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.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Weighing in

I've felt really heavy the last few times I've gone out bouldering.  Okay, maybe what I've been eating has a little bit to do with it.  But also, and this isn't just me making excuses, I've been doing a lot of this.

Mostly that extra weight in my chest and shoulders, without dedicating the time to finger strength to make up for it, has made me struggle more than I've wanted on overhung crimps.  Holds that used to feel good now make me work to hold on to, leading me to pump out way faster.  On the other hand, my slab climbing feels stronger than ever, with the core strength and hip and shoulder stability I've gained from the rings making it even easier to hold tight balancey positions.  And with that ring strength added to the overhanging terrain of my new gym, and my back feeling more stable than it has in a long time, I've finally started to feel good on steep climbs outside again.

                                                                  Honey Go Go, Gunpowder Falls, MD                                     Photo: Justin Piteleski

This past Tuesday, wanting to sneak in another day outside to make up for the bad weather during what passed for my spring break, I drove straight to Gunpowder after work to take a shot at Honey Go Go.  I had gone there to try it four years ago, and whether I wasn't strong enough or just wasn't warmed up enough, I couldn't get myself to pull on to the start.  And that's almost what happened this time too.

Justin Piteleski on Honey Go Go 
By the time Justin and Mark arrived, I had felt the start holds again and was already starting to talk myself out of even trying.  Fortunately, they weren't having any of my nonsense, and five tries later I was topping it out. 

                                                                                                                                                                   Photo: Justin Piteleski
I never expected it to go so quickly, and I might even have flashed it if I'd tried Justin's sequence the first time around instead of insisting on my own way the first four times.  In any case, it was nice to go out and get on a climb where my extra weight (or the source of it anyway) was actually an advantage.

Two weeks out from the baby's due date, so hopefully enough time for a couple more good days like this, but if not at least I've ended my pre-parenthood climbing phase on a strong note.  And after doing a 12 hour route competition with my 69 year old mom yesterday, and finding out that she went climbing with her usual crew this morning while I was home recovering, I don't think the parenthood phase will make me any weaker!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Review: Evolv Nighthawk

Having posted a review of the Oracle, the new top of the line shoe from Evolv, it only seems fair that I give a little love to their new "low end" lace-up shoe, the Nighthawk.  Coming in at only $79, they edge out the Defy as Evolv's cheapest model, and while it's often true that you get what you pay for, the Nighthawk is certainly proof that good quality doesn't always have to be expensive.

I actually picked up two pairs (sized 10.5 and 11) to have as comfortable options for a 12 hour route comp that's coming up next month, remembering how painful even my least aggressive shoes became by the end of the event last year.  The smaller of the two pairs (my street size, and the size I use for other Evolv models), felt totally comfortable as soon as I put them on, though the leather has already started to stretch enough that going down half a size might have been a good idea.  Using them for routes at the gym, I've worn them for over an hour at a time without any discomfort.  

While they obviously don't perform as well as the Oracle, they can handle far smaller holds on slab to slightly overhanging terrain that I had anticipated.  Whether on gym plastic, Maryland quartzite, or Pennsylvania diabase, they've consistently held me on 2-3mm edges, and the low angle makes smearing easy.

Bitterness and Shadows, Frederick, MD

God of Thumbder, Mt. Ephraim, MD 
   God of Thumbder, Mt. Ephraim, MD
Highball Slab, Mt. Gretna, PA

So what are the tradeoffs?  Aside from the flatter shape obviously making steep terrain more difficult than aggressive shoes would, the biggest issue I've found is that the less tapered toe (compared to my other shoes) is harder to fit into thin slots.  On one boulder I tested them on, this meant consistently popping out of a starting slot foot, even though they would have held the thinner edges above that I could have stepped directly down on.

Overall, I'd highly recommend the Nighthawk for newer climbers looking for a good all-around shoe, or for experienced climbers who want something they can wear all day on non-steep terrain without overly sacrificing precision.  Give 'em a try!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


Spring is here!  Well, sort of.

Despite the official change of season today, our school system let out three hours early for an ice storm that wasn't even supposed to hit until after midnight tonight, with enough snow forecast tomorrow that my climbing will probably be limited to plastic for a few days.

The last month hasn't been as productive for climbing as I'd wanted, primarily due to getting what turned out to be the flu toward the end of February.  I did manage to make it down to Northwest Branch when I was sick, getting in a couple laps on Crimps if nothing else.  

Even after I felt better and was back to work, it took a long time for my energy level to rebound, with both gym and outdoor sessions being depressingly tiring.  I managed a trip up to Gretna at the beginning of March, perhaps not the best choice after being out late for Emily's gig the night before and having missed dinner because the bar's computer system was down.  While I didn't send anything new, I did get on Adjuster for the first time since hurting myself on it a couple years back and having to be carried back to the car, so at least that was progress.  Mostly I just got in a little bit of therapeutic slab time.

Last weekend I went to Mt. Ephraim with Dana and Srieng to work on a project that a couple of us had tried last year, then went across the road to White Rocks to play on God of Thumbder for a bit.  That thing feels easier every time, but I still love it.

A couple days ago, after two previous attempts being blocked by weather, I made my 69 year old mom skip her usual Sunday gym climbing session to ride the three hours up to Sourlands with me, where I proceeded to drag her through mud pits and up what was basically a ski slope before another half an hour of rock and snow hopping to the boulders.  Son of the year.

As with the last time I went there, the highlight of the day was definitely From NY with Love, one of the most gorgeous slabs I've ever experienced.  So delicate, and a little intimidating with an awkwardly tiered landing, but worth it every time.

                                                                                          Photo: Pennie Close
A little over a month left until our daughter is due, so hopefully I'll get a few more dry days between now and then, but I'll take what I can get.  Happy spring!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Review: Skratch Labs Anytime Energy Bars

Skratch Labs turns a big six years old this week, and they're growing up so fast!  It seems like just yesterday that they were convinced it was impossible to make an energy bar that wasn't dry and terrible.  "Fresh food is better for you," they said.  "Chewing shouldn't burn more calories than your actual workout," they maintained.

Unfortunately, their fans and athletes couldn't keep things simple for them.  Yes, we all like freshly made portables to fuel our endeavors, but sometimes we just don't prepare in time.  We end up stopping at the gas station and picking up something that we know isn't going to sit well.  And inevitably, we either find ourselves somewhere along the continuum of gastrointestinal regret, or crashing because we've decided that the wise decision was to eat nothing at all.  For many athletes, bars are a necessary evil, and Skratch Labs stepped up to make a version that we could feel good about eating.

I'll admit I was a little skeptical at first.  As much as I wanted to believe that the company who had turned my opinion of sports drinks around could do the same for bars, all of my experience told me it was a long shot.  And then from my first bite, I knew they had delivered.  And the second bite.  And soon I had scarfed the whole thing down without a trace of dry mouth or insecure stomach.

Like all of their creations, Skratch Labs went in with the idea that simpler is better, using as few and as minimally processed ingredients as possible, with no artificial coloring or flavoring.  In addition to the higher moisture content, they lack preservatives, which does mean that they have a shorter shelf life than many similar products.  Realistically though, I can't imagine a box of these being in my house and even coming close to the expiration date.  The bars are easy to open, and made in a manageable size, all somewhere around 200 calories a piece depending on the flavor.  And despite having an overall macronutrient profile that's comparable to many other bars, the actual sugar content is pleasingly low, with the highest coming in at only 7 grams.

For those of you with allergies or on restricted diets, all three flavors are gluten free, dairy free, vegan, and kosher.  They do, however, all contain nut butters if not solid nuts (almond and cashew).

Of the three flavors, the Chocolate Chip & Almond are probably the most mainstream.  They're made with non-dairy chocolate chips, which I didn't even realize until someone else told me, but is great news for vegans or lactose intolerant folks who miss having good chocolate options.  What surprised me about these was actually the dried cranberries, which are tart enough that I actually thought they were cherries at first.  Just sweet enough without being overpowering, and a great variety of textures in every bite.

If I had to pick a favorite, Cherries & Pistachios might be it.  Just different enough from flavors I've gotten used to in the past, a nice balance of sweet and salty, and soft overall with enough crunch to keep it interesting.  These have found a permanent place in my backpack, as well as in my wife's bag for when pregnancy hunger randomly hits.

Ginger & Miso.  Yes, a miso flavored bar.  This has to be the most polarizing of the three flavors, but has consistently disappeared at every demo I've done.  The ginger and miso provide an overall savoriness that's perfect for breaking up the taste saturation we often encounter from an overabundance of sweet options.  Fair warning though, these things also have red pepper that can range from unnoticeable to unexpectedly spicy from one bite to the next, and I tend to avoid them when my stomach is already feeling overly acidic.  That being said, I love them right now when I'm out climbing in sub-freezing weather, with that kick providing the illusion of warmth on top of an already solid flavor.

Of course I still love to cook, and having a fresh batch of cookies or other bite sized energy out at the rocks is something I'll continue to look forward to, but it's so nice to finally have a convenient pre-packaged option that I can happily share with my friends and family.  Well done Skratch Labs.  Check them out if you haven't already!