Category Archives: Training

Crack Machine

A few weeks ago I was desperate to climb outside, but didn’t plan for it and needed to spend most of my day taking care of things around town. It was gorgeous out, and I was unwilling to head to the gym. I’m trying to focus on training like I hope to climb, and had had one idea kicking around for a while.

Trad climbing almost always entails some form of crack climbing, and I am not terribly good at either.  The rock gym is relatively useless for training towards crack climbing, so I took a lead from one of my favorite climbers and built a little tool for the specific exercise of  learning to cram my fingers into rock fissures.  Welcome to the crack machine:

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(2) 2×8’s, sanded smooth on one side and one edge.

Using carriage bolts and PVC pipe for spacers makes this set up adjustable.

Using carriage bolts and PVC pipe for spacers makes this set up adjustable.

I used 2x8s, carriage bolts, and pvc pipe as spacers to make the system adjustable- meaning I can work any size crack. The size of lumber matters quite a bit- I would have like to use 2×10 or 2×12 so that I can practice armbarring and chickenwinging but they would have been too heavy to lift.

Clearance holes required.

Clearance holes required.

One big note on the building side- the holes in the board on the left, above, need to be ~1/8″ to 1/4″ larger than the holes on the right.  Carriage bolts don’t tend to sit perfectly straight, so you want some clearance to get things to fit together nicely.  Using carriage bolts and nuts allows you to crank the boards apart to any width crack- mine is currently set to “rattly fingers” or “BD 0.75.”  You don’t actually need the PVC spacers, I just thought they would add some rigidity which really wasn’t necessary with six carriage bolts in 8′

Ready to hurt?

Ready to hurt?

For the record- these guys crush it, and they trained almost exclusively in a basement. Look forward to updates on how training is going.

Boulder, Colorado

My mind is not on getting this posted tonight, but more on that towards the bottom.  Participating in the PassiveHouse conference last week left no time for writing.  My trip was sponsored by the fine folks at Zola European Windows, and I had a very good time both at the conference (in downtown Denver), and romping around more colorful places, like Boulder.

Zola- the only folks I know that can make a R-10, triple pane, 19′ wide sliding glass door (thanks to my boss for modeling).

Surprisingly, I’ve never spent much time there, but Boulder is kinda hilarious.  The outskirts feel more like most little western mountain towns- copious outdoor recreation, lots of very fit people and fancy bicycles, and a Walmart here and there.   But downtown is more unique- trust fund hippies play guitar next to the Gucci storefront, and the smell of gourmet, organic, fresh ground coffee is overwhelming.  There is public bike sharing, and an amazing vintage theater.  Half of me wants to move there, and the rest of me knows to stay away- but probably just because I wouldn’t feel unique anymore.

Classic (damn street lamp ruins my photo).

The theater architecture was nice, but the line-up was unbelievable…

There is something about being in an unfamiliar place that allows me to step away from myself.  My view of things around me becomes more detached, and more objective- my normal introspective investments drop away in pursuit of new-ness.  Seeing new people in new places, reminds me that we are just people- doing whatever it is that we do.  Our individual heartbreak or triumph becomes far less important in a crowd of strangers.  Part of this blog is about the search for the most authentic version of ourselves, and when no one around you knows (or particularly cares) who you are- its fun to take the opportunity to be exactly who you want.

In between professional responsibilities, I enjoyed a session with some like minded outdoor folk at the Alpine Training Center, and caught dinner with my friend Jen, who drove all the way from Greeley just to make it happen.

Home away from home.

The conference was certainly valuable- lots of practice talking about what I do, seeing some really cool projects (the Marshall project), learning new stuff, and making new connections.  It was also hilarious to realize my own cousin was also presenting- we had a very good time catching up on the past 5 or 6 years since I’ve seen him, and I really appreciated his presentation on the Thousand Homes Challenge.  It always takes a while to see what shakes out of these sort of things, but the vibes were good, and some of the interactions were… unique.

5 people debating the merits of a window detail. Only at a PassiveHouse conference.

Stand and deliver. My cousin gets it done.

By Sunday afternoon I had as much PassiveHouse as I could actively take-on and was grateful to meet a good friend and former co-worker from Portland for dinner and a local jazz jam.  It’s been a while since I put my name on a list and sat in on bebop tunes, but it’s amazing how the changes still come back.

The previous commentary about feeling detached is at odds with my mood tonight.  I went to invite some friends together for this weekend on facebook, only to notice that one of them seemed to evaporate.  Just like anything else, the social utility is just as good at taking people apart as putting them back together.  With all the traveling and dedication to task at hand, it’s pretty obvious I’ve got a fair amount of work to do at home as well.

Stay Inspired

I came home tonight hoping to write something and failed.  My heart has had a lot of emotion lately, but somehow the words aren’t happening.  I ended up staring blankly at my computer for the better part of two hours, until I finally saw something that really snapped my attention back to the present.  Thanks John, for all the lessons, the trips, the inspiration, the knowledge, and making a really cool video about some of your experience.  It helps me stay inspired:

Smash and Grab Ascent on Burkett Needle.

Stronger?

I’ve been training for most of the winter.  After putting on a few pounds of tasty and cheap Colombian food last fall, I’m back to feeling fitter and lighter than I have in a long time.  Knees to elbows, kettlebell squats, and deadhanging on my ice tools- long garage sessions have made me sweat.  I’m feeling strong ice climbing, and am excited to get even stronger rock climbing.  That said, one of the things I love most about the mountain sports is that there is always, always, someone stronger than you.  People who are just on the next level, and it seems like I’ve been running into those people a lot lately.

Friday, I enjoyed a long session at the rock gym getting to know more of my local community.  Good times, and my hands still hurt on Saturday morning.  Fortunately, I spent Saturday skiing instead of climbing.  We had thick mashed potato snow that made for hard skiing.  My friend Emily, despite being raised on a diet of 3% Utah powder, proceeded to tear it up with high style while I cartwheeled down behind her… (no photos as it was too wet for the camera).  I’m going to have to step my game up if I want to continue to ski with Emily, and I am looking forward to that.

Boldly we go...

I originally had more mellow plans for Sunday, but my buddy Steve and few other locals were headed out to Kootenai Canyon and I figured a day out was better than a day inside, so I tagged along- not really knowing what I was in for.  I had mt some of Steve’s friends before- skinny college kids that flash the boulder problems I project.  With some precipitation in the air, we headed for “The Sick Bay” and proceeded to work a bunch of sport climbs that were easily four or five grades harder than anything I have ever done.

Working the crux- hands crimped, heel hooked, and throwing to a huge pocket.

Yes, it was a little cold, but Cole solved that problem by climbing 5.12 in his puffy coat...

Keeping cool despite the puffy coat, just before a huge whipper.

By and large, I was rested and psyched to climb- and I spent most of my day thruching from bolt to bolt.  My friends, by and large, were hungover from St. Patricks Day celebrations and proceeded to link large sections of each climb before taking sizable lead falls.  The only way to climb hard is to get on hard climbs, and my lackluster performance leaves me itching to work at the task.  I am very grateful to have friends that are stronger than me, and sincerely appreciate their patience.  It’s good to get humbled by people you like.

I'll figure this out one of these days...

“Your real friends will make sure that next week’s you is better than this week’s you.”  (attribution withheld by request)

Failure

This is the third draft of this post, but I was sitting by myself at lunch and finally realized what I wanted to say.

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(Sunset my first night in San Agustin)
As I biked into Neiva I wanted to quit. As I biked out of Neiva, I wanted to quit. 200km later, after getting chased by a guy with a machete and sleeping in a ditch (without a tent, in the rain, not actually sleeping), and pedaling another 60km STFU, I wanted to quit. But here I am, I’ve been on the road 650km and eight days. I am now convinced that I can do this. I have no doubts that if I needed to bike to Patagonia, I could do it.

I’ve been honest to admitting my doubts on this blog, but after a conversation with my brother and a close friend in Portland this morning, I realized that my doubts are not about the challenge or logistical problems. I realize that a while back I made a plan and that the plan said “travel abroad, alone, somewhere new, and love it.” When it came time to execute that part of the plan, I never allowed myself to ask the question- “what do I really want to do next?” “Do I have the energy to do what the original plan says?” “If this is the last time I have to be unemployed for a while, is this how I want to spend it?”. Of course, some of these questions cannot be answered without trying, but in the course of action, ignoring these questions aren’t the same as answering them.

I realized too that it is unreasonable to think that traveling here will simply “make me happy,” but that it is more important that traveling here will resonate with my inherent happiness in a new way. If it’s not, then there is nothing that says I must do this. The failure would be in “shoulding” myself (not my own phrase) to do something that isn’t the thing that resonates with me most strongly. I will need to find employment before I run out of money, and the only failure would be to get to that point and look back only to be unsatisfied with how I’ve spent my time (oh I “should” have done this).
What is failure? What is success? I pedaled up this monster hill without stopping but now my knee hurts. Failure or success? As with most things it depends on how you define it, but in the most objective light- so far I’ve covered road miles quickly, learned a lot, and had quality interactions. If I got on a plane to San Francisco tomorrow, it would be unfair to call my time here a failure.

I got to Mocoa yesterday, which is the end of civilized country in southern Colombia. The next two days will likely be some of the hardest riding on the continent if I am to believe what I’m told. 5,000 vertical feet of climbing in about 80km, mostly on dirt roads. Yesterday I got to town early and went for a very relaxed hike along a beautiful river. I noticed that today was the first time I’ve been hiking or swimming since I’ve been here. Today I opted to rest as its pouring rain and if I’m going to climb 5,000ft I want to see the view, so perhaps tomorrow will bring better weather. I’m riding through this place, but I’m not really exploring it- frankly I don’t have the energy. I find familiarity in the intensity of the riding, of fighting the hills, of racing the daylight, but on my hike I asked myself the question: am I having fun yet (does this resonate with my happiness)? And maybe so far it hasn’t.

Am I doing this for the wrong reasons, or is it that I just don’t know what my reasons really are? For now, I suspect I need the patience to see if the right reasons unfold, or if some of those questions about the plan need to get re-visited (and that’s okay!).

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(Giving it some thought in the rooftop hammock).

The Tatacoa Desert

I’ll admit, I had given up on a small portion of my trip. One of the first things I had been looking forward to seeing seemed to be just out of reach. Life was still good, the flip flops were out, I had a beautiful camp next to a river, and the day was finally cooling off. The fact remained however that I was not going to find the ferry that would take me across the river to see the Tatacoa Desert- the maze of barbed wire and cattle ranches was confusing and I was exhausted.
Then I heard a voice, far away and in Spanish that I didn’t understand but the meaning was obvious. Antonio (it pains me that i don’t remember his actual name, but i couldn’t pronounce it anyway) wanted to take me to his town and show me his desert. I mustered just a bit more energy and followed him up river.

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(First light on the last day of September)
He helped me load the bike, unload the bike, negotiate a cheaper fare and pointed me in the right direction on the other side. His face was genuine and caring and while I don’t know why he wanted to help me, I’m simply so glad he did.
I’m in a city called Neiva now, and I’ve chewed off my first bit of elephant (173 miles to be exact). This first portion of the trip was a perfect collage of what to expect for the rest of the elephant- some really crappy riding, some great riding, some weird camping, some great camping, lots and lots and lots of sweat, and an unbelievable excitement about cold drinks.
The two lane highway south from Bogota as good until it got to one lane in each direction of wall to wall trucks all struggling with the intense road grade. I was thrilled to be headed downhill, but the riding was terrifying and the diesel fumes coated onto my skin. I made good time and felt strong but the lowlands have been unbearably hot- I drip sweat while doing nothing.
I’m ending this blog on a short note due to the lack of internet here, not sure when I’ll have connectivity again but my awesome host Perly has been having trouble with the Internet and I’m scamming someone’s slow but free wifi.
Thanks for reading!

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Cracks, part 1

(from May 30th, 2011)

My ego was swelling  and I could feel my frustration rising.  We were practicing cravasse rescue and I was supposed to be demonstrating, but mostly I couldn’t stop noticing the things I missed.  Chris was making me feel like a fool 16 minutes into the rescue  and I was already mad at him, and more angry with myself.  We stopped the exercise early to debrief but the mistakes continued through the afternoon.  And then, I recognized how badly I needed the humility that seemed illusive.

It should have been obvious- until 3 days ago, I hadn’t traveled on a glacier in 2 years.  Chris is a professional mountain ranger with hundreds of field days and some of the best training available.   We all make mistakes- especially in the hot seat when our buddy is in the crack.  We talked.  I learned, energy and joy returned.  We sweated together under the blazing Alaska sun and watched the avalanches cascades off the flanks of Mt. Francis.  It was a great day.  Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.  Humility trumps ego every time– and don’t forget rule #6.

Mt. Francis, just above Basecamp.