stevemedcroft.com
25Jun/190

Inside the mind’s of the world’s elite mountaineers

Mark Synott’s The Impossible Climb is a testament to what a human being can achieve if he’s willing to allow his own vision, develop his natural talents and skills, and challenge himself to life-or-death risk. It’s about the small but focused group of people who rock climb the towering, seemingly impossible walls of rock that pepper this beautiful planet of ours. Specifically, the book tells the story of rock climbing as a sport, culminating in the now famous free climb (ropeless and without any mechanical or safety aids of any kind) up the Freerider route of El Capitan in Yosemite by Alex Hannond.

The route, laid down in the past few decades and achievable by only a handful of human beings with safety and climbing aids, had never been free climbed. Immortalized in the film Free Solo, the climb epitomizes the way that some human beings are able to perform extraordinary (almost otherworldly) physical and mental achievements. Unlike the film, Synott’s book is not solely focused on what people in the tight-knit climbing community call the greatest physical achievement of any human being ever - Hannond’s El Capitan free solo. The book instead pulls at multiple threads to help the reader fully understand Hannond’s accomplishment.

Synott, a long-time member of North Face’s elite climbing team and contributor to National Geographic magazine opens the book by bringing us along as he discovers climbing at a young age. He helps us understand some of the technical terms, such as the way a climbs difficulty is measured and rated. He teaches us the difference between top-roping (climbing with the protection of a rope in place), leading (climbing ahead of the rope and placing it into bolts [hooks] drilled into the rock by prior climbers along the way), on-sight climbing (leading a climb successfully without ever having seen it before), and free climbing (climbing with no aid). He shares how some of the pitches (most long climbs are broken into the named section about the length of one climbing rope; Freerider, for example, is thirty-five pitches and takes an average of four days to complete forcing climbers to sleep in hanging bivouacs on the side of the mountain).

Synott also carefully builds our understanding of the history of climbing in Yosemite park, from the early pioneers who mapped the first routes, to the scruffy gangs of climbing maniacs who scoured and scored new paths up every massive wall in the valley in the past five decades.

Synott also does an amazing job of bringing the reader inside the dynamics of the ultra-climbing community. We see competition among styles of climbing (European alpine climbing versus the technical free-climbing typical in the Yosemite-bred clans). We learn of the unwritten rules that climbers operate under (when Hannond is on Freerider, for example, there are numerous anchors and bolts he could have used to make his climb easier and safer, but he eschews them all for the noble pursuit of actually pitting his human self against the natural features of the mountain).

We also learn the risks. The book describes numerous accidents and death; friends and colleagues lost to the sport. The book also takes us inside the risk, reward, safety, and purity arguments climbers have. All this groundwork lays down a foundation of respect and tension for the challenge Hannond took on for himself.

The book is a great read. Peering into the minds of this group of exceptional human beings is a humbling experience for an average person like myself. And even though the ending (Synott’s witness of Hannond’s great climb and Hannond’s ultimate triumph) is no surprise, the journey the book takes you on to fully appreciate what you witness at the end is well worth it.

15Jun/190

Get To Know Your Balance Sheet

I stew sometimes in my own stress about money and finances. I grimace at the debt I’ve taken on to fuel a life of comfort when all I’m really doing is being lazy and impatient about waiting for my hard work to pay off. I spend loosely to buy my family’s love and attention when the truth is that I am not responsible for their happiness and their love and affection is not a condition for mine. I carry the heavy burden of being the primary breadwinner in our family and claim sometimes that work steals time away from my being able to achieve personal fulfillment and self-identity when the truth is that work (the application of my time, energy and mental power to tasks and goals that I am actually good at) is the very core of my identity and what makes me most happy.

Woe is me, I say. Woe is me. I volunteer to take on the perceived stress and burden of carrying the money load in our family so I can struggle in full view to those in my line of sight about how hard my life is. It doesn’t take much peeling of the onion to challenge these dumb assignations I’ve taken on.

Money is the easiest perceived hardship to peel back because I view money most of the time through a too-simple and painful lens (I have almost all the classes of debt available to the modern American consumer and as far as I can tell, all of my friends and acquaintances are much, much better off than me).

But, I earn a really good living. The fact that I use it all up as quickly as it comes in is a source of embarrassment to me, but it doesn’t change the fact that I earn well. Meaning, I have a chance to correct things. My situation is not hopelessly upside down. I just need to gain focus on what I want from my relationship to money, both in general and specifically to the money that flows through my hands in everyday life.

When I’m stressed, it’s because I’ve convinced myself that money is a negative thing, that it’s limited, that I am not worthy of it, that I have traded off tomorrow’s income to service debt to satisfy yesterday’s urges. I want money to be a positive thing in my life though. And when I examine that question deeply, I realize that money can just as easily be a means to a positive end as is it a whip and an anvil today. Money can be a way to gain peace of mind, security, and, above all, access to the kind of freedom I want for my daily life (the freedom to choose what I invest my time and energy into, time to serve others, time to pursue creativity, time to explore the amazing world we live in).

The beauty of a balance sheet

Luckily, as a person who runs a small business, I have been exposed to the accounting principles of profit and loss statements and balance sheets. Be re-focusing my personal finances using these business tools, I have been able to put an objective perspective on my personal finances.

The balance sheet is the most beautiful thing in all of accounting. Simply put, a balance sheet is a calculation of your net worth. It is the express value of everything you own, minus everything you own. It makes no regard to how well you manage money, no regard for how big of an earner you are, and no regard for how you look to the outside world. It doesn’t calculate how loved you are or how smart you are. All it does is issue you a score, a beautiful, objective score, that states what you are worth.

When I think about the complex and muddy mess I sometimes make of finances (when I lose perspective), a balance sheet can clear up the picture. Rather than focus on credit-card debts, loan balances, or anemic bank accounts, the balance sheet adds everything up to a neat sum that cannot lie to you. It can’t tell you things are good because you drive a BMW if you owe $50,000 on it and could only sell it $35,000. Conversely, it can’t tell you that you should be suicidal about your debts and obligations if you own a rental property outright and could liquidate to pay off the debt that is a psychological burden to you.

In my case, despite my best effort to wreck myself financially, I actually have a positive net worth. On paper, I could liquidate everything I own, wipe out every debt I have and have a bank balance I could live off for a while. It’s a small positive net worth (so nothing to worked up about), but it creates a new foundation for my relationship with money. It puts me on the good side with money. It sets me up to view my finances positively, like something I want to nurture, feed, and grow. It informs the decisions I make as money flows through me from my ability to earn a decent living to make my balance sheet (and my financial position) safer, more secure, and bigger.

Do yourself a favor. Write out a balance sheet. Google it if you need help, but do it. Know where you stand. So when you’re thinking about your financial position (positively or negatively), you’re using the truth and not some story about money and wealth and your right to it in the terrible and untruthful way you’ve been taught.

52 Days of Paleo, Day 35

I skipped breakfast today, substituting coffee sweetened with raw honey for a proper meal. I made up for it at lunch though with a plate full of scrambled eggs, bacon and sauteed onion, sweet potatoes, spinach, zucchini, and bell pepper. Dinner was leftover taco-seasoned ground turkey and refried beans in corn tortilla shells with shredded cheese, spinach, and Tapatillo sauce. I snuck in some peanut-butter flavored M&Ms and Whoppers as a snack while watching a movie with my wife in the evening. No exercise today (I am just about back from a nasty batch of either food poisoning or intestinal distress that knocked me on my ass for most of the week).

3Jun/190

Don’t eat your feelings if you feel bad

Breakfast of Champions.

52 Days of Paleo, Day 24

I never realized how many of the negative traits I'm trying to break in myself were borne purely of habit, or how much those habits were triggered by discomfort, or anxious or fearful thinking until I started to take control of what I ate.

I towed my motorcycle on a trailer behind the RV for our road-trip/vacation last week. I’m a competent motorcycle rider. A motorcycle was one of my first vehicles when I was a teenager and only switched to cars full time when I met and married Keli. I most recently came back to motorcycling five or so years ago. I’ve ridden hundreds of times, including one two-thousand-mile, week-long adventure up the California coast and a trip to the Isle of Mann in the UK (famous site of intense, high-speed motorcycle racing). I say all this qualify what comes next.

We stayed overnight in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Because driving an RV around a town to take in the sights is inconvenient, I unloaded the bike. We went downtown. We ate at an interesting restaurant. Then after, not yet wanting to go back to the RV park and call it a night, I found a state park on the map just a couple of miles out of town and we went for a cruise.

The road was perfect for the motorcycle; it wove back and forth, gained elevation, and removed us from the city in minutes. With Keli on the back and the pleasant sweep of the bike through turns, I was In The Moment, absorbing the scenery, enjoying the open air, feeling the temperature drop, following the long shadows cast by the fading sun.

I spotted a deer off to the side of the road. For a moment, I thought about turning around, but the road called so I kept going. I slowed at the entrance to the state park trailhead, but again the road called (I knew that if I stayed on the road, we could go seven more miles to a ski lodge) so I kept going.

Then, in a flash, I spotted deer again. Not a solo traveler this time, but a family of five or more. They stood just off the road to our right as we passed. Heads turned as we cruised by.

This time, I didn’t hesitate. My thought process: Ease off the throttle. Pull in the clutch. Gently apply the brake. Shift down into second gear. Slowly engage the clutch and feather the throttle to keep the bike moving forward as I gently roll into a turn across the road.

I set my feet and juiced the throttle. I pulled the bars into the turn. But we were on an incline in the road. Maybe I misjudged the turn. Or maybe Keli and I shifted our weight in different ways at exactly the wrong moment. Or maybe my inside foot, the one I used to guide my balance, being further away than I expected because it was on the downhill side, slipped. Because the bike leaned. And grew heavy. I fought it for balance but momentum took over. Then the center of gravity shifted too quickly for my straining muscles and I tumbled off the bike and to the ground. I heard the bike crunch as it hit the asphalt. I felt Keli’s weight as she fell down onto me.

Shit!

Unfortunately, there are a lot more scratches than this one ;-(

We landed safely away from the bike (it’s a Yamaha FJR1300, quite heavy, but with hard-sided touring panniers that gave Keli leg space to escape from getting pinned underneath when it hit the ground).

We were on our feet only after I took ten seconds to swear at myself). We took inventory of ourselves. Keli had banged her knee. Hard. She immediately knew it was going to hurt. Otherwise, thankfully, she was unharmed. I had a tender ankle and sensed stress and pressure in my wrists and shoulders from my strained attempt to keep the stupid think on its wheels.

The bike discarded its windscreen across the road like a can being shot off a fencepost. And there were (are) scratches all along the left side of the bike. But, with a little help from a passerby, I got the bike up and on its side stand and it started and ran just fine. The oil that leaked was from the fact that it had landed on its side (oil leaked from the cap, not from a crack in anything important). I was able to ride us back to the RV park. I then loaded the bike up on the trailer, where it would sit the rest of the trip.

Rather than physical pain, I felt emotional pain about the accident. It was a dumb mistake. I rushed the turn trying to catch the deer. I didn't wait until I was sure-footed. And even though I always wear a helmet, long pants and a long-sleeve denim shirt (at a minimum), and Keli always wears full protective gear and a full-faced helmet when she’s my passenger, you can’t put safety gear on pride and ego.

I walked to the nearest grocery store to buy an ice pack and a compression bandage to treat Keli’s ankle. On the way back, I stopped into Krispy Kreme Donuts and bought two of her favorite (glazed) and two of mine (Boston creme). We ate them while watching a movie on my laptop. I went straight to my two bad-habit safe spaces (junk food and the thoughtless overconsumption of video content) without even thinking about it. I was stressed and feeling bad and habit did the rest.

Intellectually, I’ve always understood that (for me) there was a connection between emotional discomfort and eating junk nutrition and consuming video content mindlessly. They are knee-jerk distractions from facing whatever makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want to live that way. I would rather feel discomfort directly, and challenge myself to face it (and grow from it).

My 52-Day Paleo journey has caused me to look closely at the food I eat and take responsibility for it (and in turn, responsibility for the way I feel). I didn’t expect to see any impact outside my health and fitness, but the Paleo challenge is also opening me up to look closely at every aspect of my life where I live in a way that is not in alignment with my intentions, as this connection to the comfort I get from junk food and junk video.


Breakfast: Black coffee with raw honey, bacon, eggs, sweet potato, and bell peppers.

Lunch: A banana and some Boston Baked beans candy.

Dinner: Broccoli slaw with a boiled egg, half an avocado, and a sliced pear.

Snacks: Half a Base Culture Cashew Butter Blondie.

Exercise: Still not back on the exercise bandwagon. By the end of the week, I will start riding bikes again.

1Jun/190

The Six Lessons of Paleo (so far)

Camp food; steak, eggs, and sweet potato slices.

52 Days of Paleo, Day 22

Yesterday, I was three weeks into my Paleo journey (21 days of 52 planned). I’d say that so far I’m about a 6 out of 10 in execution, but I’ve learned several valuable lessons and already seen some interesting changes in my health, my physical body, and my mental well-being:

  1. Follow a guide at first. Following a beginner’s program is a great way to kick off a Paleo plan. Trying to figure out the rules and create meals from scratch on day one is overwhelming. I would have given up in the first week if I didn’t have Kenzie Swanhart’s Paleo in 28. It didn’t have to be her book (there are dozens of Paleo starter recipe and meal plan books), but the pre-written shopping lists, recipes, and a basic understanding of Paleo I got from Swanhart’s book gave me a leapfrog to my first results.
  2. Expect to lose weight, just don’t focus on it. You will lose weight. Please don’t take on a Paleo challenge for this reason alone, but one of the benefits of eating cleanly is that you will probably lose weight on Paleo. You’re especially like to shed a few pounds if you’re coming to Paleo from a traditional Western diet. And yes, I know it’s a tough ask to not make this challenge about weight. I am generally in a healthy weight range, but cycling is my physical passion and the sport can be a weight-obsessed sport. Leanness can equate to performance. So I want to be lean. I just have to work at not letting the inevitable weight loss that comes with eating clean translate into my manipulating my eating to chase it as a goal of its own. My goal is health and fitness. If I do it right, weight loss is a happy by-product.
  3. Expect your blood pressure to improve. I have blood pressure that measures in the pre-hypertension range (just off the high-end of normal at 135/90-ish). On Paleo only three weeks, I’m already seeing reading in the 120/80 (normal) range. There is blood pressure disease in my family history, so the Paleo benefit of improved blood pressure numbers is a sweet and welcome bonus (and one of the things that are keeping me on track).
  4. Expect to get fitter. If you pursue a physical sport, you will see improvement on Paleo. Like I wrote above, I’m a cyclist. But you could be a runner. You could be a triathlete. You could be into CrossFit. It doesn’t matter what your physical pursuit it, exercise and sport are great for your body. Working out is like squeezing a sponge (the sponge is your body). When you work out, you burn up energy stored in your muscles, you burn fat stores, you use up nutrients and oxygen in your blood. When you get your blood pumping and your muscles firing and squeeze the juice out of the sponge of your body, it replenishes and rebuilds itself on the fuel you bring in. Eating Paleo is a great way to ensure that you’re bringing in clean fuel and giving your body the best chance you can to rebuild those strained muscles and cardiovascular system as healthily as possible. On Paleo, expect to recover better, return stronger, and gain fitness.
  5. Expect to have more energy. Eating crap (specifically, eating donuts in the morning and fast food for lunch) would leave me completely drained by mid-afternoon. I would get home at 5:30 or 6:00 and my body would shut down. So I’d pull out the leg extension on the Lazy Boy, click on the t.v., and feed myself the mental equivalent of donuts and fast food. It took a week or two for that feeling to fade away, and I almost didn’t notice it, but now, after a day when I might get up at 5 am to cycle before work, after cleaning up the task list on my two jobs, I’m still fresh in the evenings. I’m writing more, thinking more, and doing more.
  6. Expect that you will struggle at times. Despite all the upside, you will stumble and fall off the Paleo wagon. It’s normal. You can’t beat yourself up too much about it (or worse, convince yourself that clean, healthy eating is not for you because you struggled somewhere along the journey). My first week was great; I followed Paleo in 28 closely and felt great. Then I let a few small non-Paleo foods slip in. I even allowed myself a fast-food cheat meal one day. I am mostly back on track at the three-week mark. I have learned to stock some ingredients to get ahead of any temptations to cheat. And this is my biggest lesson from the first three weeks; taking control over what I eat is essential. I need to prepare in advance. I can’t defer my nutrition, intentionally or by default, to outside sources. Outside sources serve their own interests and the world is constantly selling you on what they want to you to consume because it is their means to their end (profit usually). Adopting Paleo for 52 days was a challenge to take control of my nutritional life. It’s a test. Am I really serious about my health and well being (as affected by how I choose to feed myself)? And if I can choose for my best self in this one area of life, how can I translate that to choosing for my best self in every area of my life?

We’re on the last overnight on our RV vacation and I have all Paleo ingredients in the RV fridge. I’ll be back home tomorrow afternoon where my first order of business will be to go back to Swanhart’s book and grocery shop from one of her weekly meal-plan lists. Then stay committed to planning a meal or two ahead and always, always taking complete control over what I put into my body.

Can I do it? Will it stick? We’ll see.


Breakfast: Banana. Boiled egg.

Lunch: Banana, boiled egg, plantain chips, dark chocolate.

Dinner: Steak, eggs, sweet potato slices. Licorice-flavored hard candy.

Exercise: A brisk walk through Flagstaff before setting up camp in the Coconino Forest.