Sunday, November 17, 2019

Back at it again

I'm actually starting to feel like a climber again.  After I last posted on here, I went through almost three months of not climbing outside.  Mostly I just didn't have the opportunity, but when I did I usually got unexpectedly rained out, or in one case arrived to find the trail to the boulders closed.  At least I got on a couple fun trailside boulders while hiking in Colorado.

At the beginning of October my luck started to change, and I went from barely getting out to frequently climbing outside more than I did at the gym.  Most of this has been at Northwest Branch, since I can easily get there for a good hour and a half before I pick my daughter up from daycare.  I was especially excited to find the Foam Pit area accessible due to low water, and took the chance to get back on the ultra-slick Joes to Pros slab that Taimur and I climbed a few years ago.

Just for comparison, here's how the same spot looked a couple weeks ago.  Glad I got it while I could!

On a couple of my after-work sessions, I got in laps on Crimptastic and The Business.  With my fingers feeling weaker than they have in a long time after half a year away from hangboarding, I thought Crimptastic would give me more trouble.  As it turned out, all of the core strength I've picked up actually offset my decreased finger strength, and the moves felt better than ever.  Even the move to the lip, historically the crux for me, is no longer a low percentage move.

Today I woke up planning to go to Rocks and work on Moby, then got a later start than intended and headed toward Northwest Branch to go down to the Long Wall area.  Originally thinking I was going to work on Curtain Call, the massive log section sitting near the starting feet made me reconsider.

I ended up walking up to the Easter Egg boulder to warm up on Speed of Life, which I've always enjoyed for the delicate movement required.  The thing is, I've never quite been happy using the standard start, with the heel hook already in place.  To get my heel up there, I need to have a left hand up on a high hold for balance, then I basically feel like I'm climbing down into the start holds.  The rest of it is still balancey and fun, but it always seemed way easier then the V7/8 grade usually given.

Today I decided to try it without the heel in place, from a true sit start, something I'd never had any luck with in the past.  I tried toeing into a little chip about a foot down from the heel hook, intending to rock up on it hard enough to set a right toe hook that would let me get the left heel in place.  As soon as I rocked up, I realized that enough weight was off my left hand that I could just try going for the slopers.  After about an hour and several close attempts, I decided to try a foot about four inches higher than what I had been using, sticking the sloper right away, and easily finishing from there.  While I intended to switch into the heel hook before matching the slopers, the toe actually felt good enough that I never used the heel at all.

Climbing it this way felt harder than the heel-hook version for sure, but I still don't know that I'd call it an 8.  Maybe hard 6 or easy 7?  Normally I wouldn't even bother with numbers, but I've decided it's time to finally finish the Northwest Branch guide that I posted an incomplete version of several years ago, and am trying to get some of the grades firmed up.  More on that later though.

Hope everyone else is getting out there while the weather is good!

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Summer days

Summer break.  I only feel about five years older than when I started teaching, but somehow nineteen have gone by.  Time is funny like that though.  People tell you that everything goes too fast when you're watching your kids grow up, but things that my daughter started doing three weeks ago feel like they've been that way forever, and yet I left home yesterday for the last day of school feeling like the previous school year had just ended.  

Maybe that's just a matter of familiarity though.  Maybe in designating a period of time as "the last day of school," or "Thanksgiving," or "Sunday," the brain seeks to link it to previous last days and Thanksgivings and Sundays, and that's where the feeling of "didn't I just do this" comes from.  Maybe the reason that time stretches out so much with my daughter is that she's always doing something new, and I'm focusing on the endless novelty, rather than an endless repetition.

I did actually come one here to talk about climbing, but while we're on the subject of kids, people also tell you that having them is an adjustment.  It seems more accurate to say that having kids is a constant adjustment.  I'm back to climbing twice a week now, and am still fitting in good workouts at home, but something changes every few weeks and I have to figure out how to do it all over again.  Currently that means I do my core/stability workouts with my daughter in her Pack'n Play for as long as that lasts, and my pull-up workouts with her in my backpack, doing laps on the stairs between sets.  And now that I've typed that, I can almost guarantee I'll have to find a different way to do things next week, especially since she started walking yesterday.

Through the winter I was probably getting out on rock twice a month or so, and even though I didn't finish any of my projects, I definitely felt strong.  Moby might have happened if I'd gotten to it frequently enough that I didn't have to remember the moves every time, but I had a lot of fun working on it, and honestly it felt good just to let myself go out and push hard again.

On top of getting in some local bouldering whenever I could, I also made it to Sugarloaf in the spring for my first trad routes in almost two years.  I forgot how much I missed that!

                                                                                              Photo: Jeffrey Lash
Since spring break, I've still been getting to the gym regularly, but hadn't gotten a chance to climb outside aside from one route at Carderock while giving a clinic.  When I got out of work yesterday, it was right during my daughter's nap time, and I found myself with an hour and a half to kill before picking her up from daycare.  I felt the air outside my school, thought how good it would have felt as a climbing day if we hadn't been in school, and immediately went down to Northwest Branch to get in a quick session.  Even though I probably only climbed for 45 minutes, it was an unexpectedly perfect start to the summer.  Hoping there's plenty more where that came from!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Review: Evolv Rebel

After two weeks of wearing Evolv's new Rebels, the latest addition to their "performance lifestyle" lineup, I think I'm in love.  For me, they're a solid step up from the Zenders and the Cruzers, which says a lot considering the Zenders have been my everyday shoe this past year both at work and around town, and the Cruzers have been my shoe of choice for gym workouts.  Like their predecessors, the Rebels find that sweet spot of comfort, functionality, and style, while also addressing the few issues I've had with this style of shoe in the past.

For me, the thicker sole compared to previous models is a game changer.  I know a lot of people wear thin-soled approach shoes, and maybe this is just me being an old man, but my feet can't do it.  Ever since pulling a tendon in my foot five years ago, which kept me from climbing for a month and derailed any chance of cardio for far longer, I've been way more protective of my feet.  Like I said, I loved the Zenders and Cruzers, but I also needed an $80 pair of insoles that I switched into whichever pair of shoes I was wearing at the time.  The added support of the Rebels has meant those pricey insoles are now unnecessary for me, and they've taken me through two weeks of long days on my feet with absolutely no discomfort.

Even better, I'm way more inclined to actually use these as approach shoes.  Just to clarify, most of my climbing is in Maryland and Pennsylvania, and our approaches aren't over nice desert sand or soft beds of pine needles.  We walk through dense woods, usually without trails, frequently over minefields of talus or fallen trees.  Okay, a few of our areas do have trails, though many of those turn straight to mud once it's above freezing.  And since my best bouldering happens when it's below freezing, I spend a lot of time running, jumping, and otherwise flailing about to keep my core temperature up so I can feel my fingers well enough to climb, again something that becomes difficult in thin shoes.  Add in the Rebels' water repellant upper, and finally I feel like I have shoes that can truly take me anywhere I want them to.

                                                           Photo: Mark Profeta
With dry weather in short supply recently, I tried climbing in the Rebels at the gym before I managed to get them outside.  I was amazed at how well they performed, and I think what impressed me most was how good they felt on one of the volume climbs.  I had already done in my favorite smearing shoes (oversized X1s), and when I went back to try it in my Rebels, I was shocked to find that they felt every bit as secure.  I also took them over to the system board (set at vertical) and they were able to handle even the worst of the footholds.  On top of smearing well, the sole of the Rebels comes straight down instead of at an angle, preventing the rubber from rolling away on small edges.

                                                             Photo: Mark Profeta
I've only gotten them out on rock once so far, on a small riverside boulder near home.  While I won't say they felt as precise as the Kronos I eventually put on, the Rebels made easy work of an old circuit that I hadn't climbed in years.  The boulder I was on didn't have many edges, but as with the volumes at the gym, I felt like I could smear on anything.  Even the shallow dish/pockets felt totally solid.  So yeah, if I ended up climbing somewhere and didn't have my actual climbing shoes with me (as if there aren't at least five pairs in my car), I could still have a totally enjoyable day just wearing these.

                                                            Photo: Pennie Close
I feel like even if Evolv did nothing else new this year, the Rebel alone already has their 2019 going strong.  But that's entirely hypothetical, since they've already updated the Kronos and Kira, and their highly anticipated Phantom is still to come.  Yeah, it's gonna be a good year.

                                                                                           Photo: Pennie Close

*Note: Originally posted 3/10/19, and updated 3/17/19.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Seven months later...

Seven months into fatherhood, just past my 40th birthday, and still loving life every bit as much as last time I posted here.  Honestly I meant to get back on here sooner, but was just waiting for something big to write about, when mostly life has just been made up of a million little things.  With both Emily and me home for the summer, we tried to get out and around as much as possible as we adjusted to moving as a family, but we also spent a ton of time just reading and relaxing on the deck.  Little girl loves looking at trees!

We did do a little bit of traveling too.  On top of a couple drives to Ohio, we booked a semi-last minute flight out to Colorado in August to catch up with friends and family.  The flight went way better than we had anticipated, and the unexpected opportunity to spend time in the mountains was incredibly energizing for me.

Since then we've pretty much been local, just enjoying the fun of the Fall season, and getting to watch the baby take everything in for the first time.  Now that she's started daycare and Em is back to work, it feels like we're starting to figure out what normal is again.  Not that normal ever stays the same from one day to the next.

My climbing has started to pick up a little more now that our new routines are settling in, but mostly I'm still climbing just once a week to keep my movement from getting too rusty, relying on a good workout cycle at home to keep me strong.  In what little time I've gotten on rock though, I feel even stronger than I did in the Spring despite the less optimal weather.  At the end of September when temps actually dipped down into the 60s, I made a quick trip up to Gretna to see if I could finally finish Equilateral.  After warming up on the upper half, it took me a few tries to dial in the first couple moves, but overall the climb felt fantastic.  It was cool to see that the incut edges of the Tension Flash board I've been using had toughened my skin enough to keep me from slicing my tips open on the first crimp, and all of my home workouts have made me way better at holding body tension.

The morning of my 40th birthday, I got up to Rocks State Park to finally take a shot at Moby Dick.  That one's been near the top of my list for a long time, but by the time I started to feel strong enough to work it, my years of lower back issues made me think that it was never going to happen.  Even though I didn't stick "the move" that day, it felt damn good just to be out there trying it, especially as I started a new decade.  Yesterday I went back again and made a little progress.  After all last year of just trying to tick off as many climbs as I could from my list, I have to admit it feels good to be projecting something again.  I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed the process of figuring out all of the subtleties that make each move go from feeling impossible to effortless.  It might be a while before this one feels effortless though!

In other news, I've taken on the chair position of the Baltimore chapter of the American Alpine Club.  I'm still feeling my way around a bit, but I have a couple events in mind, and have been slowly getting things off the ground.  If you're an AAC member in Maryland and have any interest in getting more active, whether helping with tabling, event planning, social media, or anything else that fits your strengths, let me know and I'd love to have you aboard.

Okay, considering the fact that I first started writing this three months ago, I'm going to go ahead and post it before anything else distracts me.  Til next time!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Finishing business

The past few weeks have marked a big shift in my climbing focus, and in life in general.  Whereas all winter long I had focused on training at the gym during the week to take maximum advantage of winter bouldering conditions on weekends, the knowledge that I had only a few more weeks before fatherhood made getting outside at every opportunity that much more of a priority.  Gym days became outside days whenever weather allowed, whether to go out and cross things off my ticklist that I hadn't made it to all winter, or just getting out and enjoying time on old favorites.  As Justin told me when we were at Honey Go Go, "this, right now, is what you're training for."

Last Friday, with our due date coming closer and closer and me feeling more and more nervous about being too far from home, I made the decision to give myself one last day on the rocks before switching gears and enjoying the newly reset bouldering walls at the gym for whatever time I had left.  Looking at my list to see if there were any easier climbs that I could put down quickly and end my season on a good note, I realized I had somehow never finished The Business at Northwest Branch.

It took me a couple minutes to remember what sequence had been working for me when I tried it a few years ago, but then I knocked it out in just a few tries.  For something that wasn't nearly the hardest thing I've climbed in these past few months, it was definitely one of the most satisfying.  On top of being something that I've wanted to do for a long time, it was just so different from anything else down in that area, with tight moves around big slopey bulges instead of just pulling on rough crimps.  After topping out, I went back and did it a few more times just because it was so much fun.

Later that weekend, my wife went into the early stages of labor, and after a long couple days my daughter was born.  So now here I am at the next stage of my life.  True, it might be a few weeks before I actually get back out climbing again, but my plan at least is to keep my workouts up at home with the goal of coming back even stronger.  Kinda hard to put into practice when all I want to do is just stare at her all day.

Still, I remind myself of what a few good climbing dads have told me... that they want their kids to grow up with the example of dads who are strong and still following their passions, even when logistics make it harder than it used to be.  They want to be around for their kids for many many years, and know that staying strong and healthy is such a huge part of that.  And that's what I want for my little girl, not to mention being able to take her out and play without constant fear that I'm going to injure myself.

Yesterday I got back into my morning stretching routine, which felt especially necessary after how tight my back became during our first night with her.  Today I started my first ring workout since she's been born, even though I had to stop for an hour after warming up when she wouldn't let me put her down.  Which is how I started typing this.

Now she's upstairs eating, and I'm running back and forth between my rings and my computer, typing during my rests.  Maybe not the ideal workout plan, but for now it's what I've got.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.