Monday, August 31, 2009

I walk the line

I looked at Teakettle's cirque of amazing features, shapes that such be displayed in a pottery gallery, really, and as we approached the final traverse that led to its summit tower, I should have felt awe, inspiration and excitement.

That's what I would have felt in the past. That's what I was feeling now. But I also felt something else: An undercurrent of fear.

This is the first year since I had kids that I began really stretching my abilities. I started with a climb in the Never Summers range, a climb up the Hart Ridge with Cirrus and Lead mountains. That was a nice warm-up, a couple of ridges, some exposure, even a little danger.

Then I really pushed it with a climb up Capitol the weekend before Saturday's attempt of Teakettle, 13,800+. I was fine up until K2, but as we started to crawl over its top and back down, I was a little nervous, and then, as I stared as its knife ridge, I felt fear.

I hadn't felt fear in a long, long time in the mountains, certainly not for five years, at least. And this fear was different. Tears actually sprang to my eyes as I gathered the group and told them I wasn't sure I should go on. It's not my life any longer, I told them. It's the lives of a 4-year-old and two 2-year-olds, and it was hard for me to justify risking their lives when they don't have a choice.

Before kids, when I climbed, I never worried about my life. It's not like I did the tango on a ridge or two-stepped a sprint across summits. I was always careful. But I was never really afraid either.

That changed, of course, and so when I was attempting Teakettle with Pete Krzanowsky, Adam McFarren and the Artist Currently Known As Piper, I felt that damn fear once again.

I knew I stood out a bit in this group. Climbing mountains is a hobby to me, something fun to do on an occasional weekend, a way to challenge myself and a way to get out and see Colorado. It's a lifestyle for Pete, Adam and Piper. I hadn't really obsessed over the peaks for a few years, since, I'm sorry to say, I finished the 14ers. This was my third time out this year. Pete said he'd been out close to 50 times. That kind of devotion to anything impresses me, and their skill levels reflected that.

I could not have paid for better guides up the peak, especially Adam, our leader. They knew the route cold, set a quick pace and helped me with gear.

Gear is really what prevents me from doing these kinds of peaks more often. I don't know anyone in Greeley, where I live, who has the equipment and the knowledge to lead climbs. Besides that, I struggle when it comes to gear.

Like, a lot.

If this frustrated Adam, Piper and Pete, they didn't show it. They were very good to me. To be honest, I don't know if I would have been as good if, say, I was on the summit of Teakettle, and one of my climbing partners not only didn't have an ATC with him, he didn't really even know what one was. That might have happened. It was pretty high. Altitude fogs memories.

They double checked my harness, helped me with knots, gave me an extra biner to back up my own and generally helped me get through the final, 40-foot summit tower. They also sent up an extra ATC to the summit for the guy who forgot one.

When I didn't have to worry about the gear, I could concentrate on the climbing, and that was really fun. That's something I can do for the most part.

Sure, rappelling was a little rough at first, but it came back to me fairly quickly, and that, too, was fun.

We made it back down off the final ridge before the tower, went back down the black gully (not nearly as scary as advertised, by the way, it was actually one of the highlights of the climb) and then worked out way down a horrible, awful, terrible, very bad slope filled with loose rock, screen and loose rock. Also there was loose rock. I haven't yelled "Rock!" that much since I went to a Metallica concert a decade ago.

Oh, why do we always have to pay for such fun with such crappy, loose rock that the Elks and the San Juans throw at us?

By the time we were headed for our attempt at Dallas the next day, I'd had enough. True, I'd only camped one night and climbed one tough peak, but parenthood's left me a little soft, I guess. I didn't sleep very well in the tent - I never really do - and wasn't looking forward to another night or hauling a heavy pack up to our campsite.

I was looking forward to Dallas, however, and so I was disappointed as well as relieved when rain started pelting our tent at 3 a.m. The attempt really ended with those first few raindrops, even if it let up twice and didn't rain on us again even hours later.

I reached a conclusion in my tent as the rain came down that I hope will help calm my fears as I do another attempt like this one next year (maybe Dallas again, I hope). I will continue to push myself and climb challenging peaks, but only under optimal conditions, if they're within my ability and if I'm with good people.

Teakettle matched all that criteria, even if I wasn't as good with the gear. Dallas, however, was not under optimal conditions, and Adam wisely recognized that and called it off at the base of its majesty.

In the past, I'd be crushed. I don't honestly know if I'll get to attempt Dallas again, at least for a while. And we spent the night out. But now I appreciate the beautiful hike up and a good reconnaissance mission and the company of new friends. I appreciate the chance to get out.

I still recognize the need to get out. I still want to get out. It's so damn fun.

And most importantly, it makes me appreciate the small things. Camping and climbing for a few days makes you appreciate a pillow, hot water cascading over your body, clean skin, a fresh scent, an uncluttered car, white fingernails, a freedom to pee whenever you want and without having to put on your boots to do it, four-lane highways, real food like a cheeseburger (not an energy bar, gel or chew), sheets, cotton T-shirts, a place to keep your stuff (and your back not having to be the place where it all goes), sandals, lip balm, a couch, water from a faucet (not filtered from a creek), healthy toenails, flat terrain clear of rocks, cell phone reception and shelter from a storm.

And I really appreciate my family thanks to the peaks. There are always good things, like my kids shouting "Daddy!" when I get home, and there are always bad things, like my kids turning bedtime into a Civil War (actually it's pretty uncivil).

In fact, as Swine Flu invades our house - Kate answered the door tonight as I was getting out of car tonight with a "welcome to your infected house" and a cough - I may continue to worry about pushing my limits on the peaks.

But I'm also already keeping an eye to a few trips next year.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Returning to the knife edge

It was probably five or six years ago when my wife and I were walking out of a movie theater, and she turned to me and said, "It's nice to spend a Saturday with you."
In that wonderfully selfish manner that's second nature to all mountain climbers, I hadn't really thought about how much time I was spending away from home until Kate said that. It was summer, after all, and summers were meant for climbing peaks and checking them off my list.
Oh, how times have changed. I've been out once this year.
One of my BFF's said this would happen, and at the time, when I didn't have a kid or twins to bookend him, I thought no way. No way would my desire to explore and challenge myself and, yes, check off peaks on a list would ever go away.
Well, three things happened.
First, I didn't really lose the desire to challenge myself, it just changed into a more manageable sport. Running is the most challenging thing I've ever done. Climbing is second nature to me, so I'll always be dialed into getting up and hiking when most of you go to bed in Vegas (probably earlier, actually), going all morning, into the afternoon and evening, and facing fun scrambles. But running is different. It's caused the kind of agony I never thought I'd feel, yet it's a welcoming pain, not the agony of defeat but of accomplishment. I'm running three half marathons this fall and I've got a 10-mile race to run on Labor Day. I can't wait. And the best part? I can do these things and be home after two hours to play with my kids. I might be hobbling around, but they love it when I lay on the floor anyway.
Second, and this happens to most parents, my desires changed. I just don't want to be away that much anymore. When Kate and I happen to go to a movie on a Saturday afternoon, I want it to be unusual because we rarely get to see a movie in the theater together, not because there's an empty space on the couch. My kids should be happy to see me, not pleasantly surprised.
Third? Well, I accomplished my main goal, which was climbing all 54 14ers in Colorado. I've done a lot of what I want to do. I just don't NEED to be out that much any longer. 
But all that changes a bit starting this weekend. My longtime hiking partners, who were there for at least 25 of the 14ers and were the only ones who accompanied me on my last one, will be climbing Capitol Peak. They want me along, and I couldn't refuse. I've got some other dear friends along. 
You've probably guess that Capitol is rough. In fact it might be the toughest 14er of them all. It's long (17 miles), steep and features dangerous, exposed, tough terrain once you get to 13,900. 
It even has a knife edge, a 100-yard section thinner than a desk with a drop that would kill you if you slip.
It's also beautiful and fun and one of my favorites. And it's in Aspen. That's pretty sweet too.
Next weekend I'm climbing two tough 13,900+ peaks, Dallas and Teakettle, in the San Juans, perhaps my favorite place in all of Colorado.
Yes, I'm worried about whether this is stupid or not given I have a family. But I'll be careful, and when you're careful, you (almost always) don't die. Death is a byproduct of carelessness and cockiness.
Plus we've had a lot of shit in the saying "shit happens" lately. The van needed to be repaired and was under warranty, but we had to drive it to Fort Collins, 30 miles away, to get it looked at because the dealer just closed here (thanks recession!). I've already talked about the water in the basement, and we need to get the drywall repaired from that. We picked out new carpet last week (exciting) but may have to move some shit in the basement to get it done (not exciting). 
Oh, and the kids have all been sick.
I'm usually a big whiny baby during shit like this, but strangely I've been the calm one throughout this mess. 
I think it's because of the trips coming up. The mountains have always been there for me. And my desire to visit them has been compromised, but it won't ever completely go away.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Battle Rages On

I was a master at justifying it when my treatment of my kids was a bit rough.
Among them? I never hit them, kick them or purposely hurt them in any way. I yelled at them at times, yes, but I never called them names.
But mostly, if I did lose my temper for a snap second, I figured no one would blame us for it. We have three kids under 5. We have 2-year-old twins. And they are cute, smart and loving, but they are also challenging. As my mother said, "They're just not relaxed children." It's the best way to describe them. They challenge us every day, and not just every day but several times a day.
It's so easy to sink down into a pit and believe life could not get any harder. We have two cars, good jobs, parents who help support us any way they can, healthy, cute, smart kids and our health (and it's good health), but I still believe that almost every day. I believed it today when one of the three pretty much screamed from 7 a.m. until 11 a.m. They switch off.
At times, all that stress has to go somewhere. And until recently, occasionally I'd ship it back to my kids.
I don't know when it occurred to me that I wasn't being the father I wanted to be, but I think it was when Jayden was causing trouble with the girls, as he will do (as any 4-year-old would do as the brother of twin girls, I think) and I wondered for the 105,000th time why can't our kids just sit there? Why can't they just relax? 
The obvious answer, that they are just kids, did not occur to me, and instead I grabbed his wrist and pulled him away from the girls, and he fell on the ground, and I dragged him a bit on the ground. Then I told him to leave them alone.
There are few things more awful in this world when your kids look at you with fear in their eyes, and what's even worse is when you're the one they're afraid of.
So I thought about that later and made a goal. I'm good with goals. Goals are why I run hard, why I've climbed so many peaks and why I work hard on so many of my stories. 
My new goal is to fight the urge to be angry, to feel sorry for myself, and instead be a lot more patient with the girls and especially with Jayden. They deserve that and so do I.
Lately, it's worked. Today, for instance, Jayden was throwing a fit because he was with me and not with Kate because I met her at the wrong park. It had, as I said, been a tough morning, and in the past, my tolerance would have worn down and I would have told him to shut up or forced him back in the car. 
But today I calmly told him to get in the car, tried to soothe his tears and drove him to the park. We wound up having a great day, with him curled up next to me, as we watched Tiger Woods choke away his first PGA title, until I had to go to work.
It's progress. It will always be a battle with me. But it's one worth fighting.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A gold star for the man board

I don't think there's anything more intimidating to a guy like myself than entering a Home Depot or Lowe's.
By a "guy like myself," I mean a guy who can't build his own deck. Or a swingset out back for the kids. Or a treehouse. Or a doghouse. Or, like, help his kids play with Legos. 
I'm completely comfortable with my manhood, thanks to my mountain climbing and running (not teeth-gnashing sports like football, I realize, but they're intense and, at times, ballsy enough to wither just about anyone), my love for Megan Fox and my ability to play poker (though my game is trapped in Sucksville, I'm still better than enough).
But walk into one of those places, and my weakness gets sniffed out pretty easily. And I actually needed some supplies to help shore up our window well, so we don't get a sequel to our basement's soaked, moldy carpet (and it's $1,200 bill). 
You can almost smell the manhood, a strange mixture of Old Spice, lumber and paint remover, when you walk into a Home Depot or Lowe's. I break out in goosebumps, the kind usually reserved for a hospital. Usually whenever a worker - usually a guy with stubble on his chin and a voice that still cracks but could build his own deck, which always makes me feel awesome - asks if I need help, I lower my head, the way wolves do to alpha pack leaders - and say nothanksI'llfindit and rush off to another aisle. 
In doing so, this time I stumbled across the shovel section. I needed a short shovel that would help me dig out the gravel from the basement window. That would be much easier since our window well seems to be deeper than most mining operations. I found one. Success! 
Then I wandered around all the pretty flowers in the gardening section and finally sighed and asked for gravel and a window well cover. "Building Supplies," a guy muttered. Right. Makes sense. Only no aisle was labeled that way. I meekly asked where that was, and the guy looked at me like I was humming a Britney Spears tune. Look for the lumber, he said. Got it.
My heart sank when I finally found the covers. There wasn't one big enough. Rather than rejoice at the fact that my window well was so big that no cover would fit it, which surely was a sign of manhood, I realized I'd have to go through all this again at the other home improvement store.
Another half-hour of wandering at the other store, and I found bags of gravel (damn those things are heavy, I needed Bad Blood) and a BIG cover to fit over the window well. 
I hauled the stuff downstairs and started digging out the gravel and dirt, filling it in buckets and hauling those buckets out to a corner in the backyard where I could probably dump bleached bones and no one would notice. 
Home improvement, more than anything, seems to be about slave labor. After the eighth load, my shoulders ached and my hands hurt and I was bitchy. And people say running a half marathon is hard. Ha.
Still, when I was done, and the new rock was in place, helping the water to drain, rather than collect and run into our basement, and the toad that was in there was properly rescued and placed in our backyard window well, where he has friends, I paused.
Hey, not bad, I thought.
In fact, Kate's father later told the wife that I did a "great" job with it all, as he helped caulk the well and put on the window well cover. Kate's father could probably have his own home improvement show. He once built a car from scratch. He's a guy.
I just earned my first gold star for my man board. And I have to say, it feels pretty good. 

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Where does the time go?

So Kate called me down to the basement, telling me I "needed to look at something." I sincerely hoped it had nothing to do with potty training the twins.
Fortunately, and unfortunately, it didn't.
"That's mold," Kate said, pointing to a large swath of white on the carpet.
Apparently water had run behind the wall in the basement and soaked a good portion of our carpet, and we had not noticed this until we saw the mold growing. We've had several savage storms in this unusually swampy summer, and apparently during one of them, the rain was hard enough to run sideways and leak into our window well.
Now I can race down a mountain when lightning is trying to fry my ass and lead a group down a snowfield in a storm, but I do not handle things like a soaked carpet very well. Meaning, really, not well at all. Meaning, I cursed under my breath a lot, whined and stomped about. This is how I process a crisis like this one. All I can think about is how much work it's going to take and how so much of my free time is already whittled away.
I know, as a guy, I should be relishing a chance to get my tools out rather than mourning time spent watching "Battlestar Galactica" and playing limit online poker (a new passion, there's a post there soon). But that's me. 
So most likely this weekend, meaning Saturday, after a possible 12-mile run, I'll be digging around our window well, digging crap out of our window well and cauking a gap between the window well and our house that apparently screwed us in the first place.
My point in all this is people asked me how I got stuff done when I was climbing all those mountains every weekend. And somehow, I got it all done. I think when you don't plan your weekends with something, life will plan it out for you. If I had a race Saturday, I'd still get all this done, but I'd also have something to hang my hat on for the weekend. 
So if you're wondering where all your time goes, and you can't get anything like a goal accomplished, plan it out and schedule it for a weekend. Yes, you have the time. You really do. 
If you don't, you might find it seeping down and well and soaking a carpet.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Steeped in pee and poo

Every time I walk by the plastic potty, it needs to be emptied.
I was on the throne myself - the one free of plastic and Elmo's face - when Allie walked in and told me she had to potty. Then, two seconds later, she demanded it. So, yep, had to, um, rush my pooing and get her on the potty. That's just one thing I do not like to rush.
This is my life these days. My girls have a potty mouth. They not only talk about the potty all the time, they use it with the kind of frequency reserved for men with prostate issues on their 12th Keystone Light. 
This may sound like complaining. It is not complaining. Four years of my life have been consumed by diapers, feces, wipes, old pee smell and urine-soaked sheets. I figured it would be at least another year. 
Yet the girls are naturals, nay geniuses (and I do not throw that term around too often) at potty training. They just turned 2, yet Andie, after just a couple weeks, is an accident-free little girl. She pees and poos whenever, wherever, as long as it's in a toilet. I could kiss her. In fact I have. Many times. And doled out Skittles. Allie isn't quite as good. She pees like a champion but hasn't quite made the connection that poo, indeed, goes in the potty as well. This has led to a few, um, uncomfortable moments, like at a park, when Allie seems to crap her pants every.single.time. we go. But I'm a proud father.
It's just that when you are potty training, even if you are doing it well, your personal connection with poo and pee doesn't lighten up. In fact, it gets worse. I have emptied that plastic potty at least ten times a day, and yes, it's every bit as disgusting as it sounds. When I'm not emptying, I'm pulling down panties and placing a little bottom on a big potty with the squishy tushy firmly in place, then acting like she just crapped a golden egg when it's over (positive feedback is important).
Even Jayden, the 4-year-old, makes us look at his poo before he flushes. Not that I blame him for wanting a little affirmation himself.
It's turned into a slight obsession. I've said "Do you need to potty" to one of the three at least 40 times a day, and usually, why yes, one of them does in fact need to go. I've spent so much time worrying about my kids' pottying that I've started to take more notice of my own. 
Just today, in fact, I told Kate that I had TWO significant poops before 11 a.m., one before my 10-mile run and one after. Strangely enough, she didn't seem quite as excited as she obviously is when one of the girls does the same thing. 
Sometimes life isn't fair.