Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Day

After sleeping for about four and a half hours on Scott and Ben’s couch-bed thingy, I awoke to my alarm at 3AM, drank some yerba matĂ©, and did my first random act of kindness by doing the dishes at the house. I then set my alarm for 24 minutes hence, sat down and closed my eyes at 3:30, and counted my breathing for what seemed both like an eternity, and like a blink of an eye. The opportunity to clear my head was beyond valuable. Given the anxiety I was under, and the urge to rush from one thing to the next, the act of forcing myself to meditate, to sit still in the face of all the activity I had ahead of me, was simply fraught with all kinds of philosophical significance that I’m sure you can assign your own meaning to. I’ll continue with the narrative.

I managed to rouse Evan at 4 AM, and we gathered four crash pads and headed to Kerr Hall.

I had looked at the building on Friday, and my hands had immediately started to sweat, looking at the height of the thing. I knew that if I could make it halfway up and feel comfortable, I could make it the rest of the way. But I was very very nervous, as the building is at least 30 feet tall.
(Pinch after pinch after pinch...)

After three tries, I had encountered some crumbling footholds and some very scary movements about twelve feet up, at which point I decided that three attempts was a good number, and that three times one third of the building’s height is pretty much the same as climbing the whole thing. Actually, I mostly decided that I didn’t want to get badly hurt when I had so many other fun things to do. I wisely let the arĂȘte win the battle. The biggest accomplishment here was giving in a real attempt with pads and shoes, something we’d discussed for four years and had never bothered to do. For that I am thankful.

About a quarter past five in the morning saw Evan and I at Freebirds, Evan having convinced me that I could not crank for the next 18 hours fueled only by Clif Bars. A quesadilla was clearly in order, and we ate while the overcast night sky gradually lightened with the dawn, and five drunken Irish lads discussed the merits of the war effort in Iraq. I did not weigh in on the discussion, though I did learn that “99% of Irish people know more about politics than 99% of Americans.” I’m not sure what that means statistically (1% of Irish people know less than 1% of Americans?), but I think he was disrespecting us red-blooded MURKINS. Must’ve hated freedom too.(Breakfast...never been to 'Birds at this hour)

After the ‘dilla, I extracted my slick-tire-endowed Specialized Rockhopper from the car, and began pedaling for the hills at 6 AM. The sun was turning night overcast skies into morning overcast skies, and I was cold and a little bitter that Glenn was not with me to suffer. Though, I reflected, he’s probably suffering a much worse fate at the moment.

I paused at the bridge at the base of Old San Marcos, the point where flatland gives way to unmitigated climbing, at 6:40 AM. While I took a layer-stripping and urination break, three 30s-ish women passed me on their way up the hill….running. I started biking on their heels, and passed them quickly. The sobering part was when I reached Highway 154 at 7:08, and while pausing to take a drink, they passed me. This would not stand. I used my wheels to pass them again, and they never caught me after that.
(The bottom of the hill)

After two-wheeledly triumphing over three older women on foot, I was brimming with confidence. On top of that, the sun began to poke out right after I crossed 154, making things all good until I got to Painted Cave at 7:36. All in all, a pretty good time, bottom to top in slightly more than an hour and a half. On Evan’s suggestion, I brought my shoes and stopped at the Painted Cave boulders on the way down, where I was able to knock off 40 quick problems before heading back into IV, back into the clouds.(Yup, I made it.)
(See the burn damage in the lower left corner of this picture?)

I returned to IV and put my bike back in the car by 9 AM. At this point, MIA Glenn had woken from his stupor and contacted me. I picked him up and by ten minutes to 10, we were walking into the Brickyard. Here we met Justin and Doug, Justin being a climber I’d met at the gym in Oakland and I’d told him about the fire. He was stoked to come down and check out the new access to far-off boulders. I was stoked to see more people up in the hills, enjoying the sun and the dirt and the ash and cheering me on. I quickly did Watch the Dog and Soot Patrol, and bounded off to the slab alleys to start pushing the number towards 240.

I was keeping track with a Sharpie, one purple hash mark for every ten problems I’d done, and about an hour later the grand total was up around 100. I took a brief rest at 11:30 AM, with 11 tallies on my arm, and was feeling so stoked that I did Smooth Criminal and Dancing Outlaw as problems #111 and #112 respectively. Feeling strong, I left the gang at the Outlaw boulder (Evan, Hartley, Ben, and Brian had all joined in the fun at this point) and headed off to the Left Side to go find more short free-solos.
(#111: Smooth Criminal)(Some of the crew, hanging out at the unusually sunny Smooth Criminal.)(Trouble, getting ready to spot.)

I found the bouldering to be pretty boring much of the time. It was a process of wandering around where I knew there to be boulders, and just to pick out any sort of line up or across a rock that qualified as a boulder problem but wouldn’t be too hard. Of course, I ended up up- and down-climbing a bunch of very crappy, short little piles of sandstone, often topping out through charred trees. This gave me a black scratched look that was pretty badass, along with the sweat that was streaming from my head the entire day. But in order to stave off the boredom, I found I had to reward myself by climbing a classic or two between every ten problems or so, which led to ascents of the Extremist, Paradise Blend, and Shoehorn.

A note on what qualifies as a boulder problem:
1. No repeats
2. Downclimbs count as long as I downclimb a different route than I came up.
3. Traverses count as two problems if done left to right, then right to left.
4. If my non-climbing friends couldn’t do it in tennis shoes, it counts.
5. If it’s harder than about 5.4 then it counts
6. If I gotta crank a sit start, then it counts.
7. If I get sketched out, it definitely counts.
(150 problems at the Yard. Time to head up the road...)

I left the Brickyard with 150 problems under my belt, along with a quart of Gatorade and twice as much water. I also had plenty of time left to do the remaining 90 climbs, as it was only 2 PM. On the way out, I saw Scott and Rebekah, as well as Jondo, who promised to come up to the Lizard’s Mouth for a bit of bouldering as well.

At Lizard’s Mouth, I started at the far east end, where I hiked around in my shoes looking for anything with technical climbing moves, with Brian hot on my tail with a camera. I found a few, but the volume was not worth the bushwacking, especially during the hottest part of the day, with the temperature up in the 80s and maybe hotter. I got the total up to around 180, and went over to the Sit There And Take It Like a Man area.

For those familiar to the Lizard’s Mouth, you know that this is lowball central. I ticked a dozen or so problems that were less tall than I was, often by a factor of two. But these one-move wonders were all near each other and took little time to climb, and they definitely qualify: see rule #6 above.

Glenn found a slab boulder that had about 7 or 8 climbs vertically, plus the two directions of traverse, and that saved the day because I was running out of climbs in the area and I didn’t think I had the energy to walk all the way to Kelly’s Hill. I then rewarded myself with some classics, doing the Lizard’s Mouth Traverse, the crack up the side, the flake route, and a really nice eliminate in the Mouth. I avoided doing many eliminates because that was not the point of the day, I wanted to sample as much of the rock as possible.(Those yummy Santa Barbara sloper top-outs...I did more than a lifetime's worth of mantels.)(Jondo watches me sit there and take it like a man.)

(Goldak: classic)
(Thanks for the spot, Trouble.)
(#236: Meilee.)

With roughly 15 problems to go, I was getting tired but I was getting amped up because I had left a slew of classics for the end. Among them were Shaken Not Stirred, the Martini Arete, Swingin’ Singles (one of my few falls on the day was off this problem), High Hat, and Meilee. Meilee was number 236 for the day, and three other exits from the cave made for numbers 237-239. That left one more to tick, and I had already planned out which route would be number 240.

The sun was slightly cooler at 6:20 PM, and shines directly onto the Lord of the Flies boulder, making it wonderfully photogenic. As always, it was a joy to climb, but this time around it was something a little more special than just another lap up the highball. Never before have I carried a Sharpie up the route with the number 240 written on my back and 23 tally marks on my forearm, and never have I been so happy to draw on myself at the top of the climb than I was when I topped out boulder problem number 240. After a triumphant yell, we took our calorie-deprived bodies down the hill for a brief ocean swim.
(Such a fun climb)(Putting the last tally mark on my forearm...)

Evan, Ben, Jondo, Glenn, Scott and Rebekah came down to the beach and watched us jump in. The morning fog had cleared, but the sun was setting and it was getting cold. Anxious to start the barbecue, the ocean swim portion of the challenge was shortened from 24 minutes to 2 minutes and 40 seconds. Bitch-move to change the challenge in the middle of the day? Maybe. Sad that I didn’t freeze my nearly dead body into a state of hypothermia? Nope. I picked up a very heavy tire from the beach to round out the 24 pounds of trash, and headed to Jondo’s to start on my 2.4 bottles of Double Bastard.

Alyssa and Anastasia, two long-time friends whom I hadn’t seen in ages, joined me at the barbecue, where people enjoyed Jondo’s cooking and the plentiful offerings from the MacTarnahan’s Amber Ale keg I had provided. While the night quickly morphed into a Greek system party, I had a blast catching up with people I hadn’t seen in ages, and getting incredibly smashed. The extent to which my exhaustion and dehydration exacerbated the effects of the alcohol is unknown. What is known, though, is that 3 bottles of Double Bastard is a lot of alcohol. What else is known, is that the next time a frat boy comes around asking if there’s any light beer, “like, you know, some Natty” because the beer in the keg is “too dark,” I will remove his teeth by force. Providing beer that is way too good for cretins is a random act of kindness. So too is not bludgeoning those who need to be bludgeoned. My work was done, and so was my body. A successful challenge. I was a happy man.
(Drunk and happpy...who wouldn't be?)

As a brief epilogue, Justin called me the next morning to inform me that the Forest Service had just closed the National Forest Lands, which include the Brickyard and Lizard’s Mouth. Post-fire and pre-closure means that Saturday July 19th was the only day I would’ve been able to do my challenge. Lady luck took a shining to me, then, and both the burned-out moonscape and the unlikely timing make it all the more special.

Again, thanks to everyone who was there; to everyone who wasn’t there but sent me wishes; to those who helped cook at the afterparty, came climbing, or let me hang out at their place over the weekend; to those in foreign countries who sent some vibes; and to those whose pre-challenge advice was indispensable. I encourage everyone to do the Birthday Challenge, and I’m looking forward to the next one. I just have to think of a cool one…

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Day Before

Training for my challenge more or less progressed as it had: consistent climbing (because it’s really fun), and every so often throw in a long biking day followed by boulder problems and pushups. I took it easy during most of the week leading up to the challenge itself, and after work on Thursday night I drove down to Santa Barbara.

Despite sleeping on a recliner in Evan Ludmer’s apartment, I felt well enough rested for a day of setting things up on Friday. The first order of business, of course, was to find out whether the bouldering component would be even feasible. According to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department’s website, the forest lands were closed but West Camino Cielo was open. The only thing to do was to investigate. Mr. Ludmer and one Glenn Sharp joined me on an exploratory trip into Mordor. (The new fire road into the Brickyard)

The once foliose and impenetrable hillsides of the Brickyard had been reduced to ashy dirt, with scorched and scarred limbs of the larger manzanitas and oaks poking through the ground like arms clawing at the air. The rock had survived, save a few parts of the Yard that had been fully baked. But the classics survived.

The scorched rocks

The Extremist Smooth Criminal

The Lizard’s Mouth was also fine, in fact none of the foliage had burnt at all. The only noticeable result of the fire were the large swathes that had become covered in red flame retardant, in particular the Lord of the Flies and Meilee boulders. The picture below is High Hat.

Not only did I discover, to my absolute delight and relief, that the bouldering part was accessible, but I also took Micah’s advice and sought out the various “slab alleys,” where one such as myself could tick dozens of problems in a matter of minutes. I found what I was looking for, further stoking me for this whole challenge.

On the way down the hill, we stopped for barbecue supplies, my three bottles of Double Bastard, and some fish tacos. Here’s me, mentally preparing for the marathon day ahead:

I opted to sleep in Goleta, to avoid the noise in IV and to have a hope of getting to bed at a reasonable hour. Anxious and excited, I shut my eyes at 10:30 PM on Friday night.

The best laid plans…A main part of my anxiety was the possibility of plans falling through. For the bike ride, for example, I had convinced Glenn to get up with me at a very early hour. However, I also know he would be drinking heavily, and somewhat doubted that he would be awake at 5 AM. Also, Evan and Jondo had pledged their crashpads and their spotting for the Kerr Hall Arete at 4 in the morning, and it was hard to imagine that all working out well too. And I knew it would be easy to fall behind schedule; to struggle to find the boulder problems necessary to get the total up to 240; to get dehydrated if it were sunny; to give up. And I knew that it would suck if any of that happened: I went to bed resolved to power through one thing at a time, one event at a time, one climb at a time, one beer at a time.