31 for 31: The Grateful List

You’d think there might be big epiphanies after 31 years of existence. But that’s not the case. At least for me anyway.

On one hand growing older feels like a discerning scribe capturing acute particulars of a scene. They are bringing the details into ever increasing sharpness. On the other hand it’s like taking a step back from a picture you’ve been staring intently at, only to realize the painting is much larger in scope and complexity than you realized from your first, narrow vantage point. And you appreciate that the things you look at change in composition depending on just how close you are to it.

Thus the boundary between 30 and 31 came to pass, and nothing perceptible really happened. I was flooded with a sense of sadness upon waking, got caught up in comparisons to a vague sense of where I thought I ought to be, rollicked in joy at all the years I (hopefully) have in front of me, and grappled with day-to-day existence type shit, like where to go for lunch and “I should really respond to that email.”

In the end, I got to climb and play with a dog so it was a good day (as are all days where I get to climb and play with dogs).

As part and parcel of aging, I like to reflect on the past year. Rather than share lessons learned (which tend to be overly generalized in order to be relatable), here is a list of 31 things I’m grateful for (which make me feel good to think about, and might add some brightness to your day too):

  1. Supportive and loving family. Those that put up with your shit when you are younger, who encourage you as you grow, which are are there for you through good and bad… No idea where I’d be without them
  2. Healthy body that let’s me move in the world on my own volition, that let’s me express myself through motion
  3. The open, random, dance of the world; That you never really know where a day may lead
  4. Good coffee and a good book
  5. Moments of silence and stillness. Of feeling light, like you might float away; When weight becomes discarded and you are left simply buoyant, unburdened
  6. The sense of no separation that arises in rare moments, typically in nature; An electric expansiveness you don’t know whether it will ever stop, is beyond your conception of space, and which is unimportant in the moment, because. Everything.
  7. Lounging (and otherwise) in bed until the afternoon with someone you love. No cares but to be close, as close as you can
  8. Running light and free through forests, fields, city streets, across hills, along trails, in puddles, up stairs, weaving between crowds
  9. A big meal after a long run (usually pizza)
  10. Wandering, openly, absentmindedly in nature. And, walking around cities without a direction other than to follow the initial twitch of interest toward a certain place
  11. The way you feel engaged and tuned in to each movement on a rock face
  12. Poetry and art that shakes you
  13. Laughing so hard it hurts
  14. That once-in-a-while orange that is otherworldly sweet. Fresh apples off the tree, sliced. Ripe peaches that unleash torrents of nectar down your chin and hand when you bite into it. Frozen grapes that crunch and cool. Blueberries off the bush in the mountains. Has citrus ever been so tangy?
  15. For ocean spray spritzing away and the sound of rolling waves, especially over a pebble beach; A vacuuming crash then rainstick needles falling and spreading, all the small bits, rolling along, rocking back and forth, click click click, silence and air drawn in. Repeat
  16. For sun rises over water or mountain, and sunsets from a hill
  17. Watching dumb movies with friends and genuinely enjoying it
  18. Of learning self-love and compassion. I’m pretty alright after all
  19. Oh hands in dirt and watching plants grow. That smell of richly alive soil, fuming with a sense of time immemorial, which also happens to smell like minerals, decaying leaves, and belonging
  20. For animals, so many animals: Puppies (they are all puppies), kitties (same story), sheep, chickens, goofy ducks, cows, etc.
  21. The smell of fresh snow in a pine forest. The sound of it crunching underfoot. Similarly, the shuffling, swishing, crackling of leaves as you walk about in Autumn 
  22. The smell of a light rain on a warm summer day, all metallic and crisp
  23. That look you get when you know she loves you
  24. Laying in piles of powder and watching the whirling flakes dance across your vision. The feeling of snow sprinkles melting on your face. For that matter, drifting away in open fields on a pillow of grass and letting the sky fill up your visual field
  25. The way Ollie still tinkles himself when he’s excited. The way Brin still runs away
  26. Giving a small gift, or thoughtful compliment, or cracking a joke just to see her smile
  27. Pocket-sized notebooks and a pen with ink that flows just right
  28. The shedding that comes with a good laugh and a good cry
  29. Getting up extra early for no damn reason, having the city to yourself and watching it wake up
  30. People, books, and music that seem to come into your life just when you need them
  31. That first step into a new land after a long, long ride

SKAI Urban Crag: The Boulderer’s Gym in Cluj Napoca, Romania

SKAI is a play on the English word “sky” and the Romanian “scaiete,” (Cirsium vulgare) a common thistle that sprouts a vibrant pink and purple rosette, and which is one of the most bountiful nectar producers across Europe. 

Just like the high-stemmed namesake plant, SKAI Urban Crag offers climbers bounteous boulder problems in their pursuit of gravity defying dynos and pumpy high-flying stunts.

Tudor Cristea, 27, is one of three co-founders and he chatted with me about the gym. He looks like a Romanian Chris Sharma complete with shaggy locks and just-throw-it-on beanie. He relayed his interest in starting the gym, and what makes it unique, “The routes in our gym are very bouldery [in contrast to the other gyms in Cluj], not so classical with crimps. We use more volumes, and for the crux we use boulder moves.”

The gym itself is flowering in its second year, just like the scaiete.

Vibe:

Upon entering the space you feel right away what they are about: The place is bright and radiates with popping neon colors. It is welcoming and attractive.

Actually, because it’s in an industrial park, and tucked around the back of the complex (without signage guiding the way), it feels like you’re descending upon a secret pop-up shop. It has a sort of underground coolness.

Rounding the corner in the parking lot, the one-person trailer across from the entrance is a giveaway that dirtbags are nearby. Once inside, the lounge area is a mix of urban-industrial chic, handmade elements, succulents (because of course), those lights with dangly wires, and a big fridge of beer (nice).

Each time I went there were throngs of devotees climbing about, and people were friendly—in fact, climbers actually came up to me to chat (which Poland, if you’re reading this, try taking some notes). There was a mix of beginners to more advanced (for example, a guy was climbing a 6a route, lead, without using his feet at all), and plenty of space and problems for everyone.

Membership is made up of a core group, according to Cristea, “Our customers are very, very good friends with us. With our crew, we are about 40 people. We all go together to go climbing, outdoor or indoor.”

They often travel together, having recently visited Berlin just to check out the gyms. You don’t hear that every day. 

Bouldery lead routes

Climbing:

The routes on the lead wall cluster around 6a-6b and 7a. There are typically 30-40 routes at any given time and only three top rope lines permanently set. I hadn’t seen this before, and liked the idea of emphasizing lead. The walls are 10m high.

Upstairs there’s a big systems board and an inclined wall chock full of holds if you’re there to train, and just train, and then train some more.

Amenities:

Yoga, hangboards, rings, TRX, campus board, some free weights, resistance bands, a clean changing room and shower.

How to Get There:

The only downside is that the gym is a bit far from the center of the city. The 31 and M31 bus will get you there from downtown. Uber is available in Cluj Napoca if you want to make it super easy on yourself.

Once you enter the gate, walk to the back right corner of the park to find the gym.

Address:

Calea Baciului 1-3, Cluj-Napoca 40023
Google maps

Info:

Hours:
Monday 10AM–1PM, 4–10PM
Tuesday 10AM–1PM, 4–10PM
Wednesday 10AM–1PM, 4–10PM
Thursday 10AM–1PM, 4–10PM
Friday 4–10PM
Saturday 3–7PM
Sunday 3–7PM

Price: 30 lei for a day pass (about $7.16 or 6.32 EUR)

Resources:

SKAI Urban Crag website
Facebook page

Cirsium vulgare. Photo source: Wikipedia

Training Journal: 2/11/19 – 2/17/19

The main focus this week was on upping my run and incorporating more full body work.

Monday
500 pushups

Tuesday
41 minutes of step-ups with 15lb. bag, 1,150ft of vertical

Wednesday
Took a bit to get into the run. Felt tired and sluggish at first, but eventually fell into rhythm. Had more power on uphills, can tell the step-ups are working.

Thursday
500 pushups

Friday
Rest

Saturday
Bouldering! For 1.5 hours.

It’s been about two months since I’ve last climbed (and I’ve missed it greatly). I felt heavy and my forearms and grip strength gave out rather quickly, but it was super fun.

Exercises:

  • One-legged deadlifts: 4×10 (each leg)
  • Pushups: 4×25
  • Lunges: 3×10 (each leg)
  • Toes-to-bar (abs): 3×7

Sunday
Bouldering! For 1 hour 20 minutes.



Feature photo by the author, from the run.

From a Single Cell to a Whole Lot More: Writing About Growth and Destruction

The ethics of exploration, plastic, plastic everywhere, and organic development

Hey everyone,

This week features larger narratives around life-and-death, the ethics of exploration, plastic, plastic everywhere, and the organic development of a climbing community.

There are also two pieces offering advice for pitching stories and, trying something new here, a log of my own pitches to shine some light into the process.

“Art is commensurate with the human spirit.” – Naturalist, John Burroughs

We all have a story to tell, how are you expressing your human spirit?

Opportunities

Travel writing in Croatia

Learn the fundamentals of travel writing for magazines and websites from professionals. Alex Crevar and Molly Harris are contributors to The New York TimesNational Geographic Travel, and Lonely Planet magazine.

$5,000 adventure grant

GearJunkies and NordicTrack are offering one lucky winner 5 grand to pursue a bike, hike/run, climb, or paddle trip.

What I’m Reading (& Watching)

A single cell become a complete organism

From Dutch director Jan van IJken, watch the alpine newt go from a single-celled zygote into the hatched larva.


What’s plastic doing to our bodies?

Plastic was once thought of as a long-lasting, coherent substance that didn’t make much difference to the environment outside of trash pile up. Now we know it continuously breaks down into microscopic pieces, with long-term consequences.

“A growing body of evidence suggests some chemicals commonly found in many plastics are associated with everything from breast and prostate cancer, to underdeveloped genitalia and low sperm count in men, to obesity.”


On facing the unexplored and the ethics of taking another step

Where Not to Travel in 2019, or Ever.

Kate Harris is a fantastic writer, who I only came across this week. I’ve been reading a bunch of her articles (they are all great) and am eager to start her book, Lands of Lost Borders: A Journey on the Silk Road.

“Chau’s escapade… was nothing more than a violation: he was just another person who believed that the world was his to do whatever he wanted in and with.”

Perhaps more headlines should have read: “Remote Community Faces Biological Terror Threat From U.S. Religious Extremist Killed by Local Authorities.”


How Miguel’s Pizza made the Red River Gorge

If you like climbing narratives that are not so much about climbing, this is an insightful peel-back-the-curtain style look at the history of Miguel’s Pizza, and the enigmatic man behind it all.

Miguel said, “Art becomes part of your ego… that got to me.” As Miguel recounted, the epiphany came when he drew a cartoon character lifting up the costume of an artist and getting inside. “You don’t need a costume to be a person; you just need to be yourself,” said Miguel. “I threw that outfit out and became who I am today: a pizza man.”

Photo source: The Walrus

Writing Advice

Advice from Nat Geo Editor at Large Norie Quintos

Norie offers tips on how, when and what to pitch:

“What’s the story? Why now? Where do you see it fitting in the outlet (what section or department)? And, why you? Stay pithy; aim for no more than a page.”

Also, something I’m probably under-appreciating:

“A rule of thumb: the earlier the better. A year ahead is not too early for a magazine feature story, nor a month ahead for a digital piece. And get to know the editorial cycle of your favorite outlets.”


A Freelance Writer’s Life: The Art of the Pitch

To the keen observer, you may recognize the author of this piece from the Opportunities section. Alex Crevar offers up his own tips for pitching from years of practice (and struggle).

“A writer must make an editor’s job easier. Full stop…

A salesman who hopes to earn a client knows who his client is; he knows what his client is looking for; and knows he must make the best pitch possible to sell his widget…

The simple question: why would an editor want to buy my widget over a similar widget being sold by Jane Doe?”

I take comfort in outlook #2. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The Log: My Freelance Writing Journal

I’ve started keeping a training journal to track my progress towards some big mountain goals I have this year. I like the idea of opening up the process and also using a public forum for some semblance of accountability.

So I’m sharing what I did this past week for pitching stories and writing.

Pitches:

  • Pitched three stories. One feature, one newsy story (see below), and one series of posts that will turn into just a one-off piece (also, see below). This is the first time I’ve pitched a feature story idea.
  • One newsy story accepted for online publication in a climbing magazine. I was hoping to be able to do a longer-form interview, so I need to figure out what this will look like.
  • The one-off piece came about from clarifying how I wanted to write the series with the editor. The timing is off for a series, so the editor decided to simplify and do a self-contained piece that is still timely.
  • Two story ideas were rejected by an outdoor magazine and a climbing magazine (pitched weeks ago). One was about gear reviews which didn’t really fit their typical review model, so that makes sense. I didn’t get feedback on the other story.

Published:

Personal Blog:

What do you think? Is sharing a recap of pitches interesting to you?




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Out There / In Here, vol. 4

Feature photo source: Climbing Magazine

For the Love of Climbing: Two Tales of Why We Climb

The sun beat down on the orange-hued sandstone, the faces of our party burned red and their shoulders glowed. I was surprised by the heat at Smith Rock in May. The sweltering sun couldn’t diminish how much fun I was having. That experience, that exposure, would influence my life in unexpected ways years later.

What is it about climbing that is so powerfully transformative? 

For me, climbing was about being outdoors and the freedom of movement. I loved it at first pitch. That’s not the case for everyone.

For Stormy Saint-Val, climbing has been about catharsis and rejuvenation. It’s been about feeling comfortable in her own skin and learning to appreciate what you can accomplish today, while maintaining dreams of progress for the future.

She fell in love with climbing eventually, you could say. 

“Do black people climb?”

It’s emotionally taxing to be a stranger in a strange land. When Stormy started climbing she only ever met two other black people at the gym, and one of the guys worked there. 

Naturally, one might wonder, “do black people climb?”

“I’m black, I know I climb,” She laughed over the phone. “Is there a like a group or a Meetup? Some[place] where I didn’t feel marginalized?”

She wanted to know the answer, so she googled it. Naturally.

That’s how she found Color the Crag. CtC is a climbing festival in Alabama with a mission to help build community among historically marginalized peoples in the outdoor space.

She found her answer but she needed to figure out how to make her way down there, and how to pay for it all.

“I was so excited [to find it], but then I thought, I can’t afford this,” Stormy noted, dismayed.

Group photo at Color the Crag. Photo source: Color the Crag


Climbing isn’t cheap

The irony of course is that climbing can be free if you just walk into the woods and find a large rock to scale. 

But it’s rarely that simple, especially as a beginner in a sport that requires a slew of technique and safety equipment. For perspective, climbing has become somewhat of a hoity-toity trending activity where a day pass at a swanky gym in NYC costs close to 50 bucks. Want to buy your own gear? An intro trad set, biners, a rope, shoes, and harness can easily put you back $500+. If you’re a working adult, sure, maybe that’s nothing for you, but for a college student or a guy working at a self-financed startup, money can be hard to scrape up. 

For years I was living a white color paycheck-to-paycheck existence, meeting investors whose car cost more than I would make in the next 36 months. (Yea, I’ve made some questionable career choices, but that’s a topic for another day).

In Stormy’s case, five months at her local climbing gym would put her back nearly $800. As a student on a barista salary that’s taxing.

She resorted to clandestine tactics like pretending to be her friend and using her membership card. (She doesn’t recommend that). Eventually the gym worked out a special deal for her as a local ambassador. 

Sometimes you need a helping hand

Stormy found out about the American Alpine Club’s Live Your Dream Grant, which was an opportunity to fund her training and trip.

She hemmed and hawed, but eventually applied.

“I found the grant three days before it was due. ‘Oh my god, is it worth it?,'” she asked herself. “‘Is this worth my time? How late am I going to stay up to write this application [tonight]? What are my intentions and goals [with this]?’”
 
She went back and forth contemplating the fear and disappointment of not receiving the grant, “And then [I thought], what if I do get it? It’s so much greater. And it was. I didn’t want to miss out on the potential opportunity.”

The everyperson adventure grant

The LYD grant is designed to help “the majority of climbers to pursue their goals, whatever those goals are,” according to Howard Sebold, the Metro NY Section Chair and head of the LYD Northeast selection committee.

This is specifically not for the professional climber. After all, they already get free gear, sponsorship dollars, and most grant money anyways.

Howard relays his own story, “I remember when I was first getting into climbing, and reading the mags—you read all this stuff these guys are doing that are rad, badass kind of things, and you’re like, ‘yea, I’m probably never gonna do that.’ Then occasionally you come across a story about [someone] going to Wind Rivers [or the like], and you’re like ‘whoa, that’s totally accessible to me, that’s something I could do.’ And that got me personally excited.”

That’s why the AAC decided to start the grant, “[the thing is] most of the membership is the everyday climber, the weekend warrior, guys [and women] like me— work five days a week, got a family, don’t climb as hard as I used to. I bring my kids out to the crag, just have fun.”

In the end, it’s about helping people go out and accomplish their own mountain dreams, “it really gives back to our members to help them get outside and climb, to pursue their personal goal.” Whatever they may be.

Author leading his first 5.11a in Geyikbayiri, Turkey. Photo courtesy of friend of the author


For the love of climbing

Life is often punctuated and defined by key inflection points, with a lot of smaller connecting-the-dots in between.

According to Stormy, Color the Crag has been a life changer: “Months later, thinking about all the experience and friendship that I gained from the festival, it completely changed my life.”

She goes on to say, “I’ve been able to eradicate this false narrative that black people don’t climb. There were 500 people there! These are a bunch of people that are also climbing that don’t look like what the magazines are showing, and what narratives you have grown up with.”

“It’s been a fuel,” she accentuates.

She still stays in touch with friends she made at CtC and has found a deeper appreciation for the sport as she’s progressed from VB to V2: “That’s what Color the Crag taught me: ‘be proud of your achievements and honor them for what they are.'”

Overall, the sport has “been a big tool in helping me build my awareness and my confidence in myself. It’s more than physical. And the problem solving aspect of it, too, is so fun. [I’ve been able to] apply problem solving to my own life [outside of climbing].” She’s come a long way from sneaking in to the gym and feeling intimidated by the VBs. She’s hoping to get over her fear of the harness and start sport climbing this year.

On my end, from that initial day at Smith Rock to leading my first 5.11a this past year, learning to climb has been a process of pushing through the fear and going after what I truly want to pursue. That is, in the face of the self-doubt, financial concerns, or whatever other objection I make up for myself.

This year, I’ve got a lot of normal, everyman-achievable goals: Climb 5.11 consistently. Do a multi-pitch trad route. Summit a 5,000m peak. 

In the past I may have chalked these ideas up as unattainable, or at least highly unlikely. Probably wouldn’t even have tried. I’ve learned to let go of pre-conceived notions and to let myself dream, even if just a little. 

We all have our reasons for climbing, and for some, our love of the sport is really about finding love for ourselves. Sometimes a little help along the way–a friend, a community, a dream–can make all the difference.




Want to apply for the Live Your Dream grant?

Howard shares some advice on what they look for:

  • 1) Well-researched climbing objective. Be specific of the why, what, and how. For example, some people have detailed spreadsheets outlining their training plan and gear list.
  • 2) Be clear with how this goal will help you personally progress as a climber.
    3) Think about what it is like to review hundreds of applications. How will your application stand out? For one, tell a good story. (Everyone has a story to tell).

For even more advice, Ben Beck-Coon and Anthony Nguyen, winners of a 2013 Live Your Dream grant, have more tips on writing a great proposal.

The deadline for applications is March 31.





Feature photo courtesy of Stormy Saint-Val

Training Journal: 2/4/19 – 2/10/19

The main focus this week was time on feet. I did a lot of walking and hiking (partly for the cathartic effects) in order to get my legs under me again.

Monday
I’m getting back into a weekly running regimen after many months of sporadic activity. This will be the basis of my cardio work, along with the stairmaster and hiking.

Tuesday
40 minutes of step-ups with a 10 lb. backpack, 1,000 vertical feet.

Wednesday
Bodyweight exercises:

  • Pushups: 4 x 50
  • Squats: 4 x 25
  • One-Legged Deadlifts: 5 x 10 (each leg)
  • Calf Raises: 3 x 100
  • Band Pull Aparts: 3 x 7

Thursday
10 mile walk in the woods.

From gmap-pedometer
From Instagram

Friday
Rest

Saturday
~9 mile hike in the Bucegi Mountains, 2,500ft elevation gain.

From gmap-pedometer
From Instagram

Sunday
A lot of walking around Brasov and a hike up Tampa Mountain. I purposefully didn’t track it all, but probably around 8 miles and 1,300ft in elevation.


Shout out to Justin Simoni (aka The Long Ranger) for the inspiration on doing a training journal.

An Italian Sabbatical & On Using What You Have to Tell Stories

Also, how adventure is really a mindset

This week centers around stories from people who decided to write their own adventure story, often by dramatically shifting their life’s path. The characters overcame self-doubts, fear, and other objections to find joy and understanding. Also super helpful tips on the very first things to think about when you start writing.



Opportunities

The Italian Sabbatical

Live like a local in the small village of Grottole. Four people, three months, one authentic rural experience.

Live and Write in Thailand

The Content Castle offers free accommodation + 2 meals/ day in exchange for writing 7,500 words per week (for their marketing clients).




What I’m Reading (& Watching)

Onwards and upwards

An uplifting video on turning 35, and all the beauty that comes with growing with family, friends, and the pursuit of what moves you.


On how to use what you have for a story

AC Shilton shares her story of transition from an endurance athlete to a farmer, and how that changed her perception of her own body.

“After giving up competitive running, cycling, and triathlon, I bought a farm in Tennessee. I didn’t know at the time how challenging—and life-affirming—growing my own food would be.”

How can you use your own struggles and redemption to tell a story?

On transporting human waste down the Colorado River and doing what you love

Sometimes it’s not about the money.

“Last year, according to a nationwide survey of incomes across the U.S., I made less money than a part-time doughnut fryer in Maryland and a hospital clown in New York.”

Fantastic writing and an excellent piece to dissect for storytelling.

How adventure is really a mindset

Tim Moss shares his week-long hitch-hiking adventure on a £100 budget.

“Too often we restrict ourselves, hold back on our dreams or rein in our aspirations with the perceived constraints of the world – time, commitments, lack of expertise or knowledge, money.”

What excuses might you be telling yourself?

Adventure travel predictions for 2019 

When thinking about your places in the travel writing world, it’s helpful to understand the larger context. ATTA shared their list of trends to look for in the coming years:

“The United Nations World Tourism Organization recently reported there were 1.4 billion international tourist arrivals in 2018, a 6 percent increase over 2017, and the organization predicts there will be a 3-4 percent increase in 2019”

“In 2017, the Global Wellness Institute reported only 7 percent of all leisure travel consisted of primarily wellness-focused trips, and adventure travel operators have an opportunity to fill this niche.”




On Writing

Former Guardian science editor, letters editor, arts editor and literary editor Tim Radford shares his tips for writing. Wide ranging insight and immediately practical.

Some highlights:

1. When you sit down to write, there is only one important person in your life. This is someone you will never meet, called a reader.

3. So the first sentence you write will be the most important sentence in your life.

10. So here is a rule. A story will only ever say one big thing.

11. Here is an observation. Don’t even start writing till you have decided what the one big thing is going to be, and then say it to yourself in just one sentence. 




The Arts

Illustration by Pete Lloyd

Say what you will, but Kerouac is one of my favorite authors. These illustrations by Pete Lloyd are fantastic.


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Out There / In Here, vol. 3
Main photo source: airbnb