow a third eye and begin talking in spanish. I never really cut down my consumption, I only switched drinks. It was still at about six cans a day. When people questioned my habit, I feigned humor and said, "Sure Diet Coke is bad for me, but everythings bad for me. I could get cancer from standing under flourescent lights." But secretly, I knew. Secretly I knew my habit was out of control and harmful.

This is where seltzer comes in. Again, I say it's the bubbles. I have scrutinized the labels of multiple brands of seltzer and I have come to the conclusion that seltzer is infact just water and bubbles. Often "natural flavors" are thrown in, but inasmuch as they don't seem to add calories, sodium, or sugar, I don't think they count.

So seltzer it is, for now.

It may really be a problem, though. I may be forced to admit it. When driving to the Gunks with my friend Jay, we drove past the Polar Seltzer factory in Worcester, MA. All talk of climbing ceased as he turned to me and said, "You want to stop, don't you."

Monday, May 21, 2007

That old cliche

I have been thinking about that tired phrase: "It's not the destination but the journey." I have to admit that I hate that saying. I hate this pseudo-hippy sense that everything is just right with the world, that we all should be happy now. Well, to tell the truth, I'm not always happy, and your telling me that I should be just plunges me deeper into my pit of despair.

I hate to admit it, but I think we all need validation sometimes. I just got off the phone with James and he just sent his first 11d. It was clear in talking to him that he is full of hope and excited for the next challenge. This is a real, true, valid feeling. And, I would guess that this feeling came from his success. James mentioned that all of his hard work, training, etc., somehow made the send sweeter, more important.

I think that the key is that BOTH the journey and the destination hold equal importance. As climbers, we don't climb forever. The climbs stop at bolt anchors or at the top of the cliff. I have known climbers to be the most slothful individuals while on a rest day. Sure, the toiling has to end. It ends and begins again, when the rest day gives way to the climbing day or one project gives way to the next. I think that these peaks and valleys make this whole pursuit great and interesting. If we were on this perpetual journey that those "warriors" would have you believe , we wouldn't get this rise and fall that parallels the cyclical action of life--the heaving of a chest, the changing of the seasons, the planetary motions.

How's that for a hippy concept?

It won't beat me.

It was a rainy weekend here in New Hampshire. I've learned to make peace with the weather; however, this has been a long and difficult process. The weather in New Hampshire is not just bad, it's cruel. It knows, showehow, what days I have off and what days I work. It is deliberately bad on my free days and deliberately nice on my work days. It likes to see me suffer.

I have decided not to let the weather beat me. I have begun to disregard the weather. I climbed this week on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. It rained on each of those days, but I ended up getting four goes on the new project on Thursday, three routes in Friday afternoon, and four routes in throughout the day on Saturday. The conditions slowly deteriorated from one day to the next. Thursday was great; the rain was light and did not seem to affect the air. We in New Hampshire know all about different kinds of rain. It's sort of like the Inuits having different words for snow because it is such a huge part of their life. So, the conditions were great for goes on the proj.

On Friday, I was sore and unmotivated so I did a few pitches to keep my body loose. The air was a bit humid, but not too bad, as my muscle soreness hampered me much more than the humidity. On Saturday, however, everything changed. It rained all day. Usually this isn't a problem on the overhanging routes at Rumney, but on this day, the air seemed to have more moisture in it and the water began condensing on the lower half of the wall. The rock had a strange molecule-thick coating of water that made the climbing a bit more interesting. We still climbed. The weather didn't beat me. I triumphed over the rainy days. Though today, Monday, I am in my office trying to work and the sun is shining. This New Hampshire weather is a formidable opponent.

Friday, May 18, 2007

"The most depraved type of human being ... (is) the man without a purpose." --Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

I have entered the blogosphere. This is just as well, I suppose, because my thoughts are somewhat cumbersome at times. I seem to tell the same people the same things over and over, but maybe this new (to me) genre might get my thoughts out to someone else, some random person in the far reaches of this computer universe. Now the usual people who are subject to my rambling tirades will have a little breathing room.

So, a purposeful life. What is this all about? Thoreau said that "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." I try to consider myself outside this mass. Sure, there's a desperation element in my life, as there probably is for everyone, but my desperation seems anything but quiet. Whether it's outside at a climbing area, where a number of people are cheering me on during a redpoint attempt, or on a trail run, where you'd think it would be quiet, but it's actually very loud as my heartbeat pulses in my head and my breath is on the verge of wheezing. Moments of quiet repose seem few in my life, and I think I'm okay with that.

I rather like Whitman's "barbaric yawp," his sense of forcing himself on those around him. Maybe that's what this blog is, my yawp. Maybe that's what I do for a living, standing in front of a class, talking to a captive audience. Maybe sticking that crux move and letting out some sort of primal scream ("man, where did that come from?") is my yawp.

Going back to desperation. I think purpose and desperation are at odds with each other. Goals, it's all about goals, but not in that cheesy inspirational poster kind of way. I think it's about working toward something and realizing that it's the working, the striving, that makes the whole pursuit worthwhile. The goal is either met or not met, but its sure that there's no boredom. When training, boredom is replaced with recovery. When really living a purposeful life, desperation seems to lessen a bit, as the next redpoint, the next paper, the next long run, is your Walden, your tunnel through the mountain, your mini-yawp.

So, welcome.