Dirtbag Skills!

Here’s my new article: “How To Be A Dirtbag” (7 Skills To Build Your Rugged Side).

Pic credits:
1. Cassie Chyne Cook at Monkey’s Face, Central Oregon (Mikey Holmes’ pic)
2. Ben Leroy’s pic of me bouldering at Sisters Boulders, Oregon
3. Rainy Hoffmeister at Lost Rocks, Northern California
4. Jennie Hoffmeister‘s pic of me on the Alvord Desert slat flats, Eastern Oregon

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Week One Of Climbing Training

As a try-hard local, I figured I’d post some training weeks in prep for my El Cap race with Hans Florine in June.

Week One Of Training:

Sun – 20 boulder routes at the gym (up to V3), then sent one V8 for power

Mon – Climbing rest: Light weights, jumping jacks, push-ups

Tues – Speed climbing outside at The Columns. 7 fast laps (5.8+ to 5.10c)

Wed – Easy climbing outside, bouldering at Sisters, 10 routes up to V3

Thurs – Active rest: 4-mile hike + 4 easy boulder routes (VBs and V0s)

Fri – 2-mile run, 1.5-mile hike, + outdoor bouldering at Sisters (13 routes up to V6)

Sat – 10 outdoor boulder routes up to V6

I’m Racing Hans Florine In June!

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Hans Florine lead-climbing on El Cap, Yosemite Valley

“Super Local vs. Super Pro – An El Cap Day At A Crap Cliff”

Recently, I was being interviewed by an adventure journalist name Jayme Moye, and she decided to help set up a strange event.
The short version of the story is this: Hans Florine is flying up to Eugene, Oregon to race me on an El Cap Day (3000 feet of climbing in one day) at my local cliff where I’ve done many El Caps. He’s a world class speed climber, but he doesn’t know the routes. I’m just an average local dirtbag – not world-class by any standards – but I do know the routes.
Hans Florine has won a world speed-climbing championship, three X-Game gold medals, and holds many world records.
I really sorta kinda like to climb a lot, pretty often, and anywhere I can.
The race is high-stakes: We’re betting a beer, a burrito, and a monster cookie.
The journalist (Jayme Moye) has written for National Geographic, Outside, and Men’s Journal, and she’ll be writing about the event for multiple magazines. Climbing Magazine has asked me to write a feature for Climbing.com.
Running laps at The Columns

Me running laps at the Columns, Eugene, Oregon, on an ascender (with my surgically repaired thumb in a cast)

Specifics On The Race:
– Our local cliff is only 47 feet tall, so each time I do an El Cap Day, it’s 64 route-laps. I last did an El Cap Day there two weeks ago. The last time I climbed there was Tuesday.

– I usually fix a few lines and run 64 laps with an ascender on a drag, then rappel each lap and start over. This is the system we’ll use for our race.

– Although I never race my El Cap Days, it usually takes me 3.5+ hours to rock climb 3000 feet (while eating and talking to people a little bit), but I’ll train and get that time down before the race (Note: The time includes 64 rappels).
– Hans has climbed the real El Cap in under 2.5 hours – and formerly held the world speed record on that cliff with Alex Honnold – but again, this is a new cliff to Hans, and he doesn’t have to rappel 3000 feet when he speed climbs in Yosemite.
– But – honestly – that might not matter. He might just crush me anyway. So I’ll just do my best. I do know the cliff well and have first-ascent trad routes at The Columns of up to 5.12cR.
– The dates we’ve set out (three in case of weather, specifically rain) are June 10-12. Tentatively, the race is set for June 10th, at 9:00 AM.
Character details:
– I’m more than 10 years younger than Hans. So that might help me?
– Just kidding: Look at his picture and notice that he’s kind of fit.
– Also, just two years ago, Alex Honnold said in an interview that Hans is still the greatest in the world. Since Alex Honnold is considered the best in the world by most people, this is a huge compliment.
– Injury notes: I have a brain injury from getting hit by a car on my bike three years ago (and a torn right meniscus + surgically repaired right thumb), yet I keep climbing every week at the crag. Hans probably has a few things that hurt on his body…doesn’t everybody?
I’m ready to get crushed compete!

Maybe I’m A Dirtbag?

I realized – last night – that I was going to see my mom (who’s here, visiting from Arizona), and that I smelled terrible and couldn’t remember the last time that I’d showered. Friday maybe? Or maybe it was Thursday? I know I paddled the river on Saturday, which is pretty much the same as showering…

Since that river bath, over the next five days, I’d climbed twice, biked six times, gone for a run, played soccer twice, and lifted weights four times. Plus there’s that whole Summer Sun Angle (Heat) = Sweat thing.

I’d also mowed the lawn, worked in the yard, gardened, and picked up dog poop in the sun three times.

For my mom, I took a shower.

“Meet the IOP: Young Adventurers with a Knack for Environmental Understanding”

I’m so proud of my student leaders every year. But last year – when I was out on medical leave after my brain injury – my student leaders really stepped up.

Here’s Envision Magazine’s feature on the Integrated Outdoor Program, with a focus on the student leaders (thanks to Mara Welty and Damon Holland):

Read the article here.

I Have A Brain Injury, But…

I have a brain injury. There. I’ve said it. Publicly. It’s so much easier to not say it, to not admit it, to not talk about it. Because I don’t like to talk about it. I don’t want to explain how I feel, or discuss my symptoms, or detail how my healing’s going. I’d rather my injury not be there (and I know how obvious and stupid that statement sounds). I’d rather not be injured, but I am. I have what neurologists classify as a traumatic brain injury, a TBI.
Specifics: For the first time in my life, I can’t spell. Since the car accident on December 4th, 2014, I’ve had to relearn more than 500 words. Sometimes simple words. Three days ago, I relearned the spelling of the word “sandwich” (a complicated word – I know). Yesterday, I relearned the spelling of the word “wiggly.” Today – to copyedit this article – I had to relearn the spellings of “dissipate” and “avocado.”
Small words sometimes. Uncomplicated words. The thing is, I don’t know what I don’t know until I come across it. I’m writing, and I have to spell a word and I start typing…
…and a vast blankness appears in my mind like a gray sheet of paper has slid in front of my eyes. There’s nothing there, and I have no idea. I can’t even guess.
Also, I have headaches. Regular and significant headaches. If I get stressed or it’s too loud or there are too many things happening all at once, I get a dull ache above me eyes, and the ache spreads its spider legs into my cheekbones, down along the top of my nose, over my scalp and behind my ears. I have to spend 10 minutes in the dark, or try to go to sleep, or take migraine medication, or do all three of those things. Sometimes I put a pillow over my face and lay on the floor, waiting for the throbbing to dissipate, feeling ridiculous.
I get confused a lot as well, sometimes about little things, memories, who said what when, and whether or not I know something that I do or don’t know. I’m not sure. I ask people to tell me things twice. Three times? I sometimes ask the same question five minutes apart. I feel foolish when people tell me that they’ve already told me the answer to my question that I’ve already asked. For me, it can be a new thing each time I hear it.
So I’m not able to teach right now. Obviously. I’m on medical leave from the school district and will be for the rest of this year while my brain heals. Everyone’s going back to school tomorrow – after spring break – but I’m not. And just this week I got a letter about “permanent disability,” a term I don’t even want to think about.
This is a crazy new reality.
But there’s the issue of writing as well. My other job.
This last year, while dealing with the aftermath of the car accident and its effect on my brain, I struggled through the revision of my new novel This Is The Part Where You Laugh and the first four drafts of my next novel Too Shattered For Mending. I’ve never worked so hard to write so slowly. I didn’t always feel creative. I never felt talented. I did my work – completed my revisions and turned in my next novel – but I’ve never worked the way that I did. I’ve never struggled the way that I struggled. To make my brain work. I still loved writing (I always will) but writing this last year sometimes felt like three 1000-piece nature puzzles heaped together on a single table like some kind of cruel joke. I was the little kid trying to put all three puzzles together.
Is this the border of the undersea puzzle?
Or the border of the Yellowstone vista?
Or the edge of the stream in the Appalachian forest?
So many shades of green.
So many variations on the color blue.
Yet…
Yet…
I think of the Apostle Paul writing, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…”
Consider it pure joy…
Whenever you face trials…
Pure joy…
Why would he write that?
And how is it possible?
How is ‘pure joy’ created in a time of trial?
It’s a difficult question – something I’ve come back to again and again – and this is what I’ve decided: Because we have to take joy in the trials and the triumphs, the whole of life, this complicated yet singular experience in it’s entirety. To enjoy life as it is – real life – we have to know struggle as well as ease. Pain as well as wonder. Suffering as well as comfort.
The understanding of life’s duality means learning empathy, acknowledging true differences, finding the capacity for a diverse and vast love.
Also – and this is not a small thing for me – I may have a brain injury, but my life isn’t filled with struggle. I may be experiencing some difficulty currently, but I have a wonderful life. I have a life I don’t deserve, great joys that outweigh any number of trials I’ve experienced. So focusing on joy is then a choice I can make.
With that in mind, I think of all the good things, and begin my own gratitude list:
Sitting with Jennie next to a warm fireplace and reading together or drinking coffee on the porch on a sunlit morning while the neighborhood is waking up.
Rock climbing at The Columns with Roo, or hiking up the hill together and chilling in that one oak tree that overlooks the Washington/Jefferson Street Bridge and the western half of the city.
Buying ice cream with Rain while we make sarcastic jokes in our local Safeway, then standing in the kitchen back at home and eating Ben and Jerry’s Half Baked, laughing about our days.
Reading a book in a chair, barefoot on the grass.
Listening to new music on the radio while I drive, or listening to old rap CDs in my kitchen while I do the dishes.
Going on a family night-hike by the light of the moon.
Watching Jupiter rise like blazed chromium in the east.
Camping in the desert and seeing my dog Bob Dylan run coyote circles in the afternoon dust.
Reading contemporary poetry.
Viewing collections of art.
Hanging out with friends.
Hanging out with my dad or Maddie.
Joking with the student leaders in my outdoor program.
Eating dark chocolate or avocados or quesadillas or breakfast-for-dinner whenever I want to.
Finishing a good novel and starting a new one.
Also, I realize what an amazing life I’ve been given in this country, how I’m part of the global 1% economically with my house and my car and my refrigerator and my bank account and my bicycle and my book contract and my backyard and my hammock and my laptop and the clean running water that comes out of the tap, water that I can drink any time without fear of dysentery or cholera or water-born parasites. I live such an easy life in a home set to 67 degrees right now while it’s 44 degrees outside.
Realizing that my list could go on forever (that I stopped myself from writing fifty other things), I understand that gratitude creates an infinite capacity for joy. This is the wonderful life I live, and if my life is this good, this easy, then what will I do with my hours? How will I help other people? How will I encourage and love and foster and develop?
Also, what am I holding onto that doesn’t really matter? What do I call “important” that has no eternal value? What objects am I grasping in my tightly-clenched pathetically-weak human fists?
I keep Mary Oliver’s famous poem “The Summer Day” next to my bed and I’ve reread it ten or so times lately. To end that poem, Oliver writes, “Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”