28 December 2011

Those Who Can't Write--Post Photos!

I've just been so busy! Too busy to write. So I'm going to litter this post with photos, and hopefully come back to add more captions.

Thanksgiving in Joe's Valley

My mothers's ancient Safari van is now mine, and she has been named The Cranky Ape; because it's big and brown and probably going to break down.
The Cranky Ape and I go way back. My mom got her when I was about twelve, and within the first week I had crashed a moped into the back, clearly trying to show it who's boss. The dent remains, and Cranky Ape is officially my new road trip vehicle!

I stopped in Colorado for a minute, but that's ancient history by this time. Crankers, Fritzy Poo and I set out for Joe's Valley to meet up with Jes and Ian Dory, where we spent a wonderful, dirty, exhausted Thanksgiving together in Ian's quaint little tow-behind camper. There was even stuffing!

Thankfully (ha-ha) the holiday wasn't spent only eating; there was lots of climbing too!

Beyond Life V10

Playmate of the Year V9

But unfortunately with so much amazing climbing, split tips tend to happen, and rest days need to be taken.

What better to do on rest days than arts & crafts?! (The box said "ages 8 and up" but the level of complicity far surpasses that which any eight-year-old could comprehend. We struggled a huge amount.)

As always, the time comes to move on to another destination. Fritzgeraldina and I packed back up and set off. We'll miss Joe's, but California was calling.

Adios, Utah.

03 October 2011

The Reno Project

The Grand Opening of the Tallest Climbing Wall in the World

I've been a lot of places. I've seen a lot of things. I've been to Beijing and saw the dogs hanging on butchers' hooks in the market, I went bunjee jumping in Bulgaria, I was at the gay pride festival in Barcelona. In some strange way I can't think of anything that really compares to the experience I had in Reno, Nevada.
I visited Reno once before. I was a Freshman at Minnesota State University and we came for a track meet.
When Five Ten called about this event and I agreed to return I tried to muster up some positive memories of the town, and I couldn't. What I remembered from four years ago was a dirty city filled with homeless people and drunk hicks.
This time I was accompanied by Emily Harrington, Dave Graham, Boone Speed, Jon Cardwell and Josh Levin.
The city itself again failed to impress us, but the event for which we were in attendance did not; actually it exceeded all our expectations.
While the official location title is CommRow, I feel inclined to dub it "The Reno Project." I believe the ultimate dream of the owner is not only the revitalization of an old casino, but a community, maybe the entire city.

The motto of this town full of smoky casinos and semi-dazzling lights is "biggest little town in the world." I don't know if its slogan is true to form, but what I do know is that Reno now boasts the tallest climbing wall in the world. Maybe they should change the sign.

CommRow is smack-dab in the center of the city, located right on Reno's little "Vegas Strip." The building, an old abandoned casino/hotel, is surrounded by working casinos on all sides. In a city so casino-oriented, it's a refreshing atmosphere inside CommRow, where smoking and gambling are not allowed.

The wall is outside, built onto the side of the hotel. It's massive; it can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. We all saw it from the airplane when we flew in. The first pitch starts on the second floor balcony. It's seventy feet long. In addition to beginning thirty feet of the deck, which in this case is Main Street, you already hit 100 feet in height when you pull over the ledge to begin the second pitch, which is an additional 94 feet, totaling 194 feet in height.

Photo by Rod Grossman

Because the wall is out on the side of a building, there's no padded floor beneath you. It's also quite unlike rock climbing, where you can see trees, bushes or at least dirt. When you look down between your feet you see pavement. It was honestly quite a scary experience, and felt extremely exposed.

In addition to the huge wall, the second floor is also home to a bouldering gym with custom free-standing boulders made by The John Stack. Right next to the bouldering area is the martini bar "V15," the logo for which is illuminated with fluorescent lights. Also a smoothie bar.

Photo by Rod Grossman

The first floor is another story. (Pun intended!) Consisting of a giant rectangular room with a tequila bar, whiskey bar, champagne bar, DJ table, dance floor, and coffeeshop/bookstore around the perimeter, and taco-stand-style mini restaurants in the middle, the first floor will most likely be the poular place for the non-climbers.
Now, the third floor is something completely different. "Club Cargo" shall potentially be the area for all live music and big name DJs. We walked through it during the day when it was empty and the accoustics were fantastic! Our footsteps bounced off the hip walls painted to look like piles of old cargo crates.
It was mentioned many times over the weekend that this place would be an ideal competition location.
As for the rest of the building, the hotel plans on re-opening in April.

The weekend felt so surreal to me. The fact that there is a climbing wall on the side of a hotel in the middle of downtown Reno was something I hadn't really ever expected to see, let alone all the things going on inside the building. There were still a few people opposing the idea, like the crazy old lady wandering around the bouldering area mumbling, "But where are the slot machines? This place will never survive without a casino. Reno needs more casinos!"
While a few people were against the idea, so many more came out to show their support. People who saw the wall from outside and wanted to give climbing a try for the first time were lined up through the gym. The kids from the local youth team and the gym employees were very positive and motivated. Five Ten put on a shoe demo and we did a little poster signing. (But seeing as Emily was the only one with a poster, it ended up becoming all of us signing Emily's posters!)

The Grand Opening celebration was exciting with an appearance from the Mayor, a ribbon cutting ceremony on top of the wall, and fireworks lighting up the sky.

All in all, while I'm still in shock from everything I saw over the last few days, I think The Reno Project at CommRow is an unbelievably impressive feat. When I think about this idea an Eminem lyric randomly springs to my mind: "A visionary, vision is scary, could start a revolution..." In this case, I hope so.

28 September 2011

A FRENZIED SEPTEMBER: Clinic Instructor Workshop, Santa Cruz, PCI Clinic Portland, Seattle Life, Nor'Easter '11

When I flew out to Sonoma, CA three weeks ago I knew what I was going for—to work on creating specific criteria for a climbing clinic series—but I had no idea what to expect.
Carlo Traversi and I got picked up in a taxi from the Sacramento airport with our luggage and destination address. An hour later, the taxi slowly crept up the driveway of the house the GPS took us to.
“This is it?” The taxicab driver turned around and asked us. Carlo and I were staring out the window with slightly raised eyebrows.
“Uh, I guess so,” we answered.
While we were unloading our bags PCI mastermind Kevin Jorgeson strolled out to the driveway and said, “Welcome to PCI Headquarters!” We were in the right place. My small-town-Wisconsin-girl jaw dropped.

The next few days were spent tearing down climbing; moves, techniques, training ideas, competition strategies, efficient teaching skills, all leading towards the goal of producing the best clinics possible. With the additional help of Beth Rodden, Emmy Surma, Rusty Klassen and Andrew McDermott we were able to come up with an incredible and unique clinic program that we could pack up and take with us like Cirque du Soleil.

When we weren’t climbing, or discussing climbing, we were hard at work “cross training.” This workshop was just as much fun as it was productive. I'm pretty sure my muscles increased in size from throwing water-soaked dodgeballs around for a week.

At the end of the week Kevin and Carlo flew back to Colorado. I stayed in California to visit one of my oldest and best friends, Sasha Turrentine.

When Sasha picked me up from the PCI Mansion, our goal for the day was to spend the day rock climbing on the coast. After driving quite a ways in the wrong direction, getting lost, and attempting to get directions from a biker gang on the side of the road, we gave up and headed home. (Well, to Sasha’s home.) But the rest of the drive to Santa Cruz wasn’t without its continued happenings.
You always hear people say that in traumatic experiences, or right before they’re about to die, time can slow down and everything moves in slow motion. That was something I had never experienced before, and therefore didn’t particularly believe it. I believe it now!
We wanted to turn left. (This scenario precisely is why Taylor has such a fear of left turns.) The light was green, we were waiting. There were two lanes of oncoming traffic we were yielding to. When the light turned yellow, the car in the lane closest to us stopped to let us turn. The car in the other lane, which was hidden by the first car, floored it to make it through. We started making our turn.
This was where the slow motion started for me. Time slowed enough for me to completely envision how the next scene was going to play out. I could see what was going to happen—we were going to get T-boned. More specifically, I was going to get T-boned. I pictured the entire thing. I could see the oncoming car hitting us, how the cars would react to the impact, and see what both cars were going to look like afterwards. I was quite convinced that the next few seconds were about to really suck. I even had time to think about how much the time following the next few seconds would suck.
Thinking about those things would entail one to express a pretty chaotic reaction, understandably. But instead of screaming “stop” or yelling some phrase containing a curse word along the lines of “Oh sh*t!!”, I let out a sigh and vocalized what I felt just then, and that was a bummed, “Aw, man,” fully accepting what the probable immediate future might be.
My calm warning was just enough to get Sasha’s attention, but not freak her out to the point of acting irrationally. She hit the brakes and managed to swerve her little green VW, “Kermit”, just enough so that we only bumped noses with the crazy old lady in the oncoming car. This was fine with me because I prefer my T-bones as steaks anyway. We managed to make it the rest of the way to Santa Cruz in one piece.
During my week in the Bay Area I got to swim in the ocean, see sea lions, I caught a snake, went rock climbing at Castle Rock with the world's biggest cat, and most importantly I spent time talking about the good ol' youth comp days with Sasha and her wonderful parents. But as lovely as it all was, vacation time was over, and it was time to get back to work.

Topping out in true Wisconsin style.

The sign clearly stated "No Dogs Allowed" but it never mentioned cats...
When Sasha dropped me off at the San Francisco airport on Friday morning I was early. I checked in, dropped my bag, went through security, put up a fight when security took my new perfume, and headed to the gate area. When I arrived, the chairs were full of awaiting passengers. I went and bought a water. When I got back to to the gate area, there were still quite a few people milling about, who hadn't yet boarded the plane. I checked my phone; I still had time. So I went to the bathroom to take a quick poo. I returned to my gate once again to find it crowded. I checked the gate monitor and it read "Flight to Portland: On Time, 2 Minutes Until Boarding." I chose a seat facing the window so I could watch the tarmac commotion and I sat down. Twenty minutes later, the plane directly outside the window backed up and took off. Then I heard an announcement for a flight to Minneapolis. I turned around to find the gate area empty, except for an elderly couple sitting near me.
"Are you waiting to board the flight to Portland?" I asked them.
"No, sweetie... that flight just left." The woman answered.
"Oh did it? Well that's a bummer." I looked at my phone and sure enough it was 10:41. My flight was scheduled to depart at 10:35. I got up and went to find the nearest gate agent.
"So.. you weren't sleeping? Reading? Listening to music? Were you at the bar?"
"Unfortunately not," I had no excuse. I'm sure I could have made up some pretty fun ones. I was put on the standby list for the next flight to Portland at 2pm, and, like anyone would do, I headed for the nearest bar in shock, laughing at myself continuously. I probably looked insane. Needless to say, my phone call explaining that I'd missed my plane, and how I'd missed my plane, warranted some heavy heckling upon my arrival at PDX.

Portland marked the first official PCI Pro Clinic! Instructors included Steven Jeffery, Kevin Jorgeson and myself.

I had an incredible time working our clinics at the Circuit Gym, I think they were a massive success. We had around thirty kids signed up for both Saturday and Sunday, and around twelve adults for each day as well. One of the most inspiring things one can see as an instructor is your teaching clicking with someone. The kids who attended were talented and motivated, and it made the teaching experience that much more amazing.

What was interesting for me was that I had to completely break down my own climbing in order to simplify terms in an informative way that works with kids. In doing so, I learned so much about my techniques, my movements, my body, and my climbing as a whole. Honestly, I probably learned more than every kid at the clinic combined! I also took a lot away from Steven and Kevin as well, both of whom are great with kids and wonderful teachers.

I had a blast, and felt so much satisfaction with this humbling experience and I am genuinely excited to continue teaching. I think these youth clinics are the best thing I’ve ever done with my climbing career.

After the Portland clinics, Kevin and I headed up to Seattle, WA with Stephen Meinhold to hang out at the Seattle Bouldering Project with Kevin Newell during a Five Ten Shoe demo. KJ put on a slideshow about life up on El Cap, and we had a fun time hanging out and climbing with the gym locals. There was even a Johnny Goicoechea sighting! (Side note: The Circuit and the Seattle Bouldering Project are two of the most impressive bouldering gyms I’ve ever seen!)

When we weren’t hanging around the gym, we took advantage of being in Seattle. Bus tickets were super cheap, and we had fun playing tourists at spots like Pike’s Place Market, watching the employers toss fish to each other, and getting a coffee at the world’s first Starbucks.

While those things were interesting, the highlight of Seattle for me was visiting the Members Only Club in top of the Columbia Tower.
Drinking wine on the top floor of the tallest building in Seattle with floor-to-ceiling windows and a 360 degree view is something I don’t really have words for. I was fighting the entire time to contain my nearly-bursting excitement; you gotta stay classy in a place like that. J

Check out the explosive view from the women's bathroom!!

This place makes the Space Needle look teeny tiny.

When I departed Seattle, I was headed to the complete opposite side of the country: Burlington, VT. Burlington is the new host town for the Nor'Easter featuring the 2011 UBC Comp Tour Finale. The event was held on the shore of Lake Champlain and I must say the location was stellar, perhaps the best competition scenery at any event I've attended. (I missed out on NYC Central Park, but I'm sure that was cool as well.)

In order to keep costs low, six of us went in on a hotel room together. My roommates included Lizzy Asher, Angie Payne, Isabelle Faus, Matt Wilder and Ethan Pringle. Upon our arrival in Vermont, we hit up the grandest tourist attraction the great state has to offer: the Ben & Jerry's Factory. It was delicious fun!

The actual competition went as well as it could, with the only hitch being the cancellation of the semi-finals round because of rain. We all know weather can't be helped, and the cool thing was that everyone made finals! The route setting was fun, the climbers seemed psyched, and there was a decent medium-sized crowd watching finals.

Women's final results went as follows:
1. Angie Payne
2. Lizzy Asher
3. Alex Johnson (me!)
4. Isabelle Faus
5. Kati Peters

Here is the most baddass photo from the weekend of Angie sticking the finish hold on our final problem taken by Gabe DeWitt.

You can see Angie's winning flash, her "send face" and more on the highlight reel from the Nor'Easter by LT11 here:

A notable positive addition to this event was the availability of a masseuse for athletes in iso, before and after climbing. This goes a long way in warming up and recovery. The only minor downside was that our poor masseuse had to work in a tent hotboxed as an oven. But not to fear! Lizzy and I were there to pedal the bikes that charge the battery that powered the fan so we could get some air moving in the tent.

The Ben & Jerry's tour, climbing, and even the free massages aside, my favorite part about the Nor'Easter this year would have to be the paddle boarding. Going out on the lake was a great way to cool down after each round of competition. The first time we went out, nobody was really planning on getting wet. Then Angie fell in. Then Lizzy fell in. Then I fell in.

And then it turned from paddle boarding into paddle board wrestling. The unlucky girls who were still dry didn't stand a chance! It was so much fun we couldn't resist going out to play each day.

The best part is that when we look back at this competition, we wont remember who placed what, our best memories will be how much fun we had when we weren't climbing.

For a couple days following the Nor'Easter weekend I hung out around Burlington and did a teeny bit of outdoor rock climbing. It was nice to be out in the sun, but that meant the bees were out in full force.

After this incredible, but hectically busy month on the road (I guess more specifically in the air), I'm on my way back to Wisconsin to see Fritz, unpack, wash my laundry, re-pack and do it all over again in October.

I’d like to extend a huge THANK YOU to the McDermott Family, the Surma Family, and the Costanza Family for your unbelievable and generous hospitality.