5:20 am. Punk music – chaotic, poorly recorded, beautiful – jars me awake. After a quickly-brewed espresso, I grab my running backpack. Hoodie, camera, water. And I’m out the door.
A fog drifts through the narrow streets as I walk along the stone pathways to the closest access to the trail system. The cool air is heavy with moisture- a vast departure from the dry desert air I’m used to breathing, but the change of place is welcome.
A few photos, a few minutes of walking, and I’ve arrived. The camera is carefully wrapped in the jacket and placed inside my bag. A quick drink of water, and that returns to its place as well. I ensure my running shoes are tightly laced and I start down the slick pathway. I quickly reach the farthest point a group of us walked to a day earlier, and then everything is unfamiliar.
The trail changes medium, from asphalt to stone to dirt double track and back again. Roads and othe discontinuous paths constantly diverge from the route, and I remain aware of their “correctness” (relative to the trail that circumnavigates Orvieto) only by means of trial, error, and luck. Near the funicular, I choose the left branch – a mistake, something I only realize after a long, muddy hill-climb ends at some farming equipment. I reverse, but not far enough, and find myself in lower Orvieto.
The relentless uphill slog back to the divergence is brutal, but from this point the view is sublime. The camera comes out, capturing the winding path, the rolling fog, and the exposed rock of the hillside in a few dozen frames.
I push on. From here, only brief missteps punctuate the metronomic rhythm of footfalls against the trail. Soon after re-entering a wooded area, golden light pierces the forest, and I stop again to take some photos.
Bombing into the unknown on the next downhill, I make a critical error – I lose traction on the mud at a switchback and I slide out. Blood flows freely from my hand, elbow, and knee. Mud clings on my shirt and shorts. A dull ache radiates from my knee. And a huge smile materializes on my face.
If you can’t laugh at yourself and revel in the freedom – absolute, unbridled freedom – of forsaking a warm, cozy bed to run in a big circle, blow it while going what might be the fastest you’ve ever run and come away little more than scraped and dirty, are you truly alive?
I stand up, walk a few meters and continue running, much to the surprise of the middle-age Italian man who witnessed the fall. A quick “buongiorno!” and we part ways. A few uneventful, but no less beautiful, minutes later on the (to me) untrodden and soon I’m back on familiar ground, feet pounding away at a segment of the path I walked with Sean, Olivia and Xac on our second day in Italy.
Returning to the apartment, I feel incredible. Bloodied, bruised and sore, but incredible. And truly free.
2014 has been a crazy year for me, filled with highs and lows. The first few months proved to be quite frustrating; several injuries and illnesses robbed me of fitness and time spent doing what I love to do. However, I still have managed to accomplish many goals I’ve set for myself and gone beyond what I thought possible in such a relatively short timeframe. As July approaches and following some big events in my life, I’ve decided to take this opportunity to reflect on the last six months.
In January I managed to do the second ascent of The Morgue, a notorious local route put up several years ago by my first climbing mentor, Eric Scully. Eric spent years projecting the climb throughout his teenage years before finally sending in his senior year of high school after beating cancer. I’ve always admired Eric’s tenacity and drive and, while he isn’t climbing much anymore, it still feels amazing to do the first repeat of something he put up when he did so much to help me develop into the climber and person I am today. I’ve played around on it occasionally in years past, but this was the first I stuck the crux moves and the send on January 17th was one of the most rewarding of my life. I couldn’t have done it without Alex Kirkpatrick, who provided great belays, beta and inspiration (as well as the mutual support we needed to endure waking up and driving to the mountain at 5:30am in the dead of winter to sport climb). Alex also sent a short time later, which topped it off beautifully. Thanks to Alex Kirkpatrick for taking these photos as well.
Towards the end of January, Alex Kirkpatrick and I teamed up again to sneak in an FA of a long-standing Ray Ringle project on the Andy Cook Wall. We got on it expecting to be shut down but quickly realized with just a bit of reworking the line would go at the very reasonable grade of 5.12c and was quite good. It has a bit of everything- jug romping, an insecure, smeary lieback, a sweet face transition between giant flakes, pockets, hand jams, pinches, and crimps. Randy Cook Lives! is one of my favorites I’ve done on Lemmon and gives Rain, the existing classic 5.12 on the wall, a run for its money.
On the last day of January I managed to wreck myself with one of the scarier injuries I’ve had. Following a day of exploring and almost being swarmed by bees looking for climbable rock in Ventana Canyon, David Adams and I grabbed our crashpads and rigged a trickline at Himmel Park. The goal, for me, was to learn the buttflip, which consists of a buttbounce, into a frontflip, landing back in a buttbounce. I had been practicing frontflips onto crashpads in the living room of my apartment for weeks in preparation and with David, a former pro skateboarder, there to help me break it down into steps, I was set. After a couple somersaults off the line onto my butt on the pads, I was ready to commit. Many attempts later, almost all ending in me landing on my feet on the ground, it was dark. We re-rigged in the small spot of light provided by a nearby streetlamp and I continued after my friend James Xu had joined us. Eventually, David needed to leave, and I said “I’ll just give it one more go.” This is always the sign disaster is about to strike, and that day was no exception. I threw the flip hard and knew immediately everything was wrong- not quite along the line, my heels came up and caught the underside of my Powrline and I smashed, face-first, into the edge of the pads with my feet scorpion-ing behind me. The impact rubbed a fair bit of skin off of my face and gave me some insane whiplash that I still feel while looking up belaying to this day. This deeply changed my perspective on my tricklining and since then I’ve really tried to mellow it out and only try to learn tricks that are relatively safe- I really believe I’m pretty lucky that I didn’t break my neck or wind up with a more serious head injury, as it seems quite possible given the forces involved.
After I healed up, I joined Alex Kirkpatrick and started getting out with some regularity to the Dry Canyon, a rarely-visited limestone sport area near Sierra Vista, AZ. Alex had been trying his multi-season project, another route with a long history. Suzanne Somers was a long-standing open project in the stunning Celebrity Cave that managed to straddle the line between power-endurance and endurance climbing while still containing some extremely hard sequences and some of the best hard limestone climbing in the southwest. I’d been struggling to build endurance- I had next to none after spending much of the winter bouldering and finally feeling the effects of the break from climbing I’d taken the previous summer- and the routes nearby Suzanne promised to be the perfect area to do so. I sent Great White Hunter 5.12d in fairly short order and started contemplating a new long-term project. Aside from Suzanne Somers, there was another megaproject in the area: the savage Lee Majors. An old open project just right of Suzanne, LeeMajors fires straight out the roof of the cave past a very hard boulder problem crux and follows a somewhat traversing line to anchors at the lip of the roof (and the base of the beautiful streaked headwall it was originally to be extended up). Long story short, I was never able to pull all of the moves and around 7 of my draws are still hanging up on the route, ready for my return when temperatures drop.
In mid-February I finished the book of photos and interviews I did while on my summer 2013 road trip with my undergraduate research grant. That trip stands out as one of the single best experiences I’ve had in my life and there was a strange finality to publishing and presenting my research. As I am still jobless (and this summer, grant-less), there won’t be any such trip this year. With that said, I’m proud to showcase the product of my efforts: you can view (and purchase your own, if you’d like) A Muerte: Inspiration and Progression in Rock Climbing through Blurb self-publishing here: http://www.blurb.com/b/5090016-a-muerte
February also began the string of lingering minor illnesses that hampered my training. As the 2014 Hueco Rock Rodeo rolled around I was very excited but, just prior to the trip, I both got sick and had to pull an all-nighter to finish a paper for one of my classes. This, combined with the absurdly bad conditions the day of the Rodeo, led to a performance that, to me, felt far below what I am capable of. Still, I managed to place 4th in the Advanced category and 3rd in the dyno comp. My stand-out send from the day was Mr. Serious V8, and my number one failing was breaking my streak on Better Eat Your Wheaties (and not sending Wheaties at all). I still got to meet and climb with Paul Jones from the Mad Rock Team which was awesome, as well as meet up with new and old friends and Mad Rock athletes at the after party. Despite not climbing as well as I wanted to I had a blast and I’m already excited for next year’s competition.
On the home front, I got a job setting routes at the UA’s rec center bouldering wall. While the wall is outside and the strangely designed terrain makes it difficult to set quality routes, we were able to run a fun competition that, in the advanced category, came down to a difference in attempts on a comp-style (read: tricky) V2 between first and second place, which is something I’m proud of given my long history of youth competitions. Unfortunately, I gave myself wrist tendonitis setting the many problems for the competition with a hand wrench and I had to miss the Joes Valley trip I had planned for spring break the following week, which was a major disappointment. I did get in a visit to Southern Utah University, where I hope to spend a semester through the National Student Exchange program, and a very relaxed fishing trip with my Dad to Lee’s Ferry, which helped make up for the lack of “sik blocs” during the break.
A couple of weeks later, I won the Lord of the Rungs campus board competition at Rocks and Ropes, my local gym, after not climbing inside for a rather long span of time. This helped jumpstart my training for the 2014 Open SCS Nationals, which was to be my first USA Climbing sanctioned competition after aging out of the youth circuit. This included a lot of early-morning runs on Mount Lemmon- I’d wake up at 5, drive up to Windy Point (~6500 feet), run 2 or 3 miles with 500-1000 feet of elevation gain, drive back, shower and be ready for class at 9. While I seem to be in the minority on this, I think running has a very positive effect on my climbing. It helps my usually-terrible endurance, allows me to quickly cycle my weight down a few pounds to the sending range from my training weight for a redpoint or competition and additionally makes approaches feel much easier.
Open SCS Nationals was a really cool experience (and certainly one I hope to repeat) that was once again marred by an all-nighter the day before I drove out to Los Angeles. While I didn’t do as well as I think I could have on the first route, I placed 27th which was far better than I thought I would and I think I can do much better next year with better preparation. I also met up with fellow Slackline Brothers student athlete Andrew Marshall twice and walked my personal records for both longlining (180’L T18) and highlining (90’L double T18) before heading home, making the trip an amazing success regardless of the rocky start.