Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Friday, April 24, 2009
I walked out of the tent and saw our shit blown all over the campsite. I was the only one awake and was discouraged. Honestly though, I don't remember hearing the windstorm because I was sleeping pretty good by this point, but our stuff was everywhere. Mostly it was "Sungam's", but I knew it would take some time to get our own stuff together, too. Today was my birthday and I wanted to get to the top of that damn tower.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Jello's comments in italics
Once again I woke up before everyone. Not because I wanted to but after spending so much time in an office this winter my body wasn't used to sleeping outside yet. So I walked out into the cold and noticed that it wasn't nearly as pleasant as the previous day. A little bit later Greg was out of the tent. I liked the plan to move. We would be away from the motor-heads as well as closer to the climbing. Even though Greg and I were making steady progress in packing the car, "Texas Flake" and company were sleeping away the day. Eventually "Trucker" made his way out of the tent. We decided that he could get the others up while we went and set up camp.
Monday, April 13, 2009
My first night in Moab was a peaceful one. I can't say the same for the morning.
Some of us awoke to the growling of off-road vehicles, while others had their sleep broken by the grunting of several people making last minute adjustments to their bicycles prior to the adventure race that began 100 yards down the road. "Ready, set, GO!" blasted through the cool, desert air as the roar of the crowd pumped the racers on. I pulled myself out of the tent soon after "Jello" did. I hadn't seen the ridge line of the nearby canyons when we pulled in late the previous evening, and so I was disappointed by the alternate scene that greeted me for breakfast: Jeeps of all models, colors, and sizes with their long, white trailers spread open across the rocky parking lot were gathered together and showing off their redneck-raised suspensions. "Great," I thought, "breakfast in peace."
I don't know how I did it, but I slept well for the first time in months. I swear that my recent sleep difficulties can be directly attributed to my job. I've never had a problem sleeping well, let along for weeks on end. In fact, a funny thing happened to me last year. I managed to sleep nowhere near my own bed for about 15 consecutive weekends. I woke up the first day the streak broke, looked at the clock, and freaked out. I was late. I usually left my house at 8am to get to work by 9am, and it was already 830am. I was even more upset with myself because I aways make my lunch and get my work clothes ready the night before. I hadn't done either and this was making me realize that I was probably going to be an hour late to work. I was half-dressed, with my pant's legs folded underneath my feet, and tripping out my bedroom's doorway as I hoisted my pants up in between hops before I realized that it was Saturday, and that I work Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm.
Most people would look at this experience and ask what it had to do with sleeping. My answer is that I need rest. My body shuts down when it doesn't get enough rest, and I get sick. I've had mono before, so I know how dangerous a lack of proper rest can be. To add to this, most people sleep much better in their own beds than they do on one-inch air mattresses. If I could go an entire summer of not feeling worn down both at work during the week and sleeping under the stars every weekend then I should be able to rest during the winter when I'm in my own bed each night. It took me four hours of flying and 10 hours of driving to get far enough away from my cubicle to sleep well. The peace in "peace and quiet" is what rules my world. I had more peace than quiet that morning, and I still felt fine.
Awaking before everyone else I got out of the tent and enjoyed the cold morning stillness, more so the stillness. I smiled at the azure sky and crimson cliffs thinking about lines that might go on the abundant cliffs that surrounded me. A few strawberries and a bagel later Greg woke up and was also commenting on lines that look as if they could go. We seem to have similar eyes for lines. We talk about what we're going to do. It sounds as if I'm going to teach Greg the basics of aid climbing.
I've never aided before. Well, I might have French-freed before, but I can't recall the specifics (I'm just sure that I've done it once or twice). And I've had this odd habit of wanting to do a big wall but not wanting to learn to aid, per se. Aiding to me always seemed easier, as if it is a method of bringing a 5.12 down to my level. I didn't look down on it so much as it didn't seem fun. But with my ankle still smarting from slipping on the ice a couple of months before, and with the up-coming summer season looming, I didn't want to risk doing more damage or slowing down the healing. I also didn't want to get hurt my first day in Moab only to be a belay slave the rest of the time - that wouldn't be fun for anyone.
Aid climbing is a fairly simple game. Shamelessly hang on gear while engineering your way up cliffs that are too difficult for you to climb with your hands and feet. "Texas Flake" was going to stay with his young cohorts until their parents rescued them from the cruel desert, so after we stuffed ourselves with more food, Greg and I packed almost a hundred pounds of gear to learn some aid climbing skills on single pitch cliffs. Probably a little much on the gear but better safe than sorry - until you're carrying it on your back and then you feel it is the other way around. We had no clue where we were on Wall Street, so we stopped several times so I could wander along the cliffs and salivate at cracks that I know little about. This is both a challenge for me to find stuff he can aid and I want to climb. I want to climb everything, but that doesn't mean he should aid it. Eventually we found ourselves at the second School Room area where I identify "Grama and The Green Suede Shoes" (<-- Click for guidebook info), a nice 5.7 to warm up on. After squirming my way up without carrying adequately large gear, I made it to the end of the difficulties. I looked around and, after a while of searching, I realized the only thing to anchor on was a boulder sitting on a ledge. I pushed on it and, being reasonably satisfied, I fixed the line and rapped it to teach Greg how to jug a fixed line on my single tied off boulder. Not ideal but who's counting?
Eventually we found ourselves at the second School Room area where I identify "Grama and The Green Suede Shoes" (<-- Click for guidebook info), a nice 5.7 to warm up on. After squirming my way up without carrying adequately large gear, I made it to the end of the difficulties. I looked around and, after a while of searching, I realized the only thing to anchor on was a boulder sitting on a ledge. I pushed on it and, being reasonably satisfied, I fixed the line and rapped it to teach Greg how to jug a fixed line on my single tied off boulder. Not ideal but who's counting?
How hard can this be? Seriously, it's jugging. You stick your foot in the aider and pull the rope attached to the Grigri. The first couple of pulls didn't go as planned, but "Jello" assured me that this is simply the part where I pull the stretch out of the rope. I pulled a few more times and that kind of got me off the ground. I looked down and see my 5'8" frame dangling a foot above the dirt and I'm already worried about weighting the rope. "Jello" groaned. My complaining had already begun. But I continued anyway. I think the hardest part was the fact that I felt I could climb the start blindfolded and with a broken leg, let alone with aiders. And it apparently didn't help that the chimney I was in was more angled like a slab than it was overhung. This didn't go very well, and I wasn't encouraged.
Greg's first jugging experience gets to be on what to me seemed the most awkward experience ever. I've never jugged an offwidth/chimney and after watching him I don't want to. He got stuck in the chimney more than he whimpered, which was quite an accomplishment. I think the hardest part for him was finding his feet below him. At first, he wouldn't let go of the rock and trust the rope. This apparently made it difficult for him to slide his feet into the aiders as he moved upward. Once he started to trust the rope, however, he made it. But then he had to come down. I don't know how many times I hear people say that coming down is the fun part when they first try rock climbing. Wait until you're down-climbing dirty slabs with all kinds of gear waiting to trip you. Not as fun as going up. Greg and I have had some scary descents before. This was nothing, but he wasn't so confident in his abilities. After a little mental help, he made it down OK and I decided we should try something a little more vertical. We walked a few yards to our right to the left facing corner called "Top 40", which I decided to lead. It was my first onsite lead in about six months, no reason to worry. Starting up the initial thin moves I noted two things: gear was not easy to come by, and this felt strenuous for 5.8. Persevering through the first few feet, I equalized two micronuts and hoped I would be able to make it to where the crack would gobble better gear. A few layback moves later and I was cruising to the anchors, easy as pie. I came to the anchor and short fixed the rope as I was intending to rope solo on my Grigri to the next anchor so Greg could practice aiding the next crack over. When I told him the line was fixed I decided to watch and make sure he got everything setup. A few minutes later and he was still having trouble figuring out how to set up the Grigri with the ascender. He was able to do it before because he hadn't tied a knot into his harness. Somehow, this was visually easier for him. This time, however, I wanted him to have a knot already tied because I wanted him to learn as if we were en route, three pitches up on a grade IV. I was glad we weren't doing this at the bottom of some classic big wall in Zion. Someone would want to kill us because we'd be so slow. I got a little frustrated - I was trying to explain how to do something that seemed as easy to me as threading my belay device, but he wasn't getting it. I decided to come down to show him. I'd just have to lead the next climb.
I don't know how many times I hear people say that coming down is the fun part when they first try rock climbing. Wait until you're down-climbing dirty slabs with all kinds of gear waiting to trip you. Not as fun as going up. Greg and I have had some scary descents before. This was nothing, but he wasn't so confident in his abilities. After a little mental help, he made it down OK and I decided we should try something a little more vertical.
We walked a few yards to our right to the left facing corner called "Top 40", which I decided to lead. It was my first onsite lead in about six months, no reason to worry. Starting up the initial thin moves I noted two things: gear was not easy to come by, and this felt strenuous for 5.8. Persevering through the first few feet, I equalized two micronuts and hoped I would be able to make it to where the crack would gobble better gear. A few layback moves later and I was cruising to the anchors, easy as pie. I came to the anchor and short fixed the rope as I was intending to rope solo on my Grigri to the next anchor so Greg could practice aiding the next crack over. When I told him the line was fixed I decided to watch and make sure he got everything setup. A few minutes later and he was still having trouble figuring out how to set up the Grigri with the ascender. He was able to do it before because he hadn't tied a knot into his harness. Somehow, this was visually easier for him. This time, however, I wanted him to have a knot already tied because I wanted him to learn as if we were en route, three pitches up on a grade IV. I was glad we weren't doing this at the bottom of some classic big wall in Zion. Someone would want to kill us because we'd be so slow. I got a little frustrated - I was trying to explain how to do something that seemed as easy to me as threading my belay device, but he wasn't getting it. I decided to come down to show him. I'd just have to lead the next climb.
I have this little trick I do to people when I'm teaching them to climb. I teach them the knot, and I make them tie it. I then untie it and tell them to spin around. They often look at me as I'm crazy. "Why do you want me to turn around?" they ask. "Because I want you to forget," I say to them. My point is this, it's easy to do something when you're learning it and it's being done right in front of you. But it's better to learn something when your perspective has changed. Getting people to spin around is a simple way to get their mind off the knot for just a few seconds, maybe long enough to get them to forget it (because one must concentrate a little bit to spin around without falling down).
Instead of spinning around, I closed my eyes and asked "Jello" to hand me the rope, biners, and ascender all clipped to each other, as if they were unorganized and I was retrieving them from my harness after being stored earlier in the climb - I wanted to retrieve the gear wrong, so that I had to fix it first. I wanted to solve the puzzle of sorting the gear before learning the set-up properly. Again, all this did was change my perspective and kept me from memorizing the moment when I should have been learning the system. I did this a couple of times and finally had it nailed. I noticed right away that jugging this route was easier than the previous route. It was more vertical, and that allowed me to rest back on the rope easily. I also trusted the gear more this time and found moving to be more efficient. Jugging wasn't that difficult to learn after all.
As I watched Greg ascend the line, "Texas Flake" and his remaining cohorts were dropped off by a random pickup truck they had managed to flag down. They came up asking if they could borrow a rope, some draws, and a harness (they had only packed one harness). I let them borrow my harness, my rope and some of Greg’s draws. They couldn't possibly screw it up too bad. They had used ropes before, but I remained annoyed. Greg came down and we started sorting gear so I could clean aid "Skeletonic", a nice 5.11d corner. By the time we had gear sorted I had my harness back and was explaining to Greg the nuances of clean aid. I freed the first move, an odd mantle stem contortion, and placed my first piece. Explaining the various reasoning behind what I was doing I tried to make it seem safe and interesting as I took the better part of an hour making it to the last bolt, at which point I noticed two things: the crack was now a seam - it had been so ever since I started top-stepping on bolts, and that I noticed the last bolt was about fifteen feet below the anchor. After fiddling with micronuts for about fifteen minutes, I finally slotted the second smallest one, about the size of a fingernail. Slowly easing my weight onto it, I tried not to breath heavily as I stepped higher. The only spot I could find to place another piece of gear was a small pod for the smallest micronut. I managed to wedge this thing into the sliver of a pod slightly bigger than a pinhead. Now, I haven't done a ton of aid climbing, but I've been scared on crappy rock, clipping 1/4 inch star drives that are half pulled out of the crappy rock. This was psychologically different in it's novelty. I didn't want to bounce test the pieces for fear of snapping a tiny wire that was smaller than my piss stream. I stood up as high as I could and still couldn't reach the ledge that would allow me to gain me the anchors. What the hell could I do? There was nothing else. The only thing I could do was possibly lasso the ledge, assuming it had a lip that a sling would catch on. Instead, I half freed a move while standing in my grab loop, held back the crap that was forming in my bowels, and reached for the ledge. I was relieved to find big lip at the back of the ledge, which I probably could have lassoed easily. I guess I'm more brawn than brains. I sighed in relief as I lowered down, no maiming today.
It was now my turn. "Jello" initially thought I was going to lead this sucker, but I knew all along I was going to TR it. We had two ropes, so it didn't make any sense to play with fire. I quite liked my healthy body, even with a bum ankle. I wasn't going to ruin this trip doing something stupid on the first day.
But, to be fair, the first move, which was a free move, did hurt my ankle a bit. I was concerned about that, but once I got going I didn't feel it as much. That might have been because I was taking forever and make all sorts of mistakes: not top-stepping, looking at the piece that I was bounce-testing instead of keeping my head down, bounce-testing the micronuts, wanting to come down, clipping my "lead" rope into my highest piece, crying on the bolt-ladder portion of the route, wanting to come down, taking too long, not extending my easy-daisy before standing up, not pulling my easy-daisy tight before sitting down, wanting to come down, etc.. This was hard for me, but I pressed on.
It wasn't until after I placed the final micronut that I figured I'd had enough. the first micronut was scary enough, but when the second one popped as I stood up in my aider, I was too tired to free climb the rest of the route purely for satisfaction. The goal was to learn to aid on lead, and I felt as if I had somewhat accomplished that. Besides, "Jello" was shivering in the shade below and he needed a chance to climb.
I belayed Greg for an indeterminably long time. He apologized, but I explained that aid climbing was almost always a slow venture. I finally lowered him after his last piece popped on him, causing him to shout obscenities during his six-inch, top-rope fall. He came down and it was time for me to climb. The group next to us was toproping two climbs off one rope and two Grigris, and when they tired we decided to trade ropes. I knew the climb, Static Cling, was a 5.11, so I didn't feel super confident that I would be able to climb it cleanly, but as I reached the anchors I noted two things: it was a very fun climb, and that it would probably be a good first 5.11 trad lead. My goal for the season was only to bump my trad leading skills into the ten range, so I let the climb slip from my mind and went to toprope Skeletonic, which was solid 5.11 with some hard moves near the top. A few moments after I lowered from Skeletonic "Texas Flake" came over. Thus the seed was planted like it had been only a few times before. I remember that first time someone challenged me to push myself. It was my first season climbing at Rumney, barely my second season leading. I had met up with some grubby folks at the campground who were meeting their dirtbag friend. As the night wore on I got psyched to climb the next day. Despite the rain, the dirtbag convinced me to hop on a 5.10 which at the time was tantamount to telling me to hop over the Empire State Building. I fell once. That confidence boost really helped me with my confidence and from then on I climbed more things that seemed like they might be at the edge of my ability. Here I was again. Confronted with something that was on the edge of my ability. I've climbed 5.11's before...in the gym. I'd climbed a few obscure bolted elevens outside...enough to count on one hand. There I was, however, racking up at the base of the roof-capped, fingertip dihedral, 5.11 trad climb. Our small contingent came together to watch. I had Greg put me on belay. I trust Greg, more so than I trust other climbers, and I was going to need to forget about the belay in order to get through this. I moved up the first few broken bits to a good stem and placed my first piece. Another move later and I came to a painful hand jam. Even though I was barely above the previous piece I knew the section ahead was a little thin. My nerves on the back of my hand screamed against the handjam, so I quickly moved through to a layback and then to a good stance. I shook my hand, placed a few more pieces, and moved up closer to the crux roof. It's odd to call a rest strenuous, but that's just what it is below the roof. I realized at this point I'm doing extremely well. Better than I thought. I placed a good piece at the roof and forgot to sling it long for rope drag. My feet became less desirable when I moved out of the roof leftwards and into an OK fingerlock and a decent shelf for my hands. The shelf formed a corner in the back, and I pulled myself up and squished my face into the corner. I felt off-balance and I couldn't bring my feet up underneath me. I was stuck in a sort of limbo, barely balancing over my hands while my feet dangled uselessly. A few minutes of teetering on my hands passed by and I was finally able to bring a foot up. I pushed my body into the face to my right and wiggled my way up. Not the prettiest movement, but I breathed a sigh of relief while the crowd cheered me onward. A few more feet and I'd be at the anchors.
- "Texas Flake": You should lead that climb right there and set up a rope for us.
- Maybe, I'll think about it.
The group next to us was toproping two climbs off one rope and two Grigris, and when they tired we decided to trade ropes. I knew the climb, Static Cling, was a 5.11, so I didn't feel super confident that I would be able to climb it cleanly, but as I reached the anchors I noted two things: it was a very fun climb, and that it would probably be a good first 5.11 trad lead. My goal for the season was only to bump my trad leading skills into the ten range, so I let the climb slip from my mind and went to toprope Skeletonic, which was solid 5.11 with some hard moves near the top. A few moments after I lowered from Skeletonic "Texas Flake" came over.
Thus the seed was planted like it had been only a few times before. I remember that first time someone challenged me to push myself. It was my first season climbing at Rumney, barely my second season leading. I had met up with some grubby folks at the campground who were meeting their dirtbag friend. As the night wore on I got psyched to climb the next day. Despite the rain, the dirtbag convinced me to hop on a 5.10 which at the time was tantamount to telling me to hop over the Empire State Building. I fell once. That confidence boost really helped me with my confidence and from then on I climbed more things that seemed like they might be at the edge of my ability. Here I was again. Confronted with something that was on the edge of my ability. I've climbed 5.11's before...in the gym. I'd climbed a few obscure bolted elevens outside...enough to count on one hand. There I was, however, racking up at the base of the roof-capped, fingertip dihedral, 5.11 trad climb.
Our small contingent came together to watch. I had Greg put me on belay. I trust Greg, more so than I trust other climbers, and I was going to need to forget about the belay in order to get through this. I moved up the first few broken bits to a good stem and placed my first piece. Another move later and I came to a painful hand jam. Even though I was barely above the previous piece I knew the section ahead was a little thin. My nerves on the back of my hand screamed against the handjam, so I quickly moved through to a layback and then to a good stance. I shook my hand, placed a few more pieces, and moved up closer to the crux roof. It's odd to call a rest strenuous, but that's just what it is below the roof. I realized at this point I'm doing extremely well. Better than I thought. I placed a good piece at the roof and forgot to sling it long for rope drag. My feet became less desirable when I moved out of the roof leftwards and into an OK fingerlock and a decent shelf for my hands. The shelf formed a corner in the back, and I pulled myself up and squished my face into the corner. I felt off-balance and I couldn't bring my feet up underneath me. I was stuck in a sort of limbo, barely balancing over my hands while my feet dangled uselessly. A few minutes of teetering on my hands passed by and I was finally able to bring a foot up. I pushed my body into the face to my right and wiggled my way up. Not the prettiest movement, but I breathed a sigh of relief while the crowd cheered me onward. A few more feet and I'd be at the anchors.
We were scared. Everyone saw that some of his gear had either fallen out completely or was marginal at best. There were several moments when he appeared to just give up, and I braced myself, ready to catch the fall. But those moments when his body went limp were nothing more than regrouping tactics. He was resting whichever body parts he could. We shouted encouragement, but it was staggered in between our quietness and nervousness.
I placed a few more pieces, which was important because, unbeknownst to me, one of my pieces below had popped out already and another was a crappy placement I wouldn't discover until I was lowered. Had I fallen and the crappy piece blown, which it certainly would have, either I would have been hurting from the ground fall or Greg would have been dead from running backward and out into traffic while he took up slack. I reached the final jug and mantled up to the chains. My first confirmed 5.11. Totally on gear.
The cotton mouth faded as I lowered to the ground all smiles. I can't believe I crushed my season goal in the very beginning of the season. Granted I had climbed it clean on toprope and, yes, the climbing suited my style and appendage size but it was such a step up for me that it gave me the confidence to push my climbing to another level beyond what I had hoped for. When I finally lowered "Texas Flake" exclaimed that it was the raddest thing he'd ever seen me do. Well, that's because it was the raddest thing I've ever done. The giddiness didn't fade, either. I suddenly felt as if I could climb anything. But I was tired, so we ended on that high note. I relaxed back at the campsite and thumbed through the guidebook. The list of climbs I feel ready for is now considerably altered.
Click here for all Moab 2009 photos
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Click her for Part One and Part Two
"Jello's" Comments in italics
"Jello" lives no more than two hours away from Denver International Airport (DIA). In fact, on a good day, it only takes him 90 minutes. Thursday was not a good day.
A lot was on my mind while I drove through the snow towards DIA. Was my aid gear from Fish, the gear I desperately needed for this trip, going to get to my house in time? Would we leave for Utah today? Is my car sliding right now? Or is that the quiet sound of snow and ice melting under my tires? It only takes me a few hours to get to the cell phone lot outside the airport. I get out of the car to take a piss. Freezing wind cuts through my thin clothes, "stupid spring weather." I shiver and return to the car stinging with damp clothes, and I waited for Greg to call. I was impressed when he called twenty minutes later to tell me he was on the ground. As I pulled up to the curb, he shoved, and I mean that quite literally, his bag into my tiny car and we sped off. The weather had gotten to the point where the airport was now shut down and all the highways that would take us to Moab were closed. It was probably for the best because it allowed me to get all my gear together and it meant I wouldn't have to improvise. Greg pressed the imaginary brake a lot on the ride home. Luckily nobody got in my way and got hurt. We only slid once or twice and only came close to dying three or four times - overall pretty standard.
It only takes me a few hours to get to the cell phone lot outside the airport. I get out of the car to take a piss. Freezing wind cuts through my thin clothes, "stupid spring weather." I shiver and return to the car stinging with damp clothes, and I waited for Greg to call. I was impressed when he called twenty minutes later to tell me he was on the ground. As I pulled up to the curb, he shoved, and I mean that quite literally, his bag into my tiny car and we sped off. The weather had gotten to the point where the airport was now shut down and all the highways that would take us to Moab were closed. It was probably for the best because it allowed me to get all my gear together and it meant I wouldn't have to improvise. Greg pressed the imaginary brake a lot on the ride home. Luckily nobody got in my way and got hurt. We only slid once or twice and only came close to dying three or four times - overall pretty standard.
I had just spent an awful past six weeks planning this trip and trying to stay out of all sorts of trouble at work and in life. If it was one thing I was looking forward to was the sunshine. Yeah, the stress relief was high on my list, too, but I find that stress relief is easiest when one doesn't have to worry about the little things. When things such as the weather take care of themselves, enjoying the bolder tastes of life is simpler. And so when my plane aborted its first landing attempt because of white-out blizzard conditions, I was ready to wash an entire bottle of ibuprofen down with gasoline - grade 87. It took us more than three hours to get to Colorado Springs. I've never seen so many cars off the road.
Man do I love driving to Moab. Let me rephrase that. I don't like driving, I like travelling to Moab. The route is scenic, it signifies a descent onto the western slope of warmth, and the road ends in an ethereal landscape of towers, buttes, and mesas of sand frozen in time.
We sorted gear once we got back to his house, and even took a side trip to his boss's house in order to obtain a few more important items: tent, a sleeping pad for me (so I didn't have bring mine), and a few cams and assorted other items of protection capacity. We were pretty well sorted when "Jello" realized that he had left probably one of the most important pieces of gear at his gym: ascenders. These were important because I had already told him that I was only able to aid climb this trip. My ankle wasn't at full strength yet, and this seemed to be the best way to get to the top of something and still have fun. We needed the ascenders for jugging, so this was important.
I've climbed in quite a few places. I think Greg has me beat on major destinations but I might have him beat in out-of-the-way places. Of these locations, the desert is probably my favorite thus far. It's surreal, you can always find a spot where the weather is pleasant. New England and Colorado it isn't. It challenges me in a lot of ways, too. The dirty and broken rock is mentally challenging because it is scary. The climbing is generally physical - crack climbing, which I like more and more as my climbing acumen grows. The desert is intricate and delicate despite it's stark look with it's deep contrasts of soft, red mud and hard, brown stone.
The gym that he works at is about an hour out of the way (if one considers having to go out and back 30 minutes each way). We thought about heading out that evening so we wouldn't have to delay our start the next morning, but the snow was still coming down hard and so we decided to wait. "Jello" and "Iowa" snugged in their bed for the night and I flopped on the air mattress into a deep sleep. I awoke the next morning to pancakes and a foot of snow on the front porch. It was still snowing, too, and we were concerned. But we weren't to be deterred. We couldn't go the day I flew in because I-70 was closed. Route 24, on the other hand, was sure to be open by the time the storm fizzled out. The snow would be long behind us when we would finally intersect with I-70. We noticed that it was cold, but we were somewhat surprised to see on the bank signs that the temps were hovering only in the high teens.
It was now about 24 hours after the storm had begun and the roads were an absolute mess. I'm not talking about side streets. I'm talking about the freaking interstate! Cars were still sliding all over the place. I mean, seriously, you live in a desert (OK - somewhat of a desert) and you can't find any sand to put on the roads?
Forty-five minutes after we left, we arrived at the far end of the gym's parking lot. It was a scene of mixed white and grey tar; spotty with no clear path to safely follow. The road to the back of the building, where the gym is located, alternated between snow, ice, and road. We thought we could make it, and so "Jello" pressed on the gas and - THUNK! WHRRRRRRRRRRRRR...
- What's up?
- Um, what do you mean, what's up?
- Why did you let up on the accelerator?
- Um, so, you notice how we're not moving right?
- Yeah, but that's because you let up on the accelerator. If you would have just kept going -
- So, look out your window.
- Yeah, so. There's a lot of snow here. We could've plowed through it if you had just kept -
- Open your door.
I rolled my eyes, pulled the door handle, and pushed...and pushed...and pushed really, really, really hard. I couldn't believe what I saw. By opening the door I had just pushed about 15 pounds of snow out of the way. I stepped out to get a better look and my leg was instantly buried up to my knee. This was the first time I had ever been in a car that was legitimately stuck in the snow. Seriously, the bottom of the door frame in his car is about a foot off the ground and we had driven into snow that was higher than that. I looked in front of us and saw about six feet of 18-inch-deep snow taunting us to push forward. I looked behind and saw that it was less deep, but we had driven about 15 feet into the drift. Going forward would have meant pushing the car through deep snow, and going backward would have meant pushing the car precisely in the same tracks in reverse whence we came. Fuck! We were stuck.
The gym was about 200 yards down the parking lot and "Jello" knew there were a couple of shovels there. I returned to the car to warm up while he ran to get the tools (did I mention that the wind chill was at zero degrees and that the wind was howling at about 20 mph sustained with the occasional more-powerful gusts?). He returned a few minutes later and we both started to shovel away, except we realized that it was really cold at this point. The wind was constantly blowing snow and cold air on our exposed skin. I was glad I had gloves, but he wasn't so fortunate.
We decided to take turns shoveling, thus making our little detour a little longer on the clock. The snow was the dry, blocky type; it was neither wet and heavy nor light and puffy, but instead it formed in powdery blocks that were difficult to move. We had to use the metal shovel to chop it up first before using the plastic one to move it. To make matters worse, the wind was so strong that we had to throw the snow in the same direction every time. Shoveling the left side of the car was easy. The right side was considerably less so.
The shoveling was hard, the wind was unrelenting, and the traffic on the road that goes past the gym was nearly empty. The only vehicles we saw driving by were the ones we desired - snow plows - but not a single one stopped to give us a hand (we didn't expect anyone to stop, really - particularly the big, state-owned plows, but we hoped a small private owner would help us out. I can't blame them for not stopping. After all, snow season is money season for them and we all have to put food on the table). I chopped and shoveled, and then he chopped and shoveled some more, with each of us using my gloves for work and our jacket pockets for warmth when resting. We got a good deal of the snow in front of the car shovelled away in about forty-five minutes, but there was still a lot to be done. We nearly felt defeated. What was even more demoralizing was that we knew the snow was also pushed to the top of the wheel wells. Getting that cleaned out was going to be a major pain.
But just as things started to get unbearable, just as the wind started to rip through the fleece gloves, and just as the cold began to claw away at the last bits of healthy skin still stuck to our cheeks, the owner of the building drove up in his four-wheel-drive pick-up truck. A cut piece of climbing rope and the ol' heave-ho-with-him-pulling-us later and we were free! We'd left the house at 930am. It was now just after 11am. The whole drive was supposed to take us seven hours at the most, and we were at the quickest a 30 minute drive from the beginning, which was back in Colorado Springs.
By the time we made it to Route 24 we discovered it wasn't great either, but there were spots where it was better than I-25, which is the interstate that leads north to Denver and the road we took to and from his gym in Monument. But we were finally on our way and decided to stop for gas in the town of Divide. We passed the first station because it was more expensive than the second one. Unfortunately, the second one had a hill and a Wonder Bread truck spinning its wheels trying to get up. The third station was priced right, but it was closed and the pumps were turned off. So we turned around to go back to the second station, and just as we started to power up to get enough speed to make it up the hill, a pick-up truck decided to leave the station and take up the entire entrance on its way out. So, the first station we passed, the more expensive one, just for your information, has really good doughnuts and an easy-to-drive-in-snow access road.
The road after Divide was starting to lose its snow, but there were still moments that made both us nervous wrecks. The stretch of road from Buena Vista to Leadville is a two-lane road that splits a wide plain on either side. The sun was out in all of its glory, but that meant the roads weren't plowed and there were plenty of pockets of black ice.
Why plow when the snow will melt? A half-dozen 18-wheelers screaming past us on slick roads later and we were half convinced this whole trip was a stupid idea. At one point we had one car pull out in front of us that forced us to pass him whether we knew there were cars coming the other way or not. He pulled out. We didn't slow down. He didn't speed up. We caught up to him very quickly. There was 50 feet between us, and the gap was closing. An 18-wheeler flew by in the other direction, and "Jello" peered down the road to see if it was clear to pass. A car shot out of the glare and the gap between us and the car in front closed to 20 feet. He started to pull out, but then another car blew by. I felt the car slide when "Jello" turned back into our lane, and I grabbed the oh-shit handle above the window as we approached the car in front. Ten feet...five feet...two feet... He had three choices: 1) ram the car in front; 2) send the car into the gully on the right-hand side of the road or; 3) pass on the left and pray to God that no one else was hiding in the glare and coming the other way. He chose three. I couldn't see if anything was coming because we were too close to the car in front to see around it. I held my breath...
I hadn't really understood why Greg had been so quick to pump the imaginary brake while I was driving until I was in the passenger seat. It's a damn terrifying feeling when on ice because you can't tell if the driver is in control, if they know they're sliding - and I know how bad the tires are. I was able to calm down after a while and also to let Greg know that my car had a 5th gear. It wasn't long until we were on I-70 and on our way to paradise.
We pulled over a few minutes later in Leadville to switch driving duties, regain our senses and, as we discovered upon exiting the car, to knock the remaining massive chunks of snow out of the wheel wells (that took us a good 20 minutes to kick, poke, and dig the brown and white solids out). We stopped again in the town of Fruita for lunch, and we were on our way out of Colorado by the end of the afternoon. We were both glad to be alive, and happy the worst was behind us. The one part of the trip that I'd like to mention that was amazing to drive through was the canyon near Glenwood Springs. That is truly something to see. I'd like to return there someday to explore the area.
After we passed through Glenwood Springs (before lunch), the road was as clear as a desert highway - no snow and devoid of cars. We took the shortcut on Route 128 (River Road) and I saw the canyons for the first time. I had seen desert canyons before, and I had seen desert towers, too. But I had never seen what was before me: there were miles and miles of imposing brown and red cliffs, towers, buttresses, and steep, crumbling slopes looking down upon me. The view wasn't just on the road, either, but instead the expanse was in all directions such that I swore the paths in between the different towers and canyons was endless. It was a claustrophobic version of gazing at the ocean, except the ocean is wild in its exposed emptiness and the canyons seemed a relentless journey of twists, turns, hopeless thoughts of unseen dead ends. It seemed a world of infinite first ascent opportunities. They formed a maze of infinite paths.
I admit that I was a little awestruck when I first saw Castleton's Tower. I'm not a big fan of the desert, but this inspired me. We came across one particular buttress that damn near convinced us to get a first ascent that week. We had it all planned out. "Jello" knew how to get in touch with the main desert-guidebook author for more info and we even pulled over to scout the ascent. Would we need to camp at the base? What about atop the plateau? We realized after a few moments that the moment got the better of us, so we drove on.
Our next mission was to find a campsite. I figured since "Sungam" was already there that we'd just crash at his site. But our cellphone reception wasn't the greatest and we didn't get in touch with him that evening as a result. On the other hand, "Jello"'s roommate, "Texas Flake", managed to get through to us.
- "Texas Flake": Hey, are you headed to Moab?
- Yeah, are you guys out there or are you back at Joe's Valley.
- "Texas Flake": We're still in Moab, my transmission went out on my truck, do you think you could pick us up when you get into town.
- *sigh* Yeah, let me call you when I get closer.
- "Texas Flake": Thanks brother.
"Texas Flake"'s birthday is the same week as mine and was supposed to be in Joe's Valley bouldering and out of my way. I was disappointed, but how bad could it be? The sun was getting lower in the sky and is was now directly in my face. It didn't help that my visor has this habit of falling off and, thus, offers no visual relief. And it wasn't all about the sun either; there were cows on the side of the road, too. It was an open range, and one is never quite sure when rolling over the blind hills if a half-ton heifer will be in the way. I wanted to get to Moab, and so I sped around corners at double the recommended speed while pointing out the Fishers and Castle Valley to Greg. I think his eyes were on the road more than mine.
- "Texas Flake": Are you in Moab yet?
- Yeah we just got here. Where are you at?
- "Texas Flake": We're in town, why don't you find a campsite first and then we'll talk again.
- Ok, you know where to stay?
- "Texas Flake": A campground near Wall St. There was nobody there when we left.
- Ok, talk to you in a bit.
We discovered that the first two campsites on Potash Road (near Wall Street) were be full. This surprised us since we were driving in on Thursday. But then we remembered that we were supposed to have driven in on Thursday and that it was now fairly late on Friday. Crap. We had hoped to crash near Wall Street because we wanted to meet up with "Sungam" and we assumed that was where he was staying, but since those campgrounds were full, we headed back out to River Road (Route 128) to check all the campgrounds there. We saw about five on the way in, so we figured at least one would have a site. The first one we stopped at was full, so we went on to the second one. That one was full, and so was the third. We thought we had a spot found at the fourth campground, but nope, after a little more research it turned out that spot was reserved. And so we drove all the way out to the last campground...only to find out that it, too, was full.
It was now pushing 8pm and we had a half hour drive before we got back to the end of River Road. I mentioned to "Jello" that I saw a lot of headlights on the other side of the river back where River Road intersected with Route 191. So we drove there and turned down that dirt road. At first we were happy to see that there were loads of people nearby. But then we realized this wasn't a campground but a rafting drop-off instead. It seemed that we were screwed, but "Texas Flake" had told us in another phone call that we hadn't been to the campsite he mentioned earlier. "Jello" and I drove and drove and drove until, counting our blessings, we stumbled across the Bell Campground - and it had one spot open.
"Jello" dropped me off with the assignment of setting up the tent and then he drove into town to pick up the rest of the crew. It took me forty-five minutes to set the damn tent up (there will be a gear review of the Kelty Orb 3 soon, I promise). I was tired and cranky. It didn't help to discover that the sleeping pad we had taken from "Jello"'s boss didn't have an air valve. It appeared I was going to rely on it's un-filled thickness for comfort.
I phoned “Texas Flake” again to find out where they were. Of course it was on the far end of town at some obscure 4x4 garage. I saw their truck, turned in, and pulled a few donuts in the gravel parking lot up the street out of frustration. I counted five people in his posse. My car barely fits four, let alone six. They had gear, too, of course. We tossed the sleeping bags, tents, more liquor than seems required for someone asking for a ride (with two underage kids, too!), coolers, food, and other assorted items anywhere the stuff would fit. I tried to speed off with everyone sitting on top of someone else, but the car lurched - I don't doubt for an instant that it had more weight than it was supposed to have in it. The car bottomed out after every bump and I wonderd if we'll make it back to the campsite. We made it, but Greg was struggling to put the final touches on the tent. "Texas Flake" borrowed my car to retrieve his bouldering pads and some other stuff. I helped set the tent up, and Greg and I settled in by the smokey fire and tried to talk some sense into the whee lads who came to a trad climbing mecca to wrestle pebbles, all the while poking fun at them under our breath. I'm not someone who looks down on boulderers, as I boulder on occassion myself. It's good for developing strength and can keep my attention for about an hour. But why, for the love of all that is climbing, would someone come to a place with such tall towers, arches, mesas, and buttes and choose to climb things that are small enough to piss on top of from the ground? I asked why they didn't just do some roped climbing in Moab. "We didn't bring ropes and harnesses," they said. You can boulder without a pad pretty safely, especially in Moab but most of the time it's just good sense to bring a rope and some harnesses. By the looks of what they're pouring down their throats, I guess the price of a harness and rope amounts to several jugs of malt beverages. For shit's sake, it's like going to a gourmet restaurant and ordering the house salad, no dressing - the lowest denominator. The hell if I was going to let them interfere with my roped climbing the next couple of days. I wasn't going bouldering unless there wasn't enough interest from my partners to rope up, and considering Greg hates to boulder, well, I knew I'd be staying off the pad. It was late, and so Greg and I crashed. Tomorrow would be a learning day for him. I didn't anticipate it being a tough day physically, but I needed a good night's rest.
We made it, but Greg was struggling to put the final touches on the tent. "Texas Flake" borrowed my car to retrieve his bouldering pads and some other stuff. I helped set the tent up, and Greg and I settled in by the smokey fire and tried to talk some sense into the whee lads who came to a trad climbing mecca to wrestle pebbles, all the while poking fun at them under our breath. I'm not someone who looks down on boulderers, as I boulder on occassion myself. It's good for developing strength and can keep my attention for about an hour. But why, for the love of all that is climbing, would someone come to a place with such tall towers, arches, mesas, and buttes and choose to climb things that are small enough to piss on top of from the ground? I asked why they didn't just do some roped climbing in Moab. "We didn't bring ropes and harnesses," they said. You can boulder without a pad pretty safely, especially in Moab but most of the time it's just good sense to bring a rope and some harnesses. By the looks of what they're pouring down their throats, I guess the price of a harness and rope amounts to several jugs of malt beverages. For shit's sake, it's like going to a gourmet restaurant and ordering the house salad, no dressing - the lowest denominator. The hell if I was going to let them interfere with my roped climbing the next couple of days. I wasn't going bouldering unless there wasn't enough interest from my partners to rope up, and considering Greg hates to boulder, well, I knew I'd be staying off the pad.
It was late, and so Greg and I crashed. Tomorrow would be a learning day for him. I didn't anticipate it being a tough day physically, but I needed a good night's rest.
It was 9am when we heard the rumble of ATV's all over the place. We had apparently come to Moab during Jeep Week. There was also an adventure race being held right next to our campground. Welcome to Moab.
Late January and early February brought weather that would have made the Iceman do a jig. Unfortunately, not everyone is as graceful on a sheet of ice and he is. I grew up in Maine and have learned how to walk on ice on flat, hilly, and uneven surfaces. But sometimes you walk on ice, and sometimes it - SLIP! THUD! CRACK! OWWWW!!!
I sat on the sloping entrance to the driveway. My left ankle remained straight up, as if I were still standing, and the rest of my body was crumpled on the ground to the right. I knew I had heard a crack. Was it broken? It had to be. Ankles don't crack if they aren't broken do they?
The last time I had slipped on the ice was two winters ago, and that was walking down the stone steps of my apartment building. My feet came out from underneath me and my airborne back landed on the sharp edges of the stairs. I have never had back problems in my life, but my father has and his pain never seems to fully subside. Thirty-three years old was not the age where I wanted to start having a lifetime of back problems. I was lucky that it was only a muscle spasm. My good doctor and his prescribed relaxants made the problem last less than a week.
But this was different. I was convinced that I was done. Climbing for the winter was over. I was going to have to shut down completely for at least six weeks. Walking on ice with two good ankles was hard enough let alone with a cast. But even as those cruel thoughts shot through my brain like pulses of pain, I had a more immediate concern - how to get someone's assistance on the empty street, because you can't walk on a broken ankle, right?
I waited a few minutes, and when the pain seemed to subside, I pulled in all the hope I could muster that it not a break but a sprain instead, and stood up. I took one limp forward, then two. Pretty soon I had limped to the corner. Fifteen minutes later and I was standing on the subway platform praying for an open seat.
I went climbing later that week believing that if my ankle was broken then I surely wouldn't have been able to walk on it. It hurt like hell when I torqued it, and so I said that I'd give myself two weeks of rest before climbing again. I could live with that. Two weeks of rest would surely beat six weeks in a cast. I kept telling myself that it was only a sprain, and that time and rest would take care of it. But then I went climbing again near the end of February, it hurt still, and so I went to a doctor. The diagnosis was clear: high and low ankle sprain, recovery was two to three months. I learned that it is possible to walk on a broken ankle, too. I was dumb to have not seen a doctor sooner.
- Phone: ring, ring, ring...
- Me: Come on...
- Phone: ring, ring, ring...
- Me: Answer the phone...
- Phone: ring, ring, ring...
- Me: Come on man! Answer the damn pho-
- "Jello": Hello?
- Me: Hey, what's up?
- "Jello": Not much, just at work. You?
- Me: Oh, slowly killing myself via spreadsheets. You know, living the dream...
- "Jello": That sucks. So what's up?
- Me: So this trip to Moab...
- "Jello": Yeah?
- Me: So you remember when I told you a couple of weeks ago that I slipped on the ice?
- "Jello": Yeah?
- Me: Well, I'm out for a couple of months.
- "Jello": Yeah?
- Me: Yeah, so that means I won't be climbing for the next couple of months.
- "Jello": Uh-huh.
- Me: Yeah, so...
- "Jello": So I was thinking the last week of March to early April. Does that fit into your schedule?
Two hours later I had purchased a round-trip ticket not into Salt Lake City, which is closer to Moab, but to Denver instead (near where "Jello" lives) for a Thursday, March 26 flight. That's me, the gimp with a high and low ankle sprain, flying four hours to Denver, getting picked up in "Jello"'s, erm, old and rickety?, car and driving six hours to Moab. Did I mention his car has problems?
Despite the frustration of being injured, and as my annual work project slothed into March, I was looking forward to the trip. I knew that by taking this trip I was putting myself into a very difficult situation at work; meetings that were normally difficult to schedule were going to have to be squished even more than normal, and late nights were going to be later. This isn't one of those projects where the work can be spread out over time. Instead, regardless of when the work is done, it has to be done before certain deadlines. I was going to be taking seven work days out of the process where five days is often the difference of a half percent of a few billion dollars. Despite this, I started telling folks on rockclimbing.com sometime in early March that I'd be out there. I knew one guy in particular, "Sungam", who was on a one-year rock climbing tour of the U.S., was going to be in the Moab area at the same time, and so I told him that "Jello" and I would be climbing with him. He was excited to meet us, and we were also looking forward to meeting him. Life was good.
- March 15 - I call "Jello" to start talking about gear. He mentions that his friends want to go to Joe's Valley instead of Moab, so that means an extra three hours of driving on top of the flight to Denver and the drive from Denver to Moab (so about 13 hours altogether). I tell "Sungam" that we aren't heading to Moab. He asks for a ride. We aren't sure if we can give him a ride. He starts making plans to head to Joe's to meet us.
- March 17 - I learn that Joe's Valley has a lot of bouldering. Bouldering has never been kind to me, and I'm even more leery with a sprained ankle. "Jello" considers this and tells me that he'll get back to me.
- March 18 - I look at my frequent flier statement and realize that I have 127,000 miles. It's 15,000 miles for a one-way upgrade to first class. With all this flying and driving, I figure the extra comfort will come in handy. United Airlines tells me that they can bump me up to first class for the flight out, but that I'll need to be put on a waiting list for the flight back. I'm OK with that.
Things are starting to line up pretty well considering the changes in plans, my ankle, and work. Work is at its full thrust of pain, but it is so numbing at this point that I hardly notice. It helps that Boston's shivering winter is lingering into spring. The temps are colder than normal, we've still got ice on the sidewalks, and we've had snow recently. Good weather would certainly make this more difficult.
But even so, my ankle is getting better from physical therapy. I'm going a couple of times of week right now, so you'd think that would be expensive. Well, it is to a certain degree. My work place participates in financial savings accounts (FSA), account where one can set aside health care costs tax free. I have money in my account, both from 2008 and 2009, so I'm spending it this way. Still, I'm in no shape to climb.
- March 19 - I confide in "Jello" that I don't think my recovery is coming along fast enough. My ankle is still sore, and it feels weak, even after several physical therapy sessions. I ask him about aiding, and he mentions it is much better on the ankles than regular climbing is. This gets his head spinning with ideas.
- March 20 - "Jello" calls to tell me that we aren't going to Joe's Valley anymore. I'm relieved because I wasn't looking forward to the extra three hour drive and the pressure that I'd be putting on my ankle. Instead, he mentions that his girlfriend, "Iowa", has friends in Vegas.
"How about Zion and Red Rocks for a few days?" he asks.
"Sure," I say, and then he tells me that Zion is another two to three hours farther than Joe's would have been (except in a different direction). "Great," I say, "I can't wait for a 15-hour travel day. Since "Iowa" is going, and since her car is normal compared to yours, can we at least take hers?"
"Jello" considers this plan and tells me that he'll get back to me. I tell "Sungam" that we're going to Zion, and that we can pick him up on the way. He is ecstatic. And oh yeah, we toss out the idea of hitting Red Rocks in Vegas. That's only a couple of extra hours from Zion. Why not? Actually, the better question is, why didn't I fly into Vegas to begin with again?
- March 21 - "Jello" e-mails me and says that "Iowa" doesn't want to put that kind of miles on her car. Bummer. Since she can't drive a stick, it looks as if the drive time is going to split between he and I. This also sucks because we're going to have 10 days worth of gear for three people in the car, and his car is smaller than "Iowa"'s. "Oh yeah," I say, "and we're picking up "Sungam", too."
We've also started talking about my first aid-climbing experience. While we've been warned that Zion isn't the place to learn, that kind of thing has never stopped us before. In fact, if "Jello" wants to cross a pond full of hungry alligators then he'll find a way. This seems less imposing than the alligators, but we admit that we'll likely be very, very slow and how we'll probably need to spend the night on the wall. He starts looking around to borrow a port-a-ledge, we both start looking at purchasing a haul bag, and he starts thinking of ways to make belay seats if we can't find a ledge. I'm actually excited about this, and so is he. "Sungam" can't wait.
- March 22 - "Jello" calls and tells me that "Iowa" isn't happy about us spending the night on the wall and, thus, leaving her alone in the campground. Zion is out. We're heading to Moab where the towers are smaller. "Sungam" is even more excited about this because now he doesn't have to move anywhere. He'll already be in Moab as originally planned.
- March 23 - "Jello" and "Iowa" are negotiating the terms of the vacation. She may not be going now. That means we can go to Zion after all. "Sungam" is OK with this. He was kind of looking forward to doing a wall anyway.
This day is also the first day of back-to-back-to-back meetings at work all day all week. I basically arrive at work, head straight to a series of meetings that don't end until the end of the day. I then go back to my desk and spend several hours in the evening getting ready for the next day's meetings. I'm also taking time to get ready for the back-to-back-to-back meetings I'll have on the first day I get back from vacation. And I still need to fit one more day of physical therapy in somehow.
- March 24 - "Iowa" wants to go after all, and we can take her car if we go to Moab. This means we can split the driving between the three of us. "Sungam" says, "Cool, I'll see you in Moab."
My last day of physical therapy is strong. I do well in all of the exercises, but when it comes time to pay I'm flabbergasted. My FSA credit card is denied. I wonder how this can be and become very stressed because I know there is an up-coming deadline for using this money. I pay with cash and walk out somewhat frustrated.
- March 25 (the day before I leave) - "Iowa" is sick and may not be able to go. I ask when they'll know if she can go and if they'll still be picking me up from the airport and heading straight to Moab. "Jello" isn't sure, but the plan is to still leave right from the airport. I tell "Sungam" that Moab vs. Zion is a game-time decision. We may not know what our plans are until we get there. He's fine with whatever we do. I believe this is a good attitude to have.
I manage to steal a free moment at work and call my FSA company. They tell me it denied because I ran out of money. I tell them I'm confused because I had money left over from 2008. I had until March 31st to spend that. They realize there is an accounting error on their part, and they didn't give me credit for having spent that money. I tell them that starting tomorrow I'll be out of cell phone reach until after the deadline. They tell me all is well. I'm nervous, but I document the phone call and choose to believe them. My flight leaves at 10am the next morning and arrives at noon in Denver. It's the perfect flight itinerary, and so I'm focusing on the good things instead of the bad.
Finally, the end of the day arrives. I'm packed, fed, and starting to relax. No more work for 10 days. This is going to be good, whether we end up in Moab, Zion, Alaska, or Fiji. I check my flight status. All is good. I get an e-mail from Travelocity and figure it is my final confirmation for my flight. Just to make sure, I click on the link and read this:
- "Below is your confirmation. We're sorry, but one of your flights could not be confirmed. Below is your entire itinerary:
- Sat, April 4: Leave Denver at 4pm and arrive in Boston at 10pm"
"Um," I think to myself, "where is the flight from Boston to Denver?" This can't be. I mean, seriously, I fought an ankle sprain, I fought work, and I fought my FSA benefits company. I'm going on vacation tomorrow. I'M FLYING FIRST CLASS!!!!!
- Phone to Travelocity: ring, ring, ring...
- Me: Answer the phone
- Travelocity: Please listen to the entire menu as our options have chan-
- Me (hitting zero repeatedly): Fuck your options
- Travelocity: transferring you to an operator
- Operator (with a thick, non-English accent): Hello, how can I help you?
- Me: Yes, I had a flight from Boston to Denver tomorrow at 10am, is that cancelled?
- Operator (after taking my info): I have a flight at 7am would you like that instead?
- Me: Was the flight at 10am cancelled?
- Operator: I can do 7am if that works for you.
- Me: I don't mind the 7am flight, but I want to know what happened to the 10am flight first.
- Operator: I don't have a 10am flight.
- Me (slightly more annoyed than I was when I opened the e-mail): Was it cancelled?
- Operator: Hold on sir, let me check something.
- Travelocity on hold: Did you know you can check the status of your flight on line, just go to...
- Operator: Mr. Burns, I do not have you for a 10am flight, but I can do 7am if you'd like.
- Me: OK, look. I want to know if the 10am flight is cancelled. I spent 15,000 of my miles to get an upgrade to first class. I don't want to lose that.
- Operator: You want to buy first class on the 7am flight?
- Me: NO! I can't afford that. I had upgraded. UPGRADED!
- Operator: Do you want me to upgrade you to first class on the 7am flight?
- Me: I want to know what the hell happened to my miles that were spent to upgrade on the 10am flight!!!!
- Operator: Hold on one moment sir.
- Travelocity on hold: We'd like to let you know that changes in flights do happen. We're happy to work with you when this happens but we can't always guarantee...
- Operator: Mr. Burns, did you make changes to this flight with the carrier?
- Me (a light finally goes off in my head): Yes, I called United and upgraded using my miles.
- Operator: OK, well, I don't have a 10am flight. Do you want to book the 7am flight?
- Me: Is that my only option?
- Operator: I can send you to the actual carrier if you'd like.
- Me: Yes please (oh God, yes, yes, yes please!)
- United Operator: Hello, Mr. Burns?
- Me: Yes, hi, I had a 10am flight that was upgraded to first class. I just want to make sure that I still have that flight and my miles or the upgrade.
- United Operator: Yes sir, I can confirm you for first class at 10am on the 26th. Did you also request an upgrade for the return flight?
- Me: I did, but I was put on a wait list.
- United Operator: OK, sir, I can confirm that you have been upgraded on your return flight, too. Have a nice flight.
I turned to the window and looked out. It was raw - twenty degrees with a wind chill down to zero. The bare trees were shaking as the wind whistled past. The desert sounded so warm. Mid fifties in the shade would be fine for me. I was happy to be leaving this stress, this cold, this world. If I didn't already know that I could never live in the desert then I'd swear at that moment I'd never come back.
- March 26 - It was cold again, but the trip to the airport was easy. That might have been because of my state of mind, or it might have been the easy travel time. I didn't care. Once I was on the plane, it was only four hours to Denver, and six hours to sunshine. Unfortunately, things don't always work out as hoped. We missed the the runway in Denver on our first landing attempt due to this:
Denver was in the early stages of a white-out blizzard, and I was on one of the last planes to land. "Jello" drove up to the curb in his beat up car alone and I figured "Iowa" wasn't going. I also had heard that I-70, the road from Denver to Moab, was a serious pain in the butt during bad weather. Driving his car in this mess wasn't going to be fun.
He told me when we got out of the car that we weren't heading to Moab that day due to I-70 being closed. We'd have to wait until the next day, and even then the drive would be an adventure. "Great," I thought. "All this way to get away from winter and stress, and I land in a fucking blizzard."
Stayed tuned for Part Three coming soon...
My plan was the same as it had been the past few winters: to take no time off during my busiest time of year so that I could take more time off during my slowest time of year, which is summer. Thanks to my company's time-off program, I'm allowed to work holidays if I want to. I often work on all holidays except for Christmas, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and New Year's Day. I don't get paid extra for working on days such as Patriot's Day, but instead of taking a cold and blustery day off in the middle of the winter I torture myself with no time off throughout the rawest months. I then enjoy the low-crowd random summer weekdays under the warm sun instead. It's a deliberate decision with a concrete goal, but this year would be different.
It was early February and I was already beginning to feel the stress of a job that was quickly tiring me. President's Day was approaching and I couldn't help but think of how nice it would be to take a mental day off. I struggled with the thought of giving in so early in what would be a long and difficult annual project that was just beginning to stab its heels into me. I knew the day off would allow me one day of rest before the hard stuff began, but I also knew that I needed to prepare myself - to get over the hump, so to speak - of what would surely be long, intense hours of pure analytical tedium. I was slouched in my chair and twiddling a pencil between my fingers when the phone rang:
- Me: Hello?
- "Jello": Hey what's up?
- Me: Hey man, not much. How are you doing?
- "Jello": I could use some time off.
- Me: Couldn't we all?
- "Jello": No seriously, I'm stressed beyond belief, I haven't had a day off in months, money is pissing me off, the house is more work than I thought it would be, and so I was thinking of taking time off around my birthday at the end of March.
- Me (worried that this might eat into my plans of no time off during the winter): OK.
- "Jello": Yeah, so, how does Arches sound?
- Me: You mean, me flying out to meet you there?
- "Jello": Um, yeah. Why the hell else would I be calling?
I knew I was toast. I never had a chance. There I was contemplating taking one day off against my plans and here was "Jello" speaking of warm sunshine and a significant distance, both in body and mind, away from work.
- Me: Well, that's really my absolute busiest time of year. I'm usually jam packed in wall-to-wall meetings during that time. Some of those meetings are necessary and insanely difficult to schedule, too.
- "Jello": What do you want me to do about it?
Yup, I had no chance. He'd made up his mind. He (we) was (were) going to Arches sometime at the end of March. The dates hadn't been set yet, but that was the plan.
- Me: OK, let's talk more in a couple of weeks. I have to figure out my schedule. I'm still in the early stages of setting up my timeline the next few months, so I think I can work this in.
- "Jello": Cool. Just let me know.
We hung up and the phone rang again. The caller ID screen told me it was someone I needed to speak to. Her input was vital to my work, so I turned to my computer and started searching for flights.