Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I had a great climbing day today. I met Ryann at the wall and learned how to hang, do hanging crunches, and even a pull up (something I haven't done since 1984 when Mr. Trollinger, my junior high gym teacher, insisted I do so). Then I worked on traversing for awhile before getting back tot that Dolly Parton Project. On my first attempt, I fell. I didn't notice my fear so much as I felt my frustration. On my third and final effort, I made it three full moves farther than I had last time, including one that required some moxie on my part. When I arrived at the wall today, I was grumpy and tired. When I left, I was grinning and absolutely thrilled with my three-move improvement. I can see the top in my future ... not much longer now before I'll celebrate my successful completion of my first-ever route.

The big news, though, is from my kitchen. Today, I began my culinary adventure into the unknown. My small kitchen is now, officially, the "P'UP Culinary Testing Center." I might even buy a lab coat and goggles, just to make it fun. Today's adventure:

Pictured: Sweet Savory Couscous, Italian Cucumber and Tomato Salad, and Garlic Olives with Pickled Vegetables. Hummus with Pita Wedges

Looks good, don't it?

This was my lunch today and will be all week. Borrowing the Japanese tradition of "three bowl eating" - I decided I needed recipes I could cook once and eat for lunch for several days. Having prepared options in the fridge helps me to keep focused on Project Up. I thought it would be fun to explore healthy eating as culinary adventure instead of healthy eating as a punitive diet, you know, that crap you eat to make your butt smaller. I highly recommend the couscous. It was filling, satisfying, and the hint of sweetness from the raisins offset the savory spices and vegetables perfectly. I think a person could add ceyene pepper if they wanted to turn up the heat.


Place in a large bowl:

1/2 cup chopped carrot
1/2 cup chopped green onion, including tops
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
15 ounce can of garbanzo or white navy beans, drained and rinsed

Set bowl aside. Stir together in a 2 qt. saucepan:

2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon finely diced fresh ginger root
1/2 cup raisins

Bring mixture to a boil. Immediately take off the heat and add:

2 cups couscous

Cover with a lid and let stand for five minutes. Meanwhile, make the "dressing":

Whisk together:

3 tablespoons grape seed or vegetable oil (the grape seed oil has a nutty flavor - it's awesome)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt

Uncover couscous and use a fork to fluff it and eliminate lumps. Toss the couscous mixture into the large bowl of vegetables. Toss to combine all the yummy goodness, then pour over the dressing and toss again. This is better cooked the day before and served cold. The flavors need a chance to meld. It'll keep in the fridge for several days.


Peel (or not - your choice) a cucumber and slice it in half lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out the seeds. Take four or five Roma tomatoes, cut them in half, take out the seeds and center membrane. Slice both the cucumber and the tomato into 1/4 inch wide slices. Thinly slice half of a small purple onion. Toss the onion, tomato and cucumber with 4 tablespoons of "Newman's Own Low-Fat Balsamic Vinegrette." Scooping out the seeds and membrane will allow this salad to keep several days longer than it would if you did not. Serve room temperature or cold, depending on your preference.


One jar "California Hot Mix" by Menzetti's, a picked concoction of cauliflower, carrots, celery, onions, and peppers. Drain.
One can of black olives, drained
One small jar of stuffed green olives, drained
One can of artichoke hearts, drained
Three cloves of garlic, minced or three teaspoons of pre-diced, jarred garlic
2 tablespoons dried Italian seasoning
1/3 cup olive or vegetable oil

Place all of the drained, canned ingredients into a large bowl. Whisk together the garlic, seasoning and oil, then pour over the vegetables. Toss to coat. Place this mixture into the fridge. It gets more and more flavorful as the days pass, by the way. Important note: Olive oil partially congeals when refrigerated, vegetable oil does not. I prefer the flavor of the olive oil, so when I want to serve or eat this dish, I need to let it come to room temperature again. This usually isn't a problem since I'm packing my lunch to work.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I don't know if it's America's "rugged individualism" philosophy, or our culture's shortsightedness when it comes to history that makes it so easy for each generation to think they're doing something new. While walking home on a crisp afternoon, at the glorious hour just before the sun slips away for the night and washes everything gold, I wondered about my present tensions and the past.

As a new climber, someone just working her way up an indoor wall, there's a lot to take in, absorb. There's much about the indoor version of climbing life that's sanitized, symmetrical, and manufactured. That isn't to say indoor climbing is less than outdoor ascension, it's just different. The routes themselves are art in my opinion, crafted by those who have a sense of rock, the way it pushes you, teases, and beckons. In that sense, an indoor route is about simulation, perhaps even what philosopher Jean Beaudrillard would term, "simulacra," when the artificial takes the place of the real within one's consciousness.

The holds are casts; designed to train you for a multitude of challenges indoors and out. Their bolts are screwed in and tight, maintained, and in a sense, predictable. When you're trying so hard to master UP, when you're challenged in the same spot each time, it's easy to question both the hold design and your aptitude, and this inquiry is not within nature. It's an urban interpretation of the outdoor challenge, and because it's a human interpretation, it becomes both a representation and a real thing. The philosopher in me, the one married to academic life and scholarly pursuits, finds this dynamic intriguing.

On the synthetic wall, as I work to gain confidence and a sense of my own physicality, I'm also projecting these experiences onto the eventual, real rock I hope to climb ... someday. So while I contemplate my moves and try to tame my monkey mind, as I try to praise myself and trust my instincts, as I smell the varnished boards of the rec center floor beneath the wall and all that padding, I'm conjuring pine and thinner mountain air. I'm projecting myself from one place to another, and this too is of philosophical importance.

I've been told several times that climbing outdoors is "easier" in the sense that you choose your way, based on your self-inventory of both expertise and strength. In this sense, climbing becomes an interpretative dance, a reflexive exchange between the climber and the environment. Some have written about how a rock face will make you or break you, that either way your soul must battle to make peace with the work and the hope that you will be enough to reach the top. Therein lies the real grace, some claim. Therein lies the art.

But it's easy, when embarking on a new task, to overlook the history, the testaments of those who have gone before. It's not often that one, while trying a new sport, becomes fascinated by its history. For many, taking on new physical pursuits means getting a sense of literacy for the immediate breakthroughs, the equipment as it is today, hanging at the local store. It's only when that sport or activity seeps into the soul and the voices of the past begin to whisper, inviting you back, pulling you near, that you explore histories.

It could be that because I'm a nerd, a "binoclard aux premiere classe" (a first class nerd as they'd say in France), I'm drawn to histories. It could be too that I find this sport so baffling, so contrary in experience to all the stories of "recklessness" and "rebellion" passed down to me by a larger culture, that I am compelled to explore its past for myself. Then again, it could just be that I'm excited to find a whole other section of a library or bookstore worthy of my attention. I am, after all, a bibliophile.

I found this video advertisement from Stonemaster Press captivating. As I watched the video created with current digital technology, I thought about the photographic technology of the 1970s. While looking at the images, it's easy to take them for granted - most of us today won't know the frustration of having to wait until your film's developed to know if you "got the shot." Our contemporary use of digital cameras doesn't require much patience or even photographic knowledge. We don't have to deal with F-stops and exposures because most good cameras can do it all automatically. When I think of how easy we have it now, how simple it is to take a video and put it into the world, and how simplistic and straightforward digital camerawork can be, the photos in the above video presentation seem all the more remarkable. Not only did the Stonemasters change the sport, they set the example of recording the journey.

And I think that was both prophetic, a promise of what was to come, and foundational, a keeping of what has gone before.

I tend to get contemplative as summer surrenders to fall. And now that I'm walkin' like Jesus everywhere I go as a commitment to a larger goal, I've got more time to think. For just this month, I'm going to walk instead of bike. I'm going to take the time with myself in the morning on the way to campus and in the early evenings on the way home. But it's not a walk of destinations. It's what Thich Nhat Hanh posits as meditative:

Walking meditation is really to enjoy the walking - walking not in order to arrive, just for walking. The purpose is to be in the present moment and enjoy each step you make. Therefore you have to shake off all worries and anxieties, not thinking of the future, not thinking of the past, just enjoying the present moment (33).

My neighborhood is torn into sections now by road and university improvement projects. A giant crane interrupts the view, looming as it reaches a long arm across the sky. There is the constant churn of tires, earth movers, the banging of metal against metal, and the shouting of men. If I leave my apartment windows open all day as I like to do this time of year, a fine silt of their work, all that dust they've cast to the wind in the name of progress, settles on everything. In a very real way, I can feel the grit of their determination, trace my finger through it, or wipe it away with a dusting cloth.

The noise used to bother me, all the traffic and the "beep, beep, beep" of dirt loaders and dump trucks once set my teeth on edge. But trying to take walking for walking's sake, learning to keep my mind focused on the limb and then the foot, has helped me to hear these noises in a different way. And the flowers, those daring things at sidewalk's edge, seem all the more miraculous to me. If they can grow here, in the mess of improvement and displacement, surely I can, too. What was noise is now an urban beat, some sort of crazy symphony, I listen to while marveling the musicians with hard hats and crazy instruments.

Where the natural and the unnatural meet, I think, is where our thinking should begin. And I think that, too, is something climbing - even just researching climbing - can help one to appreciate. I'm beginning to wonder if climbing is meditation, a transcendental and Romantic lyric on a good day, or a lament on a bad one, but poetry all the same. One can only go hold by hold, line by line, present moment by present moment - and that in itself, according to Eastern traditions, is meditative. The entire meaning of your interior world can be condensed into one move, just as poetry is nothing more than a story rendered into just one line. I find this encouraging, particularly because all of the experienced climbers I know tell me "half of climbing is in the head" or "most of the hard work isn't physical at all - it's mental."

So maybe those who have gone before shaped the sport with their legacy: The work of those who shape the polymer holds, cast and mounted, bolted to the interpretation of a rock's eventual story and the poetry it waits to share someday, when you meet face to face.

And perhaps that journey begins in the horizontal plane, when one walks for the sake of walking. As Hanh notes, such contemplative joy in the present moment causes blossoms of peace, of focus, to bloom beneath every step. Perhaps this thinking will help me to see the route, those holds and the challenges, as flora that blooms with each move I make. I like this idea, not so much because it's got flowers in it - and chicks dig flowers - but because it allows me to think of my success in a single moment and the collection of these moments as a garden I tended.

Then again, maybe this line of thinking just helps me to forget that my elbows ache and my ass feels like it's made of lead.

Monday, September 28, 2009


Passion or Recklessness? Rock Climber John Bachar Falls to Death - ABC News

Shared via AddThis

I suppose it's headlines such as this one above from ABC that really stick in the consciousness of non-climbers. I know my dad already equates climbing with recklessness, with immanent injury or death (as I did not so long ago). But I think the word "reckless" is a loaded one, a word assigned by a comfortable majority to those who go against the grain of what seems "sensible," or "inarguably true."

Though I have a different set of personal ethics than Bachar's, though I am not nearly so experienced or provocative as he, I do respect his philosophical notions about his version of the sport. As Peter Beal, the long-time blogger at Mountains and Water wrote:

Thus to watch Bachar was to believe that poise, control and reason were at the heart of climbing well. Somehow with him soloing 5.11 onsight made sense or you could at least try to make sense of it. He never looked remotely in any danger or ill at ease with his surroundings. His example could encourage you to master yourself and your own fear to live up to your aspirations. Even if you found his sense of climbing ethics overly strict or his media persona overdone, at the core something endured that was hard as steel and genuine.

As Beal notes, other climbers wrote of Bachar's influence, like John Long in The High Lonesome: Epic Solo Climbing Stories. Reading about Bachar, all those stories before his obituaries and tributes, it seems that the man challenged conventional wisdom as an attempt to fully live his life. And perhaps that's what rankles those so attached to safety, so anchored into the idea that life should be predictable, comfortable, and without a crux.

To read of Bachar, to watch videos of his climbing skills, is to know this: A life fully lived risks all conventional wisdom.

This could be interpreted as recklessness, but then again, it could be read as an outcry against all that makes life seem small, insignificant. I believe Bachar had, in his career, so many moments on top of the world, he knew with every fiber of his being what mattered to him most. American culture, so fond of deathbed epiphanies and the long goodbye, doesn't know what to do when someone prefers to live life on his own terms, and die doing what he loves. So culture will cast him a name, make his death into an argument, create a spectacle of personal freedom - violating the very nature of solo climbing itself.

His solo work inspires me, the bumpy newbie just starting out all roped in and secure. I'm encouraged, not because of its extreme nature and obvious adrenaline high, but because he grabbed his sense of freedom hold by hold, foot by foot, and made it possible for others to try to emulate him if not in kind, then in spirit.

Few of us will get to claim that kind of success, no matter when or how we leave this earth.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


And so it begins.

This weekend, I met my climbing partner, Ryann, and her boyfriend I've named "Schnookums." Brian (his real name) decided he preferred a monosyllabic representation of Self. So now, forevermore, he shall be referred to as "Schnook."

We spent a good two hours at the wall today. Though it's true I only once attempted to master the 5.6 route on the north wall, a.k.a. "The Dolly Parton Project," so named for it's "big jugs," I spent the rest of the time bouldering (or rather, trying to boulder).


Well, the same skills you use without a rope, traversing, footwork, holds, and assessing your route, all apply. I've found that as a new climber, I haven't learned to trust my hands or my feet. Somehow the freedom of bouldering, mucking around on the wall without a harness and below the bouldering line, allows me to experiment without feeling as though I'm wasting my belay's time or holding up others waiting to climb.

It's that latter part that's a big deal. Not yet having the confidence, and still negotiating my sense of self-perception, I feel embarrassed at the wall. This is particularly true when there's a group waiting on the bench for their chance at a route. I'm very conscious of wall decorum, and the spirit of sharing and community at our wall. So while I want to learn, I don't want to learn at others' expense.

Schnook offered a lot of advice today, and he noticed that I had improved since his last visit to Lincoln. My climbing partner, Ryann, also noticed improvements from that first day we tried this inquiry. That's the day I got hooked, by the way.

But today's work was different. For one, I brought my camera (you can see the photos. For another, I explained to everyone there the project and my goals. Many agreed with my assessment, that when looking into climbing the only examples you can find are from those who are already in great shape. Many also noted that it didn't matter where one began, so long as one did indeed begin.

I've created P'UP t-shirts. Until I've mastered a route, I'll be wearing the "Rookies Climb Rainbows" t-shirt, a popular one at the wall. I've gotten three orders, by the way, and that seemed like something fun in itself.

How did climbing go today?

Well, I made it past the crag swiftly with little difficulty, and that seemed like something to celebrate. I also learned that sometimes, one has to swing, to allow momentum to give that extra inch or so needed to reach a hold. This is largely a matter of physics, and if you're climbing with your skeleton, keeping your arms straight and your weight on your feet where it belongs, it's a lot more fun.

I also learned that I have yet to master my fear of heights. Climbing is far more cerebral than most people think it is, and once I proved to myself that I was indeed climbing, and once I had swung to meet that elusive hold from last week, the fear set in. My monkey mind, what Buddhist tradition calls a mind that won't focus, got the best of me. I tried a meditative technique Thich Nhat Hanh describes in his book, True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart (2006).

Once one recognizes fear, Hanh advises, one can then imagine holding that fear like a child. Soothing it, holding it close, then making sure the child fear knows that though you honor its presence, you tell that fear you're still going to do what you need to do.

Sounds hokey, but you know, it worked. I did get a full two moves above that fear moment before letting my weight go to just one side and swinging open like a damn barn door. That's when physics made me it's downcast minion. That's when I came down and realized I had let my monkey mind get a little too far ahead of myself.

After that, as I said, I worked on traversing across the wall. I worked on that until I couldn't feel my middle fingers anymore. Sweaty, spent, but grinning like a dork, I packed it in. Overall, it was a good day. I didn't get hurt. I laughed with good people. I made it past a part in a route that gave me trouble last week.

Other noteworthy discoveries: My La Sportiva Nago shoes are perfectly broken in now, rubbing only slightly at my heel. I no longer wear the duct tape on my achilles tendons to protect them from blistering - a trick I learned from my daughter. Also, I've finally worn in the new chalk ball (our wall doesn't allow loose chalk) so it has just enough give in it.

Nutritional news: Instead of bowing down to the diet industry yet again, I've been working on just two aspects of my nutritional habits. After looking at protein options, I've created a balance of vegetarian and poultry sources. The benefit of vegetarian proteins, particularly beans and legumes, is that you get the added benefit of fiber. The benefit of poultry is that it's a complex protein with essential acids a body needs. I'll explore fish and lean meat later in the month. The other area of focus is fiber. High fiber foods stay with a body longer, and when it comes to energy, that's important. Fiber also keeps your hunger in check, which is important when you're trying to learn to fuel your body in healthier ways.

I'll be working on a caloric intake model particular to my height and weight next week. The overall goal right now is to reduce my BMI, and thanks to my Wii, I can get a weekly assessment on that. Okay, so it's not the best assessment, but it's the most fun. And P'UP is all about fun.

Ryann and I will climb again sometime this week, but I think I'll head to the wall on Tuesday to work on bouldering some more. I've learned that if I get there right when the wall opens, I can have a half hour of full use of the wall on my own. For now, the climbing schedule is no more than three times a week, but that's simply because I don't want to overdo it or hurt myself. In between these days, I have other activities to do that will build strength and endurance. I'll be posting more about that another day.

For now, as the cold air wafts through my window and I feel the chilled fingers of fall pulling summer away, I'm smugly satisfied with myself. Not only did I have a good day of climbing, I didn't wince at my photos or subject my physical self to a bucketload of self-incrimination and negativity. I'm hoping that as I grow as a climber, as I assert my self-love and dedication to something besides my mind, my photos will eventually reveal changes I can see.

I just wish my hands didn't hurt ... someone told me today that if they didn't feel dead, you weren't really climbing. So I guess I really climbed today.

Friday, September 25, 2009


“I agree that readers are often poorly served when an author writes as an act of catharsis, as I have done here. But I hoped something would be gained by spilling my soul in the calamity’s immediate aftermath, in the roil and torment of the moment. I wanted my account to have a raw, ruthless sort of honesty that seemed in danger of leaching away with the passage of time and the dissipation of anguish.” - Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air

When I thought of climbing, I often conjured images of those Everest dudes who spent time courting yak favors in Nepal. Over time, and after making rock-climbing friends, I thought of climbing as the daredevil impertinence of youth in a bronzed Greek form of man, a lean, muscled maniac who seemed to scream at God himself, “I will rise without you!”

It was impossible, then, to think of rock climbing without also thinking of immanent death. Climbing has been cast as a reckless sport for adrenaline junkies, extreme in its stakes and demands. It's accused of not being cerebral - smart people, critics claim, wouldn't take such risks for momentary pleasures. To the uninformed, the sport seems to be for those who reached a peak or level of boredom with "normal" fitness efforts, a parthenon for the athletic elite, the gods we worship but will never ourselves become.

Certainly, looking at the glossy photos in Rock and Ice magazine, one gets the sense that climbers are of a chosen genetic order with enviably low body fat percentages, and inherited DNA that makes them flexible, fierce, and fabulous. In some ways, the climbing physique represents the finest Grecian example of perfect formed and tone. No other sport I know builds such perfected bodies.

Which could explain why the sport itself has an undercurrent of delicious sexual tension. Even I, in my spectatorship, have known my fair share of these rocktastic specimens. I’d be lying if I claimed I had not, more than once, dreamed of climbing their crags and formidable inclines just to sit atop and admire the view.

Some rocks just beg to be climbed.

Rope tension aside, there’s more than the visceral physicality attracting me to the sport. Project Up, or “P’UP” is about reclaiming and redefining myself. By all accounts, I represent the stereotypical American physique: soft, white, lumpy, and sedentary. Though it’s true that I took up cycling three years ago, I cannot claim proper membership in that community. I am, despite my efforts and enthusiasm, a newbie amateur.

Somehow, in my years of questing intellectual excellence, I let my body fall into disrepair. Part of this, I suspect, has something to do with my self-esteem. I have been viciously unkind in my self-perception, and like many American women, I have paid too high of price. I cannot remember a time, even in my youth, when I did not hate my body, its swells and recesses, the very geography of self.

Like many women who loathe their physical selves, I too have embarked on many shortsighted and impatient diet adventures. I’ve been a member of a national diet mechanism, paid my dues, stood on the public scale, and counted every thing by its caloric number. I’ve wasted years treated food as the enemy, as something counter to what it truly is: gasoline for a great machine.

I’ve deprived myself, filled my soul with self-incrimination, blamed my failures on willpower instead of the dieting industry, and wept while standing on a bathroom scale. My measure as a human being, as a soulful woman with a vision of love beyond the bump-and-grind of lust and impulse, has always rested on what the numbers on the scale revealed.

To conjure spiritual deprivation, to unleash an evil of consuming and unrelenting ambition, all I had to do is weigh myself. The number was always the sign of the beast, and the desolate hell of self-loathing was inescapable. I have used my body as an excuse to deny myself optimism, opportunities, and even love. I have wasted years thinking that my appearance, and not my perspective, rendered me unlovable. I settled for less, and less always brought pain, but because I had decided I was worthless it all worked out. I got with every injustice and bruise, exactly what I secretly believed I deserved.

P’UP is my inquiry into an alternative perspective. It began as an extension of my daughter’s recovery. After her perpetrators were arrested, I took her to our local climbing wall to help her envision her violated body as a stronger, spiritually beautiful one. We learned from her exploration that climbing could unleash the sort of raw determination she needed to recover from being the victim of violence. The harder she worked at it, the more she learned to respect herself. It was an intense but captivating view of both her moxie and the exorcism of her past, breathtaking and spectacular.

Many in the local climbing community knew her story, and as I sat on the bench one day, one of them, Jon Cannon, asked, “When are you going to get up there?”

At the time, my demons wouldn’t let me see the possibility. I laughed at his question, thinking I was too old, too fat, too worthless, to even try.

“Oh, I don’t know, dude. I’ll just watch.”

I assumed my worn place on the sidelines, smiled to hide my self-loathing, and he, bless him, didn’t ask me that question again. Another year passed, another year of restlessness, of lies and self-abuse held firm.

Then, miracle of miracles, I turned forty. I didn’t throw a party. I opened mailed cards and packages in solitude. I didn’t toast my milestone, nor did I grieve my truly misspent youth. Instead, I sat at my kitchen table, writing in my journal, trying to forget Jon’s question.

“When are you going to get up there?” haunted me. And the more I thought about it, the more climbing became a metaphor for something else. I began to wonder when I was going to get off the sidelines, get out of my vicious cycle of self-loathing, and dare to re-imagine my life and potential.

As a teacher, I often lead students to take on metamorphosis as inquiry, to reconfigure their imaginations in order to embolden them to live richer, fuller lives. It’s passionate work, and I am committed to it. But in the silence of my apartment, in my imposed solitary existence, I began to wonder why it was so easy to help others to do the very thing I denied myself.

The nib of my pen bent beneath the pressure of my self-questioning. As ink pooled onto the page, I realized I didn’t want to live another year as I had spent the previous twenty. By the end of the night and a bottle of wine, I decided I deserved the right to unleash my moxie and exorcise my demons. I decided it was time to get UP.

And P’UP was born. For the next 365 days, I will invest my energy and mind into climbing as both sport and philosophy. Recording my progress and setbacks, my inquiries and discoveries on this blog, I will do my best to explore the sport and its potential for everyday folk, even those who think they’re too old, too fat, or just too settled to try something so new, and so difficult.

Like Krakauer, I’ve decided to track my journey and share my tribulations in real time, before the “roil and torment of the moment” has time to fade into introspection. I will share my process of becoming a climber, beginning with my work at an indoor climbing wall in Lincoln, Nebraska. As I learn about the sport and myself, I will share with unflinching, raw honesty. I want to prove that climbing is a multifaceted sport with tremendous personal and physical rewards. I want to see if it’s possible, as a washed-up forty year-old divorced mother of three in dubious physical health, to reclaim one’s body and mind.

I’m going to lead this climb, set the route, in the hope that others will follow. It ain’t gonna be pretty, but it will be earnest. I’m no expert, just a vagabond soul looking for a road back to myself. I hope you’ll join me on this journey. I hope we’ll someday see a vista that takes our breath away.