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.