Today is August 22, 2015. It’s pretty nice. The greenery outside the front door of my microcabin at the campground I run says “summer,” but the crisp temps and breeze say, “fall is on the way.” Hopefully, within the month, we’ll be in full-on Sendtember, with Rocktober immediately thereafter. The best time of the year here at the New River Gorge is right around the corner.
However, I have not been climbing much these last few weeks. I’ve never been a particularly gifted natural athlete, and sport specific training has always been pretty key to me performing at even sufficient levels. So for the whole month of August, I’ve put climbing on hold, and devoted myself to doing hangboard exercises a couple times a week. These “hangbored” workouts– in which I hang off of tiny edges with up to 50 lbs of weight dangling off of my harness– are exhausting, tedious, and sometimes painful. Friends ask me “why I can’t just come climb” in between my workouts, not realizing how it exactly feels to have pumped, strained muscles 24/7. I’m still able to climb a bit, and occasionally will even take a lap on Apollo Reed, one of my favorite sport routes ever, just to warm up for hangboarding. But other than that, I’m not climbing. The increased finger strength come September will be worth it; I’ve been here before.
Part of living here at the New River Gorge, where I am just minutes away from the best rock in the nation, has involved me accepting that in the summer I will just not climb much. As I get older, and less obsessive (while still improving), I’ve found that I need time away from the rock.
It hasn’t been that much time off that I’ve taken, however. For most of June and all of July, I managed to keep surfing along on the fitness that I’d gained from my pretty intense spring training, when I climbed Moonlight Buttress. I made a few trips to South Nuttal, an off-the-beaten-path crag here that has one of the most impressive line-ups of 5.12 traditional cracks that you’ll find anywhere. It was fun; I managed to send an Eric Horst route called “New Traditionalist” (5.12) that might be the best fingercrack at the NRG. Following the queue of local badass Pat Goodman, I also made some gains on a BEAUTIFUL Brian McCray crack called “Temporary Insanity,” which definitely feels harder than any of the other cracks I’ve been on, it’s probably more 5.13 than 5.13-, and requires a full arsenal of jamming skills as well as ample bouldering power.
Eventually, the hot summer temps and encroaching poison ivy got me less psyched on South Nuttal, though I’ll be back in the fall. However, right as this was happening, I managed to fall in with a great new partner, Stacey K., who was living at the NRG for June, and had more psych to climb hard in the hot temps than anyone else in town. It was pretty impressive to watch her tick off classics like the ultra-crimpy “Black Happy” (5.12) at Endless Wall, during very grim summer conditions of high temps and humidity. I managed to put away a couple more 5.13s while climbing with her, including the VERY memorable send of the endurance route “Eye of Mordor” at First Buttress of the Meadow River during a full-on hurricane-force horizontal rain and wind storm. This brief spike in fitness even manifested itself in an almost-send of the famed “Triple Crown” at Lake Summersville (three 5.13s in a day), but the smarmy handjam crux move of “Pod” (5.13b) thwarted me. Like I always say, an almost-send is still NOTHING!
Anyway, after mid-July, I finally threw in the towel for hard climbing in the summer. Since then, I’ve been getting on the lower New River, an incredibly stretch of whitewater, a LOT, and fine-tuning my whitewater guiding skills. Whitewater is another longstanding passion of mine; I actually worked through college and part of graduate school during summers as a raft guide on the Green and Colorado rivers in Southern Utah, and it’s been amazing to have world-class whitewater accessible to me as a quick, after-work option.
I’ve also been throwing in a healthy amount of weight training and core workouts with my hangboreding, as well as 2-3 cycling trips a week in which I ride down and back up out of the New River Gorge. Hopefully this regimen will keep me in good overall shape for the fall, despite my favorite Mexican Restaurant DiOGi’s opening back up and temping me with their nachos and margaritas!
Without a doubt, however, the biggest obstacle for my fall climbing season is going to be my old enemy: TIME. In addition to managing the local climbers’ campground here, my work as a freelance writer has really been taking off. On top of that, I’ve taken a job at one of Fayette County’s chronically understaffed high schools as a full-time English teacher. It’s been amazing so far; not only will the money help for future road trips, but I truly love teaching, and hope to be able to make a difference by applying my skills as a former college professor to some of the most disadvantaged and peripheralized demographics in the nation. Exposing rural hillbilly kids to Malcolm Gladwell? Fuck yeah.
But the problem is that I moved here to climb. I began substitute teaching last year for the good money, and because of the flexibility in being able to work when I wanted and no more. Now, pulled back in by my love of actually designing and teaching my own courses, I’ve lost that flexibility. Part of me hopes that my school will be able to find a qualified and licensed English Teacher to replace me, and I’ll be able to go back to being a dirtbag. We’ll see.
Either way, I really hope to have a good fall, even if it means running myself into the ground and burning the candle at both ends (forgive the double metaphor). I’d like to take down Greatest Show, Temporary Insanity, Thundering Herd, and The Racist, all lifetime goal routes for me here at the NRG. Beyond that (and providing I can get out of this teaching gig), the big goal is to be able to take my truck into the desert Southwest for all of December, January, and February, spending weeks and weeks at Hueco Tanks, Red Rocks, Zion, Joshua Tree, and more.
I’ve been managing to ride the fine line between dirtbaggery and being a responsible adult for a while now; let’s hope I can keep pulling it off.