Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Affair

I don't kiss and tell. Nor do I tell the the name of this one being which I will speak of. Mainly out of privacy. Or more so, perhaps I fear superstition. That if I speak to loudly and reveal that before actually sending, a curse may fall upon me (if it hasn't already), and that i will never send or conquer that which already has bound it's spell upon my being.

Simply, it's like this: an obsession. Why? Unexplainable. It just is. When I first heard it's name, I wanted to climb this problem. Later, the same reaction transpired when I  saw a photo of it. When it came to meeting it in person, with all the logs and rocks scattered in multiple levels at is base, the steepness of the rock, the size of the starting holds, the confusion of the end sequence, that wanting became even more. It became a need.

It began three whooping years ago. That means this problem accounts for my longest project ever. In terms of time and effort, it takes the cake. It has involved more energy and will than any other. It occupies my mind whether I am near or thousands of miles from it. I make my plans around it, change plans for it, sacrifice for it, fly across the world for it.

Yet, it remains a project. Securing the pocket multiple time doesn't mean sent. Nor does falling at the end over fifty times or sticking that first hard move even more. Nope. Not close enough.

Most folks opt for the easier but long and awkward move of its alternative start over the burly small crimps found on my version. The starting foot is a mere smear, with a tiny pebble which outcrops just slightly. It took a bit to understand the first move. That little smear and the angle one places ones foot on it, with just the right amount of pressure, can mean sticking or falling flat on ones back. What feels impossible in failed attempts is surprisingly easy when latched.

There's exactly 20 moves with my beta. The first move is the hardest in itself while the ones in the middle are easier but not to be confused with easy, they still take effort and focus. Then of course there is the end moves which look deceivingly easy yet are really quite technically hard. That heel has to be placed 'just so' otherwise it's over. The body has to be pulled inward to the rock 'just so' otherwise it effects the heel which effects the whole thing. And if you arrive there from the beginning, you need to relax enough and yet maintain enough tension just to let your body succeed in doing just that. Some people would call this 'tedious...'

I don't know what my problem is. I have done the end many a time. Yet when arriving there from the beginning, my mind begins to cloud. Things get fuzzy as if in a dream which I can easily wake from usually to land on my ass. My focus changes from what I am doing with each hand and foot placement to the voices and sounds around me. The tension I must keep in the heel is like an idea long forgotten. If my hand secures the two finger pocket, it's panic mode. The conversation commences. "I am doing it, I am doing it." A reply of "shut up and focus!" The critic comes forth whispering, "you're not good enough to do this!!" "The heel is going to slip!!". My body automatically changes the heel to a toe. And then, as if scared, or some invisible power pulls me down, something gives. I am one the ground. Again.

It's tiring now. Projecting is hard. It can be mentally and physically exhausting. But the closer I come, the more hope it instills. It's like a tease. By the time you read this, the yesterday I speak of will be long past. I went to my project rested, psyched and determined. My last session resulted in a new split. It was now the fifth experienced from this thing in the last month. But after some rest, I convinced myself I was ready. But on my very first try, the split re-opened. The moves felt harder than usual. The first move was now unrepeatable. After having rested four days from this thing, knowing my trip was very near its end and with fresh blood oozing out of my tip, I lay on my pad and simply expressed what was in me, I cried.

What had felt completely and convincingly possible now took a 180.  It felt like I was back at square one. With one climbing day left, there wasn't time to let the tip heal. I thought about all the other rocks and areas I sacrificed so to stay around and send this thing. I called myself crazy for being so attached. But, I honestly thought it would go sooner. Unfortunately, with the split tips and weather, things didn't work out.

My thoughts flew back to three years ago. Again. I was falling at the end but got shut down by 30 cm of snow. Season ended for everyone. Last year, our stays were shorter and less frequent but on that rare moment when I stuck the first move, again, I'd fall making the long reach to the pocket. This year I changed my end sequence by adding a move to make the long move closer. Reaching the pocket was much easier, the end came more consistently. The first move had to be re-learnt but after some work, this eventually came, after all, its memory was still encoded in my body. The problem is the mind. It remembers how tedious the end is. How one could send if everything isn't 'just so'?

And now, it's close to over. So close, yet, not. I am flying away from this beast, this beauty. I don't know if I will do it tomorrow. But if its spell is not broken, I will be back. If not tomorrow, next year. If not next year, well, that someday will come. As much as it has beaten me down, I have to get up. And like any affair, my heart can be left broken, yet I know, it has been worth every second.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Inquiries of a climber

I have an old friend; a fellow climber I’ve been recently reunited with after years apart simply because of the sheer land mass and great seas which divided us. We first meet at the Belfast climbing wall at the university where he studied physics and where I was a mere nomad; exploring the city streets and troubles, learning about photography in the lightest of darkrooms, and simply allowing the beautiful accents to fill my thirsty ears. Not yet a full-fledged climber, my spare time was spent dabbling. Climbing with all its lightness was new to me.

Cedar crushing
He and his beautiful family came to Magic Wood for ten days. Our days were spent with the kids: exploring the rivers, villages, and of course, bouldering when it was dry and hiding under shelter when it rained. Climbing with him had changed little. He remains a thoughtful person, light in mood and character.

The timing of their arrival was with that of my visit to the darkside. How unfortunate that they had to put up with my tortured soul!!! But he is an old friend, a status normally carrying with it acceptance of another in any state. Witnessing a friend in the darkest of places while at the same time, showing complete acceptance, non-judgement and love is beyond what words can describe. It instilled in me a level of trust and respect and redefines the meaning of unconditional and true friendship. 

While climbing he would think of the intricacies of each move, trying to solve it as if it were a physic problem. Too much weight on this foot, more weight here… Standing before the climb with his eyes closed, he’d mimic the moves with his hands, climbing the problem in his mind before his feet left the ground. His methods made me smile as I watched his mind analyze each move. When he fell, he’d release such a great roar of energy, and then quickly work to resolve the glitch in his movement. When he succeeded, he would again, release the same great roar. He believed the celebration of success to be as crucial as the analysis of each failure.

Coming out of the darkness
After observing me on my latest project which entailed countless falling, he pointed out his realization that climbing at your limit meant experiencing failure a thousand times over; it meant accepting failure as the norm rather than success. This got me thinking about the relation between the daily failures I experience in climbing which on a ‘good’ day, send me spiraling into feelings of pure enjoyment of the process of working and solving a problem; while on a ‘bad’ day, the same amount of falling can tinge me with an overcast of dissatisfaction and frustration. At one point, Gustau witnessed me in such defeat that I declared my complete frustration for climbing. With one simple statement from him my thoughts went on a spur. “Remember back when climbing was fun?” Oh yeah, I do, so fun... Friends and lightness in plenty, simplicity, cruxes proved challenges not torments. So yes, I do remember when climbing was fun… However, despite my impatience and frustration when climbing presents a seemingly insurmountable challenge, climbing remains fun, even if sometimes, in a weird, painful sort of way.

Classic roof top beauty
Accepting failure as the norm is certainly true, especially as of late when the ratio of falling and sending seems to be 99:1 percent. With this in mind, Gustau’s idea that celebrating success is important takes on new meaning for me. Focusing on any progress made becomes important to avoid the potential torment and drudgery that superficial failure can produce. All the same, reveling over something achieved is something that, for semi- unexplored reasons, to a degree, I suppress. Perhaps it feels outside my comfort zone or I view the accomplishment as ‘not a big deal’; maybe I confuse it with boasting; either way, the idea that celebrating success is important sent me into a fury of thought.

Does it come back to the ideas we were raised with that perceive modesty and unassuming behavior in the midst of accomplishment as the greater? Yet isn’t the idea of humility just as much a scheme of the ego as reveling in something achieved? Surely one can celebrate victory without guilt and at the same time, remain humble. Wouldn’t celebrating make the neurons for success stronger so to pave the way for more of it? But really, what is success then: topping out a boulder or never giving up…? And failure? Is it falling or simply giving up or even not trying? Doesn’t that old saying go something like: ‘it is better to have tried and failed then to have never tried at all’…?

Doro going high on a very nice new line
As I face seemingly insurmountable challenges that test my patience and poise, I ask myself why I climb. As climbers, is it really the summit that we aim for or is it something else that we chase with an eternal thirst that we know is secretly unquenchable. As for myself, I beg for the later, for when one boulder is topped, my mind almost immediately goes to the next challenge, the next test as it were. To exhaust our bodies and minds as far as they can go, to put so much effort into one try that you’re whole being lets out the most unconscious scream of effort, to tear your skin only to re-tear it so that your blood stains the very rock on which you dedicate; to lay at the bottom of a problem in amazement of how hard can it really be and what do you need to do to conquer it, to approach a rock like a puzzle that requires all of your effort and focus.

To be surrounded by like minded souls, who understand, who don’t judge; to feel the aliveness of the cold sharp rock against your skin and mind; to laugh at the absurdities of it all, knowing it’s just rocks, just movement, yet it is a way of being, a way of life… To know that magical day will come when everything clicks together and suddenly you are no more on the ground but floating up the very rock that once fought with your skin and mind, while remembering all the same how much you valued the process and apparent torment.

As you lay on your pad lost in a gaze at the rock above you, the edge of a green tree limbs catches your eyes and your gaze follows it to the top. The blue sky peeks through, a bird chirps nearby. The sound is of nature. You suddenly remember beyond the frustrations and toils why you do this. This lying on the pad, this pain in the tips, this climbing… it’s all ridiculous and preposterous fun.

Thanks gus, Leslie-Ann, Marina and Alex for your kindness and friendship.
And thanks to you, the reader, for reading…!

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Always exciting things happening on the streets of Ausserferra
Visiting the huge dam on the Italian/Swis border

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Adventures of the Dark Side

You know those moments in your life of such clarity that make you question how you made it as far as you did; those moments that make you feel as if you’ve been living with a sheet over your head. It’s not the sort of spiritual awakening which I refer but more the real, sharp, in your face kind of clarity that unfortunately is called… reality. 

Reality… we have met before. For reasons within my own nature I often let you pass and continue on my way. Nothing is going to prove me wrong, especially you. Nothing will stand in my way, especially you. In fact, I kind of hate you. Life is too short for you. It’s like that, is it not…? We all have this one life… and then reality, with the momentum of a thousand storms, comes along and reminds us it isn’t so.  

It isn’t that I think myself invisible. I know my responsibilities and realize certain things need to be done a particular way. But you see, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on the reader’s point of view, I live by my own idealist pickings; thoughts and imaginings about how I want my life to be run. These ideals change from time to time but overall the theme is do it; life is too short not too, regardless whether you can afford to or not. In most cases, living by my idealistic pickings seems to work. Granted, things don’t always turn out as wished but, regardless, the ball gets rolling in the preferred direction as if providence is working its magic. Not that I believe in magic at this point in reality. Though on a good day, my suffocating tormented inner child fights for its survival and wins with all optimism. Unfortunately, this child, without whom I am nothing but another robot churning the wheels fighting for survival, is feeling the pressure of suffocation upon its nature. 
It’s like this… how long can one stand in idealism before reality comes, literally putting its sharp little teeth into one’s own skin. In fact, just in the last few weeks I was paid with numerous unwelcome visits. We had made it to Munich for the Boulder World Cup. Funds were very limited, so going to the team dinner wasn’t an option, nor was much of anything but that was ok: we were there! Besides, all wasn’t lost. I merely had to wait for the pay from work done in July. Optimism said it would arrive in time to make it to Magic wood after the comp as planned.

Then reality hit. Literally two days before the competition which I flew half way across the world for; at a time when I was counting pennies so to afford fresh veg (and handling that pressure with an idealistic nature of ‘just fineness…’ thank you), an email arrived with the headline: “IMPORTANT -do not open until after comp”.  Thoughts filled my head about the arrival of this email at such a time. Given the capitalized directions, sending it before the event was totally and completely pointless. All it resulted in was a heavy brick thrown on top of my shoulder; making me imagine up the worst. It was the perfect trigger for the avalanche of reality.
Then there was the comp. I had imagined and told myself to the point of believing it that I could and would indeed, make the Munich World Cup semi-finals. Woooo, now horsey! Nope! Not even close. In fact, in previous competitions I had been closer but I was about as close to making semis as I was to sticking the first dyno. This was not close at all for those not there to witness. Nope. Not this time. 

When the competition ended people scattered in all directions. Magic Wood had to wait as the pay hadn’t arrived. We were left to enjoy the streets of Munich on our 15 euro bikes which at times made me feel like I can fly. Only in Munich have I experienced bike traffic; the ins and outs of proper bike etiquette; bells ringing from behind indicating people are nearing to pass. We speed along going nowhere yet all the same, enjoying.  I like this city and don’t mind being bound here. With Boulderwelt and its amazing setting my motivation remains high. 
Eventually we leave the blissful and impatient city for the solitude of Magic Wood. My excitement at arriving was scorched by disappointing news which confirmed the critic in me that I did not belong. Exclusion is my cursed friend, a common symptom of those with wings. I know I am a loner, always have been. With the exception of a few dear friends, I often sit on the outside, somewhat wishing to belong yet nevertheless enjoying my own private world. Still, humans are social creatures and I’m no exception. Comforting myself, defenses arise saying there is no need. Anyway, a seemingly negative outcome could turn out to be positive. But my dream from last night haunts me. In it, I wasn’t allowed to join the group. They all agreed I smelled too bad; my clothes too dirty; that my general expression didn’t show enough superficiality. Well, let me tell you, it’s all a god dam illusion. For God’s sake people, human hearts are at stake here.

these make me smile!
Packing for our first day in the forest, I took a break to find Cedar who was working on her cabin near the woods. During this time, someone went into the little pocket of my bag managing to steal my Ipod. Gone were my camera, photos and right hand man. I know, I know, its only stuff. But it’s the theft by a fellow climber that bothers. It’s the unveiling of the dark side. But really, I should be accustomed. In my early 20’s, when travelling in England, someone stole everything but the small pack on my back. My reaction: laughter. Things are going to be so much lighter now I thought. Two years ago someone broke into my van and stole everything of value including my computer and most beautiful and at this point, irreplaceable, Canon Mark II. Bitterness reached my heart at this loss. So what’s the difference between a theft nearly 20 years ago and now? Perhaps it goes along the lines of a sense of jadedness that comes with age; the sad ordeal of human conditioning. I never thought my insides would arrive at this point. I clearly remember my younger version telling myself that I would never become like the adults…

What am I blabbering on about…? Filling words, taking time... you’re precious time. So end it, end it here now. Good bye fellow reader. Go enjoy what is left to your days. If it is night, turn off the lights and sit in darkness. Watch the moon rise through your window. Here, the river beckons. I will sit near it and continue on in my dream, living the imaginings of my mind which in many ways, are so much better. The dark side has taken over. For now…

{Wait… This isn’t yet the end. This too shall pass, right? There’s always hope isn’t there? It isn’t as if I’m asking that which is becoming more jaded with each passing year to somehow unwind itself. It isn’t as if I’m trying to reach deep inside to the suffocating, shrinking ball of light, without which we are all nothing, to somehow free itself to the world… Isn’t this what the world needs more of anyway? Or are we doomed? Perhaps not. Hang on, hang on. It’s nearly dawn…} 

Thanks for reading. :)

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Insights of Coaching

In front of me sat eight little people who looked up at me with a combination of eagerness and shyness. It was a scene oddly familiar from years back, yet completely anew. Here I was, about to coach gymnastics for the first time in years. Part of the job title was to display the gymnastics circuit for the kids later to mimic which made me feel slightly queasy. Let’s make a couple things clear, this is recreational gymnastic which means easy but I was never specifically any good at gymnastics and it has been years. Despite starting at an age considered ‘too old’, it was my first love and if there was anything I could do with the sport, including coaching, I would.

When it came time to display specific drills my mind remembered it all very clear but my body held a different story. Eventually, after some embarrassing spills, the basics came back quick enough to feel I could actually coach. Interestingly enough, something which skipped my awareness in my younger years of coaching was what the title coach actually meant. There were the obvious do-gooders and keeners who were easy but then there were these ‘other kids’ who proved more work than the pay really warranted.

The trouble kids… every class has one or two of them, perhaps even you fell under this category. At a very clear point in my life I certainly did. Going from the quiet, shy, straight A student to someone who walked out of her grade 8 chemistry class while proceeding to tell the teacher to fuck off and go to hell was indeed a dramatic change. High school was downhill from then on. There was no teacher brave or caring enough to sink their teeth in deep enough to find out what was really going on.

after gym fun

Perhaps it was from my own personal interest of what I could learn while coaching these kids or maybe it was a genuine concern over someone so small destined for a direction totally preventable, but either way, I yearned to have them in my group; to grasp their attention to make an imprint, to show them their own greatness.

Let’s take Mike. Mike’s favorite thing to say was ‘I can’t’. He’d say it before he tried, while he tried and after he tried, he’d confirm that belief. His mind would tell him no on basically everything, sometimes outright saying he was too stupid and fat. Another kid, let’s say Luther, as it seems a fitting name for the little devil. Luther barely made eye contact, wouldn’t listen and would fight with the other kids to the point of aggression. He would outright lie saying it was me who told him he couldn’t do a skill and often said he was bad at gymnastics. As I watched him believe everything he told himself, my version of reality came out in empty words, seemingly bypassing the space between his ears. Now take Emily. At an age when most kids are considered fearless, she’d shake and quiver to the point of crying despite my holding her hand, encouraging her the whole way.

She, like Mike and Luther, would not try things because they didn’t think it possible, and if they did try, it was often the most halfhearted attempt ever witnessed. It was all so, interesting… heartbreaking, and so simply human. Their fragility was so open, unlike our own masks. It was pretty clear that my job was not to teach these kids how to do a perfect cartwheel but rather, to instill in them a belief of what was possible, to change their way of thinking, to emphasis effort over outcome not matter what.

After a few weeks of coaching I became more familiar with the stories these kids built up in their heads. They believed them to be true because someone who had some sort of authority over them told them it was so. Tell a kid he is great and with determination and hard work, he can do anything and he’ll believe that. Tell a kid he is unworthy, incapable, too fat, weak, dumb… he believes that. Many of the kids had the mentality of a fixed mindset something which I learned about just last year when someone thankfully pointed mine out to me. A fixed mindset is fixable and totally worth instilling with all my effort.

My white legs... :) Photo credit: Malek Taleb

With each and every kid I would praise their effort no matter the outcome. Even if their effort was that of a sloth, they could always try harder and I encouraged them to do so. If I heard ‘I can’t, I quickly replaced it with an ‘I can’t yet’ thus to infuse possibility. I wouldn’t let them skip a drill no matter how scary or intimidating until they at least tried. I pushed and encouraged them, told them to focus on their breath if they were scared, to not believe their thinking if it said otherwise, and simply, to try as hard as they possible could. As the weeks passed my efforts were not in vain. Emily focused more on her breath without me having to tell her. One time after class Mike stayed with me on his own accord just to keep practicing a skill which I knew he could muster. Luther however, I just couldn’t get through. His walls were so tall and thick, my knock was barely heard.

It wasn’t always the trouble kids that caught my attention. Some kids believed anything was possible and worked hard at skills despite numerous falls. They had a look in their eyes which screamed focus and intensity. Nothing could get to them in this zone. I must have seemed the strangest coach when I interrogated them, asking them about their thought processes when they did a difficult skill, poking at them to share their secrets.

So what do these kids have to do with climbing? Having just finished with the Munich World Cup with an unsatisfying performance, my introspective self has come to sit and ponder. Clearly I made some mental errors like Mike, doubted myself like Emma and believed my thinking like Luther. When these kids repeated the same mental mistakes over and over, I was there, looking them straight in the eyes, reminding them it wasn’t so. But sometimes, when caught in the moment, be it standing on a balance beam or precariously balancing on a climbing wall, no one is there to shout in your face but your own conditioned mind.

This comp taught me one thing; my way of thinking has a far way to go. The first problem was a dyno followed by my first thought which claimed, I can’t dyno, I’ll try but it’s impossible. Fixed mindset, self-limiting beliefs... My shoulder immediately hurt from the weird position. Further tweaking my shoulder was less than ideal considering my last 5 months were spent dealing with tweak after tweak so I easily let that go to focus on the problems to come. But as the comp progressed, I made error after error, mentally and physically.

Felt like i was jumping my whole body length to get this bonus! Well, tagged it at least..! and no, this was not the dyno..! 

Adjusting my body from various insecure positions posed feelings of improbability. As I worked to bring my foot higher, my mind doubted, repeating, ‘you’re going to slip, it isn’t going to work’. Seconds later, I was on the ground. While weighing my foot on the slab so very precariously, my mind was caught up with was going on behind me. It’s like, come on thomo, who gives a fuck who’s watching! Focus on the bloody task at hand!! Trust yourself, just climb…!

A pattern emerged of repeating mistakes made in the past; as if I didn’t truly learn. Too much focus on the outcome, instead of enjoying and relaxing in the moment. My thinking wasn’t that of confidence and ability. I told myself the holds were so far that reaching them was impossible, believing this to the point where my effort wasn’t what it could be. I was seeing small and more so, playing small.

Comps can leave an aftertaste akin to a bad break up; failure, pain, loneliness. Watching the other strong competitors who had also had a bad comp later enjoy the experience reminded me of the insignificance of it all, to see the bigger picture; to empty my mind as the inspiring Zen kids in class. What coaching gave me was a real chance to give these kids something which I wanted more of: empowerment, grit, tools’ for a path toward a better self. There is a saying that one should teach what one wants to learn in order to fully learn it. Fortunately for the sake of growth and evolving as a human being, this process will never stop. We can always strive to be better than we were yesterday, even if we take a couple steps backwards on the way.

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yay Cedar!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Tips for how to live in a van

for Sheila, my favorite eclectic  

My upbringing was most traditional; two story house, backyard, flushing toilet, bed, heat and the luxury of hot baths. There was a kitchen with stove, fridge and extra freezer to store all the moose and fish that’d feed us through the winter. I didn’t really know anyone who lived differently, and knew few people who were “eccentric” apart from Gary our neighbor who was a self-proclaimed artist. As for myself, I was labeled the black sheep of the family. It’s believed that our life events lead us to where we are now. For me, it is continuing that of the black sheep, following that of a nomad, calling a van home.

Credit: Joshua Enoch Williams
At this point in my life it is accurate to say I have lived in a van for more than half of my life. As a climber this works perfectly but some of you may not know that I am also a mother. Does van life still work?  Yes, it does and yes, she likes it.

Our latest model is that of the most discreet type. In fact, one may not even notice that behind the shaded windows of our Toyota Previa lies a mini kitchen and full on bedroom lined with books and closet space unlike any other.

Van life gives us the chance to travel in the comfort of our own home on wheels. The rent money saved goes toward a lifestyle which dreams are made and where stars can be caught full bloom leaping from the safety of their own nest. But it isn’t always so romantic in Toyo land. Living in a van can be outright tough. We do not have running water, the comforts of heat, a fridge or a flushing toilet. But when temps reach -13 at night and you awaken to frozen water and a stove that won’t start because the gas is frozen, van life offers something which cannot be easily obtained from the comforts of ones home: GRIT. Not everyone can do it, but not everyone can follow the 9-5 work days that end in a two story house surrounded by a white picket fence.

Me in my European Toyota Home. Photo:  tobias leipnitz
Having lived in vans for over 20 years, I have learnt a few things which can make van life more pleasant. First, buy a reliable vehicle, such as a Toyota. Reliability trumps especially when you’re driving 100’s of miles from your own country. My first van did not even start but served as a corpse stuck in the upper parking lot of Whistler Mountain. The second was a big and roomy GMC which cost me more in repairs than I paid for until its fateful day when someone thankfully plowed it into a sidewalk. The third, a weee red box of a Toyota LE van which died with nearly 4000 km on it. The next? A Toyota Previa which I still have today. It has 382,983 km and counting. My European van is also a Toyota Previa, same year, model and even color as the one I now sit. I feel rather rich being able to say I have two homes… one in North America and one in Europe… :)



The setup of a van is important for comfort and convenience. You want your bed low enough so you can sit up straight in your bed yet allow for ample storage underneath and long enough so you can sleep straight without the bed taking up your whole van. My bed can extend long enough to sleep straight, yet can easily fold away via a small piece of plywood, so to house a mini living room.

The stove set up is important given most people use it 3-4 times a day. The most efficient in terms of fuel and money is the basic Coleman camper stove with a refillable propane tank. You want the tank big enough so you only need to refill it monthly but small enough so it doesn’t take up too much space. My tank is 11 liters and last about a month with frequent use. I advise against the wee disposable tanks, they are expensive and not eco-friendly. Word of caution – keep a window open and burn off any excess in the hose before turning the tank off. When temps start to drop in the mid-winter, some folks wrap their tank in a towel and slept with it thus preventing the gas from freezing. It’s also a good idea to keep a small canister in storage for those times the propane runs out without warning. Having a carbon monoxide detector is a good idea.

We can’t live very long without water so keep plenty on board for yourself and the vehicle. A large refillable 7 gallon jug is useful plus a few smaller ones to use as daily water bottles. Pumps for these exist to make access easier but they take up a bit of space. Bottles can be easily refilled at gas stations and public spaces with taps such as parks and recreational centers.

Van life really teaches one about water consumption and how to keep it to the minimum. For example, if I boil eggs, the remaining hot water is used to wash my dishes which I do in a desert shower type fashion. There are plenty of tricks to save water here and once you get the hang of it, you’ll quickly see how little we really need.

Keep plenty of this on board; you never know when a breakdown may occur or such event. In the heat of the summer visits to the grocery store are more frequent as food goes rancid faster. My experiments with coolers have failed. I dislike the plastic taste they can leave on food as well as their frequent need for ice. As an alternative, I buy less but more often and store perishables in the low cupboards or under the bed which tend to be cooler. Yogurt can last a couple days like this and contrary to American belief; eggs do not need to be refrigerated. It is also helpful to park your rig in a shaded area such as under a big tree or in the shade of a building to keep things cool.

The Toilet: 
The number one question I get after how do you stay warm…! A simple pee bottle works perfectly for the guys but I am a girl and so discovered my own way. We have a small kid’s potty which can be dumped and rinsed easily enough given you park close to the bushes. If there are no bushes, well, you just have to get creative and pretend you throwing out dish water or something of the sort in a discreet fashion. For urgent cases of the secondary style, it comes down to where you are parked. Cafes, libraries, stores, public washrooms are useful and found in plenty if in a city. But if near the forest, remember the rules: dig, bury and take your paper waste with you. Avoid pooping where someone may later step.

The Shower: 
Many van dwellers lead a minimalist sort of life style but it doesn’t mean one has to be a dirt bag and stink. Showers are easily found at local pools, campgrounds, friend’s houses and even at big gas stations on the highways. Rivers, lakes and basically any pond of water will also suffice given ones tolerance to cold water; just take care with the use of soap in these places. A free and easy solution is a solar shower which requires water, sun and a private place to strip down which may be challenging. If one is settling in a place for a while, monthly passes to the local gym can come in handy.

Staying Warm: 
Having a well-insulated van and curtains made of a heavier material is helpful (also helpful for dimming the bright morning sun!). A down jacket is a MUST as are wool and down blankets. Van slippers can also make a big difference for warmth and coziness. When it is really, really cold outside leaving the ‘drive to camp’ just before bed helps get the van nice and toasty. Thou it can be tempting; idling the engine to keep warm is not recommended; the earth needs all the help it can get… (I try to drive very little once in a place). When parked, I have a small propane heater called ‘Mr. Heater’ which is one of the best gifts I ever received. It runs off the same propane as my stove and makes the van pretty cozy when temps get below 0. I don't run it for long as always have a cracked window. Having a carbon monoxide detector is a good idea. Also, parking where you’ll get the morning sun makes mornings much more pleasant!

If one lives in their van, the van will likely contain many possessions including themselves which is invaluable. For the same reason house dwellers lock their doors at night, so should one who sleeps in a van. Keep valuables out of site, use common sense and don’t leave or park your van in areas which feel dodgy. When night fall’s and sleep beckons, park in an area that feels good and safe, preferably somewhere known and familiar. Lock your door, know where your keys are and keep a defense plan in mind. When on the road use common sense. If it feels bad, trust your gut and just keep driving. As adventurous as it may seem, remember, somewhere in the world, someone wants you back in one piece. Personally, I prefer to make my own rest stops in small towns, usually by a town park, church, or residential area. For one night this is usually fine, just leave it as found. I avoid campgrounds, they are too expensive, bright and loud. For the safety of possession, hide the important things as best as you can or do as some have and bolt a safe to the van floor.

This is especially important if you are live in a fixed place. I live in Squamish which has been pretty lenient for van dwellers until the past years when no camping signs start showing up in every parking lot. Use curtains or shaded windows for increased privacy. Practice leave no trace and try to not appear as some sketchy dude after the neighborhood kids. People in general are scared of the unknown and seeing someone snooping around a van just gives them a reason to call the local police. Remember to switch up the sleeping locations for the local neighbor who isn’t down with car campers near their house.

Van maintenance:   
A very, very, flat tire... 
Living in a van means it is your home. Keeping it up to standard and safety is more than ideal but will help keep troubles at bay when on the road. Try to keep extra necessities in storage… water, oil, food, warm clothes, tools, cables… they can save your ass or perhaps, someone else’s. Investing in insurance such as CAA/AAA with some good towing kilometers is a very, very good idea. Make sure the spare tire has air and don’t ignore the oil light. If you use the lights and radio a lot having a deep cycle battery can help as will adding a solar panel. Solar panels can provide enough energy to meet electrical demands for whatever conveniences one may have such as a laptop to a blender for those morning smoothies.

Convenience verses comfort:
Living in a van can be considered a convenience but also a curse. It’s cheap, adventurous, and liberating, but it is also a small space that can range from being well below zero to a smoldering heater. Keeping it simple, minimal and organized will not only keep the hobo police from you but it will create a sense of space, physically and mentally. If you don’t need it, like it, or use it, let it go. One of the things i love about van life is its simplicity. Here is a link to a photo essay a friend put together on Cedar and I called just that, simplicity.
For the logistics of an address to get mail, to register a phone or vehicle, all towns have a general delivery options. An address of a trusted friend can also come in handy as can the street address of the local campground or public space such as a marina.

the open road

There are tricks to make it easier that get figured out with each different van setup. Reaching out to others who live a similar lifestyle can save tons of trial and error as well as give great ideas which may improve on your current set up. I love looking in other vans to see what kind of nooks and crannies they have imagined up. People can be so wildly creative, it’s super inspiring!

Thanks for reading. :)

If you have found this post helpful please consider donating to this blog to help keep the blog sustainable!! Many thanks. :)
Our first European van, a retired postman Pat LDV, most unreliable but very cool regardless
The boys hanging out in Albarracin outside his rig

Thursday, June 25, 2015

the insides of a mind

Terry McColl photo
My mind steps in offering words of facts and mediocrity which in no way convey what I want to say. The only thing I care to write about is the very thing which helped, yet it is that very thing which seems to have no words. It conveys an overall sense of complete emptiness yet completely void of any loneliness. Coupled with contentment and ease, it gave a glimpse of what was possible, offering a taste of what could be.

It may seem like confusing talk, though to me it is quite clear though not concrete. The only way I would allow myself to go to the Toronto and Vail World Cup was if my goal was simply to have fun and be relaxed. In other words, allow myself a taste of freedom. Climbing has always offered me that liberty; a chance to let go of the voices that tell me I can’t do something or that I am not good enough. It demands incredible focus and concentration on the task at hand. One’s very existence becomes void, fusing with the rock itself into a fluid of movement. All thoughts and feelings disappear with the simple task of focused action on the climb itself.

But what if there were a thousand eyes watching your every move, the music a little too loud, conditions not ideal? Now put in a timer, a judge and a climb set to test your weaknesses and strengths. You’re comfort zone has just been stripped away. The sense of flow that climbing offered is interrupted. Awareness redirects from inside to outside. Eyes widen and breathing becomes shallower. The panic button is near but you’ve finally trained yourself to expect this stress and adversity. Suddenly things are changing. A different, unfamiliar path shows itself in increments. The breath becomes calm, the focus rebalances inward. With a simple deep breathe the nerves feel a calming sensation. Thoughts are easily let go and feelings acknowledged and released. The goal is accomplished. Fun is had and accepting things, even the shoulda’s and coulda’s, is easy.

Toronto Landscape
That was the Toronto World Cup for me. My focus remained on my goal, to relax and have fun, no matter the outcome. When tension arose I reminded myself of my breath and let it go. There was to be no repeat of mistakes made at Nationals; no deer in headlights. Although occasionally, I fell down the path of negative self-talk, losing focus and confidence the higher I got up the wall, there was an overall feeling of having figured something out. It was a nice solace from my accustomed uncomfortableness at comps. To have finally found a way to breath amid the stress; to enjoy the experience like I wanted proved a great release. Given my shoulder injury and the resulting lack of training, surprisingly, my result was better than usual. Departing Toronto, feelings of possibility and hope infused themselves. I knew with more work, the potential to relax and re-focusing could go even further.

My insides exploded with the apparent simplicity of this revelation which presented a new challenge: maintaining that state. Leading up to Vail, the pressure built up to relax and have fun. Ironically the only cure to this was to simply keep doing what I had done for Toronto. The realization of how easy it was had me in a stir. It no longer felt easy. What I did before took no effort, just awareness. Yet here I was trying to let go of the idea of letting go while trying too hard to let go… it was the most opposite of battles.

Terry  McColl photo
With my wanting the emptiness and freedom which seemed so eternal quickly disappeared into a hiding place which only I could find. My will wanted its release, to welcome the sense of lightness but that very clinging led to its own demise. There was no separation but my mind thought otherwise. My freedom had hidden beyond the veil of clouds of my own mind. Feelings rose out of fear, challenging its existence and disappearance under whose presence it could not show itself. In its own silent nature of stillness, it patiently waited for my return. There seemed no going back but the very idea of going back to what already existed was insane. The answer had showed itself. It was allowing the answer which was the challenge.

It wasn’t surprising that Vail didn’t go so well. Thinking back to Toronto there were clear moments when I anchored myself with my breath. As for Vail I recall one sole moment when I stayed focused and clear: problem one. I was stepping precariously onto the starting hold, repeating the word ‘trust’ over and over until I finally leaped to the final hold. After this, reminding myself to let go, stay focused and breathe was incredibly hard, as if there was a limited amount of built in presence. Walking away, I learned more about what does work and what doesn’t. The subsequent challenge of letting the thoughts and feelings go regarding disappointment and failure were curiously enough, coped with much easier than past experiences. :)

Between the two comps, learning what worked and didn’t work filled me with a motivation to do it all again. To completely lose myself and be completely engrossed in the task at hand proved the ultimate goal. Luckily I have been given another chance and am allowed to compete at the Munich World Cup. :) Until then, the daily adversities of life are opportunities to practice what I must do in comps; simply let the bad habits and thoughts go, focus on my breath and fill myself with positive belief of what’s possible. Sounds easy right? ;)

Thanks for reading.

If you’ve enjoyed this post feel free to make a donation to help fuel this journey!!!

 Many Thanks!

my coach!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Part two of the Squamish Climbing Magazine interview

Here is the second series of interviews I recently did with the Squamish Climbing Magazine.
Follow the link for the remainder of the interview if you'd like to read more!! :)

IFSC Bouldering World Cup Vail: Interview with Thomasima Pidgeon Part Two

By Tim Schaufele | June 5, 2015

Thomasina (far left) and Team Canada. Photo: Unknown ©
The second IFSC Bouldering World Cup of the season starts today in Vail, Co. Rumour has it that the weather around Colorado has made it difficult for those getting there last minute. With the Toronto and Vail events being so close together, athletes who are competing in both events can reflect quickly on their performance and make the changes necessary for the next round.

Last week, we interviewed Thomasina Pidgeon as she prepared for the IFSC Bouldering World Cup Toronto and we thought it would be interesting to check in with her as she moves from one competition to another. Thomasina left for Colorado on Tuesday and here is what she had to say.

Hi Thomasina, thanks again for chatting with us. How are you feeling about your performance last week in the IFSC Bouldering Toronto World Cup?

Well, I am intrigued and glad about my performance but one can always do better..!! Regardless of the outcome, my goal was to have fun and to relax and I was for sure more relaxed than normal which is good but I can go even further with this. I lost my focus and relaxation a few times and definitely needed to climb with more aggression. It seemed the higher I got on the problem the more my attention went to my thinking which was telling me that my foot was going to slip and that the holds were too far. This is a reoccurring problem for me so I really need to focus on being more present instead of listening to my negative chatter! Also I need to climb less safe, aka, more dynamic… No surprise there.

Can you tell us a bit about the qualifier round? From our perspective it looked hard!

Most of the problems were well set. The first was a face which involved balance and then a huge jump or some unprobable solution that I just couldn’t see. The second was a subtle jump off a fat pinching sloper to a sloping crimp. I tried this too many times and couldn’t get the bonus which is a bummer as the moves after looked like my style. This problem reminded me to slow down and read the problems a bit better as I didn’t see the jump when I read it. Less tries would of given me more power. Live and learn! The third was powerful bigger moves on crimps. I managed to get the bonus but then I quickly got nervous and lost my focus. When reaching for the next hold I told myself that my foot was going to slip and that it was too far. Bad mental skills here!! The forth was technical on volumes with a small jump to a big reach/lock over to a sloper. I made it near the top with the lock off but couldn’t quite reach the sloper, I was climbing too safe. A little dynamic-ness might of helped here but my foot felt so insecure..! The fifth and final problem was a slab with huge volume. I got off the ground but that’s about it. Nobody in my group sent this problem so it was obviously hard! Those Brits..!!

Thomasina at Provincials.
Photo courtesy of Shane Murdoch ©  

You have just made the journey to Colorado. What is your plan this week?

Hopefully catch up with some old friends who live here, train once at the Spot and try to just stay relaxed and calm for the competition.

Does it help having both North American World Cups in the same week?

I think it does. For myself it keeps the feeling of competition fresh in my head and helps me to be more prepared for what’s to come. It’s also a chance to redeem oneself of the mistakes from the weekends before that are fresh in the head.

How has last weeks performance affected your mental state going into this weeks performance?

It kind of has which is funny because my goal was to have fun, be relaxed and try to let go of the thoughts and beliefs that hold me back. Discovering that this way of being helped makes me even more nervous..! It’s ironic though because the solution to this new expectation, pressure and nervousness, is to simply keep practicing what i have been! Relaxing and letting go. It’s really interesting because i see all of the adversity faced this week from delayed flights to rude comments from strangers as a test to accept, let go and refocus on what’s actually happening. There’s a clinging sensation followed by a real sense of freedom.

Click here for part two of the interview...

Monday, June 1, 2015

Interview with Squamish Climbing Magazine

Below is a a clip of an interview i did with Squamish Climbing Magazine just before the going to the Toronto Boulder World Cup. To find the rest of the interview follow the link below! Many thanks to those who helped get me to Toronto and thanks for reading! Big thanks to the Squamish Climbing Magazine for the interview!

IFSC Bouldering World Cup Toronto: Interview with Thomasina Pidgeon

By Tim Schaufele | May 30, 2015

Thomasina Pidgeon has been a familiar name in Canadian climbing for as long as I can remember. Originally from Newfoundland, Thomasina moved to Whistler and then Squamish, BC to pursue her love for outdoor climbing. Quickly turning to life on the road, Thomasina perfected her talents climbing outside in her stomping grounds of Bishop, Heuco, and Squamish. She was the first Canadian women to climb v10, v11, and v12, and more importantly, she has always been dedicated to her craft.

A few years ago, Thomasina decided to start a new journey into the world of competition climbing. Her adventures led her from the forest of Squamish to the indoor climbing gyms of Europe and the European competition circuit. Despite a number of hurdles, Thomasina has stayed steadfast in her desire to learn from her experience and continues to pursue the unforgiving world of competition climbing.

With the IFSC Bouldering World Cup in Toronto this weekend, we thought it was a great opportunity to talk to Thomasina about her experiences in Europe and her return to Squamish. After interviewing her, we knew that just one interview could not capture her experience. Thomasina will be representing Canada this weekend and then at the IFSC Bouldering World Cup in Vail, CO. Here is part one of our interview with Thomasina Pidgeon.

Thomasina and Cedar. Photo courtesy of Thomasina Pidgeon ©

You are headed to Toronto. How do you feel going into the first IFSC Bouldering World Cup of the year?

It feels strange to say this but I actually feel slightly excited for this comp! It is kind of a new feeling for me because although I do enjoy and get a lot out of comps, it’s in a weird sadistic sort of way, I can’t really say that I have ever been excited for one. There has just been too much fear and doubt behind my being that the very idea of relaxing seemed as foreign as all the languages I’ve heard in Europe.

Leading up to the comp, have you been doing anything specific to train or get ready?

It’s been a rough month for training as I hurt my right shoulder, then my back, then really tweaked the left shoulder, then had an attack of the flu… so, training didn’t go as planned. The left shoulder is still tweaked because of my impatience but looking on the bright side, it slowed me down and prevented me from the usual overtraining. Next time I will try not to be so short-sighted with injuries. With all that, my preparation consisted of doing what I could without further injuring myself which meant focusing on what I wanted which was bouldering in the forest, mixed with a combination of strength training at the Squamish Co-op, and a few days doing 4*4’s! Way less prep than Nationals but man, the time spent in the forest was special!

Mom and daughter heading into of the forest. Photo courtesy of Thomasina Pidgeon ©

You almost didn’t make it to this one. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Oh the disastrous Nationals. Basically, I worked very hard under the guidance of a trainer from SLC who knew what he was doing and I trusted him. Physically I was prepared though perhaps I could have tapered a little earlier. But my biggest problem however was the mental side. This has been a big crux for me so I tried everything to improve. From visualizations to meditations, to stressing myself out so to practice under pressure, you name it, I did it. It was one of few comps that I felt prepared for but in the end, I way over did it. At problem one, I was a deer in headlights. I froze. Any mindfulness went out the window and the sweating hands to parched mouth didn’t register. I copied what others did instead of listening to myself and basically ran through the semis without a breath. I fell off the last move of every problem in a most hesitating and self defeating way, I questioned myself and lacked all trust in my abilities to finish. It was unfortunate because the next day I did the problems in one or two goes so I knew my climbing skill wasn’t the problem. My ability to relax and be calm under pressure, however, was a major issue. In retrospect, I learned a lot from what happened; perhaps more than I would have learned had I done well.

How hard is it going to these comps without full financial support?

People often say to me that they don’t know how I do it and my response is yeah, I don’t know how either!! It has been pretty hard to say the least.

To finish reading the interview, click HERE!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

So... let's be blunt

So… let’s be blunt. Everyone knows that trying to make a living as a professional climber is akin to the starving artist scenario. The tactics required for this job do not readily contour to my personality or comfort zone; nor are they financially viable. Thus far, I have succeeded thanks to part time work, thriftiness, living a simple lifestyle and of course, my gear sponsors, La Sportiva and Metolius Climbing.

Recently, I’ve earned the opportunity to compete in the International Boulder World Cup Events. For 2015, I imagined competing for Team Canada followed by bouldering in South Africa. But between work, training and motherhood, the chances of affording all those plane tickets is looking very grim. Sadly, for Cedar and I, travel expenses means double fares compared to the solo competitors. Unless I can think outside the box in terms of making my lifestyle more sustainable, the future of going to these events or South Africa looks grim.

To combine my passions: climbing, learning, writing about our adventures and lifestyle, while raising and homeschooling Cedar in a way that opens up the world to her; and to do so in a more sustainable way that works financially, would be a great relief. This needs more then my sheer determination, it will take a community.

So, I’m purposing the idea of a public sponsorship. In honor of exchange, I have listed some of the perks which were successful in my previous Indiegogo campaign. This list of ideas is dynamic and I am open to suggestions such as coaching and training, van life, traveling with a kid, homeschooling, advice on pregnancy and climbing, beta for areas; whatever takes your interest..! If you read and appreciate my blog, a simple donation is most welcome.

Thanks for reading!!

Personal One or Team Coaching:
~ Coaching is geared towards personal climbing assessments to help people with their technique, movement, training and mental tactics. One on one is preferred or small groups up to 3. Coaching can take place in the gym or outside on rock. For more information click here!

Postcards: $20
~ A Squamish postcard or a postcard picked up on our travels signed with a note of thanks from myself or Cedar
~ Artwork on a ‘blank’ postcard from Cedar

All payments can be made through my email at or via the donation button on my blog. Please leave a message of what you would like, as well as a mailing address if need be. For coaching inquires please email. Thank you!!

Us in Font, 2013

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Puzzles in action

I like puzzles. Logic puzzles, crossword puzzles, 2000 piece jigsaw puzzles… But most especially, climbing puzzles… Bouldering has always intrigued and stimulated me because of the difficulties of solving these puzzles. It seems impossible, to promising, to doable. It’s like working on a physical puzzle between only you and the rock.

Then there are competitions. They too are a puzzle. I find them interesting as well; to the point that I haven’t been on rock much because I want to get better at figuring out this puzzle. But it isn’t so much the physical side that confuses me. Nowadays I can read a route accurately almost 90% of the time. Physically, I am training smarter than before. The confusing part is the mental game. It’s stupid hard.

The Squamish Bouldering Co-op.
Thanks for supporting the members of the Canadian National Bouldering Team!
I thought I had it solved earlier this month after attending the BC Bouldering Provincials at the Edge climbing gym. It took failing on the first two problems in finals and some rush of emotion to get it out of me. Walking back into iso I sat down in a fury and screamed inside my head. Why why why??? Why do I hesitate? Why do I second guess? Why didn’t I freaking go for it like the others do? This intense infliction stirred something inside of me. I was tired of failing. I wanted to do better. I knew I could do better. Realigning my focus with that energy of wanting to do the next problem, I turned inward and upon arriving at the problem, I read it, walked up to it, and climbed it. Just like that. No doubts, no hesitation, no falls. And although I fell off the last move of the next problem, I climbed it well, with focus and no doubt. I was elated with having broken what felt like a downward spiral trap of when it goes bad, it continues to go bad. The spell was broken. I could do this. I can do this. I did do it. And so… happy with the break though and the fact that I only trained two weeks for this comp, I walked away feeling more confident for the Nationals which were coming up in a month and a half. Plenty of time to prepare…

And so, between the various gyms in Vancouver and the Squamish Co-op, I followed religiously the training program Steve Maish ad made for me. I climbed, trained, lifted weights, did mock comps, weighted best bouldering, finger hangs, core, hell, I even did one day of cross fit. Through his guidance I managed to avoid all the small tweaks and injuries that have plagued me in previous years. By the end of it I felt healthy and my training numbers had increased so apparently I was stronger. I even quit sugar and caffeine for the last two months and ate to just 80% full like the Japanese. My obsessive personality poured into books on mental psych and performance. I downloaded countless guided mediations and visualizations pertaining to sport and practiced mindfulness meditation daily. I told myself I was ready. The little pieces of post it notes plastered over my computer told me I was ready. Positivity gets results one says. By the time the day came around, I start feeling like I could actually do it.

Then it came and happened in what seemed like a flash. Nationals, here, and now, gone. Things… did not go so well… If time machines existed I would gladly jump in one and rewind a few days to the moment right before qualifications. I would align my head space with the mentality I had at the Edge. I would try and remind myself of what my own sticky notes told me. I am ready. I am relaxed. I am calm. But it was a lie. I was not calm, relaxed or ready. My warm up was too short. As I was packing my bag I was being hustled to go out front while behind me my belongings fell to the floor. My bib number wasn’t yet on. Everything was moving too fast.

Thanks for the support Dan Poggi and Climb Base 5!
Despite some mistakes I qualified into semis. I was rather psyched because even though it was small, I did the dyno! I made a rookie mistake and misread the beginning of problem four thinking the taped volume wasn’t in. I walked around and felt the holds, staring in wonder of how the I was gonna match my feet or hell, even pull on onto the wall. After trying what seemed like the impossible, I eventually asked the judge and my v12 project suddenly changed to a v4 volume problem. Phew!!

Semis were a little different. Warm up was better and my bags were packed in time before heading beyond the black tarp towards the lights, music and people. The gym itself felt warm and stuffy. The other competitors looked serious and flushed. Suddenly it was happening. My thoughts remained positive but there was a deep feeling of fear growing in side of me. My mouth felt dry despite having drunken plenty of water. I glanced at Stacy Weldon standing next to me. She had her eyes closed and arms up in bear pose. Considering the wealth of experience Stacey has in comps I guessed she had it figured out so I decided to copy her. The five minutes of waiting time passed quickly and before I knew it I was running towards my first problem through a zig zag mash of climbers who were coming and going.

Problem one was straight ahead of me. Even as I write this I feel my brow rising, my hearts palpitations speeding up slowly, my tips sweating. If I had taken a moment to breath perhaps I would have been more aware of where my mental state was going. The start of the problem confused me at first. I faced my back to the crowd and tried the impossible. Changing beta, I turned around and faced the crowd. The glaring lights and staring faces freaked me out. I got just before the top and tried to put my heel up but with my unusually greasy skin, I just popped off. The whole dry mouth, sweaty tips thing was freaking me out and the idea of focusing back on my breath went out the window. I was a deer in headlights.

Thank you Aidas Odonelis for the photo

To avoid a replay of each and every problem, it basically went like this… a stressed Thomasina steps up, gets on the wall, hesitates, climbs to top, hesitates some more, gets distracted some and falls off at the last move without finishing. Four bonuses in five tries; falling off every last move, ending in 14th place. No finals and maybe, no qualification for the World Cups. It was over. I was devastated. I sat in the back corner trying to hide my tears smashing my head with questions like how could I have been so stupid? How could I have been so prepared and yet, unprepared? Why did I mess up? What was I thinking..? Why was I thinking?! Bruce Lee doesn’t think. He’s like water. Like water my friend. Like freaking water…

I wanted to quit. I decided I lacked the right mindset for comps. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was climbing to ‘not fall off’ instead of ‘climbing to top’. The setting was really good with no big shut down moves like last year. My fighting spirit just wasn’t strong enough. My mind was too heavy. I thought I had it figured in Vancouver but apparently not. Talking about it later with a friend who watched me, he said he didn’t understand why I didn’t top anything. He thought perhaps I have some unfinished emotional business which interfered with my performance. Another described me as "going up full strength and confidence to clash on a fogging cloud". All that mental training did no help.

I left the gym in minus 12 degree temps and walked to the metro crying. Somehow I got lost. So, there I was, wandering Montreal in the cold winter after a devastating competition, crying and freezing cold. I didn’t care. I would just walk and keep walking until I found a metro. I was hungry but I refused to eat. It was like that for now. I just didn’t care.

Thank you Aidas Odonelis for the photo
The next day I woke early and went to the gym. I finished all four semi-final problems with much more ease thanks to a few breathes. It was somewhat gratifying yet frustrating at the same time. How could I have messed these up? Why didn’t I just breathe and calm down? Why did I question myself and hesitate? Again the frustration set in of not being able to do it. You know: the puzzle; the mental game. It was too hard. I have been trying for the last three years to figure it out and it hasn’t happened. I just blew a very important competition that I had invested so much in. It seemed the more prepared I was, the worse I did. I questioned if it was worth it anymore; was it even any fun at this point. It remained a poor play of some sort of sadistic enjoyment. I know I am just as good a climber as the girls who made finals; but when it comes to the mental game, clearly not so much. They are there, in the zone, ready to bleed for it, fighting, taking chances... The mental game is like a complex puzzle and I was missing the most important piece.

I decided I would quit. It was fine. I missed the rocks anyway. Rocks. Climbing. Sore skin. Crash pads. Dirt. Fresh air. Friends. The road. Good old clean fun. Fuck it I said. I’m done.

Then I met Lyma. Lyma is this pretty little brunette who I met in 2012 at the Climber’s Rock competition. It was the first comp I had done in years and I got second to her. She knew what she was doing. I didn’t. I just showed up with no training fresh off the boat. If I had won that comp I don’t know if I would have kept at it. It would have been too easy. Although losing can suck, it pointed out my weaknesses. It showed me that I had a few things to improve on. It gave me a new challenge.

I told Lyma about the comp. I showed her the text I wrote stating that I was quitting. She leaned in closer, listening attentively; her brown eyes becoming bigger and clearer. Her black eyeliner and mascara became more and more in focus. She swore at me to not quit. She threatened me with trouble if I should post that. Then came her why; her story. She too had the same problem with competing. She’d try and try and fail over and over until one day, something clicked. Just like that. Like a switch. Easy. Simple. She told herself, ‘climb like no one is watching’. It worked. From that day on, she had focus and the Zen master power in competitions. She started to win and if she didn’t, she knew she honestly gave her best with freedom. Competition became fun again.

 Thank you Aidas Odonelis for the photo 
Oh, how envious I was. Like a switch I asked? Yes, like a switch she replied. Jason Holowich said the same thing but in different words.Unfortunately he mentioned that it can take a long time to find this switch, and finding it in the dark isn't easy. He said, guaranteed, the competitors who make finals at big events have been doing it for years. They have grown up competing on youth teams and are now adults. They already found their way, be it a word, a physical cue, some sort of shamanic summoning…

For myself I obviously haven’t quite figured it out. At an event like Nationals, as much as I don’t want to, I buckle. So what’s the trick? Not care, relax and have fun? But I do care. I care a lot. I understand relaxing is super important but it’s so hard to do especially after investing so much time, effort and money. And despite what it seems, I am having fun, but for sure, it’s a weird kind fun. And in a way, I like the stress and intense emotion. Unfortunately, I just happened to screw up my response to it this time round.

Despite saying that I want to quit, the ironic thing is, the worse I ‘fail’, the more I feel this thing inside of me burning for another go. Jason advised if you are not enjoying it at all, quit. But if there is a part of you that does enjoy, no matter how small, keep trucking. Let the experience come with a blind faith that the missing piece of this intricate puzzle will eventually reveal itself. Everyone tells me it will come, and so, I guess I’ll continue because they wouldn’t lie now would they?

Thanks for reading.

PS. Besides the results i send props to BlocShop and the setting crew for setting some really good problems. This has by far been the best Nationals ever, even if i missed out on finals and a few tops..!

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Healthy eating. No sugar!