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Spenser

It Pays to Pay Attention

By Adventure, Food for thought, MusingsOne Comment

Wisdom is everywhere, and what we know is exactly what keeps us from being wise. Ain’t that a paradox! If the goal of learning is knowledge, then how can knowledge prevent us from learning?  I don’t know, but here’s a story. I certify that the events contained herein are true and factual, to the best of my recollection. Although, frankly, one should never let the truth get in the way of a good story. The year was 2011, the address was 1015 Folsom in San Francisco, and the time was approaching midnight. Several folk, myself included, had organized a camp for Burning Man called Camp UP, which included a rather large bouldering wall, and we were caught in the grips of a multi-splendored culture of psychic exploration (read that as you wish). Most of the core group of Camp UP was selflessly partying in the name of raising funds for another Burning Man camp, Opulent Temple. Most nightclub veterans know the importance of staying hydrated, particularly on a hot summer’s night. The hard part can be choosing between dancing and the procurement of the necessary element of water. Savvy partiers that we were, Zack and I had gotten plastic water bottles from the bar earlier in the evening, which of course could be filled from the taps in the restrooms. A brief note on nightclub restroom attendants: They’re almost always there, they’re almost always polite but irritating at the beginning of the night, and they’re almost always among your favorite people…

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Acknowledgement…of Rad and Bad

By Musings, Trip JournalNo Comments

The truck wouldn’t start the other day. I needed to go into town to run errands before picking Vikki up from Riverton. It finally started after a half-hour of coaxing and cursing. The thing about living on the road that you have to watch out for, is that your vehicle is your life. Since we opted for the truck-trailer combo, we do have a little bit of separation, but the truck is still pretty frickin’ important. Thankfully, Bert’s been a rather reliable bloke, and, 6.5 years after the fact, I still marvel at our luck in finding a 7.3l International Powerstroke engine in such good condition. So do most of the mechanics we’ve taken it to. Thing about diesels is, they’ll give you no trouble if you keep them happy, but they do need a little more preventative maintenance than, for example, my old Honda Accord. Diesel engines need to be warmed up before they work properly, so when starting up, there’s a whole system of electronics that heats the engine cylinders before the starter gets them pumping. The glow plugs, as they’re called, aren’t necessary when it’s hot out, but the truck won’t start without them in winter, as Vikki once discovered on a frigid morning in Rocktown, GA. Anyway, the truck had a bad glow plug relay, which is the part that controls the flow of electricity to the plugs themselves. It’s been bad for a while (by the way, I recommend everyone get one of those little…

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Blog Renewal

By Food for thought, Musings, Stuff We're Psyched OnNo Comments

I want to take it back to the old school. Now, this ain’t a paean about the good ol’ days when men were what society said they were and women were their service animals. I’m not calling for some rose-tinted return to a legendary epoch of “grit and toughness” that never existed. I’m thinking only in terms of social media. When I say old school, I’m talking about a handful of years ago, when 8a’s website only a outdated by a decade or so, and the “#” symbol was still just a tic tac toe board. I want to revisit the blogging era. Before Instagram existed, we followed climbers’ blogs. My RSS feed included the blogs of Jimmy Webb, Alex Johnson, Paul Robinson, Woods Family Climbs (yes that Woods), Ethan Pringle, Dave Graham, James Lucas, Angie Payne, and Nalle Hukkadyno. (Does anyone miss Climbing Narc, like I do?) Every few days or so, I’d visit Google Reader and see if any sick sends, inspiring stories, or rad videos had been added. Blogs forced both the author and the reader to engage just a little bit deeper than today’s pic-vid-caption platforms, but were informal enough that typos and poor grammar didn’t detract. Moreover, a blog post is also a webpage. It was easy for the author to include all kinds of links, references, and photos that either added to the story, or added to the author’s personality. The blogging era was a time when people were less afraid to post something…

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This Sunday! The 8B Challenge…

By Birthday Challenges, Bouldering, Climbing2 Comments

Bros (and Babes!) Biking with Beers, Bowties, and Burritos to Boulders in Berkeley That’s 8 B’s. Count ’em. The electricity and plumbing are done. All that remains with the trailer rebuild are some finishing touches and a mini-art project making use of our scrap wood. Barring unforeseen sandbaggery, we should be rolling out of the Bay Area just ahead of the hordes of Memorial Day travelers, albeit far behind our original (and secondary) plans for March (and April) departures. It’s taken all we have to keep chipping away at the trailer project, and training/biking/climbing/running/mobility have all gone out the window. Five years ago this post might’ve been about routes and boulder problems I want to do this summer–and I can think of a few–but we’ve somehow allowed complexity to sneak back into our lives, and we’re still adjusting. Hell, we ain’t hardly seen hide or hair of our homies here. Basically, what I’m getting at is, we love our Bay Area climbing family. We also love my biological family, and the Berkeley boulders that magically dot the hillside. And, eager though we are to get back to RV Projecting, we’re gonna miss ’em. So I came up with a challenge to celebrate. You should come! It’s not gonna be too hard. More of a “Pretty Hard” than a challenge, really. Behold: Berkeley Bouldering (and Buildering!) on Bikes, with Burritos, Beer, and Fritters The Challenge: Begin at Kingpin Donuts with a cinnamon crumb donut (~16oz of heart-racing, innard-lubing goodness). Bicycle to each…

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Renovations

By Trip JournalOne Comment

When I was in high school, I got my driver’s license in secret. After I passed my driver’s test, I went over to my friend Ari’s house, where we’d often gather to beat each other’s egos senseless at the foosball table. I’ll never forget the joy of being able to smugly suggest that we drive down to 7-11, at which my friends’ faces became a hilarious melange of excitement and indignant frustration that I’d managed to keep a secret for 6 months. The thing about talking too much about plans is, you lose lots of time and energy building a castle in the sky, instead of just building the damn castle. As Reinhold Messner famously* stated, “Every word a castle builder speaks is a brick that could have been laid.” Anyway, remember when products would come to market, instead of half-baked ideas coming to Kickstarter? I’m a little hesitant to talk about our latest mini-proj, the build-out of the new trailer, but I saw something awesome today that I wanted to share in the form of a blog post, and I can’t really give an update without mentioning it. We’re building out the new trailer. If you follow our pictures instead of our blogwords, then you already knew that. 400 amp-hours, y’all! Anyway, the awesome thing I saw was on 8a.nu this morning. A Japanese competition climber, who started climbing on real rocks only a few months ago, just did an 8C/V15 in Japan. He says he trains very intuitively:…

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Our Latest Release – Pottery?

By Adventure, Trip Journal3 Comments

If you had shown us this video as we were preparing to go on the road back in 2011, we would be very, very confused. We would have had no reference points for anything contained therein. I don’t think we even knew what “micaceous” meant.* If you told us 6 years ago that we would be the ones to make the video… I’ve pointed out in the past that climbing is a wonderful way to access adventure. I’m trying to sort out how I feel about the fact that climbing in general, and our own climbing in particular, has played a diminishing role in our adventures per se, lately. But that’s for another day’s musings. Today, I want to tell you about the guy in the video, Felipe Ortega. He is: An Apache medicine man Recognized by the Smithsonian Responsible for reviving the Jicarilla Apache tradition of making bean pots from micaceous clay A widely sought-after teacher of said tradition, who charges $1500 for his tutelage A brilliant and wonderfully articulate cultural interpreter (Link is a PDF) Humble, and utterly hilarious, when the mood strikes A cancer patient in a grim situation That last one is pretty significant. Stage IV prostate cancer¹ had him with one foot in the grave, but when we met him in the fall of 2015, he had jumped right back out and was as vigorous as a man 20 years his junior. Since then his condition has oscillated between what might be called “fair,” and…

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Pissed Off

By Adventure, Food for thought, Musings, Trip JournalNo Comments

I’m pissed, y’all. And I’m trying to process it, so bear with me. The plan, in a nutshell, was to drive around like the heroes of Rampage and climb some rocks. In doing so, we would be diving deep into the beating heart of America with a sturdy American truck, trying to get a read on what makes this country tick. Travel, they say, is a brilliant teacher, and I was eager to learn how well a lifetime of liberal indoctrination had prepared me for getting by in the so-called flyover states. And let me tell you, I wish I could distill the galaxy of lessons learned during our well-nigh 6 years of RV Projecting. It would take volumes…not to mention every wild sunset, the 4AM fuel stops, epic summits, unforgettable successes and failures, friendships of every duration and intensity, gut-dissolving tragedies…aww heck. Look at me. I got to ramblin’ again. Point is, I’ll die one of these days, but with a smile on my face. I won’t feel like the good Lord gypped me. The adventure has been a good one for us, and it’s not what I’m pissed about. See, we returned to my parents’ place in the Bay Area for Thanksgiving and some restful family time. The newspaper comes every morning, which is weird for us…and I’m pretty pissed at what I’m reading. We have a dysfunctional government being run by saboteurs. Public things–lands, services, schools, discourse–are disappearing faster than the coral reefs I used to study….

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The 3rd Annual JVBF, and Why We Are Really Proud Of It

By Climbing, Stuff We're Psyched On, Trip JournalOne Comment

I’ll always remember our first trip to Joe’s Valley. We were young, fit, and couldn’t wait to get our hands on that dyno-happy, skin-friendly, streaked, pocketed sandstone. It was even better than we anticipated. We climbed and camped and ate giant steaks and drank palatable whiskey and burned firewood. We stayed for a month, loved every minute, and were back the next spring. It was a mostly-off-grid existence punctuated by trips into town for fuel and sundries. Now, in a big city like San Francisco, even the loudest personalities can disappear into anonymity, but when the town doesn’t even list its population on the “Welcome” sign, new faces are hard to ignore. We were anxious about how the locals might react to our puffy-coated presences. We needn’t have been. Our California license plates drew comments, yes, but only about how clean their coal-burning power plant is, and that, without it, we’d be left praying for wind and sun 24 hours a day. We had no particular reply, and some subsequent not-quite-light reading was enough to tell us the picture is more complicated than any one person or interest group is willing to admit. In any case, it was very difficult to imagine something positive resulting from making our objections to carbon dioxide emissions an issue. One fateful rest day, after seeing a sign on a bulletin board at the Food Ranch, Vikki and I and two other couples volunteered for a town clean-up in Orangeville. All 6 of us had…

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El Cap is Big and Cars Suck

By Climbing, Food for thought, MusingsNo 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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Oh, the Fun You’ll Have

By Adventure, Birthday Challenges, ClimbingNo Comments

My favorite book is, unquestionably, The Phantom Tollbooth. In it, the Whether Man wisely suggests that Milo “hope for the best, expect the worst, and be unsurprised by anything in between,” or something to that effect. This year, my Birthday Challenge was an absolutely perfect illustration of this. Actually, it wasn’t a proper challenge, just a Birthday Pretty Hard. Life’s been busy and unpredictable enough that I didn’t have the time or inclination to concoct a massive challenge, but I knew I wanted to do something memorable. Since we’re living in Yosemite, doing the Tenaya-Matthes-Cathedral linkup seemed perfect. The day before my birthday, I drove up to check the snow on Tenaya. It looked like the route was still climbable despite two patches sitting on the buttress, but I wasn’t sure, which made me suddenly very anxious. On top of that, I didn’t know who would be joining me for the day, I hadn’t been training much, I hadn’t been living at altitude, and I planned to do the whole day in my approach shoes, and without a rope. A few friends were driving up from the Bay Area, but would be moving more slowly because they weren’t soloing, and it seemed I might be doing most of day by myself. That would’ve been fine, basically a scaled-down version of my challenge last year, the WURL, however I was hoping to be able to share the stoke (and the route-finding) with someone. I’d attempted the linkup 7 years ago or so,…

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