I haven’t been able to climb much in the past two months, so I’ve been trying to make up for lost time now that I’ve been able to be in cities with climbing gyms. Would have liked to go for a long run.
Travel got in the way. I need to figure out ways to do smaller/ travel friendly workouts. Specifically, I want to clarify exercises to focus on, and design workouts so that I can do them with limited time and equipment, and on the road. In the past, being clear with what I need to do each day makes it easier to do the task. Right now it’s a lot of freewheeling, which is okay for the time being.
Monday Rest. Had to take a 4.5 hour round trip bus ride for a meeting.
Tuesday 32 minutes of step-ups with 20lb. bag, 896ft of vertical.
Wednesday 1.5 hours of bouldering. Focused more on crimps, pinches, and slopers at Centrala de escalada in Cluj Napoca.
Thursday (Birthday!) 1.5 hours of bouldering at SKAI Urban Crag in Cluj Napoca. More power moves and overhang work. Finger and forearm strength is starting to come back, albeit finger tendons in middle and ring fingers are a bit tender.
Exercise: One Leg Deadlifts: 4×10 Pushups: 4×50 Serratus pushups (for training upper middle back): 4×15
Bought myself my first ever pair of climbing shoes!
Saturday 1.5 hours of bouldering. Focus was back on crimpy, balancy, pinchy holds and footwork. Really like the fit of my new shoes, excited to see how they do when they’re broken into. Back to Centrala de escalada.
Fingers are feeling a bit sore, decided to take Sunday off from climbing.
Sunday Rest. 4+ hours of plane travel and a long layover. Went for a casual walk about Dublin.
Feature photo by the author, from SKAI Urban Crag.
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.”
Brendan Leonard is one of my favorite outdoor writers as he combines humor, vulnerability, and an adventurous spirit. This workshop offers 6 days on the Salmon River, covering 90 miles and what it takes to craft a compelling story.
What I’m Reading (& Watching)
Murmurations are an aerial ballet
The mysterious flights of the Common Starling are known as a “murmuration” and it is still unknown how the thousands of birds are able to fly in such dense swarms without colliding. This is from the same director as last week’s video.
We’re Here. You Just Don’t See Us.
I am constantly working to figure out how to make you acknowledge me as American, too. I refuse to be seen as poor and powerless, and I attempt to approach each day with a boldness and vulnerability that leaves an imprint on somebody. I continue to penetrate spaces where I’m not expected to be.
What narratives have you been told? How are they shaping your perception of yourself and what is possible?
Climbing Doesn’t Change You
The backlash to one of Kathy’s earlier posts (of which this is a rebuttal piece) is surprising. Since when could you not express the outdoors/ climbing/ your passion in romantic, sentimental language?
Failure gives you depth. It gives you mental tenacity. It shatters the expectations we often feel trapped within, the expectations that our perceptions of ourselves create. Exposing our failures lets us fearlessly show the world that we are human…. Nobody walks up the mountain to the top with a smile on their face the entire time, or without shedding a few tears, a little blood.”
I realized why I had shared it in the first place: to cultivate empathy and understanding not only for myself, but for others who might have had an experience
It was then that choosing vulnerability became an act of courage.
Art Is Commensurate with the Human Spirit
Art has but one principle, one aim, — to produce an impression, a powerful impression, no matter by what means, or if it be by reversing all the canons of taste and criticism.
Why do you create art? What impression are you hoping to make?
Longform Podcast #256: David Gessner
Great interview with an intelligent, open, and self-effacing writer.
The ambition got in my way at first. Because I wanted my stuff to be great, and it froze me up. But later on it was really helpful. I’m startled by the way people don’t, you know, admit [they care] … it seems unlikely people wouldn’t want to be immortal.
Claire took the band and rolled it between her fingers and thought, What if someday this is all I have left?
The Writing Life
Lessons from Eight Years of Writing an Adventure Blog
Buckle in, this might take awhile:
In my second year of pitching stories, I made $75 from one article. I moved to Denver to work at a small newspaper—but on the side, I kept pitching any outdoor publication I thought might pay. Almost all of them sent me rejections. In late 2006, John Fayhee at the Mountain Gazette liked a story I sent him enough to publish it and pay me $100. In mid-2007, I got a part-time job writing funny 100-word blogs for an outdoors website, at 15 cents a word, two to three blogs per week.
After almost six years of trying, I started getting magazine assignments, starting in early 2011 with a story I’d been pitching and had written for Climbing magazine.
You’d think there would 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):
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
Healthy body that let’s me move in the world on my own volition, that let’s me express myself through motion
The open, random, dance of the world; That you never really know where a day may lead
Good coffee and a good book
Moments of silence and stillness. Of feeling light, like you might float away; When weight becomes discarded and you are left simply buoyant, unburdened
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.
Lounging (and otherwise) in bed until the afternoon with someone you love. No cares but to be close, as close as you can
Running light and free through forests, fields, city streets, across hills, along trails, in puddles, up stairs, weaving between crowds
A big meal after a long run (usually pizza)
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
The way you feel engaged and tuned in to each movement on a rock face
Poetry and art that shakes you
Laughing so hard it hurts
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?
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
For sun rises over water or mountain, and sunsets from a hill
Watching dumb movies with friends and genuinely enjoying it
Of learning self-love and compassion. I’m pretty alright after all
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
For animals, so many animals: Puppies (they are all puppies), kitties (same story), sheep, chickens, goofy ducks, cows, etc.
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
The smell of a light rain on a warm summer day, all metallic and crisp
That look you get when you know she loves you
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
The way Ollie still tinkles himself when he’s excited. The way Brin still runs away
Giving a small gift, or thoughtful compliment, or cracking a joke just to see her smile
Pocket-sized notebooks and a pen with ink that flows just right
The shedding that comes with a good laugh and a good cry
Getting up extra early for no damn reason, having the city to yourself and watching it wake up
People, books, and music that seem to come into your life just when you need them
That first step into a new land after a long, long ride
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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 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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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).