I Never Went to Legoland

I was the only seven year old I knew with a magazine subscription.

I had two, actually. The first the baseball Beckett guide, a monthly price index of their fluctuating ‘worth.’ I hated baseball and couldn’t sit through more than a few innings, but the idea of currency and accruing real wealth drove me to ride a single speed bicycle three miles downhill every time I scrounged up four dollars for a blister pack of cards. The other was the Lego Magazine, a marketing publication put out to the few dedicated enough to mail in a card – and pay for the stamp.

Baseball was my job, but Lego was my passion. To this day I find myself getting stuck at family gathering in the kids room frustratingly switching out blocks on their spaceships so the colors have some fucking symmetry.

My precious little ego held contempt for others for playing with G.I. Joe’s. Not one of my five siblings would partake, either, even my older sister with whom I did everything with. It just didn’t click with kids that wanted to be kids with their hairy muscular Action Figures. My room looked like the Large Hadron Collider, why were kids wasting their time with miniature plastic village people? It made no sense, but the simple world of interlocking bricks resonated with the black-and-white boring brain homeschooling left me.

Lego was a different story, even offering a magazine subscription. Some issues had photos of Legoland, in the company’s home country of the Netherlands, always crammed with ecstatic Japanese tourists. All I knew about the Netherlands was that A) they were really far away B) it was not called the Neverlands and C) for some reason they are called “Dutch” and not “Neverlanders.”

All sorts of news and propaganda was pumped into what was essentially a marketing tool to sell overpriced molded plastic. Smart kids could convince their parents it was educational, however I had to wait amidst long holiday breaks where I’d snag a few at Christmas or my birthday, cruelly in the same month. I have a vivid memory of sitting in a tree in my front yard and reading that there was to be a Legoland opening in California. What were the odds, I thought, that I wouldn’t have to speak Dutch to see the closest Legoland!

The English translated leaflet never mentioned the building of Legoland again, and in the days before the internet their rough grammar they jumbled onto paper was my sole portal to anything Lego related.

Each time that issue would come up I’d open right to the center where the handful of glossy pages were stapled into a booklet. Smack dab in the middle was the Nobel Prize of Lego: The Fan Submissions.

I was a skilled notary at 7, having already mastered The Envelope, and as soon as the disposable camera I took to Indian Camp came back developed I saw right there in the front of the pile my creation – a real photograph of my castle. Lighting was a concept to come later in life, as the flash drowned it out to a sepia blur, but the facts were there; a drawbridge, a catapult, a guard-dragon. Sure the colors drowned out, but the hue made it obvious I had matched tones and all the soldiers head were facing forwards. Another envelope, another few drafts before my mom edited the final cut, and voila! I was waiting for a chance to see in that centerfold the art I’d hastily scrambled together the night before my Indian-themed summer camp.

A new month, a new daily routine of waiting for the mailman. We didn’t have windows on that side of the house, just a garage, so I’d sit on the porch and wait. Before iPads. Before Gameboy. Before Goosebumps books. Just me and bugs I was bored of catching over and over again. The issue would inevitably show up one day, when I least expected it and was releasing a caterpillar I named Fred. Luckily gambling isn’t a problem because I always seemed shocked when I didn’t get all 7′s and appear in the user submissions. It didn’t make sense, look at all the bullshit they threw in there. This kid isn’t matching anything, this is ridiculous. This other guy is like 30, shouldn’t he be hanging out with girls instead? Don’t get me started with the toddler nonsense, either. Each time they’d highlight some Salvador Dali nightmare of eyeballs and wheels that hurt my ego like a sledgehammer.

I kept my castle upstairs on a bookshelf, high above my little brothers reach, just in case they wanted to see it again. Eventually middle school came, and Lego wasn’t something to talk about unless you feel like you wanted to be hated by everyone for no real reason. Instead my dorky friends and I would huddle and talk about our plans to make a Mars rover with the new electronic shit Lego sold at Faberge Egg prices and put on a front in public that we thought skateboarding was cool.

Lego became Erecter sets, Erecter sets became my first car. My family moved out East, to foothills with new neighbors who liked to jump cheap bicycles too. I started to toss out the magazines about the time girls started showing up at my house, and instructed my parents to do the same for my dignity. Sometimes, an issue would show up indoors or near a bathroom and I’d end up with some time to kill and flip through, catching up with an old affair. One morning in high school I saw they had opened that new Legoland, the one in Carlsbad. I could even drive there if I wanted to with my new driver’s license.
I flipped a few more pages to the stapled center. No user submitted. A few more pages and I was at the end where they list the prices. At least one thing didn’t change.

I still haven’t been to Legoland. This winter I turned 29. My older sister is flying in to town with her husband and two kids to visit, and the kids will probably play with my old Lego’s. I might build something, too.

Maybe they’ll start taking submissions again.

My Favorite Climbing Videos

Todays post will be a bit different.  The internet is clogged with ‘blog’ sites that share other people’s work, getting views off the backs of hard working people creating their own content.  I prefer to add content rather than be a content aggregator, but I’m breaking my own rule here to share some really amazing climbing short films that I’ve been re-watching over and over.

Climbing is DEEPLY personal, and though it is easy to share experiences it is difficult to have the same experience.  Everyone interprets the challenges and excitement on their own terms with their own filter,but elements of a day out can resonate with anyone whose tied in to top rope in a gym at some level.

To make things simple I’ll add a video for each style, as we like to put ourselves in ‘boxes’ in society.  I will add that whether the move is above a pad, a bolt or a cam it is a move – if you enjoy climbing movement, it is worth appreciating and exploring what other styles have to offer.  We all have our preferences but we are all climbers too.

Bouldering – Story of Two Worlds Low with Dai Koyamada

This is a bit longer clip (almost 18 minutes) but has the full gamut of emotion – puzzling, deflating, engaging and even a bit emotional.  Hard to imagine all this from a ~15 foot tall boulder, but in the zen garden even a bonsai tree holds a story of generations.  His discipline, the fact that he’s been leading the front of modern bouldering for 10 years, his stoic demeanor and harsh eyes… it’s a mesmorizing film if you are a junkie for climbing flicks.

Sport Climbing – La Reina Mora with Alizée Dufraisse

Sport climbing is about overcoming failure and discipline seeing you through a project.  Seeing such a powerful, dedicated climber throw herself over and over at a climb at the very top end of physical possibility is inspiring and we can all resonate with the ‘complete-ness’ of having clipped the chains on top.  All that work, all that effort and heart break, for a short moment on top when the work is done and the next project takes it’s place.  The elation is short-lived, the search for the next moment of ennui that much more difficult… yet it is still there and very real.

Trad Climbing – West Face of the Leaning Tower with Katie Brown and Lynn Hill


This is a classic back-and-forth between new school and old school.  Katie’s youthful energy and talent are in stark contrast to the measured and methodical approach by Lynne.  Lynne Hill, likely the best American climber to have ever touched rock, is seen as calm and collected, measuring her immense experience and considerable skill with the realities of the challenge ahead.  Katie seems very badly to want the climb, like Alizée and Dai searching for that summit. Lynne has had her summits, and there will be many more.  Hers is a lifetime of commitment, not a fleeting blip in a short life.  I strive to live like Lynne and climb like Katie.

So there you have it.  Hopefully this is a good break for a lame Monday.  I hope to see you all out there!

My Weight Loss Story Part 3: Posture

posture 2

“In all forms of strategy, it is necessary to maintain the combat stance in everyday life and to make your everyday stance your combat stance.  You must research this well.”

-Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings, 1645

“It is a fundamental fallacy to think that our human bodies work like the structures that humans have built.”

-Leslie Kaminoff, Yoga Anatomy, 2007

Sometimes in life you come across something, some knowledge or inside information, that seems so simple yet the world fails to pick up on the frequency of it.  You’ll run around town, holding the idea up high and yell “Look at THIS!” to deaf ears, because just as you’ve had to open your mind to the idea to accept it so do others.

This is the feeling I got when I made major changes to my “posture,” and by that I mean my understanding of my own bodies bio mechanical systems.  Suffering years of a ‘tweaky shoulder’ or hip pain after a run had put me on a fevered pace to find some solution to ending the nagging discomfort.  I’ve thrown money at the problem in terms of chiropractors and massage therapy, I’ve worked hard to move through old tissue doing hours upon hours of yoga and stretching, yet in the end it wasn’t fixing a problem so much as not creating one that would flip a switch.

A proper, stable position. Glorious.

A proper, stable position. Glorious.

The fact of the matter is our bodies have evolved into their current form long before we invented the chair or padded running shoes.  We have laws for how we should work, what we should eat, how we should sleep.  Instead of breaking those laws and paying the fee it’s better to understand them and stay in the lines.

By far, the biggest change in my understanding of the human body in my life has been grasping posture and optimum position.  Just like a Leopard evolved to be able to hunt huge game until they day it dies, we aren’t meant to have hip issues or tweak our shoulders.  There are rules that our body works by, ways that are efficient and inefficient.  Someone who did gymnastics as a child has rules hard-wired into their brain – for the rest of us, we round our backs when we pick shit up off the floor and stand like the vultures from Disney’s Robin Hood.

The Yogi’s discovered these truths two thousand years ago.  Crossfit enthusiasts, often as objective as any when it comes to filtering out the best practices, have made a science out of understanding the optimum position for strenuous lifting and movements.  Just as Miyamoto Musashi warns to keep the belly strong where the sword is drawn, keeping a straight spine and engaged core/glutes is a position that develops more power and protects the nervous system.

Taking a Proper Stance, Brandon makes a case for Miss Manners' "Gentleman of the Year"

Taking a Proper Stance, Brandon makes a case for Miss Manners’ “Gentleman of the Year”

As it turns out, the hundreds of dollars I sank into massage therapy and Chiropractics was not wasted.  Every session the well-recommend professionals reinforced my posture, warned of sitting and urged me to drink more water.  Those three things are their biggest struggle, those little pointers that we think are small-talk before the spine-twisting and knot-beating.  It turns out, if I had listened to them the first times I likely wouldn’t have needed a return trip to alleviate a nagging twinge.

Just as I was learning about my Metabolism and Cardio-vascular system I was beginning to grasp my bone structure and nervous system.  After spending hundreds of hours of my life sitting a computer I am more aware of the alignment of my spine, making sure to take breaks and engage my trunk while driving.  Starting the process can be difficult, as your body may have to unwind a bit before standing properly will feel “normal” – but the change will happen and “Normal” will be healthy again.

There are a million different places to look to improve your posture and understanding of optimum position.  I’ll save you the headache and provide a handful of useful tools that I found best helped me  in my evolving self-education of my body.

-Stand with your feet pointing forward, head up and shoulder blades pushed together.  Pointing your feet out like a pigeon locks the hips, curves the spine and the head drops.  Every inch from center your head is, is an average of 10lbs of weight on your neck.  Back hurt from stress? I’ll bet.  Try standing in Tadasana, and know that is the way we are MEANT to stand.  It will take time for your body to adapt to fix all the bad habits, but they WILL fix.  When I first started training hard in rock climbing I had massive discomfort in between my scapula.  By using my body more properly, keeping my shoulders back instead of rolled during every day activities and training, the problem was completely eliminated.

-While driving it’s important to keep the seat forward so that you can sit up straight to support the natural curvature of the spine (some use a lumbar roll).  If I feel fatigue in my back or shoulders, I’ll press my shoulder blades together and press gently against the steering wheel with my palms, elbows in, almost in a “push-up” position.  Doing a few sets of 30 seconds of this will keep my body feeling good and aligned for long enough to take a break and walk around.  If you are in a swiveling chair, turn your whole body instead of just at the waist.

-Don’t sit!  At least avoid sitting, and when it isn’t avoidable make sure to sit with good posture and take breaks.  This is a huge problem in our country resulting in massive amounts of discomfort, pain pill addictions, stress and more.  Slouching can put an extra 10-15 times the normal pressure, so make sure if you are sitting that the feet are flat on the floor and you look like a dork.

-Kelly Starrett knows what’s up.  Check out some of his information including this video.


high plains

“I meant to tell mankind about a new state about which I could tell them little or nothing, to teach them to tread a long and lonely path which might or might not lead thither, to bid them to dare encounter all possible perils of nature unknown, to abandon all their settled manners of living and cut themselves off from their past and their environment, and to attempt a quixotic adventure with no resources beyond their native strength and sagacity.  I had done it myself and found not only that the pearl of great price was worth far more than I possessed, but that the very perils and privations of the quest were themselves my dearest memories.  I was certain of this at least: that nothing in the world except this was worth doing.”

-Aleister Crowley

Credit: Jerry Chen Photography

Credit: Jerry Chen Photography

A boulder stands nobly on a hillside strewn with hundreds of his brethren, immovable sentinels posing closely together yet each in their own solitude.  There is no interpretation, no attachment of emotion or understanding of grace.  Shattered and broken piles of decomposing granite lie next to perfectly hewn swaths of stone, both parts of a whole yet individual specimens with personality and style.

The biggest of these oversee their realm with opulent dominance like kings puffing their chests in full battle-armor.  Indeed the quirks of geology that birth such giants come only from immaculately grown crystals seeded millions of years ago in a dense batholith.  The iron-like cuirass of hardened Patina edges offer a line of weakness up the patriarch, daring any to ply their mettle and wage a battle with the giant high above the hill.

“You not only get psyched up but almost become hypnotized or mesmerized to the point where your mind goes blank, and you climb by well-cultivated instincts.  You do it.”

-John Gill


John Gill on The Thimble – from Pat Ament’s Master of Rock

In 1961 there was no sport climbing, no harnesses, no climbing shoes.  The Golden Age of climbing in Yosemite had produced die-hard bad asses like Royal Robbins, Warren Harding and Chuck Pratt.  Outside of California, in a midwest Air Force Base doing pull-ups on nuts and bolts sticking out of the walls, was perhaps the greatest American climber ever to touch rock hiding away from the center stage of Yosemite Valley.  Decades before hang boards and even the Bachar Ladder Gill took functional training to new levels, regarding small boulders not as “practice climbs” as his peers did but as moving meditation.  The collegiate gymnast, capable of one-armed levers and climbing a 20-foot rope in 3.4 seconds, applied his mathematically-inclined mind to complete many of his ‘problems’ including his most famous of all – The Thimble in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Free soloing a 5.12 over a nasty guard-rail (since removed) when 5.11 had barely been established is ground breaking enough for Gill to retain his legacy as one of the greatest climbers of all time.  That he would later complete other ‘problems’ rated up to modern V9 only adds to the mystique of his character, the soft-spoken math teacher standing over 6 feet and built like a Marvel Superhero.

The experience of climbing is timeless, the mechanics rooted in our own evolutionary growth as fingers grasp small rock holds and branches on the way atop high lofts to see danger and weather approaching.  Yet beyond that, there are those for whom the climb and the vistas are more than tools for scouting danger or prey.  Like arrowheads found on top of the highest Sierra peaks our own history dictates that mountains without any merit aside from their uniquely difficult summits draw adventurous few to solve a problem in their head.  Can I get to that place?  Is it meant for me?

Heavenly Path

Heavenly Path

Gill often describes his experiences as a type of meditation, or kinesthetic awareness.  Rehearsing the movement, climbing up and down higher and higher into a fever pitch, the Thimble was completed in what was likely perfect performance art.  When the conscious mind sets the series of movements the unconscious executes.  The flow and rhythm are just as much as the process as the motions they occur between, blending confidence and spirit as spirit wills body.  Doubt isn’t indulged in at the base of these climbs, and meditation can put one in the midst of the battle.

The king lay before, a sword in hand.  A swift blow to his weakest point, where the armor is split and invites the blade, and the skirmish is won.  Parry his blows, swing the blade and kill the king, stand on his shoulders and shout in triumph.  For a warrior there is no one battle, not a singular foe to leave driven or wall to overcome.

“Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men.”

-Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings


Miyamoto Mushashi

If you want to know what that feeling is like, find the boulder fields.  Find the hill sides speckled with lumps of tall monoliths calling your name.  Walk up to their knobby surfaces, battle-worn and brushed smooth from a hundred others flaying their skin on it’s carapace.  From under his belly there is no glory and the rounded lip obscures a summit.  What might that summit be like?  Can I get to that place?  Is it meant for me?

(For further reading on John Gill check out Master of Rock by Pat Ament

A Quick Update

The past year has been kind of weird.

I’m always surprised at how things seem to just fall into place.  A breakup ended a lease in Escondido, opening up an opportunity to live a month in Idyllwild.  What was supposed to be a summer of exact goals and objectives I’d trained hard for became four months of reflection, interspersing what little climbing I could rally myself to care about with long periods of understanding what the hell is going on with this thing called Life.

Last night I watched a movie called Contact.   In 1997, when Carl Sagan’s novel was turned into a screenplay, I was a bit too young and my attention span too short to appreciate the excitement in understanding the scale and scope of the Universe as Jodie Foster attempted to contact extra terrestrial life in the Very Large Array of New Mexico.  A few lines stuck out that bounced around in my head often as an adult yet never registered to the 14-year old watching the Big Screen debut the film.

There are 400 billion stars in our galaxy, and over 100 billion galaxies in the universe.  If one in a million of them had Goldilocks Planets, and one in a million of those had life, and one in a million of those had Intelligent life…

We aren’t alone, not cosmically nor regionally. Sometimes a faint signal from another galaxy is just as difficult to touch as the person sitting next to us on the Bus.  William Anders, James Lovell and Frank Borman saw this on Apollo 8′s mission to orbit around the moon as they first glimpsed our blue Earth from the horizon of another stellar body.  From 250,000 miles away our trials seem trivial and whatever boundaries we place between ourselves are little more than blurred pixels, disingenuous and arbitrary.

Everything is OK.  Everything is going to be OK.  The goings on of our world, immensely impactful to a short human life, hardly registers in the cosmos.  Even now the sinew in my hands that punctuate key strokes, the process of decay and death has started.  It started before I was born, it started before I was conceived.  It started long before the swirling dust that created Earth gathered from the detritus of a dead star and just as the heavy elements that burst forth formed my being so too will the tiniest pieces of me be as nutrients for life, recycled endlessly forever before and forever after.

Lucas is gone.  My grandma too has passed along with opportunities and potential and dreams.  Buildings collapse and countries shuffle themselves as whole cultures rise and fall in a global settling.  All that remains is time, and in time we are neither rich nor poor.  No Man or Woman is allotted more minutes in a day and as we each watch the sun rise and set each with each passing nothing is lost or gained as no currency exchanged hands, no meter counts grains of sand falling through an hourglass as none will see it drained.  There is only the understanding that life IS, that being IS and that for whatever reason here we are, a flea on a blue dot in a smear of white stars in a sea of nothing.

Likely life will never contact us and our radio waves hardly penetrate the shallowest waters in the universe.  Likely too will time take friends and dreams as we try to reconcile this existence, try to grab and hold on to everything only to watch it slip through our clenched fingers.

To let go of it all, to lay on your back and stare into reality on a clear night and feel that there is something so much bigger, so much more grand and so much more eternal than we can ever hope for is the most human thing we can do, as life will never make sense – it doesn’t have to.  It just is.

I am at peace in perspective.  Nothing matters.  Only the passing of time, spent on the precious and delicate resources with the only life we need to be with – each other.


“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

-Carl Sagan

Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby

Illoydson Dweller

Lloyd Petrungaro on Illusion Dweller


Almost two hundred feet of rope satisfyingly spirals cleanly to the deck below.  I hope they heard me underneath, but either way Lloyd should be wearing a helmet.  I warned him he might need one.

A minute later and I’m rigged for rappel off of anchor bolts atop a nearby climb.  Below Lloyd and Keith are fumbling with hard wear below in a narrow shaded canyon.  The climb is called Illusion Dweller and is on the Sentinal formation in Joshua Tree National Park. Or, maybe NOW it’s called illusion dweller.  Due to a mix-up in first ascent history, the climb was originally done by a 15 year-old Matt Cox 40 years earlier.  As the story goes he merely walked up and climbed it, with the archaic equipment of the day and no knowledge of what the climb had to offer.

Bounding down the blank rock next to the 120 foot curving crack climb it’s hard not to be humbled by the beauty of the Hidden Valley.  A few generations ago cattle rustlers likely stood atop this large rock formation to watch their herd graze.  Earlier still Matt Cox stood on this ledge having passed the crucible of one of the most continuous splitter cracks of it’s grade in the park.  For whatever reason he and his party named the route after a book of short essays by Tom Wolfe, and though a second party a few years later would unknowingly come upon the route and climb it with the addition of an expansion bolt the second name stuck instead of the original - Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.

Lowering into the shaded canyon from the large ledge drenched in afternoon sunlight was like walking into a dark refrigerator.  As soon as the eyes adjusted a snag came into view below, just in time to avoid an accidental Colonoscopy as I kicked the wall and reached clean dirt and my buddies about to cast off.

Lloyd was quiet, likely nervous yet always positive.  It was tough getting a bead on the guy.

“Hey man looks pretty nice up there.”  He looked like a little kid on Christmas morning in front of a tree full of presents.

“It is, it is.  It’s all there.” I keep repeating this phrase when talking about climbs and hear it all the time.  I don’t think it actually means anything and I’ve never been comforted in hearing it when pleading for any clues to succeeding at a hard route.  Here I was, looking for a way to describe that the climb is, indeed, a climb.  “it’s all there…” I mumble again to his turned back as Keith checks his tie-in knot. At least, I think it’s all there.

“Save that green camalot for the roof, underneath.  And a few finger sized peices for the top!” I felt like his mom dropping him off for his first day of school.

Keith’s always quiet.  I just assume he’s fine.

The two prepare for their respective responsibilities as the Jumars are slapped onto my rappel line. I’ve got my mom’s camera around my neck and am ready to capture Lloyd’s first attempt at climbing Illusion Dweller, a wannabe photographer ascending a fixed line into a nice position.  I’m up in the sun and can hear nervous laughter in the darkness below, the kind of chuckle to blurt out when the crash pad is six inches underfoot and you’re trying to edge on dimes.  A moment later my suspicion was confirmed as the jingle jangle of a rack of climbing gear flying through space cued me in that he took a quick slide down low.  Taking off sunglasses and squinting I could see his red shirt, standing and chalking up again after having slipped off very low and being caught on a cam.  He always placed good protection, that at least I could tell myself to avoid any heart attacks as I goaded him into new territories and grades.

There was time to think while dangling in a harness in the middle of a 150 foot rock wall.  What was he getting into?


Greg Davis on Bebop Tango, photo credit Jerry Chen

One of the keys to being an active climber is to have terrible short-term memory.  We’ve even classified “Fun” into three types, because having “Fun” in the moment isn’t always likely if one makes a habit out of sleeping in ice caves or crawling through Manzanita on the way to a sun baked crag in August.  Looking back and saying “I think that was fun” is a delightful form of deceit to make return trips possible.

Thinking back, I did have fun my last time on Illusion Dweller.  A friend and professional photographer Jerry came out to take pictures as I climbed with a local partner on several classics in good position.  His stunning photo’s (and many more) can be seen on his website and blog and I loved the way capturing moments on camera add to the art of the climb.  Taking pictures of inspiring lines and climbers having adventures on them has become an interest of it’s own on some of my trips, and as I arrived for New Years with Keith and Lloyd I hoped to take my younger friends to have their own epic experiences on the rock.

Grey Cell

Rich Magner on Grey Cell Green, photo credit Jerry Chen

The stunning crack climb up The Sentinels West face was a saga in my Joshua Tree climbing career.  It sure felt easy last winter with Jerry and my local friend Rich, but thinking back and jostling my memory bank a few experiences fell out.  I wondered after remembering past attempts at the climb, that in hoping to give Lloyd a good experience perhaps he was given a bigger bite than he could chew.  He started to pull back up to the first low crux and I had a vivid memory in my head of being dragged up that very section on top-rope six years earlier.


22 year old Me slaying (or sewing up) 5.6 in Joshua Tree

In 2007 the climbing world was as new to me as it was to Lloyd.  Being overweight and timid didn’t stop me as I bravely hacked my way up front country 5.6′s and trekked out a couple miles to the easiest mountain routes.  Experiences were what drove me, doing anything and everything even if anything isn’t much.  My guidebooks were scoured for the easiest classics to lead which I’d managed to tick off from the bottom grades up yet a chance to climb with a rope gun was never turned down.

On October day I found myself standing in the shade below Illusion Dweller drawing straws for the sharp end.  It felt like Russion Roulette as our group of three decided me, the tubby guy with a haircut from The Hobbit, was the last resort to lead the route.  My friends Trevor and Tyler would go first and second, respectively, and I would be the hail mary if one of them failed in getting the rope up to the top.


Trevor (L) and Tyler (R)

Trevor was lean and mean, 140 pounds of tall sinew with impeccable trad climbing skills from his father’s tutelage. In the warm noon heat he took off fully loaded with our pooled climbing rack hesitantly as we nervously and silently watched below. That first crux, the one where Lloyd slipped and was caught by a cam, was as far as he got.  Hanging on a big flake and looking at another 110 feet of greasy hot hand jams he remembered that the bigger man walks away from the fight.  In the macho world of one-upmanship sometimes found among groups of men we were unarmed living in glass houses.  No one said a word, secretly hoping the same mercy would be paid back.


what is this I don’t even

Tyler was up next, a phenom Boulderer and freak athlete, six foot six with a positive Ape Index.  He was the horse I put all my chips on and after swapping the gear lazily onto his shoulder Tyler cast off like he was running away from bees, palming and lie-backing sweaty hand-cracks and running the rope out high above questionably-placed gear.  My head shook in disbelief at the moves I was having to prepare to do watching Tyler hand-over-hand miles of steep cracks.

Trevor and I watched nervously like supportive parents as Tyler pulled over the final bulge and finished the climb.  We were spared, and though one of us would have to tie into the other end and follow Tyler’s lead to the bolted ledge at least we wouldn’t be leading the climb or placing protection we would definitely fall on.


I’ll get up this. Some day.

The next hour and change is a grey memory, part of the bad stuff you forget about.  Without a few pictures snapped by Trevor I might not have remembered taking multiple breaks standing on a small ledge partway up or my complete lack of proper crack climbing technique.  I know it was tough, and I remembered having to be hauled past Trevor’s high point.  Part of me thought the top was easy, somehow, and the supposed crux of the whole climb might have been the only part I did clean.

I think.

The lens of my camera retracted; the batteries were dead.  Hanging in space and retrieving a backpack felt a lot more like aid climbing than photography.  I was glad to have tried out big walls in summer 2008 with Tyler five years ago as the exposure of a sweeping wall like the Sentinel didn’t hold a candle to the Leaning Tower or Half Dome.

Heavenly Path

Lloyd refusing to pose on Heavenly Path in Bishop

Lloyd wouldn’t pose.  I have a bad habit of being overly aware of people taking pictures and perhaps having the opposite inclination is a better trait, as he moves in disregard of framing and the rule of thirds and I end up looking like I’m auditioning for Black Swan when I’m out with Jerry.  This long section of rock first in the sunlight, about one-third of the way up, was part of a long continuing hand crack after a rest ledge (the one I’d milked for a good 30 minutes in 2007 with Tyler).


Woodson Training

All our trips training at Woodson I had hoped would prepare Lloyd yet nerves or greasy hand jams made him try harder than necessary on the moderate section.  He was a great crack climber, having climbed Robbins Crack as a boulder problem ground-up (and down-soloing after) and making quick work of a handful of classic splitters.  That memory of mine likes to forget he is barely 20, that at his point in my own climbing career I was still firmly locked at the gym with an occasional trip top-roping at Dixon or scrambling in Joshua Tree.  Keith as well was a talented and strong climber but the mileage just wasn’t up to par with either to see enough situations climbing can throw out.


A pause to chalk up and assess meant that I could dork out and snap some fun photo’s of Lloyd in the midst of it.

“A bit greasy, huh?” He was dipping into his chalk bag like a fiend in the heat.

“Naw, not too bad man.  It’s pretty comfy so far. Just tryin’ to trust my feet and stuff.”

Being strong, and being able to rely on being strong, isn’t the best for learning subtle technique and Lloyd knew it.  He actively worked to improve the gentler arts of slab and thin face in hopes climbs like Illusion Dweller could end up on his radar.

Having to do something difficult isn’t just OK, it’s necessary.  Making changes and overcoming difficulty gives life meaning as growth and experience a well rounded person make.  The climb I put Lloyd on was safe, straightforward and something that inspired him.  The best things to be offered in climbing is to rise to a challenge head-on, without shortcuts or distractions.  Hopefully a floating chatty photographer wouldn’t disrupt Lloyd’s Chi.

The pump of lactic acid drained from forearms meant it was time to go.  My ascender chewed up rope as I raced to beat Lloyd to the overlapping roof, as his route traversed slightly to the right until just overhead the arc passes underneath my rigged rappel rope.  The rope itself would be in his way if I couldn’t get above and past him, onto the ledge straight above.
“Hey Lloyd are you in a good spot?  Do you got gear in?”

“Hey dude, yeah I’m comfy.  What’s up?”  He hadn’t noticed my roadblock just ahead.
“Lemme get past you real quick, hold on.”
Click-click, click-click, click-click went my rigging system as boots kicked against the wall to get momentum.  As I crept up on the lad I kicked hard to the left one time to move off to the side of him so I could make the passing maneuver in the left lane.
“You good? I kick ya?”

“Ha ha, no man, I’m good man.”

With my feet firmly planted on the ledge it was time for some video.  There seemed to be a constant when I climbed with Lloyd, the one big whipper of the day.  If it were to be any time today, it would be now on the top finger-crack crux section.

Below and underneath the roof, just out of sight, there was a moment of quiet.

“Hey man this green cam doesn’t fit, it’s too small!”

Whoops.  That memory of mine. There was gear in the crack above, thinner stuff but should be good.  I think.

A black Metolius cam, not a green black diamond cam.  In my head I’m standing under the roof, on a tiny ledge before the finger-crack crux.  The vision of a black Metolius cam stands out vividly now, just in between a green and red black diamond cam in size.  It protects a crack jut a bit larger than the one Lloyd was currently fiddling with.  I know I took it up with me the first time I tried to lead Illusion Dweller in fall 2012.

Years had gone by since my first attempt at following Tyler on this route.  Smarter training and a better attitude towards attempting harder climbs had made me able to think about leading the route.  A handful of other climbs of similar difficulty ticked earlier that month let me know I was ready, yet standing under the roof with my last hand sized peice slung up underneath the crux I thought maybe I should have waited another month.

Under roof

Just before the crux, 2012

Below my partner Lucas belayed as my girlfriend and family watched, taking a day off to hang out with Greg in Joshua Tree.  It felt like the first spelling bee I ever had, where I got to the finals and failed with everyone watching on a 7-letter word.  I’d just hauled triplicates of rock protection up the last 110 feet of cracks, leaving almost all of them save a couple of tiny stoppers for the top moves.  It was definitely a black cam, not green.  The same one I left at home every day I climbed after finally getting up Illusion Dweller that first time.

Of course, I didn’t get up it successfully last season on my first try.  A blind throw psyched me out and I rested on a sketchy stopper and pulled the moves after a few minutes of rest and a few attempts at working them.  The climb that had beaten me 5 years ago beat me again, this time when I knew my opponent well.

I would hike out to that climb a total of 5 times the previous season.  Hidden in a tight corridor it is impossible to see if the popular route is clogged with crowds until you are standing nearly below it, and after failing to lead it clean in early Lucas and I hiked out two more times on a four-day trip during Thanksgiving break.  Twice we were met with nervous eyes on shivering heads standing at the base, all casting lots to see who would grapple with the sweaty jams above.  Thursday and Friday the crowds shut us down, and Sunday paired with a lighter and more efficient double rack of cams I again came to the last move to fall onto thin protection, feet from the bolted ledge.

Top Out ID

On top, for the first time without falls

Finally on Sunday, the fourth day of our trip in November 2012 and sixth time standing at its base I finished Illusion Dweller.  The heartache of climbing 110 feet of sparingly protected rock only to blow it at the end was too much and I held on tight, finding the hidden holds just out of my feeble reach.  It was such an inspiring thing to overcome and was such a milestone achievement for little old me that I road the coat tails for the rest of the season, taking Rich up with Jerry in winter and dragging Keith up the thing in Spring.

It really wasn’t that bad, if you’ve been on it 6 times.  It’s all there.

In the viewfinder of my tiny video camera I could still see the holds and sequences I used in March when Keith visited from College up in Humboldt.  9 months later and it all came back to me, the sloping sidepull and secret pocket.

“Watch me Keith, I’m going for it man!”  Lloyd pulled into the steep corner and finger crack with an attentive belay from Keith, well familiar with the hard moves he was setting himself up to do.

As soon as he is established in the crack he throws in a quick peice of protection.  I lean over, camera in hand, and see it is well-placed.  He wouldn’t be needing that helmet as much as if he had skipped the gear and risked flipping upside-down onto the ledge, as Rich had shown me on Facebook.  A lazy heel behind the rope and Whoosh! Ass over tea kettle.  Lloyd was on track.

Unfortunately Lloyd came off.  Abruptly, due to a foot slip.  Also unfortunately is I missed the good-sized whipper he took after with my camera as I adjusted position.


Logging frequent flyer miles

“Shit.”  I know that feeling all too well.  Just like Trevor, 7 years earlier and 100 feet below, a miss is a miss.  The chance to climb it first-time is blown, and though there are so many climbs to do in the park the hopefuly always hold out until the very end.  Whether the first move or the last the box still needs to be checked another day, another time that Lloyd will be hiking into the canyon hoping to find a lonely crack to test his mettle on.

Again he fell. And again. And again.  The hot and slippery rock drained his energy down low and up high where it was needed there was none to be found.  With a belay from above I helped get Lloyd onto the ledge, beaten but bright and hopeful – as always.

“Yeah man sorry.  This sucks I should’a gotten it.”
“Don’t worry about it, it’s a hard climb.  Just gotta come back to it you know?”
“Oh for sure!  It’s super good, I’ll do this any time.  It’s really fun, super good jams man.  All the way.”

The game isn’t success, the game is the game.  The game is finding a partner and tossing the ball, not how well you catch it.  Lloyds first go at Illusion Dweller had been miles more successful than my own, as leading the damn thing is far more proud than failing to get up even under your own power as I had in 2007.  More importantly he knew he could do it, and whether or not he needed to he would be back to flay himself on the stone and live a full life of experiences, a roller coaster up and down the rock.

Back on solid ground and ready for Round 2

Back on solid ground and ready for Round 2

My Weight Loss Story Part2:.Boring Cardio is Boring

For Part 1: Metabolism click HERE.

Photo Credit Jerry Chen

Photo Credit Jerry Chen

First, a little story.

I am not talented athletically.  As a 10 year old playing hockey there was no puck-handling and I wound up on a handful of blooper reels in the early 90′s. Luckily for me those VHS tapes have been lost in yard sales and bungled attempts to convert to DVD yet the fact remains: I suck at sports.  A vain attempt to play basketball in middle school and I would give up entirely to pursue Cross Country in High School.

Not being good at any sport, yet wanting (for some reason) to play them, I used the only skill available: Hustle.  Can’t dribble? Steal the ball.  Can’t touch a puck in hockey? Check the fat kid loping down the ice with it.  Until high school all of the sports I played in didn’t have a ‘try-out’ process and accepted whoever paid their dues.  Convenient, as I couldn’t see making a single team.  Luckily Cross Country had no such process to stop kids from voluntarily running 50 plus miles a week.  Who knew it would be so unpopular, yet there I was – one of a handful of twiggy freshmen who had no idea what they were in for.

The school I went to had a great program and though I enjoyed the movement of running quickly over distance it didn’t hold my attention.  Being a kid along with the temptations of friends with new drivers licenses quickly took the place of hill sprints and Fartlek’s.  I’ll never forget the way it felt to race against the best as a competitor, where guts and training made the champion not their height or small motor skills.

In my late 20′s there is finally some growth in my attempts to re-learn old sports.  The dedication it took to learn what little I know about rock climbing meant that my understanding of Basketball and Hockey were off the mark, and now picking up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu I am applying truths about body mechanics and leverage that have been reinforced from Bouldering and having some moderate success.  I have to keep finding new things to get inspired, because just as endless pavement pounding ended racing for me so over time does a singular activity fade into habit.

Hiking in the Sierras

Hiking in the Sierras

Both macro and micro, changing your routine keeps focus on the present rather than stagnate on repetitive process.  Whether deciding pectoral flys or the Bench Press as a chest workout or picking between a summer Bouldering in South Africa over running in the high sierra, find a balance and make some changes.

All this brings me to my point for today’s post:  Don’t be boring.  I am a creature of habit (same sandwich every day kind of guy) yet we are all still animals, and if the cat can turn an adventurous session chasing a laser pointer into disinterest so too can a human get bored on a treadmill.  As luck would have it, running in the mountains or bouldering in Yosemite is a lot more fun.


Running in Daley Ranch, not the suburbs – as it should be.

I’ve looked around the Cardio room at the gym while slaving away hours on the treadmill and remember the faces of those in my position. They didn’t look like they are having fun, and most of the time neither was I. Early into my weight loss I told myself to hit an hour mark at the gym, typically 2.5 or 3, and had I known how little I was doing for myself by endlessly trudging ahead on a rubber belt I’d have done something more enjoyable with my time like clean the litter box or go to the dentist.

Easy Cardio just doesn’t do much.  Exercise is a way to tell your body “get ready to do more of THIS!”  If you walk slowly, you will absolutely burn calories and get more fit – fit enough and efficient enough to walk slowly.  Without stress there is little change.  Now, that being said, you should NEVER get injured or hurt in the gym, so don’t take this to mean I am asking for some extreme movements.  Walking slowly as a warm-up is a great idea (ALWAYS warm up, for at least 10 minutes), but once warmed up consider jumping on a low impact (I like the elliptical, stair masters are OK) machine and doing an INTERVAL program.  The majority of the programs on modern fitness machines are bullshit (fat burner?) but the idea of intervals to increase cardiovascular threshold is as old as Jesse Owens.  Interval training, or any kind of ‘Cardio’ that brings  your heart rate up, letting it drop, and raising it again is SUBSTANTIALLY more efficient at burning fat and building muscle than easy Cardio.

Understanding heart rates can get a bit tricky, but here are some basics: Subtract your age from 220 – that ‘should be’ the highest number of beats your heart can tick in a minute (your beats-per-minute, or BPM).  If walking is ‘aerobic,’ or simply ‘something you can do forever and not get tired,’ then running (or hiking hard up hill) might be ‘anaerobic,’ or ‘something I can only do for a little bit before I gas out.’  The goal in any interval training is to get anaerobic, let your heart recover back to aerobic, then go anaerobic again.  A couple interval training tips:

-Try to get at least 4-5 sets in per session, at least 30 seconds.  Just like lifting weights, work at building a base first.  If you don’t get your heart rate much above 70% of your max, you aren’t getting anaerobic.  The easier it gets, go faster/harder or increase reps.  You are forcing your body to respond to stimuli, building a visceral connection with your physical body (important!) as well as making mental connections to doing work.

Hairy Hill Sprints.

Hairy Hill Sprints.

-Make sure you are keeping the impact low.  If you aren’t a decent runner, DO NOT RUN!  You can have very low body fat without running a mile in your life.  While I am an avid runner and enjoy it quite a bit, I understand how difficult it is to pick up.  Slower strides make it difficult to avoid heel-striking, putting massive impact on already stressed knees and furthering a desire to avoid a treadmill (or the gym) at all costs.  Instead, try doing hills.  Find a hill, something that takes you between 25 seconds and 2 minutes to hike or run up.  Go up it almost as fast as you can (I’ll arbitrarily say go 90%) and walk back.  Do that a bunch of times (again, 4-5 to start working up).  That is one of the best workouts you can do for yourself, and it’ll take 15 minutes.

-No magic shoe will help you to run with good form.  No more than I can sell you the most accurate rifle in the world and you can pick a target off at 100 yards.  Know the mechanics, learn how to run, and you can.  Don’t expect magic shoes to help.

If nothing else, make changes and keep it fun.  In the end the most important part is that there is enjoyment coming out of any activity for it to stick around.

Stay tuned for Part 3 to go from Martyr to Warrior!