Saturday, October 30, 2010

Red River Gorge Impressions

The Red River Gorge climbing has a huge reputation for excellence.  People exclaim about the quality lines, the long routes and name your homage to its glory.  All the hype set my expectations very high; high enough to be difficult for any climbing area to fulfill.   

After two weeks and counting climbing in the Red River Gorge, my assessment is:

meh.

I’ve thought a lot about this assessment.  Why am I not ecstatic to be here?  Why doesn’t the rock climbing tickle my fancy and excite my soul?  These and similar questions swirl endlessly as I pull on yet another horizontal crimp.
 
Is it the coarse sand stone?  Nope.  The stone does take a toll on my hands, but rock everywhere can be hard on your skin.  That’s just part of the game.

Is it the mono-dimensional climbing?  Hell no!  I’m a number chaser.  If I could send hard routes without cryptic sequences, bring it on.
 
We could progress through various aspects of the climbing here, but let me just tell you my assessment and you can agree or not.

My “mas o menos” reaction to the climbing is spurred mostly by the bolting style.  Specifically two aspects of the bolting: run-outs and decking potential.

Run-outs:

Run outs are also very common between the last bolt and the anchors and sometimes in the middle of the routes.  Often it is a badge of honor to take the whipper from the anchors.  Yes, it takes courage to climb through a run-out and take the fall.  I get that.  For me huge run outs are a ticket to rope pulling if it’s even possible to get back to the rope.  Let me explain.  I’m 30% heavier than my belayer.  As I push my limits repetitively taking the long fall gets pretty monotonous:  climb through run-out take big fall (30’ +), climb rope back to last bolt and repeat.  If the route is sufficiently overhanging a big fall means there will be no working out the crux as boinking on the rope is not possible with a super-fly weight belayer.  Red River Gorge is sport climbing to push limits of rock climbing not push limit of pulling on the rope.  I’m over it.  Bolt routes for climbing not ego masturbation. 

Decking Potential: 

As an average American, I am relatively small/average at 170 pounds and 5’ 11”.  As a climber that’s huge especially relative to a belayer that is 50+ pounds lighter than me.  When I fall my belayer generally takes an involuntary ride up to the first bolt.  Bolting in the Red generally has the first bolt fairly high; high enough that it can be difficult to stick-clip the first bolt (beyond 15').  This leaves plenty of additional distance for me to fall as the belayer elevates to this level.  Couple this with common run-outs to bolts two and three; I’m looking at a potential ground fall on many routes as I climb to the second and third bolts.  It hasn’t happened, but perceived or real decking potential adds unwanted stress to most routes I have attempted to climb here. 

The routes here are what they are and nothing I write should change them.  I will continue to climb here and possibly learn to enjoy it.  But for now the Red River Gorge climbing is sub-par because of bolting style.  On the positive side, the climbing is concentrated in a relatively small area, but…

MEH.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Eastward ho!

Our trip from Denver to Beattyville, KY was a great 4 day adventure. During the first day we traveled from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains. Eastern Colorado and western Kansas are flat ranch / farm country. There isn't a whole lot of cool and spectacular scenery. We decided that after crossing the border to stop at the tourist information center rest area. Here we learned of a place to stay 7 miles west of Salina, KS. Sundowner West was a peaceful rural setting where I could take the dogs for a good long walk and we slept peacefully. The price for a full hookup was very reasonable, but the facility could use updating.

About an hour into our drive, Tony pulled into a rest area and I took over the drive. The last time I had driven while towing the trailer was when we drove back from picking it up in Lincoln, NE. Tony had driven all summer due to my lack of courage to drive on the narrow winding roads near Rifle. Thankfully the freeway was straight and the traffic light. The truck makes the task easy, but I was quite nervous for my two hour stint at the wheel. The crazy thing about our drive that day is that I-70 is a toll road for a portion! We got to the toll booth and the attendant announced that we owed $4.25. The collective cash in the truck was $4.11. Upon hearing that news, the attendant told that Visa was accepted. Thank goodness! Otherwise we would have needed to get into the trailer to get money.

The goal for day 2 on the road was to make it to St. Louis, MO. We rolled out of Sundowner West and continued east. The plan was to stay in the KOA southwest of St. Louis and then spend a day playing tourist. The plains of western Kansas gave way to rolling forested hills of eastern Kansas and Missouri. I got the section of driving through Kansas City. Now, if you have made that drive recently you know it is a nightmare of branching interstates under construction. My palms were sweating as I drove slowly through the narrow construction zones and drove the truck from right to left and back again as I-70 split and wandered.

Five miles from our destination, traffic came to a halt. The freeway was closed due to a big accident. The detour took us 2 stressful hours. Tony had to drive on a 4 lane road that was really a major surface road. The road was narrow and the other drivers crazily darted in front of us either from the other lane or from side roads. To our amazement there was signage stating ‘Share the Road’! No cyclist in their right mind would ride along that road. We arrived well after dark and after the front office had closed and had to find our way through the campground to a site. Purely by accident we landed a choice secluded site. The humidity was high and all sorts of night insect noises echoed through the trees. It rather reminded me of Costa Rica, toned down just a bit.

The next day we started slowly. After paying for a second night we loaded our bicycles into the truck and headed to downtown St. Louis. We parked for the arch and mounted our trusty mountain bikes and cruised through the park to the arch. After touring the free attractions we peddled the trail along the Mississippi river. We didn’t see much of the river because of the huge flood walls separating the trail from the river front. The trail crossed the river (and Illinois state line) on a dedicated bike/pedestrian bridge. Lacking courage to explore we returned to where we parked. Along the way we got a good view of the local shanty tent town. Near a pop up tent trailer a handmade sign read ‘Welcome to failure is not an option’.

Day three objective was to travel into Kentucky. We made it to Shelbyville, KY, the home of the American Saddlebred horse. After a little searching online we discovered that Lake Shelby offered camping for a very reasonable rate. Turns out that Lake Shelby is managed by the city and on the outskirts of town that is part of a larger complex of city parks. It was a nice quiet rural like setting where the dogs again got to sniff lots and stretch their little legs.

The last day was to be short and easy. Ha! Tony used his navigation software ‘(aka Betty) to provide directions. The way outlined by Betty was shorter! Well, the first warning was a sign ‘One Way Tunnel’ followed by the sign’ 11’2”. The trailer is 13’6”. Tony had to do some fancy backing to turn around on a blind corner. Just as we got set to pull out a railroad employee pulled up and told us to follow him. (It was a RR tunnel we couldn’t get through.) He took us the back way around and off we were on very narrow, steep and winding roads. Finally we arrived at our home for the next six weeks, Lago Linda Hideaway.

About a month earlier I had requested a 30amp site to be reserved for us. First Tony tried to back into it but due to my insufficient directions we decided against that. He got us turned around and pulled into the site but the power was too far from the trailer plug in. So we drove out to the main road and turned around. It was a tight squeeze between the trees, but we pulled into the site and got set up.

Let the climbing begin!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Getting whooped

Americans waste time debating global warming. China realizes that its not about CO2, but lower cost production. America fights to "drill baby drill" and in the long run will produce high cost oil. Meanwhile, China will have cheap electricity.

We raced to be first to the moon and where has that gotten us?

China winning renewable energy race - CNN Money
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Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Memorable Day

We have all had at least one.  A day that is never forgotten and the legend only grows.   I had one such day in the spring of my junior year at Gonzaga University.  

Let me set the stage.  I was 20 years-old.  GU did not have fraternity houses; the Outhouse, were I lived, was close at least for friendship and the party scene.   The Outhouse was just off campus with five permanent residents and many many temporary residents especially on Thursday, Friday & Saturday nights went keg parties were the rule; think Revenge of the Nerds rather than Animal House
 
The scene was nearly always the same.  Nine guys with five dollars each would grab the cheapest most vile beer keg possible—Schmidt (The Brew that grew with great Northwest. aka animal beer), PBR or Black Label all of which guaranteed a unique hangover the subsequent morning.  People would show…sometimes a few other times many for a $2/cup all you can drink beers and loud music. 

A major difference from the Outhouse and a frat house was the Outhouse didn’t have a caste of freshman that clean up.  There were consequences for the lack of cleaning:
  • The kitchen stove caught fire while cooking on it at least once.
  • The carpet had so much beer starch spilled into it that it crunched under foot—shoes where mandatory.
  • General stench of beer from leftover solo cups and other assorted goodies.
The day my tale occurred was during a week of University sponsored celebration quite likely called Spring Fling—a farewell from the six months of snow, hello to sun and shedding overstuffed sweat pants.   There were dances, parties and a student rodeo amongst other activities.  During one of the Outhouse swarays Mark (student body social activities czar) pitched that I participate in the student rodeo.  As I remember the conversation, it went something like this.

Mark:  “Hey!  Why don’t you ride in the rodeo?  We are going to have steer wrestling, bronco and bull riding.  It will be fun.”

Tony:   “I don’t know.  That sounds dangerous.  I’ve seen guys gored by bulls, stepped on by horses and injured various ways by rodeo stock.  I’m not sure a safety conscience guy like me should participate.”

Mark:  “Not to worry.  We have accounted for that.  The rodeo is going to be using junior stock that was brought in just for us.”

Tony:  “Hmm.  That doesn’t sound so bad.  I grew up on a farm, ridden horses and seen a bunch of rodeos.  Let me think about that.”  Time passes as I ponder participation over a couple of sips of beer.  “Mark, I’ll do it.”

As you can imagine, safety was a primary concern.  Safety expressed itself in at least three ways.  First, sign a liability waiver—it’s not GU’s problem if...when you get hurt.  Second, absolutely no drinking before or during the event.  Third, each rider must attend a practice day as none of us knew how to behave around savage rodeo animals even if it was stock intended for little children. 

I entered three chest thumping manly events steer wrestling, saddle bronc, and bull riding—opting out of the greased pig chase, goat tying and other cowboy games.  The practice sessions for steer wrestling and bronc riding were relatively non-memorable.  Not because they were trivial, but more so over shadowed by the dismay of imminent bull riding.  There was some general coaching by stereo-typical cowboys on how to throw a steer by grabbing the horns and chin (do cows have chins?) then twisting the head until it falls over.   Saddle bronc riding instructions boiled down to hold on with one hand till you hear the horn then launch to safety. 

Bull riding…ah the bull riding practice.    

For those that have not seen bull riding.  The rider puts a strap around the bull just behind the front legs and snugs it down as a hand hold.  A second strap is secured in front of the back legs and tightened in a way that only a man that wore shrink-to-fit jeans can understand how uncomfortable it is.  Or just watch Versus almost any night the Tour de France is not playing. 

Each rider is given an inch think felt pad to ‘protect’ our posteriors.  My hind was really the last thing that I thought needed protecting…what about a helmet (we were paying a king’s ransom in tuition), Kevlar vest, and various other body armor.  Nope.  One felt pad to cover your ass thank you very much; unwittingly, an early lesson in corporate survival.

Each participant lined up behind a chute as the bulls were cajoled into place.  The one that stopped in front of me was moderately sized and fairly docile, all things considered.  My bull was pretty much in the middle chute.  It was my turn to live in interesting times as I watched the other riders prep and promptly eject from the bull.  With each succeeding rider, my bull became more anxious, pawing the dirt and jostling in the chute and every bovine twitch jars me like lightening to my core. 
My turn. 
Ass covered. 
On the bull. 
Pull the cinch tight. 
Nod to the gate tender. 
Bull lumbers out of the chute. 
I dive for the gate. 
Practice over!

Fully prepared for the event in the mind of I’m not sure who, there is no sleep to be had that night as the event looms.  Tossing and turning are the rule as visions of mayhem danced in my head. 

Rodeo day.

The first two events went as predicted.  The steer ran away after dragging me most the way across the arena.  The bronc ran for several seconds as I maintained a death grip on the saddle.  After six or seven seconds he decided that the wart on his back was bothering him and shed me effortlessly.  At least no injuries were inflicted for the final event.

With the riders queued up behind assigned bull chutes, the animals rumbled down.  These were not the same bulls from practice.  These bulls were monsters; full sized bulls that were later revealed as the stock for the pro-rodeo for later in the week.  Nice.  I’m in for a beating.

Armed with stylish flannel shirt, cowboy boots, and felt safety pad I’m ready for any bull crazy enough to stop in front of me.  (Machismo at its pinnacle.)   Ready…ready for anything but the King Kong scale monster that acquires the territory formerly known as my chute.  Let’s call him Thor.

Thor packs his chute with his brawny physic of mostly white with brown patches and spots.  Thor was fit—all muscle and bone sans fat.  And he had horns, big horns, not goring horns as they had recently been cropped.  So at least they were not pointy horns.  On the downside each horn end dripped blood around the ring of the hardened exterior and the cauterized interior.  I started to freak out and choose to assume it was his blood not the previous rider’s.


Thor’s chute is a middle one again so he and I have plenty of time to ponder each other.  I used this time to worry, fret, pace, cry, reconsider, and build anxiety.  (My palms still sweat when I think about this.)  Thor used the time to thrash about and generally get angry: pawing, snot tossing, rearing and eye-balling me.

When I gathered my wits it became obvious why Thor was so agitated.  There were a group of real cowboys, our experts, there to assist us and increase the safety factor.  My mentors were doing anything but helping.  They had a hot-shot.  Now imagine the most painful place that a bull could be poked with this medieval device.  Yes, they were prodding him in the privates that would be cinched up later. 
“Why are you doing that?” I ask.

“To make sure he bucks hard”, they reply.

“Quit it!  I’m sure he’ll buck hard enough for me.” 

At this point it was time for me to board this freighter to Valhalla.  Safety check—Yup felt pad in place. 

Bring on Thor!? 

Apprehensively stepping onto the chute platform, Thor thrashed about yet again. My nerves bounce me off the chute.  I mentally race back-and-forth between quitting and riding with the speed of an Olympic ping pong match.  Bringing my nerves back under control, steps are taken to board Thor.
 
With a foot on either side of the chute, the cinch is wrapped around his girth and I’m directed to sit down upon the filthy, stinking, bleeding muscle ship.  I slip one leg down and Thor leans into my leg pinning it against the side, “Ouch!”  Ignoring the pain and using the space created by his shift, I slide the other leg down and my felt safety pad plants on his back.  A few scoots forward to lock my hand next to my body, I forego the suicide pinkie wrap and apprehensively nod at the gate tender to release the beast as the only thought in my mind was “please don’t dive for the gate.”
First hop, phew.  Second hop, uh-oh.  Third hop, I’m gone. 


Many things start happening quickly now.  Immediately, I’m on my back and Thor seeks revenge.  Revenge for all the hot shot prodding, cinching, etc.  Thor seeks to grind me into a grease spot in the middle of the rodeo arena.  I throw up my best MMA defense which was to pull my forearms up to add a fruitless layer of protection, kick my legs and squeal like a grade school punk in a haunted house. 
The forearm defense didn’t do much other than produce bruises and bone lumps where Thor’s horns were attempting to poke my innards out.  I’m not sure if the screaming was a help either or not as it turned out not to matter. 

Either Thor was a clumsy oaf, my thrashing leg defense was effective, or a combination of both.  As Thor plants a front hoof to drive his head farther into my chest, his hoof doesn’t meet solid ground.  The hoof lands on my whipping leg and I luckily pull his foot out from under him.
 
Thor goes DOWN!
 

All at once I win the little known Bull Wresting event as the only contestant and Usain Bolt outta there as the rodeo clown comes to my rescue. I dash toward the six foot fence snag the top rail and hop over without otherwise touching the fence.  A glance back at Thor and quick finger salute to him and my rodeo career is over.  Amazingly I escape major injury.

How does one follow-up such a day?

Living with some masters of celebration, we threw a party.  Not much unique here other than the party started earlier than normal, it was louder than normal and larger than normal.  As is understandable, the neighbors where not really having as much fun as the revelers.  After the party had been progressing for 12 plus hours a herd of 14 police cars and a patty-wagon arrive.
 
Not too surprising that the cops didn’t come to pay two bucks for a cup.  They wanted to take away as many of us as possible. 

So…it’s about 2:00AM, I smell like a sick concoction of bull, beer and BBQ.  Across the way the cops are talking with one of my housemates as the other four of us have scattered.  Either being an idiot or a good friend I approach the cops and confess to living in the house.  My housemate is already in the back of the car, as they bring me, bull smelly dude, up to the car, one cop queries the other, “should we cuff them?” 

A quick review of me and it’s hands behind the back into a hard plastic seat that has a special pocket for your cuffed hands for both of us.  How thoughtful.  With all those cops, cars and the paddywagon, they only took two of us away.  They did make an impression.
The charges were Minor-in-Possession and Noise.  For that they completely processed both of us: finger prints, mug shots and such. 

What a day!!!!

Epilogue
My court date was exactly on my 21st birthday.  On that day my case was continued for dismissal.  This was explained to me as don’t be loud or get another MIP for six months and your record will be clean.  I’ve been a model citizen ever since.