So You Want to Be a Mountain Biker?

A 3 Step Guide to Getting Started

Picking up a new sport can sometimes seem daunting, especially if it involves acquiring (potentially) expensive new gear, and then possibly scraping your face off on the mountainside because you don’t have a clue how to use it properly yet. But you shouldn’t let those things stop you! Faces are overrated and bikes are fun! So in the spirit of demystifying the great mysteries of mountain biking, I’ve put together the most simple guide you’ll ever find to get you on the trail in no time.

Step 1: Get the Gear

First, you have to buy a bike. Preferably with money you don’t have, aka a credit card. This is the American Way. Speaking of money you don’t have, go ahead and get a bike rack too. And a lock. And a spare tube. Or maybe a dozen of them, if you pop your tires as often as my boyfriend.

Step 2: Learn the Lingo

Google some bike jargon, or try to lurk inconspicuously near a group of bikers and eavesdrop on their conversation to pick up some technical vocabulary. A local bike shop is a good place for this (duh) or even a bar – just look for the people in brightly colored spandex and helmets. Don’t look up any of the definitions though, that will take the fun out of it. Try throwing the words randomly into your conversations and hope that you’re using them correctly. If someone tries to correct you, then at least you’ve figured out who the not-fun person is in the friend group.

Shit Mountain Bikers Say from on Vimeo.

Step 3: Find People to Ride With

Make sure to find people who are better riders than you, that way you can learn from them. This should be pretty easy to do if you’ve never been mountain biking before.

Make sure to find people who are worse than you, that way you can feel good about yourself. This might take a few weeks if you’ve never been mountain biking before.

Group photo at Fruita

Bonus Tip: Have fun! Seriously.

While this tip is listed as a “bonus”, in all honesty, it’s arguably the best advice on this page. Maybe one day you’ll be the best shredder on the mountain and you’ll have to train your face off to continue being the best ever, but when you first start out it’s all about learning some basic things and having a good time. Enjoy being new at something! Don’t be afraid to look silly, expect to fall down a few times, and remember to stop and admire the view along the way (which usually provides a much needed opportunity to catch your breath again!)

Admiring the view from Capt. Jack's

How I Fell in (and out) of Love with Climbing

When I first discovered climbing it was love at first sight. Before I even had a chance to tie into a rope, I remember seeing climbers in the Garden of the Gods and thinking to myself, “That looks fucking awesome.” I took the first opportunity to climb that came along and the rest is history.

But lately, I’ve been struggling to find even a spark where there was once a raging bonfire of enthusiasm. The progression I had initially experienced in leaps and bounds suddenly seemed to not only plateau, but backslide. As I flailed on climbs/grades I had previously completed with ease, my frustrations grew. I began to waver between excitedly planning potential climbing trips and anguishing in the despairing thoughts that maybe I really didn’t even want to bother anymore. Maybe I’d never be strong enough, or good enough, to do the climbs I thought I wanted to do.

The holidays loomed near and I found myself with other trips and obligations to fulfill, family to see, and some traveling that didn’t have anything to do with climbing. I hoped that maybe I just needed a break and I would come back refreshed, ready to Try Hard! Crush! Send! 1

When I came back I decided to give “training” a shot, thinking maybe it would bolster my confidence and make me excited to climb again.

I hated nearly every single minute of it.

Training is boring, repetitive, and pretty much only happens indoors – the exact opposite of everything I had come to love about climbing. It was everything that had kept me away from traditional gyms my entire life. By the end of it, my attempts were half-hearted at best, and my excitement to climb was definitely not restored. Instead, I gave some serious thought to selling all my gear on craigslist and basically starting my life over again. Climbing had taken over my free time, and if I gave it up I’d have to redefine myself again.

But I didn’t.

Instead, as I was going through the motions, I began to spend a lot of time reflecting on how something I had once loved had become a source of such frustration instead. If I truly loved climbing so much, where did I go wrong? Why did it no longer make me happy? All of this pondering eventually led me to consider why I climb in the first place, which turns out to be many different reasons.

Because climbing is fun, because climbing takes me outside, because climbing offers new perspectives of beautiful places, because climbing presents infinite opportunities for me to learn more about myself, because climbing gives me access to a wonderful community that understands all of these reasons I climb, because climbing makes my body feel strong, because climbing constantly reminds me that I could always be stronger, because climbing burns enough calories that I can mostly eat whatever I want and not get fat (this should probably be higher on the list), and on and on and on.

But what isn’t on that long list of reasons I climb is to be the best. To impress people. To prove something.

It took me a while to figure out, but it was the expectation of myself to constantly improve that was ruining climbing for me. Don’t get me wrong, a certain amount of that kind of pressure is healthy, as it drives us to try harder and accomplish more than we might think we can. But too much of it was ruining a good thing.

Over the last few months, I’ve read several essays that have really helped me get a grip on what I’ve been going through. One of them is this recent article by Mark Manson explaining the “Disease of More.” The entire thing is worth a read if you have the time, but the quote below sums up the idea that really resonated with me (bold emphasis mine):

“It took me a long time to accept the fact that just because something can be improved in my life, does not mean that it should be improved in my life.

The improvement is not the problem, it’s the WHY that’s motivating the improvement that matters. When one compulsively looks to improve oneself, without any greater cause or reason driving it other than self-aggrandizement, it leads to a life of immense self-preoccupation, a light and beneficent form of narcissism where one’s constant attention and focus is on oneself.”

The last subheading of the article states, “Life is not a game of improvement, but rather a game of tradeoffs.” The combination of this idea with the bolded statement above seemed to illuminate my dilemma. I had become frustrated with climbing because I felt I was no longer meeting my expectations for improvement. I had set up standards for myself that I could not achieve with the resources I had allotted towards it, and I had done so because I had not considered the WHY for that standard.

WHY did I think I needed to be able to climb 5.XX? 2. WHY did I have to send every route I climbed? WHY did it matter if today I couldn’t finish the same route that I sent last week?

When I stopped to really think about all of those WHYs, I realized that none of them mattered. Because climbing at a certain grade and “achieving” at a certain level is not WHY I climb. My body could be capable of climbing at that level if I put in the time to train it properly.

But in order to do that, I would have to sacrifice time from other things in my life that also bring me joy.  Reading for pleasure, spending time with friends whose lives don’t revolve around climbing, sharing meals with my mother who doesn’t understand why anyone would ever want to climb rocks for fun, enjoying any kind of cultural event outside of the climbing community period. Because, life is just a game of trade-offs, after all.

I could be a great climber. Or, I could be a well-rounded, generally happy person who is also a mediocre climber. Turns out I’m way more interested in the latter. Not that everyone who climbs at an exceptional level is an antisocial hermit without a life, but considering my current baseline fitness level and that I have to hold down my full-time job, that’s what I’d have to become in order to achieve at that level.

So, I’ve quit the half-assed attempts at regimented training. I’m back on ropes in the gym during the week and trying to get outside on the weekends when the weather cooperates. I’m breaking up some of my old routines and making a point to meet and climb with new people as a way to change things up and gain a new perspective. Plus, a new climber’s enthusiasm is contagious.

Instead of striving for improvement for improvement’s sake, I’m seeking balance. I’m paying attention to the elements of climbing that I do actually enjoy and using that knowledge to reinvent my personal definition of success.

Because, like Nina Williams, I’ve realized a few things.

“I have nothing to prove.

I try hard for myself.

I climb because I love it.”

2016 by the Numbers

It's that wonderfully strange time of year when I'm trying to look both backward and forward at the same time. What did I accomplish last year? What do I want to accomplish next year? How does what I've accomplished this year, influence what I want to accomplish next year?

I'm a sucker for hard data and hand-written notes, so I like to start by looking back at my old fashioned calendar and reviewing where I've been for the last 12 months. 2016 by the approximate numbers:

  • 51 days climbing (Doesn't include post-work weekday routes)
  • 20 days (and still counting!) skiing
  • 29 days camping

For me, those are the days that matter most, the ones spent outside, and my goal is to have as many of those as possible. Considering I have a full-time Mon-Fri 8-5 job, not the kind that will ever make me a wealthy person, and my longest vacation of the year didn't involve any climbing/camping/skiing days, those numbers don't seem too shabby to me. But I didn't add all this up so I could humble-brag about it. Besides, in Colorado, the land of extreme athletes and dedicated dirtbags, those numbers are hardly worth bragging about anyway.

However, seeing these numbers in front of me is a reminder of how much my priorities have shifted over the last few years, and how much room there still is to improve in certain aspects. By changing my perspective of what is "reasonable", specifically in regards to travel time, I've opened myself up to a plethora of new opportunities. Stay up a little later, or get up a little earlier, oftentimes it only takes a couple extra hours to open the door to a multitude of new adventures.

Looking at these numbers, I realize I've spent far more time outdoors this year than any other in my "adult" life. Far from feeling contented though, I find myself more motivated than ever to see an increase in that time. So here's to 2017, and continuing to make starry nights, warm campfires, snowy hills, and all the craggy places a priority.

Climbing in Red River Gorge

Thankful Thursday, vol. 2

“Siblings: children of the same parents, each of whom is perfectly normal until they get together.”

Sam Levenson

I honestly don't know if any of us pass for normal when we're apart either...

And whaddya know?! It's actually Thursday today!

It's cheesy and predictable, but today I guess I'm pretty thankful for my siblings. I'm sitting in Paris, eating decadent desserts and drinking cheap wine (cheap wine doesn't necessarily equal bad wine in this part of the country, another thing to be grateful for) with my brother and waiting for my sister to get out of class and join us. Life ain't too terrible. I'm grateful for the rest of my family too, but being in Paris with my siblings is a Thanksgiving that I am sure will stand out in my memories.

And my sister's boyfriend deserves an honorable mention as well, for graciously sharing his living space while we're visiting. 

Happy Thanksgiving, folks!

Thankful Thursday, vol1

"Things turn out best for people who make the best of the way things turn out."
John Wooden

I know it's not Thursday, but it's my blog and I can do what I want. And if this, this, and this are to be believed, practicing some gratitude is a pretty good idea for any day of the week.

I'm thankful for the people who put up with me when I am far less than my best. The ones who don't mind changing plans at the last minute when I suddenly realize I can't achieve the original goal. The ones who push me through the motions when I am sad and wouldn't bother to do it on my own. The ones who forgive me for the angry voice that is usually angry at myself, but sometimes gets misdirected. The ones who hand me ibuprofen and coffee and breakfast and break down most of camp without my help because I had one too many beers the night before. The ones who patiently belay while I growl at cruxes that may or may not actually exist on days when I can't seem to figure out how my hands and feet work. The ones who quietly listen to my ranty frustrations about things I could change, and also the ones I can't. 

If you are anything like me, you have a small circle of some of the best people in your life who, unfortunately, are the ones most frequently subjected to the worst side of you. Today, I'm extremely grateful for those people, the ones who see my worst and remain convinced that it is outweighed by my best, even on the days that I don't necessarily believe that myself. 

Keep the Camera, Thief

NOBODY likes a thief.

Originally, I had planned to celebrate the official arrival of fall with a fun "summer highlights" post. You know, a cheerful #throwbackthursday type thing with some pretty pictures and a fist pump at the end to show how I excited I am about what's coming up next. 

But I'm not really in the mood to write that anymore.

Because I'm kind of pissed.

Someone thought it was ok to let their self into my car and take one of my most valuable possessions - my camera. 

I hate you, thief.

And worse, I pity you.

I pity you because a thief is always alone.

Who do you trust? Who can you confide in? Who can you count on? 

If I had to guess the answers to those questions, I'd say no one. Because most people will agree that stealing from others is wrong. Which means you can't trust those people. They might judge you if they knew what you did. Nobody wants to help a thief. And that's the best case scenario. On the other end of the spectrum, they might turn you into the authorities and force you to face the consequences of your wrongdoings. And let's be real, the kind of person who's sneaking around at night taking things that don't belong to them is not the kind of person who faces consequences with dignity. 

So where does that leave you? Chumming around with other like-minded thieves? A den of noble thieves might be a cute literary trope but it doesn't really work like that in real life, does it? You may find yourself in the company of other thieves or similarly disdained scum, but it's not because you've "got each other's backs, bro," despite whatever heartwarming crime drama you've been watching on tv lately would have you believe. Because you're all alike enough to know that it's only a matter of time before you're holding onto or standing in the way of something they want more than your sweaty high fives and they'll stab you in the back, figuratively or literally, to get their hands on it. 

Sounds pretty fucking sad and lonely.

So you know what, go ahead. Keep my camera. I hope you enjoy whatever adrenaline rush you get from underselling it to some pawn shop or ignorant craigslister. 

Because I have a multitude of things in my life that are far more valuable than that camera, and I'll be damned if you can take them from me.

I have people in my life that I can trust. That I can confide in. That I can turn to when I need help. People I can count on to be there when I need them most. People in my life that won't steal the things I've worked hard for. People that will laugh and cry with me. People that will forgive me when I am less than my best. People that will encourage me to be better than my best. People that are worth having in my life.

And I try to be someone worth having in theirs in return. 

But you don't know anything about that, do you, thief? Because all of those things involve something that no thief has - respect. For others or him/herself.

So, as I was saying, enjoy sitting alone with your spoils, looking for the next shady shortcut to take. (Hint: they all lead to dead ends.) I'm done giving a fuck about you. I'm going to take a moment to be grateful for all of the wonderful things (ie people) in my life, and then I'll find some way to (lawfully) acquire a new camera. After all, it's hard to be a photographer without a camera.

Goodbye Summer, Hello Fall

Technically, today is the last day of summer, even though the forecast is telling me to expect 80 degree days the rest of the week. And even though it’s been a pretty awesome summer 3, I have to admit that I am pretty damn excited for this fall. Well, if I’m honest, I’m always excited for fall, it’s been my favorite season for as long as I can remember. But this fall stands out a bit more due to some very recently finalized travel plans.

I try to travel as much as I can throughout the year, but you may notice that I rarely am able to get away for more than a long holiday weekend at a time. However, with a little begging and some good fortune, I’ll be taking two extended trips this fall. The first will be a week in Utah in October to climb some long, hard routes with Evan. Getting a couple of classic desert towers under our belts seems like the perfect way to wrap up our first season as trad climbers, and I can’t wait!

Then, in November, I’ll be packing my bags and jumping on a plane to cross the big pond and visit my sister in Paris! And not one of those backwoods, middle-of-nowhere towns named Paris, of which there seems to be one in almost every state in the US, but Paris, France! My sister has been living in Paris for a little over a year now, first as an au pair and now as a graduate student. She’s been harassing me to visit while she’s there, but I’d pretty much given up hope that I’d be able to afford to come since I couldn’t find any plane tickets for less than $1000…and then something magical happened. I found tickets for less than $1000. SIGNIFICANTLY less than $1000. When I finally bought my tickets, the round trip price had dropped to $407. It was a chance I couldn’t pass up.

I’m so excited I don’t even know what to say, other than “I. AM. SO. FREAKING. EXCITED.”

If you have any suggestions for must-do climbs/eats/sights in Utah (we’ll probably spend most of our week in the Moab area) or off the beaten tourist path things to check out in Paris, let me know! Does anybody else have plans for this fall that they can hardly wait for?

Thank God It’s … Thursday

Which means it's almost Friday, which means it's almost the weekend and GLORY, HALLELUJAH I am glad it's a long one!

I don't have a 'real' blog post this week with cool pictures or anything since 1) I failed to take any pictures of last weekend's shenanigans in Rifle, and 2) I've been really busy with boring day job stuff.

I had jalapenos and beer for dinner last night and was answering work emails at 10 pm. Which I greatly regretted at the gym at 6:30 this morning. It's that kind of week.

Since I don't have any pictures of something awesome, here are a couple of a ninja in my weird turtle planter. Becomes sometimes life's journey is harried, mundane, and weird all at the same time.

Ninja in bamboo
Ninja in turtle planter

Ok, ninjas and houseplants and work aside, I'm super excited to be heading to Ten Sleep, WY this weekend! Our previous trip to Spearfish was originally supposed to be to Ten Sleep, but changed at the last minute-ish due to a wildfire. Thankfully, Ten Sleep appears to be less on fire now and I can't wait to get there!

Booty, Booty, Booty, Booty, Booty Everywhere!

Warning: This post features more booty than a Kardashian twerk-a-thon. 3

Everybody loves booty, but nobody loves booty 2 more than my friend Tyler; I think he might fancy himself a pirate. 

Discussions on what actually qualifies as 'climbing booty' can get pretty heated, but it seems safe to say 2 that the single carabiner two thirds of the way up a 5.12 climb that we passed on our way in that morning, and was still there on our way out late that afternoon, was fair game.

And it also happened to be a pretty photogenic opportunity. So, here are a few pictures of Tyler doing what he loves most - chasing booty.

Crosshairs, 5.12a (to the first anchor)
Radiohead area at Devil's Head, CO

Stick Clips, Sturgis, and Spearfish Canyon

I've been mulling over how to approach this post since I returned, with this question at the center of my musings: How does one write a post about a climbing trip, with no pictures of the actual climbing?

I still haven't come up with a good answer, so rather than procrastinating for perpetuity I guess I'm just going to ramble on about how awesome it was and hope you believe me.

The Climbing

First, the climbing in Spearfish Canyon is absolutely stellar. That being said, if you want to know what climb you're throwing yourself at, or even find some of the climbs to begin with, I highly recommend buying the guidebook, in addition to downloading mountainproject on your phone.

Guidebook = better approach directions, color pictures so you know what wall you're at, warm fuzzies for supporting a local climber who's put a lot of work into developing the area

Mountainproject = lists routes that aren't in the book 4, has some of the best 2 route descriptions I have ever read. Seriously, if you're having a bad day go read route descriptions like this and laugh until whatever you're drinking squirts out your nose.

Now that you know how to find the climbs, I hope you have a brass pair of cojones to help put them up. Or a stick clip. There are lots of places I haven't climbed 3, so maybe these observations are only relevant to my own, limited, experiences, but this is the first climbing excursion I've been on where I was really grateful to have a stick clip around. For many climbs, if you come off the wall before you clip the first bolt 4 you risk not just falling to the ground, but potentially falling off the steep sides of the trails. Not a pleasant prospect.

I also found the climbing at Spearfish to be rather challenging for the grade.  When the rating says 5.10d, it doesn't mean there's one crux move that feels 5.10d surrounded by mostly <5.10 moves. If it says 5.10d, be prepared for every single move to feel at least 5.10d, possibly including the ones to get off the ground. I can't imagine how strong the local climbing crew must be if they're putting up climbs like that all the time. I usually felt like I had limp dicks for arms by the end of every climb.

A note on the approaches: some are short, some are long, all are steep. If you're the kind of person who thinks all sport climbing approaches can be done in flip flops 5 I highly recommend you dig out some real shoes with laces for this trip. Forget switchbacks, it looks like whoever put in these trails were so excited to climb that they just wanted to get to the crag as fast as possible, which means going in a straight, steep line. 6

All said and done, I want to reiterate that the climbing at Spearfish was awesome, and I wish the canyon was just a wee bit closer to home so I could visit more often. Technical pocket sequences, pumpy jugs, and itty bitty crimps, Spearfish has it all and I can't wait to go back.



A Boy and His Shoes

Evan, packing up after the last climb at the Bradyism Wall. Right after I took this picture, I told him I was going to call it "A Boy and His Shoes." I did just that.

When it comes to climbing, Evan does not discriminate. Here he is onsighting a tree near Spearfish Falls, probably 5.easy.

Earlier in the day, while hammocking, Evan accidentally threw his shoes (pictured here) and nalgene off the steep side of the trail... I offered to retrieve them so he wouldn't have to do it barefoot.

If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't.

Throwing shoes down the cliff: 0 out of 5 stars, do not recommend.

The People

This is the second time I've found myself in South Dakota, 7 and I have to say that the state has some of the nicest locals I've ever encountered. The family camping in the site nearest ours were regulars at the campground and definitely came prepared. While getting our things set up to make dinner one night, the grandmother and granddaughter of the group came over hauling a bucket of firewood they wanted us to have. Their reason? "We have a chainsaw." At some point during the weekend, I saw them offer free firewood to everyone who showed up in the campground, simply because they had the means to do so. It was a generous gesture that exceeded even my southern hospitality expectations.

In addition to the locals, we also found the canyon inundated with an unexpected crowd: bikers. They were pretty much everywhere EXCEPT for at the campgrounds 8 and the actual crags. We didn't realize when we planned our trip that Sturgis, one of the biggest motorcycle rallies in the world, would be happening at the same time just a few miles away and that Spearfish Canyon was a popular day destination for its attendees. It definitely made for some good people watching after the climbing was done; Sturgis draws quite the diverse crowd.

It worked out quite well. We suspect that the timing with Sturgis is probably the reason we only saw one other pair of the climbers during the 4 days that we were at Spearfish. Which, I have to be honest, really contributed to how much I enjoyed the trip overall. Not that I dislike all other climbers, but I've found I have a really hard time focusing when other people are around. With nobody else standing nearby I could really challenge myself to work through moves I would normally back away from and take falls where I would normally just...take.

It was so nice, in fact, that we've already talked about maybe going back during Sturgis next year. Hopefully with scooters and full leather regalia. We figure it will be a good way to make a bunch of new friends. 



The Place

It's worth saying that Spearfish Canyon is a great destination, even if you don't consider yourself a climber. The whole area is incredibly scenic, with streams, creeks, and waterfalls around every bend in the road. It's awesome having somewhere to relax and cool off the midday sun, whether you just finished climbing or simply want to stretch your legs after a long drive.

And if you're planning to camp, I have to say the campground we stayed at 9 was one of the cleanest I've ever stayed in. The outhouse even had air freshener and at no point did I feel like I needed to hold my breath while I was in there. 

This beautiful pond and cascade is right next to the road, and happens to be accessed by the same parking area as two of the more popular crags in the canyon. It made for a great place to relax before and after climbing in the area.

Even though Spearfish Falls is directly under the road that cuts through the entire canyon, it's a short meandering walk to actually get below the falls and have a good look. Here, Evan is standing on the 'new' bridge, with old bridge in front of him.

We didn't realize it until our last night, but we had been driving right over the top of Spearfish Falls every day. 

Roughlock Falls was just off the gravel road between our campground and the canyon. It stayed packed with visitors most of the day, so we stopped for a minute on our way back to camp our last evening after almost everyone else had left. It looked like you could hike to the base and take a better picture, but the path wandered and we were ready for bed, so we didn't hang out long.


Low Point:

While cooking breakfast one morning, Evan dropped a piece of bacon on the ground. It was covered in dirt and uneatable. 

High Points:

Literally everything else.

A handy dandy map to the campground we stayed at!