The RV Project

"There Are No Wrong Roads to Anywhere"

Archive for the month “October, 2012”

Back to the Desert

The last post was October 10th? It’s October 30th? I know dudes in the Arctic Ocean who post more regularly. Is this okay? Let’s ask Will Smith:

So real quick-like with the ketchup…

Since we finished the last video, I spent much time running back and forth to Home Depot and similar stores, picking up building supplies and batteries and solar panels and all kinds of other goodies to get us ready for life in a trailer (again). A video tour of our little trailer setup will be up shortly. Combine a large amount of work with a limited amount of experience, and you have a big pot of this-project-took-way-longer-than-I-thought stew.

Unedited screenshot. Yikes.

We finally left Brad’s house on Wednesday (October 17) and camped in the mountains near the sport crag known as The Monastery. The next morning we met Kyle and Reiko at Bear Lake for one last run up to Emerald Lake to try our projects. The day was clear and sunny, but the wind was so strong that staying warm was impossible and we retreated after taking a couple of burns on Whispers of Wisdom and The Kind. Sadly, no sends, but I did reach a highpoint on Whispers.

We spent the next two nights in Denver, parked outside of Rachel and Jered’s, tying up some last loose ends, fixing the bookshelf that I’d under-built, and seeing Vikki’s sister. On Saturday morning we gassed up one last time at King Sooper’s and on Saturday night we were sleeping in Joe’s Valley near Orangeville, Utah. It took us about 8 hours to drive up the eastern slope of I-70, through Idaho Springs and Dillon and Vail, down the eastern slope through Grand Junction, and into the Utah desert. Here’s what it looked like:

Utah, as you know, is Mormon country. Generally speaking, things are closed on Sundays. We went climbing instead.

You’ve read it before on our blog, and you’ve probably experienced it yourself. The first day in a new mega-area is always filled with excitement, anticipation, and curiosity. My mind reeled from looking at dozens of classics, most of them right off the road. Our fingers flitted with delight at the texture of the sandstone. This is gonna be a good month.

Part of the reason we haven’t updated before now is that we’re still getting used to living in the trailer. We’ve nailed down the Joe’s beta, which we’ll detail in a later post, but then this weekend came and with is several dozen climbers. Adam Healy joined us on Wednesday (the 24th) with several members of Team Asana in tow. We met Beau Stuart and Scott Hall, a couple of Idaho boys who climb hard and lots. Along with Beau, Nina Williams, Ryan Guerra, and Matt Fultz rounded out Team Asana’s presence, and many other climbers were part of our extended group as well.

Beau Stuart crushing bunnies

Thursday was a very cold and snowy day. We tried all we could but when Battletoads started dripping, we headed back to camp and had a huge fire. Friday was mega-send day. Nina did Hooters and nearly repeated Incredible Hulk, both stout V9. Beau Kahler impressively fired off repeats of the above, as well as Team EffortBunny Crushers, and nearly repeated Fiery Furnace, a cool V10 with a dyno at the end. Beau Stuart crushed nearly everything, and went back Saturday to finish off Furnace. For our part, Vikki sent The Crescent, a nice V3/4 that Scott Hall showed us. I managed to do Bunny Crushers pretty quickly, though as a V9 dyno it more or less suits me perfectly. I also did Team Effort, a very fun climb. The rest of the problems in the above list are now officially projects.

Michael O’Rourke was also there, though not climbing as strong as usual. He still managed to put good work into Black Lung, the notorious V13 on the Resident Evil boulder.

Ryan Guerra on The Angler, too cold to warm up!

Other highlights, climbing-wise, include several V7 flashes for me. I think this grade suits me well here. It seems to be the grade given to reachy problems that still have good holds. I guess that above V8 or so you can’t really complain about reachiness…it’s supposed to be hard! Otherwise, we’ve toured around a fair amount and have shopped for projects. So far I think that Ghost King, Beyond Life, Resident Evil, and Trent’s Mom are my big goals.

Vikki’s done pretty well for herself, given that her back is still messed up and that we spent most of the Asana weekend going to hard hard things. She’s very close on many classic climbs, even surprisingly close to a slopey V7 called Spam. She also nearly flashed Gatorade V5, but couldn’t get back to her high point. She’ll crush that eventually. I hope that she manages to do Wills a Fire, which is the second best V6 I’ve ever done (Fort Rossta in California is my all-time fave).

Anyway, more to come soon…Vikki’s working on Thursday and Friday, so we’ll have plenty of writing time!


Scott Hall somehow sticks the second move of Mask of God (V13)

Matt Fultz sticks the opening move of Mask of God (V13)

What post would be complete without a closeup photo of a cute dog? Lira stays warm in the snow.

Myself trying The Incredible Hulk. More like, incredible hat! Am I right??

Nina Williams looking way too calm on the undercling-undercling crux of Incredible Hulk

Drew getting awfully close to Pocket Rocket

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering … Slowness

The long awaited RV Project Episode 9 has finally arrived! It chronicles our mishaps and slip-ups between leaving the Red River Gorge and arriving in Colorado.

After dropping off the trailer in Indiana for repairs, we went to the east coast to watch my little brother Eliot and cousin Alec graduate college. In between it all, we tried to climb but, predictably, it was always either too hot or raining. We made the most of it anyway, meeting friendly locals and sleeping in Bert.

Summer doesn’t make for very good climbing in New England, and we only shot a few decent climbs. We are also novice with the camera, so the amount of quality footage is even more diminished by that fact. We decided to spice it up the only way we could think of: with stop-motion animation and poetic narration.

We’ve got a tripod pointed down, a table propped up, a green screen, and every light in the house.

I wish we had production footage for this film. It would be cool for our previous episodes too, and I think of the boom on top of boulders in Horse Pens, or setting up timelapses on top of the old trailer. But for this, we went through many steps to create, cut out, and manipulate the paper cutouts, then learn how to add them in to the video. We spent hours watching tutorials. Then we laughed ourselves silly while writing the narration. We struggled through the basics of After Effects and Premiere Pro, but after three months we finally finished it, and had fun doing it too.

Taking photos of our little guy

Frankly, you might not like this episode. It’s a total mishmash of hodgepodgery…some animation, some climbing, some rhyming, and a worm shaped like a dildo. We think it’s pretty funny, and at least we can promise that you won’t find another video like it on the internet.

If you follow the blog, you might notice we skipped over the Gunks. Though it was rainy and humid, and we slept in a cold and often wet truck bed, we actually had a pretty good time there. Besides, we didn’t get much footage there, since a DSLR isn’t the camera of choice to bring with you on a trad climb.

Hope you enjoy!

This is a 14 foot crane on top of the Millipede boulder in Horse Pens 40. Sick.

Up The Poudre

Last Tuesday, our good friends Will and Courtney dropped by on their way from the Pacific Northwest to the Red River Gorge. It’s quite a journey, as we can attest, so they took advantage of our proximity to I-80 to snag a shower, some groceries, some friend time, and to get in one last boulder sesh before roping up for the foreseeable future.

Will Wolcott trying hard on the cruxy opening of Gandalf V7. More photos on our Facebook page.

The weather was still early-fall-warm, but due to time constraints we didn’t want to hoof it all the way in to the Park. We decided instead on the long-ish drive up Poudre Canyon and the negligible approaches that the canyon areas provide. In particular, we wanted to check out Gandalf V7, which I’ve been told is one of the best, if not the best boulder problem in the canyon.

The drive is always longer than you think. Leaving Fort Collins and turning onto the windy road doesn’t take long, but then you must settle in for 40-some miles of windy beauty, marred by fire damage (beautiful in its own way). After an hour of twists and turns, you arrive at your parking area. For us, it’s a lovely little picnic pullout.

The last time we tried to check out Gandalf, the water was too high and we bouldered at the 420s instead. This time, the water was very low, making crossing quite easy. Well, Will got his pants a little wet, but no big deal.

Right in front of the river is a boulder with Crimes V9 and Against HumanityV7, both classics. To the right is the warmup boulder, with V1, 2 V4’s, and a sweet V6 up the middle.

Will trying hard on Against Humanity V7

After warming up, we went to go look for Gandalf. A warning to those with the new Front Range Bouldering Guidebook: It says to go right and uphill from Against Humanity. Go Left. Took us a little while to figure it out, but it’s really quite close.

Gandalf is high, real high, and I don’t think it gets done much…there was barely chalk on any of the holds. We tried it, and I think I can understand why…it’s old-school V7. The feet are tiny at the start and the first moves are tenuous and tension-y. Then you launch into the second half, with huge moves, an awkward toss, and a highball topout that’s hard to scope. I was able to get to the semi-jug right before the lip, but was pumped and scared and I backed off. A dollar in the punt jar, and we moved on to Against Humanity.

Courtney dialing in the shorty beta on Against Humanity V7. The tree provides a helpful spot.

I highly recommend this one. Big blocky features lead to a big jump at the top, and there are many ways to do it so shorties can’t complain too much. Will had an epic session on it and did all the moves, but couldn’t quite link it. Courtney nearly did all the moves, and Vikki unfortunately had fallen and bruised her hand earlier in the day, so she ate food.

We had looked at some other stuff in the talus field. Some of the harder problems looked awesome, but we stayed by the river. It appears there is still potential up there, as the book only lists a half-dozen or so problems. This means you can get your fill of terrible landings without hauling all your crap up to Upper Upper Upper Upper Chaos!

We crossed back over the Cache La Poudre river (which means “hiding place for powder”…I assume gunpowder?) and, in fine California fashion, drove to our favorite taqueria for dinner. Then Vikki and I stayed up late and tried to knock out a significant portion of the new video, but, well, there’s still much to do. sigh…

Lastly, a brief update on Vikki’s back: it’s getting better (and to track her progress we’ve started taking a photo a day of her back), but because her muscles that were originally tight are now loose, they are also weaker. She managed to crush the V4 arete on the warm-up boulder second try, but serious training and pulling is a no-go for her until her back is fixed. No word yet on how long until then.

No Pain, No Gain…No, Really.

Again, I’ve made the mistake of ignoring the nagging feeling in the back of my mind, that feeling that something is just not right with my body. The first time was when I ended up getting diagnosed with Celiac Disease. Not sure why I didn’t learn my lesson the first time…

I was in physical therapy before leaving on this road trip for recurring shoulder pain. I made some minimal changes, but overall I didn’t trust my physical therapist. I thought she was full of it. Ok, just partially full of it. She assigned a few back exercises and stretches and sternly told me that I needed to climb less frequently for a while. Whenever I asked for an explanation, she gave me a half-ass response. Whenever I asked a follow-up question, she dismissed me. She was scatterbrained and always in a rush and I didn’t like that about her mode of therapy.

So I only half listened to her. I was so busy with work and leaving my life in SF (renting out my apartment, packing up, etc.) that I barely had time to climb anyway – I was focused on getting out of the Bay Area and on the road. I changed up my daily habits a bit, things that were obvious to me, such as not holding the phone between my shoulder and head while typing and carrying an ergonomic backpack during my daily walks to/form the BART station. My shoulder pain went away without me doing any of the exercises that she has prescribed. 8 months later, I realize that she and I had both missed the big picture. I’ll get back to that a little bit later…

At the end of February, we finally left for the trip. With everything else going on (getting used to being on the road, building up the blog, and trying to shoot/edit video), I was focused on climbing as much as possible and easily ignored the intermittent shoulder pain that had come back. Since it was also summer, we weren’t trying that hard on anything…our main goal was just to stay as cool and dry as possible until we got to Colorado. It’s difficult to motivate when the rock is as greasy as a Big Mac.

It’s easy to forget about shoulder pain when this is your backdrop for climbing.

Fast forward to Colorado. We had been on the road for 4 months when we arrived in Fort Collins. I had definitely seen strength gains, but not as great as I would have liked. I was climbing in the gym a couple times per week (at most) in the Bay Area, now I was climbing ALL THE TIME, in the gym and outside. Still, I wasn’t really sending. And it wasn’t even the non-sending that was bothering me, but the fact that I didn’t feel stronger. I felt like something was holding me back. Maybe it was too much climbing and not enough training?

As I previously mentioned, we currently have a gym a stone’s throw away in Brad’s garage. When we moved in at the beginning of August, we began training on our rest days. I began to actually enjoy training, but my shoulder kept acting up. An action as simple as opening the truck door would set it off and then I was unable to do even a push-up without pain. That, combined with the gut feeling that the hunch in my back and excessive winging in my shoulder blades was not normal, sealed the deal. Something was wrong. I knew it and it was time to stop ignoring it.

Spenser getting some antagonistic training in at Summit Strength Training. Wall Angels, a great exercise featured in The One Workout Every Climber Should Do.

Enter Jeff Giddings of Adams & Giddings Physical Therapy. I was tipped off to his therapeutic ways by a couple long-term climbers – Paul Nadler, who had seen him for  recurring shoulder issue, and then Tim Rose, who went to see him for a lat issue while he was staying with Brad, Spenser, and I in Fort Collins. What instantly attracted me to this particular physical therapist was both Paul and Tim said that Giddings himself was a climber and that he did not prescribe eliminating climbing. SCORE!

Damn…this guy’s a busy! I guess that’s a good sign? Made an appointment. Had to wait 2 weeks, but finally got in! Jeff Giddings is a soft-spoken man, who is not afraid to tell it how it is. He even brought out his spine and shoulder models to teach me about the muscle imbalances happening in my body. I know, what a concept. I could immediately tell from the worry in his eyes that what is going on with me is serious. Thankfully, it’s not too serious yet. No surgery, no MRI, no tear, nothing permanent. Operative word: YET.

My hunching, excessive winging, and shoulder pain are all related. Like many climbers, I have overdeveloped lats. No surprise there. But, for whatever reason, when I began climbing I didn’t use my back muscles (specifically the ones between the shoulder blades) and overused my lats and teres major. Now, these muscles don’t want to let go. Here’s what I learned: the lat (aka latisimus dorsi) actually wraps all the way up the front of your shoulder. My lat has a firm hold on my shoulder and is pulling it forward, causing it to twist. Twisting is bad, unless you’re doing ab exercises. Jeff made is clear that if I didn’t fix the issues, things were going to get worse, fast. I was on the road to surgery.

Here’s a pic of the right lat muscle. This image is the best I could find to show how the lat muscle actually wraps around the front of the shoulder – its insertion point of attachment is on the front side top of the Humerus (upper arm bone), specifically the bicipital groove, which is achieved by its tendons wrapping around the underside of the Humerus.

Here’s the teres major. Again, Jeff’s description of my muscle imbalances make sense. You can see that the teres major connects to the front of the Humerus. If it’s tight (oh man, is it tight), it is going to pull my shoulders down.

Other issues include incredibly weak upper back muscles (those ones I don’t use while climbing) and curving of my thoracic spine (mid-back), but we needed to deal with the tightness first – my lats had to be forced to let go. So, the mobilizing and needling began. That first office visit, Jeff focused on my left side, since that is where the pain occurs. He needled my lat and teres major, those were the main pressure points. I know that he is not full of it because when he found those trigger points, man, did they  hurt – even causing inadvertent twitching of one leg or the other! Pressure points, indeed.

For those of you who are saying, needling…WTF? Needling is short for Trigger Point Dry Needling, or TDN. A very fine acupuncture needle is used to relax, or shut down, painful or knotted areas in your muscles. Most of are walking around with knots, that hard ball that won’t go away, in certain muscles. If you don’t address these knots with massage therapy, they can harden further and be extremely difficult to release. Most of the time, you can still choose to do aggressive massage therapy over needling, needling is just a faster solution. If you have never heard of needling, you either have never needed it or likely live in one of the 4 states that prohibit physical therapists from practicing it…California included.

I was nervous and weirdly excited. Tim had been needled while he was in town because his lat injury forced him to almost give up the climbing during his climbing trip to Colorado. After one session with Jeff, he was back to crushing. Since they use acupuncture needles, they do not hurt entering the skin. Then, the fun begins. As Jeff hit my trigger points, the muscle went crazy in spasm. It’s an incredibly strange feeling, but painful is not a term I would use to describe it. Your legs twitch, your eyes tear up, and then it’s all over in a flash. Deep breaths help.

Get it done where I can. Foam rolling at Chautauqua Park after Peter Mortimer showed us around the bouldering at The Ghetto.

Starting the first week, I was supposed to stretch out on a foam roller twice PER DAY. My exercises included laying on the foam roller length-wise and putting my arms out to the side while holding a 1-pound weight in each hand. Hold for a minute, or until my arms have lost feeling, rest and repeat for 4 reps total (shown in the picture above). Then, still laying lengthwise with the 1-pound weights, I needed to do 10-20 reps of bringing opposite arms up and down and 10 reps of flys, making sure my hands touch the ground each time. Lastly, we needed to start to deal with the curvature in my thoracic spine AKA hunching. This involves laying with the foam roller cross-wise right at the bottom of my scapula (shoulder blades) with my hips on the ground and forcing, yes, forcing, my thoracic spine back for at least minute. To deal with the winging, I needed to do modified plange push-ups (shown below) – 20 reps, 3 sets, 3 times per week. I am currently not allowed to do a full push-up, so my modification for the plange is to start on my knees in a push-up position and then push my chest in towards my spine and hunch my back, as shown below, then come back down to the start of a push-up for each rep.

What you should look like at the top of a plange push-up. I am doing a modified plange push-up on my knees for the moment, but the main goal is the same. This pic is taken from the awesome article that everyone should read: The One Workout Every Climber Should Do by Steve Edwards.

I took my tasks seriously and did the exercises religiously. When I came in for my next appointment, Jeff was psyched at the improvement. This, in turn, made me psyched. Now my right side was more tight than my left…funny that. Apparently, both sides were almost equally imbalanced. According to Jeff, it was pretty much a crap-shoot for which shoulder started experiencing pain first. Alright, more mobilization of the shoulder cap and more needling. This time, more extensive needling on both sides, including both my lats, teres major, muscles over each scapula and upper traps. I could barely drive home I was so sore. The soreness was rough for the rest of the day, but felt much better by the evening and even better the next morning.

Since I was succeeding in stretching myself out in the right direction, it was time to add a few back strengthening exercises to balance out my over-developed lats. Ys, Ts, and Ws (you can see an example of how to do each of these in this cheesy 2008 video). Back extensions on an exercise ball and seated rows with a green Theraband (videos of how to do them here and here, respectively). 3 sets of 10 reps for each of these. Do these as much as possible, basically any day that I am not climbing outside, in addition to the foam roller exercises I still need do to twice per day.

The plange Y exercise as shown as from the same article, The One Workout Every Climber Should Do. The DPM article also has a link to a video showing each exercise, check it out! This exercise can be done laying down on the floor (with a towel roll under your head), on a bench, or the stability ball. The choice is yours!

I will say, there is one sucky side effect…I felt weaker than ever climbing. Jeff explanation made sense: my previously tight back muscles were now becoming more slack, which means that they had less power. Hopefully in a few weeks they will adjust and, in theory, I’ll be climbing harder than ever. AND using the correct muscles to climb. What a concept!

Last Tuesday, I went back to see Jeff again. More improvement, more needling and we added one more exercise. The rotator cuff muscles need to become stronger in order to help pull my shoulders back, so I am now doing side lying rotator cuff external rotations with a 2-pound weight (I also place a towel roll under the working arm). 2 sets of 10-15 reps on each side. I was so much less sore from the needling therapy this time, I was even able to do my back exercises that evening!

I won’t see Jeff for another 2 weeks, now it’s up to me to take my exercises seriously. We’ve also extended our stay in Colorado…again. It’s hard to leave and it also doesn’t make sense to leave until we’re ready. My back/shoulders are not ready yet, so it looks like we’re staying around Fort Collins until the middle of October. Spenser just came home with the Joe’s Valley Bouldering guidebook, we’ll be happily making our tick-lists and finishing the lastest RV Project episode in the meantime.

Anyone else out there having shoulder or back issues from climbing? Anyone else as imbalanced as I am? I would love to hear what other people have done to rid themselves of any sort of chronic pain. Misery loves company. 🙂

I am actually a little giddy to see Jeff in 2 weeks. I’m incredibly thankful to have finally found someone who is knowledgable and not scared to explain why each exercise is important. I know I’ll be keeping up with my exercises, no matter how mind-numbingly mundane they are. Remembering to keep things in perspective and look at the big picture: I understand this is a long-term therapy and I also understand that I have to do this if I want to be climbing long-term. I want to stay as far away from surgery as possible and right now, I’m too close for comfort. Jeff and I are looking to have me “crushing” (words from his own mouth) by the time The RV Project pulls into The Pit for another Bishop Thanksgiving. I cannot be more excited.

Long drives, no matter how beautiful, can take a toll on your back. I know sitting in the truck for hours on end hasn’t helped the hunch…

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