Offwidth climbing in Seattle

February 26th, 2024

I recently discovered the Vertical World North climbing gym because we were looking to practice offwidth crack climbing. We used to go to their southerly location back before our local gym expanded. It was a fun way to get out of town and climb taller walls. Plus the South gym did have some nice cracks, though nothing was true offwidth.

This new North location has all the normal stuff as far as bouldering, toproping and leading steep sport routes. Plus it has the usual well equipped exercise area with free weights and aerobic machines like stair steppers and ellipticals. 

And unlike many gyms they still have the (semi) dangerous auto-belays. These seat belt retractor style devices aren’t dangerous in and of themselves, they’re well engineered. But complacent, some might say spacey climbers, and the lack of buddy checks have led to many tragic auto belay accidents.  If you’re smart, focused and constantly vigilant, auto belays are awesome due to the fact that you don’t need to bring a partner. 

But what really makes this gym special, and worth the trip, even if you don’t live in Seattle…is the cracks. To our great surprise, we were the only ones climbing the cracks. Everyone else was pulling on plastic. 

Starting with the smallest, they have a ring lock crack that varies in width from half an inch to three quarters of an inch. That means rattly fingers if you have small hands, and lockers if you have extra large hands like me. 

Next is a standard yellow number 2 camalot sized crack. This is perfect hands for most people. If  you like Classic Crack in Leavenworth, you’ll like this crack. And it has an auto-belay, so you can cruise up and down it without a partner. 

Next up are two variations on a blue number 3 camalot crack. With my XL sized hands, I was able to get easy steeples or tight fists in both of them. My friend with small hands really struggled with these two number 3 cracks. She had to do elbow jams or shaky butterfly jams to make progress.

But the best crack of all, especially if you are training for Moab’s  Indian Creek is the number 5 crack. Even my huge fists didn’t fit. I stuck them in hoping for at least a marginal fist jam…but it was nothing but air on both sides of my hand. It was the proverbial hotdog in a hallway scenario.  This crack is also in a corner, with one of the fist cracks nearby if you need to cheat. Anyway, it’s a fantastic size for learning your worst case off-width skills. It wasn’t big enough for double fists for either of us. It was hand fist stacking. 

But the crack is too wide to get any kind of heel toe jam. Initially neither of us could make uphill progress. We were completely shut down. After much struggle we found that we could get a secure no hands jam by sticking our left leg in up to the thigh. Then by contorting our hips we jammed our right leg in up to the knee doing a toe-knee bar. With both legs deep in the crack and sort of opposing each other, we could let go with our hand fist stacks long enough to slide them up. Once my hands were secure, I’d pull my legs out, do an insecure right leg heel toe to step up, then jam my left thigh back in and lock my lower body in place with some knee to toe opposition on my right leg. With my lower body locked into the crack, the only way to reach my hands higher was a sit up. We need to shoot video of this.

This was a full body, heart pounding workout. I couldn’t climb more than about 15 feet before hanging on the toprope to rest. But wow, such good practice! This comes very close to some of the 5.11 offwidth nightmares at Indian Creek. 

Beyond that, they had the usual wide selection of cubbies and lockers. They also had some really cool free electronic lockers for phones, keys and wallets. You stick your things in the little 7 inch steel cubes, press a button, program your personal code and shut the door. That was so cool to know that my valuables were safe without having to bring a lock.

Vertical World was the first climbing gym in America. I remember going there in 1988. I’m really glad to see they are still running a tight ship!

At Thanksgiving I stepped on the scale and was shocked to see my highest number ever: 176. This is partly because of the prednisone I’m taking to treat PMR (Polymyalgia Rheumatica). That started in April, 2023 with my last (second) bout of Covid. I got really stiff joints during my week of Covid symptoms. But the stiff joints, and a cough stayed for months. In my mind it was just Long Covid. But by August I was concerned enough to bail on a Squamish trip and drop into our local clinic. I could barely climb, and some days barely get out of bed because my knees, shoulders, neck, hips and elbows were locked up.

The PA, for lack of a better idea, prescribed a 9 day dose of Prednisone, which cured my symptoms overnight. She sent me to a Rheumatologist a month later who prescribed a smaller dose of prednisone in a year long declining dose called a taper. I’m six months in and have the dose down to 4mg a day. Some people online are saying that you shouldn’t lower your dose below your pain level. But I’m willing to accept some pain because this drug is all kinds of bad.

After my yearly physical a couple weeks ago I was warned about high Cholesterol. She advised another drug for that. But I didn’t want to add more pharmaceuticals. I’ve been down this road before. You go to a physical feeling great, and all you get is gloom and doom. That’s why I waited 3 years since my last one.

Years ago I found I could lower my cholesterol and improve other numbers by going on what is basically a vegan diet. No red meat, flour or sugar. And especially stay away from the delicious $9 a pound hot bar at Metro Market. That had become a regular thing. I’d load up on mac and cheese, cheesy lasagna, meatballs, basically anything that looked delicious. And this was typically after Sue and I had exercised on the hills. We had a “we earned it” attitude. And the pounds packed on.

One of the reasons I don’t get too worked up about Cholesterol reports is because of my grandma. When she was 97 she was still living alone, with her dog, in her old house on the West Side. This would have been around 1990. Dad was doing for grandma what Sue is now doing for her mom, taking her groceries, helping out whenever needed. Anyway, dad took her for her yearly physical. They told grandma that her cholesterol was high and she should change her diet, or maybe even get on some pills to reduce her cholesterol.

Grandma asked the doctor what cholesterol was. The doctor told her it was something they had just invented. It was a way to measure, or predict your predisposition towards heart attacks and strokes. Grandma just laughed and told the doctor that she had got to 97 just fine and wasn’t about to make any changes. She lived another 2 years before old age finally got her.

She used to tell me that she wasn’t having very much fun anymore. She had out lived all of her friends and siblings. She had her vinyl talking books, church every Sunday, and the occasional visits from family on holidays. But other than that it was a lonely life. I went down and drew her portrait once. She loved that and we talked a lot about art and getting older.

Huh. I just looked and I don’t seem to have any photos online of my two drawings of Grandma. I’ll have to look into that.

I do have friends who have died from heart attacks though. I mean, I’m not oblivious of the dangers of clogged arteries. A couple weeks ago I combined intermittent fasting with the vegan diet. I have the occasional slab of salmon or chicken, but only between 5pm and 10pm. Sometimes I breakdown at 3pm if I’m really hungry. My motto is: “Hunger is not a problem I need to fix.” I know it sounds elitist, very first world…but this is where I live. I also like the clarity that comes with fasting. It’s like my body is on high alert, constantly looking for food. I’ll catch a whiff of someone eating food and my senses light up. That doesn’t happen when you eat normally.

So anyway, I was very pleased to see 166 pounds on the scale this morning, down from 176 at Thanksgiving. Now to go get some exercise, and skip the reward afterward. I was just perusing some old journal entries and I found one from May 21, 1999. In it, I complain about 165 being fat. Jeez, I’ve really slipped up in the last 30 years.

Big Blue to Josh

February 19th, 2024

Sorry for the disjointed out of order chaos of this entry. I’m covering about 3 months here, and to be honest my mind has been a jumble lately. It hasn’t helped that I decided to cancel my Photoshop subscription. That means I had to switch to Gimp and Darktable to be able to use HEIF and CR3 image files from my iPhone and Canon, respectively.

I took the avalanche photo a couple days ago. I was skinning up, heard a whoop, and saw the hundred foot wide slab avalanche sliding down at speed. The snowboarder who triggered it was skiing beside it. I watched as it slowed down and stopped. The boarders buddies came skiing down through the people skinning up, but to skiers left of the slide. Everyone acted like nothing had happened. The skinners kept going up, despite the obvious danger. It had blown hard from the East the night before when it snowed 12 inches. They were on a wide open West facing avalanche slope, and the conditions were clearly extremely dangerous. Worst of all, the snowboarder, who should have been changing his underwear, was instead putting his skins on to go back up for another run. Reminds me of this old saying: “God watches out for children, drunks and fools”

Avalanche on Panorama Pt.
Avalanche on Panorama Pt.

I passed on the yearly membership sale at the climbing gym. Instead I let my last membership play out to the last day. The December 10, 2022 purchase lasted until January 28. I bought a monthly membership for $86. The desk lady said I could freeze it an unlimited number of times. So now, when I head out on a trip I won’t be paying for a gym while I’m out of state. 

I’ve been hitting it every few days thanks to Chris and Gina. I also sometimes climb with Alex and Ethan though they are into twelves. I’m building some plastic power after a month of this and can now get up all the ten minus climbs. They aren’t a cake walk, but I can usually cleanly figure them out, though there may be whining. Last night the place was humming as they were having a “queer mountaineers” event. There was a big welcome sign on a table where you could grab a rainbow wristband. It was nice of them to put that on. Even Tod, the owner was there, climbing with Justin and friends.  I love that the owner of our gym is not just a bean counter. He’s a real climber and genuinely nice.

I’ve been riding my bike up the hills in old town. Yesterday I pedaled straight up cobblestoned Carr street without my usual zig zag switchbacking. Granted I was going very slow, but it was a steady slow…suitable for a white haired guy.

Lisa and her kids
Lisa and her kids

Both Clint and Lisa took their three year olds skiing for the first time. Rose even got on a chair lift. Clint told us he carried her off the first time, but the second time she exited on her skis, with help from dad. The look on her face as he holds her on the chair is epic.

Clint and Rose
Clint and Rose on chair lift

Sue and I spent a night at Lisa’s. We did our usual afternoon walk with her two kids, then in the morning Sue and I skinny skied down the road to the bridge. There was one inch of fresh over ice, with just 8 cars in the parking lot. Clearly everyone else also new the snow sucked. If the kids had been there I would have taken a run up the hill, but we felt bad for Lisa babysitting all alone and decided to drive back to her house.

I sewed a nice fanny pack out of medium thickness leather. It was my second try.  I recycled the leather and zipper from the first one. I’m a pro at ripping out stitches…seems to be the price of being a seamstress. The first one turned out too small, so naturally I made this one too big.  Still, bigger is better if you want to squeeze in things like a wind breaker and a water bottle, plus phone, keys and wallet.

I wanted to add extra zippered compartments. But the complexity, and fragility of zippers led me towards a simple padded divider. I also wanted to be able to attach various items vertically, and have them be removable, such as a Mace in a velcro lined sleeve. So one side of the inside is lined with soft velcro. That gives me flexibility going forward.

I sewed a fanny pack
I sewed a fanny pack
I sewed a fanny pack
I sewed a fanny pack

It’s maiden voyage was painful. The darn thing was too loaded down and kept  pulling my pants off on my bike ride. I’ve since added a supplemental shoulder strap to take the weight off the waist belt.

A friend asked me to sew a holster for their Glock 19. If you don’t know guns, Glocks are striker fired pistols, as opposed to hammer fired. They have no safety, other than a little moving bump on the trigger. Supposedly the trigger can’t be pulled accidentally due to that little bump. But Glocks are famous for ND’s. (Negligent Discharges). Some of the gun nuts on youtube even say that the holster is the safety.

There are youtube videos of cops shooting themselves. It’s called a “Glock Leg”. As in: my damn gun shot my leg, or my junk, or my stomach. This usually happens because keys, or a drawstring wanders into the holster and pulls the trigger. A good holster, and careful usage, protects the trigger from being accidentally pulled. All rifles have safeties, I have no idea why these safety less handguns have become so popular. They are the standard for police departments. Anyway, my friend wanted a holster that would accommodate the laser.

There was a lot of prep work to get the pistol ready for molding in the holster press. I had to fill in the ejection port with a custom carved chunk of wood. And the whole point of the holster was to protect the stupid trigger. You pull it, it goes bang. I had to cut two aluminum plates that sandwiched the trigger. Then I had to screw them together, anchoring them around the trigger. This way the molding process would have a blank where the trigger was. You can actually buy plastic replica guns that already have the molding prep work done. They come naked, and prepped at around $45 each. Holster making is big business. If I was younger and needed a side job it might be fun. Certainly easier than selling paintings. Anyway, I like making things, especially from leather, so that was a fun project.

I made a holster for a friend
I made a holster for a friend
holster press
holster press, yeah I made that too.

Big Blue and Josh

Regarding my Xmas Day trip to Jtree…it’s been almost a month and I’ve forgotten most of the details. Here is what I remember.

I had just been to Josh at Thanksgiving with Sue and didn’t want to incur another $1000 gas bill. JH offered to drive his Taurus (Big Blue) which gets almost twice the MPG.

My first clue that Big Blue was going to be a mistake was when we got on the freeway and it gave a violent lurch. 

“What was that? It felt like slippage in a bad transmission.”

JH: “I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of that. I had the code read at Schucks and it said EGR valve, which I replaced. But it might also be the back sparkplugs which are old. I was able to replace the front 3 but I couldn’t access the back 3.”

His 2002 Taurus also had a scary tendency to die at idle in traffic jams. This is not in itself dangerous, but it is very frustrating and stressfull…especially if you don’t know the secret series of key turns and shift lever manipulations required to restart it…over and over.

To my great surprise, we did make it 1000 miles to the park gate. In the usual traffic jam to enter, I pulled over and let him take over for the stop and go traffic. No way was I driving that chronically stalling junker through a mile long traffic jam.

But I must acknowledge, it did get us down and back. I mean, kudos to JH for knowing his car.  But considering the scary driving I sat through with both JH and T, it might be one of those things where you simply live longer by spending more money. JH has a tendency to tail end at speed which is unnerving to someone used to defensive driving. Lisa commented that I should just drive next time. She was like: “Your life is worth $1000!” Actually, it would have cost me around 700, since he does chip in. But splitting his gas in Big Blue cost maybe $250. 

Regarding the climbing: I was able to redeem my honor on the 5.6 Double Dip route. That thing is so run out! At the move where I backed off last time, I forced myself, against my better judgement…to keep climbing up. I got up into a dead end and started freaking. I was too far right and there was nothing but slippery slopers. No hands at all. I considered stepping up on the slopers, but happened to look left…which was technically the wrong direction….the bolt was off to the right….and saw a decent dip for my foot. I stepped left, and found a sequence that got me up to the 1 inch horizontal ledge. 

Once there, I saw I could clip the bolt if I could do a no hands traverse about 12 feet right. At that point I was looking down the throat of a 30 foot slab fall. It was one of those defining moments where you question your life choices. No one was going to rescue me. It was two choices: 1. take the fall; or 2. climb and hope you don’t fall. I went with door number 2. 

JH and Tim led Penny Lane. I was still burned out on runnouts so I followed it. Tim and I climbed Eff Four, the mellow 5.6 multipitch right of Heart and Sole. Tim has a habit of walking off barefoot. He does great so he must have thick skin.

Barefoot Tim
Barefoot Tim

When we arrived at the crowded first come first served campground the day after Xmas we knew that Dennis, Cam and Carmen were in 34, and Craig was in 10. But as soon as we drove past Toe Jam I saw Handsome Dave and his little black Pontiac hatchback in site 30. We figured we could make that work, but it was great to also have our other friends in the campground for back up options.

Handsome Dave
Handsome Dave

JH and I climbed the easy warm up to the left of the Flake. As we were descending we saw Cam and Carmen walking back from Illusion Dweller. I hadn’t seen them in a couple years. They invited us to camp in Dennis’s spot, since he was in town for a night catching up on work. I slept out in my bivy sack, which was very warm despite the 30 degree night.

While JH was cooking breakfast I did the dawn patrol. We really needed the ham radios as there is no cell service down on the road. But we thought we didn’t have room in his tiny car. If we had them, I could have called him to bring the car over when I found an empty site.

Dave belaying
Dave belaying

As it played out, I found site 27 empty. I laid out my sleeping pad on the table and sat down in the site to establish our claim. I glanced over at Craig and Daves sites, hoping for reinforcement, but everyone was asleep. I was glad to be in my expedition puffy. It was an hour’s wait before anyone woke up. 

Finally I saw Handsome Dave moving around 3 campsites away.  Dave immediately recognized the dilemma and interrupted his breakfast plans to drive his Pontiac over to 27 which anchored the site.  

Me and JH in site 27
Me and JH in site 27

I did climb a couple routes with Craig and Vladimir. Craig and I did Geronimo Finish, traversing in from the right. It was great to have a 5 up there. I’m pretty sure I could lead it by approaching via Dogleg.

One night I was on my second Mikes Hard when Craig appeared out of the darkness at our campfire.

“How’s it going Mark?”

“Ah, great, just finished dinner, hitting a Mikes.”

“You want to go do Hobbit Roof in the moonlight?”

“What? Didn’t you get enough climbing during the daylight?”

“No, we were hanging out with the kids, scrambling around the campsite.”

“Ah Jeez! I was just getting comfortable. But it’s not like we haven’t done this before (6 years back). I can’t say no…it would mean I’m getting old”

“Yupp, can’t have that.”

Vladimir and Cole also walked over with us. Vlad brought his big Canon and a remote flash. Craig led the 10+ face move by red headlamp, cleanly, in the dark. Neither Vlad nor I could follow it cleanly, not the face move or the overhung roof.

Hobbit Roof, PC: Vladimir Bobov
Me following Hobbit Roof, PC: Vladimir Bobov

Diane and Joan showed up on Thursday and we got them a campsite by the second night. Dave, JH, Joan, Diane and I all walked over to Sports Challenge rock where I led a stiff and awkward 5.8.

The next day Dave led the 10+ Exorcist at Hall of Horrors while I led a 5.8 to the left. Mine had a flaring start but good otherwise. We all followed the Exorcist but that crux is hard! You have to layback the side of the crack on tips.

Bat tent and a storm approaching
My Bat tent and a storm approaching, Big Blue ready for action

Probably the best climb I did was following Dave up Left Banana Crack. Right Banana looked great also but it’s an eleven, though it looked like solid hands and I was tempted. Perhaps on my next trip when I’ve warmed up and not suffering from Long Covid aches and pains.

I did my usual trips up Mikes Books, Hands Off, Toe Jam and Bat Crack. JH had a bad eye on our trip to Indian Cove so Tim and I did a trip up The Duchess. He chose to combine pitches one and two so I was surprised to get to the belay ledge and see the rope continuing up…though a body slot tunnel! It had been 30 years since I’d done that pitch. As I was crawling up through the wedged washing machine sized boulders I prayed that they wouldn’t move and pin me in place. The walk off was cake, and we did two of the bolted lines on the way out.

On the last day JH led Photog. It’s only 5.6 but that thing is sketchy! The traverse on the vertical bottom 50 feet is incredibly intimidating for both leader and follower. Pro is minimal for both. I hesitated to commit to that move for a long 10 minutes. Didn’t help that it was freezing in the shade. I had to step on shoelace sized flakes with both feet while doing a gaston on a rotten flake. Then I reached up with my frozen fingers to a half inch ledge. It quickly got easier with jugs…but that move! No way that is 5.6, I don’t care what anyone says. This is the same crag with Illusion Dweller on the sunny side. The walk off was a cakewalk.

On the drive home we stopped for the night at Castle Crags. I slept in my 40 year old Early Winters bivy sack. I really need to sew a better, bigger bivy. Just a simple hoop to keep the fabric off my face would be so nice. I’m envisioning two exterior poles with the breathable fabric attached with snap on clips. It’s got to be super quick and pack small.

Josh with Sue

December 11th, 2023

It’s been almost two weeks since we got back from Josh.

I remember lots of nights in the bat tent. Waking up and staring at the condensation. I made the damn thing too short so my head brushes the roof when i get up. In the big thunder and lightning storm the forward rain facing seam leaked in a couple ounces of water. It wasn’t enough to matter, but could easily be fixed with a removable zippered vestibule. I’m thinking a one inch leather strip on both ends. It would have holes punched every inch. I could lace on the vestibule, which would have it’s last attachment point on the corner stake loop on both sides. On the other end, I’d secure it’s vee point to the O tent single anchor with elastic. 

I climbed a few things well. Everything at Solarium went ok. Toe Jam was iffy but fine. Continuum, A 5.8 at Split Rock had me hanging 5 times. On our last day, the one following the thunderstorm, I led Hands Off and Double Cross like my old self…super strong and confident…figuring out the cruxes with ease…power to spare. 

But where was that guy during the previous 12 days? 

On the drive home:

Sue: “I got  this seat so far foward the airbag will kill me if I get in an accident”

me: “Oh shit, I better start looking for a new wife. Hey Siri!”

Siri: “Yes”

me: “Find me a Russian bride”

Siri: “Yes, I can help you with that, here is what I’ve found. There are Russian brides in Vladivostok, St. Petersburg and Moscow. Would one of those be what you need?”

Sue: “We want to see Anastashia!”

Laughter ensues…

Sue got a stopper stuck on beginners 1. She had previously borrowed my nut pick the day before. But I’d taken it back and forgot to tell her. So she couldn’t get it out and I had to lower down to clean it.

With me belaying her on the way down we were slow to get off. I placed two cams for the belay down the last chimney…it’s the Bousioneer, Papa Woolsey walk off. I made a mental note to pull the anchor before descending. But lowering the rope and the rack in the dark distracted me. I got down and did a scan of the rack to see if anything had fallen off when I slid it down. 

Good thing: t was missing the two cams from the anchor. I tried to climb up in the dark but that chimney is polished! I’d done it before but couldn’t figure out the damn moves!

Finally I realized I needed to mantel the last foothold while jamming a hip and reaching high. It goes, but just barely. In addition to no nut pick, she didn’t have an emergency head lamp or prusiks. On our next trip to town we got her all of that. She now has the petzl E+Lite.

I’ve had that lite 8 years and it’s never failed. It lives in my chalkbag. Sue also didn’t have a chalkbag with a zipper…so we bought her one of those.

But that got me thinking. My rock pack headlamp is an old school BD headlamp with 4 AA cells. It’s quite heavy and has one of those over designed single button functions to turn on red, blue and green lights. Plus it’s case is a gooey mess due to a spilled bottle of DEET. 

I’m thinking I could save some weight in my rock pack by switching to Sue’s main camping headlamp which is a Fenix HM50R.

That would fit in my chalkbag when I know for sure I’ll do a late route, and would be much better than hauling up my big ass BD light. It’s just as bright, but obviously doesn’t last as long. I like that you can keep a brand new battery as a backup.

I could use the bd light in the house or the rav4 with my big fenix always hanging in the truck.

This means the new smaller fenix would go in my rock pack, and the big BD would move to the house or the rav4. I’m gonna think on it. I hate blowing money on stuff I don’t need.

Since returning I bought a bottom bracket tool at rei. The guy down at the old town bike shop was right. You can’t use a mountain bike derailleur on a 3 speed front sprocket without the matching shorter bottom bracket. With the shorter axle, the derailleur can reach out far enough to push the chain onto the farthest sprocket. It was only a few sixteenths shorter, but it worked.

I had to tinker with  some cable lengths and set screws but it is shifting very nicely now thru all 21 gears. I’ve been climbing with both Gina and Chris at the gym. Gina was two days in a row Saturday and Sunday.

Lisa, Levi and Olivia were here Monday – Tuesday. Levi is starting to smile and Olivia is markedly smarter in just a couple weeks. She is forming sentences and clearly understands everything we say. 

Clint’s got a bear head in his freezer. Hunting has taken him down some unusual roads. It  cost $1000 to go to Josh at 15mph with gas prices around $4.50/gallon. 

I took, but didn’t use my big camera. The few photos I took with my phone are dumb. I do remember quite a few nights sitting by my propane campfire, sipping some whiskey and enjoying the quite sounds of the desert evening. 

My worst day was when I bailed off Double Dip at the second bolt. Rain was only 15 minutes away, and maybe I sensed that. But still, Double Dip!!!

I didn’t even recognize myself half the time. Blame it on long covid or pmr, or prednisone, or age…who knows. On the day we left I climbed Hands Off and Double Cross like my old self. 

If I’d stayed, I might have finished strong, but Sue was burned out on camping.

Since returning we’re back in ping pong 3 days a week. Those are some great friends down there. On Wednesdays Bob and Randy show up and they play some mean ping pong. I played about 8 games with them and lost every time. Still, Randy is very good at keeping loosing fun. He’ll get on a roll where he pops up high floaters, aiming them towards my right arm which is my strong one. 

I’ll slam them back as hard as I can. He’ll run way back and pop them up to the right corner again…rinse and repeat. It’s super fun. We both get something out of it. He improves his defensive game while I refine my slams.

Clint and family are in Hawaii for two weeks. Jamie’s got a rich relative with an island vacation home where they are staying for some helicopter pilots wedding. Sue is running herself ragged managing Clint’s farm. He’s got chickens and a fat old dog. Wyatt is a good dog, but he can barely walk anymore and mostly lays around. 

There are some wack jobs around town now stealing Kia’s. They hang out the window waving guns and terrorize the neighborhoods. Clint was half a block away and saw them attacking a guy with a dog. He had both kids and Wyatt with him and high tailed it out of there, dialing 911 as he dragged Rose and Wyatt away from the crime scene.

Sue walks that neighborhood all the time either for exercise or to walk Wyatt. But with these wack jobs shooting people in the neck (Federal Way last week) we have been wishing we had some kind of protection. I’m going to buy another one of those tire thumpers from Loves travel stops. It’s basically a billy club. Not much good against a gun, but better than nothing.

I’m looking into some other options as well. There are some interesting paint ball markers that have been modified for self defense. They call it “Less Lethal”, as in: depending on what kind of round you put in them, they will be less lethal than a firearm. There is far too much firearm gun violence in America. Jeez, it’s constantly in the news. The people who are promoting the “Less Lethal” paint ball markers argue that, if you are attacked by a pit bull, or a wack job with a knife, the markers shoot a rather painful rubber bullet. It can be enough to persuade the attacker to go away. But the rubber bullets aren’t lethal. They typically just bruise. You can also load them with rounds that contain pepper spray, or maybe it’s some kind of tear gas. Anyway, it’s an interesting trend for people who don’t want to, or can’t, carry a real firearm.

It’s a real dilemma. As a pacifist, and someone who dislikes guns, I have no desire to carry a firearm. The statistics are horrific for having a gun in the home. You are actually safer to not have one. My dad was the same way. He hated guns after his little brother was killed in a tragic accident when a shotgun tipped over. My grandpa kept it by the door to shoot crows up in Sitka, Alaska.

But with wack jobs cruising the neighbor hood, hanging out car the windows waving guns…what is a good citizen to do? 

I’ve finally finished both vestibules for the bat tent. Who knew sewing a cone shaped vestibule could be so hard? I tried using velcro, but that was a joke. I should have known better. Velcro is not capable of loading under tension. I ended up attaching the removable vestibules with zippers. Yup, that’s right. I’ve got one for each end…you never know which direction the storm is coming from. They protect the door seams…which leak a little. 

With all the work and headaches I’ve put into the bat tent I’m starting to really miss our old REI 3 man mountain tent. That thing was dry as a bone when it was new. Even a Smith Rock gully washer couldn’t make that thing leak. I remember sitting in it as the rain poured down in buckets, dry as a bone inside. 

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.

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


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


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


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.


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


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