Sunday, June 29, 2014

June Mission: Camp-And-Climb

For our June mission, Matt and I decided to go on a camp-and-climb trip to Giant City State Park in Makanda, IL. Matt is an experienced indoor rockwall climber, and with his help we were both going to try outdoor bouldering (which was new to me) at a new park (which was new to both of us).

Let me be clear, Matt and I did NOT rappel or lead climb or bottom/top rope climb—the only gear we had were climbing shoes that Matt brought for himself (selfish pig). Rather, we went bouldering, which, for the rock climbing novice, simply means that we went around free-climbing on anything we could reach from the ground—much like a 12 year old child would do in similar straits. And since we didn’t bring a crash-pad, we didn’t ascend beyond 10 -12 feet off the ground.

Even still, there was a lot to do. Matt brought a guide to bouldering in Missouri, and it had a great section on Giant City Park climbing. We searched out all the bouldering routes marked out by the experts (God rest their souls), and climbed the heck out of them. It’s so strange to me that climbing routes up the face of a random wall or boulder can be identified simply by the chalk imprints left behind from other climbers. Many of the routes were nearly impossible for Matt or I too finish since most had a fairly high difficulty rating, but that didn’t stop us from working on a few handholds on every route. I swear, some of these climbs must require you to hang upside down from your fingernails or something! I’m thinking some of the cave graffiti was scrawled on the sandstone with the bloody stumps of fingertips abraded to the bone.

We had a lot of fun challenging and one-upping each other. When we weren’t climbing, we were hiking the precipitous paths along the top of the ledges looking down from the bluffs. This was some of the most fun and physically demanding Not-Rotting we have done yet. Besides, it’s also always exhilarating to simply get away and rough it—“rough it” in the sense of still having an inordinate amount of food, beer, and cigars. In case you aren’t 30 and you haven’t noticed, the body softens so quickly! Getting out in the elements with threatening thunderstorms, heat, and carnivorous insects with no blood-type preference buzzing around your head constantly really makes you realize how insulated you’ve become against the bare ground and open sky in general. The earth and I rapidly become like old friends that have lost touch, and this distance engenders fear. “And the strange character of a universe with which he has created no bond also arouses fear in him” (Simone DeBeauvoir).

Well, after the weekend, the universe felt a little less alien. AND we got some pretty kick-ass photos of us Gaia-bonding and...being stupid. 

This crevice actually is in the ground...I'm looking down at Matt. 

Random people rappelling 

Dude on the right is reverse rappelling...face-down, military style (mission impossible). 

They climb with cowboy boots out here in Mkanda, IL!

Rain-puddle diving


"Better to have loved and lost..."

Don't even know...

Where's Waldo

It's a kilt!!

Matt is always the first to try a bouldering challenge. Then if he doesn't die, I try it.

Got it.

My first of many attempts.

Got it!

Some of our hikes were across this kind of terrain in rainy weather. Had a few near ankle-turns.

Tyro beware. This may not look hard, but this was fingertips only. There was nothing to hang on to. 

Hanging for dear life two feet off the ground. Our fingers were raw and slightly swollen that night.

Matt randomly challenged us to climb this wall onto that rock. He, of course, led the way.

Matt contemplates peeing onto the vanquished.

Matt negotiates an over-hang. 

You're foot's slipping bruh!

Climbing strategy: hang like a friggin' bat. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

May Mission: Chubb Trail Mountain Biking

So Matt and I decided we were ready for our first mountain biking trip along Chubb Trail. We started out at the trail head at Lone Elk park. Here is a checklist that would have saved us a lot of trouble if we had completed it before we headed out (but alas):
  1. Delusions about how dry the trails would be after a week of rain. Check.
  2. Salty sunflower seeds to make us thirsty. Check.
  3. Not enough water to last us an hour. Check.
  4. No clear idea of where the Chubb trail leads. Check.
  5. No clear idea of how many hours it would take for a round trip back to the cars. Check.
  6. A very light application of bug-spray, but not enough to really keep the skeeters and chiggers off. Check.
  7. No sun-block. Check.
  8. Minimal stretching before the ride. Check.
  9. No experience with lighter mountain biking routes before taking on Chubb Trail. Check.
  10. Lots of jokes and laughter at the outset, instead of focus and preparation. Check.
  11. A unaccountable determination to keep our clothes and bikes clean.
  12. No tools whatsoever—not a hex wrench, pump, or patch—should our bikes break down.
  13. iphone. CHECK!!

So, basically, if it wasn’t for the last one, we would have been in real trouble. We ran out of water an hour in, and if it was any hotter than it was, we would have risked possible heat exhaustion as we carried our bikes up hills, got lost on the trail, wiped out on multiple occasions, and eventually had to ride about 5 miles on the shoulder of the interstate to get back to our parking lot. If it wasn’t for the fact that halfway through we came out on Chubb park and found a water spigot on the side of a maintenance shed, it might have been worse; but as it turned out, the only thing we suffered was sore muscles  and a couple scrapes. We thought that we weren’t going to be able to walk the next couple of days for all the soreness, but somehow neither of us were sore. Nature—50, Humans—1. Yessssss!!!

Are we wussies? Yes. Are we dumbasses for not bringing enough water or having a game-plan? Yes. Are we afraid? No. No. NOOOOO! Bring it on nature—we’ve got an iphone and enough naiveté to outlast an iceage! 

And...this is just a picture of me mountain biking in another state at another time because we don't have any pictures from our adventure even THOUGH MATT HAD HIS FRIGGIN' iPHONE THE ENTIRE TIME!!

June Mission: Holocaust Survivor Shares His Story

Today we visited the Holocaust Museum for a tour with Dr. David Oughton from Saint Louis University, co-author of “Jewish-Christian Relations in Light of the Holocaust”; and afterward we listened as Mendel Rosenberg, a Holocaust survivor of Dachau and other Nazi concentration camps and ghettos, shared how he and his mother made it through hell. I was blown away by hearing an actual survivor tell their story. To be frank, I didn’t realize survivors were still alive.

I’ve heard so much about the holocaust all my life. I’ve seen so many pictures, watched so many movies and documentaries, read so many books; but never have I heard a survivor share their story live. Mendel was in his teens when he experienced the horrors of ghetto life and concentration camps. His father and brother died, and he witnessed nearly unspeakable tragedy in his own life and in the lives of others. I say ‘nearly’ because he is, of course, speaking about it. It still blows my mind how much courage it must take to have to relive those memories of such deep sorrow and loss over and over again to tell people what happened. I honestly can hardly face the prospect of watching harm come to my family, and to have to suffer and then speak is almost unfathomable to me.

Part of me just wants everyone—individuals, museums, universities, community programs—everyone to leave the survivors alone. After all they’ve been through, now they are condemned to telling their stories for the rest of their lives? But besides realizing how necessary it is for the stories to be told for the sake of preventing injustice from repeating, I also heard something Mendel say today that changed my mind a bit about the good of telling the stories for the survivors themselves. He said that for 30 years after being released, he had nightmares on a nightly basis about him and his family running from the Nazis. He said that he didn’t want to talk about his experience for a long time, but when he finally did decide to talk about it, the nightmares instantly ceased. When someone in the audience asked about this during the Q & A time, he said he thought it had something to do with setting a goal and working towards it. Maybe those deep sorrows and fears were finally channeled into a life-giving pursuit? I personally also think there may be something to the idea that expressing what’s inside the mind, even the deeper, darker fears and distresses, helps to provide a catharsis for the bottled up emotions and might even help work out the thought-kinks by full, un-stymied existence as opposed to suppressed cognitive travail. It is true that most things we hope to solve by critical thinking and creating a logical plan, or instead, actively not-thinking and hoping the problem disappears; but as the poet Rainer Rilke wrote, maybe we solve some things simply by existing them back into nature through the doorway of our own DNA:

“…have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

Either way, I’m glad to here that Mendel is finding some peace. And it was awesome to see photos of his sprawling family of kids and grandkids. He seems happy, and has a great sense of humor. And he’s doing great things in the world simply by keeping his stories from clotting and being forgotten. The gift of keeping the wounds of his memories fresh for new generations of people to see what he saw is not lost upon me. I am grateful.

February Mission: Comic Con Saint Louis!!

So, why did we go to Comic Con?

Simply put…we wanted to see what all the weirdness was about. That about sums it up. It may shock people to know, but neither Matt nor I have ever been to a Comic Con. I was as much interested in the ethos of weird people (including myself) enjoying weird people as I was anything else. I also wanted to see the homemade cosplay costumes, and I wasn’t disappointed. Wow. In every nuance of that word. Except the non-weird nuance. I also wanted to see celebrities, and I ended up seeing more than I’ve ever seen at one time in my whole life: Lou Ferrigno, Ralph Macchio, William Shatner, two actors from Walking Dead, Adam West (Batman) and whoever played Robin (sorry man), and floating around somewhere was the dude who played Dr. Who. We even sat through a panel discussion/QA with Adam West, dude who played Robin, and one with William Shatner. Let me tell ya, Billy Shat is one sharp 83-year-old s.o.b.!

I brought my 7-year-old daughter with me and let her experience all the weird-plight. We both thought the coolest part of the event was being able to meet some of  the amazing comic book artists who were actually drawing live requests for a $20 fee. Pretty awesome.

Ultimately, I think the thing I really took away is that there is a place for everyone, and a community who will love and embrace them. Maybe it will grow more common in our culture of global socialization to find a community who shares one’s interests and hobbies, no matter how unique, and having this confidence might help many people with unappreciated talents and values to endure environments where they might feel alone. But they are not alone.

And maybe I’m not either.