Monday, February 27, 2012

New Skin

“You girls have been here a while now…” says the desk clerk at the Veterans Memorial community center. I am blow-drying my hair and C just stepped into a shower stall. I met this woman, Deb, a month ago. It was the same day that D and R introduced me to 6 dollar a week memberships and unlimited showers and yoga classes. Deb had just returned to work after two years of being unemployed, she is washing her hands. She had been let off during the recession and only now was welcomed back part time. Evidence of the economic downturn are everywhere in Vegas, you don’t have to look very hard to see it.

I blush and smile into the mirror.  “ yea, its been a while I guess…. Its hard to leave this place”. Deb smiles in a polite kind of way and exits the scene. I look back at the mirror. I feel clean for the first time in a week. This morning I woke up ready for a rest day, to reorganize the car, write the things I need to write, and feed the fire for new projects.

View from the top of Birdland
Since the boys left, myself and C have been focusing on our goals; pushing grade on trad, crack climbing, and of course maintaining a bit of enthusiasm for our guilty pleasures in clipping draws that are hard to get to. Two days earlier we spent the entire afternoon top roping and leading two crack climbs, hoping to gain some kind of technical advantage on it. At the end of the day our knuckles and the backsides of our hands were so swollen we could barely hold anything, but it felt good. It felt like progress. Our bodies are learning.

Ying Yang 5.11c, Atman 5.10a : epic top rope laps

Cut loose! 5.10d mixed climb

Waking up yesterday, preparation and departure for the park was out of habit but I could not focus, I could not clip, I could not lead. We made some yo-yo attempts at climbs which (one week earlier) we were flying up, while W patiently listened to our banter and babble. My brain and my fingers were reflecting each other; deranged, thin, and unresponsive. Although tired, I feel that something great is happening, something is changing inside of me. Over and above climbing rocks, I am moving towards something.

I feel like I have finally shed the skins of all my memories on road trips. The baggage of car-life- past and prior loves are gone; a new skin has grown in place. I no longer drive around saying “ this is where we did this” or reminiscing old scenes with friends and comforts I used to have. To explain my adoration with living in my car seems nearly impossible. It also seems ridiculous that I am sharing this giddy- happiness with a friend. C and I have agreed that sleeping in our cars is actually more comfortable than any other bed we have had.   She is also coming away from many things in her life to be here, to push herself forward. The independence of a vehicle, the solitude of the desert and the opportunity to take the chances necessary to become what we can be.

Maybe its time for a rest day though.
It is different for everyone. Right now I don’t know where I will be, but I know that for now I am growing new skin.

Its funny how you can make the news without even being in the country...

Guelph News: Mild Winter

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The old and bold. Adventures in J-Tree.

I feel that right now would be an appropriate time to update. This would have been written in pen first however in the last few days all my pens have all gone aloof. The phenomenon would somewhat reflect my state of mind, car and environment. But things are getting better. Hopefully that means I will find my pen soon.

On Monday morning at 3 am, I saw KP off to the airport. I don’t think I fully realized how much I appreciated her company until the next day. Goodbyes don’t bring sadness so easily anymore; I think I have come a long way from the grief struck hug circles in my adolescent camp years. It’s more of an appreciation and excitement for when I might see that person again now, in KP’s case, probably a few months.

The interesting part has become catering my car life to others. Tyler and Mike have been the new project and I didn’t really get them off the best start. They arrived at 10pm Monday night, were immediately thrown in the wagon and driven 4 hours (5) to Joshua Tree, CA. Not only did I cart them off to another state, but also another world of climbing all together.  “ this is the food I eat” “ this is where the cutlery and stove are” Yes, you have to wait two days to shower” No, we don’t have much water” “No that water is not potable, but look at me, I’m still okay…?”

GOOD MORNING BOYS! bet you didn't expect to wake up here!!
The decision to go to Vegas had been made at W’s house, where Claire, myself and him sat around all day and watched the rain. It never rains in Vegas. This begs the question of why it must happen on the one week that T and M where to show up.  Game time revealed no climbing for 3 days in Vegas so the decision was made for us.

Joshua Tree at Sunset
At 4 am, Tuesday morning, we arrived in the Hidden Valley Campground. It was cold and windy. The boys set up tents and the girls rearranged their cars/beds and settled in.

The first familiar figures  I saw the next morning were Logan and Kona, whom we had climbed with in Red Rocks not one week earlier. Half relieved that I knew someone, I followed him around looking at different rock formations, trying desperately to memorize the grades he was tagging on their routes.

The Hidden Valley campground is aces above red rocks. Car camping is matched with communal grounds, shelter of rocks, and walkable distances to thousands of climbs; sport trad and bouldering. With the slight inconvenience of having no water source, the pit toilets are similar and they even have recycling… RECYCLING! What a joy.
Hidden Valley Campground, photo courtesy of Wolfgang

Day one was spent wandering the “real hidden Valley” area, getting on walls named “ Thin wall” and “ the sentinel”. Nothing particularly jarring but the sensation of grit and granite was enough. I was being weighed down from being awake for 2 days (nearly without naps) and the hardships of coaxing T and M to my dirtbag ways.

Day two was a little more exciting. Woke up at 7 as per new usual. Brushed teeth. Ate oats in the wind. Use the facilities.  Ambled off to the backside of “the ski track” wall with my new friend “Addy” from San Fransisco.

The Flake! on the Ski track wall
We approached a climb that was supposed to be a classic. It was called “ the Flake”; a nice 5.9 route that ascends through a chimney, into a layback flake and then finishes after two bolts on steep slab.  I wasn’t thinking much, have no experience in rock chimneys and barely any mileage on granite but with 6-foot-something-Addy as my spot I started wedging my way up.

It took 10 feet before he  showed up. This seasoned rock vetran and his wife sauntered over from their Westy. He was already mid scolding before I was even in earshot. “ You are doing that the wrong way. Come down and turn around” “ you need to use your knees like this” “ you should have placed a piece there already”. I was flabbergasted. Not only was I stuck in my very first lead chimney, but I was also being chirped by an old man, obviously very experienced and disapproving. After a few minutes of 'discussion' I wedged my way back to the ground and finished the earful. “And, you should really be wearing a helmet. But That’s enough tips for today” he frowned as he turned, wife in tow, back to their Westy. I thanked him, although admittedly in a half-assed manor, as I was still in shock from the experience and a bit disgruntled at his attitude.

Shrugging it off, I started back up at the chimney (aiming in the correct direction this time). Maybe this really was beyond me, but how else was I going to learn?? I am in one of the climbing capitals of America, on a moderate, classic route. I am doing this.

So grunting and moaning, I camed my limbs and wrestled my way back up to 15 feet. Feeling slightly insecure, I placed the one piece I could then cranked on it a few times and tried to squeeze higher. It was tough. There was a dicey move above me. The Vet had told me this was the crux. I sheepishly looked out to the road and saw his van still sitting there.  They were watching. First, I started to remember all those times i have watched people in kayaks commit to doing something stupid... and I felt as if I was on the other side of that connection. Then I imagined him sitting inside his van with 9-1 dialed into the cellphone, holding it up and just waiting…

Swearing, I slid back down to the ground. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to be that idiot. Feeling pretty bummed out, I wandered around the base of the climb, asking Addy what he wanted to do next. Did he want to lead it? No way, was his answer. He hates chimneys. I swore again. “ You should totally do this though… I mean, the move is protected and it gets better after that. I am in no rush… get on it again!” I couldn’t tell if he was just looking for entertainment or if he really thought I could do it. I hesitated and looked back to the road. The Camping van was long gone. Okay. I said. I will try.

This time the beginning moves were easy, practice made perfect. A knee cam there, a shoulder bar here,  a ?chicken wing? there… I wedged my heel against the back wall leaning onto my knee to loosen the other and then smeared it as I pressed my hands, palms down against the wall in front of me and let my shoulder blades sink into the back wall. Bit by bit I made it back to the spot I had been twice before. I placed the cam snuggly into the rock and leaned back. Three deep breathes and some encouragement from Addy got me moving again. This time, as a vertically beached whale, I hollered and squealed insecurely until inch by inch until I was into one deep hand hold, then another. My shins were perfectly cammed again and I could breathe. Crux, be gone. Climb on till the anchors.

The whole way I was hoping that the vet and his lady had swung back around, seen the amateur chicka at the top of the climb and hopefully he had smiled at her persistence, or maybe just shook his head at her stubbornness. Sometime having the conviction of a good climbing partner and the ego of an adolescent can surprise you in what you are capable of. Lauren: 1, Chimney: fun!

The afternoon brought dark clouds, and soon enough rain. We made the call to evacuate back to Vegas just before the snow hit. Yes,  the snow. I think it is fair to blame it on the boys for bringing Canada with them.

Snow. in J-Tree
some gnarly knuckles.
Back here in Vegas, the sun is shining, the wind is howling and the rock is drying.
Time to Climb! 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The sustainability comment

Glamor aside folks, we all know that Vegas is not the land of sustainability, responsibility and and green initiatives,  Red Rocks is no exception. The national park which is located on the north west outskirts of town consists of a 13 mile, one way paved road that takes visitors to a number of different pull outs.

It is not uncommon that I find myself snickering at  digi- cams that are being trolled out of windows while visitors try to capture the moment and the beauty of these painted rocks from  the confines of their (ever rolling) rental Escalades. But lets face it. Are the climbers in the park any better?

Each of the two times I have arrived in this place it has taken me at least a week to stop cringing. This time was unfortunately easy to adjust to, but last year, coming from smithrock and more recently Yosemite valley, I was shocked at how heavily I was expected to rely on my car for transportation.

Let me lay it out... The campground is located 5 minutes out of town and offers unpotable water and fire pits at each site. No recycling, no compost... not even in town unless you are tricky and very savvy. That is still 2 miles from the national park entrance, where visitors must, once begun, finish the 13 mile loop every time they enter. This seems ridiculous for sport climbers, seeing as the crags are all within the first 4 miles of the loop. Climbing and hiking days are book ended by a cruise through the park and back into camp every single time.

The road is also heavily utilized by bikers and runners but after speaking with many of the other climbers who have tried... biking into the park is both frightening and committing, as it is winding and hilly, " next time... Im totally bringing a wagon on the back of a bike" I proclaim proudly, disturbed by how those words seem to lack an echo. The bottom line is that is it irrational. biking 18 miles everyday as well as hiking 25mins-2hrs into climbs is completely ludicrus. So how can we change this?

Convenience as an issue.

Shower are located in town, within a 10 minute drive. Free internet is at the library which is 20 minutes away. Grocery stores are within 10 minutes as well... The campground itself does not offer showers, drinkable water nor affordable firewood. So what ends up happening, is every climber spends thier mornings making a detour for starbucks and then speeds into the park for their daily "scenic drive".

In Yosemite valley, we could take the shuttle or walk to many of the climbs. In smith rock we drove in and out maybe once a week for amenities.... In Red Rocks its hard to avoid a daily trip. The temptation just seems too much for most, including myself.

Now here is what I was waiting for... I did not want to complain about something before I saw some light at the end of the tunnel.

Last saturday I rose groggily from my wagon and tried fruitlessly to start my broken stove for the 10th morning in a row. Rubbing my eyes I wondered if i could make the swing into town for a starbucks and a visit to REI ( the USA's MEC equivalent) to feed the addiction and solve the issue. Just then a golfcart came rolling by with the newest camp host beeming out... " Free Coffee and bagels at the pay station!" he called.To be honest, I can't think of anything I would rather hear at 7am on a saturday.

Strolling down I started to recognize the scene. This is what Yosemite valley looks like every Sunday... Coffee with the rangers.

Filling my mug and pocketing a banana, I thanked the young man behind the table and asked him what prompted this glorious event. " We want to make sure we are maintaining a good relationship with the climbers" said the ranger. He was new to the position, only having been with the Red Rocks National Park for one year, but since his arrival he has been making it his duty to re constitute the dialogue with the parks most adamant and returning users. He is following the work of a man named ?Jed Bodsford? who worked with the parks from 2000-2008.

I didn't take long to get into the matters which concerned me, and the answers came from a positive and hopeful place.

Red Rocks is working towards having a shuttle system. Starting earlier than the park opens, which will hopefully appeal to a lot of pre-dawn multi-pitchers. By making this shuttle free and accessible, they are hoping that many people will park their cars at the visitors center and save 13 miles of dangerous and slow weaving.  That is the first thing on their list. Next, they are hoping to get a campground in the Black Velvet canyon, this could cut out a lot of climbing traffic and disperse populations. Apparently they have tried having campgrounds in the park before but due to poor management it was shut down at pine creek some years ago.

Two climbers who were fresh from bishop strolled up and suggested a drop box for climbing and camping equipment. Maybe then there would be a better community, something like you see in Joshua Tree or Bishop. This suggestion was graciously heard and the climbers were told that it would be put into action soon.

Construction at the back of the park was explained as being solar heated showers being constructed for the use of campers, hopefully to be finished for the spring.

Saturday morning happened and all of a sudden the world looked a little better. My cynicism towards the layout and operation of las vegas momentarily dissipated. Perhaps the future is greener, even here.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

"So the Question of the day... Is this Enjoyable??" KP

The longer I am here, the more I am understanding what I am looking for.

I am no longer looking at all. That's what I was looking for. Life events seem to fall into place. The sun rises, I rise, breakfast is logical and we amble off to find an objective. The challenge comes in the small things, not the ascent. In keeping your smile when sweat is streaming down your back and your knees start to hurt from the weight of the rope on your back. In being understanding of the motivations and objectives of those around you. In compromising and knowing the difference between what you need and what you want. I WANT coffee, but I got up late... I cant hold back the team... or I WANT to save money, but these fantastic people I just met are going out for dinner on their last night, maybe their company is worth the splurge... I COULD complain about the weight, the drag, the short roping but I know that I am not the only one suffering...

In taking the lead when you feel strong, and in standing down when you think your partner can shine.... In breathing when you are too afraid to let go.

These are the moments I am living for. This is where my pride comes from. I don't really care what I am climbing, as long as I am pushing myself. At the days end, having that sensation of exhaustion that is challenged by a new friends invite to the neighboring fire. The humility of hearing about why other people are also here, looking, living what many would deem the dirt bag dream. What do you do for a living? where are you from? What is your project?

Climbing is interesting in this way. Our goals are so subjective and personal but we tend to characterize them as rocks. Sometimes the smallest boulder is the hardest project, while someone else is waking up before the sun because their 2 hour approach is best done in the shade of madrugada ( that's the word in Portuguese... I don't know it in English but it means pre-dawn). We sit at the fire and I can see its reflection in Joel, from South Dakota's eyes as he tells me about the wondrous climbs he can recommend for my coming weeks. All I can think is, wow, this guy really loves the whole experience.

Selfish as we may be, " I cant help anyone else until I have helped myself... Then my energy can calm others" says K, reflecting on relationships and people she has had in her life. I can do nothing but agree. At the campfires we all bring our own wood, our own stories, our own ears, and the friends we make seem to go furthur back than one week.

Tonight I will fall into my grubby bed, in my grubby car with my grubbing clothes and dream of rocks and I will wake up ready to try again. 

May the fire burn all night.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

All the other Moths.

In my mind. I am sitting on the roof of my car. Under the stars.

Listening to One More Mouth, by Josh Ritter.

In body, I am sitting in a home. In a gated community in the city of las vegas. This house belongs to Doug. I didn't know what that meant anymore than you did until last night, approximately one hour after entering the house itself.

I met Wolfgang though, that is where i should really start this post. Although neither of us had a couch to offer, we both had thrown out messages looking for climbing partners. We have been climbing together all week and now, with Tate gone and my days win the campground disturbingly numbered by park staff, W offered up the place he was staying for the night. Wolfgang is here not only to climb, but also to play poker. Doug is someone he met through that circle.

I drove past the place about three times before noticing W standing inside. One last U-ie and I was waiting at the gates, informed that I would have to wait until another tenant left and then sneak the wagon in the out-gate.  This already seemed like a great idea. The house itself was of a mold. A line of cloned terra cotta roofs. Inside, there was nothing immediately obscure about the place. I was on a bee-line for a hot shower, passing a Georgia O'keefe painting, noting the colourful cactus trim on the walls, the big screen TV and the ancient granny couches. Coming out of the washroom, I heard W saying that Doug was pissed that I was here. Drying off my hair, I naturally started to worry... I had no image in my head as to who might live here. A poker player... no womens toiletries in the washroom, owns a mustang.... I was scared.

I cleaned up my knapsack, almost ready to run for the door.

Enter Doug.

All of a sudden the decor made sense. I do not  know how else I can say that. Everything made the sense. Before I could introduce myself I was introduced to Scooby Doo. " I just picked this up at the thrift store! its for my nephew.. he is going to LOVE it!" the stuffed carnival prize was waved in my face, then it started talking to me. " Do you think you can come up with a name?" Doug asks me. " Hi, I am Lauren" I respond. He was unsatisfied, more interested in the naming of this, and the foot-massaging bunny slippers he got for 5 dollars.

After showing me and W the rest of his gathered goods, he reminded us that we were driving him to the airport in an hour and we should eat all the berries and salad before they go bad.

Doug lives alone, in many places, primarily Washington and Vegas though. He values obnoxious figurines, good company and sports cars. He talks passionately about the strategy of poker in Las Vegas. It is from him that I now know where the locals hang out and which locals games are fun. He asked W to take his mustang for a few rides to keep it fresh while he was away. He told me his condo has a hot tub. It did not take him long to figure out I am very gullible but I think that is the reason he liked me so much. On the exterior he is what I see when I imagine the stereotypical American. But after meeting him I want to throw my cynicism out the window. He was a sweet man, and his heart is in the right place. He is looking for the same thing we all are, at the end of the day.

"Wolfy! This girl can stay here as long as she wants" he said as he squeezed out of the car and into the complimentary hotel he was planning to play poker at before his morning flight.


Its been 3 days since I wrote that one... 3 days of hard climbing. Kyla arrived on monday night at midnight, after an awesome day of placing gear and gaining height with W. As soon as KP hit down, we were reminiscing the last time we were both in Red Rocks, digging up memories of where we had been, what we had been capable of and of course... who we were with.

We stayed at W's for two more nights, making burritos and watching Twilight, then we headed back into the campground. As much fun as it was to be living in a house, camping seems to be part of the drive out here. There is something more engaging about waking up to the sun.

We will see what happens though.  hah.


Wolfgang, hanging out on the vert.

My Morning View

My morning View