Friday, August 12, 2011

Colorado Love

I woke up in a casino parking lot. A dome light dangled above my head. The electric wires spun in and out of view. I was somewhere in Nevada in the back of a station wagon.

My red Saturn Station Wagon. My beat down, gear laden, Saturn Station Wagon.
I fell out of the back and into the driver’s seat. I drove towards the sun rise. Behind me was a Yosemite season of disappointment. The eastern sun rise promised something new, at least something different. I was skeptical tho.

“Now let me welcome everybody to the wild, wild west- A state that's untouchable like Elliot Ness.” Dr. Dre and Tupac rap in California Love. “Cali got gun play, models on the runway,”sings Notorious BIG in Going back to Cali. Snoop Dogg sings “I’m all up on ya- cause you’re representin California” in the pop hit California Girls. Who’s famous for singing about Colorado? John Denver. He strums a guitar and sings about a rocky mountain high. That is not gangster. California 1 Colorado 0. I drove east anyway.

I arrived in Rifle with the goal of getting stronger so I set an appropriate goal- clip the anchors of 100 pitches and send 20 of them. The steep limestone requires serious technique- drop your right knee, drop your left knee, now shit yourself cause you can’t move. My first 3 weeks there were awesome. I climbed well, flashing and onsighting a few easy 5.12s and then flashing a 12c. I got lots of mileage on the soapy limestone.

This is me flashing Cardinal Sin. This route is 12a but in the gym it would be 13c.

For the better part of two weeks, Hayden’s house in Carbondale was empty. Think parents gone. Think huge mansion. Think kegs, cocaine and a house full of raging party. I commuted from Hayden’s house to Rifle for a few days, while I met people camping out there and got used to the scene. Hayden had to handle the dozens of Carbondale hotties himself.

Hayden on Pump-A-Rama at the Arsenal

Supposedly Michael Kennedy, Hayden’s dad, is a good climber. He’s climbed a lot of rock routes across the world. He’s done some serious alpine climbing. He owned Climbing Magazine and now works as the editor for Alpinist. Supposedly he’s a bad ass. I don’t know about all that- what I do know is that Hayden’s dad can drink some scotch. Part of my reasoning behind making the big drive to Colorado was to meet some of the talking heads I’ve conversed with via the interweb but never met. Michael Kennedy exceeded my expectations. After a few glasses of scotch, MK was able to discuss the effects the internet had on print media using eight letter words. I could only nod and watch the room swim. Professional. Point Colorado.

Hayden and Julie Kennedy stretching it out after too much Scotch and wine

Dan Mirsky, Jen Vennon, Wendy Williams, Andrew Bisharat, and a dozen other Rifle climbers, all crush steep limestone on the western slope. They also all wear tank tops. From plain white Target style Man-tanks to surf inspired Volcom hipster sleeveless shirts, tank tops are the hippest piece of climbing apparel in the canyon. To fit into the scene at Rifle, I bought one at the Glenwood Springs Mall. The 16 year old girl at Pacific Sun told me the turquoise shirt with the navy piping looked best so I wore it to the crag the next day. The warm-ups felt easier. I crushed the first pitch of my project and headed into the extension. I felt strong in my tank. The freedom that my arms had seemed to make all the difference. Just a few feet from the anchor, I threw for a crimp, hit the hold and promptly flew off.

“FFFFUUUUCCCKKK!!” I screamed. My belayer yearded 20 feet off the ground to the first bolt. I finished the route and lowered. What had gone wrong? I looked good. I had my tank top. I had the appearance of a Rifle crusher.

“Nice farmer’s tan,” said one of the sport wankers at the Project Wall. Something snapped inside of me. That was the answer- that was the reason why I had fallen. I wasn’t tan. Not only did the Rifle climbers wear tanks but they also had tans. Despite climbing in the shade all day, the climbers managed to be tan. Coloradians tan in the shade. Point Colorado.

Jen Vennon's birthday party. Andrew and Jen were having dinner at this sushi place once when the sushi chef started belting out "Take my hand, we'll make it I swear Oh oh, livin' on a prayer Livin' on a prayer!" Apparently Bon Jovi was sitting right next to them at this Aspen restaurant. He was wearing a turtleneck. CRAZY!

My blog wouldn't be complete without a picture of Max- the scardest dog I've ever met.

The Austrailian kid came running over to the Wasteland. “Rednecks are stealing draws from the Arsenal,” he panted.

Kenny Barker ripped his Cookie Monster t-shirt off, exposing a sinewy 6 foot 3 inch frame, and transforming into a beast. He owns a pug named GusGus, coaches for a youth climbing team in Vail, but grew up in the South East. The redneck in Kenny emerged as he marched across the street with four other climbers to confront the family of thieves. The family of four was waddling in and out of limestone cave on the other side of the canyon. The father was fat and had a tripod. The 20 year old son was fat and had a face full of metal. The 10 year old son was fat and had a walking stick. The mom was fat and had a frump so big she probably hadn’t seen her vagina in a decade.

“Did you guys take a draw off a route?” Kenny asked politely. We stood behind him. We must have looked like a group of maneroxic body builders.

“I’m actually a Yosemite trad climber,” I thought, “I’ve battled the wide.” I folded my arms, pushing my fists into my biceps so they would look bigger.” If there was a brawl…

“I climbed up the route unclipped it, and then dropped the car-biner slingee. I don’t know what happened to it,” the thug son said.

“Why do you need those things up there anyway?” The fat dad’s jowls shook. “If you were real climbers, you would hang your own car-biners every time,” The redneck had a point.
He held up a keychain carabiner, “How much do those things cost? 1 or 2 bucks? What do you care anyway? They’re not your car-biners. Who cares if we’re taking someone else’s stuff- that’s none of your concern.”

The mom’s fat cheeks, her stomache, and her frump all bounced in time as she nodded in furious agreement.

“They’re part of the climbing community,” Kenny said diplomatically. “These are expensive pieces of equipment and we all use them for our own safety. When one is worn or goes missing, the climbing community replaces it. They’re expected to be there and essential to our safety. Do you really want someone to die?”

The family looked at Kenny and grimaced. Thoughts like these caused boig pains between their ears. They didn’t look happy with having to think so hard.

“Why don’t you ask your brother what happened to it? I looked- it’s not there anymore,” said the Aussie.

“You want some of this?” At the subtle accusation that the rednecks had stolen the draw, the 20 year old threw his arms in the air. The flab of his biceps swung around. “I’m from Denver.”

I had no clue where Denver was but from the looks of the fat ass it couldn’t be that tough. Things were heading to fisticuffs. Colorado was exciting after all.

“I’m just gonna be honest,” the ten year old boy squealed. He ran around the corner and returned with a $25 Petzl Quickdraw, the bottom fixed draw on Pump-A-Rama.

“Thanks a lot,” Kenny said. “Thanks for helping keep the climbing community safe and for your honesty.”

The father nodded. It was about safety after all. The young son looked at the ground.

The older one looked disappointed and pissed. He mumbled than spoke.

“Whatever,I don’t need these things,” he held up a keychain carabiner, trying to save face. “I free climb.” Point Redneck Freehander. I wish California had redneck freehanders like that.

Jed got to ride a Segway at one of his office parties for the bank he works at in Rifle. Jed's a classic Rifle character. Just check out that wolf shirt.

I’ve met Lynn Hill a few times. In Hueco. In Yosemite. This time in Rifle. Every time she asks me what my name is. I say, “James.” There’s a pause while I wait for her to say, ”I’m Lynn.” She never does and it makes me mad. Who doesn’t introduce themselves? A few years ago, her son was at the crag and threw a rock through a climbers’ window. Lynn got the guy compensation for the window and then wrote him an apology note. In with the note, Lynn added an autographed photo of herself sending the Nose on El Capitan. “Hey, so sorry my kid broke your window. Here’s a picture of me climbing harder than you ever will.” Point California for having people who keep it more real than people who live in Colorado.

The normal junk show at the Project Wall

“Are those Oreos?” My mouth watered slightly. It’d been days since I had a cookie. The backlight of the Rifle Campground fire made the tasty little treats glisten a little. I wanted one or two or eighteen.

“Actually, they’re organic Belgian chocolate crackers with a Peruvian vanilla bean filling. They’re fair trade,” she responded.

My hand shot out and stole a cookie. “Are you from Boulder?” I asked as crumbs fell out of my mouth.

“OMG! How’d you guess?” She said nearly laughing her $300 LuLuLemon Yoga Pants off.

“Like everyone in the world is from Rifle,” she said with the conviction of a religious zealot.

Danny laughed at her. He was from Atlanta.His girlfriend was from Delaware. I was from California. No one around the campfire except the girl from Boulder was from Colorado. The Austrailian kid and his Canadian girlfriend weren’t even from the States. No point for Colorado on that one. Actually Colorado loses a point.

Hanging at the Arsenal- Photo by Lukas Hill

Laos. Vietnam never felt this muggy. Sweat pours down my body. It’d be better if it was raining on the Project Wall. It would be less humid. The conditions suck. I shouldn’t care but I do. Instead of not getting attached to anything in Rifle, I started projecting. Bad Idea. I one hung 3 different 12ds in the same day and couldn’t manage to send any of them. I’m starting to wobble. I decide to take my fitness to the next level.

Rifle attracts all sorts of weirdos

At the end of the month, I was ready. Honed. Conditioned. I went into the comp with high expectations. There would be a cash prize. If I won the contest, the award would pay for my entire month of climbing. I’d done some prepping with Kenny Barker the week before.

The 40th annual Mountain Fair Festival in Carbondale attracted hoards of hippies, carnies who set up booths to hawk glass vases, do angel readings and make a few bucks from fat locals. I stopped by the pie baking booth as early as I could on Saturday morning. “You’re fruit number 1,” the official told me when I dropped off my lattice butter crust organic Granny Smith apple pie. I knew the competition would be stiff. The Olympic Sprinters of pie baking come out to the Mountain Fair festival for the contest. Over a dozen contestants enter into each of the three categories- fruit, crème and exotic. This year was no different.

Some of the other contestants at the bake off

“Randy has no sense of direction. He can’t find anything and has no clue what’s going on around him. Oof!” That’s when Beth ran into three people walking the other way at the summer fair. Andrew, Randy Puro, Beth and I cruised through the fair, scoping out the scene and stopping by to see Jen Vennon;’s origami earring booth (which was rad)

My bad ass pie

With a couple of cherry pies made with Kenny in Aspen under my belt, and a slew of other pies this year in Bishop, I knew I stood a fair chance. I spent 4 hours baking at Andrew’s house. Sunday morning was a great big disappointment to me. Carbondale resident Judy Harvey destroyed the competition, winning the fruit section with a marian berry, raspberry, blackberry pie. She also placed third in exotic. She’s won over 20 ribbons in the past few years for her baking expertise. Sandbagging locals. Point Colorado.

This is the part where I talk a little bit more about climbing. I do climb a lot. Blah blah blah fall fall fall send send send. It’s just about all the same but this time I went somewhere new. I’ll wrap things up now.

Put yourself out there. Try something new. Fail. Fail. Succeed. Grow as a person. It’s not easy but it’ll make you a better person and a better climber. Being willing to push yourself is a requirement of success. I don’t know how many points Colorado had in the end. I can’t count to twenty with my shoes on. I do know that I went out there, tried something new, failed, succeeded, grew, and mostly importantly had a good time with lots of great people. My trip to Rifle was fun, the way climbing trips should be.