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The Pursuit of Revolution

The Pursuit of Revolution

What kind of people does the world breed where making money is the primary ambition and only means of survival?

I know I’m not where I’m supposed to be for a 32 year old from a mostly middle class upbringing.  But I see where folks are (like my parents and the families around me) with their 9 to 5s, their cars, their homes and mortgages, and they don’t seem happy to me. Kazu and his family look happy though. He works construction but he surfs and travels with his family every opportunity he gets. I have no idea what his philosophy on how he wants to live is but I’m sure he does what he likes despite what others think.  And of course people in the family are judging and criticizing but it’s his life and he should do what makes him happy, not what makes others happy. In high school I always said that I wanted to raise my family in the jungle, a hike away from a surfable beach.  Maybe it wasn’t such a crazy idea.

Day Zero

Catching the ferry

Day One

Stalked by coyote

Day Two

Trail Marmot

I’ve had a lot of jobs, some of them nice, some of them bad, but all of them eventually bad.  I don’t belong in the same environment forever. I don’t feel like I belong in an office. But when I’m deep in the forest, alone in nature, I feel at home.  I don’t think I could live here; that would be scary (Into the Wild type of scary) even as a thought. I don’t want to be a hermit in the woods, casting away society.  I enjoy these ephemeral moments, glimpses into an ancestral past devoid of social media, video games, television, reality shows, everything that makes the world complicated. I enjoy experiencing the climate change throughout the day and as I navigate through different ecosystems.  I like sitting on my bear canister, eating tuna from a bag, and watching ants work at my feet. I like watching water of a stream or river roll by and wondering the trip it travels.

A lot of folks who share similar politics with me are still deeply invested in the system they’re critical of.  Maybe they’re working for an NGO, or as an educator, or labor organizer, because the directive is in line with their ethics and values. But inevitably they’re building their careers in the same way that any other careerist would.  They’re still selling their labor for a wage and it’s important to know where the money is coming from. The reason is that they still want what everybody else has. They want a house, a car, to go on vacation once a year, the recognition, the status…  But at the end of the day, the only people who care are the people who are doing the same shit. It’s like they’re waiting for revolution before imagining a different way of living in the present.

Day Three

Waterfall

Day Four

Mount Olympus

Day Five

Snowy Mountains

What made the movements of the 60s so powerful and revolutionary was that they developed outside of and in opposition to the system.  Nowadays movements need to be legitimized by the system to exist. There is no room for imagination where a paycheck is involved. There is no such thing as “ethical work”.  

I get along best with simple people with simple goals: to live happy and to be a good person.  Civil society makes both of these simple goals really difficult, which is why it’s so important to decolonize emotionally and spiritually from those social constructs that keep us unhappy and make us terrible people. Divesting from materialism, anti-Blackness, whiteness, gender, heteronormativity are part of that process.. But the next step is divesting physically. I thought that meant revolution, but seeing as everybody has different ideas of what that looks like maybe revolution needs to be personal and individualized.  Revolution for me is living how I want to live, the way that makes me happy, in spite of what folks are doing around me.

Don’t make a revolution, be a revolution. Be the culture shift. Live differently. Divest from mainstream values. Find an alternative means of happiness that doesn’t involve materialism or consumerism. Some people really want those things. Some people are programmed to want those things. Some people may be a little bit of both. The point is though that nobody is offered a different choice.  

Day Six

Out of Gas and Food

Day Seven

On the Wilderness Coast

Day Eight

Camping at Cape Alava

Olympic National Park: Thoughts In Progress

Olympic National Park: Thoughts In Progress

On long backpacking trips sometimes I have thoughts. Some are important and I keep those to myself. Others are silly and I share them here.  Here are 10 of those “thoughts in progress” from my trek through Olympic National Park and the wilderness coast in July of 2016.  Enjoy!

1

Millennials are more likely able to identify 150 Pokemon than a real animal in the wilderness.

2

Don’t try to identify the swarm of insects buzzing around your head. Just run and swat wildly. 

3

I am more afraid of people than I am of bears because bears aren’t fucking crazy.

4

The National Parks are museums displaying what the Earth looked like before humans made her ugly.

5

The great thing about solo trekking is no one can see how awful you look or terrible you smell after a week without a shower.

6

Don’t buy a cook system you aren’t willing to throw on a fire when you run out of fuel and really need a hot bowl of shin ramen.

7

When you’re in a lot of pain, you’ll start holding your breath for no reason and making lots of weird groaning noises like that constipated dude in the airport bathroom.

8

These steps won’t help you hatch an egg.

9

Burping is like farting with your face but not funny.

10

Sometimes I pretend my tent is a spaceship and when I wake up in the morning I’m on a different planet.

Why I Climb

Why I Climb

“You can’t fall if you don’t climb. But there’s no joy in living your whole life on the ground.” – Unknown

Before I started rock climbing my impression of the sport was that it was reserved for privileged, adventuristic, thrill-seeking white people. Since then my feelings have changed: I no longer think it’s reserved for them.  With the proliferation of climbing gyms, rock climbing has propelled itself from counterculture to part of the mainstream. Nowadays people from all sorts of backgrounds can be found clinging to walls in gyms and outdoors.

Different people have different motivations for participating in such a high stakes hobby.  In the short four years since I was introduced to rock climbing I have broken an ankle and torn all the ligaments surrounding it, repeatedly torn pulleys in my fingers, and injured my shoulders and back.  On several occasions I’ve asked myself, “why am I doing this?” I don’t like adrenaline. I’m not a thrill seeker. I don’t like risk. Yet, I keep coming back to a sport that often terrifies me and leaves me in a state of semi-chronic injury.  Although I am still new to the sport, my love for climbing is borderline obsessive and, even at this early stage of my development as a climber, I am certain that rock climbing will be a central part of my routine for as long as I remain able-bodied.  However, when I think about the first time I went rock climbing, I knew it wasn’t for me.

Life Before Climbing


“Climbing may be hard, but it’s easier than growing up.” – Ed Sklar

Depression severely stunted my growth and still feel like I’m playing catch up.  I spent a large portion of my adolescence and early-twenties as a depressed loner and surfer. Surfing was my therapy and I spent a lot of time surfing. The ocean represented cleansing and healing to me.  It was the only context where it felt okay to be alone, but unfortunately I was always alone. In my mid-twenties I fled the conservative suburbs of South California for the center of the universe, New York City.  

In New York City, I was slowly able to reinvent myself into who I wanted to be while leaving behind the drama/trauma of my childhood and adolescence. Living in the most densely packed, and culturally and ethnically diverse city in the country allowed me the opportunity to find folks that shared my values, ethics and background.  In California I felt alienated in every space I stepped into. In NYC I felt like an alien among aliens. However, I also picked up a bad habit. I fell heavily into the after hours drinking culture of young professionals in the city.  So when my friends invited me to the climbing gym for the first time I was out-of-shape and borderline alcoholic. Embarrassingly, I only agreed to show up because I was promised free booze. Climbing was definitely not for me.

I didn’t clean up my act until after I met my partner, Natalee.  When I met her I was always getting sick. I went to my doctor for a check up and he told me I held the clinic’s record for lowest levels of vitamin D (and some other essential micronutrients I don’t remember the names of anymore).  On top of that, I had to be reinoculated for all the viruses I lost my immunity to as a result of my unhealthy lifestyle. My doctor put me on a diet of supplements and weekly emergency booster shots.

As a result of my bad bill of health, Natalee and I decided to break from our usual bar hopping routine for a trip on the Long Island Railroad to Montauk. Once there, our plan was to rent some bikes for a light eleven mile round-trip ride to the Montauk lighthouse. That light ride felt like the challenge of my life. To me those eleven miles might as well have been a hundred. With great effort and frequent cigarette breaks I made the miles, barely. However, my performance was nothing to feel proud of.  That bike ride sparked the realization that I was ready for the next stage in my development.

After I decided to get healthy, I obsessively researched everything about healthy living.  I dropped booze and cigarettes, and embarked on a strict regimen of exercise and healthy eating. Rather than hitting the bar, after work I was finding something active to do.  I took classes in martial arts, gymnastics, and parkour. I replaced my old hobbies (namely: drinking and smoking) with weightlifting, cycling, trekking and powerlifting. Around this time I also rediscovered rock climbing.  However, this time around I was equipped with clean lungs and the ability to execute a pull up.

Climbing is love


“Climbing is not a spectator sport.” – Mark Wellman

Having been an introvert with low self-esteem most of my life, I generally don’t like attention whether good or bad.  However, climbing (specifically bouldering since the problems are shorter and therefore more easily visible from the ground) is a sport where observing the movements of other climbers is integral to the activity.  You carefully analyze other climbers’ movements, their beta, to give you hints on how to solve the problem using your specific strengths and body geometry.  Normally, this type of close attention would be enough to give me an anxiety attack thereby destroying my performance.  However, in the context of climbing, having an audience oddly has the opposite effect.

The culture of climbing is very different from any other sport I know.  First, climbing is a cooperative activity (read: not competitive). The objective of rock climbing is simple: get to the top of the rock.  Ideally you want to do this safely, with precision and a splash of grace. The unusual thing about rock climbing though is that other climbers offer active support to help you “send the problem” or get to the top.  

They shout encouragement: “You got this!”, “Don’t give up!”, “Come on, Go!”

They give you beta: “There’s a chip near your left knee you can use.”, “Why don’t you try a heel hook and then reach with your right hand?”

They keep you safe by spotting you.  They adjust crash pads to predict where you might fall as you move along the rock.  They can break/adjust your fall by using their hands to catch your shoulders on overhanging routes or any routes where you have a high potential of landing head first.

And in the worst case, you rely on other climbers to get you out of the wilderness and in the hands of emergency care doctors.  

Additionally, even for shy introverts like me, bouldering gyms are easy spaces to make friends.  Bouldering is a form of rock climbing performed on small rock formations without the use of ropes or harnesses.  In bouldering, routes (or problems) are color coded, varying by difficulty (grades), and climbers use a sequence of movements (beta) to solve the problem and get to the top.  I think of bouldering problems as three-dimensional puzzles that you solve with your body. Bouldering gyms facilitate community building because everyone is laboring to solve the same puzzles and it’s more fun to solve them together.

In the context of lead, sport, or trad climbing (variations of climbing big walls with the assistance of ropes, harnesses and anchors), your life is literally in your climbing partner’s hands.  You must have complete trust that your partner will hold the rope to stop you from falling. Putting that kind of trust into someone’s hand, or having someone trust you in this way, inevitably strengthens friendships.

 

Climbing is non-violent


“Most sports require only one ball.” – Unknown

Unlike other competitive sports, a climber isn’t concerned with slamming a ball into a net while dangling their balls in their opponents face. They aren’t in the locker room psyching themselves up to murder the competition. In the context of competition (like a bouldering or lead climbing competition), climbers are kept in isolation to focus on their own climbing performance.  Of course they want to win, but unlike other sports where competitors are in direct opposition with one another, climbing is a dance done solo. Even in a sport perceived to be cooperative and easy-going like surfing, violence is not uncommon.  Try searching “violence among surfers” on google. Then search “violence among rock climbers”. The problem with surfing is that in order to surf a surfer needs to catch a wave.  It may sound obvious but the issue is that the ocean is not a wave machine. There are a limited number of good waves in a given set which means that surfers must be in the right position at the right time to catch the wave.  To complicate matters further, the best breaks are usually the most crowded. Therefore, in order to surf a surfer needs to beat other surfers. Strategies have emerged to make this easier, namely localism, where territorial surfers become possessive of “their” turf and block non-locals from surfing there.  At certain breaks, territorial locals target outsiders by harassing them, “snaking” (or stealing) waves, or much worse.  

In the early 2000s when I was still a grom (teenage surfer) surfing breaks in South California, I learned quickly which beaches to stay away from.  If I saw graffitti with phrases like “locals only”, or swastikas, especially swastikas, I knew to stay away. At that time, localism paired well with white supremacy so being the only POC surfer at any break was extremely alienating and sometimes scary.  I’ve been harassed, assaulted with racial slurs more times than I care to remember, snaked, and threatened with violence (which could have easily escalated but I always walked or paddled away).  

On the other hand, rocks aren’t going anywhere. Sure, there may be a wait on a crowded classic route but generally climbers can just move on to another route.  In the case of a crowded boulder, climbers read beta, encourage each other, and rest sore fingers while they wait for their turn to climb. It’s an active rest.  In surfing you’re just shivering on your board, twiddling your thumbs, waiting for the next good wave to roll by.

Climbing doesn’t discriminate

 

“Rocks make no compromise for sex… rock climbing is not like some sports, where it is made easier for women; or sports like, say, softball, which is only baseball for soft people. On a rock, everything is equal.” – Beverly Johnson

Another quality unique to rock climbing is that regardless of your body geometry or sex, the game doesn’t change–the holds are set in stone.  Yes, taller folks will have an advantage on certain routes but shorter folks will have an easier time on others. There are problems for everyone.  For Natalee and I, rock climbing is equalizing.  She’ll be better on some routes and I’ll be better on others but we’ll both benefit from climbing together.  Additionally, nowadays there seems to be a nearly even distribution of female to male climbers at most climbing gyms.  So, Natalee doesn’t have to worry about a bunch of creepy gym bros staring at her butt while she climbs.

In terms of racial diversity, there really isn’t much.  Unfortunately, it’s still a white dominated activity but that’s slowly changing.  Hopefully with the growing representation of young and talented climbers of color (like Kai Lightner and Ashima Shiraishi), more folks of color will be inspired to climb.  As for me, racism may have played a factor in driving me out of the water but it won’t push me off the rock–my grip strength is too strong. However, to make things a bit easier on myself, I choose my local bouldering gym to be one with a high concentration of climbers of color and Black ownership.  I absolutely love my gym.

Climbing is environmentally conscious

With the exception of rural and suburban areas where conservatism and radical right ideologies thrive, outdoor sports enthusiasts tend to lean left, at least when it concerns the environment.  Surfers want to protect the oceans. Snowboarders protect the mountains. Climbers protect the rock. Among outdoor sports enthusiasts, being environmentally conscious is not just about politics but also the preservation of the activities they enjoy.  I find that the more experienced the outdoor sportsperson is, the stronger their politics are regarding environmental issues. Casual day-hikers tend to be much more destructive of the environment (e.g. littering, walking off-trail) than an experienced thru-hiker due to simple ignorance; a casual hiker may not spend enough time in the backcountry to appreciate the impact of their behavior.

Why I climb


“Anything I’ve ever done that ultimately was worthwhile initially scared me to death.” – Anonymous

I climb because I love the movement.  I love the physicality. I love solving hard problems using only my body as a tool.  I love the singular focus of the act. I love the camaraderie. I love the culture. When I climb, my only competition is myself.  It’s the perfect sport for people who don’t like sports. When I climb, my only concern is what I am doing in the moment. The only requirement is that I believe in myself.

As rock climbing becomes more commercial, it’s possible the culture will also experience a shift.  Many gyms are springing up where the vibe feels more like that of a big box gym like LA fitness, New York Sports Club or 24 Hour Fitness.  At those gyms, members are clients. They aren’t part of a community. They are there to get their work out in, tune out with earbuds plugged in, and take instagram selfies in the mirror.  However, rock climbing existed long before rock climbing competitions and commercial gyms. The culture is shaped by the danger inherent in the act, love of the outdoors and the camaraderie of the participants.  It’s our responsibility as climbers to keep the culture positive, supportive, cooperative, and communal.

Joshua Tree After Dark

Joshua Tree After Dark

Make it easy:

If your newbie likes to wait for closer parking spots at the mall, keep the trekking mileage low.

Keep it light:

Share a tent with your newbie; otherwise you’ll be carrying two tents. Keep their pack weight low and carry a bigger share of the load.

Pack the good shit:

Don’t be cheap with trail food. At the end of the day, your newbie is going to be sore, sweaty, cold and hungry. A warm, delicious meal goes a long way in alleviating a hard day of suffering.

Share responsibilities:

You’re not a tour guide and the wilderness ain’t disneyland. Part of the joy of backpacking is being completely self-sufficient. Everything you need to survive a night in the wilderness you carry on your back. However, it’s also a big responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly by your newbie. Sharing responsibility not only keeps your newbie engaged but also teaches backcountry skills.  

Death Valley Dune Run

Death Valley Dune Run

Generally when exploring wild spaces we try to tread lightly–leaving as little impact on the landscape as possible.  On the sand dunes we had a bit more freedom to thrash around since the dunes are constantly shifting and footsteps disappear within a couple hours.  

As a kid, I was fascinated by space. Running on the immaculate soft sand, we felt like astronauts bouncing around on the moon’s surface.

We ran up the tallest peaks and jumped as hard as we could off the top.

At the peak of the jump, we felt a moment of weightlessness.

Spending the day playing in the sand and jumping off the dunes, we felt like a big kids in a giant, adult-sized sandbox.  I was reminded of the simple childhood pleasure of testing gravity by daring to jump off tall structures. But this time there weren’t any teachers or parents around to stop us.