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.



CHALK:
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.
GOETHE



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 


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!

Marienplatz

More useful Munich graffiti






Monday, October 13, 2014

Fall in the city

This post is dedicated to my friend and fellow setter, Toby. aka Tobias. aka big guy.

Check out his talent here: http://tobias-leipnitz.de/index.html


Awaking in the morning I feel the nip of fall at my heels.  My jacket goes on right away as I look out the front window of my van covered with leaves the colors of orange, red and a dying shade of brown. My ears are filled with noises from random cars which drive by while my van occasionally shudders from the sensation of the underground which conveys that we must be parked meters above it. At first arriving in Munich I couldn’t sleep with this city ambiance. I was more accustomed to sleeping so close to nature and awaking to the singing of birds. But one can get used to anything and by now, sleep comes easily and the sound of a siren is brushed off as easily as a fly.

Life here is the same, but different. I live in a Toyota Previa , the same type of van which I call home while roaming North America. But this European Previa has a roof top window and a small electric cooler which makes me feel like I’ve moved one step up the ladder. I live this lifestyle with my daughter and have since god knows when. Well there were these two occasions… Once, we lived in a small apartment in Squamish which had a view that fell upon the squaw and all of the cliffs that the north walls offered. It was nice, in a funny sort of way, but it wasn’t van life. Another time I lived with Jer and Mando in their spare room where I would sew random crafts and clothing’s for the markets while trying to lure their kitty into my arms with a long string. On rainy days I would bake, inhale the scent of Jers coffee and look out their large front window absorbing the view of the Chief which stood so tall and majestic. Sometimes the clouds hovered over its top, moving in a swaying sort of way that would entice me to visit. But then we left that abode for a new life and a sunnier road down south. With the windows rolled down we waved good bye to one land and hello to another, embracing the very sensation of movement which van life offered.

My blood is tinged with gypsy blood. I know it. Growing up I always would ask my mom if I was adopted. Newfoundland just didn’t feel like home. The feeling that I belonged somewhere else, to different lands ran so deeply, my bones ached. Maybe that is why I feel the call to Europe. The exoticness of Asia and South America barely nudge me to visit. But Europe, where I now stand, beckons me to all its corners, all its wonders…  But it hasn’t really worked out like that. Although I live in a van which can bring me to all the corners that I dream of, I am somewhat bound here to this leaf covered parking lot, contracted like a soul to the devil to the dreaded thing called work.

But there is some comfort in that. I don’t mind my job. It offers creativity and a bit of stability. My co-workers are among the best and the coolest. The opportunity to see a city in depth is at my heels every day. But the van; it is meant to drive and my body feels the same. But here, we sit still, gathering leaves and moss while we metro it or ride the bikes along the Isar going no further than 5 km per day. Sitting in my van, the cold sends a friendly reminder that winter is coming. With fall comes change. My fingers miss the touch of rock and being fully absorbed in a life of movement. Part of me has become comfortable here and fears what leaving may entail. But a larger part of me can’t wait to breathe in a new pace of life where days seem never ending.

A part of me wonders how this will happen. It sounds like a stranger speaking inside of me. I have never wondered how things will happen. I just go for it and magically, things fall into place. It is akin to taking a leap of faith. At 18, when I first moved away from home, I had $60 in my pocket. Did I starve? No. But this thing called work has made some neuron in my brain wonder about certain types of stability that put gas in the van and food on the table. I sit with this thought and analyze it like I do everything and realize perhaps I have gotten a little too comfortable here or maybe, just maybe, this is a partner of age.

A co-worker of mine confesses to me his passion of becoming a professional photographer verses the engineer that they studied in school. I encourage him in every way. Don’t worry about the how; trust your guidance and move without fear. If it is truly your passion, your calling, then the universe will move mountains for you, guiding and enabling you to realize your dreams. It is just one life we have, however short. Too short to be lived to others standard that’s for sure. I speak to him and as the words flow from my mouth I feel as though I speak to myself; trying to convince myself of a way of living which I once embraced but which currently seemed out of touch. My contracted work is soon finished and questions about the future arise. With a world of ideas floating through my mind and dreams to be realized I find myself worrying about the how. My body craves space and time alone to figure it out yet part of me knows that all I have to do is take the leap; the first step of commitment. There is a strong sense of trust and willingness accompanied with the darkness of uncertainty backed by fear.

Trying to summon the courage which once ran so strong through my blood, I feel it nudging with a pointy finger. It beckons adventure over security; the unknown verses the known; discomfort verses comfort. I ask for guidance from the wonders of the universe and that all my actions come from that and not of habit. To bring me to the place where I can continue to grow and learn from life and somehow be of good. Death has been knocking at the door of people I know, reminding me of the uncertainty of how much time I am given. But one thing is sure; this feeling which urges me to go beyond my own comforts, the normalizations of this society, guides me. As resistance knocks, telling me what is and isn’t ok, I remind myself of the words I spoke to my co-worker. Don’t worry about the how Thomo…don’t worry about the how.

Thank you for reading. :)

Fall two years ago...font
Fall last year, magic wood
fall this year... Munich
(Some folks have asked me to write about van life and this was meant to be that but this came out instead.  And so in the meantime I’ll work on part two… ‘The practicalities of van life’... Soon come…!)

Thank you for reading. :) Again... ;)

Friday, September 12, 2014

A cat on a rant with a mission

Apologies ahead but this will be a most negative rant spreading the most undesirable vibes into a wilting world and achieves nothing but a voice let to cry out its poison upon the listening eyes of some soul who will perhaps read and tut, and imaginably, tut again, in disapproval over the expression of frustration which burns inside of me. 

The Munich World Championships

Fortunately for the reader and perhaps the whole of existence, the fire inside has been extinguished. Flickering its last sparkle of light, only the aftermath of reflection remained. Analyzing everything from my thinking to my movement; from the moment training commenced to the second I walked into isolation, to the moment I walked off the blue mats for the last time; what did I do wrong?
Looking back to February when I started my poor excuse of a training program which coincided with my work as a route setter, my average week consisted of one training session to myself while the remaining climbing days were working, setting and testing. While setting improved my route reading skills, it left me too zapped to maximize my own training time. So, the one month before this competition, I worked some and gratefully took the last two weeks completely off so I could focus on my own climbing.

Needing some space from the gym and Munich itself, I headed south to Zurich where I swindled my way into the training sessions with the Swiss team. The problems accompanied with strong female climbers kept me psyched to learn and improve. I admired the extreme focus they showed while training which looked no different to the intensity they showed while competing.

Swiss gyms have fun toys!

Returning to Munich, the weekend of the competition came and passed as quickly as a summer in Germany. The resulting anger lingered longer but was then replaced by sadness. Overall I felt more prepared than I had for any other competition. The time off work refreshed my body and mind. The trip to Zurich boosted my confidence because it showed me that I wasn't as far off the mark as I thought. Competition however, is a different world.

Forgetting to take a deep breath I approached problem one with nervousness accompanied with determination. The wind blew at me as if to remind me to slow down and breathe, but my body was too stressed and uptight to notice. Quickly arriving at the top on my first attempt, my fingers edged towards the final hold which was just out of reach. Readjusting, I brought my foot higher so to make the span but it popped off unexpectedly and I found myself on the floor below. Rushing to get back on, I immediately fell which reminded me to calm down, at least for the moment. On the third attempt I headed back to the top but my center of focus had switched 180 from my foot placements to the new voice shouting loudly into the microphone, ‘go momma, go’, over and over. Upon hearing, I told myself to stay focused but my legs immediately started to shake. I just wanted the noise of the blurred crowd back with no differentiation between voices and my focus back on the wall. Sean McColl’s mother once told me she isn’t allowed to cheer her son on in a competition which confused me but finally I understand why. If anything, this has given me a serious slap in the face to improve my ability to focus amidst adversity.

The next problem in line was a huge double dyno. I touched the hold but wasn’t high enough to grab. In fact, the very strong Russian champion Dinera who is my size but well beyond my abilities didn’t do this one. It was clearly very far and being short in this situation is definitely a frustrating disadvantage. From a route setting perspective, the second group’s dyno was much better set. Many climbers of all sizes had reached the bonus and/or sent the problem. To make the problems equally hard for all sizes is a challenge but given that it was a world championship, I hoped for better setting. An extra foot hold for the petit makes a world of difference.    

Without going into each and every problem which i complicated beyond measure, I will save the reader and delve into the questions that I asked myself afterwards.

Did I make a mad fight for each hold meaning: nearly slipping off and re-grabbing until finally my ass was spit on to the blue mat like the try hard Slovenians? No. I fell on my feet most of the time and after the comp my skin and nails were pathetically without scratch and blemish.

Did I attack each problem with full effort and focus like the Swiss do in their training? No. I stood in line as if waiting for the wall to move towards me. No attack. No bear stance. No aggression. Well, there was aggression, but not the smart kind which brings me to my third question.

Did I think clearly and climb with smart and calculated movements? No. I climbed like a moron. I completely doubted and distrusted my abilities and my choices for beta. My attempts were accompanied with a heaviness of self-doubt and lack of trust which quickly pulled me down into a deep abyss. While there were some improvements, a familiar passiveness remained. Far from relaxed, I walked away with annoyance within myself. Wanting to do so well, I threw myself at the problems only to forget my brain on the floor.

This about sums on my problem...

Finally I asked, what exactly is holding me back from 101% effort, commitment and belief? Do I want this or not? Am I prepared to fight for this or not? These questions revolve in my head as if provoking the answer to come out of its shadows. I show the written proof of my training that marks my dedication, alongside with the debt and sacrifices made to compete. Yes, I reply, I do, but I seem to be in my own way.

So what now? Reevaluate; question the sabotaging voice that doubted; work on my ability to relax; and train smarter with discipline. I will seek and find the 101% focused attention that I truly need on that wall and in life in general. I will learn and train the secrets of the fighting yet flowing ninjas; I will rewire my mind and every single cell in my body to fight for each and every hold until it’s either in my grasp or until my blood lays on the floor. I will continue to seek the path to freedom until the voices of self-doubt and torment are no more and all that remains is the simplicity and enjoyment of pure movement. I will watch more Bruce Lee.

Thanks for reading. Hopefully I didn’t put a bad taste to your day. XX






Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Laval. Some first's and some last's...

Well this was most interesting. Unexpected and yet, surprisingly... a break through. Unexpected because the outcome wasn’t a worry in my head so the fear of it didn’t exist. And surprising, for a few reasons. Firstly, I’ll clarify, it isn’t surprising that I got last... Having been close enough to this border on numerous occasions, its occurrence is somewhat inevitable. 

This competition however, amazed me in a few ways. Firstly, it was the first time I felt strong in warm up. Second, it was the first time I took enough rest before a comp, which probably makes sense of point one. Third, I had planned ahead and was not in the same predicament as I have been for every other comp, as in rushed, lost and late. There is one more point which I will bring up later…the breakthrough.

There was a very nice campground where we set up our haven. There were walking trails, a pool and even flushing toilets and hot showers. It was the epicenter of relaxation. The ideal state which I had imagined one would want to be in before an important event. I arrived at everything on time except isolation where I nearly met my fate. I was clever enough to check out the location the day before but not clever enough to realize I couldn’t return the same way. Round-a-bouts and one way streets left me confused, speeding and arriving in a tizzy. Once parked, I discovered Valerie of Israel wandering around the building looking as lost as I. Quickly gathering our belongings, we searched for the secret door to iso which seemed to play hide and seek. With minutes to spare, we finally discovered the hole in the ground hidden in the back of the building.

The registration meeting... french style

Each person had their own start time which staggered the crowd of some 42 competitors among the four large panels which were covered in holds of many sizes, shapes and colors. The walls remained fairly busy but a good warm up was totally possible. As I made up my own problems I spied on others, planning to try their problems once they moved onto another wall. Finally after a few hours, my turn came round. Walking through the hallway and up the stairs to the loud arena, I absorbed the scene around me. In scattered chairs sat competitors who waited for their turn. Some look bored, sleepy almost. Others paced back and forth, occasionally looking at the clock which ticked away what remained of the five minutes that they had left to wait until they returned to the wall. 

My shoes lay in front of me waiting for their turn to go out which came soon enough. Problem one asked for balance combined with a tedious lock off. Climbing a bit too cautiously, it showed the lack of trust I had in my foot placement on the small slopey foothold. I fell a few times before finally latching the bonus and moving on to match the final hold. Unfortunately my foot unknowingly flagged past the black tape which seemed to plaque many of the competitors. With no time left to retry, I headed behind the walls with a score card that gave me only a bonus. 

For the second problem I was unable to get past the first awkward move off bad slopers. I found myself stuck in a narrow tunnel of so badly wanting to do the problem, yet, forgetting to change my beta or resting long enough to let my hands cool down. It would have taken seconds yet the clock seemed to move faster than my heart and slowing down became a forgotten idea from a distant land. 

The Canadians eating healthy pre-comp...

The next problem was an awkward line of small crimps and shallow pockets placed in a way that forced my body to twist and turn requiring not just finger strength but also a knowing how to climb. The last move was a jump to a sloper which I almost grabbed on a few occasions but was unable to stick. Despite this, I made the height for the jump so there was progress for me in the world of big moves… :) Yahoo!

For the fourth and fifth problems I walked away with a bonus and a huge pump in my forearms. They both involved long moves, with the last being a sideways dyno. I realized yet again the degree to which I must commit more of my training to the things I hate so that one day, they become my strengths. Knowing my placement wasn’t good, I refused to look at the results fearing I would burst into tears then and there. That said, three bonuses and a send, although it didn't count, was more than I ever had. 

Finally the surprising breakthrough… After the comp, I cried in the secrecy of my own van while Cedar played with Jamie on her skateboard. But my tears felt different. The energy was not that of defeat or being stuck in a self-loathing pit of doom and disaster as I had felt for many a competition. The tears were simply of sadness and disappointment. And then…magically… they passed. Just like that. It surprised me. I found myself able to enjoy the rest of the day and into the next. Socializing was not impossible and I could do so without appearing lost in my thoughts of doom and gloom. Having sat out so many semi-finals and finishing so close to the end many a time, the feelings that this part of the competition was untouchable were strong.  Yet, something different pulled at me while watching this round of semis. It was more a sense of excitement than loathing. Deep within, an old pattern was being replaced by something better. To be free of this heaviness that has plagued me since starting competing was just plain liberating. In its place it left openness for growth and energy to focus on the things that will propel me forward. There is a hella lot more training and work to do here in many aspects, but man… getting last never felt so good. 

Thanks for reading. :)

the artist headquarters
Japan... Biggest team evaaa!
the grand finale

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Three weeks of a whirlwind. Squamish. Part two.

Dedicated to the amazingly perfect granite cliff which stands proud over the community of people who welcomed me back with a warmth and knowing which hadn't touched me for a long time. Thank you Squamish. X

Coming home

Squamish. It means wind in the native tongue. Anyone who has been there would understand the reasoning. Upon arriving a strong wind blew in off the Howe sound which surrounded the granite cliffs and Tantalus range. My eyes fell upon the pure grandness of the blue, green and grey. The view was spectacular. Unreal. My insides were confused; somewhat anxious. It had been a long time since seeing this view and the faces of its many inhabitants.

Setting up camp, my eyes fell upon the lush forest which once cushioned me. The sweet smell of cedar tree filled my nostrils. So much to catch up on, people to see and yet, the campground in which I stood gave me everything I needed. Grabbing a fresh sprung off baby needles of the closest pine, I chewed it slowly allowing its fresh and unique taste to flow in my mouth. When in this area it was almost ritual to eat every plant which I knew of. It was returning home.

Returning home, yet, feeling oddly like a visitor. I was without my van, meaning my home. We arrived in Squamish with the help of Julie and her big black truck. Pulling into the middle parking lot was truly surreal. This parking lot in which I have spent many an hour was the exact same, yet, I felt like a stranger. Nearly three years have passed since my feet touched this ground. 

But there are some things which don’t change. Minutes after arriving a big white van pulled up with a matching Primus sticker on the back. Peter Micheaux. He is a legend in my world. I have known him since bouldering became an integral part of my world. He wrote one of the first guidebooks for the forest and can often be found in his home woody or climbing at Fleming beach in Victoria. But now, he is Squamish based and what a pleasure it is to run into Peter. Never will I be bored or uninterested in his presence. 

Later came Benny, riding the bike he made out of founded parts. He made his way up to the campground just to visit us. This action in itself nearly brought me to tears. I can’t remember the last time I had a visitor in Europe. It was like a blow to my head reminding me of the community I once belonged to. Next came Tim who helped make this trip possible in every possible way. Then Nic and Mark. Matt and Janelle and their new family member, North. Mando, Jer, Rhea, Kaz. Hell, even Neil from Wales was around. We saw the usual gang in the forest, the seasonal Quebecois and later, a slew of people who I had never seen before making me realize it really had been a long time. 

Benny and Neil 'safely' checking out a long standing project

As for the forest, some paths were overgrown while others were spreading out with erosion. Moss returned to the tops of some old lines which never got repeated. It actually looked better than before I left. So green and dense with various evergreens which loomed high above my head. 

I visited old projects as well as new lines. While topping out problems that I had done over a 1000 times, my heart pounded hard. I was out of breath. What? Out of breath? Squamish has always been the place I could go to and measure my progress or there lack of. If I could do old projects or if problems felt easier; I knew I came back better. This time however, I was left confused. I felt stronger on individual moves but my fitness felt shot. Given all the training put in, which was more than ever in my life, I was meant to be in good shape right? Well, I wasn’t sure anymore. Trying old projects for measure was overwhelming. My focus was wanting to roam around the forest and simply climb. Repeating a bunch of things was like a gift. The unique movement of the Squamish bouldering made my insides jiggle with happiness. It felt so good to move and climb on this stellar granite. 

After the third day of allowing myself to blissfully do as I wish, the gnawing feeling of guilt settled in. ‘You should be training on plastic’ it said… The Laval World cup was in less than 2.5 weeks and here I was in the forest playing lock off and slab. Climbing is climbing I argued but I knew this wasn’t exactly true. Moving on plastic is completely different to moving on rocks. I had to go back to school. And so that’s what I did. There were a couple session had at the Edge Climbing gym and of course the Squamish Co-op. While Tim made me up problems addressing my specific weaknesses, my ass met the floor with each attempt. It took quite a few tries to learn the trickery of the movement he was trying to teach. Swing, don’t match, turn sideways, go faster… Climbing in the forest does not teach this. It was re-programing in session and it wasn’t easy, but, it was fun..! 

The Squamish Co-op. 


The Squamish trip was interrupted with a brief visit to Vancouver Island, in particular, The Boulders Climbing Gym. Kimanda had invited me to go there and climb with some of the kids, help with their technique and check out the gym. I got to try the speed climbing wall on auto belay and yes, it was hard and yes, I down climbed half way. Finally committing to let go and trust the device, I let out a little scream of fear and excitement. Surprisingly, it worked! My feet touched bottom. :) On top of that, Cedar and I got to meet with her homeschool teacher who we work with at a distance through “SelfDesign Learning”. If that wasn’t enough to put icing on the cake, we finished the evening with homemade carrot cake to celebrate Peter’s 40th birthday.


Made it to the top!
A few days later we returned to Squamish but it felt different this time. The shock of being back had gone and was replaced by tingling feelings of being home. The Chief had beckoned me to hike it at least once before I left proving to me that I was indeed out of shape. Surviving the stairs, I got to the top to breathe in its offerings and reflect on my return. I have had so many homes all over the world but at the core of these is the people. We covered more birthday parties those two weeks than we had the last 3 years. Cedar and I belong to a community here which goes back over a decade. When leaving Squamish nearly 3 years ago, my body and soul hurt. I needed to break the spell and stagnation; to learn other things… and yet… returning prompts the questioning of why we ever left. As I take in a deep breath and look around, we wave good-bye to the chief standing tall and proud. I asked for its protection and our ultimate return. 

Thanks for reading. X


Good-bye Squamish. see you soon. 
Please check out my crowdfunding gig which made this trip possible and my attendance to the Toronto World Cup.

Vancouver Korean... My fave!
A very funny and interesting new guide book from Squamish
Kimanda of Boulders Climbing gym in Sannich
My old stomping grounds. They are renovating!
Squamish art work in the park
i love this place, powerlines and all... :)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Three weeks of a whirl wind. Part One.

The usual method of travel for me; last minute, slightly unplanned and completely unorganized. The whole trip was an idea conceived in almost a dream like trance. The possibility of it actually becoming a reality seemed as unlikely as winning the national state lottery. The sentiment I held was to listen to the tingling feeling that grew inside of me the closer the date came. No matter how many pro/con lists I made, I knew there would be serious regret if the chance before me was not taken. Work and rocks can wait, but this wouldn’t. There is only one Toronto World cup in 2014. Just one.

So how to do it… The idea of crowd funding was proposed to me on numerous occasion but I wasn’t sure I had the balls to actually go ahead with it. The thoughts of unworthiness plagued me yet realistically, it was the only option. I tried to view it as an application for public sponsorship. Magically once the decision was made, things came together to make it happen. A good friend vouched for our tickets with an unwavering faith and I followed through with the plans from my side. In less than 72 hours, Cedar and I were packing and running towards a plane bound for Toronto, Canada. All I knew was that we had a place to stay for the night and the Toronto World Cup was in 4 days. We would return to Munich after a brief stopover in Squamish. Everything else and beyond was a blur.

Upon arriving, the heat and humidity of Toronto filled our lungs. With a friend, we walked the streets and took in the scenes of small stores that sold random obscurities from all corners of the world. We climbed at Canada’s oldest climbing gym, Joe Rockhead’s curtesy of head setter Ayo. (Thanks Ayo!) As the days passed I tried organizing our accommodation for the competition but found myself financially unable to buy food for the day let alone book a hotel. While I tried to convince myself to trust the situation, the stress crept into my bones as I stared at the last of the plane snacks stuffed in an old bag. Wondering what to do, the realization came that I would have been stranded either way be it in Munich or Toronto. I considered myself lucky to have a good friend who provided us with a roof and kept our hunger at bay.

Ayo of Joe Rockheads
Team Dinner. Thanks Ontario climbing!
The evening before leaving for the comp, things sorted themselves out. I breathed out a sigh of relief once a hotel was booked. As we dragged our luggage on and off the various trains and buses, it didn’t take me long to appreciate the public transportation systems in Europe. With no signage or staff around to direct lost travelers, the travel hit with more adversity than anticipated. As event after event unveiled themselves, I took it as a chance to practice the ideal dreamy headspace I had envisioned for myself when facing adversity in a competition. Unfortunately my alter ego would have none of that. As my head battled between war and peace, we eventually disembarked the crowded bus in Hamilton. Arriving too late for the technical meeting, I headed back to the hotel, unpacked, and searched for my Canadian friends.

Ready set...
The next morning the sun shined brightly through the crack in the curtain. As I prepared my bag for the day events to come, I tried to embrace my tingling nerves which were acting up more than usual. This would be my first World Cup on Canadian soil. Maybe it was some home pressure felt as many people knew me from my outside achievements or perhaps it was the fear of being compared to the others and feelings of inferiority… either way, I had to figure out how to deal. Watching the focus and intensity of a nearby competitor, I mimicked her actions thinking they would help me to shake off my anticipation.
Climbing the stairs to approach problem one, I turned around to face an awkward sideways jump. Grabbing the hold seemed very much out of reach yet the more I tried, the more focused I became. My efforts improved but the buzzer echoed, stating that my turn was over. Walking down the stairs I tried to ignore the negative chatter that criticized me because I didn’t do the first problem which is usually the easiest. I opted to practice my new mantra “get the hold” and reminded myself there were four more problems in line.

The start of problem two came easy as it was a nice roof section but then I was faced with a big move which made my insides scream with fear. In retrospect, it wasn’t so big; I just didn’t do it. My friend Tiffany Hensley gave me the outsider’s perspective. She noticed how I didn’t have my chest open or my arms straight when I went for it but rather my shoulders and chest were curled in as if in a protective position. Not ideal for expanding for those big moves…yes, I see now. She gave me the yogic bear posture which I was to practice while standing at the base of problems to help me open up and give invoke feelings of domination. (Needless to say, I did try it and yes I felt awkward as hell but the difference was certainly felt. Thanks Tiff!)

Still no bonuses I kept my hope on the last three problems continuing this down to the very last effort on the very last problem. The next in line suited me but I felt weak on the bonus crimp and didn’t trust myself to get to the next hold with the beta I had envisioned so alternatively, I threw and missed. The slaughtering continued as I threw myself at the huge sideways double dyno completing one goal which was to fall on my butt from trying so hard. The final problem gave me the bonus but nothing else. Failing to see the slopey lip high above as an option, I instead fought to match a small crimp followed by a long move with little success.

Walking away thoughts imploded in my head that I was doomed. The realization came that perhaps the strength, technique and mental toughness just wasn’t there. Or maybe, just maybe, I was tired from the stress of the day before and physically more tired than usual. But the feeling that I wasn’t cut out for comps lingered deeply. This took a couple days to pass and after a fun session at Niagara Glen and a fresh perspective, I knew I didn’t make a mistake in coming. The value of a trip or competition shouldn’t come down to results. I realized the importance of planning ahead which would help leave more energy to prepare for the job at hand. Either way, I decided to improve my organization skills for competition and for life in general. Realizing this plan takes organization and being a top notch procrastinator, this, may take a miracle. But as I have a sense of hope which can wax and wane between despair and idealism; as a believer in miracles however simple or crazy; I think this can be done. The evidence shows. I got to take part in the Toronto World Cup with less than a penny in my pocket because a few people believed in me. Their confidence was contagious enough to drain all doubts of how I would get there. Now the crux is instilling this confidence into my own climbing. Until then, it’s a work in progress. For now, I get to spend some days under the Squamish chief…

Next post soon come. :)
Thanks for reading

For more information on my “Public Sponsorship” aka crowdfunding campaign please follow this link:
Thomo's Indiegogo campaign

Oh Canada
The coolest idea for a cafe/shop ever. People actually socializing..!!!
train game
Toronto Metro. Yes i like metros...