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Siurana!

The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.

-John Muir

 

I picked up my drenched backpack off the luggage carousel and hefted it onto my back.  Two months of rain in Turkey didn’t seem to be enough; now it was raining in Barcelona as well.  I donned my rain jacket and found the bus headed into the city.  After some relative painless navigation of the Barcelona public transportation system I worked my way down a narrow street and saw my name on a door.  I’ve been a lot of places and even known where I’m going at times, but nothing has ever been as good upon arrival as seeing that nice little note with my name to let me know that 1, I was in the right spot and 2, someone is nice enough to let a stranger sleep on the couch and make an entire note explain what’s going on and where to get food.

It also explained that I couldn’t get in at the moment, so I followed the precise map on my note to a café just down the road.  I unloaded my bags in the back corner and got a beer and sandwich while I waited.  It had been nearly 24 hours since my last meal so my first sandwich was quickly followed by a falafel.  By then I headed back up the road and met Viki for the first time.  I spent the next few days hanging out in Barcelona and for the first time in my life discovering there is a city I actually really like.  I borrowed a bike and cruised around checking out the architecture, looking at the amazing works of Gaudi, and loving how fun and easy it is to just ride around the city.

After a few days waiting in Barcelona for my friend Ro, then for his bag to arrive, we eventually headed out to Siurana.  We made it in the afternoon in time to squeeze in a couple pitches before heading to the campground to set up shop.  Siurana, I had the impression, is one of the most popular climbing destinations in the world and would therefore have lots of people around for the peak season starting in March.  The campground did not reflect this.  The two tents we added doubled the evident population of the dusty, lumpy, dirt campground.

The next couple days we explored Siurana, just walking up to walls that looked good and either trying things that looked good or taking a look at someone’s book to make sure we weren’t getting in over our heads.  The climbing was great, and even better, wasn’t hurting my elbow.  Hooray for vertical crimpy climbing.

Over the first couple days I managed to run into half a dozen people I knew, many of whom mentioned staying in Cornudella for cheaper than the campground.  On our first rest day Ro and I decided to check it out.  By the end of the rest day wandering around Cornudella asking in shops we had a decent little flat right in town.  It came with all the normal amenities and even included an exceptionally loud bell tower directly across the street.  It might not have been annoying, but its occasional inconsistencies definitely took their toll; ringing out the hour twice sometimes and other times ringing 80 times before stopping.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the next two weeks I climbed, hung out with Ro, met a bunch of new friends, and caught up with some old ones.  Cornudella really is an awesome place to be for a trip.  The town is tiny, but has a few nice little shops and bars, it’s centrally located for Siurana, Margalef, Montsant, and tons of other crags, the beach is only an hour away, and did I mention its right next to Siurana!  With so much climbing around and an elbow on the mend I found it hard to stop long enough to try any route two days in a row.  As a result I spent a lot of time check out fun 7a’s and b’s.  I sent some, I flailed on others, but almost all were really fun.

Then Ro’s time in Siurana came to an end and he headed off for Barcelona.  It was weird to all of a sudden be back to searching for partners, not having anyone around in the evenings, and needing to hitch places.  Sometimes you don’t realize a person’s effect on you until they’re gone.  I realized that without Ro’s constant happy psych and with four days of rain, I was going out less and watching a few more movies.  To make up I stepped up my workouts, basically leaving the living room set up to work out any time, all the furniture and tables pushed out of the way and my layers of blankets and towels for a mat in the middle of the room.

Quickly the weather returned to the amazing dry, sunny conditions known is normal here and my psych stepped up again.  I climbed with a bunch of new people including an awesome couple traveling in the tiniest van I’ve seen two people try to live in.  Their Subaru Sambar only had two seats, no headroom, and could probably fit into any sprinter, but it did come with a double section sun roof.  I even picked up a little bit of a project, a really fun route called La Crema, that has some tough vertical climbing and powerful moves on crimps.  I tried it a couple times, but didn’t figure I would have the opportunity to do it since it gets blasted by sun all day.

The time I had paid for the in the flat was ending and, although I had planned for at least a full month in Siurana, I started thinking about heading to Rodellar early.  That did not happen.  Just when I was ready to leave I met some more fun people and found it hard to leave again.  I moved into the spare room of a new friend and spent a week hanging out with some new German and Spanish friends.  My routine quickly did a 180, going from normal days of climbing, mellow hanging out with people and a beer at Goma, the climbing shop/bar/restaurant, and heading back to the flat to read and sleep by 11to full Spanish style.  We would climb some, get back and have a beer before diner, maybe have dinner, then hang out until I would look down to see it was 3am.  Mornings were spent hanging out with the Germans for an hour or so while we waited for the Spanish guys to show up, always an hour late.

I even managed two days of trying La Crema where I kept falling on the crux move at the top and taking 30+ft whips every time because I was skipping a bolt.  For the first time of my trip I even got some photos of myself thanks to Jule.  I had postponed leaving a couple times and finally decided that I would leave on my next rest day.  The only problem was I was just having too much fun.  Not wanting to break my agreement with myself, I found the loophole and just didn’t take a rest day for nearly a week.  But as with all things in life, nothing good can last.  I had a couple great last days of hanging out and laughing until I cried, but then it was time for the Germans to and Benjamin had to fix his car.

I managed to send off my application to be a language assistant in Spain in the fall, then spent two more great days in Cornudella, including one last try on La Crema where I took the long whip once more and some delicious calcots, traditional Catalan food which is basically tasty grilled green onions with sauces, for my birthday thanks to the Spanish guys.  And then that was it, I packed up and walked to the edge of town to catch a ride to Rodellar.

 

Turkey, Part III: Going out with a Fizzle

It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.

-Vince Lombardi

 

Life continued without climbing.  At times it felt like it might not, but it indeed did.

At first I spent my time hiking around and exploring new cliffs around Geyik that could be bolted.  I assure you, there are several, but the best and closest have been developed.  None the less, it was a good activity and gave me something to do for entire days at a time.  I also tried to turn my attention to taking photos, but, without being able to ascend a rope for photo sessions, that was pretty difficult as well.  I attempted to be productive; doing my taxes early, updating the blog, applying for jobs in Spain, but ultimately I found it extremely difficult to find the motivation let alone the focus to write or really be productive in any way.  And then the rain started.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not sure if the rain helped or hurt my situation.  It made it easier for me to not climb since it was wet, cold, and not fun to climb, but it also made doing other fun things more difficult as well.  The rain often helped me have people to hang out with on the dreary days.  I started playing backgammon and chess whenever I had someone to play with and when I didn’t, I would read or watch hours of movies.

In lieu of endorphins from exercise, I resorted to sweets.  I noticed when I looked down at my grocery cart while waiting to check out: baklava, halva, Sarelle dark chocolate hazel nut spread, and several dark chocolate bars.

Unable to climb, unable to take photos, and unable to really do anything outside, I was left with plenty of time to think.  Why do I climb?  Well, that one was easy.  Climbing is the best physical and mental battle, it provides fun community, and it’s a good reason to travel the world.  Can I not climb?  Also easy.  No.  At least, not without replacing it with something that gives me more long term satisfaction than baklava.  The more difficult questions nagged at me though and often lead me to the same question I started with.  I’ve traveled a bunch by myself; it would be nice to have a home base and the same people around for more than 3 months.  Great, where should I live?  I don’t like any of the places I’ve been enough to want to live there.  Maybe I should travel some more and find a place I like.

This battle between footloose and homesick always comes up when I get injured or break down, but it seems to be coming up more these days even without a catastrophe.  The desire to have a home, constant friends, even a girlfriend makes me want to stay, but as soon as I stay a few months I get an itch so deep being that I need to move keep going. Even without my need to move on, trying to find a place to live that’s not huge, but has a good community and has good year round climbing nearby is next to impossible.

I never know if it’s just me that struggles like this, or if it’s common among people who travel alone.  Honestly, it’s hard to find enough people who have followed this path to even ask.  I can only think of two off the top of my head and it’s not usually the first question that comes up in conversation.

My mind continued reel, I questioned my life, and tried to focus on rehab for my elbow. After a month of physical therapy exercises, icing, ibuprofen, hoping it would get better, and existential crisis, I began to climb a little again.  Unfortunately my elbow still hurt if I tried anything steep or difficult.  I keep climbing a few easy routes here and there, but still only climbing intermittently between rain storms.

The Turkish Highline Carnival came like a swarm of noisy, smelly, colorful, jubilant locusts.  Highlines sprang up all around Geyik, the number of people at camp jumped from 30 to 300 in two days, and impromptu jam sessions popped up every day.  Aside from the crowding in the kitchen and lack of seating to hang out in the warmth of Josito, things continued fairly unchanged for me since I still couldn’t climb much and my one attempt on a highline made it clear that pulling back onto the line after a fall wasn’t good for my elbow.

February was coming to a close.  My feelings were mixed as usual.  Geyikbayiri is great and I felt like I barely got to climb, but every day that passed was another day closer to Spain and hopefully being able to climb again.  I started pushing my elbow a little more climbing.  In many ways, my experience on Turkey was one of the worst I’ve ever had.  Being in an amazing climbing place, but unable to climb for whatever reason is pure torture.  The injury itself turned out to be the worst I’ve ever had.  The rain made it hard to even get a decent amount of exercise.  But much of that seems secondary to the fun that I still had there.  I did manage to climb for a month before getting injured.  I met a bunch people and had a lot of fun hanging out in Josito, exploring Turkey, eating Gözleme at the market, playing backgammon, playing cards, and just getting to know all the awesome people.  I guess I’ll just be really cliché and quote Vince Lombardi again: “it’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.”  For me, I was ready to get up and Spain would be awesome, whatever it takes.  And besides all that, no matter what happened, I had Jeffrey to hang out with.

And then without realizing that the hours and days had added up already, I found myself riding shotgun with Nigel on our way north.  We stopped in Kütahya for the night where, thanks to his families company, we got the hookup to stay at a hotel with natural hotspring pools.  After 3 months with more cold and rain than sun it was amazing to soak in the warm baths.

The next day we continued on toward Istanbul.  The couple hours it was supposed to take turned into an all day affair when a fuel like broke.  We tried several things to fix it, but eventually had to have it towed to a shop so they could install a new fuel line.  By the time I made it to my destination in Istanbul it was 9pm.

The next day was a whirlwind of Istanbul.  I took a bosphorus boat tour, checked out Ayasofya and Sultan Ahmed Mosque, got rained on, visited the Grand Bazaar, Gülhane Parkı, Galata Tower, walked down Istiklal street, and met up with some friends for dinner and Salep.  We finally made it back to my friends and I managed to get almost three hours of sleep before heading to the airport.  I was exhausted, but excited for Spain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And a few more photos of rocks for you…


 

Turkey, Part II: The Spray

We no longer have moons to reach, or summits to conquer. Every thing on this planet has been documented and mapped by Google and monetized by the Facebooks of the world. Yet we humans still have the capacity to dream up the most insane and pointless challenges in order to find new, fulfilling ways to push our minds and bodies to our own limits.

-Andrew Bisharat

 

After the rough start, things in Geyik started working out much better.  I quickly met tons of fun people to hang out and climb with.  I learned my way around the area and climbed a bunch.  After hurting my elbow in the US, I took it easy to start and just sampled a lot of different routes.  The climbing has a great variety from vertical to steep, but most routes feature a distinct crux and routes often have a good rest.  It was immediately clear to me that my pinch strength was suffering.  No surprise there since there are nearly no tufas in the US.  I resolved to work on it since tufas are one of the foundations of climbing in Geyik.

Even with starting off slowly, things went well.  I onsighted some fun routes like Pink Power and Türkiye’ye as well as beginning a mini-project after a couple weeks.  I began working on Selim Aleykum in part because it was the first harder thing I got on, but I also had a great time on the route and loved the moves.  It’s very representative of Geyik climbing: easy climbing to some thin moves, big rest, then a hard section on tufas.  The part that really drew me in was that the crux section has many options and you must find the way that works best for you.  Also, I found several knee bars which gave me the excuse to wear both of my new knee pads for the first time.  Once I figured out the hard section I fell at the top, unable to pull a powerful move that had seemed do-able when I was working it out.  I adjusted my sequence and found a new kneebar to help with the move and voila; my first hard route in 4 months only took 4 tries.

Living in Josito was fun and easy.  After the rain on the first day, I moved my tent, built a platform, and found a tarp to go over.  Plenty of solo climbers had come for a few weeks or months so finding partners was never an issue.  In the evenings I would usually cook with one or many friends.  Some evenings we would end up with 10 people cooking together in pairs and have a veritable feast; usually followed by a crepe session for desert.  On Sundays I would hitch a ride down to the market in Akdamlar, the next town, to get veggies and eat the delicious Gözleme (thin bread baked and folded with spinach and onion inside).  Days not spent climbing were often spent rigging and taking photos of friends or trying to catch up on things I should have already finished, but many were also whiled away sitting in the sun or hanging out in Josito.

One of the best, and most heartbreaking, parts of Josito was the puppies.  Just about anyone who spent time at Josito would have noticed one of the five puppies that that visited, and essentially lived around the campground for a period.  The first puppy showed up not long after I arrived.  She was a little black ball of fur, about 3 months old, with a stomach distended from starvation.  I immediately looked up info online, tried to contact vets, and began taking care of her.  She was chipper and playful so I hoped that she wasn’t in pain, but before I could do more than feed her she was taken to the shelter.

Then just before Christmas a local dog showed up with three ~6 week old puppies.  They were adorable; rolling around and chewing on each other for excited 10 minute bursts before returning to napping in the sun.  In the evenings they would follow their mother and disappear off into the woods; except on the cold Christmas Eve when the temps dipped well below freezing.  On that night the little black and brown runt of the litter was still hanging out at night when all the others were gone.  I ended up spending Christmas Eve cuddling with a cute girl and she got cozy place in my tent for the night.  They hung out around camp a little longer until again, one day they too disappeared.

The third installment of puppy came less than a week after the three puppies disappeared.  Once again, the same mother was back with another puppy from the same litter.  Jeffrey, as he was dubbed by Tyler, became a bit of a camp dog and spent most of his days sleeping on the porch swing or chasing after the older dogs trying to get them to play.  I found an old towel to use as a blanket for him, but on cold nights I would leave him my down jacket to sleep in.  Of course, when it was too cold, he would get a spot in my tent.

One thing I was not expecting at a climbing camp, were the dance parties.  The location changed between different camps, but I was surprised to see that every week or two a party would be announced and a few hours later people would converge and start dancing.  New Years was especially fun.  The campgrounds were packed with holiday guests along with the full time dirtbags.  At 9, the tables were cleared away and three of us started dancing.  By 11 the sea of gyrating bodies filled the restaurant, stretched out the door and spilled off the porch.  There were friendly mosh pits, dance-offs, and dancing that continued until 5am.


By New Years I had begun project shopping since I still had over two months of climbing and found many routes that I worked out the moves on and had plans to get back on.  Some routes, like Ozlem, Horney Horse, Trio de Ligoville and Daddy Cool, felt like I could get close to sending after just a couple tries.  Other routes, Parallel Universe in particular, were amazing, but felt nearly impossible.  One route, Fun in the Sun, I managed to get on my fourth try.  It fit the usual formula: easy to a thin cux, rest, then pumpy/powerful crux on tufas.  But no description really does justice to how much fun the whole climb was.  I thought about not trying it until after New Years so I could start the year off with a send, but it was too good to not try so I finished it off on my last day of climbing in 2014.

January started a little rough: I got a bit sick.  After a couple rest days I was back in action and ready to send some of the many routes I had tried.  I narrowed my immediate focus to two routes that I liked and felt like I could do quickly: Daddy Cool and Trio.

After coming quite close on Daddy Cool on my second try, I was confident that with draws hanging and a fresh day, it would go pretty well.  My intuition; however, didn’t account for weather.  After hanging the draws and tuning some footwork on my next try the weather got colder.  I made it to the rest in the middle of the route and realized that at some point, while I focused on keeping my fingers closed despite the lack of feeling, a steady stream of tiny snowflakes had begun dancing around me.  I watched the snow fall and spent a solid ten minutes working a semblance of feeling back into my fingers.  I’ve experience screaming barfies (it’s exactly what it sounds like, as a result of blood and feeling returning to your fingers or toes), but never before had them while on a route.  I even picked the direction in which I should retch, but luckily it didn’t come to that.  When I could finally feel my hands again I headed into the hard section.  Things fell into place as I cranked through sharp side-pulls and microscopic footholds.  I clipped the last bolt, stepped up and pulled toward the hold that marked the end of the hard moves.  I grasped for it, but fell short of the pocket.  Cold, frustrated that I didn’t finish it, I left my draws and bailed for the day.

Trio was another adventure.  It’s a fairly compact climb, putting all the punch into only 7m of climbing.  A couple days after Daddy Cool, I made it back to Trio.  The power endurance style is not one I excel at, so I tend to do whatever I can to make it easier.  On Trio, that meant skipping a bolt making nearly every fall much longer and pushing it a closer to hitting the slab below than most people would be comfortable with.  Anything that works, right?  Only it didn’t.  My first two tries of the day ended when I fell on a long powerful move.  I refined my beta, adding in 3 extra moves just to avoid the one powerful move.  On the next try I stuck the move and fell two holds later going for a huge jug.  I still felt good so I went for a fourth try.  I got to the same spot, tried to muster some last bit of energy and managed to get my hand onto the jug; and then slide off it.  I was so close, but just needed a fresh day.

The next day I couldn’t convince anyone to go to Daddy Cool or Trio with me so I headed to Alabalik to try Parallel Universe.  My expectations were extremely low; on my first day on it I hadn’t made it through any of the hard section without hanging at every bolt.  The route is still incredibly fun, so I figured it would still be some fun training.  My first try went as expected.  I hung at just about every bolt, worked out the moves some more, and got really pumped.  After a nice long rest I got on it again and surprised myself; I stuck the first really hard move, then even the deadpoint after it, then I found myself at the kneebar rest.  Whoa.  I was actually doing well on it.  I headed into the top section feeling good.  Several moves later I stalled out trying to get my fingers into an odd shaped pocket.  Holding an undercling and keeping a lot of body tension, I tried to finagle my fingers into it for what felt like 20 minutes until I eventually fell.  Without resting I pulled back up and climbed to the top clean.  Then I did from below to the top clean again.  In one try I went from not expecting to ever send it to being very close (as long as I could get my fingers into the pocket).  I lowered down hoping that it would go down on my next try.

That try never came.

While I rested and waited to try again, my elbow started hurting.  Just a dull ache, but after having some elbow pain before, I didn’t want to make it worse.  I grudgingly decided to not try again that day.  The next day was a rest day anyway and then I would come back fresh and strong to do it; that was the plan anyway.

After my rest day I climbed a little, but after a warm up, it was clear my elbow was still hurting.  For the next several days the elbow got worse and worse. To the point I couldn’t pick up a computer or water bottle in my right arm.  A day of rest turned into a week and I didn’t know if that would be enough.  My climbing trip was in serious jeopardy.

Turkey, Part 1

This is the time for small paychecks and big memories. This is the time for travel. We are about as attached to one location as we are to our favorite Chinese take-out place. We know what we like about it, and we take comfort in the familiarity, but that’s about it.

-Jessy Trapper

 

The van chugged up the hill and finally crested.  The land stretched out from us into rugged, rocky grasslands and jagged limestone hills.  We began the downhill and the maroon 83 VW high top van picked up speed.  We careened down the hill passing several cars that had cruised by only a few moments before.  I was bound for Istanbul.

Three months of intended to be spent climbing in Geyikbayiri had already flown by.  My perception of time has always fascinated me.  I remember when I was young and Christmas, my birthday, or summer felt like an eternity away.  They were an eternity away when a year is a quarter of your memorable life.  Now I blink and I find that I’m no longer in highschool or college, jesus, I’ve been out of college for nearly four years.  Four years that have also flown by in a blur of climbing, travel, breakdowns, and working just enough to get by.  Now I realize that my time here has slipped form my fingers as well.  My current guess is that time in fact increases proportionally to age.  By that measure, my 26 years are already well over half my life.  This is really all just a way of saying: “wow, I can’t believe it’s over already.”

My trip to Geyikbayiri was the routine nuisance: bus to NY, turn around and fly right back over Maine, layover in random European city with almost enough time to leave the airport but not quite, arrive in destination without a clue where to go.  I got lucky and found a place to stay in Antalya through CouchSurfing while I was in the airport in Oslo; I just had to get myself there.  I got a bus into town and never getting off; the driver dropped me at the right shopping mall to meet up with Burak.  I didn’t wake up until 1pm, so I only had a few hours of daylight by the time I was ready to find the bus to Geyikbayiri.  Armed with a general direction of where the ottogar (bus station) was and the hope that people spoke enough English to get by I headed off.  I asked several people where to get the bus to the ottogar.  Only one person spoke English enough to understand me and say 500m up the road.  I walked.  I asked more, received no more directions, and eventually found a bus that said “Ottogar” on the sign.  I jumped on.  When the bus hadn’t reached the ottogar in 10 minutes I knew something was wrong.  I decided to not doubt it, and stayed on for another 20 minutes.  Then I knew I was not where I needed to be.  But it was raining.  I stayed on the bus for another half hour until it stopped raining.  By that point I had seen most of Antalya and knew I was headed out of the city on the opposite side as Geyikbayiri.  I got off the bus, crossed the street, and waited for the same number bus to come by.  I knew my plan (could I even really call it a plan? More like a hope that things would magically work out) was shot so I borrowed a phone and talked to Burak.  I would have to wait an hour or two, but he’d meet me at the mall again at 6pm.

I made it to Starbucks only to discover that my haven of dirtbagdom did not have open internet.  It was a travesty.  I listened to podcasts and lounged on their patio.  6pm came and went.  Then 7, 8, and 9 followed as they do.  Still no sign.  I asked everyone around if I could use their phone, but all had one reason or another to say no.  Eventually a Starbucks employee believed me enough to use his log in for the internet so I could contact Burak.  No word.  At 10 Starbucks closed.  I was the only person at the mall.  I finished off the last of my Cliff bars and dried mango that had sustained me since I left Maine and I decided to try to navigate my way to his apartment to see if he was there.  For the next three hours I trudged the streets of Antalya with 75lbs of backpacks trying to find my way from memory to an address that didn’t seem to exist.  By midnight I was scouting abandon buildings that I could sleep in.  I decided I would go to the driest and most hopeful of them after one more attempt.  I started all the way back from the beginning and by a combination of subconscious navigation and pure luck I walked straight to Buraks apartment where I saw him through the kitchen window.  My first day in Turkey was not a success on any level.  Turkey 1, Dylan 0.

The next morning I woke early, got better directions to the ottogar (I needed to walk 2km down the road to it), and after a long wait for the bus, made it to Geyikbayiri.  I was psyched to finally set up camp and relax knowing I wouldn’t have to move for the next 3 months.  Or so I thought, but Mother Nature had different plans.

I snapped awake from the blast of a cannon inches from my eardrum.  Rain pummeled my tent.  My watch said “1:04 AM.”  I smiled and marveled at the raw power of nature then tried to go back to sleep.  The rain kept hamming my tent.  I never realized how loud that could be; it sounded like a sheet metal roof.  At some point I rolled over on to my side.  The ground rippled beneath my tent.  I looked out my tent door to see water rushing by just an inch below the line were my tent turned from waterproof  nylon to mesh.  I was sitting, mostly floating actually, in the middle of a river that stretched from the woods on one side of my tent to 40 feet on the other side.  I thought it was incredibly cool for about 20 seconds until my brain put a few simple facts together: there was already a 6in deep river around my tent and it was still pouring rain.  Gears in my brain spun and a new future clicked into view.  I was screwed.  I quickly decided on a bathingsuit and rain coat and began stuffing electronics into my backpacks.  I filled one load and made a break for the covered picnic tables without bothering to put anything on my feet.  By the time I made it back for a second load my tent had an inch of water and was filling quickly.  I stuffed what clothes I could into my pack, grabbed my sleeping pad and ran for the shelter.  The combination of hail and sharp rocks on the ground made for quite painful running.  My semi-dry things safely piled on a table I finally sat in a shower and spent the next 15 minutes getting feeling back in my throbbing feet.  When I emerged from the showers the rain and hail had both stopped.  Tired and wet, I walked to the porch of the restaurant where I lay on the swing for the rest of the night trying to sleep between crashes of thunder.  Turkey 2, Dylan 0.

 

More of this to come…