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Category Archives: Adventures

The Ruchert Motion 5.13a – Grand Finale at the NRG

This fall has featured some pretty goofy weather conditions.  October was hot, November was wet, and December is…perfect?!?  Our NRG season typically wraps up before Thanksgiving.  After that, the days are so short, with frigid mornings and evenings, and nighttime temps that drop below our enjoyable-camping-with-kids threshold.  It’s also not uncommon to contend with snow, so even a stray warm day can end up wet.  Not to mention the holidays are coming, and we want to focus on that!  But Thanksgiving  weekend brought fantastic weather we couldn’t pass up…and we both put good work in on The Ruchert Motion 13a.  And when we saw that the forecast was just as good for the following weekend, we had to go back and bring our try hard.

The press out move…thankful for every inch!

But the kink in our plans was poor CragDaddy, who rolled his ankle punting off a gym boulder problem just one move away from sending a sick new V13 in our backyard no one knows about and never will because it imploded back into earth upon CragDaddy’s impact. 😉 Thankfully the “incident” turned out to be just a minor sprain, and by the time the weekend rolled around, he was pain-free with just an annoying amount of swelling.  He could toprope all day long…but going “a muerte” on his project still didn’t seem wise.  So unfortunately for him (but very much appreciated by me), the only things he was able to bring to this NRG double bonus weekend were superior belay skills, encouraging pep talks, and camera management skills.   Actually, before you feel too sorry for him, he DID manage to sneak in some try hard on his toprope burns, and I’m confident that he’ll be ready for Ruchert Motion next spring.

But all joking aside, I am very grateful that CragDaddy was still up for making a trip that was undoubtedly more fun for me than it was for him.  I definitely owe him some “support services” time back out there this spring.  

And thankfully, I made it worth his while.  It took 4 go’s, but I finally put it down at the end of Day 1.  My confidence was a rollercoaster all day.  The first burn was a warm-up, and I yarded through all the hard moves – the opening move, a tipped out move in the middle that is hard on my wrist, and the entire crux.  There’s another kinda hard sequence after the crux but it’s not tweaky, so I went for it but came up a little short and took a fall on an extended right shoulder that did not feel great.  It hurt for a few minutes but then seemed fine (and left me thankful that I’ve been doing all those little stabilizing exercises on the regular!)  Once I clipped the chains, my fingers were a lot warmer and I rehearsed all the hard moves as I lowered.  

My favorite kidcrushers.

My 2nd burn felt awesome.  I made it all the way to the crux without too much difficulty. Things were actually going so well that I unknowingly got my left foot up higher than I had been, which threw off my balance at the end of the crux, and my right hand slipped off a split second before I could move it to the next hold.  After a quick hang, I finished it up, and lowered off feeling very optimistic.

But my 3rd go I didn’t even make it to the crux.  I fell in the reachy 11+ section on the move that is hard on my wrist.  This particular move has me completely pressed out to my fingertips, then making a desperate pop to a jug.  I played around with some different beta, and found a sequence that was a little higher percentage.  The only down side to the new beta was that it was harder on the skin, which at this point, was at a premium thanks to that sharp little hold I dry fired off of on my previous burn.  Rather than exfoliating my finger tip any more by trying the crux on a non-send burn, I opted to just come down rather than rehearse it again, since splitting a tip would mean game over for the day.  Confidence plummeted.  

Big C in action.

4th go.  The opening move, the one that thwarted me all but twice last weekend, continued to go well.  I winced as I cranked out the new beta for the press out move, but was relieved when I glanced down at my finger tip and didn’t see any blood.  There’s a great rest stance after that, and I stayed there a good long while.  I moved through the next moves smoothly, made the clip, and entered the crux traverse.  The holds are heinously small, so I went as quickly as I could.  I was red-lining as I got my feet up to make the big exit move to the jug, but I held on for all I was worth and stuck the hold!  

Exiting the crux

All that was left between me and the last 20 feet of 5.10 land was the kinda hard traverse I’d fell at the end of on my warm-up.  The move getting into this traverse is never smooth for me.  The holds are an easy reach for CragDaddy, but it’s very awkward for me to get both hands established on the traverse holds, so I have to smear my foot on a very slippery hold and do a weird move that we christened the “donkey kick.”  Every time I do it, I’m afraid that foot is going to blow off, but it never did…until this time!  Luckily, it was just after both hands were on, so I managed to hang on.

The only other issue came in 5.10 land when I thought CragDaddy was short roping me, but it turned out to be my tail knot stuck in the bottom biner of the quickdraw.  ?!?  Never had that happen, never heard of it happening, but thankfully it was an easy fix. 

And…woohoo!  A perfect end to a fabulous fall climbing season!  Actually to be accurate, it wasn’t quite the end yet.  We climbed the next day too – CragKiddo got a chance to crush at the Meadow, and I got a chance for revenge on Stretch Armstrong 12a, the route I’d chickened out on the previous week.  CragDaddy looked longingly at Team Machine 12a, the route he’d “toprope sent” the previous week, but decided not to risk a lead fall, especially on that particular line, as its scary even with two good feet.

It’s pretty difficult to get good pictures when it’s just us and the kids, but CragDaddy did manage to set our camera up in a nearby tree to get some video footage.  Full disclosure, it’s not great – in order to get the whole route we had to shoot vertically.  And I climb painfully slow so it’s not exciting at all.  But it at least captures the moves and rad-ness of the line.  The zoomed in crux shots were taken on the sending go, but the rest of the footage is from other burns throughout the day.  We put it to music to make it less boring and also drown out the kids talking a little bit.  If you’d like to check it out, go here.  (And please excuse the try hard sounds on the opening move…)

I hope everyone had a great climbing season, and since it’ll probably be pretty quiet on the blog around here until after the new year, I’d like to wish everyone a very happy holiday season!  See you in 2018 and thanks for reading! 🙂

 

 

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NRG at Thanksgiving

Did your post-Thanksgiving plans include shop til you drop or #optoutside?  As you might have guessed, ours involved the latter.  The forecast was beautiful for the early part of last weekend, so we squeezed in a quick visit to our favorite east coast climbing destination for a half day Friday and full day Saturday.  

Reachy 11+ section on Ruchert Motion 13a

All we had time for on Friday afternoon was a couple of pitches each at Bridge Buttress, and despite our best efforts, we just couldn’t pull anything together.  I tackled an old nemesis of mine – Stretch Armstrong 12a, while CragDaddy tried his hand at Team Machine, also 12a.  I’d been on Stretch before a handful of times, but never felt close to sending it.  The route is very appropriately named, and my crazy beta was far too desperate to link on point.  This time however, I was able to work out a slightly different sequence that felt a lot more doable.  It was very committing, and felt every bit of 12b/c, but it seemed like it would work.  Unfortunately, when my turn was up again, I just couldn’t get the job done.  The kids started arguing, the sun never quite came around so my hands got really cold, one kid started crying, I wasted a lot of energy trying to remember a sequence down low, other kid starts crying, and so on and so forth.  By the time I got to the crux, my head was far too distracted to commit to the moves.  I hung, then did the moves first try.  Ugh.  

The 1st world problem woes continued with CragDaddy’s turn on Team Machine.  Due to fading light, cranky kids, and several scary sections, he opted to toprope rather than lead it.  The crux had taken him forever on round 1, and he figured it was still so low percentage he might as well toprope it…but of course he did it clean, earning him the dreaded “toprope-send.”  Womp womp.  

CragDaddy, aka “toprope toughguy”

But despite the fruitlessness of our Friday endeavors, everyone woke up Saturday in good spirits, ready for the main event.  For over a year, we’d been eyeing The Ruchert Motion 13a out at Beauty Mountain.  With newfound confidence from our last couple of trips to Hidden Valley, I was ready to give it a whirl.  Conditions were darn near perfect – low 40’s in the morning, low 50’s by afternoon, plenty of sun at the base of the cliff for the kids to “bask” in.  (During the morning hours, they laid around on the rocks pretending to be king cobras waking up from hibernation.)  

My first run, however, was far from perfect, and I was actually pretty discouraged.  In hindsight, it probably would have made more sense to warm-up on something else first, but psych was high so we jumped right in, knowing it would take us a while to get the draws in. The Mountain Project entry describing the first few bolts as “reachy 11+” also played heavily into our decision to skip a proper warm-up…but that description proved to be wildly inaccurate, at least for CragDaddy and me.  

You know, just bassssking around at the crag.

After flailing around for about 15 minutes, I skipped the opening moves and THEN climbed through a couple of bolts worth of what I could see described as reachy 11+.  Then came the crux, and my first attempts were dismal.  I stick-clipped my way through, then flailed through the next sequence that, while easier than the crux, was still pretty hard.  The last 20 feet was really fun 5.10 climbing (the kind that makes for a great, actual warm-up), but by the time I got to the top I was more exhausted than warmed up, and lowered straight down without trying any of the moves again.  

CragDaddy’s experience was similar, and when he got down, we took a nice long break to eat leftover pizza and “bask” with our King Cobra children.  The kids then moved to a different game involving catching “crabs” on an island boulder stranded in a sea of leaves, so at CragDaddy’s encouragement, I took the opportunity to have second go on Ruchert.  This run was decidedly better.  I still couldn’t touch the first move, but my fingers were a lot more warmed up by this point, and and I WAS able to do the crux moves. 

Psych.

 

I was feeling very encouraged after my 3rd burn, especially when I actually was able to do the first move when I tried it again on the way down!  My 4th go, however, was the best yet – I only hung in two spots!  (And it should have been just one, but I botched a foot in one of the reachy moves before the crux.)  When I got to the crux I was pretty tired and starting to get a little sloppy with my feet, but I managed to get through it after a few tries, and was then able to shake out enough post-crux to finish the climb clean.  

The weather was forecasted to be drastically colder and cloudier on Sunday, so we headed back home Saturday night.  Judging by how wrecked my arms felt when I tried to rake leaves the next day, it was the best decision!  But that said…it feels awesome to have something “in the hopper” at the New again!  So many times I feel like I have such a love/hate relationship with the New because of all the times I get shut down on long moves.  But this one is gonna go down!  And hopefully sooner rather than later! Fingers crossed for this weekend, because if it doesn’t go down Saturday or Sunday, I’m gonna have to wait til spring!  

 

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Mom Guilt and Type 2 Fun…aka Making Lemonade

“Well, this sure is some slip-sliding fun!” I said with my best fake smile to both of my kids as we made our way down the gully to the base of the cliff.  We’d been hiking for about an hour along a trail that featured a steep incline, several hundred wooden steps, and LOTS of wet leaves.  Our pace had been slow but consistent, in a cold, misty drizzle that didn’t look like it had any intention of letting up any time soon, despite what the radar/forecast showed on my phone.  We were on our way to meet up with a photographer friend of mine who wanted to get some rad “climber amidst fall foliage” photos at our local crag.  Actually, we were supposed to have gone out there the day before… but had rescheduled for the following day since it was raining off and on and “conditions would be better tomorrow.”  (Said in quotes because conditions were in fact no drier, and 20 degrees colder.)  

But anyway, after I flashed my best fake smile to the kiddos there was silence for a couple of seconds.  Then my oldest looks up and says, “This is actually not that fun.”  He then proceeds to burst out laughing, at which point his younger sister quickly follows suit.  I wasn’t sure how to read his comment…He was right, of course.  Maneuvering around slick, leaf-laden rocks was “actually not that fun.”  But why were they laughing?  Their demeanor was genuine and silly, not sarcastic.  Perhaps the great alpinist Mark Twight’s famous words “it doesn’t have to be fun to be fun” can apply to children as well as grown-ups?

Our weather woes continued once we met up with Bryan Miller of Fixed Line Media, and our friend Robert, whom Bryan had somehow convinced to meet us out there.  “Splitter conditions, right?!?” Bryan said (now that WAS sarcasm.)  Conditions were downright miserable.  While it was no longer actively raining, the fog was so thick you could hardly make out any trees, let alone delicate fall colors.  But what else could we do…here we all were, and the rock was (mostly) dry and actually significantly warmer than the air temperature.  Let’s take some pictures! 

In case you were wondering, there are 335 stairs…we counted.

I got the kids established on their blanket, and passed out candy bribes food bags and some toys.  Surprisingly, no one had complained since way back when we first started hiking in (the little one ALWAYS takes a while to get her hiking mojo going.)  Everyone looked warm, happy, and in the process of being well-fed, so I decided to take a warm-up lap while Bryan rigged the ropes on the route he wanted to shoot.  

I was about halfway up when I heard a commotion coming from the kids’ area, followed by my oldest shouting up to me that his sister had peed in her pants.  I looked down to see my youngest with her pants around her ankles.  Sigh.  “Mommy, I’m cold!  I need you to snuggle me!”  she shouted pitifully, extending her arms up as high as she could, as if she could pluck me from the wall.  That’s when the mom-guilt started in…”Why are we out here?!?!?  What mother takes her children out in conditions like this!?!?” I berated myself inwardly while I outwardly tried to direct big brother to the bag of spare clothes on the ground (as my belayer patiently waited.)  

I lowered as soon as I could and put fresh clothes on my daughter (since of course the only step towards clean and dry clothes that had been made while I was up was the taking off of her shoes…which did NOT help with the cold situation.)  After dry clothes and the requested amount of snuggles it was time to shoot photos.  I managed to release myself from the snuggler’s grasp in exchange for my soft shell AND puffy jacket.  The route Bryan had chosen to photograph was Energy Czar 10d, for the aesthetics of it’s features, as well as the backdrop behind it (the latter of which was completely invisible at this point due to fog.)  He’d wanted me to do 2 laps, so that he could shoot from both sides of the route.  The route is not very tall, and I climbed fairly quickly, but by the time I was starting up on lap 2, youngest child was no longer satisfied with snuggling with the “mommy jackets.”  The mom-guilt continued to build.  I pictured my daughter lying on the couch in her therapist’s office as an adult, recounting the time I abandoned her on a blanket in the cold, wet woods to scale a cliff.  

Z’s demeanor improved dramatically the moment I got down, but only so long as she was attached to my lap, which made packing up difficult at best.  By the time we were ready to hike back out my inner monologue had me convinced that I was an unfit mother for my children and that DSS could potentially be waiting for me in the parking lot.  But then we started hiking.  

Within 5 minutes we were back at the soggy, leafy scramble that had sparked my “slip-sliding fun” comment.  The giggling started up again.  Along with some very melodramatic “whoa-oa-oa-oah’s!!!!!” that turned into even louder giggles.  Both children transformed into Mexican jumping beans on the wooden staircase, and by the time my wobbly knees got down to the wider, main part of the trail, they were “gone.”  Said in quotations, because I could clearly see my 3 year old about 30 feet away, standing very still behind a tree that covered up approximately one third of her body, with her eyes fixated on a large rock that had a suspicious flash of orange puffy exposed on the far side of it that looked remarkably like big brother’s jacket.

“WHERE DID MY CHILDREN GO?!?”  I speculated loudly as I kept walking.  More giggling ensued.  “I can’t find them anywhere?!?”  I said, and paused.  Wait for it….

“BOO!”  They jumped out from behind their respective hiding places like a flock of wild banshees, hooting and hollering in circles around me for a few moments before taking off again to find another place to hide.  And so the hike went, for the next 30 minutes.  Their grand finale was when they caught glimpse of our friends, whom we hadn’t waited for to hike out, knowing that they would catch up with us at some point.  Both kids dove into opposite directions off the trail into a drainage ditch.  The stayed there for several minutes as our friends approached, waiting for the perfect moment to reveal themselves.  The moment finally came, and the last section of hike before the parking lot was littered with laughter on all sides.  

As our friends drove away and I loaded my crew into the car, I looked at the two dirty, happy faces smiling back at me and my heart overflowed with gratitude.  Gratitude for these little people who turned what should have been a miserable afternoon into a happy walk in the woods.  Gratitude for the chance to make memories with these people, even especially the type 2 fun memories that we’ll retell again and again, maybe even to their children’s children one day.  And you know what?  As they chatterboxed the entire way home, that mom guilt started to slowly but surely fade away.  Clearly none of us were any worse for the wear after our wetter-and-colder-than-expected adventure.  In fact, one could make an argument that we were even better off!

When I remember to look at life through those gratitude lenses, I become a lot less worried about being (or rather NOT being) a perfect mom.  While I am a far from perfect mom, I can say without any doubt that I am the perfect mom for MY kids.  And while they are most definitely not perfect kids, they are the perfect kids for ME.  And I hope that we always help each other remember how to make lemonade out of those sour lemon kinda days!

Many thanks to Bryan Miller for the photos, Robert Hutchins for the belays, and to both for academy award winning death scenes after being shot by a 7 year old with a capgun…all 457 times.  All things considered, I’d say the pictures didn’t turn out half bad!  (Oh, and if you liked this, you might also like this one from the archives – “Type 2 Mountain Biking Fun with a 4 Year old.”)  

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Hidden Valley Sendage

Lately the Southeast has felt more like “June-tober” than “Rock-tober,” much to the chagrin of every climber that I know.  What’s up with this?!?  This is supposed to be our prime time, with conditions cool and crisp…but instead we all feel like gorillas in the mist.  That said, we knew that the elevation at Hidden Valley would make for cool(er) temps than the surrounding areas, and considering we’ve spent the past four weekends at the New, we figured we could use a change of pace.  And it turned out to be awesome!

“I’m off!” Photo: Jaron Moss

Our plan for Day 1 was for CragDaddy to get a little bit of revenge on Blues Brothers 12a, a route that should’ve gone for him back in August, when he got some awesome photos thanks to Bryan Miller at Fixed Line Media, but unfortunately no send.  However, worthy lines are always worth coming back too, so I was happy to oblige CragDaddy, especially since I was interested in a route that shared the same starting crack – Coneheads #2 12c.  I didn’t really expect 12c to go for me in just one day, so when CragDaddy also walked away empty handed after the first day, it was pretty easy for us to talk ourselves into another Round at the Saturday Night Live wall for Day 2.  And guess what – we both sent!  CragDaddy on his very first attempt of the day (even hanging draws!), and me on my 3rd and final attempt of the day.  

Dinner with these three goofballs back at camp.

This send meant a lot more to me than most – while not my first of the grade, it’s been almost a year and a half since I’ve sent 12c.  And as I look back at the (small) handful of 12c ticks to my name, I think this one is on the harder end of that spectrum.  

I was interested in Coneheads for a couple of reasons.  First of all, thanks to Blues Brothers I knew I could do the start.  Secondly, I knew a female friend of mine was working it, and I’m always more inspired to get on stuff other ladies are doing.  Part of it is a girl power comraderie thing.  It’s also encouraging to know that a route goes for someone that doesn’t have a 7 foot wingspan…

Anyway, Coneheads is an awesome line, and it taught me a lot about the process of redpointing.  The line boasts a little bit of everything – a technical crack with a little bit of burl to it, a weird block move, some juggy overhang, some powerful, bouldery overhang, and a loooooong, exciting crux sequence to the chains on some of the funkiest crimp features I’ve ever seen.  Seriously, one of the key holds was a “thumbercling” using a quartz crystal that looked just like a cigarette had been glued to the wall.  

Enjoying the jugs while I can…

After my first burn I felt so trashed (even on toprope!) that I almost took it down.  Thanks to the encouragement of my crew, I pulled the rope and gave it another go, this time on the sharp end.  I have found that many times the most accurate gauge of “how close” you are on a route comes from the second go, as opposed to the first.  On the first burn, advantage always goes to the rock, because the climber is more or less coming in blind.  But on the second attempt, the playing field is a little more level, and you can get a better assessment of how you stack up against the rock now that you know what to expect – what the moves are like, what the falls are like, where the crux is, where the rests are, what the clipping stances are like, etc.  By the end of the day, I was delighted to have this route down to a two-hang, and to be able to link the entire 10 move crux sequence after a hang.  

On every subsequent burn until the send go (so attempts 2-5), I made subtle but significant changes to my beta to make it flow more efficiently.  The final move of the crux became much more doable while carrying a pump with the addition of 2 intermediate holds.  The bouldery, overhanging section just before the crux was made more efficient by using a different hand hold, and refining EXACTLY where my feet needed to be.  I was able to find two “not good, but hopefully good enough” rest stances that allowed me to lower my heart rate a bit and get a brief shake out.  And of course, taking a LOT of big whippers working the runout crux got rid of the fear factor, which allowed me to fully commit without hesitation when the time finally came.  

Same route, different day. CragDaddy on Blues Brothers, fabulous photo by Bryan Miller of Fixed Line Media

And amazingly enough, “that time” came on the last burn of the weekend.  I was feeling tired, but after attempt number 5 was a solid one hang, I knew I owed it to myself to try one more time.  Even though the crux lasts pretty much until you reach the chains, the hardest move for me always seemed to be the second hand move of the sequence, bumping my left hand from a sloping crimp to a shallow, and dismally sharp, quartz rail.  I had a feeling that if I could just stick that move, I’d have a good shot at a send.  

Not a bad view back at camp…

On my sending burn, I focused really hard on resting the correct amount of time (rush, and you don’t get enough back, linger too long, and you start getting pumped again!), and on making my footwork absolutely perfect setting up for the move that kept spitting me off.  I pasted my foot on the wall, hit the sloping crimp, looked down to hop my right foot up an inch higher…and made the bump successfully!  The rest of the sequence I was on auto-pilot and before I knew it, I was clipping chains on what is probably going to end up being the highlight of my fall season!  

I’d love to hear from everyone else – how’s your fall tick list coming?  For those of you in the Southeast, it looks like we might FINALLY be getting the good stuff from the weatherman soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This Time it’s Endless, Not Sendless…

CragDaddy reaching tall on Gift of Grace 12b Photo: Michael Johnston

Ah, Endless Wall season.  There’s nothing like it.  Endless Wall is definitely my favorite climbing area at the New River Gorge, though on paper I’m not sure why.  From a climber perspective, the grades are stiff, the bolt spacing is spicy, and cruxes require committment from body, mind and soul all at once.  You’d better bring your try hard if you wanna climb here.  From a mama perspective, the hike is long, and giant ladders make for a difficult approach with kids.  You’d better bring your hiking bears if you wanna climb here.

As a family, it’s logistically always been hard for us to get down there as often as we’d like.  It’s not the best place for larger groups, so if we’ve got a large crew, other areas make a lot more sense.  I can think of countless times we’ve had to put projects on hold simply because we couldn’t convince anyone to hike down there with us.  Then there’s the weather conundrum – most of the wall bakes in the sun, so late fall and early spring are really best…when camping can get pretty darn cold for the kiddos.  

All that said, we were pretty psyched to see high’s in the low 60’s on the heels of our flying solo experiment from the week before.  It seemed like the perfect time to go for The Gift of Grace 12b, which would be warmed by the morning sun, but shaded by lunch time.  This proud line follows a striking arete to the top of the cliff and some of the best views of the gorge.  It’s got an intimidating reputation due to some nasty fall potential down low that can be mitigated with a long draw, so we tied in with stick clip at the ready.  CragDaddy stick clipped his way up most the route for his first attempt, and then I toproped.  We extended the draw on the 3rd bolt…I mean REALLY extended it, so that one could clip at a good stance before attempting the first crux.  (A fall during these moves without the extension would risk slamming into the lip of a low roof, your belayer, a slab boulder, or some combination of the three.)  Clipping the extendo-draw takes the risk of any of those scenarios down to pretty much zero…it seemed like a no brainer to us.  

Little Z embarking on a family rite of passage

Once we took care of the scary business, we could start working the route on the sharp end and focus on the moves…which were all HARD!  The climb starts with a burly lip traverse along the roof, to a series of long moves on incut crimps.  The first crux (the one that we neutered the fear factor on) is a very cool sequence on the arete, followed by a well-deserved no hands rest.  A few more crimpy moves, this time on bad feet, leads to another good rest on a blocky section of the arete.  Next comes the redpoint crux – a thin, balancy sequence of crimpy sidepulls culminating with a long move to better holds, with a tenuous clip thrown in the middle for good measure.  The rest of the climbing is probably no harder than 10+, with just enough shake out jugs to make the finish a probable, though not guaranteed, victory lap.  

By the end of the day, CragDaddy and I’d gotten in 3 burns each, both with a last go best go 2 hang.  We hiked out optimistic for a next day send.  However, our family highlight came at the end of the day, watching Little Z join the ranks of those that have scaled the big Honeymooner Ladders of Central Endless.  She was belayed from above by Daddy, and I climbed right below her to spot her if she slipped…and to tell her to slow down every 3 rungs so that Daddy had enough time to pull the rope up.  Surprisingly, the only other person who was more proud of her than herself was her big brother!  He gave her a huge hug at the top, and told her over and over what a good job she did on the hike out.  <3

2 ladders down, 1 to go!

Next day we found ourselves back at Gift of Grace bright and early, and since most everything else was still cold and in the shade, we opted to get down to business straightaway.  Steve still had some beta refining he wanted to do, so he volunteered to hang draws, er, haul the stick clip up.  I wasn’t entirely sure whether I was going to go for it or not on my first burn of the day, but by the time I got through the first crux and made it to the rest I was in send mode.  The next few moves went well, and the upper crux felt the best it’d ever felt.  I was carrying a little more pump than I wanted at the finish, but before I knew it, I was at the chains and taking in that New River Gorgeous view.  After somewhat mediocre performances the past couple of NRG trips, I needed this one, and I must say it felt pretty grand! 

Entering the “bad feet” section. Photo: Michael Johnston

CragDaddy sent in fine style just after lunch, then we hiked over to put up Totally Clips 5.8 for Big C, who was able to do all the moves but the crux, which is pretty reachy when you’re only 4 feet tall.  CragDaddy and our buddy Mike took advantage of having an 80m rope at the ready and climbed Fool Effect 5.9, and I ended my day on Slab-o-Meat 11d, a line I’d never even looked at before but turned out to be really nice (and FYI a great one if you’re breaking into the grade – the hard moves are all between bolts 1 and 3, followed by another 75 feet of fun (and exciting) 5.10 slabbing.  

This coming weekend will mark week number 4 in a row at the New, but this time we will be living the high life in a cabin with CragDaddy’s parents.  Hopefully the weather will be cooperative…but if not, at least we know we won’t be sleeping outside in the rain!  

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Be a Climber: Quitting (and re-creating) Your Day Job

The juxtaposition of my life does not go unnoticed by my closest friends and family. On one hand I love order, control, routine. Type A personality stuff. On the other hand, the well-defined and fully explored bores me to death and I crave adventure, the unknown, something new and ever-changing where the outcome is uncertain.

While those seem to be at great odds with each other, they come together in perfect harmony for me in the form of calculated risk. It’s the best of both worlds really. Let me give you a few examples. Before children, I free soloed and did X-rated routes up to 5.12. I can’t actually think of a single case when the route wasn’t an onsight. It had adventure, the terrain was unknown (to me) and the route was new (again, to me). But anyone who has done much of that kind of climbing also knows if it’s too adventurous, too unknown, and the outcome is too uncertain, well then, you can’t do it for very long and live to tell about it. Free soloing for me was equally about control and order. I was intimately familiar with the rock type and the climbing area. I felt, tested, and retested every hold before committing. I never climbed up something I couldn’t climb down. In fact I’ve backed off 5.7s as many times as I’ve backed off 5.11s. Yes there was risk. Yes I could have fallen. But those odds were slim. They were calculated risks.

Here’s another example. I received my Master’s degree in Special Education and found a knack for working with students with emotional disabilities in impoverished neighborhoods (the “ghetto” to you layman folk). Real-deal gangbangers with rap sheets and weapons charges that were known for violence. Most had given up on them so in turn, these types of students were quick to dismiss others (often violently). Calculated risk. I had the educational training – the strategies to diffuse the situation. I also have the personality to relate to them on their level, gain their trust, and push them toward a more positive direction. But it’s not without challenges and sometimes real dangers. I’ve had students get extremely angry – try to punch me, throw chairs at me, and worse. But I had the tools and mindset to get out of those situations (mostly) unscathed. The flip side is that teaching in a public school offers security and routine on some levels, yet every day was different. What worked with a kid yesterday won’t work with that same kid tomorrow. You must always adapt, constantly learn and improve. It kept me on my toes and was a good balance for me for a long time.

Fast forward and here I am, smack-dab in the middle of my thirties. I crave a change – a massive life shake up. Perhaps just ahead of the curve on a mid-life crisis. My mom always said I was advanced for my age. Anyway, teaching has given me so much and I hope that in return I have given something back to the kids I’ve worked with over the last 12 years. But it is too routine now, too “safe”, too familiar. My adult obligation of financial security I owe my family pulls me in one direction while the desire to take a risk and choose a new career path pulls me in another. I could not find balance between the two.

But I’m not a risk taker. While what I wrote above would seem to contradict that to some – what I mean is I’m not an “unknown outcome” kind of risk taker. Imagine this scenario for a minute: You flip a coin. Heads I win a dollar, tails you win a dollar. I do not see it as a 50/50 chance of winning a dollar. I see it as me losing a dollar. The odds are too unfavorable – there is too much risk. I would never agree to flip the coin. The risk must be low. I’ve built too much of a life to gamble any of it. Yet to some degree, there needs to be a little risk to entice me. Where is the balance? It’s different for each of us and it’s taken me a long time to finally find it.

I’ve been a rock climber for more years of my life than not. I’ve worked in gear shops, climbing gyms, for gear manufacturers, and even own a climbing publishing company called Fixed Pin. I have no formal education in “climbing business” but I know it better than anything else, perhaps better than I even know teaching. Climbing is my religion. I’m not a zealot but it is how I decompress, how I commune with nature, and how I rebalance myself. When I’m out of whack, my wife tells me to go climbing and I come home happier, more patient, and a better life partner and father overall. Some drink, some pray. I climb. Climbing is all I want to be around. I want to talk about it, write about it, and well, just do it. Enter Gravity One Climbing + Fitness.

I had always thought starting a climbing gym would be incredible but it seemed a bit too unrealistic for me. They cost millions of dollars to start up after all. But I have found that, perhaps through happenstance, I have been building up to this moment my entire adult life. I have the right experience (work and personal), the right connections, the right motivation, and the right amount of risk tolerance to venture off into the unknown – quit my government job as a public-school teacher that I virtually could never be fired or downsized from and start my own business where I am my own boss. All decisions directly affect me, good and bad. I could win big or I could lose it all. But it’s calculated. And isn’t that what being a climber means? Taking calculated risks. Isn’t that the lesson we all experience every time we go out to the crags? We leave the safety of the ground, where yes, we could fall back down to it. But we have ropes and protection and a trusted belayer to catch us. Things could go wrong – a piece could pull, a clip could be botched, a belayer could give too much slack. But rarely do we experience any of those things. We fall but only a little bit. We take comfort in both the risk itself as well as knowing that those risks have been greatly mitigated. Our partner has us. Our rope and gear will catch us. We push ourselves sometimes to places that are uncomfortable but we revel in that feeling once back on the ground, sometimes hours, days, or even weeks later. We retell those events over beers and around campfires trying to recapture that feeling. To me, that’s what it means to be a climber. Leave yourself exposed just enough to feel uncomfortable but not be in danger. I just feel so fortunate that I’ve finally learned how to carry that over into my professional life and to be able to experience a feeling of balance of calculated risk outside of climbing itself.

SEND-tember Kickoff – Red River Gorge

Ordinarily when I see rain in the forecast for a climbing weekend I’m pretty bummed.  But when it’s Labor Day weekend and we’re going to the Red, I’m actually psyched.  That’s because I know rain actually means that all the fair weather holiday climbers will bail on their plans, leaving the dry rock for those of us that don’t mind a little bit of mud.  And ironically, despite the deluge we drove through Friday night, the only rain we saw was a bit of drizzle Saturday afternoon! 

CragDaddy stretching tall on Dogleg 12a

Day 1 was spent at Muir Valley’s Solarium, one of our fave spots to climb.  I’m slowly but surely working my way along the wall, and I can honestly say everything I’ve touched there is awesome!  After a quick warm-up on Air-Ride Eqipped 11a, I began my quest to exact revenge on Magnum Opus 12a, a route that I came up juuuuust short on last spring.  The “business” starts right off the deck and does not let up for 4 bolts – sequential, powerful movement culminating with a toss to a glory ledge that, if successful, earns you a sit-down rest.  If unsuccessful, you’re taking a scary whipper.  Scary because more than likely you were too pumped to clip the 4th bolt from the tweaky mid-crux pockets, and opted to wait for the glory ledge to reach down and clip at your feet.  (FYI with a heads up belay the fall is totally clean…ask me how I know.)  After the sit-down rest you are rewarded with 60 feet of significantly easier, albeit still a little pumpy, climbing.  

Me pulling the roof on Manifest Destiny 11d Photo: Michael Chickene

My first attempt of the day was pretty dismal.  The beta that I’d written down and had so dialed last spring just didn’t seem to be working well at all.  I had all I could do to go bolt to bolt, let along link anything together.  The cruiser upper section even had me pumped.  Since the draws were up I felt like I owed myself one more go, but after that I was planning on taking it down.

Happy hikers on the Muir Valley stairs

The second go started a little bit better – I initiated the crux and made the first hard move to get the 3rd bolt clipped.  The next bit wasn’t pretty, but I bobbled my way through the sea of pockets and over to a good hold shaped just like an ear that I hadn’t previously been using.  I realized at this point that I actually felt surprisingly good.  I got my feet up and made a move to a flat edge, only to miss it but somehow catch myself on the ear hold.  I took a deep breath and went again, that time I got it.  All that was left was the toss to glory.  The pump clock was ticking as my right hand frantically searched for the correct hold.  I finally grabbed what I could and threw up a hail mary…I felt gravity start to kick in and readied my mind to take the big ride, only to find that I somehow managed to latch the ledge as I was falling away!  After taking a loooong rest on the ledge, I finished up the rest of the route without too much trouble.  Wahoo – revenge was mine!!!

Another highlight on the day was getting the flash on Manifest Destiny 11d, courtesy of a spoon-feeding of beta from the rest of our crew.  CragDaddy also finished his day out on Manifest Destiny, after getting in some solid fitness burns on Galunlati 12b.  

Day 2 was spent on the left side of the Motherlode.  CragDaddy exacted his revenge upon Ball Scratcher 12a, sharing a send train others from our group – congratulations to Kristi Cooke for her first ever 5.12 tick, and Michael Johnston for his second!  I spent most of my time on Swahili Slang 12b, a technical masterpiece of funky sandbaggery.  While the style of climbing would be a much better fit at the New than the Red, the movement was perhaps the most unique I’ve ever seen at the grade.  Delicate footwork, creative thinking…and big balls.  If I’m ever gonna send this, I’m gonna have to grow a pair…figuratively, of course.  My first go I stick-clipped my way through 4 of the 8 or so bolts.  My second go I toproped, and actually cleanly linked from the ground to the 2nd to last bolt.  

Kristi Cooke keeping it classy on Ball Scratcher 12a

That’s the point where I fall apart.  From an awkward foot ledge that is attained via a “gasthumbdercling” (you know, a hold you hit like a gaston/undercling type thing with your thumb), you stretch out right to a good hold, then romp to the finish on jugs.  But I can’t reach the good hold, I’m not even close.  And because of the awkward hand position on the gastonber gasthumber awkward hold, my hands are tied, figuratively (and sort of literally!) as to how much I can reposition my body.  On the drive home i was visualizing it and potentially came up with another option that MIGHT work.  So I won’t rule it out just yet, but for now I’m not in a hurry to get back to it.  

Our third day was spent at Bob Marley crag.  I took a ridiculously long time to gear up for the starting dyno on Toker 11a, then after doing it felt silly that it took so much hemming and hawing. I also took a couple of burns on Beta-vul Pipeline 12a, an incredibly steep jug haul that climaxed with a long toss to a ledge…then a tricky rock over move onto a delicate slab for the last 15 feet.   A 3 hang was the best I could muster, but with a little more fitness later on in the season I think a route like that could go for me.  Honestly, for me just getting to the top of a route of that angle is an accomplishment, so no disappointment here!  

While it’s early in the season for the type of fitness one needs at the Red River Gorge, CragDaddy and I were psyched to walk away with a handful of good sends.  SENDtember is shaping up nicely, with trips to the New and Hidden Valley creeping onto the fall schedule.  Where did everyone else adventure to for the long weekend?

 

 

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Photos at Hidden Valley with Fixed Line Media

A couple of weeks ago, we were excited that despite it being August, climbing conditions were not unbearable.  THIS weekend, however, we were shocked to find that conditions were down right good.  The mornings were cool, the air was crisp…I can’t believe this is happening in August, but I’m gonna call it – It’s Fall Ya’ll!!!!  Bring on Sendtember and Rocktober!  

The stunning backdrop high on Meatballs 12a/b
Photo: Bryan Miller @fixedlinemedia

But first, this weekend.  It was awesome because we had a great crew of people and got to work with Bryan Miller of Fixed Line Media.  Bryan is a rad adventure photographer that does his best work dangling from, you guessed it, a fixed line.  He answered the call of the mountains after years at a corporate desk job, and boldly left it because life is too short to not do what you love.  We’ve been trying to set up this photo weekend for a long while, and this weekend it finally happened.

CragDaddy with his flagging game on point.
Photo: Bryan Miller @fixedlinemedia

Our weekend plans got off to a funky start on Friday night, when we rolled in to Hidden Valley around 8, only to discover that the lake itself was closed (meaning no camping.)  Luckily, there is a commecial campground about 10 minutes down the road, so we were able to find a spot there.  It was crowded, expensive, and filled with giant RVs…not the way we usually roll, but it worked great in a pinch, and our spot right by the river was lovely.

Lemme interrupt all the climbing porn to show you a sweet daddy daughter moment.

We started our weekend off by warming up on Tidy Bowl 10a and You’re Gonna Need More Charmin Mr. Whipple 11a (seriously, these names?!?)  Then we made our way over to the main event – Meatballs 12a/b.  We figured out the beta for Meatballs a few weeks ago, and after a little more training in the gym, we both felt ready to send.  Bryan was psyched at the aesthetics of the rock, so he got rigged up on a neighboring route, and away we went.  Since Steve was kind enough to hang draws for me, I was able to send on my first attempt of the day, then I took another lap to make sure we got the shot Bryan wanted.  The lighting was perfect during Steve’s first send attempt, but he was so distracted flexing for the camera that he pitched off at the anchors.  😉  He tried it again later in the day though, and put it down in fine style.

Big C keeping it classy on Butt Crack 5.7+

Photo: Bryan Miller @fixedlinemedia

The objective for Day 2 was Blues Brothers 12a, another line we’d tried on our last trip out.  It’s a gorgeous, intimidating line that has a little bit of everything.  A burly, technical crack down low, some powerful bouldery moves on the steep headwall, culminating with a slopey mantle to the chains with some big air consequences.  It was my turn to hang draws, and if I’m honest, I was a little nervous about it.  On the last trip we’d had trouble finding the holds for the finish and resorted to stick clip shenanigans to get to the chains. This time though, the opening sequence felt far less awkward, thanks to refined beta and the addition of a cheater block that enabled me to reach the starting holds and still keep my shoulders engaged.  I was also more than delighted to find that our autumn-like conditions made the slopey holds at the top feel as gritty as sandpaper, making the final sequence a LOT more secure.  With the draws up and beta dialed, I felt pretty good about a next-go send, but there was a deadpoint move in the middle that I wasn’t sure I could hit on the fly.  It doesn’t always work out, but today it did – every sequence flowed smoothly, save a brief moment of panic where I got stalled out for a second or two trying to stand up out of the finishing crux.  But all’s well that ends well.  CragDaddy put in two solid burns, but didn’t quite have enough gas to finish it out, though I’m sure it’ll go down for him next trip.  

CragDaddy cutting loose on Blues Brothers 12a Photo: Bryan Miller @fixedlinemedia

When it came down to actual pitches done over the weekend, quality definitely won out over quantity.  Seems like everyone in our (large) crew accomplished something that they wanted to on the trip.  Turns out good people, good weather, and good climbing is still the perfect trifecta for fall adventures!

Sticking the deadpoint move on Blues Brothers 12a
Photo; Bryan Miller @fixedlinemedia

Many many thanks to Bryan Miller for hanging out with us (literally as well as figuratively) – you really captured the beauty of what Hidden Valley has to offer to the Southeastern climber.  Also props to the rest of the crew this weekend – Casey, Terah, Lee, and Sidney, thanks for the belays and all the help with the kiddos. Next week – Red River Gorge or bust! 

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A Bit of “Pre-Season” Climbing…

Wow.  It has been TWO months since I last posted here…I think that’s a record!  Our summer has been busy, but mostly with family beach vacations and pool/water park adventures.  Exciting and fun?  Of course!  But fit for a climbing blog – not so much.  Speaking of climbing, fall is quickly approaching, and WE. CANNOT. WAIT.  Those first few fall trips are always like a bird being let out of a cage to see if its wings really work.  We’ve been gym rats all summer – hangboarding, core work, and even an impromptu bouldering comp.  Soon it’ll be time to get out and see if it did us any good.  

Getting horizontal during Mating Season 11d

We got a sneak peek at fall this past weekend…sort of.  With a few passing rain showers and a lingering mist over most of Saturday, conditions could hardly be called “crisp.”  But mountain highs in the 70’s at least made for more friendly temps than the typical smothering August heat waves.  We had no agenda other than to get back on a rope and get our family hiking legs back into shape.  

A happy little hiker with Mr. Nick, one of her faves.

Saturday morning the whole cliff was socked in with fog, and even rock that stays dry in a downpour was still wet due to condensation (aka “rock sweat.”)  But we managed to find enough pitches to satisfy us for one day.  Best route of the day was Mating Season 11d, a technical face that led to a big roof.  (You can also stop at the rainy day anchors before the roof for a great 11b face climb.)  We moved on after one attempt, but after seeing how wet everything else was, by the end of the day we were wishing we’d kept the draws on for a send attempt.  We also tried Trans-Vest-Tights on the Chocolate Wall, an 11a face climb with a 12a extension that climbs a steep, crimpy headwall.  CragDaddy bailed on the extension due to unforeseen wet holds, but his report was that it’s well worth returning to in dryer conditions.  (I, however, am not sold on the lower part…it was pretty heady in a reachy kinda way for both myself and our other climbing partner of similar height.)  Also worth noting on the Chocolate Wall was Fudge 12c, a 4 star route that was advertised as “probably 13a for shorter persons.”  Never hurts to try though, right?  CragDaddy and I were both feeling great on all the moves until reaching the last bolt.  Then we both got completely shut down.  Despite every combination of beta we tried, it seemed like we were always short one foot, one hand hold, etc.  I guess it’s back to the gym to train for that one…or maybe just not get back on it.  If I’m gonna put 5.13 effort into something, I’d like to get 5.13 credit for it ;).  

Big C contemplating life on the face of Stallion 5.5

Day 2 brought no rain and a lot more sun, and by the end of the day, all but the seepiest of routes were dry.  Turns out CragDaddy and I, as well as our extra partner, all got a second chance sending go at Mating Season (well, 2nd AND third chance for me due to a hand hold breaking mid-crux, but it eventually went!)  We also thrashed around on the classic Blues Brothers 12a.  Definitely a good climb worth coming back to, but I’ll wait til the fall when the giant, furry spiders are all hiding away too deep for my hands to reach.   

CragDaddy working through Blues Brothers 12a

Last climb of the day was Meatballs 5.12a/b, a short but sweet line on the (you guessed it…) Meat Wall.  It shares a start with another classic – Possum Tongues of Aspic 12c, that we are potentially interested in for this fall.  Both climbs begin with a full-wingspan move that was actually far easier than it looked, then the former takes a right across a sea of incut crimps, while the latter tackles the blunt arete.  Considering it’s still “pre-season” and my endurance is no where near where it needs to be yet, I felt really good about making it to the last bolt (crux) on my flash attempt.  Meatballs packs A LOT of movement into a relatively short expanse of rock – great for training finger endurance.  I rehearsed the upper half of the route as I lowered and got it all clean, so I felt optimistic about a 2nd go send, but I wasted too much time looking for a foothold midway through, and found myself falling just before I could latch the finishing jug.  I’ll definitely get on it again this fall, when hopefully I’ll be in better shape and it’ll go down pretty easily.  

Stretched out like spaghetti on Meatballs 5.12a/b

Can’t wait for SEND-tember!  What projects are YOU putting work into this fall?

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(FINALLY!) Back at the NRG

It only took us until the middle of June this year, but we FINALLY made it back up to one of our favorite places in the entire world this past weekend.  All spring it seemed we had one logistical issue after another – weather, partners, schedules, you name it.  The only other time we’ve gone this long without climbing at the New River Gorge was the year Little Zu was born, when we skipped spring/summer up there entirely and waited til fall.  But now all is right in the world.  It may be too little too late when it comes to enjoying “the season” up there, but at least we got one fix in before the summer heat and humidity takes over.  

Narcissus 12a

Considering the hot, sunny forecast, we opted to spend Day 1 at Summersville Lake.  Nothing like a gorgeous water backdrop that you can melt into at the end of the day!  We started our day getting some redemption on an area classic, Satisfaction Guaranteed 11a.  CragDaddy and I had both bailed off this route way back in 2010.  He was 50+ pounds heavier at the time, and I was just 5 months postpartum…but we had no issues with it on Saturday, and now we’re satisfied ;).

Kiddos playing pirates (and “shooting” passing boats with a “driftwood gun.”)

Next was Narcissus 12a.  I’d also been on this one before, back in 2012, though it was a bolt to bolt run that was nowhere close to a legitimate sending attempt.  This route is touted as a must-do for the grade, and after my recent successes on the steeps this spring, I was optmistic that it could go down in a day.  My first run, however, was not as smooth as planned, and I struggled more than I’d wanted to on a couple of sections.  My second run felt great – I was clean all the way up to the last deadpoint move.  

For me the line boils down to 3 hard sections – a long move off crimps, a choice between 2 boulder problems (one going left, one going right…I go right), and a big deadpoint off a small sidepull.  The finish is steep and pumpy, with giant, flat holds that SHOULD be good enough if you can just keep yourself together…but it’s by no means a sure thing, and I know at least one person that has whipped at the chains.  

Kaos 12c

My third go was shaky, potentialy because I tried out some new clipping beta for the 3rd bolt…something just didn’t feel right, and I fell moving into the boulder problem.  In the back of my mind I was thinking I perhaps had missed my “sending window,” but there was still plenty of time left in the day, so I hopped on it again.  I went back to my original clipping beta, and the lower moves flowed a lot better.  When I got to the deadpoint move, I made sure to get my right foot as high as it could go, and tossed for all I was worth…and it was enough!  The finish was uneventful, and I lowered off with a smile on my face, and a right forearm that continued to feel pumped for the next 12 hours.  

The rest of my day was spent in the water with the kiddos, while the rest of our crew finished up the day on the Long Wall.  Big shout out to Little Zu for hiking almost the entire way out of the crag…barefoot.  There were MANY hiking bears involved, but she powered through until the last downhill bit to the parking lot, where I carried her in my arms like a baby, and she went from hiking to sleeping in a matter of 300 feet.  

I’m not sure what’s going on here but it looks fun!

Day 2 dawned equally sunny and a smidge warmer even, so off to Kaymoor we went to find shade.  I hopped on Boing 10d, which is one of my favorites, then moved over to Control 12a.  CragDaddy had already sent Control on a previous trip last spring, so he decided to put in some work on Kaos 12c, and after a few burns, he was able to do all the moves and link the lower section.  I’d taken a couple of burns on Control once before (the same day CragDaddy had sent), so I was hopeful I’d be able to put it all together.  I took a run up to hang draws, and felt even better about my chances.  Then I proceeded to fall at the SAME FREAKIN’ MOVE on the next FOUR redpoint attempts.  Each story was the same – get through the opening bit, crimp hard on the traverse, get feet set for the crux move, lunge…..and fall.  Then hang for a few seconds, pull back on, and fire the move like it was no big deal.  For whatever reason, I just could NOT do that move on point!  

In hindsight, I think the problem can be blamed on “not enough NRG time” lately.  If you’ve been there, you know…the New requires so much more focus than the same grade at pretty much any other sport crag I’ve ever been to.  Each time I fell on Control, my crew and I noticed some sort of subtle nuance of body position that I was doing differently when I was coming in hot, versus trying the move off the hang.  Obviously, when you’re at your limit, every bit of technique helps no matter what crag you’re climbing at…but NRG is the only place where I consistently have to stay focused on so MANY minute details for the ENTIRE climb, as opposed to just one or two moves.  Nothing is a gimme at the New!  That said, I THINK I have the beta dialed down to the letter for next time on Control….that is, if I can get myself psyched to get on it again!  

Control 12a

The thing that I’ve learned about the New River Gorge is that it can be frustratingly unpredictable when it comes to doling out sends.  The day before, my efforts were rewarded on Narcissus.  The next day, not so much, despite putting in what felt like the same, if not MORE effort.  The great thing is that sending or not sending really has zero importance in the grand scheme of life.  😉

And with that said, I’m so thankful for his place, and I’m so glad we got a chance to go back before the heat got too ridiculous.  Hopefully the logistics will work out a little better for us in the fall, and we’ll be able to rack up some back to back trips during prime conditions.  But, until then, you can find us dividing our time between the gym and the pool for the next couple of weeks!  

 

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