Saturday, 29 August 2009

I woke to find a slightly damp ground that had obviously been drying for a few hours, which filled me with hope that the forecast rain had come and passed. Just like winter lift passes; I had the option of buying a full day or afternoon ticket. I figured I would make around 4 or 5 runs before getting too tired so waited until just after midday to leave the house. Whilst getting ready, I ummmd and aahhhd about what protection I should take, and was very undecided about wearing my Alpine Stars Protection jacket, figuring it might possibly be overkill for what would be a fun day exploring a new run. I wasn’t sure how full body armour was viewed in the cool kids in the MTB world. Would wearing it give me away as a punter before I even got my leg over, or was the space age gladiator look “in” this season?

Normally for me, fashion is everything – I simply can’t leave the house without spending a few hours in front of the mirror, and making sure I’m dressed in the latest Mark McCarthy. However, reason thankfully took a firm hold, and figuring it would perhaps turn the odds back in my favour, dressed myself in plastic and padding from head to toe.

The journey up to the Seegrube mountain station was very enjoyable. From the congress centre in the middle of town, you and your bike are taken to the Hungerberg station, 300m above the clean streets of IBK. From here, you change to a cable-car which whisks you a further 1000m to the Seegrube, allowing you to view almost the entire singletrail – well you can normally but today the trail was invisible, shrouded in thick wet mist!

The fancy new Hungerberg train...

Out of the cable-car, and down the loose gravel road to the start of the run the heavens opened. I stopped at the entry point to check out as far as I could see, and was immediately unsure if I was in the right place. Rather than the fast, well-packed trails leading into sweeping berms I had expected to see, I was faced with steep, loose, rocky steps into steeper and looser right angle bends. Figuring maybe this was just the initial section that leads to the main meat, I cautiously set off. With my arse over the back wheel, I uncomfortably began to ride/slide down the mountain, feeling like I was riding a psychotic mule who was hell bent on throwing me off. He didn’t have to wait long, and after hitting the floor from my first tumble of the day I was incredibly glad for the armour I had almost left at home.

I remembered advice from MTB friends about speed being your friend, and tried to put this into practice, but inevitably, the faster I rode, the harder I hit the floor when I next lost either my balance or the traction under my wheels. Maybe it was just me, but the trail seemed too continuously rough to ride at any sort of speed – and even If I made it through one of the sections, the 90 degree bends every 10 meters, with no burms, soon saw me back on the floor.
After losing count of how many times I went down, I began to see the day as more of an endurance exercise. I had to get to the bottom of the hill and there was only one way to do this (excluding escaping onto the fire road which intersected the single trail at regular intervals, but this was just not cricket!). The trail was now so slippery and steep (did I already mention it was steep?) that it was harder to push the bike down than to ride it. One section at a time was how I tried to focus, and after a while I started to feel like I was improving slightly, only falling once or twice a minute, rather than every few seconds.

Occasionally I came across some north shore’esc structures that I stopped at, checked out from every angle before deciding to attempt them or not. After taking a bit of a smash on the first when I didn’t realise the wet wood would be as slippery as ice, I smartly decided to leave a couple of the more dangerous ones for another day. Out of the ones I did attempt, the ratio of success to failure was about 1:1 and fortunately any injury sustained was minor at worst.
Finally, the epic was almost at an end and I found myself at the final section of the course. A 15ft tabletop led you quickly into a big step up to a wooden platform known as house 2.0. A slight right turn then led you off the other side, over a biggish drop and gap to a steep wooden landing and easy left back onto the trail. I eyed this up a few times and knew this was something I could have ridden back in’t day but was now unsure because of how much energy had been used and how beet up I felt thanks to the last 4km of epic. I decided to leave it and rode out over another section of easy north shore, but then for some reason turned back and clambered up onto the platform with ideas of only riding the drop-off.

House 2.0

Because the platform was quite short, I was a little worried about having enough speed to clear the gap. Paranoid about not going far enough, I idiotically pulled up too hard on the bars as I rode off the lip, putting me on the landing heavily on the back wheel. With no control over direction, I ploughed straight off the ramp, across the trail and into the trees.

Something must have caught on my foot, pulling it off the peddle and bending it backwards, which if nothing else served as an effective brake. Pain shot up my leg, and I scolded myself for being such a tit. As I hobbled around, an uncomfortable few seconds passed when I was unsure if it was broken before realising it was nothing too serious and breathing a big, if a little pain filled sigh of relief.

I rolled the rest of the way to the bike wash at the bottom to give my trusty steed a bit of TLC. On the way down It felt like I had been stung by nettles on the back of my right calf, but I hadn’t bothered to check. It was only as I washed my bike, and took off my shin guards that I saw the blood dripping down my leg. I washed off the bloody muddy mixture with the hose and the cause of the injury was immediately clear, 10 or so punctures in a neat curve, complete with oily residue. It seemed strange to me that there was no pain, and I decided to take advantage of this fact and try to clean the worst of the grease out of the wounds. Turning the nozzle of the hose to create a narrow jet, I pointed it at the worst hole and pulled the trigger. The wound ballooned as it filled with water and the pain came instantly. Summoning the cold face (read Hal Iggulden’s excellent books about Genghis Kahn) I kept the jet there till the water was clear before moving onto the next hole and repeating the process.

The ride back into the city was fun but soggy and eventually I arrived back at the apartment and ran a nice warm bath. Whist soaking , I contemplated the mixed emotions I had felt that day and smiled to myself at how similar they were to feelings felt from climbing and many other sports so many times before. Firstly there was the excitement, then the nerves, then the worry, quickly followed by the “this is shit, what am I doing, I’m going to sell my bike”. Soon after, once you become used to the discomfort, you actually start to enjoy the test, or at least appreciate how it will make you stronger in the long run. Then you get the relief when its almost over, the never again feeling, and finally, a few hours later, the “I can’t wait for the next time”.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

One other recent change has been my return to Mountain Biking. When I was younger, around 13 to 16, I rode quite a lot but as climbing came into my life, my blinkers came down and biking amongst other things was placed to one side. Now I have finally realised that I can’t climb every day (my body just aint built like that) and doing other sports is not a bad thing, quite the contrary in fact. Not only do new sports improve and develop your skill set, but they spread your focus just a little, making you less likely to grow stale from your main obsession.

With lots of ski lifts, and even more steep hills, Innsbruck seemed like the perfect place to re-kindle my puppy love of Freeride and DH. I got really lucky with a fantastic deal on a bike, and it was immediately clear that technology had moved on quite a bit since my last bike. With almost double my previous travel at the front and back, and a whole host of other fancy new things I felt like I would be able to ride off anything without a worry. These delusions of grandeur continued as I watched a host of the latest mountain biking films and found myself thinking the humungous drops, gaps and other gnarly terrain “didn’t look too bad!”

You see, one of my character traits (I refrain from using the word strength or weakness here) is my desire to be as good as I can, as fast as I can; in other words, my impatience to go through the learning process. If I see someone doing something, then I immediately imagine I should be able to do the same or similar if I just try hard enough. Even though I know deep down the amount of years it takes to achieve a moderate, let alone excellent performance level, in my minds eye I can still see myself there, and this can sometimes present a problem.

Generally I think that pushing yourself is a very productive and positive way to live your life. It certainly beats lazing it out, watching yourself grow old and fat; and the more people that push themselves towards excellence, the more excellent the human race will become as a whole, which is surely a good thing? However, real life is not always as simple as the hypothetical version, and more often than not, other necessary responsibilities prevent these sorts of actions.
My problem, if you can call it that, is that I am paid to climb; not to bike, not to ski, not to lecture on black-hole thermodynamics or to sell the latest in women’s frilly lingerie, but to climb rocks to the best of my ability. This relies heavily on having a working body, and I should always have this as one of my top priorities when practicing other potentially dangerous sports, which often leaves me in a bit of a pickle...

Standing at the top of a roll in I have the proverbial devil and angel on my shoulders. I know what I need to do and I can see the drop being ridden in my mind’s eye. I play it back over and over, trying to figure out all the possible points it could go wrong and what I can do to avoid them. I think I can probably stick it, but there is certainly a chance it could go wrong and maybe I’m not skilled enough to get out of any sticky situations that could occur. If I don’t try, how will I ever improve, but is that alone a good enough reason for stacking it hard? I would be proud of myself for succeeding, but what’s worse, a dent in my pride or in my body?

All I can do is weigh up the odds and make a calculated decision, or failing that listen for that little voice inside, hoping that he’s screaming loud enough for me to hear.

Tomorrow I am going to take my bike to the top of a big hill to ride the Nordketten Singletrail, which is described on their website as “one of Europe’s steepest, longest and
most difficult mountain bike descents”. The trail is 4.9 km long and from what I can gather it’s really steep; it pretty much follows the natural slope of the mountain, right underneath the gondola. Various sections of North Shore dot the way and I am pretty excited about these, having never ridden anything like it before. I just really hope the forecast rain doesn’t come as I imagine things could get a little slippery, making those all important odds even harder to predict 

Monday, 24 August 2009

It’s been 10 days since I arrived in Innsbruck and boy has it been busy. I want to spend my time in Austria exploring my potential by mainly working on my weakness, which is sport climbing. I hope that if I can improve my endurance to a “respectable” level, projects will become significantly more attainable when I move back to the UK and my beloved, early next year.

Keith and I quickly set up a few ground rules to make sure our new regime would be as successful as possible. These include the concepts of “there is no such thing as a rest day” and “river tickets for unsatisfactory performance”. To explain in a little more detail, every day must be spent doing something active and beneficial to the goal. This is normally climbing, but when sore skin etc does not allow, then running, mountain biking, break dancing etc can take its place. In any of these activities, if your performance is less than satisfactory then you must get fully submerged in the (glacial fed) rivers running through the various valleys before returning home. The level you deem satisfactory will increase in-line with your standards in each discipline and is always set a little on the stern side.

I have now visited quite a few areas and climbed some amazing routes. Days normally involve warming up then flashing/onsighting, before redpointing any quick projects and moving on to trying long term goals. I think this is quite an effective way to spend my days as I am working on improving many different aspects of climbing, and in doing so I hope not becoming too shit at any aspect either. Having said that, I definitely feel weaker in a bouldering sense than I have in the past. Moves on some of the harder routes are actually really tough, to the extent that there are a couple of routes I am yet to climb from bolt to bolt. I guess this could partly be due to conditions, with temperatures rising some days to the upper 30’s. But this is more than likely and easy excuse, and come November I think I will be dropping back into Boulder mode with serious gusto.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

I feel like almost every time I start a blog, I have to apologise for how shit I have been at writing since my last post. I have been uncomfortable with this repetitiveness for a little while now and so whilst on my last road trip, possibly somewhere in the south of France, I decided that even if I couldn't get regular Internet access, I would still write a new post every day and then post the relevent sectins at my earliest opportunity.

Internet turned out to be a rare luxury, or perhaps I was just too lazy to find it, but either way I began to develop quite a back catalogue of blog posts just waiting for the chance to be set free. The trials and tribulations of Ceuse, being locked in an exclusive gentlemans club in Chamonix, and my first taste of my amazing new home cliffs in Austria were all in there, in glorious techni-emotive detail, but then disaster struck.

Perhaps such perfectly constructed prose was never meant to be read, or maybe I am just an incompetent idiot, but fate dealt a vicious blow and my words disappeared forever. Whilst moving and resizing the partitions on my laptop hard drive to make room for a new operating system, I accidentally formatted the drive to leave nothing but an empty space.

I did think about trying to re-write the posts,but somehow the the act felt like it would be trying to pull something back from the memories that were meant to stay just that. What I did decide to do was to write a few short articles about my summer vacations (because there is now more than one) that will be published along with photos on the Wild Country website over the next month or so.

Anyway, The last few weeks have been spent in Mallorca with Emily and a collection of other wonderful people. Firstly was Em's Father Bob and his partner Dale, who we accompanied on their boat for a weeks sailing on the south coast. Just when the relaxing, sun bathing, good food and wine started to become too much, it was time for the next leg of our trip to begin - DWS dirtbag style!

Well that was the plan, but we were kindly invited to stay with my friend Neus and her boyfriend Lorenz in there gorgeous apartment in Palma. I first met Neus almost 1 year ago on the Red Bull Psicobloc trip and we immediately clicked. Since the trip, she has opened up her own Tattoo Studio which allows her to practice her love of creative graphic design in a very interesting way, a love which is super evident when you take a look at the walls of her apartment. So if your are in Porto Pollenca, and feel like a Tattoo,stop in and say hi.

Neus and Lorenz were incredible hosts and really pulled out all the stops, even lending us a cool car to drive to the crags in. If I had a pound for every time I said this, I would be a moderately wealthy gent, but one of the best things about traveling is spending time with loads of different people, seeing how they look at the world and just enjoying time.

I hope that when friends come to stay with me, they will leave with the same feelings as I did after leaving Neus and Lorenz. But in leaving a situation, you inevitably move towards a new one, and we (now teamed up with Jo Staden) were heading towards a small and tranquil woodland near Cala sa Nau where we had leftout tent and other belongings a few days before.
Unfortunately, after a long and tiring day at the crag, on returning to the camp our tent was no longer there! Darkness and tiredness did not help with the confusion but I knew the one thing that needed to be done was give Em's brother Robin (who also happened to be on the island) the lift to his new hotel we had promised earlier. The time was approaching 10pm, and the journey should take around 2 hours, so Emily set off in the hire car (Nips) while Jo and I tried to find a place for us to doss for the night.

2 hours turned to 3, 3 turned to 4, and still there was no sign of Emily. My phone was out of battery so I couldn't call her and I began to get a little worried, feeling particularly helpless as all I could do was wait. At 2am, a little light walked into camp, carrying a big box of pizza,and all in the world was right again. Well, almost...

We still had no tent, and the paranoia about who or what took it made sleep difficult to find and short lived when you did. Waking a little after first light, we re-packed Nips with all our worldly belongings and headed off to find the breakfast and coffee we hoped would make us feel human again.

After a morning at Diablo, which was unproductive to say the least, we decided to cut our losses and drive to Robins hotel for a chilled afternoon and an early night, sleeping on his floor. With such a simple plan, its hard to imagine where things could go wrong but midnight found us wandering the streets of ???? slightly drunk and in search of a good time.

If we found them at all ,the good times were shortlived at best and soon domestic bliss came crashing down all around us. At first Em, Jo and I tried to be mediators, but as the hours passed by and light started to show on the horizon we grudgingly accepted defeat and went to sit in the car, just waiting for it all to be over. By 8am,things were still looking bleak, and with no sleep in the bank, we cut our losses and drove to S'Horta for our pre-arranged appointment with wonderful person number 5.

Like Neus, I had first met the legend that is Miguel on the Red Bull trip last year and I remember any time spent with him being both amusing and informative,and often ending in nakedness. I had caught up with miguel a few times already this trip,but this time he had arranged to meet us to try to track down our tent.

We arrived in S'horta at around 9.30am feeling similar to a lot of "mornings after the night before" back home but without any of the good memories. The sun was hot, and the shade cast by some trees over the town square looked very inviting so became our psudo-beds for the next hour. When Miguel arrived at 10.30, he had already been to the Guardia Civil and the Policia Local but neither knew anything. He then took us to speak to a boy scout camp that was fairly close to where we had pitched, but again, nothing.

With the hope of a logical explanation fading rapidly, it seemed almost certain that the tent had been stolen a day or so before we returned. Off again we trotted again to the Guardia to report it missing, and Miguel again came to the rescue, acting as translator between myself and the officer, as my Spanish is less than perfect to say the least. The process seemed to take an age, which was not helped by the re-curing nauseous feeling that insisted on rearing its ugly head at regular intervalsbut eventually we finished and headed off with Miguel to look at some of the islands bouldering and a few places he thought might be nice for Em and Jo to sleep.

After an amazing lunch in a very traditional Mallorcan restaurant, we organized the bomb site which was the back of Nips, and took a quick look at the picturesque bouldering area he had brought us to, in a pine forest overlooking the sea. The area was really peaceful, a perfect place for a chilled days climbing and a great place to sleep. Unfortunately my time in Mallorca had come to an end and I would soon be leaving Em and Jo to fend for themselves. After gathering my things there was just time for a quick kiss and a cuddle before Miguel's last good deed of the day in driving me to the airport.

Tonight I arrive in Innsbruck Austria which will most likely be my home for the next 6 months. During this time I hope to achieve many things, one of which will be to re-invent myself as a sport climber, or at least a sport climber of sorts. An improvement in my fitness would only be a good thing and would certainly help with the trad projects I have back in the UK for spring/summer 2010!