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.

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.

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 fuel our adventures and 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!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Changes in Perspective

It was winter, 2005. The air was cold, yet the sky a bright shade of blue. I was temporarily roaming the land of Spain, almost as a detour until the time came to go where my heart ached and yearned. But one must be patient.  When the heart longs to be anywhere but 'here', things often seem worse off than they really are.

It wasn't that Spain was a hellish, torturous place to be. In fact, the company I kept was that of Raul and his Spanish accomplices who varied in many flavors of character and entertainment. We toured the classics in his home country and drove on many a winding road littered with old Spanish style casitas. Climbing was had on the most interesting cobblestone conglomerate perched high above the old monastery of Montserrat. As a detour to the sport climbing of Siurana a day was spent on white sandstone boulders whose name was long forgotten. Our final destination was Albarrarcin. While we bouldered in the bitter snow for two days my fingers moved slowly from the intense cold which infiltrated my body to the core.

Beautiful town of Albarracin

My favorite memories were not of the climbing but of the times spent sleeping in abandoned monasteries and bivying under the starless sky while the snow gently fell on us. The climbing of Spain didn't grab and claw at my soul like some other places had. Sport climbing just wasn't my thing and bouldering in minus degree temps didn't work either. When it came time to leave, I thought I would never go back.

Fast forward to January 2015... Having been in Europe for basically the last three years, I successfully managed to endure the cold and wet winters of the northern countries while simultaneously avoiding the warmth and sun of Spain. While friends encouraged me to go south for the dreary months, I held onto this notion of never returning.  But eventually, the cold so deeply embedded itself in my bones that the only way to sanity was to venture south to rediscover Spain, perhaps, with new eyes.

It was most interesting to see my own changes in perspective. A simple example is the one day spent hiking around Montserrat; a scene plucked from my distance past. Things felt and even looked different. It no longer seemed crowded and dirty but more vibrant and rustic. Years ago I liked Spain, but in an ok sort of way. However this time, I absorbed it with more depth and with that came a unique appreciation for what gives Spain its unique flavors.

me on the sending day of "Fight Club"

The majority of my time there was spent resting but this period was broken upon arriving in Albarracin. The snow covering the winding road invoked memories of the harsh cold encountered nine years ago. While past experiences projected themselves into the present moment, the not so random occurrence of running into a Finnish friend snapped me out of it. He was not here nine years ago, nor was Cedar. Clearly, this was not then.

Fortunately after a few very cold somewhat unclimbable days, things thawed out including my body and all the necessary items for survival encased in my van such as water and cooking gas. The boulders I remembered from the previous trip never showed themselves although a few lines seemed oddly familiar. The rocks of my memory were perhaps lost to the closures which have since popped up around the forest.

First few days, freezing freezing cold

The best thing about this trip to Albarracin which differed from the other climbing trips taken in Europe was that I showed up as normal, mom and child, yet, not one day was spent touring the area solo, seeking out one pad problems or wishing I had a spot. From the moment we arrived to the day we left, we had climbing partners in plenty. Days seemed unending until the sun start to hide itself and the temperatures quickly dropped. However, when the sun shone strong, its very heat and power energized our bodies and the forest was our oyster.

Most of our days were spent with the lovely Inka and Chris from Finland who welcomed us on their climbing journeys and into their hotel room where the intense heat embedded itself just enough to thaw us out until the next day’s sun. A random afternoon was spent with the Norwegian’s we had met in Norway the summer previous. While I watched Hannah Mitbod climb things with apparent ease I was reminded of how hard work and training can pay off. Her power and fitness inspired me for what was to come for myself. With one day left in Albarracin, I reflected upon this trip as an ease back into climbing; a necessary refresher for the soul. While the smell of the pines infused itself into my being, my body relaxed with the fresh air and blue skies. As we prepared ourselves and our van for yet another adventure we waved good bye to the Spanish sky but this time promised a more swift return.

The most common question I got upon returning from Albarracin…can you use chalk there? The answer? Yes. Apparently when the ‘laws’ were made there was some confusion between the ‘climbers group’ and the city council regarding the use of chalk. The council thought it was for putting numbers on the rock hence they made the no chalk rule. When the climbers later returned to them explaining the proper use of chalk and its necessity to climbing they agreed to show a blind eye until they got around to re-writing the rules. So? Just don’t go writing numbers and names on the rock. And as usual, pick up your trash and don’t leave your toilet paper to litter and decay on the forest floor. This is disgusting. Burn it or take it out with you. And please properly bury your poop. God knows there are enough dogs around there to dig it back up and then run to you only to give you a big lick. On the face. :)

The German and the Fin'. Rest day parking lot hang out.

A couple of the coolest Germans i ever met.

a painfully climbless detour to Siruana

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Commitment, sabotage and the temptations of Spain

The Spanish landscape reminded me of the long drives I’d taken in the southern states. The ground was dry and the air, fresh and crisp; it was akin to stepping into summer. The warm air filled the spot in me that had been longing to roam the Hueco Desert. The sun, it infiltrated me so deeply, I melted. This was pure enjoyment. My pre-coming wavering had been in vain. We were around a delightful combination of old friends and Sarrasonna rock. My body felt light and strong; movements came easily, relaxed and without thinking. It was back to basics; simple, pure and innocent. There were no expectations and no pressure. I was climbing simply because I climb.

A day in Sarrasonna

It seems ironic however, that after the first day of arriving in Spain, I volunteer myself to three weeks of complete abstinence from climbing. Though perhaps, it’s a bit dishonest to say ‘complete abstinence’. My body has not moved like a climber, but my mind has continued in other ways. While the small aches and pains which have accompanied me are slowly fading away, mentally, my insides are squirming. Once a year they say, one month off… I compromised with three weeks… ;)

I heavily weighed my decision to rest, having just arrived to such a place. But it felt right and the timing was perfect. There was snow in Albarracin and our friends welcomed us into their home where Cedar had met a new best friend. Ending after a good day of climbing seemed like a healthy imprint to leave encoded in my body. So it was decided; a commitment to rest.

There was an underlying fear that all my strength and abilities would fade away. Restarting could be heavy, slow and painful. Yet, the image of climbers such as Sean McColl and members of the Austrian team popped into my mind. These folks rested for the month of December and always came back just as strong. I decidedly put the fear behind and recalled the last time I rested that long which was over two years ago. The rest was spent touring London. Upon returning to Font, I was amazed at how refreshed not only my body felt, but also my mind.

Hiking in Montserrat, crazy rock...

With the New Year around the corner, it seemed an ideal time to reflect and reassess my goals for next year. Contemplating on my own wishes has led me to inquire into my own habits and decision making skills; or there lack of. This year there were a few things that didn’t go as planned that had an underlying theme of indecisiveness tinged with a tendency to listen to the echoes of fear over the voices of faith. (By faith, I mean Yoda style of course…)

Most might agree that humans tend to get in their own way. I’m no exception. Without the voices of chatter of what should be or can’t be; without the fear and worry of how dreams should come to pass; I find the answers to what I really want are fairly clear. But then, somewhat unconsciously, I do something that is to a degree, self-sabotaging. I make a decision which results in a big fat hurdle, put right in the middle of the path to my goals.

Looking a little deeper, it’s akin to providing myself with a predisposed excuse to not give 100%; an around the bend method to avoid full commitment. Such as, working as a setter in a gym… or eating too much junk… or better yet, paying too much attention to the self-criticizing thoughts in my head. “You can’t do this, you’re not good enough, and you are not like them”. And yet, you watch these thoughts, just like you look at the candy before eating it, feel their implications, sometimes believing them; sometimes not. Just like sometimes you eat the candy, sometimes you don’t. Most times, I eat it.

The self-sabotaging/ lack of commitment seem to serve as a source of protection. Failing hurts less when you gratify it with an excuse, especially, if it is a logical one. It seems that very deep down, my mind rationalizes; if I 101% fully commit, and if by chance I fail, it might really hurt. So in order to protect myself, in a sort of unconscious response, it chooses the safest path. My brain seems to miss the logic of walking away acceptingly, knowing that I gave my best; so long as it really was my very best, no self-sabotaging included. This is a very challenging position to get into; at least for me. My bad habits are tinged with sabotage and uncertainty around commitment.

Commitment can be very daunting regardless of the duration or severity of the engagement. That sidelong with the hesitancy that accompanies most of my decisions can be a very frustrating combination. So what to do? Live on in this wavering fashion or, do something about it?

It’s clear that I need a commitment to ‘the plan’, but how?  Surely, all the grit built from cold nights in the van, walking up big hills with sand and wind blowing against me, raising a kid alone, that’s got to serve me somehow. Life is short and I certainly don’t want to look back and say, what if? What if I gave myself permission to succeed or for that matter, fail, provided I permitted myself the chance to work under the best conditions, AKA, I did not get in my own way…  

The majority of my commitments I will keep to myself, however, I will share the main one which is most basic, yet incredibly hard as my track record proves. Ready? Not sure I am!! But here it is anyway: ‘I refuse to get in my own way’. That’s it! Simple. With clear intentions and commitment in my heart and mind, I will keep my focus. I pray compassion will console me if I fall off the line. In fact, anyone who witnesses me in self-sabotaging behavior; be it overtraining, believing the voices of self-doubt, or simply overindulging in crap food; have my written permission to stop me. Previously, I did this for friends who were trying to quit smoking and I must say; it is quite satisfying to be the anti-pusher! They do thank you in the end, and… so will I..!!

Thanks for reading.

PS- This post was incredibly hard to write. But the below poem which recently re-crossed my path has really helped remind me of what needs to be done and served as a nice kick in the butt. Its timing could not have been better. :)

Until one is committed 
There is hesitancy, the chance to draw back
Always ineffectiveness.
Concerning all acts of initiative (and Creation)
There is one elementary truth
The ignorance which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:
That the moment that one definitely commits ones self
Then Providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help one
That would never otherwise have occurred.
A whole stream of events issues from the decision
Raising in one’s favor all manner
Of unforeseen incidents and meetings
And material substance
Which no one could have dreamt
Would have come your way.
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

Spanish style human powered carousals
Rest day activities. Slow biking with walks in the wood

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A brief stop in Valais

Upon finishing work the realization had set in that my organizational skills had somehow skipped, or rather, avoided the ‘what to do next’ plan. This filled me with such anguish that almost out of need for security I opted for the well-known path to Magic Wood. It was a solace for my ears to hear the sound of the singing river. The winter cold cleansed my spirit and restarted my battery. The feeling that I had finished work was finally sinking in. The open road was mine.

The Wood was magical as always. The sun showed itself for a couple hours in the early afternoon before tucking itself away behind the mountain. It was amazingly dry and although temps were near 0 Celsius, excitement filled me. I foraged the forest searching for stashed pads to complement my own and re-stashed them at my favorite project. Sadly, the crux move morphed from what was possible to impossible while the easier moves felt harder. Perhaps it was the excessive amount of Haribo to blame, but either way, my fitness was questionable. Moves improved on the second day round, but it seemed so far off compared to before, that a rare moment of considering walking away entered my head. After sincere reevaluation, I prescribed myself a dose of patience with an extra dose of grit. After all, it had been a while since climbing outside. A flip of the mental switch was seriously needed to summon max effort. This problem was not a gimme; at least for me.

The next day I returned not only with more determination but also with a rise in outside temperature which was most welcome. Accompanying this warmth was a thick air of condensation which, surprisingly, left the lower holds of my project soaking wet. The blanket of ice on the top slowly melted, seeping onto the once dry holds. My project was now officially wet. The decision to stick around hoping for colder and dryer conditions seemed dismal. Having our fill of the cold, Cedar and I packed up our van with bikes and pads and headed towards Geneva with thoughts on the Valais.  

The Valais is in the French speaking part of Switzerland and is nestled closely to the borders of France and Italy. Perhaps made known by the legendary Fred Nicole, who has first ascents all over the area, the Valais consists of mini areas scattered around the mountainous terrain. Logistics were a little different this time round. Normally, Cedar and I live, eat, and sleep in our most wonderful Toyota van but old friends from Newfoundland invited us to wine and dine in the luxury of their Geneva flat. The evenings consisted of various activities which came to be known as ‘parties’.  There were Monopoly parties, dress up parties, bath parties and I even enjoyed the ability to have a ‘cooking party’ while standing up… (Something perhaps only a van dweller may understand! It’s akin to the enjoyment of having a bathroom!!)

"Dress up Party"

Our days were spent driving to the various climbing areas. Day one was spent at the closest area of St. George which Dave knew well. You see, living in Geneva, sans car, meant either relying on others with cars to go climbing, using the very expensive public transportation system or simply, not going. Dave had impressively dedicated himself for two years to knowing the various buses and trains that would get him close enough to each area. Then, once in the town where the surrounding boulders lay, he would make the trek, boulder for a few hours and then reverse his steps back to Geneva. In the van it took us about an hour and a half to reach any of the bouldering in the valley. To do this with public transport plus hiking shows some serious dedication which I think can only come from someone with perhaps a bit of Newfie blood.  

The long drives, coupled with the month of December, resulted in short climbing days. However, the areas were small enough that we could try most of the lines in the given time so it didn’t seem to matter so much. Our adventures brought us to Vernayaz, Massongex, and of course Branson, home of some of Fred Nicoles hardest test pieces, Radja and La Danse des Balrogs which proved hard as… Vernayaz had step roofs, small holds and a wide variety of lines. Massongex was most Narnia like with mossed over trees, sprouting mushrooms and baby waterfalls around each corner. The rock there was most interesting and so intriguing at points that I had to stop and look closer as if with a microscope. 

A bit of Massongex Magic

Dave’s research of watching videos of various climbers do the problems with apparent ease gave us the impression that everything was possible. However, looks are deceiving. The feeling of heaviness that accompanied me in Magic Wood did not dissipate; but there was no lack of trying and we all had tons of fun. The combination of seeing new areas, playing on new rock along with the city excursions and nighttime adventure game parties... well… it was enough to make us wanna go back.

But was the climbing good enough to go back? Well yes, maybe. But I don’t reckon it is a ‘destination’ like Font, Magic Wood or Hueco. The areas are spread out and while they have good problems, there isn’t a ton. But if one is passing through the area for a few days, why not check it out. With a couple of pads and a friend, you’re good to go. Besides, with the lure of a good game of checkers and ice skating in Geneva only an hour and a half away, why not! 

Checkers in the park

Dave and Erica, Thank you for your most generous hospitality. And thanks to you for reading. XX! 

given'er on a Vernayaz classic
Dave on a Branson classic

measuring our ape index in the history of science museum!! 

Last day, climbing in 'Blate'

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Adventures of a route setter

About this time last year I signed a piece of paper which felt somewhat like a contract to the devil. It required things of me which I had not been accustomed for a long time, mainly scheduled work. It wasn’t the work that made me shudder but more the obligation to stay in one place for an extended period of time. The thought sent shivers down my spine; the invisible wings on my back flutter. At that point, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into, but needing work and having been offered a job without asking; well, it seemed an easy solution. After all, it involved working with an amazing crew of setters in one of the best boulder gyms so, why not try. It’s hard to sum up basically a year in one post so I’ll keep it short and touch on what I learned as opposed to the little things like holy shit, not once did my too often visualized fear occur. Curious what that may have been…? Well, here it is: 
I’d be standing on the top of a ladder which was usually balanced a bit precariously. My tippy toes at full extension allowing me to reach the t-nut which was well above my head, just almost past reach. In one hand a drill while the other held the heavy hold against the wall. Suddenly I would lose balance and thus attempt to save myself by jumping off the ladder like a cat. In the same sequence of events, the ladder would knock over some poor climber, smashing him on the head. On my way down, I’d trip on a rung, fall face first into the pointing end of the drill and stab myself…
Realistic?? errr…well regardless, I am pretty psyched this did not happen. Not.Even.Once. 

My place of work!!

What did happen? I improved on a few things, like how to set good boulders for people of all abilities including beginners to someone with forearms the size of Popeye’s. The challenge of figuring out the details for how to make hard moves hard without giving advantage to those of various heights, simply by switching the angle of a hold to a rearrangement of feet, was always interesting. When the selections of holds were down to the bare bones and I stood above them wondering of the limited possibilities, somehow, it figured itself out like any good jigsaw puzzle. 

Surprisingly, setting served as a creative outlet. I envisioned complicated and interesting movements and tried to mimic them onto plastic. The many problems from the World Cups that I had flailed on were brought down a level or two in my own creation. I learned that setting problems with volumes isn’t as easy as it looks but forces one to accept a change of plan. 

Then came the inspiration. Around the times of the competition season, Boulderwelt attracted strong climbers from many an international team. I had the opportunity to watch Akiyo Noguchi stretch for what seemed like hours while her teammates ran around laughing, flashing every problem in site. Then when she was ready, so would she. The Russians, Koreans and Austrians were no different. While I worked my ass off with drill in tow, my eyes would fall upon them, spying from my various ladders and corners, watching their calculated movements, wishing that work didn't exhaust me so I could play too.  

Some of my fellow co-workers: Toby, Bill, Niko and Flo (who is clearly getting ripe for some washing!)

While comparing oneself to others isn’t a ‘yeah, yeah’, being human makes it inevitable. With the exception of the crème de la crème who seemed untouchable, I found watching the ‘semi-finalist’ served as a motivator and confidence builder. Here I was witnessing those who in competition appeared so much stronger, confident, and seemingly more dexterous, and yet, the illusion of their perfection slithered away before my eyes. They fell and stumbled just as I, and surprisingly, even struggled on moves or problems that I had already done. Knowing, ok, perhaps they are tired, but for once I opted to use this as a positive reality check instead. As competitions tend to leave me feeling on the hopeless side of things, perhaps some hope still exists; if they can do it, I can do it. 
Meanwhile, I had been under the illusion that working as a setter would aid my performance and abilities as a competitor which was a motivator for taking the job. While it did improve my route reading skills, it left me too exhausted to focus on my own training and awakened in me the realization that, unlike my co-workers, I was not in my twenties. Long days of lifting heavy boxes of holds and ladders 4 times my size, not to mention the setting and testing itself, was taking its toll. After just one month of this, I found myself weak, run down to the point of sickness, and walking like a 90 year old with a broken back. back whip post

This wake-up call effected my training dramatically. All hopes of improving and addressing weaknesses were limited to the one measly session per week where I climbed for myself, not work. When other competitors were training, I was climbing ladders and screwing on holds which is not exactly ‘training’. Something felt very wrong, and as much as I preferred otherwise, bitterness crept into my thoughts and my own shattered dreams. Although things did not work out as envisioned, with a beat body and hopes on next year, I finished with a respect for the people who make ours walls so much more pleasurable to play on. 

Upon concluding work, much retrospect followed. The take away lesson showed itself very clear. Before starting this job I had dreams and ambitions accompanied with doubts and fears of how I could financially make it happen. The memory of how I have survived thus far, sans contract, simply fell into the shadow. But clarity was a slap in the face. The realization that I had taken the job simply out of fear, insecurity, and self-doubt was so obvious, it was unobvious. 

And now as I stand in the same situation as last year, empty pockets filled with dreams and ambitions, the temptations of a new contract gnaw at me. But there is a force more powerful, nudging me to walk away from the temptation of ‘security’. My body quietly reminds me of the little injuries incurred from setting and that it won’t be able to handle much more. My climbing dreams shuddered upon the thought of returning. Standing still, fear and doubt fill my mind. While reaching into the unknown towards a world I dream of, I must sit even longer to feel clarity sweep into my swirling mind. It doesn’t come but I know it’s time to move. Edging toward the unknown path which lay before me, there is no security and fear of complications. Waving good-bye to the good friends I had made, the long bikes rides on the never ending Isar, the beautiful green city of Munich, home of delicious ice-cream, Cedar and I drove away. Although the air is cold and the path unknown, it is wide open here. 

Thanks for reading and big thanks and hugs to my fellow setters and friends at BoulderWelt who made work that much more fun. You know who you are. XX 

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Our favorite cheap place to eat followed by a walk by the Isar

Munich, like much of Europe, has many a smoker. Some motivating graffiti... smoking stinks!


More useful Munich graffiti