The ways that I am human

Queen Sweet Nectar, Bishop, California
Photo courtesy of Brian

The past year of my life I have been, more or less, living on the road in my van. The constant access to rock, having a sillily knowledgable and strong climbing companion and being outdoors has improved my climbing comprehension more than I could have hoped for. Hours in the gym were replaced with days spent outside under boulders. Climbing on plastic that forced moves was replaced with figuring out beta that worked for my body type and style. Feet were ubiquitous and psyche was high. The end of last year put me in Truckee, California for a relatively extended period of time. The hope was to temporarily work at High Altitude, a climbing gym in Incline Village, and save up enough money to continue life on the road. However, like all good things, my savings, came to an end and my living situation was less than ideal.

Note: Tahoe in the winter in a van is SUPER, SUPER cold.

So, like any “homeless” or maybe I should say “houseless” climber with a van I skipped town and headed for the Eastside. What better place to contemplate what to do next in life than Bishop.? The Valley (but we’ll stick with the pertinent events). While in Bishop I ran into an old friend, Brian, glorious golden maned Brian. He heard about my depleting funds and suggested I come set for Planet Granite in the Bay Area.
Sounds good.
I was set and setting in no time.

Upon moving to San Francisco, I started training, I wanted to keep up with the best of them. And I was training hard. Unforgiving six hour woody sessions followed by brilliantly bronzed Brian’s stupidly hard core work out had every inch of my upper body constantly sore. Everyday I wasn’t setting 7:30-5 I was in the gym, on the woody.
I was, as we say, “psyched.” One day I hit a little (like, the tiniest of them) Teknik Aphid on the woody and as my feet cut I knew I had never felt so strong. The fire in my belly, muscles and mind grew. I mean, it raged. I began to add climbing onto the days I was setting– 7:30am to 9pm in the gym, sessioning.

Woody

Gripped on the woody

My thoughts were entirely engulfed in perfecting and developing my climbing. Fingers, hands, feet, flow, tension, moves, mindset. Food? Yeah, I had some. Food comes second to climbing. Food comes second to being strong.

I started falling apart. After my euphoric moment of “damn it feels good to be a gangsta” came a crash and burn of my body telling me “YEAH? Well that sucks for you because I’ve been struggling to tread water for months.” Then one day, while climbing after work, I hit a crimp open handed and boom! shooting pain up and down my left digitus annularis finite digitorum profundus (FDP), or in layman’s terms the long tendon in my left ring finger.

Image

phalange, lateral view

Torn, though only partially.

My reaction: “No, no no no! Not now. I need this. I need climbing.”
Other’s reaction: Hugs
….really?….

They know. They’ve always known. They saw it happening. It was obvious. I was overtraining.

When we begin to use muscle groups in a new activity, such as climbing, we feel a deep overwhelming sensation of fatigue after calling upon various muscles we do not regularly use. In climbing this means just about every pulling, stabilizing, gripping, grabbing and core muscle we can find. When a person begins climbing the first thing that goes is the forearm, then the bicep, lats, hands, abs, etc… they feel pumped, they would wake up knowing they gained valuable climbing skill points. Climb till you can’t, then rest and recover and do it all again.
More recently, I have been searching for that overwhelming “I can’t even think” tired.

Why I began tirelessly searching for that feeling? I was depressed. I took it out on climbing. Anything to keep my mind off the grey cloud looming overhead that so said rain. Anything to stop thinking about why. Why I left Truckee; why I was in Bay; why I wasn’t using my degree; why I was living in the van in a city; why I should have stayed in Truckee; why this was dumb; why, if I’m not currently doing science, I’m not actively on the road? I was going insane and climbing was my solace. Cathartic crimps in the Valley ruled my every thought and I was getting close to sending my proj.

My thoughts of “If only I train harder” led me to spend all day in the gym. While on my sunup to sundown training schtick weird things started happening:

If I applied tension to my body and my ears would start ringing.
Three quarters of my way up a route and my forearms would seize, fully flexed.
My vision became planar– nothing had depth.
I would forget common words, like “depth” for instance
I couldn’t sleep.
I couldn’t seem to drink enough water.
I was irritable.
I couldn’t even hold going pee for more than 15 minutes.

I believe they describe this as being a wreck.

My climbing started to take a nose dive. I freaked out. I didn’t know what to do. I had and have defined myself as a rock climber enamored with living out of my van. If I don’t have the climbing, doesn’t that just leave me at being a van dweller in the city? Not what I want. If climbing wasn’t going well I still wanted to stay fit and keep my mind off being a shade too close to homeless so I started running.
….masochist.

Wrong thing to do.

Palmar view

Muscles of the hand, palmar view.

Then, one day in the valley while climbing on the damn beautiful, tiny, nothing crimps, and non existent feet that I still can’t stop thinking about, I strained my flexor carpi ulnaris (FCU), palmar metacarpal ligament and fourth lumbrical muscle (at least as of right now this is my/doctors’/chiros’/hand therapists’ best guess; see photo). They are the muscles and fascia that help you push past the point of locking off and into mantling.

Sufficiently benched.

Okay, so I have an injury where I really, really can’t climb. Now what?

Being forced to confront your entirely human, degraded, beaten, battered, and bruised self isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Body and mind. Internally, I couldn’t handle my emotions; I overindulged in gaining physical prowess on the wall so much that was left overtrained and flaccid on the sidelines.

Well, that makes sense, right?

Outwardly, I ignored what my body warning signals because my mind told me I could be stronger. Obviously if you spend every waking hour in the gym you will be strong. OBVIOUSLY. But like being too skinny, sometimes strong isn’t exactly healthy.Sometimes strong is putting on a facade for a tumultuous mental state. Just like sometime endlessly spraying beta to others about your “proj” is overcompensating for a lack of fundamental technique or physical power. Fitness, especially in climbing, isn’t just about being strong or lean, nor about knowing all the beta. Fitness is both physical and mental. Taking the time to listen to what your body and mind are telling you together.

I messed up. I messed up in a really big way that sent body into head on collision with my mind and neither came out on top.

Now, I’m going to physical therapy twice a week, ultrasounding, rocktaping, R8 recovery rolling, foam rolling, Therabanding, lacrosse balling, active releasing, reading Grey’s anatomy on muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the hands, shoulders, back and core, researching, consulting, Dynaflexing, and stretching just to get back to the point where I can hang on grips. Physically and mentally.

While massage therapy and grastoning the hell out of scar tissue isn’t a bad way to spend time, a complete and utter disregard for one’s well being in hopes of sending project to find value in climbing is silly. What I should have done is become more efficient with my training, develop a schedule, listen to my body, and learn that in order to climb sustainably with maximum potential you have to rest. You can’t push your body to its limit all of the time, it will fail. Just because the person at the gym or at the crag is bragging about how they “sent” 12th day on doesn’t mean you have to. And that is OKAY. You’re not going to lose your climbing ability by taking rest days. If you think you are, actively watch climbing, or think about what feels good and bad on the rock. Go through mental training. Envision yourself on the rock, climbing. Then, when you do go out to climb tap into what you thought about the day before. Stay in tune with your psyche and ride the ups and downs. Don’t fight them. You’ll only end up broken, watching, and waiting on the sidelines.

Fuel yourself in all of the ways: eat enough, climb enough and rest enough. We are, after all, only human.

The making of The Shoe Wars: Five Ten vs La Sportiva

428508_10200132057159769_1441959651_n (1)In order to not be too cumbersome this will exist primarily as dialog, hyperlinks (click as you dare), and a video:

Note: All dialog is a matter of interpretation and is not to be taken verbatim.

The Creation
Setting: The second campsite on the left fork of Joe’s Valley, surrounding a fire. Maybe with a couple or few too many adult “sodas”.

Spenser: So Flann, Shannon– you guys live in a van together– you seem to get along but you’re sponsored by two totally different shoes companies… how did that come about? How does the happiness boat stay afloat?
Flann: We were brought up in two different “C’s”
Shannon: Flann’s from Colorado, I’m from California.
Spenser: Don’t you wish you could use each other’s shoes?
Flann: That’s like offering someone your toothbrush, its personal and full of your own gunk.
Shannon: I think we only wish we had more shoes cubbies in the van. That van ain’t big enough for the shoes of us, you know?
Spenser: So you’re saying you may approaching a point of confrontation?
Shannon: Ha, nah! I’m trying to be a good Sport-iva about it.
Flann: But it’s hard cause I brand-ish all the numbers (specifically 5 and 10).
Spenser: I think I’ve been sufficiently punned for the century.
Flann: My shoes can direct to a chair, *points to her guides* if you need to sit down.
Shannon: Or mine can take you on an adventure of mythical proportions *points to Gandas, formerly known as Gandalfs*
Vikki: Hey, hey now, no need for war to break out…
Spenser: Actually, I think there is a need. The time for a battle is upon us. Let’s let these two have a showdown–The Shoe Wars!
Flann: Come to the Dark Side– Team Fiveten!
Shannon: The Jedi Republic is the way of the Futura!
Everyone else: Shannon, that was just bad.
Shannon: ….you win some you lose some, but I won’t be deFEETed?
Everyone else: *sighs*

The Development

Junction standoff

A few days later Joe’s was cooking in the heat of midday and The RV Project (Spenser and Vikki), Flann, and I met up over “breakfast” also known as lunch to film a few of the opening clips, brainstorm potential problems, and suss out how filming would go. Everything went too well and we were even gathering encouragement, ideas and enthusiasm from those around us (Nikko and Katie from The Morning Fresh, Jeremy Rush from the gold Camry parked outside your mother’s house, and Randy I’m-too-tired-to-climb-so-I’ll-bring-out-delicious-butterfinger-donuts-and-beer Hill). All that was left to be done was visit the boulders on what proved to not be rest days, and climb some fantastic rock. We spent about 5 days on the video and who know’s how many Spenser spent editing and we collectively spent coming up with the little quips featured throughout the video. We oscillated everywhere from gaining points for technical skills, to seeing if we could have Phily (my dog) in every scene, to having a health bar, to dubbing over the entire thing MXC-style, to having an elaborate subplot where the larger issue of a rock town succumbing to a massive rock crushing villain who uses the Power of the Chip to grease up smash their pristine houses to sand mounds lying next to oil drenched streets, and everywhere in between. Needless to say, in the end I think Phily, as a rug, really ties the room together.

And thus born…….

The Life of Wu-Tang Van (ain’t nothing to f*ck with)

Image

I got me a van!

Meet Wu:

 

Wu was conceived as a nameless “fleet unit” in Wentzville, Missouri and quickly sold into a mundane life of providing security systems with ADT Security with a few fellow comrades. Needless to say, life, figuratively, rolled by but she was a sad, empty van who served the endless barrage of workers who were assigned to her every so often. Wu would spend her nights in a dark warehouse in the middle of an industrious city out East attempting to make friends with the other fleet vehicles but despite her sleek stark white exterior she remained a black sheep. Her engined revved in excitement for every security system she went to install on out skirts of town. Any chance to peak into the mountains surrounding the city made Wu’s heart, errr, timing belt, spin faster and harder than ever before. She had to get out of the city.

 
 photo joe_zpsba84939d.jpg
The Security business used, and only used, Wu. City work was hardwork and dull work. Wu’s break came unexpected when the security business downsized. Shackled and fenced-in Wu sat, dreaming of the hills, and waited. Temporary relief came in the form of Joe, an ex-cop from Southern Colorado. Joe bought Wu for his daughter (we’ll call her Lil’ Jo for the sake of this blog) and her assortment of fancy show dogs. Lil’ Jo filled Wu with canine entertainment, dog slobber and trophies; together they travelled around the country and together they were happy. Well, at least Wu was. As with many Homo sapiens Lil’ Jo wanted to stand, and she wanted to stand in her van. Before Wu could could count to V6, which happens to be the number of cylinders she has, Lil’ Jo drove up, wheel in hand, pedal under foot, in a shiny new Mercedes Sprinter. Wu was, figuratively, crushed. She toyed with the idea of motoring down to the junkyard and, literally, crushing herself.
 
That’s where Flann and I come in….with a little cash…
 
We met Wu in Parker, CO on Joe’s plot of land. She was sad. Empty inside and her motors weren’t running but fired up immediately with our arrival. She was psyched. After a couple days of contemplation and a mechanic inspection Wu Tang Van (aint nuthin’ to fuck with) became a part of the clan. However, Wu was still empty– something we knew we could fix.

 

 

After a few weeks and a couple hundred miles we began to fill Wu with a skeleton of lumber.
 
  
   
   
  
 

 
 
 
 
First, she received a bed. To really make sure Wu knew she was valued, we made the bed double as a couch.
 
 
 
 


 
 
 
Then, Wu received a kitchen area.
 
 
 
 


 
 
After, Wu wanted to display how she holds her affection for life on the road so naturally we supplied her with shelves and a computer area, or “office.”

 
 
 

After a few milk crates for storage, a rug for comfort, shoe rack (for comfort), a hip-hop sticker from a comrade, a magnetic poetry panel, a dog, and two girls Wu is full of life.
   

 photo rearWu_zps506a3ccf.jpg

 

Now, we’re on the road living in Wu and couldn’t be more excited.

Always,
Shannon

 
 
 
 

Blog restructure

A long time ago in a place far, far away I blogged.

 

Now, I think about how I should blog yet I remain somewhere outside of actually doing that. I have numerous accounts of my previous trips to India and trips to South Africa that will remain unposted– likely for the better. However, lamenting about what I should have blogged seems silly so now I blog to tell everyone of recent news and future endeavors. 

By completing a series of classes at UC Davis I obtained a Bachelors of Science in Genetics.

By a little commitment I took up a position as a feline geneticist in the Lyons’ lab.

By a bit of hard work  a lot of luck and even more dedication to climbing I became a regional ambassador of La Sportiva.

By a series of once in life time decisions I bought a van and will be spending the next year on the road climbing, getting people psyched, seeing the country, developing boulder problems, spicing food items out of the back of said van and blogging about various things (hence the once travel, now not blog “restructuring”).

By thinking about my life I’m really, really, really excited.

 

 

Right now I’m residing in the basement of chez le Shay-Nemirow in the city of Denver.

More consistent and picture-filled posts to come…

 

All my best,

shannon

Sabah, Malaysia – My Bornean Adventure

 A couple weeks ago I arrived with a couple of friends on the island of Borneo in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. After some initial confusion about where our hostel was located we settled for one we found on the side of the city. Mistake. If you ever travel to KK don’t stay on the side of the city, stay in the center. Opportunities for getting around the state are easy to come by. Not on the edge.Anyways, thinking our path in Malaysia was going to be a bit harder to forge than we originally thought we immediately tried to self-plan the next step, tickets to Lahad Datu – a jumping off point to Danum Valley. After our booking we headed out to try KK’s infamous Filipino Market. The Filipino Market is known for its fresh seafood. You basically walk up to a little lady by a table full of seaweed and slightly cooked fish, squid, prawns and seafood of the likes and point to the one’s you want to try. Becca and I tried a variety of seaweed (grapes of the sea and some other green algae), Red Snapper, Tuna and Squid. All of which were freaking delicious.
The next day we headed out for Lahad Datu. What a surprise. You’d think, well I’d think if you book tickets to an airport online the airport would be bigger than two rooms.  I thought wrong. After a short walk over to the booking shop, we found out Danum Valley was entirely full. Luckily we met an Australian couple who crazy enough used to teach a part of the course I just got done with in Australia (insane right?). I can’t remember the women’s name but the man’s was Conrad. They told us to head up to Sukau, a little town on river. The buses only leave in the morning so we were stuck in Lahad. I can say seeing the town changed my perspective of what I thinnk is dirty and wasteful. In the middle of the city there was a water trench filled with plastic bottles and trash. Directly next to it there were food stand. We walked through the market seeing everything from little kids begging to teenagers asking us to take their photo. Needless to say we went to bed that night a little more sober than any other night.

Next up Sukau: After taking a bus headed to Sandakan for two hours we were dumped on the side of the road to wait for a minibus to drive by and take us to the detour of Sukau. We arrived just in time for lunch and then an evening river ride into the Bornean jungle. To put is simply I’m still in shock of all the wildlife we saw from a little river boat. Bird, monkeys, crocodiles, flying lemurs, pigs and more.

 

Not to mention the insects:

   

The monkeys were EVERYWHERE. We saw five different species in one day.

    

 I’m proud to say I saw a wild Orangutan, it was stunning, nothing like seeing them caged up in zoo’s or on TV as pets. It was far away but awesome nonetheless.  Wild Orangutan’s are only located on the island of Borneo and Sumatra. Their numbers are declining due to a declining habitat and will likely go extinct sooner rather than later if nothing is done. That night we went on another boat ride and saw some amazing kingfisher birds.  Upon arriving back at the hostel one of the workers had a python waiting for me, I told him earlier I really wanted to see some snakes so he kept in in a bag after finding it in his car so I could see it and take photos (golden! hah).  We ate some food and then about 4 of us headed out for a night hike. The hike was seven parts mud, two part biting ants and one part spiders. The spiders cool…the rest no so much. Ants hurt, really hurt. Especially when there are dozens biting your legs at once. We even got lost to finish the night off stong.  In the morning we woke up early to cruise down the river one more time before leaving Sukau was beautiful. My faourite town in Sabah so far.

After sukau we headed to Sepilok. Sepilok is known for its Orangutan rehabilitation facility. Everyday the facility feeds wild Orangutans and various other monkeys. I couldn’t bring a camera because it was raining, but to be honest the feeding wasn’t that great. Seeing an Orangutan on a boat in the middle of the jungle was far far better than seeing one grab a pile of bananas off a platform. What was notable for me in Sepilok was the Discovery Park. Becca and I met a few travelers (Roxanne, Alex, Mario and Danny) who were into bird watching and photography. We woke up early the next day and went out in search of some shots. I got a few photos of a woodpecker and a black squirrel native to Borneo.  After a couple hours it was off to Sandakan to catch our flight back to Kota Kinabalu. We got in the evening and took a moment to watch the amazing sunset over the water.

Malaysia and I are not done with each other. I know I will go back soon and see more of its beauty. I barely scraped the surface, four cities are like a needle in Borneo’s haystack. Though at times I yearned for home and the comfort of my friends and family, I loved it there. Next time I will stay for longer and potentially explore Sarawek, but Sabah will always have a special place in my heart.



2010.11.29 Borneo

Cheers,

Shannon

Heron Island – My Australian Goodbye

As a forewarning of this post – I am in Malaysia in the humid heat sweating and lulling off. Needless to say my mind has currently left me for cooler climates. But I want to get this post out there and I want to share my last outing in Australia with everyone back home, so please take note of the photos…not of the mindless babble.
For our last group outing the EAP group headed out to Heron Island, a small sand key located 40 km west of Australia on a reef flat at the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. A little background about coral reefs: coral reefs are formed in shallow, warm, clear, oligotrophic (fancy jargon simply meaning low nutrient) waters. This is why you see so many corals around the equator on shelves less than 40 meters deep, and also why development on the coast of countries that have reefs is a growing concern. A lecture we received by Simon Dunn, a marine biologist or more relevantly a coral reef specialist informed our class that at the rate the climate is increasing/oceans are acidifying/land is being developed causing sediment run-off the reefs of the world have less than 100 years on the planet. I should probably note that I say less than a hundred because I forget exactly how many decades he told us, I believe it was about 30 years. Shocking no?
But since the point of this blog is to show you my adventures rather than tell sad stories I should go on about the beautiful Heron Island..
After a 8 hour red eye bus ride and 2 hour boat ride we finally reached the small island in the middle of the sea. It takes about 20 minutes to walk around the entire thing, and about 5 to cross it. The first day we headed straight out to snorkel in the harbour, there were fish, sharks, coral and sea cucumbers everywhere. It never ceases to amaze me how when you first dip you head into the water at heron island you are immediately exposed to an entirely new and thriving world. One you would never imagine existed until you take a look. Every time I’d get out of the water and look back at the seemingly dead ocean surface smiling thinking of how amazing it must have been to the person who knew nothing of the sea and decided to take a swim. The next few days progressed with periodic snorkels between work on our research projects. In short my research proposal, along with the other members of my group Jessie and Clark, was the toxin of the sea cucumber Holothurian atra may have antibacterial properties. Without getting into it, we were both right and wrong – it can kill some bacteria, not all. On the fourth day we dove in the Blue Pools. It was fantastic. As soon as we got to the bottom there was a cuttle fish followed by turtles, schools of fish, rays and nudibranchs.
Heron island is also home to a variety of birds, most notable the Noddies and the mutton birds, who at night make extremely loud howling noises heard from all parts of the island, even inside. It also has some interesting fauna such as the Pisonia trees that make sticky seeds that attach onto Noddies for dispersal and the native grass who’s seeds form a capsule boat with a little sail to be dispersed by the water, genius if I do say so myself.
Next up was a night snorkel. Amazing. If you turned off your flash light you could see bioluminescence everywhere. There were abalone, squid and mating turtles as well as a bunch of nocturnal sea cucumbers.
The fifth day, while walking along the beach at night, I heard slapping sounds coming from a bush. Luckily the moon was out so a few of us got to see a green turtle digging a body pit to lay a nest of eggs. Unfortunately the pit wasn’t right for the turtle so it didn’t end up laying the eggs but the process, though slow, was astounding. Every so often there would be sand slung into your face immediately followed by more sand and a slap from the turtles front limb sweeping the sand out of the way. The body pits are massive. They take about 40 minutes to dig and sometimes (like this time) the turtle doesn’t even lay their eggs.
The next day we dove again, this time we saw lionfish, and nudibranchs as well as the always stunning sharks, schools of fish, rays and turtles.

On the last, and probably best day on Heron Island we snorkeled and watched the sunset on the jetty. On the snorkel I swam up to a massive cowtail ray. I was so close I stared into his eyes and noticed that they are actually quite lovely. A couple of us swam into a small room inside a shipwreck in the harbor. It seemed like Heron really tried to bid us farewell because everything was out for us to see – baby lion fish, cowtail rays, eagle rays, black tip reef sharks, giant guitar fish, a HUGE cod (I believe), tons of parrot fish, a couple tusk fish and a stuning epaulette shark.
Heron island, for a lack of words was inspiring. It was the perfect end to my stay in Australia and left me in one of the best places I’ve ever been in my life. While I’m at it, if it ever gets to them, I want to say that I owe a lot to everyone who helped with the EAP program (Ian, John, Karen, Ross, Jess and all the TA’s) and the people/friends I met along the way (Joel, Annie, Chantelle and everyone in the program). Though I don’t think I spoke of any of them in the posts I can whole heartedly say I will never forget them and Australia would have been never so dear to me without them.

2010-11-03 Heron Island

Cheers,
Shannon

A Bug for Every Thought – Carnarvon Gorge

The second week of October the class set out for the last and perhaps best Human and Terrestrial Ecology field trip to Carnarvon Gorge National Park. After a ten hour bus ride and forging a creek on our way into the park we finally arrived. It was beautiful. The rock at the gorge is a mixture of relatively soft sandstone with a hard to erode basalt top layer
Carnarvon Gorge is best known for its Aboriginal paintings and carvings. Unbeknownst to most, Aboriginals never produced any art; each “painting” was more of a message and the rock that they were produced on was more of a message board to other tribes passing through. For example this photograph tells a story of many children dying in a time of war. Adult hands painted on the wall let the other tribes know that the land could provide food and was liveable and the net looking paintings told other tribes the land was used as a burial ground.
Aside from the beautiful rocks at the gorge my favourite thing were the bugs, there were hundreds.


The creek running through the gorge is highly susceptible to flash floods. Luckily for us (at least I think) we set out on a day after a fairly heavy rain and caught a bunch of flooded crossings. The crossings led us to a magnificent hole in the gorge leading to an open “room” called the amphitheatre. Our professor sang a song that echoed through the room so beautifully I could have listened for days.
The next day I was bed ridden with a nasty cold. After a strong dose of a few people’s medicine I was back to normal the day before we left. After a fairly late breakfast we went to another wall of aboriginal paintings and made our way through a small gorge partly filled with water. Our final destination was a hike up to the Moss Garden where water seeping through rock permanently keeps a layer of thick moss growing on the walls and a trip through time to see the world largest fern, the King Fern. The things are huge, the spores are massive. And with a tiny flick of the wrist you can kill an entire section of it. The entire king fern is held up by water pressure, unlike hardy trees. If you cut into one of the plants water will stream out and that section of the plant will die. The genus is about 200 million years old and only exists in small patches around Australia today. Two thoughts occurred to me while I was looking at the delicate ancient plants: I imagined myself in a world with dinosaurs in forests full of giant ferns and cycads (the other plant who dominated back in the Triassic) and I also thought of how weird, or amazing, or unlikely it is that these ferns, these giant ferns could have survived so long and are killed so easily.

Cheers,
Shannon

2010-10-15 Carnarvon