Begin Again

I need to buy a plane ticket. After a few months of Chicago winter, with ever mounting stresses and pressures at work, I should be jumping at the chance to escape on a climbing trip. Instead, I’m afraid.

I wrote before about a scary fall that happened while I was climbing in the Red this autumn. Since then, I’ve been working to regain and improve my leading confidence, but it hasn’t been an easy road. I need this trip, I need this time in the outdoors because daily life leaves me tired, stressed, and depleted. But I’m afraid, because I’m worried that I’ll want confidence and mastery that I probably won’t have on my first outdoor trip in over 3 months. I’m wanting climbing to be easy and restorative, but I’m not sure that it will be.

I’ve recently started practicing yoga. It’s been more challenging and rewarding than I thought. One of the things I’m learning in yoga is to accept what my body can do on a particular day, to not force poses I’m ready for.

Great blog post from Heidi Wirtz over at the North Face website, and some beautiful photos. Click through for the post.

I want to try to take what I’m learning in yoga and apply it to my climbing. When I get back out again, I want to be present in my body and my mind–accept what I’m ready to do and try not to force the rest. Though it’s not in my nature, I want to trick myself into becoming a beginner again.

Everyone takes time off, from the most earnest beginner ripping off skin on huge jugs, to the seasoned climbers who suffer injury or accident. Sometimes it’s work that gets in the way, sometimes it’s family, or travel.

To get started again: Let go of what was, what you used to be able to do. Accept where you are right now and be present. Do what you can one day at a time, listen to your body. Breathe in and begin again. 

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how to be a dirtbag climber girl

Someone found my blog by searching the title of this post. I can’t seem to replicate it (maybe the all-knowing google knows that I know where my blog is?), but I thought I’d answer the question anyway.

My most important advice is to be confident, and do it your way.

This is also known as the fake-it-till-you-make-it principle. If you’re a girl considering a dirtbag lifestyle and hesitating, don’t! Just go do it! Before my trip this summer I worried a lot about not climbing hard enough to make it on the road, not knowing enough climbers to make it work, and a lot of other silly things. None of these worries are important. I have never talked to anyone who regretted living on the road for a while.

I know so many people who hit the road, found community, and never looked back. It will work for you too. Sell your shit. Quit your job. End your lease. Hit the road! Or don’t listen to me and do it your way. That’s even better.

Go find the wild places, because they’re there. Mt. Fitz Roy in Argentina by flickr user StuckInCustoms

A bunch of my practical advice for dirtbag livin’ is on this blog. Check out my post about living in a truck, or the dirtbag beta series for some tips. Steph Davis has a lot of great tips on her blog as well. Wherever you go, you will need to find out where to sleep, where to do laundry/get wifi/get food, and where to get beer. Sometimes this info is easy to find on the internet, sometimes it’s easier to find by word of mouth.

There is only one bit of ‘how to be a dirtbag’ advice that is female-specific (that I can think of).

All climbers should be able to pee standing up without taking off their harnesses. It makes life so much easier! If you weren’t born with the right equipment, you should look into getting a PStyle. They are cheap, easy to clean, and don’t look like funnels. I will never go climbing/camping without mine!

What’s your advice for aspiring dirtbags? Sound off in the comments?

Training Dreams

Today is the day before work starts for me in earnest. Some things are kicking in already, but tomorrow the deluge will begin. I wanted to take a moment to think about my health and my goals for the semester, so I sat down and planned out a training schedule and some training goals.

Those of you that have been around for a while might notice that some of my goals are reprises from last spring–whups.  I am dreaming big and hoping that I’ll have the dedication and determination to stick with this schedule through what I anticipate to be a very busy fall.

Goals: 

  1. Redpoint 111 5.11s and 12 5.12s — I set this goal over the summer, and then realized that it was way too ambitious for the time I had left. It’s probably too ambitious for this season too. I’m keeping it around because I want to be committed to building a base and pushing my limits. I’m hoping to make progress on the totals this fall, but I’m not sure accomplishing this goal is realistic. Current count: 20/111 5.11s, 3/12 5.12s
  2. 20 Days Outside in the Fall — This one is pretty self explanatory. Getting outdoors time is really important for improving, especially for me, as I am still working to address my mental weaknesses. Current progress: 2/20!
  3. 5 Pull-ups in a Set — I set this goal because doing pull-ups makes me feel confident and bad-ass, not because I’m hoping it will improve my climbing. Currently at a 3 rep max.
  4. 10 Push-ups — I still can’t do a real push-up. I got pretty close to doing one normal push-up last spring, then went on the road and promptly stopped training push-ups. This a smaller part of a broader effort to do more opposition muscle work this fall.
  5. Lift Two Days a Week
  6. Redpoint 5.12b — I have about 5 days around Thanksgiving, which is the longest block of outdoor time I’ll be able to get all fall. I’m hoping to have a project in mind by then, and cap off the outdoor season with a win.

In recognition that I’m not going to have as much time as I want, I’m backing off on performance oriented goals, and trying to set goals that will motivate me to get make time for lifting and climbing, and help me stay consistent. What are your big goals this fall? What steps are you going to take to accomplish them?

After the break, I included my training schedule for those of you that are interested. :)

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City Love, City Hate

Last week, while I was writing this post about living in my truck, I was in the process of moving into my apartment in Chicago. It was a bit weird to be writing down all my tips for living in a small space while I was in the process of acquiring all the stuff required to live in a much larger space. While I’m excited about starting a new phase in my career, and I think I made the right choice professionally, I’m not sure I’m sold on living in Chicago.

I loved the minimalism and simplicity of living in a small space on four wheels. I loved being completely (or mostly) independent, free to go wherever my whims took me. I loved being outdoors all day every day. I loved meeting new people every week, and learning from other climbers.

I wasn’t ready to give up life on the road. I miss it. I’ve definitely had some post-move blues here in Chicago, and I’m weathering them as well as I can.

I’ve been trying to keep myself sane and positive. I take it one day at a time. During the move, I accepted that I wasn’t going to be able to train enough to keep getting stronger or better. Instead, I focused on keeping good movement quality while I climbed indoors, and on getting out enough to maintain the gains I made over the summer. This approach–maintain what you have, don’t try to force improvement–is a tip I picked up from 9/10 Climbers Make the Same Mistakes. It gave me a coach-approved excuse to let go of my perfectionist self and just be grateful that I got to climb at all.

Finally, I made plans to get outside! It took three long weeks in Chicago for the stars to align, but I’m headed down to the Red this weekend. If you’ll be around, feel free to send me an email or shoot me a tweet to let me know! :)

Living in a Truck: A Manifesto

Meet my tiny universe.

This is where I lived for the summer. Below are 10 of my best tips for living in the back of a truck (or any small space)

#1: Stay Clean(ish)

This applies to your person and to your truck. I make a point of cleaning up the cab a bit every time I refill, and getting my bedroll out requires a certain amount of open space. The entire red mat on the left in the photo must be clear for the bed to unroll. When you’re living in a small space, a small mess can become a big mess quickly. On the upside, even large messes rarely take more than 15 minutes to clean up. Also, these are a great idea, and a good deal.

#2  Have Bins

Or drawers. Or crates. Or shelves. You need something to keep everything in your small space organized and out of the way. In the same token, you don’t want stuff you need every day (like clothes) to be hard to access. If I were going to set up the truck again, I would find somewhere else to store less-used clothes so that the green drawers could be a set of two, and fit standing up.

The organization system I had for the truck worked well. I mostly cooked using the cooler as a counter, and all my food and kitchen related items were easily accessible in the open top crates. The blue bin in the back stored re-fill items, like extra rolls of toilet paper, cans of camp fuel, or packages of baby wipes.

#3 Get Indoors

You might notice that I don’t have the traditional dirtbag truck build. Instead, I use a shelf, an idea I picked up from Steph Davis. The great thing about this for me is that it avoids creating the tunnel like space that most people end up with after building storage underneath a deck. I can even sit up straight inside my truck (with a regular-height Leer cap) because I am so short. It’s win-win.

Taller folks (like my friend Tom, who is 6’4″) would probably need to get a van instead to get sittable-space. I strongly encourage having it if you’re going to live in your vehicle. It means that your vehicle can be a home on four wheels, somewhere you can hang out when you need to, instead of just a bed on four wheels. It also means that if the weather is bad for some reason, you can cook inside your vehicle. In windy conditions, this saves time and fuel, because your food will cook faster. If it’s raining, it means that you don’t have to put up a tarp to stay dry while you cook.

Home on 4 wheels

#4 Actively Avoid Accumulating More Stuff

See #1. Depending on your financial situation and the amount of spending money you have, it can be tempting to buy more stuff. This makes it harder to keep your space clean, and it also makes it harder to stick to your budget. The fewer possessions you have, the better.

#5 Bring Something Homey 

This was important for me, because I was on the road by myself. Most of the time it’s awesome, but sometimes, it’s lonely. I brought my favorite, most comfy, best-blanket-in-the-world and slept with it most nights. Bring something that will make your feel connected and loved, because at some point on the road, you might need it.

#6 Bring Entertainment

You’ll want to be able to entertain yourself, but also other people. If you like reading, a Kindle is a great idea, because it will save you a ton of space in books. If you read all your books, you can explore the large number of books Amazon will sell you for free. Be warned: some are scarily bad! A deck of cards or an easily packable board game are also great to have, in case the weather’s bad or you have to kill time until your climbs come into the shade.

#7 Bring Extra 

… of important but small and easily misplaced items, like head lamps or lighters. In fact, for lighters, you probably want something on the order of 3, not counting the one in your pack. Tie one to the stove, so you won’t lose it. Get a cheap light up key chain and keep it somewhere you can find it easily in the dark, like your glove compartment. Your back-up light can then be used to find your real head lamp.

#8 Get an Inverter

This makes charging your phone, ipod, kindle, etc easy to do if you’re driving around. If you don’t already own them, buy jumper cables at the same time, just in case. I know more than a few folks that have drained their batteries by powering things using their car.

#9 Be Comfy When You Sleep

If this means putting up screening so you can crack a window, do it. My bedding was very simple–the ridged plastic bed liner that came with the truck, covered by the red yoga mat you can see in the picture, on top on top of a 2 inch thick foam pad I got for free from a friend. I sleep deeply and well no matter where I am, so I didn’t need much in the way of creature comforts for my bed. I met people who sleep on mattresses though. Know yourself–you’ll want to be able to get a good night’s sleep.

#10 Be Safe 

Don’t park in sketchy areas. If you have a bad feeling about something, listen to it! I slept in a few rest stops along the way (generally not advisable) and more than a few Wal Marts. My rule was always to never sleep anywhere I didn’t feel safe, and only sleep in places where someone else was already sleeping. This worked out quite well for me, and I never felt threatened by anyone while I was on the road.

Anything I missed? Sound off in the comments!

Nervous Leading 101

Are you (or have you been) a nervous leader?

I am.

Recently, I was sitting at a bolt on Cocaine Rodeo, a 12a at the Valhalla wall here in Ten Sleep. The route was the first of the grade I’d tried, and I was slogging up it bolt-by-bolt. While I was waiting for my arms to de-pump, I called down to my belayer, “I have got to stop clipping from crap holds.” To which another friend replied, deadpan, “Don’t get nervous, and you won’t clip from crap.”

And he was right. I started paying attention to my own nervousness while climbing, and I noticed some negative effects of nervous leading.

  1. You get pumped quickly. Nervous climbing leads to overgripping, which pumps your arms. If you’re deathgripping huge jugs, you’re using more energy than you need to stay on the wall.
  2. You climb sloppily. When I’m nervous, I don’t do my best work reading a route. I tend to let my feet get stuck down low, and throw my hands up ever higher.
  3. Panic Clips. One of the most distinctive features of (my) nervous leading is to clip a bolt or hang a draw as soon as possible, from whatever hold is at hand at the time, rather than from the best hold. While strenuous clips are sometimes unavoidable, it doesn’t make sense to clip from a sloping pocket if the next hold up is a huge jug!

How do you change an instinctive reaction? Form a new habit, one climb at a time.

On top of the ‘Ciagar’ at the Downtown area in the canyon. Shimmy shimmy!

Here are the strategies I’m using to try and control my nervousness and climb more confidently:

  1. Read Ahead. Before you start climbing, look for obvious rests and good clipping holds. If you spy blank-looking sections on the wall, try  to plan a clipping stance ahead of time by identifying a good hold or foot.
  2. Re-set Your Mind. No bad habit changes overnight. Don’t let one panicked clip on a route or a tough move throw you off. Find a good rest, take, or get determined and keep it moving.
  3. Look for Good Feet. My foot-work is generally the first thing to go when I start to get pumped. Getting my feet back on the best holds and planning where they’re going to go next helps me get my technique back on track.
  4. Puppies and Candy Canes! Another piece of climbing wisdom from a friend: “In through the nose, out through the mouth. Just think about puppies and candy canes.” When you get nervous, concentrate on your breathing and relax your grip. Puppies and candy canes!

Over the last week, I’ve been working on reducing nervous leading every day I climb. It’s working out well–I recently managed to pull off an onsight of a Ten Sleep classic–Bikini Girls with Machine Guns, 11a. I used all 4 strategies, kept it together, and made it to the chains!

Re-defining Body Image

There was a point in my life where I devoted a lot of time and energy to thinking about the way I looked. I restricted my eating, except when I ate sweets to assuage the stress of failure to change my body. I worked out with the singular goal of losing weight and becoming skinny.

And it didn’t change the way I looked.

And I didn’t lose (much) weight.

And it didn’t make me happy.

In 2010, looking more or less like I always do, despite a summer of deprivation.

Since then, I’ve grown up a little bit, and I’ve changed my body image philosophy in an important and powerful way. Instead of caring about what my body looks like, I want to care about what my body can do. My training goals are all oriented at challenging myself to get stronger in specific and achievable ways.

I want to be able to squat and dead lift my body weight. I want to push myself on lead by redpointing harder routes. I want to make it to the top of any trail I choose to hike. I want my body to be strong and capable.  Learning my limits and training myself to be stronger has given me the confidence to love my body and myself. It means that I can be impressed with what my body can do, instead of searching for its flaws in the mirror.

The beauty of training to be strong instead of working out to be skinny is that you can see your progress as you go. Each week, on at least one of my exercises, I can go for longer, lift more weight, or do more reps. The little successes in each workout keep me motivated all week long.

Don’t obsess about what you look like. Don’t wish that your body looked like someone else’s. Decide what you want to be able to do, and then train until you can do it.