Monday, December 24, 2012

For The Love of Seinfeld

I've always been a huge fan of Jerry Seinfeld, and I am endlessly entertained by watching re-runs of Seinfeld over and over again. This week, I came across a couple new Seinfeld related things, and wanted to share. First, there was a feature article about Jerry in the New York Times. It was really well written, and gives a glimpse into his hard work ethic, and his genius. Second, Jerry has a web series called Comedians in Cars getting Coffee. Some are funnier than others, but the episode with Michael Richards (Kramer) is gold, "gold, Jerry".

Check 'em out: Jerry Seinfeld Intends to Die Standing Up by Jonah Weiner, New York Times.

Comedian in Cars Getting Coffee: It's Bubbly Time, Jerry with Michael Richards. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Coffeeshop Reflections

This is my latest column for the Durango Telegraph's La Vida Local. While alot of folks have powder on the brain this time of year, the winter is the time when I slow down and get alot of reading and writing done. Anywho, here's Coffeeshop Reflections: 

My favorite coffee shop in Durango is my second office, all part of a goal to put in 10,000 hours towards the writing craft. When I left behind the 9-5 world in my pursuit to become a self employed writer, I heavily considered two options: earning a graduate degree in creative writing, or simply writing creatively a lot. With the state of the economy and my unwillingness to go into debt the latter option won.

The coffeeshop portion of my writing day is always preceded by working from home. I am a writer that relies on routine. On an average morning I’ll drink three cups of murderous coffee, check Facebook 12 times, and ideally write 1,000 words. I work best when I’m working on several writing projects at the same time, coupled with a deadline. The words always pour out when they really have to.

These days I’m working on my second book, and the progress has been frustratingly slow. I don’t have a deadline, an agent, or a publisher. All I have is a vision. At the moment I live alone, and fighting with an idea in my mind, all by my lonesome, yielding little results, makes me question this pursuit to rely on my words to eat.

A lesson I learned from an artist friend of mine a long time ago always kicks in at these moments: when your art is not flowing it is time to recreate. So when I’ve reached that point of sheer lunacy because the vision from my mind won’t reach the computer screen, I typically get out my running shoes, and head out for a trail. After that I head into town.

Two years ago when first I moved here I was a stranger walking the streets of downtown. I was reveling in my new life, basking in the freshness of new faces, and just taking it all in. I settled into a routine, and started frequenting the same coffeeshop most afternoons, where I would sink into the ink of reading and writing. Since I didn’t know anyone I would rarely get distracted, and that was one of my most productive periods of writing I’ve ever had.

It was also winter, my favorite time to just simply be. I believe I’ve confessed in this column previously that I don’t drop my knees to the altar of skiing (I am happy to see it snowing out of my writing window at the moment though) so I am not possessed by that pursuit. This is good because I am obsessed with rock climbing for most of the year.

That winter I vividly recall reading Love in the Time of Cholera, an epic novel by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. That body of work had everything in a novel that I was looking for, and I was entranced by the love story told within its pages. It was the kind of story that made me want to be a writer in the first place, that someday I could hope to produce words that would put a reader in a similar meditational trance. At the same time, and probably at least partially induced by Garcia-Marquez’s words, I had a crush on the barista who seemed overly friendly when I ordered my daily cup of tea. My imagination ran wild as I read the love story, and when I finished the book I finally got up the nerve to ask her out. I got her number and asked for a date, but she never called back. Oh well, finding love is almost like finding a good book; both are elusive, but if you stay positive and keep looking you’ll find it sooner or later.

The changing of seasons always changes my coffeeshop habits. While I do revel in the calmness of winter, spring’s flavors are irresistible. Often, when the weather is warm, I’ll find my attention span shorter, sometimes floating to two or three locations in a single day.

One fine day this past spring, I was shopping for a wedding gift for my brother and his soon bride to be. I ended up at a local bookstore where I bought a journal. The intention was that they could write in it during their upcoming honeymoon in Southeast Asia. After that I headed over to a coffeeshop that I’d never been to, which had an outdoor patio. I sat down, and struck up a conversation with a woman I’d seen around town, but never talked to. It turned out she was a writer herself, and we had this immediate connection, as if perhaps we’d known each other before, maybe in another life. I read her the note I wrote to my brother and his wife in the journal, which began an instant connection of words that we share to this day. She’s now one of my most reliable editors, and helped me shape my first book together for publication. Together we are starting another Durango-related writing project, tentatively called The Durango Dream Zine.

After two years of living here and dwelling in coffeeshops I’m no longer a stranger. Anonymity has been traded for community. In my beloved coffeeshop world I don’t simply bury my head in literature, I have meetings and visit with friends. Still, on a cold wintery day, I’ll pull out my journal, sip a comforting cup of tea, and float off to a dreamy, Durango consciousness, and let some words write themselves. Or, I’ll melt into a good book, and take a journey without ever leaving the coffeeshop. And in these moments there is nowhere else in the world I’d rather be. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Birthday Challenge

Over the last six months I've been planning my Birthday Challenge. Originally I'd hoped to do it early, first in the summer, then when summer passed, the fall. Finally I ended up doing my challenge on my birthday this last weekend. Here's the piece, with links to two previous Birthday Challenge articles I wrote for Cheers.

Badger sending at The Golf Wall. 
Birthday Challenge Part 3, The Big Day

My favorite thing about climbing is that if you try hard enough you can always be a champion. It doesn’t matter if you are the best, it matters how it feels.

The Birthday Challenge is a concept passed from climber-to-climber, and I was first introduced to it by my good friend Shaun Matusewicz, at the age of 25. Nine years later I finally completed my first true climbing Birthday Challenge at 34 years young.

I’ve always been psyched on the concept, but my birthday is in December, a month when rock climbing and weather don’t always align.

Last spring, while climbing with a relatively new, but equally psyched climbing partner, Jonathan “Badger” Mitchell, we discovered our birthdays were three days apart. To top this off, we are only a year apart in age. I told him about The Challenge, and he thought it was super cool. Together, we decided we would do one together, except we’d bend the rules a bit and complete it in the summertime; with longer days and more sunshine it would be easier to achieve.

We immediately began training for the challenge, doing extra pitches after we’d normally retire for the day. At the peak of the summer we reached 20 laps at our local sport climbing crag, The Golf Wall, an overhanging wall of limestone. Then like the summer does it faded away and we’d yet to do The Birthday Challenge. Our dream continued into the fall, but both of us hit the road more to climb. When I returned from my climbing trip I was beat up and had a couple nagging injuries. The Challenge would have to wait till next year.

But as our birthdays approached The Challenge still lingered in the back of my mind. My injuries were getting better, and I was feeling as close to one hundred percent as a 34 year old can get. At the last minute Badger confirmed he was in, so we figured out the details, and recruited our closest friends for belays and psyche.

The first day of December this year was a nightmare for skiers, but kind to climbers. The high was going to be 50 degrees, perfect sending temps for The Golf Wall.

We arrived at the wall at the perfect time, one of the three 5.10s was just going into the sun, and its reflection on the slick, steep grey limestone wall was an invitation to begin. Badger and I both agreed our first pitches were a little sloppy as our minds were on how big of a task we had ahead of us. We tried to remind each other to breathe and stay in the moment.

By pitch 7 I was very worried because I was already very pumped. I took my first hang on pitch 9, and thought in my head that I might not be able to do this. There were a lot of folks at the crag that day and I also realized my ego was afraid of falling on routes that I normally have dialed. I was afraid of failure.

 I failed again on pitch 17, a 5.11 that is an overhanging series of roofs; a climb I have so dialed I often warm up on it. Luckily it wasn’t a severe blow to my ego. I just kept on, and at 20 pitches I resorted to running toprope laps on a 5.10. I think I did 10 laps on this pitch, some were ugly attempts, I felt like a complete beginner thrutching for holds and totally losing all technique. Then a funny thing would happen, I’d remember to breathe and stay in the moment, and my technique got better on the next lap. The mind is the strongest muscle.

At pitch 30 I had a total bonk and consumed all my remaining food, just laying there, gone to the world. Slowly my blood sugar came back and I tied in for four more laps on the last route for the day. My dear friend Tim Foulkes who belayed me for 15 straight pitches was on the other end of the rope, and there’s something uplifting about having someone you’ve climbed with for a decade belaying you. After my 33rd pitch I got word from around the corner that Badger was done with his challenge, and had even led his last pitch. So, with some friendly competition in the air, I pulled the rope, put some quickdraws on my harness and led my last pitch.

At that moment everything aligned, somehow I had energy again, and I felt better at pitch number 34 than I did at number 17. I think I was getting in my own way about being worried if I could complete The Challenge. My mind was playing tricks on me.

After that last pitch all I wanted was a beer and food. After that it was time to dance and party…

Monday, November 12, 2012

Simple Things, Winter Winds

The winter winds blew this way last weekend, and what seemed like an endless summer ended abruptly. Winter is my most productive season when it comes to writing words, and I welcome it knowing I’ll enter a headspace I value very much. This will be my third winter since I committed to the life of a free writer, a decision I don’t regret in any way.

I write these words from my second office, the coffeeshop, though office is certainly the wrong word for a space to create art; rarely do I write much from the coffeeshop, usually I’m doing electronic chores for the day, sending emails and doing other interweb related things.

My town, Durango, is my kind of town, home, a place I don’t ever see moving away from, one that will fill many chapters in the book that is my life. I enjoy the chapters of winter because it is the only season I don’t feel much angst. I can accept the shorter days, set small goals to get done each day, type a few paragraphs for chapters, allow the novel that is life to build slowly. In spring, summer and fall I feel so much pressure to climb, run, party, love…winter is the season that balances it all out, to just take it slow.

And how slow can I take it? How much could I appreciate this sip of tea, this moment in my downtown, the trees that shed their remaining leaves, the mountaintops that finally look right because they are covered in snow.

What is this life as a writer? How does it influence my daily life? The trips I make, the risks I take? When the season of adventure is nearing a close and the season for reflection begins? For others it is the opposite, snow has a different meaning for everyone. For some their love for snow will claim their lives this winter. It always seems to. We’re all going there, one way or another.

They say you can never go back home, I guess you can never just go back in time. Yet with seasons are the constant reminders, and though the climate is changing many reminders are still there. I think we can still find home though, find home in a place we’ve never been, yet the community is waiting to accept us, welcome us.

On this third winter, on my verge of my thirty-fourth year of life I am at home, hoping for a few more days of Indian Summer to spend in the red rock desert, then welcoming winter in, to take it easy, take it easy baby. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Airport Reflections

This is a piece I wrote a few weeks ago while hanging out in the Las Vegas airport. I didn't post it after it was written, but I figured I'd do so now. Enjoy. 

I am at the end of a 12 day trip, sitting in the airport, way early for my flight, with random thoughts of prose popping into my head, scattered notes that are unable to form into something big or coherent, but important thoughts all the same.

This trip was important for me personally because I climbed El Capitan, one of my longtime life goals. It was my third attempt, and physically the hardest thing I have ever done. I did it with a great partner, Dave Ahrens, and we worked as a team to achieve the goal.

Dave Ahrens high on El Cap, baby!

El Cap really isn’t on my mind much this morning, it’s a rock and we climbed it, that’s what climbers do, we climb things. What is on my mind is people. After Yosemite we drove to Las Vegas, because Dave has a guiding certification course he is taking at the Red Rocks climbing area. Its hot as hell here, and yesterday while Dave went into Red Rocks to practice some rescue skills I loitered in Vegas. I started off in Starbucks, moved over to Dunkin Donuts, and eventually was coffee-ed out so I went to get something to eat. I ended up at the nearby Red Rock casino food court, ate some grub, and then walked around the casino.

I can see why gambling is illegal in most places, it brings out the desperation and pathetic nature in a lot of people. The lonesome person clicking the same button over and over while they smoke their cigarette; a slow easy death. The sight of one is enough to make the soul sad, but a hundred of these people, well, that’s really damn sad and pathetic.

Then I think of other people, my people, the dirtbags, the risk takers, the adventurers. We look for thrills mostly in the outdoors, and that energy is absorbed into the essence of who we are. Interact with a vibrant person, and we feel that energy within ourselves. I’m not saying living an existence in the mountains is the only way to access this energy, it’s just how my tribe does it. God, energy, whatever you want to call it can be found in a thousand ways, but it must be found, its not going to come without effort.

I started out with trip with a dream to climb a rock with a friend. The dream came true. I didn’t know if I could do it, but I did. Third times a charm. So is the eleventh or a hundredth. Keep trying. Keep dreaming. Dreams with effort come true. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Slideshow in Durango at The Rock Lounge Tomrrow

This Thursday, November 8th there will be a free slideshow with local climbing authors Luke Mehall and Ian Allison at 6:30 p.m. at The Rock Lounge.

Luke Mehall is the publisher of The Climbing Zine and author of Climbing Out of Bed, a definitive collection of climbing and mountain town stories. He is also a frequent contributor to the Durango Telegraph. During his slideshow he’ll talk about the stories from the zine and his book, with a focus on his climbing partners that have inspired him over the years.

Ian Allison is the author of Durango Bouldering and has been a part of the Durango climbing community for the past 12 years. During his slideshow he’ll talk about some of the places in the world he’s climbed at, with an emphasis on his recent trip to the climbing meccas of Kalymnos and Meteora in Greece.

The Rock Lounge is located at 1111 Camino Del Rio, and they can be contacted at 970-259-7625. More information about The Climbing Zine and Durango Bouldering can be found at and

Saturday, October 20, 2012

More Yosemite Words

I had the pleasure to sit down and recall some of the best moments from climbing in Yosemite last month. I wrote this piece for Deuter, a company that I am an Ambassador for. This is just a rough draft, but wanted to post these words up. Here it is, Just a Couple Guys from Colorado on El Cap. (see photos from the trip in the post below)

            It’s amazing that climbing El Capitan in Yosemite is no big deal for a lot of people: routes that originally took parties days, even months to climb, can be done in just a few hours by elite climbers. For yours truly and my partner Dave Ahrens climbing El Capitan was a big deal, a life goal that would take all the knowledge we had about climbing, and then some.  

            Before the stone is touched the climb is a dream. Dave and I had talked on the phone for months prior, finalizing details of how to borrow aid gear, who was going to buy offset nuts and cams, and where we could get our hands on a poop tube. We had all the details down, and we both openly expressed our nervousness. Neither of us are aid climbers, and this would be the crowning achievement for our climbing careers. We were ‘just a couple guys from Colorado’ testing our mettle on The Big Stone. Here’s some highlights from the most memorable pitches:

             Pitch 1: We decide to hop on El Cap our first morning after arriving to Yosemite thinking that we won’t spend too much time staring at the monolith, and therefore won’t be able to talk ourselves out of it. We arrive at the base of the route at the same time as another party. We converse diplomatically; they are working a free variation to the route, Freerider, and insist we go ahead of them; knowing we will be slower we insist they go ahead. A refreshing start and a good omen that we’ll share belay ledges with these friendly, strong climbers.

            Pitch 11: We’ve successfully climbed the first part of the wall, The Freeblast, and everything goes smoothly. Dave takes a decent fall (about 15 feet) on the crux slab pitch, but all is well. We leave our rack of cams, nuts, and slings at Heart Ledges where we will haul all our gear up to the following day. We rappel fix ropes back to the ground, and just like that we are committed to the route.

            Hauling is difficult, exhausting and frustrating like it always is. We haul to Heart Ledges efficiently though, and bask in the glory of a comfortable ledge. There is free water left by another party, that we help ourselves to. We lead one pitch from Heart Ledges, and then fall asleep with the cosmos, happy to be on the rock of our dreams, El Cap.

            Pitch 13, The Hollow Flake. Of all the pitches on the route I was the most nervous about this one, an off-width that you have to pendulum into, and supposedly had little protection from falls. It was the hardest pitch, most emotional pitch of the route without a doubt. I swung over into the off-width, climbed up with my left shoulder in the crack, and my left hoot in the heel-toe formation. Soon I wondered if it would be better if I was facing the other way so I down climbed and put the right side of my body in. The whole time I was trying to keep my #6 camalot in the crack, the only piece of gear keeping me from a massive fall. Finally I realized left side in was the way to go, and I kept inching upwards, with prayer that I wouldn’t fall. Fifty feet up now the crack was bigger which makes the #6 useless, but by then I had the entire left side of my body in the crack, and both of my feet were heel-toeing. I kept looking up to the anchors, my savior of life. When I reached them I felt a wave of relief and happiness as I looked down to the Hollow Flake, and put it into my bank of scary climbing memories.

            Pitch 19: We climb into the darkness to reach our bivouac. Dave aids an off-width crack to an oasis called The Alcove, where the climbers we met at pitch one are staying. Luckily they have a portaledge, and there is room for the two of us to comfortably sleep. Exhausted, we talk with our new friends; they have been successful thus far and have free climbed every pitch. We are happy for them, and they are stoked for us; the true spirit of rock climbing is evident, and we realize we are more than halfway up the climb of our dreams!

            Pitch 20: Dave is a great climbing partner because we are so similar in so many ways. We are exhausted in the morning, so we’re lazy and drink coffee; a favorite pastime we share. We have food and water for four days, so we decide to take it easy and not rush the climb. Our lazy morning in the vertical is rewarded with this shot that Tom Evans took from below, with Dave at the El Cap Spire in the perfect light. Tom tells us its one of his favorite shots, and he says he’s going to turn it into a poster.

            Pitch 23: Dave leads up a pitch known as The Sewer, labeled as the worst pitch of the route on the topo. In late September though The Sewer is completely dry, and the climbing is enjoyable. We thank the heavens for our luck, and climb up to our bivy for the night, at The Block, an uncomfortable place to be, as it is a sloping ledge not really suited for sleeping, but beggars can’t be choosers.

            Pitch 29: The Salathe Headwall is an unforgettable place to be. Our haulbag is feeling light, and we are near the top of the wall. The trees below are tiny specks, and the exposure puts a knot in my stomach. The pitch is relatively straightforward with excellent gear placements. I am climbing on my last energy reserves, and we are relieved the summit is near.

            Pitch 31: Exhausted and dehydrated there is still more climbing, it feels like this route will never end. As I embark on this lead Dave makes a remark about our dear friend Adam Lawton, who died in an avalanche earlier in the year, and how he would be proud of us. Soon after he says that I come across a fixed pink tri-cam, which was a piece of gear Adam carried with him everywhere. For me it is a divine sign, and I feel his presence with us near the top of El Cap. Though I am exhausted and have a headache from dehydration I feel sublime.

            Pitch 35: Dave leads us to the summit. The sunset is unreal, deep fire red and orange, the sunset of a climber’s dreams. We hoot and holler like we have been unchained from El Capitan, which we have. Somehow Dave digs up two packages of tuna from the haulbag, which taste better than tuna ever has or ever will. I think of the people closest to me, my friends and family, and I couldn’t be happier to be alive and on the top of El Cap with my homey Dave. We have a restless night of sleep on top, and walk down in the morning. When we get back to the car the climb seems surreal, and we bask in the relief of what we have done.

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