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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I’m Racing Hans Florine In June!

Hans-Florine-e1442264250587

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!

Fall Rock Climbing In Oregon

Rock climbing in the fall in Oregon, on clear, cold, sunny days is about as good as it gets.

The following photos and the Ridgemont Video at the bottom are all filmed by Ben Leroy.

First, check out the color of this fall sky:

Blue Sky Columns

Second, here’s the “Third Column Face Variation”:

Face Variation

Finally, click here for a video of a quick top-rope lap on my favorite finger crack in Oregon.

If you’ve never climbed that crack, you should come do it. Crack climbing doesn’t get a whole lot better than that (I’d stack this one, short pitch against anything I’ve done in Yosemite – and my friend who guides in the Tetons says that he misses The Columns more than anything since he moved to Wyoming).

 

Maybe The Pace Of This American Life Is Wrong?

Sometimes when I drive to a youth soccer game three hours away, I think, “Wait, why are we doing this? Why do we spend so much time and money on a game for kids? Also, in most of the world the local children play barefoot, with a half-deflated ball, on the beach or in the local vacant lot, and they still end up being better players than U.S. teenagers.” Our whole youth soccer club system is a broken mess, yet we…I mean…I, I have spent so much time and money on the system.

This is just one example. A microcosm. Maybe we Americans have it wrong. In soccer. In other things. It seems like we always find a way to spend a lot of money and drive long distances, for everything.

Or what about the pace of daily life? Driving, stressing, too much homework, complicated play-date schedules, expensive kids’ birthday parties. What are we doing? Why are we living this way?

My family is doing better than it was. We got rid of our second car a few years ago and try to bike or carpool most places. Recently we pulled our older daughter out of club soccer and put her in a cheap local kids’ league. We let our other daughter trade organized sports for “pretend time,” skateboarding, and jumping on the trampoline with friends. We’re encouraging our kids to explore in the local fields or small plot of woods near our house rather than play inside.

But we’ve also tried to drop out as a family a few times. We started small and built from there. Three times we’ve pulled our girls out of school in the middle of the year to go somewhere else, to experience something different. The first was a nine-day camping trip in the fall in Yosemite when the tourists were gone from the valley, the bears were out, and the nights were colder. And even though that trip was short, during the time that we were gone, the girls missed two soccer practices, two soccer games, two friends’ birthday parties, and at least twelve hours of overwhelming homework.

In Yosemite, we swam in the Merced River, saw nine different bears (including a mother bear and her two cubs who wandered past our tent in the high country), rock climbed, bouldered, went to the LeConte Museum, hiked, and saw a cougar eating a ground squirrel. But mostly we did nothing. We played card games and read for hours in our tent. We sat and watched birds. We put on snorkel gear and followed fish up through river eddies. The trade for six days of school and nine days of daily life was well worth it.

Then, last year, we went to Tucson for three and a half weeks in the winter. We stayed in a house in the Santa Catalina mountains and hiked, canyoneered, swam in creeks and the local pool, got sun on our skin, climbed a little, explored ruins, and hung out by the fireplace at night. Ruth got stung by a scorpion on her hand but she still loved the trip, and it was wonderful being away from everything we missed at home, more social engagements and school requirements than I can possibly list.

And now, we’ve taken another break from This American Life. We scheduled a trip this winter to Central America, planned it for February and March. I took a leave of absence from my day job to work on my fifth book (my third novel), and we pulled the girls out of school again. We’ve been in Congrejal, Costa Rica, for the past month, 1 kilometer outside of a tiny two-block by three-block town on the Pacific Coast.

We rented a small native house en el campo. There are fires in the ditches at night – burning palm fronds – large spiders and centipedes and black scorpions and beetles in our house, dirt roads, incredible stars with zero light pollution, and yellow beaches two miles long. The food is different, scary sometimes (we chance food poisoning each time we eat out – but that’s not often as we mostly eat rice and beans and local fruit at home). There is no rock climbing but I climb coconut trees on the beach, cut down three or four coconuts, cut them open and drink the milk with my nine-year-old Ruthie or Jennie.

My thirteen-year-old, Rain, is surfing and reading and journaling. Both girls are home-schooling, and we get their work completed each day in three or four hours. We’re reading world history together as a family. Learning the geography of Central America. Studying native plants and animals of our local area.

The nouns are different here. Back at home we see squirrels in the trees. Here we see Howler Monkeys. Estuaries in Western Oregon have carp and frogs. Here they have 16-foot crocodiles.

We have wild horses and coatis in our yard.

We surf each day.

I write 1000 new words on my novel.

We bike around because we have no car.

We stay outside until after dark, live outside everyday, and even though it averages 98-degrees, we’ve adapted now and the days no longer feel too hot.

Jennie pumps her fist in the air and yells, “I love that there are no rules here!” as we bike along a pot-hole filled road, wearing no helmets. There are no stoplights or stop-signs even in the town nearby where people lay on their horns and yell at each other, drive on the wrong side of the road or swerve all over the place in their cars. Motorcycles pass us going 60.

What would we be doing back home right now? I’d be working 60 hours a week. There would be dance practices and soccer practices and games and performances. We would have play dates, drive regularly, be late all of the time. We would have to work to be local. But when the location is small, like it is here, localism is natural, unforced, nothing difficult. We eat the limes and cashew fruit from the trees next to our house. And there are more green plantains than we can fry.

I know that we can’t live in a perpetual state of vacation, but maybe that’s not what this is. I’m working here. The girls are doing schoolwork. Jennie and the girls are making art together. Our lives and the development of our minds has not stopped.

So maybe this is just a richer life? Maybe there is no one named Jones to keep up with. Maybe we – as a family – must stop every year, stop to think and read and write and hang out, as a family, because these years will end soon, and the girls will go to college, and we will have missed our opportunity to take them out of their culture, out of the daily speed of U.S. city life.

In ten years, both girls will be out of the house and this will no longer be possible. They will be leading other lives. They won’t want to be dragged to Central America by their parents. They will have their own chosen obligations. They will lead their own lives of personal interests.

And our chances will be over.

So for now, a slow life, something different, something other than the daily pace of life in the United States. Here, for a moment, we avoid (as Tim Kreider of the New York Times says) The Busy Trap.

And the soccer here? We play every day on the beach, barefoot, with the local boys. We play on the sand, goals scored through two sticks stuck one meter apart. We call the barefoot game “Pelada,” which translates as the crazy naked woman.

Reader Responses

Every once in a while, as an author, I come across reader blog-posts so wonderful that I have to share them. These two are fun to read. Unfortunately, I miss many posts or go back to look them up and can’t find them (one of my favorite recent blog responses – with a thematic song included – seems to have vanished from the internet). But here are two excellent examples.

The first includes fishing and a home-run derby:

http://ourcrazyblessedlife.blogspot.com/2013/09/let-them-be-eaten-by-bears.html

The second is a book review in the form of a letter by one of the Hiker Mamas:

http://www.hikermamas.com/2014/01/book-review-let-them-be-eaten-by-bears.html

Thank you to all of my readers.

Back By Popular Demand: End-Of-Year Dirtbag Report

Because you asked for a dirtbag update:

Usually, I celebrate dirtbag Christmas at work. This is how it goes: Bri-Bri, My-Only-Friend-In-The-Entire-World-Jeff-Hess, and I scour the multiple “lost and found” boxes for a week. We find the most useful items, in sizes that fit the others, wrap them in school-issued newspaper, then have a gift exchange on the Friday before break. I’ve gotten a good travel coffee mug out of the exchange, a nice sweatshirt, and an excellent shell that I use all the time, plus a few other items that I use on a semi-regular basis.

But we didn’t celebrate this year. We let ourselves get too busy to have fun.

Very undirtbag.

And although I didn’t celebrate dirtbag Christmas at work this year, Jennie and I made each other gifts at home – instead of buying them – and I still felt sort of like a dirtbag.

Sort of.

See, I’ve had some very undirtbag moments this year. The weirdest?

In October, a public speaking gig got me put up in the fanciest hotel I’ve ever stayed at. They flew me first class to the event and rented a late-model, bright red Mustang for me to drive. At the rental counter I said, “Oh, no thanks. I don’t need a Mustang.” But the rental agency woman just smiled at me and said, “You’ll love it. It’s such a great car.”

In classy style – as if I was fighting against the new me – I did accidentally flip the car into reverse as I drove forward into valet parking, grinding the gears so loudly that all of the valet parking boys doubled over laughing.

That felt dirty. But still, there was valet parking at this hotel. Only valet parking. No other option but valet parking.

Yet a dirtbag is a dirtbag is a dirtbag…

A dirtbag spends less money, believes in time over money, believes that working is only worth it if it means that he is buying more time. A dirtbag would rather lay his sleeping bag in the dirt, the free dirt, than pay for a campsite, a motel, a tent, or anything else. More time outside. More time climbing. Swimming rather than showers. Sharing food rather than networking. Sleeping on someone’s floor to save money. Surfing more. Biking more. Skateboarding in the street. Laying in the sun and reading. Climbing a tree and staring at the clouds.

Another thing: I’ve been injured this year. I tore four ribs off of my sternum joint in an accident in February and spent all year doing physical therapy. I’m mostly healed now, but the doctors told me that the dent in my chest wall will never go away and I may never climb like I did before the accident. Being injured is funny for a physical person because it’s hard to feel rugged when you’re in pain all of the time. How rugged is a man laying in the fetal position on the floor, high on Percocet?

But I did get out this year anyway. And here’s a Dirtbag-6 list for those who like lists:

1. Nights camping this year: 29

2. Months wearing the same pair of shorts: 2 straight

3. Best outdoor endurance climbing day: July 17th, 36 routes, The Columns, Eugene, 1692 vertical feet, 5.8 to 5.10a

4. Backpacking trips: 3 (The best: Alder Springs, Squaw Creek Canyon, Central Oregon)

5. Days swimming in a river this year: 37 (most recently, December 18th, Polar Bear Swim, Willamette River, Oregon)

6. Nights slept on a floor this year: 13

I’ve also eaten a lot of free food, taken donations from my friends’ deep freezers, gone two full days just on food-scores from a single staff meeting, waited until people left a pizza place then finished all of their leftovers, and scored a box of Twinkies from a trashcan.

But let’s see…Proudest dirtbag moment of the year?

One night, a few weeks ago, Jennie returned home from a walk and said, “I found us a Christmas tree, and it’s perfect. I just need help getting it because it’s at a dumpster.” Nine feet tall, with the top broken off, I cut and reshaped it into one of the prettiest 7-foot Christmas trees anyone has ever seen. Forty dollars saved.

And finally, two nights ago, I was given my brother-in-law’s “too tight new jeans.” They’re Ralph Lauren jeans with the sales tags still on. My daughter turned to me and said, “Take ‘em back, dirtbag. What could you do with all that money?”

 

Best of 2013 Lists

LET THEM BE EATEN BY BEARS just made Parents Magazine “Top 5 Books of 2013” list:
http://www.parents.com/blogs/mom-must-read/2013/12/19/must-read/parents-picks-my-top-5-books-of-2013/

And GRAPHIC THE VALLEY was chosen for LitReactor’s “Best Books Of 2013”:
http://litreactor.com/columns/litreactor-staff-picks-the-best-books-of-2013

I’m so grateful to be included on their lists.