Saturday, May 30, 2009

one plunge step at a time

I think fear & limits exist on a spectrum. The interaction of the two is what colors the decisions we make, from where to live to what to do on days off. It influences our interactions and determines how we approach both new and old relationships. And this interplay of sorts is dynamic, forever sensitive to a thousand other factors.

I've found myself more often recently explaining certain fears I have and how I deal with them, perhaps because they are at the front of my consciousness on a regular basis and discussing how I think about them helps me to articulate for myself the process of confronting them.

I'm scared of many things...some of the more tangible include fire, falling, being rejected, and failure. These fears I have, they're diffuse. They're "what ifs", and I don't like "what ifs". So I choose to set them aside until I have to confront them in a given situation, and then I parse them. I break them down, identify what about that fear in that situation makes me uncomfortable.

And I have limits. Interpersonal limits, limits of ability, self-imposed limits, situational constraints. What's funny is how much I realize that I choose these limits. I choose how much to share, how comfortable to be with someone. I choose how hard I work to develop a new skill, I choose how to respond. I choose where I live and where I work and what I do for fun. And because of that, I choose to be content. I have no right to project my frustrations with a given situation onto anyone else because when it really comes down to it, I have chosen to be where I am.

What a freeing concept.

And it's all still a process for me, and it will be--so far as I can tell--for a long long time. I'm okay with that. I choose that. I own it.

What do you think?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

the top of the world

Sometimes I have a hard time convincing people I'm afraid of heights. This is especially true considering the events that transpired over the past few days.

After a mere three hours of sleep, I managed to wake up before my alarm on Saturday, something that doesn't happen um...ever. And the fact that it was set for 6:30? Virtually miraculous. Anyways, so there I am, wide awake and ready for the two and a half hour drive up to the Lodi dropzone. I sipped coffee with cream and listened to the Dirtbag Diaries all the way up the state, periodically getting goosebumps when a particular story or sentiment resonated unexpectedly. Why did I not listen to the Dirtbag Diaries before recently?

I stopped at Grandma's to make a lunch, a visit that stretched from a quick hello into a two-hour heart-to-heart. Worth every second.

After I left there, I continued up the state and arrived in Lodi about noon. Now, I had decided, despite offers from friends who would accompany me, that this would be a solo adventure. I've come to prefer solo adventures. If I know myself at all, I know that I've spent a good part of my life being too sensitive to what other people think...of me, of what I say, of what we experience together...and that this was something I wanted to do by myself. That said, I will confess I was ever so slightly bewildered upon my arrival at the dz. It was busy and buzzing with activity and I didn't know a soul. Quickly I filled out my release and paid. Utilizing my hypersocial tendencies, I asked a friendly-looking woman where to find Brook & company, and she directed me towards them. Within ten minutes, I had six new friends, including Ryder, only the sweetest dog in the world.

I didn't have to wait too long. Once I had met everyone and gotten settled, it was pretty much time to meet my tandem master and suit up for my jump. Shortly thereafter, we took to the sky for an agonizingly long ascent. En route to our altitude, I met the jumpers behind me and to my left, one of whom commented on my lack of shaky hands. I am rather proficient at psyching myself "in" when I can anticipate a situation and choose how I want to respond to it. This was no different.

At altitude, the other tandem pair jumped, followed closely by CS and me. Even though it all happened very fast at this point, I have no trouble recalling any instant of it. It's completely intact, from the exit to the landing. Many times during the freefall, I had to remind myself to "look at the camera" (I got pictures since the few friends I told about the jump asked to see them, plus it'd be nice to have some record) instead of just soaking in the bliss of it all. That feeling is the best thing I can possibly imagine. That falling is so strangely peaceful. It has a direction and a purpose and it feels solitary. You are nowhere else in that moment. Enough with the philosophical mumbojumbo. :) When the canopy opened, CS and I chatted and joked and generally enjoyed ourselves, and the landing was easy.

After landing, I reassumed my position as Aunt Katie to Ryder the Fearless Dropzone Puppy. His mom and dad jumped all day, intermittently checking in for a hello or a snack. We spent the rest of the day chatting with countless other jumpers, going on walks, eating lunch...I met so many fun people and fell in love with the dynamics of the dropzone. The throngs of people as the planes were loading...then twenty minutes later they all drop out of the sky in a rush of color. Had I not come by myself, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to simply receive and process the interactions and activity the way I did.

After dinner with Liv, Matt, Brook, & Jimmy, I headed to my parents' to say hello and spend the night on my way home.

The next morning I woke up early and headed home, reeling from the effects of withdrawal from a day of activity. I've found this happens to me a lot whenever I really enjoy myself. I go from intensely content, positive feelings towards restless, unsettled moodiness. This was me all afternoon. I got to bed vaguely early Sunday night in preparation for Monday, tired but hopeful and excited.

Monday morning I woke up at the prescribed 3 a.m. for a 3:30 meetup at the local REI with all my climbing buddies for our Half Dome adventure. We hit the road for the two hour drive, me with coffee in hand. The sun started to twilight as we hit the park entrance. With all the blithe ignorance of not-yet-inducted and as-yet-forgotten-just-how-damn-hard-it-is half dome hikers, we took a few photos and set off happily. The JMT was our trail of choice, favored for its lack of heinous stone steps and considerably less cold and wet conditions, considering the hour.

For the next several hours, we hauled our progressively dirtier and sweatier and tireder selves up the trail, stopping for water and pictures and snacks when necessary and generally having as good a time as is possible when 11 friends are simultaneously pushing their physical limits. After what seemed like a lifetime, we crested the quarter dome and waited for all in our party to catch up. A few group photos later we joined the surprisingly small crowd at the cables for the last (and scariest!) push. (I still get the heebiejeebies when I picture the cables, and I've done them twice!)

Finally at the top, I cavorted about, posing for a photo here and there but mostly keeping my promise to myself: this time I was gonna do it better. I wasn't going to be sketched out the way I was the first time, and I was going to explore and enjoy myself instead of shying away from anything that resembled the edge.

An hour later we realized we were chasing daylight and needed to start for the trailhead immediately or risk an epic of sorts. With 11 hikers, this is anything but easy.

Exhausted and anxious, we headed down the trail in pockets, stopping only when necessary but otherwise plugging along steadily, trying not to think about our aching knees and feet. Once back at the cars, we assessed ourselves, assembled each carload, and set off for home. I had to pull over and switch drivers an hour later, something I hate doing but realize sometimes is necessary.

Finally, after a short shower, I crawled into bed. This morning when my alarm went off it was all I could do to even get out of bed. My body demanded that I sleep longer, and was a little sore to boot, but work won. On the way to work, I was still on an upswing, but by midday I was reeling with restlessness. I think I've equalized a little, but there's definitely more processing to do that has to wait until I can get to the gym for a little climbing therapy (an idea my body currently is protesting).

Until then, blue skies and happy trails!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

everything I wish I could be

Perhaps the most unlikely and unflinchingly constant supporter of the life I'm choosing to live is my grandmother. Don't get me wrong, we've always been close, but the closer I get to being a "grown-up", the more I realize that our bond has less to do with the fact that I'm her oldest grandkid and more to do with the idea that we are just very alike. She definitely kept my fierce sense of personal justice (read: butting heads with mom) at bay during who-knows-how-many maternal altercations during my adolescence.

I've always seen my grandma as a cautious person, a reliable harbinger of grandmotherly judgment. She's the first to remind me it's not safe to be outside after dark. Therefore, it's interesting for me to consider that my own restless spirit finds its roots in hers. However, she's been the one to acknowledge and approve of my transition to climbing and generally adventurous pursuits...and not brush it off the way others in my family do, reminding me that I have other things to worry about.

At lunch on Mothers' Day, she revealed things about herself and what she has wanted to do and I realized she holds a cache of as-yet-unfulfilled dreams that align rather closely with my own. In some ways, I feel that she encourages me to chase these adventures because she didn't. I don't mean that I am in some way making up for any of that, but that she "gets" it/me. I don't have to explain why I want to see the world and do all these things, because she does too. And to have someone like pretty amazing.


Some days it's all I can do not to pick up and drive out of town, up to the Valley or out to the boulders...just to be somewhere a little more tranquil where I can feel more in my element than I do here in town. As a recent convert to the world of adventure and outdoorshood, I'm still awestruck by the ease with which I can seriously consider absconding responsibility just to get out and breathe easier and get a little dirt under my nails. Up until a year or two ago, I found definition in what I accomplished--my academics, musical pursuits--and those things are still an integral part of who I am and what I love, but I am not defined solely by them. I'm at a place where my restless spirit can rest easy, where my inherent anxiousness is tempered by an inexhaustible sense of contentment.

Life is so so so good, friends. And that's not just the endorphins talking.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

on where I've been and where I want to go

Until I was about 20 1/2 or so, I was convinced I was going to run off to New York and be a writer. (in between that and wanting to be a renegade climber, I was certain I would join the Peace Corps after graduation) Tonight I happened across my folder from poetry class freshman year of college...

I want to write with that kind of abandon again, at least once in a while. I felt like I couldn't breathe unless I was writing. I would wake from a dead sleep in my dorm room because the words I had to get out were JUST THAT pressing. I had to write. Now, I can go back and read these reviews and these comments my poetry professor (who almost convinced me to switch to English as a major and I probably would have if I thought I could keep up with the reading when I would much rather have been doing my own--I'm an incorrigible bibliophile) wrote, and for the first time, they make better sense than they ever did before.

This was my very first class poem (my first and only attempt at sonnet writing for that matter), printed on 2/2/05 for our "sonnet" class:

Upon the death of some fantastic storm
the soft'ning of a strong and angry rain
the clearing of the clouds which long had borne
a rhythmic and a passionate refrain,

the Sun appears and shows his glowing face
against the background of a milky blue.
The crisp air will sky's rosy cheeks embrace
as what was frail at once begins anew.

A landscape that had long been steeped in dust
is washed clean and the view is something strange
to eyes that had forgotten that it's what
is seen behind the storm that highlights change.

So much like when the skies pour down their pain
is crying as the storm of mortal strain.

So, I think I would be content with a happy medium. I'd like the urgency to come back, the recklessness...but tempered with the reality of experience that I'd venture to say I'm slowly acquiring. I want more than ever to write music again, to write songs and get back in the groove with my guitar and actually play those shows and open mics I swore I'd do.

It's going to happen.

Friday, May 8, 2009

eye of the tiger/thrill of the fight

I've opted not to go to nationals, so competition season is over for me. Now I get to switch over to weekend trips to the Valley and "training" at the gym for next season! In the meantime, and mostly for posterity, I figured it wouldn't be a bad idea to record my comp experience event by event. Here goes nothing...

Our first comp of the season was at UC Davis, and we had a pretty good team turnout. Seven or eight competitors, if I remember correctly. This was also my first comp ever, attending or participating.
At this event, I learned the importance of pace. Four hours seems like a long time, and I've been known to enjoy gym sessions even longer than that, but four hours at or near your limit is a different story. At the gym, I project. I play. I rarely send, but it doesn't matter. At a comp, it's different. I may play on V4s and 5s at the gym, but throwing yourself at a problem in a comp setting only wears you out. I learned this the hard way. (Trying to use a huge bowl at the top of a toprope route as a sloper because your fingers are too tired isn't stylish. Or classy. Or easy.)
I finished fourth. BARELY. We're talking I was the last one on the wall, had one last chance to send, I was exhausted. But that last was poetry. Every part of my body knew where to be, I felt strong, I felt fluid...a SEND. I didn't even feel the flapper I got on the last try. I didn't care how I placed at that point. I finished.
And then, when the team dropped me off at my parents' place on the way back down the highway and my dad took me to the hot tub at his health club the next morning...and he told his friends that his daughter was a climber and just finished her first competition...I felt like I was twelve, not twenty-two--but in a good way.

Incline Village/Sierra Nevada College
I'm just gonna come straight out and say it...this was my least favorite comp. Not only was I not with it, but the atmosphere wasn't as good as the others.
Let's start with my pre-comp status. I was fighting an infection where my new ear piercing had gotten all gross, which made it impossible to sleep for longer than two hours at a stretch because it was so painful. Two consecutive nights of this is never good for a body. Factor in the borderline-excess amount of ibuprofen I was taking that probably wasn't helping my digestive system at all and you have a recipe for yuck.
However, I was not to be deterred, even when almost all of my teammates bailed on the comp last-minute when they found out it was a five hour drive. Bring on the alpine start, the meeting in the supermarket parking lot in the dead of night and hitting the highway long before sunrise. At least I didn't have to worry about falling asleep at the wheel--my ear hurt too much.
Now for the scoring...the object at this comp was to climb as much as you could in the four hours of competition. Volume, not difficulty. Immediately, I decided to play all day. There was no way I'd do well. I played on the finger crack (yum!) and the hand crack multiple times. I was not surprised at all when I didn't place (nor was I disappointed when I checked results on the CCS site later and I came in ninth. out of ten.)
The highlight of this trip was the drive and the fact that we stopped at my parents' for dinner on the way home. I spent ten hours on the road with two of my best guy climber friends, talking climbing. I'm pretty sure I wear out my welcome with my non-climbing friends because I can't stay away from talking about it, but I've never felt so much like I belonged as I did in the car with those two. I did have to stop for coffee twice on the way home, but we made it. In one piece.

Favorite. Comp. Of. The. Season. I drove, again, because our "coach" had just gotten off a twelve hour shift at the hospital and was in no shape to drive three hours.
I can distinctly remember all five routes that counted for my score:
First there was the stemmy one upstairs that Casey said didn't count since I smeared more than I used the holds. My strength is flexibility, and I used it. You can't say it doesn't count because I essentially did the splits. That's my business. I stayed on route.
Then there was the crazy one that involved pinching a doorframe that took me like four tries, but was so fun it was worth it.
Downstairs, I tried a few of the overhanging routes but nothing clicked, so I spent my energy on the slab. Two surprising sends later, I headed back upstairs for another gazillion goes at the prow with the dyno to the top.
Now, this route had all of us fixated. It was worth a lot of points and wasn't a really difficult route, except for the last darn move. You're sprawled across this prow and the only way to top out is throw your body at the slope-y top of the wall. Each fall counts against your score, but you get so close you don't want to give up. After I finally got it, I called it a day and turned in my card, then headed downstairs and outside for a beer.
That's right, they had beer. Sierra Nevada, to be exact. At the comp. And hamburgers. And veggie burgers. It was delicious.
Then we congregated outside for the "speed bouldering" on the side of the building. That was fun. Who doesn't like to scramble up a building to hit a cymbal then drop fifteen feet onto a three-foot crash pad. (I still have a scar on my toe.)
After the awards (I got third!) we got full reign on the gymnastics studio. To a former gymnast, this is heavenly. A foam pit, a bounce house, bars, beams, a's like a playground!
Even the drive home was nice. I climbed into bed happy and tired that night.

My home gym. Where I've spent countless hours shirking responsibility, avoiding homework, laughing, playing, and probably even sleeping. I was mostly excited to have all my new comp friends come visit, nevermind that we were going to climb together all day. (And the fact that the REI used gear sale was the same day which meant I'd be spending the night before the comp outside REI didn't bother me one bit.)
The comp went okay...I wasn't bouldering well that day. My one flowy, lovely, good-feelings route was a balance-y toprope. And it was green holds--my favorite color. I finished enough to complete my card, then spent the last hour and a half teaching the Sonoma girls the basics of crack climbing. I'm still a crack novice myself, but I aim to convert as many as I can, since it is my favorite.
While they were scoring the cards, we had a slackline competition. The only thing I like almost as much as climbing is slacklining, so this was good for me. I also got to debut the one cool trick I know--splits on the slackline. A girl's gotta have some tricks to keep up with the boys who do all the crazy backflips and jumping things.
We did enjoy some delicious Lucky Charms pizza (don't ask) before the awards ceremony. The gym was super-full of people, all my favorites, too--you know, the people I climb with almost on a daily basis. Good feelings were had by all.
Another third (!) place finish (in my category) was nice, but it was even cooler that one of my friends took second, because she doesn't realize how naturally talented and strong she really is.
And the next day I left for my Arizona-Colorado trip...can't beat that weekend, not for someone who loves more than anything else: climbing, traveling, and hugging.

Regionals. Five full-size people, crammed into my tiny little Civic for a four hour drive up the state.
The facility was okay. It was super tiny for a crowd of our size, but it was good. I climbed okay, but was more interested in doing headstands and handstands and backwalkovers than getting frustrated with myself. I decided to go with the flow of the day and choose my attitude instead of getting down on myself for not climbing superhard. I had a couple good sends and a few fun almost-sends.
We stopped for fish and chips on the way out of town, opting not to go to the after party on account of the four hour drive home. This alleged four hour drive turned out to be an epic, and we didn't get home until midnight. There was the 2+ hours of traffic, the lost wallet...but it was pleasant. I wouldn't choose anyone else to have done it with. Four of my dearest friends who have come to feel like family.

Now for the cool part. According to the scoring done at regionals, I was maybe 5th for the comp and 4th for the season. Respectable. Exciting, even. But, when I checked the results this week, I realized they had not calculated correctly that day and I was 2nd instead. For about three nanoseconds I was disappointed about this not being caught actually at the comp, but then I was elated. Who cares? I can still get jazzed. Heck, I am jazzed! Jazzed so much so that the day I found out, later that night I sent two of my hardest bouldering routes.

Here's to next year!