Monday, April 26, 2010
US Tour II: Moab, Utah
After Yosemite Valley, the next chapter for us was to head to a Thanksgiving Highline gathering near Moab, Utah, called Gobble Gobble Bitches Yeah 2.
So, we left Yosemite Valley, Brian, Emily and Kornie in one car, Janek, Damian and Jordan in my car. The drive was a bit cold, since my car was heater less, and it was so weighed down with gear that the backside was inches above the ground. Low ridin' times! The road out of Yosemite valley is winding and downhill the entire way. I drove the speed limit, even a bit slower at times, and yet halfway through the winding roads the smell of burning rubber was apparent. No, no, my car could not be failing this early in the trip! So, after the smell gradually grew worse, I finally pulled over to check it out. Sure enough, the brakes were smoking and hot. Shit. I waited for about half an hour until the smoke disappeared and the brakes had cooled, while everyone else sat with raised eyebrows, probably thinking my car was kaputt. So, we continued on south, and once out of the steep descending hills the car drove quite fine. Nevertheless, in Fresno, CA, I stopped at a Auto shop to make sure everything was kosher.
Fresno was a sprawled out American city, full of advertisements, cars and palm trees. But it was hot, and boy were we all ready for some heat! So, it was only $10 for the initial check of the car, and if there was a problem they would quote me. I stayed at the Auto shop to wait with the car, and the other guys left in search of ice cream. An hour later they returned, not with ice cream but Forties! Mmmm, good ol' Mickeys beer. So, we sat on the curb and enjoyed beer in the sun, while the mechanics checked out my car. The mechanic told me there was nothing wrong with my car. What!? Apparently, when you get a brake job, the rotors have to melt to fit, and since my car was weighed down they were just doing all the melting at once. Whew! When I went to get my paperwork and pay for the check, they told me not to worry about the money, that it was all for free. Sweet! The mechanic had even rotated the wheels for free to keep the rotors melting evenly. So, a weight was removed from my shoulders, and the guys finished the beers and we piled into the car. Next destination: Costco for shopping. This is one of those typical American stores that sells everything in Bulk, and you need a membership to shop there. It is a warehouse filled with families, screaming children on the floors, and old people. However, for a group of dirtbags this place is some kind of heaven.
We took two carts and began the shopping, buying huge quantities of things like Macaroni & Cheese, Cliff bars, pasta, sauce, cookies, chocolate, granola, yogurt, etc. The bill was large, but when split between 5 people wouldn't be so bad. We then loaded everything into my trunk (it barely fit!) and headed for Utah.
The drive was long, cold, and snowy. Once we passed into Utah we were driving through mostly mountains, all snowy. The roads were even covered in snow in some places, lightly, but slippery. The sides were huge drop offs, so it was not a good place to slide. The scariest part of the drive was passing Semi-Trucks, trying to go faster then them while staying off the shoulder where most of the snow was. The most amazing thing about driving through Utah, however, is the empty space! There is open land everywhere, and it is rare you pass through any city with large buildings. Open land is a rare sight for me. I drove through the night, and in the morning we stopped in Salinas, Utah for breakfast at the famous American diner, Denny's. I don't like this place, however there was nothing around for miles on end, and we were all hungry and cold. So, we ordered eggs and hash browns, bacon, sausage, and biscuits and gravy. The place was filled with old men in cowboy hats, talking to the waitresses that they knew by name. The Polish guys were not too pleased with the food, and Damian confirmed his belief that food in America sucks. I tried to convince him not to base his opinion off of a Denny's. Funny enough we ran into Brian, Kornie and Emily, who had left hours before us! Apparently they had stopped to sleep. So, we all left from Salinas more or less at the same time.
Finally, we reached Moab. This town is nestled between the Arches National Park and the Canyonlands. All rocks are red and orange and Mars-like. It is beautiful and bizarre all at the same time. We bought some tape at a climbing shop, then headed for the middle of nowhere, which was the meeting place for highlining. I cannot give details for the whereabouts, but I can just tell you it is down a long, long, bumpy, rocky and dusty dirt road. The only sign we had to stop was some other cars parked there. From the cars we could see in the distance some canyons with a highline rigged over it, with some crazy guy attempting back flips. So, we separated the food amongst us, and hiked down through the red sands, living soil, desert juniper trees, and footprints towards the camping spot.
Upon closer evaluation, we saw that the crazy fellow doing back flips was none other than Andy Lewis. Of course!
We also met a few other highliners, but were more focused on getting our camp set up so we could put down our heavy bags. Once everything was set, of course no one could resist the highlines sitting just walking distance away! I was tired as balls, but decided to get on the lines regardless. There were a few lines already up, and we would set up another one. I was inspired watching Janek on all these lines pulling great tricks. There were not very many people at the gathering at first, but the next few days more would come.
So, the next two weeks were spent in a great way! Everyday we would wake up at some point, when we felt like it, eat breakfast casually, then walk to whichever highline we pleased and walk it however many times we pleased. Highline heaven! The weather was quite good to us, cool in the day, but usually sunny, and cold or even freezing at night. But, we had a raging fire every evening.
I helped Janek rig the 60 ft "Chillum" highline, which was good practice for my rigging skills.
Here is the list of highlines (and my performance on them) at the Highland Bowl for Gobble Gobble Bitches Yeah 2:
"The Spliff" 77ft - FM send
"The Bub" 102ft - OS FM send
"The Great Bongzilla" 177ft - HM (1 way) send
"The Chillum" 60ft line - FM & FM in Swami
"Double Trouble Madness" 148ft - FM
Some 25ft line which I did not try...don't know the name...
and in the Fruitbowl, which is a couple kilometers away...
"Fuzzy Peach" - OS FM send
"Wet Beaver" 92ft - OS FM send
The two weeks we were there all meshed together, as each day was just another one spent highlining in the sun.
Many people showed up gradually, and at the peak there was at least 20 people. I also finally got to meet the highliners I had heard of in Europe, and put a face and personality with the name.
Thanksgiving night was spent around a fire, passing around pumpkin and apple pie with a fork, drinking wine from a bag and laughing. It was here that our crew met some people who would be our friends from then on. The fires were fueled partially by desert wood, but mostly by good hard wood that Terry Acomb (the creator and manager of GGBY) who brought it from his home in Fruita, CO. Terry is some character! He is awesome. He's one of the oldest highliners in the sport, but is more like a big kid.
He is one of the guys who found the place in Moab, and with another cool dude named Larry, bolted most of the lines there. Terry likes safety, beefy gear, chain hoists, and beefy leashes.
He also break-tests a lot of gear. In addition to his knowledge, he likes to walk highlines, in his own style. He wears running shoes, jeans, and a button down silk shirt almost everyday, also sporting a bandanna. Terry is awesome at catching the highline, and while we were there sent the 102ft highline for his new personal best. here is also Larry, who lives nearby, and comes to highline with his dog Slack. The thing I remember most about Larry is his neon yellow leash, pretty sweet. We also met Maria from Slackline Brothers, and she was so great in Utah. Hanging out with a bunch of silly kids, filming us highlining, acting so sweet! And, she encouraged us to come visit her in LA after Moab. She also came with Dylan Buffington. This guy is someone everyone should meet.
He has been highlining for years, and he is totally out there and totally unabashed about it. Dylan has an array of stories, from pterodactyl sightings to alien abductions, from his theories about the Zombie-apocalypse to why every family should own 14 guns (it has a lot to do with his zombie theories). Dylan is a great highliner, turning to face the exposure often, and pulling many other impressive tricks.
Once exciting rest day was when Kornie, Jordan and I went with Dylan, Maria and Corrian to shoot guns.
Corrian and Dylan are both from Texas, and brought with them a smorgasbord of guns. I had never shot a real gun in my life, and decided I would rather be educated then uneducated in that field. So, we drove a bit away from the campsite to some rocky formation, unloaded the weapons and ammo and begun our shooting day. Dylan first gave us a safety briefing, taught us how to load each gun, then basically said "so, pick a gun and start!" It was entertaining, to say the least. We shot at cans, boxes, target papers and water bottles. Some of the guns fired so loudly! We had ear protection luckily. I shot a Sig pistol, a 44 cal pistol, a 22 rifle with a hair trigger, an AR 15 military semi-automatic weapon, and some old Annie Oakley style rifle. So that was our rest day. From this, some crazy idea popped into my head: I should walk a highline with a machine gun!
So, Dylan was totally OK with the idea. We returned to camp, and I put on my "Decade of Sobriety" T-shirt, Janek's trucker hat, and brandished the AR 15. We made a mini-leash for the gun just in case I fell. I decided the 60ft line was ideal since it was short. Who would have thought walking with a gun would be so difficult! Granted it is extremely heavy.
It took about 4 tries to cross the line, each time trying to decide if it was better to step off the rock, or do a chongo.
I fell a few times, but caught the line. Dylan was nervous that I would smash his extremely expensive gun on the rock, so I made sure to scoot out far enough for its safety. And No, it was NOT loaded. I'm not stupid ya know ;) However after all this business with the guns, I decided I did not like the feeling of having so much power to kill another human in my hands. Something felt wrong about it. I will stick to highlining.
Another great day was spent fighting on "The Great Bongzilla." Everyone was really eager to walk this line, it was beastly! I fought a lot on this one. I watched as Alpha Mike crossed it,
Andy Lewis crossed it FM, Jerry Miszewski crossed it FM, Janek finally crossed it FM, Jeremy Louis crossed it, and Damian crossed it. But, since it was Jerry's gear, when he left early, it went with him. Janek agreed that we would rig the line again before we took off so I could have another try. At the time, it seemed unreachable. The line was attached to 4 bolts on each side, with Slackstar Distance webbing doubled over and taped. The pulley system was tensioned with a chain hoist. It was so tight, it was difficult to get past the first 10 meters. In the end I was bruised and beaten, but I put up a good fight I think.
The day after that we went to the Fruitbowl, which was some kilometers away, and the location of GGBY the last year. There was 2 lines rigged there, "Fuzzy Peach," and "Wet Beaver." We all walked both lines, and still "Wet Beaver" is probably the most beautiful line we walked in Moab (in my opinion, could be also Jordan's amazing photos of it). After walking we tried to find our cars in the dark, were lost for a little while, and finally found them and drove back to the Highlands Bowl for sleep.
After failing on "The Great Bongzilla," Janek rigged a brand new line that Terry had bolted, which was 45 Meters long. This seemed a bit more reachable, but still longer by about 15 meters then anything I had walked previously. Janek had the first ascent, and named the line "Double Trouble Madness." He also walked in a swami, which was frightening to watch and amazing at the same time. I walked the line after some fighting, and left with some bruises but totally satisfied. It was also some victory because previously the longest line walked by a female was 40 meters (by Libby Sauter), which I had just overcome by walking 45 meters. Kornie and Damian also sent, congratulations to them! Jordan fought long and hard on the line, but eventually had to surrender to exhaustion. This line was beautiful, once of the most asthetic lines in the Highlands Bowl.
In addition to highlining we spent our time trundeling rocks. This is the sport of pushing huge boulders over the edge of the canyons, and watching as they briefly fall before exploding upon contact in a huge cloud of red sand floating in ripples from the wind. It is something so simply satisfying. I almost trundled myself a few times, but survived.
The last couple days there we rigged "The Great Bongzilla" again. I was totally exhausted from almost two weeks of highlining with almost no rest days. I was feeling great about my progress, however. In Moab I had already set myself a new personal best, had walked the 60ft line in a swami (my first swami walk! such a free feeling!) and surfed for the first time on the 77ft line. Plus, it was in Moab that I also realized I was totally in Love. So, I accomplished some things :) But, there was one last goal: To walk the 177ft Bongzilla. We rigged it with Type 18 and White Magic, taped together. This time we tensioned the pulley system with man power, not a chain hoist. So, I fought on the line, and finally, finally walked it! After walking one way I was too tired to finish my FM, and with our lack of time decided to just leave the line as a 1 way send, feeling satisfied, and happy that I had gone from not sending a small highline in July 09 to sending a 54 meter highline by November 09. It was good progress.
After almost two weeks we packed up and headed for Terry's house in Fruita, CO, to rest and shower for a few days before heading to LA.
At Terry's we ended up staying for 3 days. He has a slackline-playground in his yard, with a long chain (really hard to walk!) and a long line that was rigged with tubular webbing, taped to a backup rope, taped to amsteel. So heavy! But I onsighted the line, and had some good fights on the chain. He also had a highline, between a tree and a telephone pole. The line is only about 40ft long, but good practice. The only deterring factor was that it was about 0 degrees F in Fruita. Once you walk Terry's highline, you can sign the telephone pole with your name. He has tons of signatures, some I recognized from the Moab trip. Terry's house is pretty great too. He does not like to do dishes, so he has all paper plates and plastic cups. He has one room devoted to climbing and highlining gear (a very nice room) and his refrigerator consists mostly of Coca Cola. Great guy though, allowing us to stay as long as we liked while we rested before a long drive to Indian Creek.
Finally, we had to head out. Our next stop would be Indian Creek for crack climbing!
Thank you to Jordan Tybon for some of the photos in this post (the most well-taken ones are his, its pretty obvious)