Monthly Archives: February 2010

Olympic Champions

Today was the men’s giant slalom event at the Olympics and naturally there was a list of the usual suspects expected to stand on the podium at the end of the day. These guys are from countries like the United States, Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Italy who have long traditions of competitive skiing and skiers, who on any given day can dominate any event. Names like Franz Klamer, Alberto Tomba, Hermann Maier, Pirmin Zurbriggen and Bode Miller are pretty much household names if you know anything at all about skiing.

Well, this morning on my way to work I was listening to NPR and they played a human interest piece about an alpine skier from Pakistan named Muhammed Abbas.

It seems that from an early age Muhammed had an infatuation with the Winter Olympics. When it would snow, he and his friends would find pieces of scrap wood and tie them to their shoes so that they could “ski”. One day a survival training expert noticed Muhammed and his friends “skiing”, felt a little sorry for them, so scavanged up some real skis for the kids to use. Today, at age 24, Muhammed will compete in the Giant Slalom in Vancouver, British Columbia in the 2010 Winter Olympics. On top of that, he’ll compete as Pakistan’s very first winter Olympian. The guy that found him the skis way back in teh day? He’s now Muhammed’s coach.

Although Pakistan is a country with some of the most rugged mountain ranges in the world, they have no formal ski areas to speak of. That’s certainly not an ideal situation for an aspiring ski racer such as Muhammed. But given his fascination, motivation and love of the sport, he worked around the problem of having no ski area and found a way to do the absolute best he could with what he had. To make his journey to the Olympics even more amazing, when Muhammed steps into the starting house and hears the race official count him down for his start, it will be his very first race of this winter season.

During the day I have a little box reduced at the corner of my computer screen that has live updates from the event. From time to time I’ll look to see who is leading the race or who has crashed. As expected, most of the more familiar names were atop the leader board (save for Bode Miller who crashed early on). Naturally all of these guys are seeded high in the competition and will be the first to go. What this means is that by a third or so of the competitors through the field, most of the people who have any shot at all of winning a medal are probably already back in the warmth of their training facility or conducting interviews with local and national media from their given countries. And what’s left for the rest of the field is a chewed up course with ruts and choppy conditions and basically no chance to even get noticed as having participated.

But guys like Muhammed, or Jamyang Namgial from India, or Marino Cardelli from San Marino will sit and wait as the best in the world put up times they know they have no chance of ever catching. And by the time they finally push out of the start house, the crowds will be mostly gone and the news crews will be packing up for their next assignments. When I thought about this, it actually made me a little sad and ashamed that we sometimes just discount the efforts of people who don’t have a gazillion dollar sponsorship or have a country that can afford to host a program so that they can have half of a fighting chance.

So after thinking about that, I decided that I owed it to them to watch their results as they popped up on my screen and show some support for these athletes who undoubtedly worked just as hard as anyone else in the field — they just didn’t have the resources or money to take it to that world class level. And though they may not have had the money or resources, I know for sure they had a bigger heart than any other athlete out there because they had to come in to the games knowing that their efforts were going to fall well short of the elite skiers times.

To me, these are the true heroes of the Olympic Games. They are not Shaun White who’ll knock down $9 million a year in endorsements or have Red Bull build them a private half pipe and get a helicopter ride up to it every day. They aren’t the elite figure skaters who sometimes have every privilege in the world, train at world class facilities and revel in the knowledge that television stations make them into some of media gods. And with all those privileges and sponsorships, they still cop some heavy attitude and seem unappreciative at times.

Muhammed and everyone else that finishes in an empty stadium are just the guys and girls who work their asses off day after day, maybe between helping their families earn enough to eat, and are satisfied with knowing they gave everything they had to live out a dream of just standing in the starting gate at the Olympic Games.

It’s easy to be a fan of somebody standing on the podium year after year, and yes, they are tremendous athletes and have worked hard to get where they are — with the help of sponsors, world class coaches and media coverage. But I myself find it easier to be a fan of people like Muhammed who ask for nothing, took very little (because there was nothing to give) and still make their own dreams come true.

So after I watched the updates as these guys raced down the course, I’m happy to say that on Muhammed’s first race of the year he finished with a time of 1:38:27, taking a respectiable 87th place. Mr. Cardelli of San Marino finished in 1:40:88 for 88th place and finally, Jamyang Namgial of India crossed the finish line at 1:46:77. They were all three well more than 20 seconds off the winning time in the first leg of a race that took most people only a minute to complete. But they finished, which is what 14 competitors were not able to do.

There are your Olympic champions, though you’ll never know their names beyond this blog post or see their faces on a single advertisement.

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Gambling, Slapdowns and Reality

Photo courtesy of Greg Norrander

I trained really hard, especially after fracturing my ankle this past November. I ate properly. I hydrated extravagantly for the week prior to race day. I packed my lucky socks and wore them. I wore the same clothes that I’d been training in for weeks and weeks so there would be no surprise rubbing or chaffing. The morning of the race I was up three hours beforehand to eat my customary peanut butter and banana sandwich and sip my one cup of caffeine. I was more than ready both mentally and physically.

Then, about six miles from our friend’s house in Moab on the way to the race start, I got that aggravating nervous feeling that something wasn’t right. I went slowly and methodically through my mental checklist and then it hit me. No, it actually slapped the living crap out of me. I’d left my hydration pack back at the house. Panic hit me like a sledgehammer and I immediately pulled off to the side of Highway 191 with the intention of going back. I checked my watch and it was just too close to race time (or so I surmised) to return. My mind was churning at a pace I rarely let it stray. Damn it. How could I have been so careless?

In my thought processes I went through every step of the backcountry course, debating whether I had a chance of making it to the few and far between aid stations without my gear. Mile 7? Mile 15? Finish at mile 21-ish? It’d be a super risky gamble, but I was pretty convinced that if I ran a smart race I might be okay. I pulled our Subaru back onto the highway and continued to the Gemini Bridges Trailhead where I’d start the race.

The one thing that surprised me when we drove into Moab the previous day was the enormous amount of snow covering the desert. It was more than I’d ever seen out there and it truthfully made me a little nervous. I knew from running the ultra-distance event there last year that the course was tough enough in normal desert conditions, so any amount of snow would make it really challenging. However, I’d received an email the day before from the race director saying the course was icy and snowpacked, but very runnable. I tried as best I could to factor in the positive email and not think about how hard it “might” be.

After the initial four miles of the race, the track switches from Jeep roads to singletrack and starts a strenuous climb up slickrock, through arroyos, over boulders and along exposed ridges. Add the element of snow and ice and you get the picture…it was pretty darn hard, but like the email claimed, “runnable”.

After I finally reached the first support station somewhere between mile 7 and mile 8, I drank some water, sipped a little of some kind of hydration drink and nibbled a little fruit. So far so good and I was in and out of there in just a few seconds. I figured I’d taken in just enough fuel to get me to mile 15 and the next aid station, but it’d be close.

From there the track got a bit icier and the technical aspect came more into play. There were lots of places along the trail where I had to jump, scoot, ponder and sometimes just commit and hope for the best. I fell a couple of times on the ice but they were always just minor events and never anything major, thank goodness. However, because of the snow and ice, I was simply working harder than I wanted. I was aware of this increased effort and did my best to conserve, but I was getting a full dose of “beat down” and I knew I had no way to refuel for several more miles.

Through about mile 13 or so I was running quite strong and was keeping on pace with finishing in the top 30 runners or so (out of 168). There was a small pack of us running together, maybe four strong, and we fed off each other’s enthusiasm and pace. However, when I got close to mile 15, I unfortunately started to feel the wheels come off a bit. I was running out of gas quickly and needed that aid station desperately.

I sort of remembered the landmarks of where the aid station had been last year and knew I was probably getting close, but before I could think too much more about it, word came back down the line that because of the amount of snow on the course, the aid station had been moved another three or four miles farther. Needless to say my mind was in full gear trying to reconcile the situation and keep all systems on go. I tried to use the rationale that if it were only another three miles I should be there in about 25-27 minutes and I knew I could do anything for 20 minutes. What I didn’t want to factor in was the steep terrain separating my current position and the next aid station.

As I started scrambling up the next steep hill, my calves cramped without warning and it almost dropped me to the ground. I hopped a little and tried to keep running but my legs wouldn’t have it. I was able to walk backwards and the knots waned a little, but they were really hurting. I begrudgingly paused, tried to stretch them some, but was afraid of tearing something given how tight they were. After just a few more seconds I tried walking at a brisk pace, but the cramps immediately came back. My little running posse was leaving me behind and there was nothing I could do.

I tried and tried to run but it was futile. And I’m not sure if it was a result of the dehydration, frustration, fatigue or pure stress on my body, but about 30 minutes after the cramps started, I actually barfed up what little I had in my system. I had no water to rinse my mouth so I was also grossed out along with suffering. Sick and hurting, all I could do is walk.

When I finally reached the aid station, I was really struggling, both mentally and physically. I wasn’t sure whether to eat or not given my stomach issues. I knew I had to drink but was afraid of the sports drink because it was pretty much untested in my system. I finally sipped a tiny amount of soda to get some sugar and caffeine, sipped a little water and hesitantly grabbed a Hammer Gel packet to take with me.

About 100 yards out of the aid station I squeezed about half the strawberry flavored Hammer Gel into my mouth. Twenty five yards later, I threw it up. My system was shutting down for the day. I knew it and I could do nothing to stop it.

The most frustrating part of the last three miles wasn’t the pain in my legs, the complete fatigue of my body or the sharp pains in my gut, but more so the fact that people were passing me and I couldn’t do a damn thing about it. They’d all say “good job” or “nice work” and I appreciated it, but it still would almost bring me to tears as they would run over a small ridge and out of sight and I was helpless to catch them. The physical pain I could deal with, but the mental pain was excruciating.

With about a mile to go I decided that I had to try and least do something to appease myself so I resolved to run to the finish regardless of the amount of pain. For the most part I was able to do it, save for a few places where I had to run uphill and my legs would cramp again. I was also afraid of falling on the steep, rocky downhill trail into the finish because I couldn’t pick my feet up as much as I would have liked. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

When I crossed the finish line the few people that were there enduring the cold were clapping and saying things like “good job”. While I appreciated the sentiment, all I wanted to do was go home. I did eat a little and got some hydration going, but I didn’t linger long before I was in the car and gone.

Frustrated, disappointed and just downright pissed off doesn’t even scratch the surface of how I felt all afternoon. And for the first part of our drive back to Vail, the frustration and disappointment were literally consuming me. How could I have been so careless that morning? I’d basically wasted weeks and weeks of training because of my carelessness.

But after a while I started trying to turn the entire experience into something positive, even though I still wanted to be pissed for a while longer. I realized that in the end, it was just a mistake, albeit a costly one. And what that mistake uncovered was just how much I’m willing to endure to see a job to the end. I needed to manage an unexpected situation that would require everything I had in the way of mental and physical resources…and I’d done it. It wasn’t the race I wanted, but it was the race that exposed more about who I actually am. And that’s the real reason I run those crazy events to begin with. They’re hard, even brutal at times, but the feeling of working hard and finishing is always, always rewarding to the soul. Once I let go of the anger, I realized that the entire experience, the good and the bad, was the very reason I do the things I do to begin with.

After seeing the race results the next day I was still sort of disappointed that I didn’t place much higher in the overall standings, but what I found was that despite seriously struggling for the last few miles, I still managed to get in the top 40% of finishers. I felt a little better knowing that I’d actually built up a rather large cushion before things went so wrong. It was a start for me to get my chi back in order, but I still needed some time to sort through everything properly.

That was three days ago.

This morning I sadly got word that Jenn Gruden, one of the elite ruuners who ran way up at the front of the lead pack had been killed in a tragic, tragic car accident the evening after the race as she made her way home to Steamboat. In a split second, I realized just how petty my stupid concerns are about a stupid race that means absolutely nothing in the scheme of life.

I didn’t know Jenn personally, but she was part of the small family of ultra-runners, therefore she was my family. The news crushed my heart and I now feel a deep, deep sincere sense of loss. Be it climbing, paddling, ultra-running or whatever, it’s the people who we associate with that are the real reason we do the things we do. They are the few who inspire us to look deeper, go higher, push harder, run farther. It’s also these people like Jenn who understand what living life is all about and who willingly provide comfort to us while they’re suffering themselves. Jenn was uniquely Jenn, but she was also personified in every person who passed me during the painful late stages of the race and offered me a kind word while I struggled to find reason and meaning.

Reality hurts sometimes and losing a member of the family is difficult to reconcile. However, the equal tragedy would be to waste Jenn’s enthusiasm for life and not learn from a fallen member of the family.

Let the Dreams Begin

 

Making it through a normal day is pretty tough for me these days. And before any conclusions are jumped to, it’s likely not what you think. Much of this feeling started a couple of years ago, but it wasn’t until this past weekend that it actually came to a head.

Let me start with how this all began. I promise I’ll be brief, or as brief as I can, which is typically long.

A couple of years ago some good friends introduced us to some other friends who eventually introduced me to a couple more friends. Now we’re all friends. Follow me so far? So these friends who we were introduced to, and the friend they eventually introduced us to, conceived this idea that they would buy a sailboat, restore it while they learned more about the sea and eventually sail this conceptual boat around the world. Everyone has thought about this exact thing at one time or another, right? I know I sure have, and often.

Most people hearing this brainstorm would have assumed that the buzz from the beers would have worn off and life would go on as normal. What is different though is that these guys cobbled together their life savings and actually bought a boat, in Mexico nonetheless. I can’t even imagine how exhilarating it must have been to hatch such a plan and actually put the cash to it!

After some needed critical repairs and lots of logistical planning, they eventually had the boat moved to San Francisco where it’s been sitting in a slip undergoing what has amounted to a complete cosmetic and mechanical overhaul for the last couple of years.

When I initially saw the boat (via the pictures on their website), it was still sitting in Mexico and it looked huge in the slip http://syzygysailing.com/. However, once it was in San Francisco and I actually stepped aboard, the 40-foot Valiant all of a sudden seemed mighty damn small, especially when I considered being aboard in the middle of the ocean for weeks on end. I think they said the longest crossing, or time at sea, would be while crossing the Pacific and that it would take them approximately four weeks. Yeah, okay, now it just got smaller again.

Okay, let me shift gears.

The friends who initially introduced us to those friends who eventually introduced us to the other friends, who eventually bought the sailboat, of which we’re all friends now, live very close to us and are undoubtedly among our closest of friends. We climb together, camp, ski, have dinner regularly, host parties, attend stuff and generally function as a proper family might. Andrew even performed the wedding ceremony for our daughter (no, he’s not a minister…but it’s okay, it’s Colorado).

For about a year or so we’ve heard rumblings from them about taking a year off to travel around, climbing, biking, fishing and just living the life of a nomad. They of course want to do all this before they have kids, settle into careers, etc. Much like the sailboat, that too has been fun and time consuming to imagine and think about, especially at those times when I should probably be focused on other stuff, like work. But I digress, again.

Well, a few of weeks ago I get an email (with picture attachments of course) from Andrew saying that he had acquired a four-door, F-350, four wheel drive pickup AND an 27-foot travel trailer. Andrew is from England.  They have Mini Coopers in England, not F-350s. So my first thought is that he may be the first Brit to ever drive a truck that I could probably put my Tacoma inside of. And furthermore, he’s assuredly the first to have a goose-neck trailer attached to the posterior of said truck. Let’s just hope those stupid “truck nuts” don’t ever make an appearance. For as much confusion to my senses as that scenario presented, it was also right on par with the unimagineable coolness of the sailboat adventure. They were definitely going for it!

So last weekend Donna and I went over to check out the travel trailer first hand. Not ironically, the very second I stepped through the door, I got the same feeling I did when I stepped on board Syzygy. I was in awe of the potential that this thing held. Not the potential functionality, but the potential for adventure. And this wasn’t some vessel that would grace the campgrounds that are squarely on the piste. This was where they’d live for the foreseeable future, living out a dream very much like that of the guys on Syzygy.  This was taking an idea and not letting the bullshit of day-to-day life or the nay-sayers stand in the way of making it happen. Click on their website in my favorites list — Green’s Travel Blog.

I was really excited for them, super excited actually. And for me to say that about an RV is huge, because I’m a “sleep in a tent” or the “back of my truck if I want luxury”, kind of guy. But seeing the unit, actually sitting inside and imagining all the stories, adventures and memories that this land-based-sailboat will hatch over the next year (give or take) really made me start thinking about planning something so grand for myself, as if I needed another catalyst.

Obviously they can’t drive that thing around the world, but they’ll be circumnavigating North America for the better part of a year, starting with a beefy drive up to Alaska to climb Denali.

As if that wasn’t enough pressure on my sense of wanderlust, Syzygy is scheduled to leave any day now. They’re actually sitting aboard there in San Francisco waiting on the weather to clear. There have been some dynamics that have changed in the last few months, but the dream still lives. I can’t even begin to imagine what it’ll be like to sail under the Golden Gate Bridge and know that for the foreseeable future, my home would be on a sailboat and there would be no boundaries to the adventures if I was willing to go after them.

And I can only assume that when Andrew and Erin pull out of their driveway and out of their neighborhood in a couple of months, they’ll probably feel much the same as the Syzygy guys as they sail under the bridge.

Oh yeah, I probably should mention that though Andrew and Erin will be gone for quite some time, I’ve already made plans to catch up to them later this year in Canada for some mountaineering in the Bugaboos, and then again down in Potrero Chico, Mexico for more vertical shenanigans down in that part of the world. Who knows what else I’ll be able to fill in the gaps with, but hopefully this will keep me satisfied until I can hatch a plan of my own.

Let the dreams begin.

Running Free


I’m now less than a week away from my trail race in Moab and I’m feeling pretty darn good despite a little setback this past week.

Without going into the grim details, let’s just say that I had some rather grizzly oral surgery that resulted in some hefty prescriptions for pain and some beefy antibiotics to ward off infections. They’ve honestly kicked my ass, hard. Little did I know just how hard until this morning when I went out for the last “long run” I wanted to do before my race.

It was snowing and chilly this morning, but absolutely perfect conditions for a casual 13-14 miles. But, about 200 yards out of the gate I was actually gasping for air and my whole system seemed totally out of sync. I’d already assumed that I’d feel a little off because of the cutting and hacking that had been done, but this was seriously way more than I’d expected. To be honest, it was bad enough that it actually scared me a little. You hear about people having heart attacks who say they have pressure in their chest and have shortness of breath, yeah, well, that’s what was happening and that’s exactly what was racing through my mind.

I reluctantly slowed down, even stopped for a second or two and tried to get everything back in order. It took me more than a couple of miles to finally get any rhythm and relax into the run. Once I did settle down, it took me a total of about three seconds to decide that everything but the antibiotics were history from that point on. The pain I can deal with on my terms. The infection prevention stuff, well, I probably should obey that one since that was the cause of the whole deal in the first place. I just don’t take meds as a normal course of business and was completely shocked at how hard they’d hit me and how utterly terrible they’d actually made me feel…instead of better.

I can’t even imagine how awful people must feel who take a load of meds on a daily basis. They might not even know how bad they feel because they’re probably so used to taking them they simply don’t know any better. I know some people have to take meds to stay alive, but I’d bet that the majority of med use in America could be eliminated with the adoption of a better lifestyle and better diet. It’s like on that show Biggest Loser when they all say how many meds they’ve quit taking because of changing their lifestyle and how they don’t feel like they’re in a “daze” anymore. I know how good I feel about 99.9% of the time and it’s because I’ve chosen to stay in good shape, don’t take those meds and I allow my body to grow strong and take care of itself without them. And now, to realize just how shitty I felt after only two days on those things, wow, I just can’t even fathom living my life like that.

I admit that getting out every day and running in the rain, snow, wind, cold, heat and whatever else Mother Nature may throw at me is hard, really hard sometimes. But it’s so much better than shoveling in a chem-tab and feeling like crap, even when I’m just sitting around supposedly relaxing. And why people choose to take these things recreationally is totally beyond my comprehension. A good long run (include climb, paddle, snowboard, mountain bike, etc) makes me feel better than anything I can think of. It gets my juices flowing, helps build my immunity naturally and always allows me to clear my mind from the daily clutter. It doesn’t necessarily take a long, multi-hour run to do it, though I prefer those. Even a simple three or four mile run can recharge my battery.

So, once I got things sorted out on my run, I focused on making the most of the outing and significantly upped the tempo in order to sweat more and REALLY stress the system. This was with the hope that I could flush that stuff out of my system as quickly as possible. Normally I wouldn’t run a long up-tempo run only six days prior to a race, but I felt this was a worthy reason. So what if running faster today makes me a little more tired for this weekend’s race? I’d much rather be free of those chemicals than save a few minutes of time…time in a trail race that has no meaning whatsoever in the scheme of life. I think I’d rather save the time that actually does mean something…the time that I add to my life.

When I got home from my run I did the normal re-hydrating, refueling and carried on with my normal day — including going over to check out Andrew and Erin’s new travel trailer (which is another post that’s coming up!). And even though I knew I’d spend half the day in the washroom, I amped up the water intake (more than normal) throughout the day to speed the chem-flush.

Now, after settling in for the evening, I fully expected to have a little soreness. The amazing thing is that I have absolutely no soreness at all, none. Maybe that speaks well for the massive amount of training I’ve put in over the last couple of months. Even better, two of the stitches in my mouth sort of fell out over the last couple of days. Admittedly, this may have been a little premature even if they are dissolvable. Regardless, I grabbed some scissors from the medicine cabinet and snipped off the straggling pieces and went about my business. Only four or five more to go! I always tell people that I heal quickly so this could be a little more proof that taking charge of my health and living an active lifestyle is a far better choice than living chemically and only hoping to feel better. The sooner I can get all this chemical crap out of my system and all the twine out of my mouth, the better.

All that remains this week are three easy maintenance runs, all of less than seven miles each, and I should be ready to race…chemical free.

The Lost Boys and Girls

I guess I’m fortunate in that many years ago I was able to figure out what made me tick and adjust my lifestyle accordingly. Before I did though, I was dutifully schlepping after the corporate carrot, doing the right things, saying the right things, wearing the right clothes and putting in the monster work hours away from my family and outside interests. And indeed, the money was rolling in, but unfortunately, the zest for life was draining out. Yep, I was pretty much a prostitute to “the man”.

Jump ahead about twenty years now and the story is completely different. I still have a good job, one where I actually like most of the people I work with, and I work a normal day without sacrificing family time or my sanity. I even have a boss who I think understands my whacky ways and tolerates my need to traipse around the world from time to time in order to shake my mental Etch-O-Sketch. And in return, I work hard out of respect and appreciation for him and do my job the best I can. Plus, he’s pretty much just a nice guy. A far cry from the managers I’ve had who demand respect simply because they hold a title…which is a little too common.

Anyhow, much to the horror and angst of the people who knew me years ago, I eschewed the corporate carrot chasing to pursue the things that truly make me happy like traveling, running, climbing and paddling. And pursue them at full throttle I have. I realized early that there were so many barriers that I’d let be imposed on me and even a few that I’d put up myself. Shame on me, but at least I recognized it and did something about it before it was too late. Some people think I’m obsessive about it. I prefer to think of it as living every single second of every single day to the absolute fullest. I see my life as a gift and one that I should enjoy…on my terms and “off the piste” so to speak.

Just a few years ago I started to notice that more and more people were getting into climbing, mostly at climbing gyms. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just a fact. Back in the day when I’d train in the winter at the gym, there might be a handful of people around doing the same thing…waiting out the cold to get back on the rock. Today, these facilities are packed with young professionals who see it as the hip and trendy thing to do. And that’s perfectly okay, but the point is that the “vibe” around the rock climbing scene is just not what it used to be.

A certain amount of machismo has certainly always been part of the climbing scene, but lately, instead of being some friendly competition between the local out-of-work, over-educated, under-employed, dirt-bag type folks trying to figure out life, it’s become just another corporate machine. If any hot new climber sends a route approaching 5.14, then immediately every clothing, shoe, rope and gear manufacturer literally pees on themselves trying to be the first to get their image in all the ads. And once it gets to this point, there’s no turning back for the sport.

I’d been thinking a lot about this recently and frankly I’d started envisioning myself as being back on that gerbil wheel again, doing what everyone else is doing and in some ways losing my identity. I forgot who said it, but there is a quote that goes something like this, “if you ever start thinking like everyone else, it’d probably be best to do something different”.

I love climbing, a lot, and I try and get out whenever I can. But what I’ve found discouraging over these past few years is that even outside of the gym environment, the local crags are sometimes packed to the gills with people with nothing on their minds except sending the hardest problems and proving to the rest of the world that they are worthy. And what’s worse is that it’s oftentimes accompanied with lame verbal references to all the latest gear and a more than healthy dose of “dude and brah”. And because of that, I found myself constantly asking the question, “Where are the people who climb simply because it’s a form of escape, a mechanism to re-center, a place to forget the rest of the world…not a place to impress the rest of the world? Where are all these lost boys and girls?

When I made the six hour trek down to Ouray a couple of weeks ago I was pretty stoked for a few reasons. First, I needed a little road trip to clear my head of the daily BS that sometimes clogs my vision. Secondly, I truly love ice climbing, though I’m certainly not the best ice climber the world has ever known. Oh yeah, I also got to hang out with a couple of friends and philosophize about a plethora of things on the drive down and back.

The trip was definitely all those things and more, but what I found, much to my good fortune, was something I sort of didn’t expect; I actually found all those lost boys and girls. I met so many incredible people who still had that desire for living the true climbing life. They wanted to get away from the mainstream and find that elusive meaning of life, to stoke those fires of life. Here were the people who needed no external validation, but found their validation through solitude and love of the sport.

What was even more interesting was that most everyone there was not the 20-something, shirtless, ripped Adonis-types, but in fact was more of a 30 to 40+ crowd who had more finely tuned skills than generic brute strength. They clearly loved being there, doing what they were doing and not giving a rat’s ass about who climbed harder or what color climbing pants each other was wearing. My point is that it was like the days of old where the people who loved to climb were out there, getting it done in miserable conditions, not having a care in the world, lending encouragement to everyone who at least tried, and yes, even taking those friendly verbal jabs at an occasional errant tool placement. It was serious business with a lighthearted vibe.

What I liked even more was that at the end of the day, these weren’t the climbers who retreat back to the burbs, drink the latest lo-cal energy drink, nibble on water crackers to keep their physiques in advertisement shape and debate who is the “corest” of them all. No! These are the people who tended to look for eateries with the most be-stickered, rusted out pickups parked in front where they’d share a pitcher of beers and shovel in a mountain of whatever cheesy, artery clogging entree was on special. And between shovels of cheesy goodness, they‘d oftentimes share the most amazing tales of epic climbs all over the world. These are the climbing trips that aren’t financed on the latest sponsor’s nickel or featured in the trendiest climbing rag, but instead they’d been cobbled together with what amounted to a couple months worth of meager savings, a daily diet of store-brand peanut butter and jelly and a cheap point and shoot camera with which to shoot a few pics to share among friends once they returned. It’s all they could afford and was more than enough. They did it because they loved it.

Finally, I had found my people once again. There they were, those lost boys and girls, the hard men and women who first inspired me to look beyond that stupid gerbil wheel and strike out to live life the way it’s supposed to be lived. The same people that still keep the flame alive for the rest of us.