The RV Project

"There Are No Wrong Roads to Anywhere"

Archive for the category “The Interior”

The Fuzz and the Pomodoro Technique

WTF is “The Fuzz”? I’ll have anatomy whiz Gil Hedley explain… (hint: it has nothing to do with law enforcement)

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The Power of The ‘Book

Marissa Land leading an impromptu yoga class after the showers stopped.

Marissa Land leading an impromptu yoga class after the showers stopped.

The clouds have parted and a heatwave has now hit Squamish. But, hey, we’ll take that over the rain.

We’ve lost a lot of good folks the past week due to the sub-optimal weather conditions and it simply being the “time to go.” There’s a small contingent of us left, but the season for tent villages in the Chief campground is over. I think most of us have stopped checking the weather report- we now understand we are living in a temperate rainforest and the rain gods will do what they please, without warning and for-better-or-worse.

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Tow Truck Confidential

Damn, it feels good to be back. On the road, that is.

I haven’t written in a while, mostly because I’ve been doing my best to keep busy since we arrived back to the Bay Area. If I am doing other stuff, I don’t think about climbing. If I don’t think about climbing, I don’t get sad. Good plan. Right?

Meh, it was an okay plan, but it’s the best one I could think of under a looming depression. Well, that sounded depressing. Let’s go with hovering depression. More hovering than looming. Anyway…

I show no perceptible signs of injury (albeit a slightly swollen left middle finger). I am also not hindered or unable to do anything else except for climb. The single thing I’ve obsessed over and devoted the majority of my time to this past year. I guess I should mention that I also can’t give people the middle finger with my left hand, but that bothers me slightly less. 😉

Not climbing naturally creates an emptiness that I’ve been desperately trying to fill.

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Full Circle

My parents came to see us in Santa Barbara. Not sure what's going on with my leg in the photo, but a rare shot of all of us together nonetheless.

My parents came to meet us in Santa Barbara. Not sure what’s going on with my leg in the photo, but a rare shot of all of us together nonetheless. Above Lizard’s Mouth.

We are back in Santa Barbara (actually, we’re back in Berkeley now, but I began this post in sunny Santa Barbara).

We woke up early enough to catch sunrise in Zion National Park before charging through Arizona and Nevada. California, especially Santa Barbara, was a sight for sore eyes. The cool breeze tinged with sea salt wafted through our rolled down windows. We were definitely ready to be back, which is always refreshing on a road trip. Often you leave a place before you feel ready and that’s always a bit unsettling. It felt really good and really right to be back.

After 1 year, 2 months, and 17 days, our road trip had come full circle- our first stop when hitting the road last year was Santa Barbara.

Catching the sunrise over Kolob Canyon at Zion National Park before heading back to Cali.

Catching the sunrise over Kolob Canyons at Zion National Park before starting our drive to California [photos are going back in time through our last week].

The cacti were blooming on our hike to Angel's Landing at Zion.

The cacti were blooming on our hike to Angel’s Landing at Zion.

The view from the top of Angel's Landing. A great place to relax.

The view from the top of Angel’s Landing. A magical reward after the hike up.

The last push before getting to the top of Angel's Landing.

The last push before getting to the top of Angel’s Landing.

Ostrich farm we drove by when entering Zion National Park.

Ostrich farm we drove by when entering Zion National Park. If only their brains were as big as their eyes…

A view of Fisher Towers from the end of the hike.

A view of Fisher Towers in Moab from the end of the my hike- Spenser went on a bike ride this day.

When the trail ends, do you keep going? This trail really ended...wish I could say I went further!

When the trail ends, do you keep going? This trail really ended…wish I could say I went further!

If you look really close, you can see a couple climbing (belayer is in a blue shirt). Fisher Towers were huge!!

If you look really close, you can see a couple climbing (hint: belayer is in a blue shirt). The mud towers are unbelievably huge!! Not sure if I ever want to climb there, though…

Driving home after a day exploring Canyonlands National Park.

Driving home after a day exploring Canyonlands National Park.

Canyonlands.

Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park. Gorgeous, even though we were wiped from sprinting to the Delicate Arch the day before.

Canyonlands, another view.

Island in the Sky, Canyonlands National Park.

The best shot I've gotten on my camera phone yet! Delicate Arch at sunset. Arches National Park.

The best shot I’ve gotten on my camera phone yet! Delicate Arch at sunset. Arches National Park. Completely worth sprinting up there to catch the sunset.

The magical sunset.

The brilliant sunset.

I was incredibly happy that Spenser agreed to go back to Arches and Canyonlands. It was definitely a bit out of our way from Joe’s Valley to Santa Barbara, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity! I can assume that I will be by these places again later in life, but what if I’m not. Better to not assume, I think. 🙂

Over a year ago when we started this road trip, we had different goals. I think a year ago, we would have argued to pass up these sights just to get to the next climbing destination. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when our road trip mentality changed, but it was likely when both Spenser and I began to ride a getting-hurt see-saw. When you get hurt on the road, either you start to look long term, or you head home.

We started getting hurt, so we finally stopped to smell the roses- mostly to make ourselves feel better. But, it really turned out to be the best medicine. The road trip could not longer be solely about climbing if our spirits were going to stay high.

So what’s the road trip about now?

Amanda Palmer really helped me come up with the answer to this…

Spenser and I spend a lot of time together- you end up running out of conversation. Also, the long open road is more conducive to sleep rather than chatter. To cure the doldrums, we love listening to Podcasts when driving. As we were passing through Nevada, we starting listening to Giving it Away, part of the NPR Ted Talk Radio Hour. The whole hour is a great listen, but Miss Palmer really stood out.

We saw Amanda Palmer perform live at The Crucible Fire Arts Festival in 2009. She was a bad-ass chick with a great voice and interesting sound, but that’s about where the impression ended. Her Ted Talk was something else. Watch:

Amanda’s talk reinforced what was our road was about for me: making connections. What Spenser and I remember is the connections we make with the blokes we meet along the way. We have (surprisingly) recently only realized that this is what our road trip is about.

As Spenser explained in his last post, the greatest challenge of being on the road for us is that we now find ourselves without a home, in the conventional sense. Our home becomes the old friends we visit and the new friends we make along the way. Each person we make a connection with becomes encompassed in our definition of home. We create a home and a family from these people in each place that we visit.

Without these people there would be no family, no home. So, on to Amanda’s other huge point – helping each other. Why are we (people, in general) so ashamed of “hand outs”? We are terrified to ask for something for fear of being rejected, or worse, owing someone something. We have been trained to be independent. Amanda pointed out that people like helping- remember the fuzzy feeling you get when you receive a smile as a thanks for something as simple as holding the door open for a stranger?

I hate asking someone for help. It’s a feeling that I need to overcome, realizing that every family we make along the way wants to help (and be helped). It’s time to follow in Amanda’s footsteps and “ask without shame” and also give without regret. When Amanda’s band’s record sold “only” 25,000 copies, she was dropped from the label. Instead of being distraught, she asked her fans to help pay for the records and it was an immense crowdfunding success. Now that is bad-ass.

How Tao of her…

Now to leave you with a few quote to live by from The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff.

“Things just happen in the right way, at the right time. At least when you let them, when you work with circumstances instead of saying, ‘This isn’t supposed to be happening this way,’ and trying harder to make it happen some other way.”

“You’d be surprised how many people violate this simple principle every day of their lives and try to fit square pegs into round holes, ignoring the clear reality that Things Are As They Are.”

In the next post, Spenser is going to talk about what is what like being back in SB for him and some of the new climbing development going on… Including new routes put up by THIS guy:

Running into Andy and Dale on the street was a nice surprise! I definitely understand why they're not leaving Santa Barbara...probably, ever (the place is paradise, but keep that between you & me). ;)

Running into Andy Patterson and Dale on the street was a nice surprise! I definitely understand why they’re not leaving Santa Barbara…probably, ever (the place is paradise, but keep that between you & me). 😉

Recovery Road is a Long One

Until our last day of climbing in Red Rocks, Las Vegas, I hadn’t bouldered since December 21st. That was the day I somehow fell from the pinch on Saigon Direct, missed the pads, and cracked my heel in two. I wanted to use the forced rest period to address another injury of mine, that being chronic tendonitis of the right elbow, or medial epicondylosis if you’re inclined to use specific terms. Nearly 4 months and hours and hours of physical therapy later and I cannot say that it’s gone. I can say, however, that my condition has improved, and I am now back to trying hard.

Except for a couple of days of sport climbing, I didn’t climb in Bishop after the foot injury. Three months later, As a reintegration to movement, Evan Ludmer and I did a little bit of trad climbing in Vegas, ticking the incredible classics Epinephrine and Sour Mash. At this point, my elbow wasn’t really hurting, but still made the crepitus-like noise that it has been making all year. I figured that keeping the climbing to a vertical 5.9/5.10 level would be okay, and it was. I decided to try some easy bouldering.

Evan and I on the top of Sour Mash, and amazing 5.10 route in Black Velvet Canyon

Evan and I on the top of Sour Mash, and amazing 5.10 route in Black Velvet Canyon

For the purposes of this blog post, I’m using grades to discuss relative strength within one person (me). It is not my intention to use grades as ego markers. They are brought up here only to illustrate a point, and in our idiosyncratic sport, grades are the best approximation we have for a standard rubric.

For the first couple of days back on the little rocks, I set my expectations low. V5 was the limit, but I found myself having trouble with V3’s and V2’s, particularly when smaller holds were involved. Day two of bouldering saw myself at the Monkey Bar boulder, perhaps the most traveled little boulder in all the land of Nevada. I had spent so many days watching people climbing on the numerous classic steep climbs that it was hard to resist trying myself. Suddenly, there I was underneath the starting jugs of Monkey Bars (V2). I began to literally monkey around. The sensation was incredible.

Still, I had a long way to go. That day saw failures on Hyperglide (V4/5) and The Pearl (V5). At my peak, I’d flash them both, but I couldn’t even move past the second hold on The Pearl…in fact I barely latched it in the first place. My elbow felt fine, but my finger strength was not up to the task. Not even close.

No worries, I thought. Joe’s Valley, with its friendly holds, “my style” climbing, and soft grades would surely be the springboard. On our first day of bouldering, I went with Will up the Left Fork to Vikki’s project from last season, Big Cheesy (V5). I remember this one being easy-looking when I filmed her. We both managed to do it first try, but I felt, well, weak. The next day, Poseidon (V8) managed to thwart us both. A move that normally would feel easy – a big sloper slap off a gigantic jug – felt very hard, and I stuck it only once. Then, neither of us could do Frosted Flakes (V5), though I know from previous experience that this is a very hard problem for the grade.

I think this is the top of Sour Mash, a fabulous 5.10 route in Black Velvet Canyon.

Climbing things you know neither name or grade of is a great way to keep climbing loose and fun.

A bit later, we met some new friends at the Food Ranch, Katie and Niko of The Morning Fresh. Niko had just done Resident Evil as his first V10, though immediately one could tell that he’s got a lot more double digit rigs in his future. After managing a quick ascent of Bring the Heatwole (V7), we went to Eden and G2-07, awesome problems that go at V10 and V7 respectively. I knew Eden would shut me down, not only as it was much harder than anything I’d climbed in so long, but because the crux revolves around a small, slopey crimp, which is my exact weakness. I didn’t expect G2-07 to be quite so tough though, and though I managed all the moves, linking felt damn-near-impossible.

Still, I was having fun. And I am, even if the numbers don’t show it. When I was at my peak, I could walk up to most Joe’s Valley V7s and give a good flash burn. I did a few V11’s, some V10’s, and many, many climbs in the lower grades. Now I am struggling to do V7 and V8. The other day I got my ass handed to me by a couple of V6’s.

I’m not frustrated. No matter what, it’s climbing, and even if the climb itself is a no-star breaky turdpile, it can still be fun. Furthermore, I want to emphasize that I don’t really care when I get to XX grade. The biggest reason I want to climb harder things is that cooler climbs tend to be harder. Or maybe I should say: I want to climb everything, and the only way to do that is to get strong enough.

And I almost forgot the silver lining!

The best part of recovery is that one improves very quickly. Remember that, two weeks ago, I was unable to do The Pearl…nay, I was unable to even conceive of doing The Pearl! Now I know I could. Strength returns fairly quickly. Also, given that all expectations are thrown out because I frankly have no idea how hard anything is anymore, I have the chance of surprising myself by doing a move that I didn’t think my out-of-shape self could pull off, or better yet, doing climbs I think are too hard.

Basically, I get to throw out all my old expectations, particularly those revolving around grades. Seriously, not many people get this opportunity.

At the same time, though, I am somewhat concerned. I am old. Earlier this trip, I turned 28. I am no longer a dirtbagging college kid whose spare time went to climbing and whose spare money went to gas, bagels and the $2 per night camping fee. I can no longer eat terribly and feel no ill effects. I can no longer drink hard, sleep little, and still climb hard(ish) in the morning. And when I get hurt, I can no longer think of it as something that will, with just a little bit of time, fix itself. Now, there is no guarantee that I will return stronger than before. Is this a bad thing? Sure, if all I cared about was sending V2^4. But few are the little boys whose dreams of greatness aren’t eventually crushed, and by now I have no illusions of being the world’s best in the little world of climbing (especially after watching Daniel Woods not climb Lucid Dreaming). Instead, I have dreams of once again feeling strong and confident in the moves that I can do, and of climbing as many new, interesting, and beautiful climbs as possible.

And who knows. If I take care of this issue now and start training hard, I just might see myself at the top of some lifetime projects. The Shield: I’m looking at you.

Blogpost Challenge: Go Outside

As soon as I walked into the Food Ranch this morning, I realized I had made a mistake. Since popping a pulley, I’m keeping my hands off the boulders for the next couple weeks. I tagged along yesterday and snapped some photos while the gang went bouldering, so I thought I would go do some work on the computer today.

Now, I’m alone upstairs at the Food Ranch and it’s really depressing. I should be outside. Why am I not outside? I made that mistake again. When given the choice between hanging indoors versus outdoors for the day, I chose indoors.

Oof, what a fool.

So today, I challenge everyone to learn from my mistake. If you have the chance to be outside, take it. If you don’t think you have the time, make it!! I’ll leave you with the lovely musings of John Pels from Timothy  McSweeney’s Internet Tendency (click on the link to be able to read it a bit easier on the site).

McSweeney’s Internet Tendency: Communing with Nature!

Spenser just called and is coming to save me from my Food Ranch prison! Yes, going outside! …Might tweet about it 😉

Elbow Tendinitis- Searching for the Magic Bullet

Elbow tendinitis. Like I said, it totally wasn’t worth it. Sitting around Bishop and not climbing on some of my favorite boulders in the country is lame, but if there’s a silver lining to this whole elbow thing, it’s the fact that I’ve learned quite a bit about what to do if the demon gets you. The last post (linked above) admonishes those who might be tempted to ignore the pain and/or live with it. This one sums up what I’ve learned so far.

Jen does some massage on the affected forearm.

Jen does some massage on the affected forearm.

I should mention that I got in this mess by ignoring about 2 years’ worth of elbow inflammation. If you are just getting started with your “itis,” you’re in luck. A little bit of care will see you through. But if you’re a chronic patient like myself, you might need to throw the whole kit at the problem.

Strength gains happen much, much faster in muscle than in connective tissue, so idea behind most of the following advice is to isolate tendons, relax muscles when they aren’t being used, and increasing vascularity in the joints.

As a disclaimer, I’m NOT a doctor and you should probably seek real medical treatment. The purpose of this article is to show you what happens when your injuries get the best of you, and what might be done about it. Also, if anyone reading this has any expertise, please leave a comment.

If you’re getting the first signs of medial epicondylitis

You’ll probably want to read this article by Dr. Julian Saunders. It’s the best one I’ve seen on the topic, and he also injects Aussie wit into the prose. (clicking the link will download a PDF) (Thanks Michal!)

The biggest single thing is rest. I can’t stress this enough. Listen to your body. It needs rest. Avoid things that hurt it. Mix in some days of easy sport climbing or something; don’t just boulder hard all the time. REST!

I would emphasize stretching everything above and below the elbow joint. Triceps, biceps, and all sides of the forearm. The theory here is that tense muscles lead to knots and trigger points, and they just sort of constantly pull and tug at things. After a while, this pisses off your connective tissues. Also pay attention to the Brachioradialis stretch in the above-linked article. If you can do your best to relax, or “neutralize” everything above and below the affected joint, you’ll be helping yourself a lot.

Another great way to neutralize your arms is with massage. My friend Mike Papciak is a very skilled bodyworker, helping to get people such as Ethan Pringle back on track. He strongly recommends using a lacrosse ball, and pinning it between your arm and a wall, then just leaning into it with body weight to really dig into the pressure points. Put the ball behind your back to target the flexors. Or get your guy/gal gym crush to help iron out your sexy beefcake arms. Explain that it’s for your health, and all should be fine.

It should go without saying, but since climbing is all pulling, it will lead to muscle imbalance if you do not incorporate antagonistic muscle work. Pushups. Shoulder stabilization. And for our purposes, forearm extensors. For this, I’d recommend the rice bucket, which you can make yourself for $10 or so. Fill a 5-gallon bucket halfway to the top with some rice, and then do this.

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It Wasn’t Worth It

Good news: my broken heel is no longer broken. I’ve been walking now for about three weeks, hiking and biking for two, and I ought to be back to powerful lowballs and sport climbing now. I should have cranked out a storm of vengeful conquest on Saigon Direct.

But I can’t. I have another injury, and it’s my fault.

This is what I deserve.

This is what I deserve.

This whole road trip has been a façade for me, a thin patina of improvement protecting a fragile, rotten, slowly deteriorating core. Even before the trip, I maintained an uneasy truce with that infamous and ubiquitous demon from the first circle of climbing hell, medial epicondoylitis (or climber’s elbow or golfer’s elbow or “why does it hurt when I do deep lockoffs?”). I paid lip service to antagonistic exercises, to an icing ritual, to stretching, to rest, but it never got so bad that I couldn’t just climb through it, try a little harder, and feel hardcore for wearing my throbbing badge of overtraining like so much finger tape.

I come to you now bearing the gift of wisdom hindsight. Had I dealt with my tendinitis aggressively long ago, or maybe just not tried to climb at my limit 3-5 days a week, I would likely not be in the situation I am in now. With the first niggles following a few too many lockoffs, I should have banished the demon once and for all. I should have developed the good habit of doing those boring exercises in the last 10 minutes of the session, rather than using that time to dyno and bullshit with my friends. But I didn’t, and then we went bouldering across the USA for a year.

We tried hard to adhere to a day on/day off rest cycle, but frankly, it’s very hard to rest when you’re so psyched to get to a new playground; you’ve been reading the guidebook for the last week; the weather’s perfect and might change. And after trashing ourselves, it’s hard to get back to camp and cook and clean and try to stay warm, and still have energy left for stretches and eccentric loading exercises.

Over the course of the past 12 months, a distinctively crunchy noise has developed in my right elbow, and it’s not pretty. It sounds a bit like  I would imagine a rock tumbler to sound. It’s crepitus, the term also given to the noise that broken bones make when they rub their fragments against each other. Pleasant, no?

Still, there was little pain, and I was managing to climb harder and harder things. I thought, “maybe it’s just part of my anatomy now, and it’s fine to keep trying hard.” I pitted this pittance of wishful thinking against the constant fact that my right arm was sore, weaker than my left despite my right-handedness, and perpetually tight.

I was forced to take the rest I needed when I broke my heel, and I thought that 6 weeks of inactivity would help. It didn’t. I went to see Dr. Karch, the orthopedist who has put many of my friends back together after their various gravity-induced injuries. I explained that I had a demon that I wanted to banish. The nature of the beast is first-world: it only prevented me from recreationally grabbing small geological irregularities and pulling them to my chest, but it didn’t prevent me from typing or cleaning the dishes or picking up the child I don’t have and bouncing him on my knee. My injury does not prevent me from living, only from schralping the glacial erratic gnar.

In other words, this is the problem of the spoiled person. I get that. And if you’re smart, you’ll take my advice and make sure this doesn’t become a problem for you.

I am now in the health purgatory known as physical therapy, sort of a halfway house for unfortunate and/or hubristic athletes, as well as predictably injured people in repetitive motion situations. My therapist is Jen. She scrapes my tendons, which also makes a gross noise, in order to break up scar tissue. She uses ultra-sound. She gives me homework, like 30-second stretches 4 times per day and eccentric dumbbell exercises which are tremendously boring and feel useless. I don’t hold any of it against her. I need this.

For once I am trusting the process, I am being diligent, and I am going to vanquish my foe. And I’m here, now, in this crappy non-climbing non-training non-grabbing-things-with-my-right-hand situation to tell you that it wasn’t worth it. Do I remember those tired burns at the end of the session that I did instead of calling it a day and stretching and cooling down properly? Hell no. And I don’t feel cool for being able to say that I tried so hard that I very slowly injured myself over the course of 24 months. But I will always remember the start of 2013, the year that began on crutches and transitioned into elbow convalescence. And I will always remember that putting all the micro-trauma and chronic soreness on the body’s credit card is not worth the interest.

In the next post, I’ll detail all the things I do (which, if you don’t already, you might consider doing yourself). As a preview: PT takes me about an hour each day. The good part is that all exercises can be performed with whiskey in hand.

Highballing Success and Failure

The day after the Luminance session, I was standing underneath Grandpa Peabody with a sea of people. Josh, Mark, Max and Steve were all looking into topping out Evilution, myself and a few others were trying to get to the lip, and several people were watching. Elliot, who was with us at Luminance, had been top-roping the old-school Dale Bard solo Transporter Room (5.12ish). Shortly before the sun went down, he stepped up and calmly waltzed up the climb.

There is a nice crimp rail at about 20 feet that Elliot got to and stood on, hands-free. Then a couple of dicey slab moves followed. We, the spotters, were somewhat nervous, of course, but he was solid enough to make the entire climb seem almost trivial, as though going through the moves were pure formality. It was inspiring.

A few days later, I read confirmation in Wills’ blog that Elliot had succeeded in putting up a new line to the left of Transporter Room, called The Elevator. Elliot told me he was working on yet another new line. I asked if he wanted to get video of his send, and he eagerly agreed to letting me film him.

On Friday, December 21st, I jugged up a line and filmed Elliot as he cleaned the holds and worked the moves on toprope. The crux comes at about 20 feet or so, involving some tiny holds and hard-to-see feet that are needed to pull around the bulge and onto a scooped slab. He fell many times attempting the crux, but it was his last day before heading back to Santa Cruz. As the sun set behind Mt. Humphries, he stacked pads on the bush underneath the fall zone and pulled into the double kneebar that starts the route.

Elliot made it through the easy opening sequence without incident, then launched into the crux involving a long pull-thru on a small right hand crimp to a bad sloping left-handed edge, a tiny little nipple for the right hand, and dicey high-steps on hidden footholds. The crowd held its breath, and as Elliot hesitated, someone said “you got it, man.” His foot slipped a little. He was 20 feet off the deck in freezing cold conditions.

He reset his foot and stepped determinedly into the scoop that marks the end of the hard climbing, letting out a a few words of relief mixed with triumph. ZAP was thusly born. (Soon we’ll have a video featuring the new route) Elliot later said that hearing the one reassuring comment from the ground was a big help.

Elliot enters the crux of ZAP, over a sea of pads hovering above some bushes.

Elliot enters the crux of ZAP, over a sea of pads hovering above some bushes.

Elliot cruises up the finishing slab of ZAP, as the sun sets.

Elliot cruises up the finishing slab of ZAP, as the sun sets.

The next day was a cold one in the Buttermilks, but having watched plenty of hard climbing and having rested for two days, I was ready to try some things. Vikki and I warmed up at the Shrimp boulder, where we met a Frenchman named Jeff. He was obviously pretty strong, and the day was looking good. After a good warmup including a repeat of Saigon, I convinced him to spot me on Saigon Direct.

Saigon Direct is an obvious highballer’s testpiece, with big moves between pretty good holds high up in the air. The boulder’s prow is tall and proud, with an incredibly enticing pinch-brick sticking out at around 16 feet or so. The landing is flat, but the fall-zone is quite large given the height and unpredictability of the fall.

On my first try, I got set up for the big move up to the pinch, but backed down since I’d messed around far too long on the relatively easy opening sequence. I rested, then pulled on and got to the big brick. It felt good. I chalked my left hand and brought it in to match, anticipating the foot-shuffle and the final crux, a big right-hand move around the corner.

At that moment, both my feet came off as though someone hit a switch: at the same instant, and totally unexpectedly. I had time to say “Oh Shit!” and spot my landing as I swung out from the wall. At the apex of my swing, I either dropped off or slipped off (I’m not sure), and fell.

Jeff had just moved the three pads away from where I landed, and my feet hit the ground with a loud crunch. My knees buckled, and I rolled onto my back.

There’s a moment when someone takes a fall where those watching tense up, the spotters panic, and the climber assesses his injuries. Even a small fall occasions this group reaction, and for good reason: ankles have been broken from 2 foot falls. In my case, I immediately knew my heels were bruised. Imagine standing on a basketball hoop and jumping to the ground, in tight-fitting climbing shoes.

I wanted to immediately reassure everyone. It’s a weird moment. All eyes are on you, and the last thing you want to do is make everyone panic. I said I was fine, my heels were probably pretty bruised, but I’d be fine in a few minutes. I limped over to the pads to rest, and to let my heart stop fluttering.

Five minutes later, my heels still hurt. More distressing was the fact that trying to put weight on my left foot, even five or ten pounds, was impossible. It felt like my tendons were pulling directly on the bruise and making it worse. After about fifteen minutes of denial, I came to the realization that I would not be climbing the rest of the day. Vikki packed up our stuff, and I put an empty crashpad on my back and hopped on my right foot back to the car. We spent the remainder of the day at a friend’s house, icing my foot and shooting the breeze.

I woke up the next morning in pain. My heel throbbed and no amount of squirming or elevating would help it. Ibuprofen took the edge off, and we went into town so that Vikki could work a shift from the new Black Sheep. It was apparent that my injury was a little bit more serious that I’d hoped, and we went to the ER. X-rays were inconclusive, but a CT scan clearly revealed a broken calcaneus.

Getting X-rays on the foot.

Getting X-rays on the foot.

The nurses were wonderful and the doctor was quite friendly. There was even a climber named Ryan working there, whom we’d met at the Zoo recently. Mammoth and Bishop are accustomed to these types of injuries, so I knew I was in good hands. I was sent on my way with a splint on my lower leg and a prescription for Tramadol, which I didn’t even need.


A few days later, I saw Dr. Robinson, a climber, skier, and orthopedic surgeon. He told me that no knife would be required, and that I’d be able to bear weight in a few weeks’ time. It might be a year before I’m totally 100%, but that I could climb on a rope that day if I wanted…just no impact on the foot. He also gave me a removable Aircast, which is much more compact that the splint I had and which allows me to shower properly. Most importantly, he wrote me a note to take to the DMV, which provided me with a handicapped parking permit.

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The come-up: Parking immunity and a pumped up kick

So of course this is a bummer. I can’t walk. I can’t carry anything. I can’t climb. I feel totally useless, as Vikki is forced to take up the slack. Besides that, Bishop has so many projects that I am close to completing, but I’ll lose the best part of the season and much of my strength as I recover. The good news, I suppose, is that I’ll be forced to properly rest my right elbow, which is still giving me a lot of trouble. Perhaps this is a blessing in disguise?

Feeling down and freezing our asses off, Steve, Angie, Max, and the two of us loaded up Bert and drove down to Vegas for warmer temps, a change of scenery, and to hang out with the plentitudes of other climbing friends who are also in Sin City for the holidays. Yesterday I got the pleasure of crutching around the Kraft boulders and back into Gateway Canyon, a couple miles’ worth of tough terrain. Today I sit in a friend’s apartment taking a rest, letting the chafing in my armpits subside. Tonight, we party down for the New Year. Tomorrow, 2013 begins. I’m not sure what it’ll bring, but I do know I’ll have more time for video editing!

Are Piercings Worth the Price?

As Spenser said in the last post, we have arrived to sandstone heaven. I could not be happier. Colorado has beautiful stone and a multitude of great climbs, but Joe’s Valley is just easy. Especially after a summer consisting of driving an hour and a half, hiking another hour a half, climbing, hiking over talus for a half hour, climbing, and repeating. Free camping, boulders everywhere, and a town with everything you need just a short ride away. It’s been effortless getting used to life at Joe’s.

But I’m getting carried away. The point of this post is to talk about piercings! Let’s go back to where my curiosity with this began. Towards the end of our first climbing day at Left Fork, we met Mina Leslie-Wujastyk and David Mason. Mina and I started talking about physical therapy and the recurrent shoulder/neck injury she used to struggle with.

Spenser working the moves to They Call Him Jordan. This starts and finishes on one of my big projects at Joe’s Valley: Wills a Fire.

Mina’s shoulder would act up, especially during training, much like my injury (similar neck pain with numbness down the arm). She went to a chiropractor in Britain that was more on the alternative side of things and he told her that her piercings could be hindering her recovery. Piercings? Really?

Her chiropractor explained that because of the repetitive stress on her body from traveling, climbing hard, training, and so on, her immune system was already working overtime. To add the piercings on top of all that was possibly the straw that broke the camel’s back, in a way. Since her immune system was constantly working to fight foreign bodies (her piercings), it was unable to properly heal her shoulder.

They followed up this discussion with proprioceptive muscle strength tests – measuring how strong her arms were at opposing force with or without the specific piercings. Apparently, the difference was striking – especially for the tongue ring (Mina said she had a tongue, nose, and earlobe piercings at the time) initially. Then, after a relapse, it looked as if her nose stud was also a problem. One by one, all the piercings were gone. Since then (around the beginning of February), she was finally able to take her training to the next level and the rest is girl crushing history – I’m sure many of you have seen Mina’s recent sends of Tetris and Mecca.

Tetris V12 in Wild Basin, RMNP. from mina leslie-wujastyk on Vimeo.

So I know this is all sounds like “airy-fairy stuff,” as Mina’s boyfriend, David, likes to say. But can there be some truth to it? I decided to get on the laptop at the good ol’ Food Ranch and do a bit of my own research.

I did a bit of online scouring prior to getting my tongue pierced. At that time, my research led me to the conclusion that the worst I could really end up with was a chipped tooth or lisp. I was willing to take those chances. As most of you already know, the exact words that you Google make a huge difference.  When I started researching piercings and the effect they can have on the immune system, I was given a completely different world of information.

What Mina’s chiropractor was saying apparently makes complete sense. Piercings stress out your body and cause increased cortisol (the stress hormone) production. Pumping out cortisol is your body’s natural reaction to a threat, but sadly our body’s flight-or-fight response can’t differentiate between a real threat (a bear attack) versus a perceived threat (a really bad day at work or a piercing). Too much cortisol in the body is linked to weight gain, depression, and high blood pressure. Sure, I’m not worried about weight gain, depression, or high blood pressure necessarily, but continuously elevated cortisol levels inhibits the immune system while also leading to an overall cortisol depletion in your body. Low levels of cortisol can lead to low energy. A lowered immune system AND low energy?! Now this is very bad for climbing. Especially for a climbing road trip. This just skims the surface of what elevated cortisol levels do to your body, for more check out the Wikipedia page on it.

I then did a little more digging into tongue and navel piercings specifically, since those are the two that I am attached to, or that are attached to me, I guess. This is where we get into the more “airy-fairy stuff.” In acupuncture and related practices, such as acupressure, the tongue and navel are high-energy zones and metals (body piercings) are supposed to be avoided because they impede energy flow. What acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine refer to as “energy balance” can be related to the balance of our body’s endocrine system, for those of us who do not like to use words like “energy” and “flow.”

Acupuncture regulates our body’s Qi (pronounced chi) by improving energy flow through 14 meridians, channels that carry the Qi to various organs to keep our energy fields in balance. Before many of you start to dismiss this altogether, let me remind you that acupuncture is now recognized by NIH, the World Health Organization, and most medical doctors as an effective health therapy for certain medical issues.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the belly button is located in the middle of a primary energy line, the Conception Vessel Meridian. This is a forbidden acupuncture point known as CV8 and, in theory, can lead to core energy burn-out and cause fertility issues in women. While the tongue is divided into 5 parts: stomach, lungs, heart, gallbladder, and liver. The middle of the tongue (what is traditionally pierced) involves the spleen and stomach points, related to chronic digestion problems. Of course, we’re getting into theories at this point, but I found this all quite interesting. Anyone with piercings experience these types of issues?

The parts of the tongue according to Traditional Chinese Medicine.

I’m still figuring out what to make of all this. So far, my conclusion is the same as it has been for a while: every part of our body is connected, a disturbance in one part will inevitably effect the rest of the body in one form or another. I think the point that resonated most with me after all my reading was that a piercing will undoubtedly cause extra stress on the body. This, in addition with other common stressors, such as training, not getting enough sleep, and improper diet, will add up and the piercing could make the difference between your body healing properly versus the issue becoming chronic.

This clicked with me. I have an overactive immune system and continuing digestive problems due to Celiac Disease. Anything that could be getting in the way of me having an awesome climbing day and enjoying every day of this road trip needs to go. I took out my tongue and belly button piercings a few days ago. I figure it’ll be a fun little experiment (of course there are too many other variables, but a test nonetheless).  I have grown quite attached to my piercings (I’ve had my belly button ring for 10 years now), especially the reaction my tongue ring gets from certain people, but I don’t need it.

A quick update, it’s been about a week since my tongue ring and a few days since I took out my belly button ring. My shoulder has really been doing well in spite of the heavy climbing load. I’ve even been sleeping on my left side (which I have not been able to do comfortably for months). This is also great since I’ve haven’t been able to do my physical therapy exercises consistently at Joe’s. Nevertheless, no shoulder pain. I know this does not prove anything, but I think it’s extremely fascinating and hopefully helpful to somehow else out there! Even if it’s just the placebo effect, who really cares? What I do know is I’m done with piercings for the moment.

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