El Cap is Big and Cars Suck

By | Climbing, Food for thought, Musings | No Comments

El Capitan is big. I am qualified to say this, as I’ve spent countless hours standing about a half-mile from the base of this greater-than-half-mile tall sheet of granite. To look up and see the top, you must look past 45° above the horizontal. It feels unnecessarily big, almost rudely big. It’s like a shark, or love, or a drug trip: all the documentaries, books, and TED talks in the world will leave you no better prepared to experience it firsthand. A part of you is upset because no one told you it’d be this big. El Capitan is so big that our problems become equally small; they nearly disappear. It’s as though we’re all unified by the challenge of understanding the absurdly big thing in front of us. Tourists will approach and ask one or two of the “standard questions*,” and more often than not we will wind up standing next to each other in silence. Had the inventors of our language, the Shakespeares and the Websters and the like, visited Yosemite Valley, we might have the lexicon to discuss it properly. Or not…its bigness may have overwhelmed our wordsmiths as well. I don’t, however, hold the English language responsible for our inability to come to grips with El Capitan’s size. The fault lies with our culture, and its mandate to categorize and value anything that can be named. El Capitan has no value and defies categorization. It is art, it is love, it is the solar eclipse, it…

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The CIA, Affirmative Action, and a #&@% Video Shop

By | Adventure, Film, Musings | No Comments

Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, there was a video shop in Isla Vista, CA that catered to the students at UC Santa Barbara. It was called @*&# Video Shop and Climbing Boutique, was owned and managed by Steve Edwards, and served as the de facto epicenter of a nascent Santa Barbara climbing community. It was a time before the ubiquity of cameras, which presents a challenge: Steve’s video shop is a central element in the story, but we have almost no footage or photos from the interior. It will be difficult, even with several people’s descriptions, to get the special quirkiness of the place across. In our interviews, several people have mentioned the ads that Steve put in the Daily Nexus, UCSB’s student newspaper. I popped over to the Nexus archives yesterday to look for these ads, of which I found a couple, and I had a somewhat mind-bending experience, leafing through yellowed, ancient copies of a paper that I used to read daily. I found that, in some ways, nothing’s changed. In some ways, the world is a very different place. Mostly, I found that flipping through 8 months of newspaper headlines in 2 hours is a very disorienting experience. This was all before the internet delivered everything. It’s pretty wild to think about the ways in which the classic video shops of the 80s and 90s are obsolete. VHS tapes, the “adult” section behind the curtains, underemployed young people discussing cinema. Instead, we now have streaming…

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I Don’t Write Enough for Myself And I Bet You Don’t Either

By | Adventure, Film, Musings, Trip Journal | No Comments

One of the RV Project’s favorite people, Flannery Shay-Nemirow, had a blog called Recounted Experience, and she used the following quote from Jean-Paul Sartre as a tagline: “For an occurrence to become an adventure, it is necessary and sufficient for one to recount it.” I liked that quote, although I didn’t think about it much. It just sounded good. The quote reminds me of the famous declaration, attributed to Socrates, that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” This is another series of words that sounds like a truism, though, again, I don’t think I ever knew exactly why it struck a chord. The following quote from an article in The New Philosopher addresses the extreme position Socrates is taking: In a world of abiding uncertainty and complexity one can recognize a certain attraction in not examining too much, for too long in life. Thus the allure of those who offer to provide clear answers, simple directions, precise instructions (whatever) so that you may set aside examination and merely comply, or unthinkingly follow custom and practice – perhaps living a conventionally moral life rather than an examined ethical life. One can easily imagine how pleasant an unexamined life might be. And it is for this reason that I think Socrates makes his claim so uncompromising. Flannery doesn’t update her blog anymore, sadly, but the aforementioned quote often pops into my mind when I feel the need to process some happenings, and recount them properly. Recounting 4 years ago, I put painful abrasions in my armpits by…

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Be Careful with Your Bullshit in the New Year

By | Ethics, Musings | One Comment

I confess that, despite it being a significant part of my job, I strongly dislike social media. I don’t think it’s all bad, of course, but I do believe social media companies profit handsomely by exploiting the fallout of humanity’s less desirable tendencies. High on that list is the tendency of people to create and engage with hyperbolic, irresponsible, and unimaginative bullshit. Don’t get me wrong. Bullshit can be awesome. Many of my strongest friendships were forged in the flames of rapid-fire bullshit that happened to be clever. Most movie plots are utter bullshit, and great fun as well. Bullshit pairs well with bourbon. And it is still the preferred method of dealing with awkward interactions at forced gatherings such as weddings and holiday parties.  I’m protesting the type of hyperbolic, irresponsible bullshit that leads otherwise caring people to throw up their hands during election seasons. This is weaponized bullshit, bullshit with an agenda, bullshit dragged kicking and screaming into the public discourse, bullshit dragged from the bar, dressed as substance, and shoved on stage in a serious role. The type of bullshit that springs from a dull imagination and robs us of words like “literally,” because a large number of unimaginative assholes couldn’t figure out any sexy ways to exaggerate their stories. Or “epic.” If you had to fix a flat tire on the way back from Bishop last weekend, you did not “have an epic.” The Donner Party epic’d. You dealt with a minor inconvenience. Similarly, can we please not…

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I Lost 8 Pounds in Two Days While Eating Whatever I Wanted. Ask Me How!

By | Birthday Challenges, Musings | 3 Comments

I stood on top of Devil’s Castle, overlooking the Alta ski resort and what felt like the rest of the world. The moon was full and the sky was clear, so bright that my headlamp stayed in the pack. Two faint campfires burned below. I’d been dreading this. It was past midnight and I was alone, slowly picking my way along the crumbly, rotten limestone ridge that makes up the “horseshoe” at the head of Little Cottonwood Canyon. I was worried about all manner of unknown misery that nightfall would bring. The truth of the matter is that any misery was my own doing. I knew I wanted to do the WURL as my birthday challenge, and had spent much of the summer preparing for the eventual attempt. I had four potential partners, but one by one they dropped out, because they (respectively): thought it was gonna be too hard; thought it was gonna be too dangerous; were tapering for another big run; didn’t have time to adequately train. I’d heard of some other folks giving it a shot over the weekend, but I had grown tired of all this equivocating and impetuously declared (on Tuesday) that I’d give the WURL a go during the full moon (Wednesday). Snacks and a plan were hastily assembled. I didn’t really have enough time to get anxious. The WURL Report- Wednesday Afternoon Vikki dropped me off at the Ferguson Canyon trailhead, and I began hiking at 11:37am. The climb up Ferguson isn’t too…

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Just an Update, Really

By | Film, Musings | No Comments

Does anyone else have trouble deciding how to spend the minutes in an hour, the hours in a day, the days in a life? Yeah, I know the topic of privilege is a hot one these days, and I know that we are privileged to be able to say that there’s too much to do in too little time (I’m guessing you’re like us, dear reader). In short, I’m complaining about something that shouldn’t be a complaint, although it has been quite difficult to make the choice to sit down and write something. We’ve been in Salt Lake City for over a month now, undertaking the biggest project in RVProj history. We’re here to start the “Steve Edwards Project,” a documentary about the man’s remarkable life as told through interviews with friends and family, photos, various outdated video formats (I’d never even seen an 8mm reel before), and the prolific writings and videos from the Dude himself.  Also, that’s a working title, and will certainly change. Suggestions are welcome. Much has been written by and about Steve before and after his untimely passing, and I suggest reading the following articles that I’ve linked Steve-style, that is, with a block of hyperlinked text: The day I heard the news of Steve Edwards’s passing I thought about having a couple of martinis and a full size bag of pork rinds, or running twenty miles, or climbing 20 routes in honor of his memory. But then I realized Steve would probably do all of these things…

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Our Way to Salt Lake

By | Musings, Road Trip Beta, Trip Journal | 2 Comments

It is 6:30 in the morning and too hot to sleep anymore. We start driving towards the middle of Nevada in search of food and coffee, when we suddenly realize it is the 4th of July. Everything that might be open in middle-of-nowhere Nevada is sure to be closed. And the most nutrient-dense part of our dinner last night was potato chips (possibly because we chose to climb a multi-pitch in Toulumne late in the day, so all the eateries were closed by the time we finished). A couple hours later, our stomachs grumbling audibly, we pull into Tonopah – the only place that can be called a town for hundreds of miles. Tonopah was a bustling mining town…in the early 1900s. As we drive through, shuttered blind after closed door welcome us. Then, there was the Mizpah Hotel. It looks open, and they must have a restaurant. Right? We park the truck across the street and walk over. “Did you guys miss the Starbucks?” laughs a middle-aged lady as she leads two small dogs up the stairs of the Mizpah. “We’re just looking for some food and coffee,” I laugh nervously. My usual reaction when I don’t know how to react. “Well, you’ve come to the right place. We ate here this morning,” she opens the door and tells us where to find the Pittman Cafe. Hot coffee and a hot (and very American) breakfast followed. The Mizpah Hotel was originally opened in 1907, then after the mining boom left Tonopah, it slowly died. In 2011, it was re-opened by Fred…

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Just Chasing Our Tails

By | Musings | One Comment

Have you ever watched a dog chase its own tail? I’m guessing you have. Have you ever thought about what that means about us? Dig this… We were sitting around one night a few weeks ago, me and Vikki and some buddies and my brother Eliot, having adult beverages and shooting the poop. We got to talking about my brother’s dog Walnut, and how he’s kinda dumb sometimes. Among other things, he chases his tail. What can’t be denied, though, is Walnut’s athleticism and agility. They did a test, and it turns out the mutt’s got a lot of fast in his past. I took a sip of whisky and made the point to my companions that a dog at the crag might chase his tail, and we might laugh and feel intellectually superior to the dizzy canine. Then we might cram our feet into little shoes and try to get up a piece of geology the hardest way possible, while that same dog might walk up the backside and greet us on top. That dog might think itself the one of superior intelligence. I took another sip of whisky and stood up. I was about to be on a roll. I could feel it. “You guys, think about it,” I said. “We climb rocks not for the glory of that rock, but because it’s an arbitrary goal that forces us to better ourselves mentally and physically in a way that’s engaging and fun.” As often happens when I get…

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Crunch Goes the Ankle

By | Bouldering, Climbing, Musings | One Comment

A huge thanks to Kati for being such a good sport throughout this whole ordeal. Above: The aftermath of what’s described below. Responsibility and Obligation The thing about life is that shit happens. We take reasonable precautions, but shit still happens. It’s an old trope trotted out often in the comments section whenever rock climbing finds its way into the mainstream news outlets, but it’s always good to keep in mind that we ought to live maximally, lest we get caught in a freak tornado filled with sharks while playing it safe on the couch. I’d much rather be killed or maimed in a climbing accident than a car accident. Highballs play for keeps. It’s part of what makes them so fun. The climber can achieve momentary mastery, being in control in an objectively dangerous situation. It feels good in an entirely personal way that must be experienced to be understood. It’s kind of a personal spiritual thing, although I’d be lying if I denied that a portion of my joy comes from getting away with something my parents wouldn’t really approve of if they knew what was going on out there in the woods. I’ve sort of fallen in love with the Rockshop, a many-acre expanse of granite formations a mere 45 minutes from Lander. The chaotic jumbles contain endless hidden projects, their surfaces weathered by icy winter winds into a fine patina with brilliant texture. As with many locations, the most beautiful lines are a bit taller and more dangerous….

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Larger Than Life

By | Bolt Clipping, Climbing, Musings | No Comments

The Elephant in the Room The past couple of days have been a bit of a blur. Most likely, if you’re reading this, you’re familiar with rock climbing. From that I’d deduce that you’ve heard the news about Dean Potter and his partner Graham Hunt’s fatal wingsuit flight in Yosemite (edit: read about Graham Hunt here). Many, many stirring tributes have been posted, and I’m sure that many, many useless internet comments will be/have been appended to those. I’ll leave the bulk of the eulogizing to those who knew him better, and I encourage you to spend some time studying Dean’s legacy. Yet even as I write this post, I can’t help but reflect on how influential he was to a younger me. I believe every child feels that he or she is somehow “different,” but parents and teachers and mass media cause us to become a bit smoother around the edges as we grow into adults. On one hand, a society requires a certain allegiance to order, but on the other hand, nothing good ever came from people obeying conventions. I remember hearing of Dean’s controversial 2006 ascent of Delicate Arch, and thinking that he was somewhere between a genius and a total asshole. But I remember thinking, and realizing that simple concepts like Leave No Trace aren’t so simple after all. Remember 1984, and how dull and grey everything was. Dean never lost his color. In a game without rules, Dean further defied convention by inventing entirely new games. Say what you will about selfishness or…

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