Broke my artist block

Posted by on May 3rd, 2022  •  0 Comments  •  Full Article

Chimney Rock

I’ve been sort of down in the dumps lately. I’ve been cranky around the house…just generally off my feed a bit. I think it might have started back in March when we got shut down by weather at Indian Creek. When I’m not painting (or working) I guess I rely on climbing as a source of…what is the right word…satisfaction? But life is what happens when you’re making other plans.

Anyway, I’ve also been fighting off a bad case of artist block going way back to last fall. I don’t feel at all like painting. Not even a flicker of interest for sketching around the house. Which is weird because I’ve got sketchbooks going back to my teens in 1971 where I’m drawing something every other day. It might just be a sketch of my hand, or a car in a parking lot. Point is, there was something driving me to make art.

And I know it is totally normal for that to come and go. Grandma saw this in me back in 1989. I was driving her home from a family dinner at dad’s house. I had shown the family some recent paintings and I’d also mentioned that I was blocked again…didn’t feel inspired.

She looked at me with those 94 year old eyes and said: “Mark, promise me you’ll never stop painting.”

“Okay”, I said, not really meaning it.

Grandma had an aunt who was a famous painter. She took grandma on a tour through Europe when grandma was a teenager…which would have been 1910?. She is listed in a book entitled American Women Artists of the 19 century. I checked it out once from the local library and there she was. I have one of her paintings, as does my sister.

A few days ago I had to repair a painting a collector had broken. I was really surprised that I was able to get inspired standing on a strangers back deck, painting a mountain that wasn’t there. I didn’t even have a photo, just a few other similar paintings from my “unsold” box. And yet, there I was, living in the moment, happy as a clam. I had my tunes on, she was coming and going but it was just like painting at the mountain. Nothing mattered but the magic flowing from my hands. I was happy. Go figure.

So with that recent history I finally followed through on my promise to Grandma. TBH it was also on my todo list. I brought a few monotone paintings of Josh out to the garage, set up my easel and painted Chimney Rock in full, glowing color. Just stood there and created from thin air. It was so good I was busting some moves to my iPhone playlist. Even more impressive is that I’ve been afraid of using full color in Josh. I could never color rock with oil. Always did it in monotone. Like, twenty in a row. Now that I’ve popped that cherry, I’m going to do one of Rainier. Watch out Grandma, Unky Mark is back.

Solar Power in Tundra

Posted by on April 29th, 2022  •  0 Comments  •  Full Article

On my last long trip we were car camping for two weeks in Josh. Because we weren’t driving the car, I was unable to use my inverter to charge my camera battery. The easy solution would have been to buy a new battery, but Canon is backordered. I’ve also dreamed about a 12 volt fridge for a while…buying ice is frustrating.

When my dividend arrived from REI it was enough to pay for a 100 watt Goal Zero solar panel. In my last post I talked about building a DIY solar generator. I have since upgraded that to a real car sized LifePo4 battery in a bigger, stronger milk crate. Today I finally put the solar panels on the top of the Tundra and hooked them up to the milk crate. I have 4 amps coming in to the battery with one amp going out to the strip lights inside the canopy.

The solar charge controller is managing everything and will supposedly shut down the power if the battery gets overcharged, or undercharged. I’m running the canopy lights off the Load terminal on the solar charge controller.

In other news, we broke the pedal off our beater secondhand unicycle taking so many falls. I have a new one on order from unicycle.com. I got what is called a “Trials” uni. They are built for mountain biking trails and lots of hard falls.

I had one of my collectors buy a pastel painting 30 years ago. She saw some dust on the matt and decided to re-frame it. The frame maker told her she could avoid more dust by spraying it with fix. The fix ruined the painting. It looked like it was under 2 layers of wax paper. All the vibrant color of the raw pastel was totally killed. You could sort of see the old painting but it was awful.

She found me online and I drove up there yesterday with some unsold paintings from that era. I used those as a reference to re-paint her painting, bringing it back to life. I’ve never done that before. It was actually quite fun seeing the painting start to breath again. I’m not sure it’s as good as it was before…but it’s definitely quite pretty. I know that darn mountain so well I can paint it when it isn’t even there.

March Road Trip

Posted by on April 9th, 2022  •  0 Comments  •  Full Article

Pictures first, I’ll write the narrative later. This is taking a long time to write…lot of things to do at home after a month long road trip.

A week ago when I got home I started working on Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car. The first two weeks of practicing it focused exclusively on guitar. Singing along with it was absolutely hopeless. The timing of the picking is so precise that is has to become automatic. And for my aging train wreck of a mind that took a loooong time. Two weeks to be precise, playing it for an hour a day.

But today, I listened to her sing it on this tutorial and started singing along…badly. I had to simplify the chords initially to give me the spare brain bandwidth for voice and guitar together, all while listening and playing along with them. But finally, something clicked and the flood gates opened. I stopped the video and started actually playing it all by myself. So fun!

I’ve been playing Fast Car for a couple weeks now and it’s starting to smooth out. I’m into the polishing process now. This is where I’m relaxed enough playing it that I can start to think about what the words mean, and how to add emotion to the verses.

This is the longest I’ve ever taken to write a trip report. It was also my longest trip. I’ve been diverted by two problems I noticed on the journey. One was the roof top solar heated shower pipe. All the shower places closed down due to covid. Our shower does work, but it’s slow and cold. I looked into instant water heaters but the cheap ones had bad reviews and I don’t want to spend big dollars on something you can do perfectly will with a pot of warm water…pioneer style.

So I built a heat exchanger coil from 35 feet of one quarter inch copper refrigerator tubing. I coiled it up small enough to fit in one of our camping cook pots. I dropped that coil into a large pot of boiling water and it heated the water up nicely. When I did a smaller coil (started with 10 feet) in a smaller pot the water didn’t stay warm. The cold shower water coming through the line cooled the boiling water.

I needed the larger pot to offset the reverse cooling of the heat exchanger. My problem now is that water is scarce while dry camping in the desert. So I need to try heating the coil in a campfire bread maker stove…which I don’t own.

After that I started working on solar. We were climbing in one place so long that we couldn’t charge my camera batteries. They run on 110 and take up to four hours…and we weren’t doing more than 20 minute shopping trips. I’ve always resisted solar, but my REI dividend covered a goal zero panel and I thought: why not?

But storing the electricity led me down a rabbit hole of information I was unaware of. Initially I was tempted by the goal zero ecosystem. Its plug and play but extremely pricey for what you get. I ended up building this with a small battery and some other components I had on hand from ham radio.

It was a huge learning curve…and now I’m rebuilding it with a much better battery and some other improved circuitry…so we’ll see.

And then for some dumb reason I dropped everything and bought a used unicycle. I’m all over the place these days.

My most recent diversion was jury duty. As a working stiff, I’ve always been excused from jury duty. This time I had no excuse. We spent 4 days working through the process with 60 people for one trial, whittling it down to just enough for a jury. I had a bad attitude at first…but gradually came to realize that, at least in some trials, it can be an honor to serve.

I told them early on that I have an intense dislike for lawyers, thinking them too rich and often dishonest. And that I thought there was far too much litigation in this country. I could get much deeper into the experience but we were warned not to talk about the case.

I was surprised at how nice the judge and lawyers were. They asked us over and over if we needed to be excused. “We totally understand if you don’t want to serve…for any reason at all. Just let us know, it’s OK, we get it.” They totally understand how taking time away from an important job…or maybe your only job…is a huge financial burden. I was not expecting that amount of kindness and humanity from people wrapped up in the murky world of legal proceedings.

Q: Why won’t sharks attack lawyers?
A: Professional courtesy

Towards the end I was actually hoping they’d pick me. In a way, it meant I had integrity, and I could be an impartial juror. I was starting to make friends in the crew…there were some really nice people there. But I’m guessing my initial attitude towards the case (which I can’t disclose) showed I might not be impartial.

After getting out of jury duty today Sue and I walked the unicycle down to the park where there was a narrow fenced walkway where we could practice. At 14, I couldn’t ride my brothers unicycle. But now at 68, Sue and I are making some progress. It seems…not impossible. Still extremely hard and scary…but maybe, maybe if we keep trying, we might just get it.

I saw a guy riding one around Josh last trip. It would fit in the truck better than a bicycle. Oh, and Clint finally replaced Jamies wrecked car. Nothing like a car problem to wreck a household budget.

In our family, we’ve wrecked 4 cars, including my Tacoma which was hit and run by a sideswiper right in front of our house. One of the others was Dan hitting an elk, while the other two were Jamie and Dan sitting in traffic and getting rear ended. All 4 cars were totaled at a time when car prices and availability is awful due to covid.

We really are so lucky to all have good jobs, and or retirement, so that we can recover from financial disasters like car accidents. Many people seem to whiz around in their cars thinking it’s no big thing. But for me and Sue, driving feels like a big responsibility. Maybe it’s just that we’ve been driving so long, over a million miles, that it feels like the odds are against us. No one is perfect forever. On the other hand, we have some serious skills after all those miles. So who knows.

January in Joshua Tree

Posted by on February 10th, 2022  •  0 Comments  •  Full Article

Dave and I headed south mid January towards St. George.  I’m putting the photos gallery first,  while the more narrative storytelling is below the gallery.

Along the way we met Fletch, Sam, Garret, Anni and Brian. I’m of the ‘more is merrier’ way of thinking. As long as everyone can lead and is vaccinated, it usually works out. It’ll be funny to read this in ten years when we’ve all forgotten about Covid.

Our first stop after the 26 hour drive was a 10 minute walk to a cliff in downtown St. George, right above a soccer field. We were so close we could hear the children kicking the balls. Dave led Wide Boy  and Deface Crack. The rock quality was surprisingly close to Indian Creek. We felt lucky to have nailed the warm weather after that long drive. I struggled from jet lag, but it would be fun to go back when I’m warmed up.

Fresh off the drive from Seattle in St. George, Utah

We crashed on BLM land near Prophesy Wall for the next few nights. It was deserted up there with only a herd of cows wandering around. I was woken at dawn by an odd rhythmic sound, realizing later it was cows grazing next to our truck. We only saw one other van and Dave left his tent up with no problem.

Snow Canyon is shady in the morning so we climbed a 5.8 crack on the sunny side then at noon followed the sun to the three pitch 5.8  Just Deserts and a couple other harder lines. Pictured below is me rapping off Dave’s sketchy 5.10a. The route went up the left arete above the huge cave. The moves felt like stepping on air. By the third morning the sun was gone and the weather was overcast. We woke up, looked around and bailed for Vegas.

Me rapping off Daves 5.10 at St. George, Snow Canyon, Photo by Dave

When we got to Vegas we had enough of an afternoon left to climb Physical Graffiti and the first pitch of the 5.9 sport route Big Bad Wolf. Someday I want to lead the top two pitches on that one, they look great.

We slept at Skid Row and rose at dawn to climb the 5.8 six pitch Purblind Pillar. Dave really stepped up to the plate to cover my weak leading skills. I only led two of the six pitches this time.  For some weird reason I was ‘off my feed’ for the first week of this almost 3 week trip. With a few exceptions, I was climbing so badly I didn’t even recognize myself. I knew there was a real climber inside my head somewhere…but I couldn’t  make him come out to play. It was only after we got to Jtree that I started to climb normally.

Dave saw Elvis!
Dave pitch 5 Purblind Pillar, Vegas

After finishing Purblind in the dark we decided I was too slow for long alpine routes in winter. Dave had wanted to do another long one the next day…but after thinking it over we decided to bail for Joshua Tree. It was a good excuse to do some night driving instead of sitting around the propane campfire. Simultaneously I had heard that our Indian Creek friend Sam was in Red Rocks. I regretted not calling her because she told me later that she had been climbing with boulderers and would have enjoyed some multipitch trad. If you don’t know bouldering…it’s rock climbing, but without ropes. And yes, it’s as dangerous as it sounds.

We crashed in the desert on the way to Josh. There is  a ton of BLM land coming into 29 Bombs from the North. In the early morning we parked at Intersection Rock and did “the walk” around the full campground, making friends and admiring all the fancy rigs. Not finding a campspot, we decided to cook breakfast.

Dave (hereafter called Chef) appointed me sous-chef and began teaching me how to prepare Egg McMuffins. He denies ever working at McDonalds.

  • Chef starts by toasting the English muffins
  • Once brown, set those aside in a warming pan
  • Crack 4 eggs and drop them separately in the skillet
  • Break open the yokes so the yellow spreads a bit for flavor
  • Peel off 4 double slices of salami and put them in the pan on the sides
  • Slice half an onion and put the onion rings next to the salami
  • Once the eggs are ready to flip, cut them apart into four separate eggs
  • Flip the eggs (this was my job…as sous-chef)
  • Put the pre-sliced cheese on the eggs, cover pan
  • While all this is going on, keep flipping the muffin halves
  • When cheese is almost soft, lift eggs onto muffin bottom – sous chef assists
  • Add fried salami and onions to egg, which melts the cheese to perfection
  • Add the top muffin and…Bob’s Your Uncle!

By the end of the trip…I was almost ready to cook these alone. Chef kept promising a promotion…but the budget was tight…I’m still hoping. With full bellys we climbed a few easy things like Toe Jam, Double Cross and Mikes Books. Dave top roped the crux on Watershute and got it third try.

After Dave led Sexy Grandma we noticed a guy having trouble on Double Cross. He froze on the upper half after running out of big gear. I quietly asked his belayer if he would be able to finish the route, and when he said no, we hung around, watching in case he needed help. Either Dave or I could have easily led it to get his gear off.

Finally we left, knowing there would likely be people around if they really needed a rescue. While we were hanging out he mentioned that they were leaving site 27 in the morning…and we said we’d stop by since we were staying in BLM and needed a campsite.

Fletch showed up that night around 8 from Santa Barbara with a guitar and some Mikes and we played our usual set under the desert stars. We’ve been jamming together for 14 years, he is one of my oldest friends. In the morning we drove up and checked in on our friends in 27. Sure enough they were packing up and seemed thankful that we had offered to help the previous night when things were going south. Dave asked if he could put his tent up while they were getting ready to leave. They concurred and we became the lucky owner of a rare campsite.

In case you don’t know, getting a site at this first come first served campground can seem impossible. Each site gets two parking spots and there are often two or more cars in. every. single. site. The rangers never take down the FULL sign. Oddly though, if you know how to play the game, getting a site only takes a couple days.

I love Joshua Tree for many reasons, but the most important thing is the quantity of easy climbs on good rock. Doesn’t matter how rusty you are, you can find climbs to lead comfortably. Many people prefer to top rope until they warm up. This is actually the norm. But I’ve observed over the decades that this TR practice leads to overcrowding on popular routes.

I’m in the minority on this opinion, but I feel that if a climb is too hard to lead, I’ll hike farther until I find something easier that I *can* lead. This frustrates some of my stronger partners, but, we’ve all got our little quirks. I like to say: “I’ve never met an easy climb I didn’t like.”

My first good lead of the trip was the 5.8 Hands Off. It’s a lovely stem box problem that eats gear the whole way up. Any time there is a crux you can place a cam above you. It’s basically top roping…but without the top rope. Because of the stem you get lots of rests to reflect on your poor life choices. There is also a great belay stance at the top that allows you to photograph your followers. Dave scrambled up to the top to get this photo:

Me leading Hands Off
Me leading Hands Off – Photo by Dave

We roamed far and wide over the next two weeks, climbing all the classics plus a few new ones. We were in true hidden valley for Fisticuffs, Tumbling Rainbow and Illusion Dweller; at Echo for Tim’s Valentine, F8, Popes Crack, Penny Lane and Touch & Go; up Steve Canyon for Deflowered, Grand Theft Avacado; up in the Wonderland for High Strung and Hex Marks the Poot; plus all the standard campground climbs like Toe Jam, Overhang Bypass, Damper and Dandelion.

Our hardest climbs were Illusion Dweller, Loose Lady, Bird on a Wire, Dandelion and Fistifuffs. I was surprised how hard Loose Lady seemed. It’s a mix of face and slab on thin edges. Sue and I used to love it, but pulling hard on those crimpers seems to aggravate my 68 year old hands. Even my feet were complaining. Maybe it was just near the end of the trip and I was getting tired? I hope it isn’t one of those climbs that I have to cross off the list ’cause I got too old. While we were packing up a young couple came up and sent it effortlessly…just like we used to do in our twenties. We all get our chance to be young, strong and pretty.

Chilean girl on Loose Lady
Chilean girl cruising up Loose Lady 10a

Nights at Joshua Tree in the winter are long and cold. Once the sun goes down you have three choices: (1.) Go to bed early, (2.) shiver around a campfire, or (3.) go night hiking. For those in the know, there is a classic series of night hikes around Hidden Valley. I met the legendary aid climber Ammon McNeely thru a mutual friend in 2011. He taught me how to navigate through the park using landmarks that are visible even without moonlight. One of his guiding principles is that you can’t do it sober…simply not allowed. This led to some interesting shenanigans the first night he took us out, but that is another story.

Ammon McNeely at Iron Door cave in 2011

No one at our site had done the night tour so I volunteered to lead. We visited the Iron Door cave and the Hobbit Hole, a grand time was had by all. It’s fun to bring a good camera out there for night exposures. I had my full frame Canon 6D.

Iron Door cave
Friends in the Iron Door cave, lit by headlamps

Eventually all our friends left and it was just me and Dave breaking into the third week of steady climbing. I had done a good painting and led Fistifcuffs, while he had led Illusion Dweller. Those are both proud sends so we’d kind of accomplished everything we’d come down for. I followed him up Overhang Bypass, which has a scary traverse for both the leader and follower. It’s only 5.7 but it’s one of those climbs that seems to never feel easy or safe. On the summit, I broached the subject of heading for home. Sue was getting lonely…and I sort of needed another rest day…maybe we should head North? Dave concurred and we packed up.

He taught me a cool trick on the road trip home. I was ready to crash in my usual noisy rest area or truck stop. He suggested taking an exit where there was a long stretch of blackness…as in, no houses or towns. His working theory is to take the exit, then look at a map. Look for roads that fork out like the roots of a tree…getting smaller and smaller…with no houses at the ends. Typically this may mean an open farm field, or old logging road. It worked great, and was far quieter than a parking lot full of rumbling diesel trucks.

BLM sunrise
Stealth camping sunrise on the drive home

I love going on these climbing trips, but it’s equally fun to come home and see my family. Absence doth makes the heart grow fonder.

Sue and Rose, our grandchild.