5.30.2012

What Goes Up Must Come Down

Despite all the fun I've had climbing these past few weeks, I've known full well the risk I've been taking bouldering with an injury that hasn't completely healed. It makes me want to just fucking explode, but, predictably, I re-injured my finger this past weekend whilst pulling on some risky holds. I might have even made it worse than it was initially. Why even blog about this? I guess it's sort of like writing a journal and showing it to everyone despite how annoying and embarrassing it can sometimes be. Perhaps someone will find some insight in the course of events that led me to disregard my own gut instincts and 'go for it', as it were, until something failed. What failed, predictably, was the weakest link:  my healing-but-not-yet-healed collateral ligament.

Over the past month, I was pretty keen on getting back into climbing as my finger injury seemed to be healing well. In fact, it was feeling positively great. Some light use of it seemed beneficial and of course as time went on, I began to try harder and harder, always with the idea that I would back off if it seemed like too much. Well, that chance is not always offered in this life. I had plenty of warning: soreness while climbing, especially on a certain crimpy problem that I should have avoided like plague. To make matters even more ridiculous, I had already done a 'higher' standing start and wanted to do a sit start that added one move. It already was making my finger hurt. Before the ill-fated attempt, I sat in the sun, chalked up and listened as my inner dialogue warned me strongly against what I was about to do. I had a very clear sense that my body was telling me almost verbally to back off and keep sitting in the sun instead of climbing. It being impossible to learn from past mistakes (three of them up to that point, now four; all identical), I of course scoffed at what turned out to be a rather prophetic warning. I pulled onto the rock and climbed the problem. I tried to avoid using my bad finger on the worst of the holds, but clearly failed to do so. As I pulled onto a stance before the 30 foot slab topout, I realized something didn't seem right. Fuck. As I pulled onto the top of the boulder I knew without a doubt that something was very wrong. Double fuck.

Conclusions? If I'm lucky I'll have them from the doctor in about 10 hours. I have a terrible premonition about what might be amiss but I will wait for the X-ray to hopefully prove me wrong. The moral of this story is so annoyingly simple that I probably don't even need to type the relevant cliches. But hey, why not?

-Listen to your body. If you have a very strong 'gut feeling' about what course to take, it's probably the correct one.

-Don't expect injured body parts to be able to sustain full activity until they're healed.

-Most importantly: don't be a fucking idiot.

That is all.

5.25.2012

Chronesthesia

Climbing still takes up an astounding amount of time in my thought processes. I always sort of knew that even while I loved it through and through, it would never really be the 'one' thing to which I would commit all my time and effort. Looking back over the past decade, however, it's hard to find any other activity I've been so passionate about or that I've put so much time into. It makes me think that maybe I was wrong when, faced with the choice, I always eventually bailed on road trips and returned home to try to 'make something happen'. That idiotic fantasy has failed so many times that I often wish I'd taken the other pill at some point and just gone for it. Is it too late? Maybe not. I'm a little more jaded at 30 than I was at 24 and maybe a little more prone to injury, but otherwise resilient. Obviously, it would be a sad state of affairs to cry over every drop of milk spilt over a twelve year period of one's life; we make the choices we make and often there is reason enough at the time. Also, hindsight is always 20/20, amongst a plethora of other such platitudes.

It's interesting to me that with these thoughts in mind and with me being at somewhat of a crossroads (jobless, restless, injured), I am finding so much joy in a return to my 'roots' as a climber: bouldering. Now, it's not like I ever really stopped bouldering. In fact, a couple of years ago I got really excited about it again but fell prey to elbow problems right when I started feeling fit again. It seems like over the years, other pursuits have relegated pebble wrestling to the back burner, whereas when I first started climbing it was all I cared about. I remember the most obsessive sessions on problems that were way too hard for me. I would throw myself at them until I physically couldn't or until somehow, against all odds, I succeeded. For the first year or so, technique and finesse came secondary to brute force and inexhaustible psyche; then it all began to change. Now I'm old and technique is paramount. I wish I had more finger strength and fewer finger injuries, but that can probably be arranged with some proper training. Old man strength and focus can go a long way, I've realized, even when the invincibility of youth has waned somewhat. Before I sprained my finger earlier this year, I threw a fair amount of indoor bouldering into my training regime and remembered all over again why I love it so much. Of course, how could it not be fun with the quality of the Seattle VW routesetting (zero sarcasm here: it really does kick ass!)? Not only is it fun, but bouldering indoors is proven to make you strong as fuck, even if you're old and cranky like I am.

Bouldering is also something I find somewhat soothing. In Joshua Tree, which contains a number of unique and amazing problems but overall is not much of a boulderer's destination, I get endless enjoyment from doing laps on the same handful of problems every time I go. The process of puzzling out sequences that I've already unlocked in the past seems slightly obsessive, but it's almost comforting that as each move becomes familiar again, the memories of all my other ascents of the problem become clearer and clearer. I often have the same experience with routes: though there is probably little value as far as increasing climbing ability, I have climbed Chronic at Little Si dozens of times because of how wonderfully familiar it is (also because it's almost always dry); it's the same with Japanese Gardens at Index, which may be my favorite route of all time.

Beyond wallowing in meritorious past occasions, there is some real value to be had in revisiting climbs. It's much akin to watching a really good TV series or movie again after enough time has elapsed so as to render it almost new. Not only is it entertaining the second time through, but it likely will have a different effect on an older viewer. There will at least be a number of nuances whose existence can only be evinced by multiple viewings. With climbs, often the nuances involve refinements in sequencing and improving economy of movement. Certainly there is tangible value in mastering a given move or technique, but beyond the tangible there is a far more meditative quality in perfecting a movement.

This past weekend I revisited an area in Leavenworth that I hadn't seen in awhile and found myself essentially attempting to shadow a younger, stronger and bolder version of myself. All I could remember from the previous day years earlier was climbing a scary finger crack with a bad landing (Reflection of Perfection, a Max Hasson boulder problem) and afterwards eking out an ascent of a zany 'bottomless arete' feature (which unbeknownst to be was the first ascent). The return to the area actually yielded a few new problems. I climbed an interesting blocky arete with an intriguing mantle (I'd like to call it 'Safe Corners' although it was somewhat clean and may have been climbed before; who knows?). Karlyn and Cortney cleaned and climbed a nice slab; next to it, we all cleaned a really nice arete with a fun low start that added a couple of good moves. The bottomless arete of yesteryear was nearby and prominent but I couldn't remember anything about it. Of course I wanted to try it again but I didn't expect to be able to do it. Appropriately, it felt improbable, almost impossible. Soon, however, a familiar experience began to unfold: after a few cursory attempts, I tried something unlikely that somehow 'clicked' with some recess of memory. Soon all the movements were causing neglected neural pathways to shake off dust and activate their synapses. Heel hook and two hands matched on start; cup arete and throw to vertical edge with right hand; pull up and thumb into other awkward facing edge with left hand; right toe on, switch left heel hook to toe down; throw for top with left hand. And with a scream of effort, it was done again. Past and present seemed to merge, if only for that brief series of moves.

It's difficult to describe the moment as anything but out-of-body, a sort of momentary timelessness. It isn't all that often that memory and present experience blend so seamlessly. I suppose we tend to call it Deja Vu although when intentional it seems to take a different form. In any case it happened again when Jens, his brother Julio and I went up the hill to look at the Reflection of Perfection crack. I wanted to cap my day off by repeating it. It didn't look so tall this time and I hadn't fallen off of it the first time, so I figured it wouldn't be a problem. With my old Cordless corduroy crashpad covering roughly 10% of the rocks sprent across the landing, I quickly changed my opinion right at the point of no return. The problem felt much harder and far less secure than the first time I'd done it, involving highstepping into rather loaded and precarious foot positions. A slip from the rather friction-dependent crux foothold, I noted this time around, would result in an uncontrolled 10-footer onto rocky ground. I almost wrote it off as unwise until Cole came up the hill with another crashpad and his legendary spotting abilities. After another false start, I finally found myself committed either to topping out or falling off from an uncomfortable height. In the event of failure, hopefully my fall would be controlled enough for Cole to keep me from dashing my ankles to pieces on the rocks. Left foot on smear, right hand into tips-sized crack; left hand into painful, small fingerlock; commit all trust into fingerlock, jam right foot and reach right hand through to jug. Pulling through to the top, I again had that notion of the timeless. My body remembered everything beyond the fingerlock intuitively; it all seemed familiar although I doubt I was shaking so badly the first time around.

It's the age, I say, that's put the fear in me where before there was only confidence and unbending intent. Not true, of course, but a tempting conclusion. Standing there at the base of the boulder amongst the wildflowers, I let the adrenaline ebb slowly away. Competing with manifestations of one's younger self is nothing new; really it's simply an attempt to live up to a personal expectation, especially when it goes beyond simple therapeutic repetition (like doing laps on easy routes or watching Twin Peaks the third time through). When it enters the realm of the daring and dangerous, it may be best to take heed, however: it is a certainty that broken bones heal more slowly the older one gets. Bruised egos, on the other hand, should only get easier and easier to placate. When the body has to start playing by a different set of rules, the mind should take care to read up on them. Yet it's still sublime, somehow, to be able to deny that for a moment or two and prove to myself that all that hard work was not for naught, that it's not quite time for me to strap on the woolen gaiters and hobnail boots and take to the slabs. There's too many fit quadragenarians around for me to complain as of yet, too many 35-year-olds running sub-3-hour marathons for me to get away with being soft. Best of all, I still love to suffer and climbing has plenty of that to go around. It has also gifted me with more memorable moments than I can shake a stick at and more good people in my life than I ever could have imagined. Perhaps that is where the true importance lies, despite the fact that I just spent a few thousand words in rather glib abandon, spouting off about moves and boulder problems and ascents. Oh well.

5.15.2012

The Thaw

Sun? Aside from my trip to Vegas and Utah in March/April, I, like so many others in Seattle, haven't seen the flaming sky circle so perennially mysterious to us Northwesterners much at all in the past six months (alright, so I had +/- two months of it in CA last Fall/Winter and a month of it this spring; whatever). What betokeneth such an omen as this, the appearance of mighty Sol in the sky over Washington on an almost daily basis? Even the most rainfucked reaches of the Earth (like western Washington) have to dry out at some point. Since it hardly ever freezes around here in the winter, it's a technical faux pas to call it a thaw as it's actually an evaporation; regardless, the appearance is akin to the former, as people collectively shuffle off the sluggishness of winter and slowly realize that hiding in dank cellar-like bars behind overly hoppy beers is not their sole purpose on this Earth. Actual skin is seen, although it is mostly of a ghastly white color completely incongruous with it being part of a living human. That's just how we roll around here...

...and I'm fucking sick of it. Finally. It only took 30 years. I'm tired of living in a now-swank (it wasn't really when I was growing up in it) neighborhood that I can't really afford in an overpriced city full of arrogant, standoffish 30-somethings with too much money, foppish, irritating hipsters and a weather pattern that would bum out an ounce of cocaine. But hey, in all seriousness: it could be worse. Not that it really helps to bust out that well-ridden truism at every opportunity, but so be it. I still can't believe I've lived in the same neighborhood for almost 31 years. You'd think I was from rural Oklahoma except that I occasionally travel more than 50 statute miles from home.

Anyway, I've been experiencing this strange combination of phenomena lately: good weather, painless rock climbing and the chance to see a lot of really good people that I haven't seen much of in the past few years. How is this possible? It's called driving to Leavenworth! The last couple of weekends there have been absolutely kick-ass. A few weeks ago I was knee deep in the muck of a pretty significant spell of hopelessness. I believe I've chronicled a few such events here, much to the chagrin of anyone unfortunate enough to read whatever hackneyed jingus I vomit onto the interwebs. To be more succinct than usual: injured finger; unemployed/unemployable (it just gets worse the longer it goes on); gastritis (stomach lining inflamed; haven't had coffee in three weeks and am on the wagon with the booze as well); unfavorable living situation. Naturally, one or more of these has/have been the source of some stress in my life of late. I've never been good at dealing with stress, but now that it's clearly becoming endemic in my life I find myself with a peculiar motivation to find a remedy. I went east one weekend just to hang out in the sun and discovered that I can climb again with little consequence. Not that everything is entirely mended, but it finally seems like a necessary risk to try to rehab my finger. Now of course, being who I am, I am seldom able to just 'take it easy', even when I should know better: I quickly found myself projecting boulder problems again, just like that. Trying hard (for me) moves over and over again until the skin on my fingertips was gone was truly a beacon of hope, however: I thrashed around on rock formations of unimpressive height and had a blast. Best of all, my finger didn't hate me afterwards, at least not for more than a day or two.

I've managed two of these blissful weekends in a row now. When things seem especially grim and I'm consistently and intractably unhappy, it's easy to forget that not everyone is feeling like that. People actually exude positive energy sometimes, energy that can be uplifting and inspiring. My blog is a pretty accurate portrait of my personality, unfortunately: 100% Andrew and as such, filled with sarcasm, doubt, negativity, inappropriate language, self-effacement and bile. I often think I would prefer it to be more polished and publishable, full of delightful witticisms and surgically incisive prose that cuts through the fat to the kernel of meaning underneath, clear as a bell. When I think about what I've read lately (especially in 'the mags'), I realize most of it has nothing to do with insight or clarity and everything to do with keeping up with the Joneses (of climbing). There's no market for introspection or reflection unless it's linked to some 'sick badassery'. Instead, a too-cool-for-school, 'I'm so irreverent' voice soundly dominates. Throw in some brotastic phrases and employ some self-righteous sleight of hand and call it article-worthy. OK, so not all the climbing writing these days is like that (just most of it); might as well play fair, I suppose. I don't really have any proof of what I'm saying anyway, but I think that the blatantly dismissive and sarcastic editorials and the relentless focus on the 'progression' of climbing as a sport are part of a sadly pointless search for meaning that is a sign of our times if anything is. I find this feeling of pointlessness spilling over into everything but it is especially obvious in the way we communicate. Facebook has made obvious the realm of 'instantaneous meaninglessness' that we are beginning more and more to inhabit.

And how did I get from 'blissful' to this? Well, in part because I can say whatever the fuck I want here. So there. I've definitely typed my way down a rabbit hole of confusion here so I will attempt to salvage something from it. What I'm saying is that it's too damn easy to get caught up in this idea that meaning is dead and that the only answer is to veil everything relentlessly in platitudes that fill space but have little value. The 'Corn Flakes' of life, these phrases, thoughts and habitual actions are mere bromides, meant to distract and placate but not to effect any insight or betterment. Some of this is personal, of course: my life is woefully out of balance and that tends to bias me towards a slightly more dark and stormy view of things. Still, though, there is a general current towards apathy and a sort of 'practiced ennui' that is far too easy to get sucked into. Sink or swim, shit or get off the pot, fish or cut bait. Whatever clever little binomial phrase you want to use, it's probably true: gotta do something, whether it's progress or not; there is no such thing as doing nothing. As for the balance I so badly desire? It's probably there; I just need to shuffle a few things around before it weighs out the way I want it to. And spending a few days a week in a sunny place with some good folk and some pebbles to wrestle definitely doesn't hurt either.

5.04.2012

Telemate Forever

So much time and so few words. How easy it is to look back on old posts and have them seem so pointlessly glib. I'm sure a number of them are, but what really is the point of having a blog? I suppose I could comb endlessly through current events and come up with something insightful to say, but I'm too jaded. The world according to the news is such a complete shit show that it's hard to have any meaningful opinion, especially one that hasn't already been voiced ad nauseum in forums and comments fields by readers the world over. I believe this is fallout from having practically limitless access to information and instant communication as we do today. Things seem cheapened somehow, flavorless; a reality inundated with so much media creates a constant state of sensory overload and adrenal fatigue. Even having grown up in the 80's and 90's ("back in my day...") I can recall a time when technology was more of a limiting factor, when having two phone lines and a 28800 baud modem was absolute bliss and cell phones weighed about five pounds. So this time I'm going to write about 28800 baud modems (and 14400, all the way down to 1200) and about how much of a BBS nerd I was when I was younger. I still find it fascinating and feel some satisfaction at being there at the very inception of the interwebs before it was all Twittered and Facefuckbooked.

I just took one of my first computers to the recycling center (aka, the place that ships all of our e-waste away so that it pollutes groundwater in third-world countries and not ours). Back in the day, the IBM 80386-based computer I just gave away to be melted down for trace amounts of rare earth metals was a mean machine. At 33 MHz (yes, 33; modern chips are now up to almost 4 GHz and have multiple processing cores) the processor was capable of some amazing things, like running games in the new VGA (Video Graphics Array) standard that allowed 256 colors AT ONCE! Compare this to the previous 16-color EGA and CGA display hardware and the difference was astounding:

 Check out these two screenshots from one of my favorite Sierra games, King's Quest V

The new games looked like paintings! Even the old 16-color versions looked great. Of course, since CD-ROM was barely available, the games often came with up to ten 5.25" floppy diskettes:

 Another game I loved dearly: Conquests of Camelot. This is the EGA version with ten installation disks (or four if you use the 3.5" ones)

Many of the VGA games thankfully used the higher density 3.5" "floppy" disks and, in the late 80's, CD's (I think my 386 had a 2x CD-ROM drive; now I doubt you can even buy a CD-ROM drive as DVD-ROM is backwards-compatible). These adventure games, though they have become somewhat of a dying breed, were absolutely the shit back when a DOS prompt was the way we interacted with our computers (or a UNIX prompt). I credit the time I spent playing through them for all I've accomplished in life so far. Ahem.

Really what I meant to dig into in this edition of 'bored at 12:00 AM' was BBSing, but I can't help waxing sentimental about every little nuance of computing 20 years ago. The BBS (Bulletin Board System) was a pre-internet method of filesharing, gaming and communication. The SYSOP (system operator) of a BBS was a person like you or me but with multiple (up to 64 or more) individual phone lines in his house and untold amounts of computer paraphernalia. On average, the BBSs I used probably had 5-10 lines available. If all the lines were full we had to set our modems on redial and wait our turn. Although BBSs still exist in some form or other (usually accessible via Telnet protocol) they can't possibly have the popularity they did even in the mid-90's when I was in my online heyday. To access any BBS back then, one had to have a piece of hardware known as a Modem. Internal or external, a modem allowed the computer to dial out via a phone line and connect to other computers directly or, in the case of the BBS, via server software. When I first used a modem, it was to dial up the Sierra Online BBS for game hints. A 1200 or 2400 BPS modem would print a page (of text) at a slow scroll, maybe a few pages per minute with slower of the two; the later 28800 V.34 modems were astonishingly faster and allowed for graphics and faster file transfer. Dialing in was as simple as obtaining a Terminal program and learning some simple modem commands ("ATDT ^m" for tone dialing, etc.).

My initiation into the world of the BBS was eclectic and fascinating. Numerous text and ANSI BBSs existed. Each would typically have chat rooms, games, a file server and perhaps even some form of Email (although that was usually accomplished via a separate internet provider, which also gave access to IRC chat and FTP file sharing). In any case, the level of communication was staggering at the time. Text based games were often played by dozens of people. From stealing beer for cash in the classic Usurper to challenging sleeping players to duels in LORD (Legend of the Red Dragon) to the esoteric appeal of stat building in Swords of Chaos, anything seemed possible. Chat rooms offered a completely unabashed look at entirely different genres of people than I would have met anywhere else in my 13-year-old life. Perhaps most interesting by far, however, was King of the Cats. KOTC was a radically innovative BBS that used a graphical interface, RIP (Remote Image Protocol) to allow hand-drawn images as screens. Several other BBSs used RIP but none of them required one to log on and assume the character of a cat. Yep. Really. Character creation was much akin to a simple roleplaying game but once completed, a graphical world made up of static, hand-drawn RIPart, was navigated from the perspective of a feline. One could 'level up' via the accumulation of experience points gained by playing a number of quirky games, fighting enemies or by any number of other sources, often unexpected. The focus was on adventure as well as on communicating with other players via chat, much like other more traditional BBSs. 


I can't even find screenshots of the actual BBS anymore; this is from a manual that every subscriber was sent in the mail after paying the first monthly due and creating a cat charater.

KOTC was much more than a 'game', however; it was about real-life get-togethers where all the 'real' people behind the characters would meet. It wasn't just us 13 and 14-year-old kids; KOTC had a real artistic appeal and the players ran the gamut from the young (10?) to the old (70, perhaps?). My first online girlfriend was from KOTC. Her cat was named Cinnamon. I think in total I met three former girlfriends on BBSs up to when I was 17 and started drinking and smoking weed instead of playing text-based online games and drinking Jolt Cola until 4am. On two separate occasions we were 'dating' before we'd even met each other in 'real' life! The players from KOTC were mostly highly intelligent and interesting people, but like I said: the focus of KOTC wasn't solely the 'game', but more the personal interaction. This was the foundation of any great BBS and the RIP graphics protocol was simply a new and innovative way of catalyzing that interaction.

The Nuthouse and the Mudhole were two other BBSs of note in my world, although they were more traditional text-based protocols. The Nuthouse was especially valuable to me because of the people I met therein.  A good friend of mine from that era, Mako, probably said it best, that there were few other places at age 15 where he would have had the chance to befriend both a wheelchair-bound BBS SYSOP and a Vietnam War vet. I haven't been in touch with Secret Squirrel (the screen name of the Nuthouse SYSOP) for years now, but spending time with him and his family as a 15 year-old was eye-opening and invaluable for me as well. Although eroded by time and callousness, the wisdom imparted was that of acceptance, that people weren't always well-groomed caucasians from North Seattle. I spent countless hours in chat rooms with teachers, hicks, teenage girls, wannabe thugs from Burien, writers, lawyers, etc. Nowhere else have I truly encountered such diversity as I have online when interaction is possible without the visual pretext. Though closed-minded bullshit certainly comes through via text chat as well, everyone is at least on an equal playing field from the outset. 

The demise of the BBS for me was probably when I switched over to gaming exclusively. Though often fun and certainly serious time-sinks, MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons, the predecessors to today's MMORPG's like Everquest and World of Warcraft) and MUD-like BBS door games lacked the meaningfulness of chat and the diversity of people was lost in the confines of the games. Then there was the internet and the rest is, for the most part, history. Thank goodness, then, that I never got into Everquest or WoW, because they basically combine both potentially meaningful player interactions with exciting RPG gameplay in attractively modeled online graphical worlds. I always figured that if I let myself play one of those games I probably wouldn't ever stop. Climbing is probably a slightly healthier addiction.

This blog post sucks. It's more of a disjointed survey of the role of computers in my life than anything else. Needless to say, however, that now I find the (modern) online world much less interesting despite the appalling amount of information available to me. It was the character of the whole process, from jumpers on pins and multiple phone lines (so that mom and dad could use the telephone on one while I used the other for BBSing, although I would often monopolize both for hours) to endless gaming and social interaction via real-time text, that was so enthralling. Today's Facedickbook chat is far too casual: it seems like few people intend to spend hours really getting to know each other via Facebook or other networking sites the way we did in BBS chat rooms. We didn't just use them to make 'real life' plans; they were real enough by themselves. Looking back on it, it doesn't seem so strange that I dated girls I met online. With the peculiar ambiance achieved by the BBS chatroom, it was almost like having actual face time with a room full of people and the connections made were absolutely genuine. It's interesting to me how technology can change so much in so short a time. What's happening now with information availability is, I think, somewhat unprecedented in our history and it's impossible to tell where this path may lead us. Personally, I feel somewhat disillusioned about the whole thing. Maybe it's because I've gotten more satisfaction out of less connectivity in the past? Who knows.