Convert an old 10 speed bike to a 15 speed

October 29th, 2023

In 1972 I was one year into my tipi phase. I’d dropped out of high school in ’71 to build the tipi on the commune. I’ve written previously about this period. Or use the search function at the top of the page to search for tipi. Anyway, somewhere in that time period family legend has it that I may or may not have bought something as an investment, sold it, and made enough profit to buy this 10 speed bicycle. Or maybe I just dreamed it all. There were so many recreational drugs floating around back in those crazy commune days…who knows what really happened. But two years later when I sobered up, finished high school and went to college, I had (and still have) a nice 1972 Sekai 10 speed. That bike was my first car. I’ve known that old bike longer than I’ve known Sue. The only thing I own that is older is my first harmonica from 1967.

A few years ago I started riding Clint’s 1996 Schwinn Mesa 21 speed mountain bike. He had long moved onto better bikes and left it in our garage. I liked the granny gear for hills, and it was strong enough to fly over curbs without bending the rims.

Clint's Schwinn Mesa
Clint’s Schwinn Mesa

But a couple weeks ago the Schwinn’s frame broke and I had to dust off my 10 speed. It has a granny gear, but it’s a seven inch sprocket. I was spoiled by Clints Schwinn which had a 3.5 inch granny gear. Full disclosure: I already have 7 gears in the back on my 10 speed with an updated rear derailleur. So technically it is a 14 speed, not a ten speed. But to keep this story simpler, I’m still calling it a 10 speed.

At 69 I’m finally too old (or out of shape) to pedal my ten speed up the Tacoma hills. I wanted to change it to a 15 speed. But you can’t just slap on a 3 inch granny gear. The front crank of a ten speed isn’t designed for 3 front gears – sprockets. However, I had the old broken down mountain bike, and those all have 3 gears on the front. In a Eureka moment I wondered: could I swap the front transmission from the 21 speed mtn bike to my ten speed?

I looked online and there is no information on going from 2 to 3 sprockets. In fact, lots of people are going from 3 to 1. 

So I carried my two antique bikes into Second Cycle in Tacoma and explained my crazy idea. They didn’t bat an eye. “Try it!” they said, “it might work”.

The mechanics showed me how to mount my bike in the bike repair stand and pointed to the wall of Park brand specialty bike tools. They explained the hourly rental rates, which were very low, and said to grab them if I had questions.

I’ve worked on bikes for 50 years, but this was uncharted territory for me. I’d completely forgotten how to remove links from a new chain, or how to pull a stuck crank. It was super nice to have friendly and knowledgeable mechanics available when I got over my head. They showed me what to do, but made sure that I did the work. And tools, wow, they had a tool for everything!

Whenever I needed a new part or cable, they had one on hand.  One part isn’t even made any more, so they found a 50 year old used part in a bin that was perfect.

I was there 3 hours, but when I saw that new transmission working, I was pretty stoked. I had so much fun working on the bike that I went next door to their commercial outlet and bought a few Park branded bike tools of my own. Now I have my own crank puller and several specialty chain maintenance tools for the next time I have to mess with transmissions.

Second Cycle is a great resource for Tacoma. There are a few other bike shops in town, but this is the only one offering rental work space for DIY people who need access to specialty bike tools. I was very impressed and will be visiting them again. 

I took the bike for a ride and with the new 3.5 inch granny gear it was much easier on the hills. I did notice that the front derailleur is very touchy. It will shift to the bottom and middle gear, but doesn’t like the biggest gear. Because I was riding a few blocks from what used to be called “Old Town Bikes”, I rode in and had their mechanic look at my Frankenstein bike. He immediately said that my bottom bracket was set up for 10 speeds (naturally).

He explained that the reason my front shifter was struggling was that my bottom bracket needed to have a longer, mountain bike axle, to match up with my mtn bike crank and derailleur. This would move the sprockets farther out…or maybe it was in? Anyway, he seemed quite sure that the proper bottom bracket axle would fix my shifting problems. I also had him order a new front derailleur. Anything would be better than Clint’s worn out 1996 derailleur. Parts totaled $39 and will be here in a couple weeks.

In the meantime, I may buy the tools to fix the bottom bracket myself.

Table Tennis lesson

October 11th, 2023

I never understood the difference between table tennis and ping pong until recently. It turns out…ping pong is the sport most of us know. We play it in basements, garages, unused bedrooms, church community rooms, taverns, etc.

Table tennis always sounded hoity-toity – even elitist when used to describe the fun and friendly family game I’ve played since the seventh grade, starting in dad’s basement. Sue and I play down at the community center two hours, up to three times a week when we are in town. It’s great exercise, easy on the knees, super social and just a lot of fun. But I’ve noticed that there are two classes of players.

The first group, which Sue and I fit into, is made of people who just do it for fun. They’ve never played in a tournament, they are self taught, never had a lesson, and usually play with cheap Big5 paddles. And you can do this for decades. Depending on how often you play you can gradually develop some nice moves, just by trial and error. That’s what’s great about the sport. Anyone with normal athleticism can pick it up quickly. Playing regularly rapidly increases your skill.

But I’ve noticed there is a second group of players. They have skills that are far advanced beyond us regular folks. They have bizarre serves that can completely dominate a game. Their spins and spikes are un-returnable. The ball comes across the net like a gunshot. Or if it’s slower, it’s spinning so fast that you can’t return it. The ball flies into the net or off the table.

As my basement skills got better I was continually dominated by these exceptional players. But there aren’t many of them. They don’t usually play in our little community center. A few have started showing up, probably because it’s shorter drive, or it fits their work schedule better.

I started watching some youtube videos on how to improve. Both our ace players, and the youtube people were using better paddles. Instead of the $100 paddle I had, they were using custom assembled paddles in the $300 range.

So I decided to upgrade my paddle. I ordered two sheets of rubber, one red and one black. I was originally going to put the new rubber on my old $50 wooden bat by peeling off the $50 worth of rubber. But my youtube studies had revealed that the wooden bat was 70% of the paddle. Why put expensive rubber on a cheap bat? I did more research and ordered a $150 wooden bat. I also ordered the glue for attaching the rubber to the bat, along with some adhesive plastic protector sheets and a zippered paddle bag.

I was worried about destroying $300 worth of high end paddle parts due to my inexperience. But with the help of my trusty YT tutorials I did a great job.

Glue on new table tennis rubbers

Sadly, all that money only marginally improved my playing. I was still getting badly schooled by the true Table Tennis players. Randy (60), Bob (83) and Alex (55?) would simply smoke me in our doubles matches. They’d take turns playing with me because my-our team would always lose. Now it’s true that playing with people better than you is good. You do pick stuff up, and you have to up your game.

But eventually I came to realize how little I really knew. Those guys are light years ahead of me. They were true Table Tennis players, and I was just a ping pong player. Long story short, I took a lesson at the local Table Tennis club. And wow, it was worth it!

Things I learned:

  • put your index finger straight out on the paddle for stabilization on both backhand and forehand
  • grab the paddle up as high as you can, next to the rubber
  • swing from down low to up high in a sweeping forward motion in both backhand and forehand
  • keep the top of the paddle tilted toward the table
  • to loop, tilt the paddle even more and brush the top of the ball. It will sound softer as the rubber applies spin instead of just a straight smack.
  • practice forehand and backhand drills with a box of balls so you don’t spend all your time chasing balls.
  • don’t play to win, play to prolong the drills
  • if the ball comes to the center of the table, and it is neither FH or BH, dodge left or right to make it one or the other. Don’t change your grip!
  • If your opponent holds his paddle by his left shoulder and strokes to his right shoulder, counter the spin by angling your paddle toward the beginning shoulder, and vice versa.
  • Always prepare for a topspin serve with paddle held in topspin position. If it comes over really fast, it will be a top spin and must be countered with same.
  • If it comes over slow it will be a bottom spin and you will have time to change your paddle to a chop (a lift).
  • When you chop, keep the ball low over the net and dead slow. It needs to be so low, soft and short over the net that it bounces twice on their side, preventing them from doing a long windup to a loop.

That was $40 for a one hour lesson and money well spent. I think I’ll go again. The way I could play while he was coaching me was remarkable. He kept correcting my bad habits. My balls were flying over the net fast, low and true. And when I missed, which I did a lot, he simply pulled another ball out of the box. He never frowned or tried to smoke me. It was all patience and positive encouragement.

Unlike my usual pattern of spending money to purchase stupid toys, gadgets or tools I rarely use, I spent money to buy knowledge that will improve my skills. Reminds me of that old saying: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Squamish with Sue

September 29th, 2023

Wow, I have really got out of the habit of journaling. Not sure if that means life got boring? It’s raining outside with that dreary steadiness that signals fall is here. Clint is on a 5 day bow hunting trip. Lisa is 6 weeks out from having baby Levi.

I stopped daily shaving when I retired. But that leads to problems when my old Remington electric struggles with a 5 day growth. Six months ago I was shopping for a new electric razor when I saw an ad for Harry’s razor blades and started using those when my whiskers were out of control. Harry’s was convenient due to Amazon Prime free next day shipping.

The Harry’s handle is plastic and not inspiring. The 5 blade replacement head feels like it’s going to slip out instead of snapping in place.

Somehow I got obsessed with upgrading to a wet shaving safety razor. I was already using a shaving soap when I used the Harry’s razor…but I hadn’t started down the rabbit hole of the wet shaving world, which involves shaving brushes, fatty shaving creams that suds, and the flashy youtube videos about high end Safety Razors. If I had gone to college like most of my middle class generation, I’m sure I would have been using Gilette razors in the dorm bathroom, absorbing the ancient handed down culture from my peers.

But during that era I was living in a teepee and hitchhiking the west, stoned whenever possible.

As to how I got hooked into this recent revival of traditional wet shaving…just another sheep riding the advertising train. It’s a compelling pitch: disposable razors like Harry’s cost more and end up in the landfill. Also they can lead to skin irritation. Whereas single edge (SE) or double edge (DE) safety razors solve some of those problems.

There is also an old school mystique involved in the process. You have to lather up with the fancy brush, then paint your face white like a Santa Claus beard. You scrape the foam off with the blade leaving smooth skin. And the culture, there are multiple channels on youtube and reddit about this revival of the lost art. There are terms for the stages of shaving. My favorite one is BBS (Baby Butt Smooth). Another is ATG (Across The Grain). I mean, who knew? Bottom line is I’m sure I saw my dad and uncles doing it back in the late fifties, and that is part of the appeal.

This is the first video that caught my eye. Based on his review I ended up buying the Supply single edge Pro. It’s a very shiny little bobble made from a single block of steel.

But once I got it, I found that it wasn’t an especially good starter razor. I immediately cut myself with it, several times, and it was also a little hard to clean. Once you go down that rabbit hole you look around and see all kinds of things, like this guy. He is definitely not what I would consider a peer. He’s clearly not a climber…but when you are obsessed, it doesn’t matter. His content is flashy, will lit with perfect audio and video editing. Very old school in a new school sort of way…if that makes sense. He advocates double edge (DE) safety razors because you get two sides to shave with before you have to rinse. And the blades are far cheaper and easier to find.

Long story short, I bought the Rockwell 6S. It’s a nice stainless steel razor that looks like it could survive the Apocalypse. While using that, I kept watching youtube shaving videos and realized I wanted a razor that could adjust quickly for shaving depth. I got this Merkur Progress Adjustable razor. Now, obviously there are $25 razors on Amazon that work just fine. You don’t have to spend upwards of $120 on a stupid razor. But once the shopping frenzy begins, all bets are off.

In looking at my Amazon Prime orders page it’s clear someone was spending too much time on the couch pressing the ‘buy now’ button. Without a job, I like to joke that my spending habits are helping to support the economy. I mean, somebodies got to do it right? Here is my month of bad decisions:

My month wasn’t all shopaholic frenzy. I also did most of the 50,000 mile maintenance on our Tundra. There are 6 things under there that need maintenance: Radiator coolant; engine oil; Automatic transmission; front differential; transfer case and rear differential. I did 5 of them. Our mechanic does the AT fluid…I don’t want to learn that one.

DIY climbing kneepads

I’ve been climbing with kneepads since 1977. They were common then, rare now. I’ve gone through many iterations of kneepads. They all have the same problem: the velcro and elastic straps wear out. I’ve repeatedly sewn on or tucked up sagging elastic to keep a pair going. Adding leather is easy, but even it wears out.

Kneepad
DIY Kneepad

I’m quite proud of this latest pair. I invented a way to make the elastic one piece, and have it be adjustable for tension. This way it can adapt to different pants and shorts, and even be moved from my knee to my shin. I usually start with a pair of soft hunting knee pads from Lowes. I sew on thin leather and convert the straps from velcro (always wears out) to permanently sewn elastic bands.

But I’d forgot to stock up on a reserve pair of pads. On a side note, Carhart jeans come with a double knee into which you can insert removable kneepads. I’ve worn out several pairs of those climbing. I tossed the jeans but kept the pads. With the pads and leather on hand, plus my extensive experience adapting and repairing knee pads, I realized I could skip the trip to Lowes.

The old Carhart foam rubber kneepads had a shallow formed pocket over the knee. They were also slightly thinner than the ones from Lowes. I used stiff paper to make a pattern the exact size of the pads, but with tabs sticking out. I’ve been doing this on my adapted pads. The tabs give you a place to sew on the one inch elastic bands. But I wanted to improve on that. I could decrease the maintenance sewing (they last years) by adding in lacing holes. Like on shoes, or my crack gloves. I used a patch of full grain leather to reinforce the lace hole and keep it rigid. I also used thicker leather on the main pad surface. It’s not quite full grain. It’s called Kodiak Oil-Tanned Side Weight/thickness: 4 to 5 oz. (1.6 to 2.0 mm). People use it to make $300 carry on duffle bags, or doctor bags.

On the adjustable part, I added one inch webbing for the last 6 inches, but just where the buckle is. I’ve climbed about 20 pitches in them and they are my best pads ever.

Boy, backdating 3 months of journal entries is a pain. I need to get better at this. Partly it has been the distraction of long Covid. I finally got that diagnosed as PMR. Polymyalgia rheumatica is inflammation in the muscles around the shoulders, neck and hips. It could have been triggered by my Covid in April. Both times I got Covid I had pain in my joints. But the second time it stayed and became chronic. He said I could have also got PMR by simply getting old. Like the Menieres disease that took out the hearing in my left ear, I may have just got unlucky. My neurologist is treating it with a long taper of Prednisone. But the side effects are substantial. If I had to choose between extremely sore joints or Prednisone side effects…well, I’m 7 weeks into Prednisone, beginning August 8. I’m following doctors orders which started with 15mg daily, tapered down to 10mg now.

I’m going to insert these photos as a gallery, rather than full size. It should be faster. Also shown, but not written about is the rickshaw I made for carrying grandkids (we have 4 now). My broken bicycle, three trips to Squamish and two paintings

Stevenson Warmlite sleeping bag

August 31st, 2023

I bought this Stevenson sleeping bag in 1979. I still use it today when I am winter camping at Joshua Tree or Indian Creek. It is good to minus 20 below. In the early 80’s the inner vapor barrier fabric developed a delamination problem. I sent it back and they fixed it for free. Forty four years later it finally it has a blown out zipper where the thick top connects to the bottom.

There are two zippers on each side, and it is the upper one that blew, and just on one side: the right.

The company is still around and may be able to send me a replacement zipper.

6 foot bag with a thin top and a thick top
6 foot bag with a thin top and a thick top

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close up of the tag - label from 1979
Close up of the tag – label from 1979

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the zippers for the thick top where it attaches to the bottom
the zippers for the thick top where it attaches to the bottom

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the zipper that blew  which connects thick top to thin top
The zipper that blew which connects thick top to thin top. Original silver vapor barrier fabric can be seen where it was covered up in the 1982 repair job.

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The neck barrier on top and bottom pieces
The neck barrier on top and bottom pieces

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zipper for down filled air mattress
zipper for down filled air mattress

City of Rocks Over 50 meet up June 2023

August 14th, 2023

On June 7 I arrived at Breadloaves and promptly ran into Jill and Meg, friends from years past. That evening I followed them down to Bath Rock where Helen and Paul had an extra parking spot.

Jill and I climbed at Lost World. On the way over in my truck I saw her eyeing the rubber chicken I keep on the console.

“Don’t even think about squeezing my chicken!”

Jill promptly grabbed it and squeezed several times, with the chicken emitting a squeal each time.

“Aw jeez, why does everyone have to squeeze my damn chicken?”

“Hey, and old dude like you should be happy a woman wants to squeeze your chicken!”

The 5.9 at the far right end of Lost World has a bouldery start above a ledge. Jill started up but didn’t like it.

“Push me up, I don’t want to fall. Just grab my butt and push!”

“But Jill, my wife says I shouldn’t grab other women’s butts!”

“I’m a lesbian, it doesn’t count! Now push!”

It’s almost two months later and I’ve forgotten most of this trip. I also climbed with Suzy for a day. Joan, who Sue and I have climbed with a couple times before, showed up after a week and we made a good team for the remaining two weeks.

Joan is a solid trad leader and we were able to swing leads on some new crags I’ve never been to including the crack house on the back side of Castle Rock, as well as Creekside Crag. Both of those have a nice collection of 5.7 to 5.9 crack climbs.

My long Covid joint pain was on a down swing so I was only limited by my right knee which didn’t like high steps. I ended the trip with a hang dog ascent on Bloody Fingers. I hung at least 7 times, including the first 25 feet of rattly hands. But there were long sections where I had to climb above small gear, like a 00 brassy, or a sketchy cam. I wasn’t always able to pull on gear and had to really climb much of it. Near the crux at the top I was hanging-resting on a super sketch flared #1 red. Then I had to climb above that thru the friction crux. There may have been a semi good green, but after that it was go time to the top where I got in a tipped out yellow totem right before the chains.

I needed a lot more prep time to get ready for that climb. I basically went from 5.8 to 5.10, much too big of a jump.

A few days after returning Sue and I went to Squamish but my joints were acting up and I could barely bend my knees enough to climb 5.8. We bailed early after 5 days and I went in to to see my doctor. She gave me a 12 day tapered prescription for Prednisone. That was an overnight miracle cure. All my long covid joint pain symptoms vanished.

A couple weeks later I went back to Squamish with James to meet Chad and L. By chowing down on Ibuprofen I was mostly able to climb, but I was only half the climber I used to be. We thrashed up Sky Walker. That used to be a cruiser for me, but I was super sketched on most of my leads. It sucks losing all your skill.

We did have a fun time on Front Side 180. It’s a 9 pitch bolted 5.7 at Chek. The walk off is long and I was glad to have walk off shoes.

August 8th I went in to see a Neurologist. He diagnosed me with PMR, possibly triggered by Covid. But it could have also just been bad luck & old age. Similar to Menieres Disease, which I got at 40, PMR hits people at 60. Gosh, there are so many fun milestones while getting old.

PolyMyalgia Rheumatica is an inflammatory disorder. He said he can cure me and prescribed a low dose of Prednisone in a months long taper. I was very relieved to finally put a name to all these symptoms.

The drugs started working after 3 days. Most of my pain is gone. One of the warning symptoms that you are getting PMR is pain in the neck. Not surprisingly, I’ve had a trick neck for 3 months. I have trouble looking to my left. Now, finally, I can use my neck again. Necks are quite useful when they work.

Friday I went for a bike ride to the Amazon yellow box for a package. As I was coasting down a gentle hill in the mellow evening light, I saw an insect zooming toward me. I figured he’d just bounce off but no. He slammed into my bare neck and bit me right below the adams apple 3 times. I guess African Killer Bees have entered our town. It burned like a hot poker for the next hour. Then I started swelling up. It’s freaky to get bit on the neck right by the windpipe. I was worried it would start to choke me.

Then my entire body started to itch like crazy, from my feet to my hands and scalp. Everything was on fire! I realized I was having some kind of a reaction. I called Lisa and she said to take 2 benadryl. That seemed to stop the acceleration of symptoms but my chest continued to swell up and redden. Sue was worried I’d go into anaphylactic shock.

While all that was going on, Lisa went into labor at midnight. They couldn’t bring their 2 year old to the hospital so Sue rushed down to their house in the middle of the night. I was too messed up from the bee sting to go with her.

By the next day we had a new grand kid. I drove the Tundra down to see them at the hospital. They were there two nights but were home Sunday.

My symptoms have backed off to the point where I can play ping pong again. I’m half the player I used to be due to stiffness, but it’s nice to be back in the game.

I’ve been working through the Tundra 50,000 mile service. So far I’ve changed the gear oil in both differentials. Next up is the transfer case. It uses a flat 75 weight oil and has weird drain plugs. They use pipe threads with a 10mm allen bolt. You either have to apply your own sealant, like on a house water pipe, or buy the drain plug from the dealer with the sealant already applied to the threads. Craig advised the dealer route since there were no specs on the proper pipe thread sealant.

The Proposal

July 8th, 2023

I watch TV. Let me rephrase that…don’t own a TV, but my seven year old MacBook might as well be one. For 10 years I had netflix, but they kept raising the price so I switched to Amazon, and then added HBO. Fun fact: ten years from now these brands may not exist. I enjoy vegging out in the evenings, especially when I don’t have a painting or sewing project going.

I just watched a good movie on HBO called: “That Awkward Moment“. It’s about 3 guys who are roommates with commitment issues. They date girls, but don’t want to commit. In the movie, two of the guys finally “commit” to their girlfriends. It’s cute and moving, and it reminded me of that moment for Sue and I. I’ve been told (by Cass) that we have the last surviving long term marriage in America.

Now I have to say, Cass moves in different circles than Sue and I. In her world, that’s probably true. And with the divorce rate hovering around 50%, it does make you wonder. But Sue and I have it pretty good. When it’s good, it’s really good. And when it’s bad, it’s not that bad, we just wait until it’s good again. Out of 25 people that regularly play ping pong at the community center, we are the only married couple who play ping pong together, and definitely the only couple we know of who still climb and backcountry ski together. That’s saying a lot given our wide circle of friends and acquaintances.

The Story

If you know me in person you’ve probably heard this tale: When I was 17, I dropped out of high school, built a tipi from scratch and lived in it off and on for three years when I wasn’t hitchhiking to warmer weather in California. This was back in the days of free love and communes. Things got crazy and I lived in the moment. Truth be told I was a very stupid young teenager…the ‘recreational’ drugs didn’t help.

Me at my hand built tipi in 1971
Me in front of my hand built tipi in 1971

But after 3 years off the rails, at the age of 20, I realized I was heading down the wrong road. I sobered up, spent a year in trade school and got a solid blue collar job in printing that paid the bills. I met Sue in a hiking class and by our second date (hike) I knew she was special.

She liked me too and we mutually decided to date, or be what is now called exclusive. At that time we used to call it boyfriend – girlfriend…or maybe it was going steady? It was so long ago I can’t remember. I do remember the conversation.

We had just returned from a group hike out on the coast to Point of the Arches. Her ‘special friend’ was there. I thought he was her ex boyfriend, though she said he was just a good friend. At any rate, he liked Sue a lot, and they had spend a lot of time together at parties and hiking trips before she met me. I told her that he, or, rather the time she spent with him, made me uncomfortable…and that, if she was serious about us…she should cut back on the time she spent with him…because he clearly didn’t see himself as ‘just a friend’.

She got real serious and said OK, that he really didn’t mean that much to her. She wanted to be with me also. She may have even cried…maybe we both cried. It was a turning point for us, riding back to town in the back seat of that VW bus after a 3 day group backpacking trip. I put my arm around her for the rest of the drive, thinking that maybe we were a couple…that we had found something special.

Sue meets my parents 1976

Things just got better and better after that. We went on many hikes together, rain or shine we were outside eating up the miles and meeting for pizza midweek. I remember a day around the six month point. We were lounging around in her bedroom, upstairs at her parents house. She was still living at home while she worked her way through her second associates degree. She was 23, I was 22.

I was absolutely sure she was the one. 47 years later, when I think of how young we were back then, I’m really shocked at my clarity of mind, but not all surprised at her answer.

(Proposal #1, 1976)

“Do you want to get married?” I asked.

“No way, I hardly know you!!”

She didn’t say it meanly, but she clearly meant it. This just goes to show how different men and women are. Or maybe just how clueless I was. I had no idea what was going through her mind. We kept hiking, climbing and skiing together as if nothing had happened.

Two years later she had finished college, got a good job and moved out into her own apartment, conveniently located two short blocks down the alley from mine. Not counting work, we were spending all our time together. Every weekend we were climbing or XC skiing. We were sitting on the couch together one evening after dinner. I think she was sitting in my lap. Out of the blue she said:

(Proposal #2, 1978)

“Do you want to get married?”

I was kind of shocked. I’d asked her two years before and she’d said no. So I said:

“Why should we get married? We’re doing just great as we are. Besides you talk an awful lot, I think I might go crazy if we were married. But I think moving in together might be good. Do you want to do that and save some money?”

“No! Absolutely not. Not until we get married.”

So another year went by, lots of climbing, skiing and parties with our tight circle of Mountaineer friends. Finally, we were having a quiet moment in her apartment and she said:

(Proposal #3, 1979)

“We should get married.”

“Why, we’re doing just fine!” I asked.

“If you won’t marry me, I’m going to start dating Larry again.”

“Geez, OK, let’s get married!”

And so we did.

Sue and I, 1979

Long Covid sore joints

June 6th, 2023

By the third week of my April trip to Indian Creek (April 21), I had a persistent cough and very sore knees. I attributed that to not enough rest days, and the cough to allergies. Neither was crippling, but Sue sounded increasingly lonely on our weekly phone calls. Coming home to my family and my soft couch vs suffering with sore knees became a no brainer.

But here I am, 5 weeks later, still dealing with sore knees and an asthmatic cough.The beginnings of Covid that I carried home from the creek quickly became a nasty 4 days of suffering on the couch. And Sue was right there with me. She caught it from me after a 4 day delay.

When we got Covid in February of 2020 the symptoms were very similar, though Sue never gets the joint aches. The difference this time around is that the ridiculous joint aches won’t leave. I was warned by Christine to “see your doctor and get some meds!”, which I ignored. Sue took 5 days of Paxlovid and got better much faster, though she still hasn’t got her wind back.

You can get free Covid test kits at the pharmacy, so we watched as the ‘positive’ line gradually got fainter until May 5 when we both tested negative.

My problem now, 5 weeks later is that I can’t kneel. Or if I do, I can’t get up. It feels like there is cement in my knees. When I bend them fully, like in a squat, the pain is awful. And I’m stuck there, literally can’t stand up without pulling on something nearby, like a table. As you can expect, this is not fun when I’m trying to climb something that requires a high step. Or just working on the car. My hips and shoulders are also very sore. I’ve had sour shoulders for decades, but now everything is exacerbated.

When I got home I had to swap out the winter tires, grease the suspension on both cars, change the oil, secure our catalytic converters with stainless steel cables and swap my 100 watt solar panel with a 200 watt to support the new electric fridge. That was a lot of kneeling, and every single deep knee bend was excruciating.

This week I finally felt good enough to go back to the gym after two months away. I can climb reasonably well, unless there is a high step…and then I’m squealing like a little girl.

My research tells me there is nothing to be done…you just have to out live it. Supposedly each deep knee bend squishes more poison out of the joint. It’s the old: “No pain, no gain”. Like right now, writing this long whiny journal entry, I have my legs elevated out straight on a apple box. It’s comfortable. But when I lift them onto the floor and bend the knee…it’s like there is red hot cement in the joint, it doesn’t want to be flexed, open or closed.

So my punishment for today is to ride my unicycle. Which isn’t fun at all, since my knees hurt and my wind sucks due to the asthma triggered by the long ago Covid.

It’s a week later and I’ve been to the gym 3 times. I’m actually building up some plastic power. I’ve also unicycled 5 times. I was rusty, but: “It’s just like getting back on a bicycle”. We also hiked up to Panorama Point with 7 and 8 month pregnant Lisa and Jamie, who both carried their two year old daughters Olivia and Rose. Those women are so strong! I was weak, but with lots of rests made it to my normal painting spot. I’ve heard that a month is a normal recover time from Covid, so hopefully all my symptoms will vanish soon.

I often fail to finish my plein air Rainier paintings. I’d carried one up. It was semi finished on the top, but needed the bottom finished. Sadly, the entire damn mountain was covered in clouds. I set up my easel anyway, hoping I’d get a few peeks.

As I was painting from memory, I wondered if I was hallucinating, because I kept hearing the distant tones of horns, like something from the Swiss alps. Then these two showed up and played a song for me. They carried those horns up hill through two miles of deep snow. People are still skiing. Clint just skied off the summit last week. That is a small patch of dirt where I’d set up to avoid standing in snow.

Alp horns
Alp horns

Solo at the Creek in April

May 9th, 2023

April 5, 2023 Creek Pasture campground, note, all photos on this trip taken with my iPhone 14 Pro. I had my full frame camera, but my pack was too heavy already. I also have a couple hours of video boiled down to 19 minutes here:

I left home Sunday at 1pm and drove to Farewell Bend campground arriving at dusk. I passed a couple campgrounds in the Blue mountains because they were either too expensive (Emigrant Springs) or closed In winter (Hilgard Junction State Park). Farewell Bend is all closed except the $33 electric loop. I slept until 9:30.

Traffic was ok in Boise though their 10 year freeway improvement is starting to feel like Tacoma’s never ending construction.  Salt Lake traffic was hell due to snow flurries. When I started up Soldier Summit towards Price there was deep snow and slush on the road and a long line of cars following slow moving 18 wheelers. Occasional idiots tried to pass and I watched them fishtailing out into the oncoming traffic. It was clearly an accident waiting to happen. My Tundra has Nokian Hakkapeliitta studless snow tires and would have been fine, but I did not trust the other drivers.

This wasn’t my first rodeo on this road, I took a right  at the first paved turnoff  (Hwy 89) about 20 minutes up. I crossed the tracks and took the first non-private road (Lake Fork?) into the Utah County Sheriff’s Gun Range. Sue and I discovered this crash spot a few years ago under similar circumstances. This is the one that has a hidden entrance to a huge underground cave. Kids have covered the walls inside with graffiti. On our last visit I crawled down the body slot into the cathedral like interior. It was really cool, and maybe as long as a rope length, but the air was full of cloying paint fumes from the last group of teenage vandals. It’s not like there is any ventilation so the chemicals have nowhere to go. 39.99409° N, 111.49673° W. 

I texted Sue on the inReach to let her know I was ok. It was a little eerie being all alone there in a blizzard. The winds howled all night, blowing 5 inches of wind drift past my tailgate and onto my gear. 

Snowy camp spot
Snowy bivy spot, blizzard conditions

A pickup mounted snowplow woke me up at 6am. He had a key to the Range so must have worked for the sheriff. The storm had tapered off at 2AM leaving 4 inches of light powder. As I headed up the pass I’d hoped for easy driving but the snow plows up on Soldier Summit were kicking up huge blizzards of feather light powder. What should have been easy driving was white knuckle conditions. With no place to pull off, I followed the damn plow at a distance for half an hour. I had an 18 wheeler riding my bumper the whole way. He must have been able to see over the plow plume. After the plow turned off it was fine and I arrived at Creek Pasture at 3pm Tuesday.

Weather was a mixed bag. Windy, warm and sunny, overcast and cold. There are threatening gray clouds on the horizon with tendrils of precipitation coming down but so far it been dry. Chandler the camp host and climbing steward (climber coffee) person came by and introduced herself, asking where in Washington I was from. She’s from Marblemount and we exchanged a few words about how ridiculous it was to get partners to join us down here. Before leaving we were both sitting at home frantically sending out emails and texts to everyone we knew and getting totally shut down. 

She, like me had decided to just show up and meet new friends.  When you are sitting at home it seems like it would never work. But once you’ve experienced the magic you realize it’s effortless. Think about it: people who are serious about the Creek know that it takes weeks to acclimate. People with that kind of free time are few and far between. The chances that one of your local climbing partners has 20 days available is less than zero. The reasons I heard most frequently were: “I can’t get time off work” or “My kids are in school” or “I’m working extra shifts to pay for blah, blah, blah”. So you take a leap of faith, pack the car and drive.

Speaking of meeting partners: Wednesday I was zoning off in my camp chair, jet lagged from the drive. Couldn’t paint or climb. Seemed like a good day to watch the world go by. Climbers would walk by occasionally and I’d give a friendly wave. It’s kind of like swipe right on a dating app…except in real life. If the person walking past likes the look of your wave, they’ll wave back, and if you really play your cards right, or you’re both super desperate…maybe the same thing?…they’ll walk into your campsite and start talking climbing.

That was how I met Phil, The Guide. He was on a Winter long road trip that started when the Squamish guiding season ended. His journey had taken him deep into southern Mexico, not just the usual pass through El Potrero Chico. While climbing down South he had felt sorry for, and fed, a feral kitten, which shortly became his traveling companion.

Later when I knew him better we had a fun riff about how he was doing a public service by broadening the definition of “cat lady”. It’s not just lonely single women who collect cats.

Piton was shy with strangers but could usually be found hidden in the closet up in the ceiling. Phil tried to chase him out so he could roam around during the day, but he often preferred sleeping. He’d ask it patiently what it wanted to do that day, and the cat would just look at him. They seemed to communicate on some level. It was very cute. On the few times where I paid attention he would leave the roof fan on, saying that Piton would be fine. They were 5 months into their journey together and had worked the kinks out. He also mentioned that Piton preferred to prowl around in the safety of darkness.

I asked him if Piton ever got lost, or failed to come home. He showed me a stick with some jingly cat toys. When he was leaving he would shake the toys and Piton would come running out of the bush. He knew which side his bread was buttered on.

Thursday April 6. Phil met some new friends, a couple: Carson and Emily, along with a third 5.12 guy whose name I don’t recall. The couple had been there a month, climbing between showers. They were in their late twenties, super strong climbers, very young and ultra fit. She had long blond hair and a smile that could light up a room. Because I was so far from their level, and several generations older, I really didn’t have much in common with them. They were perfectly kind, and offered me top ropes and stuff…but I felt awkward around them. Maybe I was the one being shy and awkward…I don’t know…more on that later.

The five of us hiked up to 3D wall. Emily led a very hard looking 5.11 while Phil led a nice 10 that started with fun hands, and ended with #5 hand stacks. Phil has mastered almost the entire gamut of trad climbing from fingers and 0.75 greens up through #6. I rarely saw anything slow him down.

For my first day at the creek I did ok. I fell out of the 10 a couple of times, especially on the hand fist stacking section. There may have been a couple others I climbed. The unnamed guy led the 5.12 Positraction with a couple falls. He walked a couple of yellows so high that he would have decked…but that seems to be a thing at the creek. If you don’t have the cams, you make it work. Later in the trip I did it myself on a #6 crack.

Positraction 5.12
Positraction 5.12

This crag started a trend that continued throughout the trip. I’d follow my 5.11 (5.12) partners out to crags that had very little stuff I could lead. They’d warn me ahead of time that there wasn’t much easy stuff, but I’d say: “I don’t care, I’m just happy to see a new crag”. I might get a few top ropes in, but much of the stuff had long sections of 5.11 red #1 climbing.

Despite years of trying, I struggle with reds…so I’d often end up belaying or sitting around wishing I had my drawing pad. Reds always get a little easier towards the end of a trip. Part of it is stamina, which has to be built over time. Also, I’ve noticed that people who have big hands like mine, and are also good at reds, have arm muscles twice the size of mine. I need to build a crack machine at home to muscle up!

Friday April 7 Phil and I went up to the left side of Donnelly, which is called Battle of the Bulge. I hung dog the red section of Binous 5.9. Phil led Battle of the Bulge 5.11. Though hoping to get it clean, he fell at the crux…which is the bulge. It’s greens most of the way, which for me is an even worse size than reds. We also climbed a 10 up and left from Binous. It started in a body slot then exited left past a small roof into a double crack of rattly fingers, which got tighter towards the anchor. It was a fun climb, but I can’t find it on mountain project.

Battle of the Bulge
Battle of the Bulge 5.11, mostly green 0.75

Saturday April 8 Phil met his buddy Anthony (from both Mexico and Squamish) and the three of us went up to Power Wall. Anthony (28) was also on a multi month road trip. He was in a Chevy Van, maybe an Astro? He had a nice build out with some handy sliding shelves. He was running a small electric fridge on an even smaller battery (30 Amp Hr) recharged with a 100 watt solar panel. He works as an HVAC installer in Victoria, BC.

Anthony is a super gregarious guy, really a lot of positive energy. Later I met Christina and she was a huge Anthony fan: “He’s got a killer smile, just sayin!”. Anthony and Phil together are a fun couple of guys to hang out with. Phil has that amazing guide personality, plus being super strong. He plays and sings guitar like a dream, has all his songs memorized..and he has a cat. I mean, what’s not to like? Phil reminds me of myself at that age. Except I was never that strong, I was never that good on the guitar, wasn’t a guide, and didn’t have a cat. Other than that, and the 35 year age difference, we could have been the same person 🙂

Anthony and Phil became the nucleus of a climbing crew that I hung out with for the next three weeks. I felt very lucky to be included in their adventures. At Power Wall, I led Batteries not Included and got it clean…or if I didn’t I got it clean I got it when I came back a few days later with Dave. Phil flashed Power Play and Power Paws, both 5.11. I followed Power Play and Phil was very kind to give me the Senior Hoist belay when I ran out of juice half way up. Phil and Anthony took a TR on the 5.12 finger fest Power Line. It’s rattly fingers in an impossibly vertical featureless wall.

Phil on Power Play
Phil on Power Play

Sunday April 9 all the Colorado folks crowded into the campground and we took a rest day. I drove into town for the first time in 6 days. It was fun checking in on the family news. Lisa and Dan had finally bought their back ordered Tacoma. It took half a year to arrive and was a replacement for Lisa’s old 2008 Corolla which had been tail ended by a semi truck on I-5 almost a year earlier.

Monday April 10 Phil, Anthony and I drove up to Petrified Hornet crag. You drive towards Bridger Jacks but after a mile you take a fork to the left towards the Optimator crag. 8 years ago on my first trip to the creek with Daphney she led me up Soulfire at Optimator, a 5.11 tight hand crack. There is a fun 10 up there called Mudslide that I’d like to get back on. Anyway, from the Optimator parking lot…if you are looking at Optimator, turn 90 degrees to the left and you are looking at Petrified Hornet.

I got my first good onsight lead at Petrified on a splendid 10B corner splitter called Crescent Crack. I’d watched a Swiss girl lead it very cleanly with far less gear than I brought. What I didn’t know was that she leads 12’s…which was why she made it look so easy. I’d been hanging out with Phil and Anthony as they projected a 12- called Sting. Phil led it twice that day. The first time he took a pretty big whipper. I jumped a little as the rope came tight. “How was the catch?” I asked. “Perfect!”.

Sting
Phil leading Sting 5.12B. He got it clean.

But eventually they took a break and Phil gave me a catch on Crescent. I led it with 2 reds, 3 yellows, 6 blues and 3 #4’s. My monster mitts got decent fist jams through the last section but it’s definitely pumpy. It reminded me of a couple different routes. 4×4 crack has the same sustained section of blues, as does RattleTale at Index. Also Fisticuffs at Joshua Tree has some similar fist jamming at the end. It’s a lovely route, and I felt lucky to get it clean. As I walked my fours up the 20 feet of finishing flaring fists at the end I was puffing like an overworked cart horse.

I could hear my friends, even the Swiss couple, cheering me on down below. They all knew how badly I wanted to lead something cleanly after following and flailing on so many elevens. I was so happy at the top I may have even yodeled.

Crescent Crack
Crescent Crack

We started that day on the namesake route called Petrified Hornet. Both Phil and Anthony led it. I TR’d it and got most of it clean. With the exception of the bouldery start I probly could have done a hang dog ascent. It’s very nice with a short section of reds but mostly hands.

Petrified Hornet
Phil leading Petrified Hornet

We finished out the day on a pretty 5.11 called Kiefer Ari, named after the Creek Freak guidebook author’s son. Anthony tried to lead it first and kept falling off the boulder start. As his belayer, I was quite nervous. I had a couple sketchy cams protecting my belay perch above a 40 foot drop. He had two cams in also, but the rock looked sandy…not wingate. I kept imagining him blowing his cams and the two of us tumbling down the cliff.

Eventually he handed off the lead to Phil who sent it cleanly after a few ups and downs. I was glad to be team photographer after that. It’s a super sketchy ledge. I was creeping back and forth on the unconsolidated sand and boulders wishing for a belay. But then the two Swiss climbers came waltzing up no handed, completely unconcerned, easily and effortlessly stepping across the sandy downscoping ledges above the sheer 40 foot drop. Some people just have no fear.

Sue and I started as mountaineers in 1977. But even then, we would stop to belay things that our friends would scramble past, not bothering with a rope. There were times in the Cascades when we were so slow and careful that our friends would come free soloing down from the summit while we were still going up. Despite having left high camp at the same time. We’d look at each and say: “Those are the real mountaineers!”

Kiefer-Ari 5.11
Phil leading Kiefer-Ari 5.11
Phil leading Kiefer-Ari 5.11
Phil leading Kiefer-Ari 5.11

When we drove up to camp Handsome Dave was parked at my site. Sadly he only stayed 3 days, chased off by a short weather window.

Tuesday April 11 Phil, Dave and I drove to Trick or Treat, which is right of Fist Fight wall. Phil led Zits. It’s a nice climb for red #1 climbers. I cleaned it but cursed the entire way. I wonder if hanging a one inch gym rope from a tree in my back yard would help me build red power?

Next Phil led Horse Crack 5.11 There was a famous Creek pioneer called Steve Hong and his routes are legendary. He put a 12 minus extension on Horse crack called: “Hong like a Horse”. Originally there were no guidebooks to the creek, so the people who put up routes would carve the particulars on a football sized plaque at the base.

Hong like a Horse
Hong like a Horse route plaques

I tried to follow Horse, but it was almost all reds and I backed off at the bulge. Dave got it no problem. On days like these golf begins to look very attractive.

Dave on Horse
Dave on Horse

We went looking for Cow Crack but couldn’t find it. On the way Phil led an awful finger crack called Shine. It was a bit like Angel at Castle Rock. I tried it but my fingers were screaming and I came down. Dave had no problem.

Next Phil led Overthruster 5.11. It looked like I might have a chance since it was blues at the top, but I couldn’t get past the 20 feet of reds at the bottom. Dave cleaned it easily. This route was extremely pretty. A total splitter up a free standing pillar. And the top 40 feet is overhanging blues. Man I wanted to get that.

Overthruster
Dave following Overthruster

Wednesday April 12 Dave and I went back to Power Wall while Phil took a rest day. Dave had noticed that I’d got shut down on every route at Trick or Treat and recommended Power because of the eight and nine. Surprisingly, I led both of those cleanly. The nine is a few yellows then about 7 blues and a few fours. I found that the flare was easily passed by simply getting my feet as high as possible. That allowed me to reach past the flare into the good blue hands again. Super lovely route that fits me perfectly!

Chad and Sam on Unnamed 9+ in 2021

By Thursday April 13 we’d been climbing hard for 3 long days so I took a rest day. Dave rode his mountain bike all the way from Creek Pasture campground, past Newspaper Rock, up the hill to cell service. Then he turned off on Harts Draw road and circled back on the high plateau, eventually coming out near Hamburger Rock? Somewhere above 30 miles, much of it cross country carrying the bike.

I painted Bridger Jacks. Previously I’d done them in monotone, but this time I let my freak flag fly and did them in full color palette knife. It rained that night. In the morning Dave, who’d only been there a few days, decided to head to town. He hates boring rest days and after few hours in town decided to drive home. I thought that a little strange, but whatever, we’ve all got our own agendas and time tables.

Bridger Jacks rest day
Bridger Jacks rest day

Friday, April 14 was a forced rest day from the previous nights rain. I set up my easel in our campsite and began tuning up a few loose ends. I never get knife paintings completed in one day as they take longer than the light lasts. Think of buttering sandwiches for a crew of hundreds. It’s just so much hand work. As I tinkered with variations on color, many rain blocked climbers walked by and offered compliments. It’s a refreshing change from my climbing days. When I climb, especially early in a trip, I’m nothing remarkable, save for my white hair.

“Dude, it’s so cool that you’re still climbing, how old are you? I can’t imagine doing this at that age!”

But painters, of any age, are very thin on the ground, so it’s fun to be that guy doing something cool and unusual. But of all the people who came over, my most heart warming visit was Carson and Emily, the 5.11 climbers from day one in the creek.

I mentioned earlier that I wasn’t really able to “bond” with them because they were so far out of my league. They were kind, and I could be wrong here, but I felt like they saw me as just a washed up senior citizen, someone who may have been a climber decades ago, but now was just someone who needed a top rope.

But it turns out Emily is a painter and she asked if she could look at my painting up close. She walked over and leaned in close to my easel. When I saw her eyes get big, and that huge smile light up over my simple little painting…I was surprised.

The climbing community has some of the most beautiful people anywhere. Emily was pretty much at the top of the food chain. Tall, young, blonde and lean, with a great smile, she was a goddess…and frankly I found her a little intimidating. And I know that’s on me. She had been perfectly kind the day we climbed together.

But over the decades I’ve noticed that younger climbers tend to not “see” older climbers. It’s just the natural order of things. There are exceptions of course. My friend Sam was super friendly from day one, but she was climbing closer to my level, so we had things in common.

As Emily stared at my work, seeming to want to memorize every stroke, she told me a story about how she paints, but they didn’t have room in the Sprinter for her easel and canvases and it made her sad. Suddenly we seemed like peers as she asked questions about my choice of mediums, why I like palette knife oil painting, do I work in acrylics or water color? She also enjoys Gouache and we had a lovely conversation about art, her boyfriend Carson hovering nearby. He had admired the painting too, but wasn’t a painter so had less to say. They eventually wandered away and I kept working, my AirPods sound track calming my mind, keeping the demons at bay.

Bridger Jacks day 2
Bridger Jacks day 2

Later that day all my friends came by, Phil (So that’s the whole set up, eh?), Andrew (Can I take some pictures of you painting?) and a new friend Christina and her two friends. Everyone loved the painting.

It was nice to be good at something, even if it wasn’t climbing.

Saturday April 15 (I may be a day off?) we all drove to Donelly. In my Tundra were Phil, Anthony, Alex and me. Diana met us there and we all paired off. Alex and Phil went off to do hard stuff at Battle of the Bulge while Dianna, Anthony and I did Drainpipe and it’s neighbor, to the right of Chocolate Corner. These two tens are in one massive corner and were quite fun. I finally mastered the drop knee rest, thanks to excellent demonstration by Anthony. I couldn’t have led either, but enjoyed large parts of them. There is an awkward bulge on Drainpipe where the drop knee got much harder due to the flaring reds. But I hung in there and got up.

Drainpipe and Crack to left of Drainpipe
Drainpipe and Crack to left of Drainpipe. Diana belaying drop knee Anthony

We walked by Chocolate Corner and Binous but they were all swamped with weekender crowds. Finally we found a crack to the right of Rail Road crack with only two people in line. And it was a 9! That was fun. Diana is a super strong creek climber and decided to top rope Swedin-Ringle 5.12.

I walked over and found Phil and the crew at Battle. Alex led a 12C horror show called Digital Readout. Alex is a super strong climber. He is very slight, not at all a big muscled out hard man. But damn he can climb hard!

On the way through the parking lot I saw a crew of 5 climbers standing by the bulletin board. Their packs were at their feet and they looked like they were waiting for a bus. I could tell something was up so I said:

“How’s it going guys? Good day?”

“Yeah, we had a great day, but our friend fell and broke her finger. Our driver had to take our car to get her to the hospital…you’re not headed to Hamburger rock are you? We need a ride.”

“Uhhh, maybe? Oh hell, let’s look and see, it might work. I’m in that white Tundra.”

Their 5 added to our 4 made for a packed truck, considering that was also 9 full packs of Creek racks. But it was the right thing to do, and I was happy to help. My Tundra definitely has the muscle to carry large loads. It was a happy crew that motored out to Hamburger, which was only 5 miles past our campground. When they piled out everyone shook hands and they plied us with warm beer. They also passed out some little green buds in baggies…I think it might have been oregano? They were very grateful.

It felt good to be part of the rescue, they were cool dudes, members of the tribe.

Sunday April 16, 7 of us drove to Way Rambo. We started with me, Phil, Anthony, Christina and Haley. But as we drove down the hill from the Meat Basin outhouse towards the first river crossing, we saw Jacs and Alex backing up from the high water. It was too high for his Town and Country minivan. They returned to park at the outhouse where I picked them up in my amphibious crag mobile.

The first crossing wasn’t too bad but the second crossing at the Cottonwoods campground was much wider and the current reflected all the snow visible on the distant mountains. Phil got out and waded it, searching for the most shallow section. It came up to his lower thigh, or, a few inches above his knee…but Phil is 6 feet something…so some serious water, with current. No other cars were crossing…word had got out.

Eventually I said, hell with it, let’s do it. We motorboated across. Full speed ahead captain! Everyone cheered as we drove up the far side into the deserted campground. When we got to the trailhead for Way Rambo there was only one other vehicle: a ultra lifted diesel Ford F-450 with an overland conversion. He looked like he could ford the Mississippi. No other cars showed up all day, though a few folks walked in from the main road.

Way Rambo view
Haley enjoying the Way Rambo view

This was a new crag for me. I was at Pistol Whipped last year, but that’s a mile off to climbers right. Way Rambo has at least two routes I can lead. Blue Sun is a 10B that I was able to onsight with 7 yellows and 5 blues. Blue Sun turned out to be my favorite lead of the trip. It’s absolutely flawless hand jamming that just goes on for days. It’s never desperate and eats gear, with a couple zig zags that make for perfect rests. I like it better than Incredible Hand Crack. This photo is courtesy of Dan Mottinger on Mountain Project:

Blue Sun 10B, Photo credit to Dan Mottinger on Mountain Project

Phil and Alex both led an awful off width called Serrator. About 10 feet up it goes from climbable to bigger than fists. And there’s a pinch with a bombay below. So you reach up, do a hand fist stack, and try to jam your foot by your chin, above the pinch. If you can get past that, you’ve got hand fist stacking for 15 feet before you can get your knee in. At that point you can do the Levitation move, which is a no hands rest. This is assuming you can avoid getting your knee stuck. I got mine stuck twice.

Serrator
Haley on Serrator, Alex on right

When your knee is stuck in a splitter offwidth, it often means that you put your knee in, and it fit, but then you weight it and it slips down, lodging itself like a cork in a wine bottle. You need to move up to get it out, but the pain makes thinking difficult. Panic sets in, you forget how to hand fist stack, and there is nothing anyone can do to help.

The crack gets progressively wider as you ascend, eventually it’s a body slot near the top. But it’s a pain the entire way. In some sections the only viable option is to get out of it and layback the edge. Other than Battle of the Bulge and Powerline, this is the only climb I saw Phil struggle with.

I belayed him, and some of his comments were:

“I don’t feel safe here!”

“I’m crossing this off my tick list and not coming back.”

“I have no idea what to do at this move”

“I am an off width climber, I am!”

“This big bro placement sucks!”

We were all worried for him, the runouts on the fives and sixes were large. He got up it though. Phil also led Layaway Plan 11C. It’s a long and sustained red #1 climb, with a roof traverse at the end.

Phil on Layaway Plan 5.11
Phil on Layaway Plan 5.11

Phil and Alex also led Slice and Dice 5.12, which is all 0.75. I missed that because I was looking at a new 5.9 called Rochambeau. Phil and Andrew also led Way Rambo 5.12. I’ll go back to this crag, it’s great!

April 17 Monday was a rest day. Phil had proclaimed two on, one off and it felt right to me also. The Creek wears you down. I drove to town for supplies, watching the views for potential painting spots. On the way back I parked at Scarface – Power Wall and painted in the shade of the truck. I was really worried about this one. It was an unconventional composition and towards the end I couldn’t decide what color to paint the light rock. Tan didn’t look real, nor did pale green.

I kept throwing wild guesses and getting shot down. Fortunately no one was around to see all my bad decisions. I’ve noticed a pattern when people walk past my easel. If the painting is bad, they walk by, pause, and keep walking. What they do in the “pause” is what matters. I’m so close to the painting that I rarely know if it’s any good…literally don’t have a clue.

Towards the end of my session a couple climbers came walking up from Scarface talking animatedly about finger jamming:

“So yeah, I think I need to practice those ring locks at the gym, because that crack was just so sustained with .6’s that I got totally pumped out. Oh, look a painter, that’s cool.”

And then as they passed and looked back to where they could see the painting in the afternoon light there was a pause and then: “Oh my fucking god! That is amazing! Holy shit! I did not expect to see that!”

“Four Star” reaction for sure.

Scarface parking lot view
Scarface parking lot view, day 2
Scarface parking lot view
Scarface parking lot view, day 1 of 2

I was still unsure what I had so I waited until morning to show the first days work to Christina. She had asked me at camp how the painting went and I told her I was scared to look at it. After my morning coffee I decided to man up and let it see the light of day.

“Ok Christina, this might be a total train wreck, but here it is, what do you think?”

“Oh my, that’s not a train wreck at all, that is really nice! Good job Mark!!”

The morning after, painting or a train wreck?
The morning after, painting or a train wreck?

By this time Christina was camping with me to be closer to Phil and crew, who were down in site 5. We’d all meet for morning coffee around his table and talk about where to climb that day. One day, she got frustrated with the 11AM alpine starts and spent the morning reading in her van, waiting for ‘the crew’ to get ready.

After hearing about her frustration with our slow pace, I was trying to hurry the next morning, thinking maybe she and I could get an early start and meet the main crew later. But I had to visit the restroom next to Phils site, so I brought my cup of coffee over to see what ‘the crew’ was planning, before I went to see what Christina wanted to do. To my surprise, there she was, lazing around at the picnic table with the crew. And by the way, the crew was: Phil, Anthony, Haley, Jacs (Australian with minivan), Peter (Pharmacist from Norway), Nat (Squamish) his girlfriend Huly Nam and Alex, with maybe Dianna.

April 18 Tuesday seven of us headed towards 4×4 wall. As we approached the first crossing we saw Nat and Huly Nam on the far side afoot. They had parked at the restroom and forded the river on foot. They were just drying off their feet as we approached in the amphibious Tundra. I was feeling a little cocky and maybe going a little too fast. This was not my first rodeo. I hit the water hard and sent up a huge bow wave that went over the wind shield. As we motorboated across we could see Nat and his girlfriend laughing hilariously at my stupid driving. But it was all in good fun. We pulled up next to them and asked if they wanted a ride the last mile to the trail head. They were like, hell yeah! They joined the crew in the back of the truck and we drove up to the parking spot. It’s the one on the left that has the deeply slanted shoulder by a fence where I camped once with Chad and Cole.

We hiked up and spread out. Christina and I went looking for tens while the rest of them headed for 11’s, 12’s and 13’s. Nat was working on Carbondale Short Bus 5.13C that day. Christina and I found a slightly leaning over 10 that looked do-able. I led it, thinking the long red section would be ok since it leaned over. It also had a nasty bombay pod up high that was really frustrating. I had a decent arm bar, and a cam at my knees, but nothing to grab on to pull up into the pod. It was a fine adventure, but I didn’t get it clean.

Next Christina led Hookers and Blow 10C. It wasn’t an easy send for her either, though she is a trooper and got up. When I followed it I was fine until I got to a 8 foot section of reds. She had motored right through that, it being her favorite size, but I got shut down. Finally I spotted a rounded handhold off right and used that to gain a little reach. A couple of manky red jams got me up into the yellows and life was good…until I got to the pod. Seems all creek routes have a pod.

She had got past the pod by yarding on and pushing a #4 through the entire 7 foot tall pod. I could still see her #4 handhold, seven feet out of reach above me.

“You took the 4 with you! How am I supposed to climb this?”

“Sorry about that…can you chicken wing it? What about a double arm bar?”

“F&$k my life!!”

Properly humbled, we ambled over to see what the crew was up to. Anthony was rumored to be getting ready to lead 4×4 crack. It’s the namesake route at the crag and rated 5.11. It looked like it had my name all over it, being 70 feet of blues, with a seven foot #4 roof finish. I proposed leading it before Anthony. That way, if I bailed, he could rescue my gear…he being a third of my age (28) and far, far stronger.

I fell out of the start twice, with great catches from Christina. It was red’s down low, then tight yellows. Thankfully I had mastered the drop knee rest and used it extensively. I even had Jac’s throw me up an extra yellow. But then it turned into pure blues, for days. That meant cupped hands for me, too small for a fist jam. I motored upward. The climbing was the exact same move over and over. Get the knee bar (drop knee) secure, move up the jams. Pull on the jams, reposition the knee bar 7 inches higher, rinse and repeat. Oh, and push the blue cam up, or place a new one if ground fall was a concern. After about 50 feet of that I had to hang and rest. Technically the climb was easy…stamina was my problem.

After 4 hangs I arrived at the crux 90 feet up. The crack was capped by a seven foot roof. If I’d been fresh, and had seen the extreme stem off to the left I might have had a chance. As it was I french freed my way through with the three #4’s I brought along. What the hell, at least I got up. It’s a creek eleven.

Andrew on 4x4
Anthony resting with a drop knee on 4 x 4, crux roof finish is above

The crew was cheering as I lowered off. Peter, the 27 year old pharmacist from Norway said:

“I have a lot of friends at home in their thirties who would not even attempt something like that. You’ve got some real stones to lead that climb!”

Peter was a cool guy. He was on a 6 month trip before starting his Masters. He had no car and was completely dependent on the kindness of strangers to get him around. He’d met a girl from Colorado in Vegas(?), and she had liked him so much she drove him 3 hours out of her way to the Creek. Now he had a promise of a ride with someone else to Denver where he had a flight home.

Several of the crew had asked me how the painting had gone the day before, and a couple had not seen either painting. I promised to show them when we got back down to the truck. As the nine of us arrived and threw our dusty packs on the ground I dug my paintings out and tossed them on the tailgate. It was nice to hear the oohs and aahs.

In an ideal world artists would work in a vacuum, painting for the pure joy and self satisfaction, but the fact is that we are driven to share our work with others, whether it’s good or bad.

Here we are loading up after a fun day at 4×4:

loading up
Haley, Nat, Huly Nam, Peter
Haley, Nat, Huly Nam, Peter in the amphibious Tundra

April 19, Wednesday I was tired. 5.11B is hard, I took a rest day. I bought some crushed ice at the trading post, took a muddy road side shower, and painted at Scarface again, polishing up some details. Nat and Huly Nam walked out and took pictures of my painting in the evening light. He said he was trying to slow down and take more photos of his friends. I was flattered. The guy leads 5.13! He is from Squamish though. People up there are nicer than us south of the border folks.

They put on a going away party for Phil that night. He and Anthony were headed out to do Fine Jade and something else on Castleton. Phil planned to drive north after that while Anthony was coming back. I’d already known Phil was a fine singer and guitar player, but he really pulled out all the stops that night. After his long set of amazing songs he asked if anyone else wanted to play. Haley sang a few songs and then Christina asked me to play Fast Car. A couple people got excited at that. “You know Fast Car? Dude, you have to play it!”

Phil is a hard act to follow but I gave it a shot and saw a few feet tapping. They saw I had the sheet music for Taylor Swifts: All to Well so I played that also. And then Love Yourself, by Beiber. It was a very mellow crowd, no one was drunk or crazy, just a lot of smiles. Phil seems to attract really nice people.

April 20 Thursday The crew was on a rest day so Christina and I headed to Habitado. There was an eight and a nine there plus a crack where I could use my new to me #6 that Twin Falls Tony had sold me on the way down. I got up the nine cleanly but hung all over the eight. That eight is tight yellows at the bottom and feels more like a ten to my fat mitts.

Next I led a Mariposa, a 10C off width. I had two sixes (one borrowed), a green big bro, two fives and a couple fours. I had to pull on a five to get past a low crux but other than that I made every move, though there was hang doggery. It was a lot of double fisting, or a fist stacked on a cupped hand. This was supplemented with all manner of hip jamming, knee baring, heel toe action and plain old prayer.

They say there are no atheists in a fox hole, and there sure as hell aren’t any when you’ve walked your last six so high you are looking at a certain deck. Or as they used to call it when I was young: “A classic smack and drip situation”. Why did I let Dave take my valley giant home? I could have really used three number sixes up there.

At one point my friend Ronnie (retired FBI agent from Seattle) offered to give me a top rope. Apparently the sound effects were quite piteous.

“You know, that was my back up plan from the beginning…but for now at least, I think I’m ok. I’m really careful as I push this last six. It’s all that’s keeping me safe now until I top out.”

Later Christina said they asked her also if I needed a top rope rescue. I didn’t hear it, but she told them I was having too much fun to need a rescue. That was a super fun sufferfest. I may have even yodeled at the top.

We walked to the far left end of the crag where Christina led this Unamed ten. It was almost all reds, the entire stinking way. She fought hard and got up it but didn’t get the clean send she wanted. We’d both been at the creek for weeks by then and it was taking a toll on us. I cleaned it for her and remember hollering down:

“When is this crack going to fit my hands. I just want one stinking hand jam!”

“Never!” came her response, floating up from far below.

April 21, Friday. I was really sore in the morning and wondered if I’d have to start doing a one day on, one day off climbing pattern. We carried our coffees down to the crew to see what was up. We’d had a going away party for Phil the night before so only Haley, Jacs and Peter were around. They were headed up to Scarface and said I should join them, that it would be “awesome!”

I just wasn’t feeling it and walked back to camp. In my head I was doing the math. If I left immediately, I’d get home Sunday the 23rd. Sue wasn’t leaving for Arizona until the 26th. That would give me 3 days to hang out with my favorite person before she left for a week. I hadn’t seen her since April 1. In one hand, I had all that hard won climbing skill and stamina, coupled with great and reliable friends raring to go climbing. In the other hand, I had a broken down body that was sorely missing home and my amazing family.

Finally making the decision to leave, I told Christina: “Oh, Sue will be so happy!” We said our goodbyes and I headed home, arriving Sunday afternoon. It was two long days of driving, with a layover at Farewell Bend campground.

I hate to end a trip report like this, but the fact is that those achy joints and that light cough I had the last week? That was Covid. Sue caught it immediately and had to bail on her trip to Arizona. It’s now 18 days later and we are still weak as kittens. We bailed early on a trip to Leavenworth. I could barely hike up to Dinosaur slab. The lingering aches in my knee joints are awful. I’m now required to carry a Covid test kit in the Tundra. Sue: “If you get sick on a trip, don’t come home!”

Shifting whiteness

May 3rd, 2023

I got Covid during my last week in Utah and brought it home to Sue. We both suffered through 4 bad days and nights on the couch with a lot of coughing and joint aches.

At least for us, Covid is more like a bad flu used to be. This matches what we hear from our ER nurse kids, people rarely get hospitalized anymore. It is strange to get it though, for the second time, considering all the vaccinations we’ve had.

She had to cancel and bail on her vacation to Arizona with Lisa, who ended up flying alone with Olivia to see Dan. Dan was on a one month work assignment down there.

I watched a lot of Amazon Prime movies while I was welded to the couch. One of them (Men, Women and Children) was about a bunch of interconnected teenagers and parents addicted to social media and the internet in general. Tim had quit playing football because he realized it was pointless. He had read that all of the atoms on the planet were getting constantly recycled into new forms. It’s the ‘dust to dust’ philosophy. And whether he won or lost a football game meant nothing in the grand scheme of the universe.

I got to thinking about how astrophysicists believe neutrons from outer space are constantly passing through everything on the planet, and it really does seem at times that our little lives are insignificant.

Decades ago I did a nine day solo hike through Necklace Valley. Sue was working a new job and couldn’t go, would have been around 1977. I hiked up into the wilderness towards Mt. Daniel past a chain of small lakes. I was around 9 miles in when I came upon an absolutely flat plateau half a mile square. It had a small incline to it and smack dab in the middle was a house sized boulder, just sitting there as if it had dropped from Mars.

Because it was a rainy weekday I was completely alone up there at 7000 feet. I dropped my 70 pound pack by the boulder. Dad had given me 3 loaves of bread for the trip. “They didn’t rise for some reason, but that makes them durable and they’ll pack small!” With the weight off my back I pondered the slow march of geologic time, and the difference between that and our rushed and frantic lives.

Back to the present: because of her Covid cough, Sue has been sleeping in our Lazyboy recliner for a couple nights. I was getting better and able to sleep in the bed. Normally if I dream I have PTSD nightmares about printing, but this time I had a nightmare that my life had never existed. In the dream my entire consciousness was wafer thin white planes of light, swooshing through a seamless white room, maybe 60 feet square. There was no color, no anything, just this sense of constant movement of white on white. I could just barely tell that they were shaped like diamonds, or elongated hexagons.

Some part of my dreaming mind knew that there had once been so much more. That there had been real life and love, people and trees, mountains and color. But all that was gone, replaced with ever rushing whiteness, and I was unsure what was real. I believe in the here and now, and all I could see or hear was the white on white movement.

The small part of my brain that was lucid knew I was probably dreaming, but the overwhelming power of the white vision was frightening. I wondered if this was reality, and my former existence was the dream. It became quite perplexing. If this is it, this is really going to suck for a long, long time!

But then I gradually woke up to the bright light of morning streaming in though the window. The house was dead silent, no coughing, no footsteps as Sue made her morning coffee. I worried that her Covid had worsened during the night and leapt out of bed to check on her. I found her asleep on the couch and gathered her in my arms, so happy she was ok. We had been apart for 23 days. Utah was awesome as always, and the new friends I’d made were super nice and welcoming, inviting me to join them at the crag the day I left, saying: “You should come, it’ll be awesome!”

But I’d heard the loneliness in Sue’s voice on my last trip to town. None of my new friends had a significant other at home. They were all single. I had a beautiful woman waiting for me at home, plus two amazing kids and now 2, soon to be 4 grandkids.

I’d had a morning cough for a week, along with growing soreness in my joints. I chalked them both up to a cold and too many long approaches with the heavy pack of splitter gear. I was so tired I was considering a one on, one off climbing schedule.

As I mulled it over, preparing for another 10:30 AM dawn start, I realized I was more excited about seeing Sue than going climbing. Plus my left hand had two small bleeding splits in the finger tips. I had neglected daily hand lotion.

I told Christina, my most recent climbing partner, and who was sharing the campsite, that I’d made my decision. I’d get home in time to see Sue and the family for a few days before they left on their vacation.

“Oh, Sue will be so happy!” was her response. And she was, until we both got sick. It’s 9 days later and we are finally feeling better, maybe even ready to get some exercise. My next post will be about the trip itself.

Nomadland Movie

May 1st, 2023

This is my review of the movie.
Ideally when you get to retirement age everything is paid for and you have a nest egg in the bank to cover unexpected costs. You hopefully also have a spouse and both of you have Social Security and or pension checks coming in. If you are really lucky, you will have grown children in town who are gainfully employed and can offer assistance if needed. This is our situation and we fully realize how lucky we are.

But if the dice roll the other way, you may have none of those things. No home, no nest egg, a pittance of retirement funds, no spouse or family, and a broken down untrustworthy vehicle.

This movie is about that life. She is a proud independent woman, grieving for her spouse and the good life they used to have. She must work to survive…basically until she dies. She finds a community, a tribe, amongst the nomads living on BLM land in the desert. It’s not much, but it’s far better than living in gas station parking lots.

I travel a lot for rockclimbing, sleeping in the back of my pickup truck under a simple plumbers shell. I never stay in hotels, preferring a more frugal lifestyle. I sleep in those same gas stations lots and BLM camps. I’ve sung songs and shared fires under the stars with “the tribe”. They are instantly recognizable. It’s always campers, vans, trucks and built out SUVs with the occasional tent. Often the people are one car breakdown away from being truly homeless.

But whereas I’m living the retirement dream: traveling by choice, often with my wife, in our new truck to our national parks, the people shown in this movie are in their sixties and seventies living lonely lives of quiet desperation. The community they find amongst their peers in the desert is a beautiful thing.

This is not a cheerful movie, nor is it a love story where a happy young couple sail off into the sunset. It is however an important story about our forgotten seniors.

P.S. Bob, the man with the big white beard runs a youtube channel called CheapRVliving. He is real, not at all an actor. I’ve learned a lot from him about how to live in a vehicle.