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Monday, February 13, 2012

Slackline compilation 2011

Finished editing a little compilation of slacklife last year:

Saturday, February 11, 2012

California Coast, the best thing since sliced bread

Our trip in Joshua Tree was supposed to last for a week, then Roxanne, Matt and myself would drive back to Tuscon and Austin, and return to the daily grind of life; work. My budget was about as slim as an anorexic and Matt had school, so it was pretty certain we would stick to our plan, however good times and friendly persuasion can go a long way.

It started simply enough, we had formed some kind of awesome crew with Alisha, Andrew and Dave, three rad Californians who liked doing dirtbag things with us; climbing, highlining, camping, surfing, living the life straight cruising, one might say. Dave was back in LA, and I needed to stop in Redlands anyways, so after meeting up at the Desert Hot Springs Spa and having interesting conversations with old wrinkly spa-goers and crazy not-funny-slightly-racist comedians in the sauna, we headed for In-n-Out to gorge our shrunken stomachs on American cuisine in it's finest. We all felt good and refreshed, having our first showers in over a week plus belly's full of cardiac-arrest-causing burgers, so our spirits were high and prime for being convinced further adventures lay ahead.

Alisha's wallet had mysteriously disappeared, and we all tried to come up with a scapegoat from Joshua Tree, wondering which shady dirtbag would have the nerve to pull such a stunt. So, we agreed to follow them to LA and spend one night before we headed back to Austin. We all crashed at Dave's parents lovely home in Pasadena, and he took us out on the town to little tokyo where we sang our hearts out at a tiny karaoke bar, much to the dismay of the Japanese regulars who  could actually hold a note. The next day ensued with discussion of whether the Texas crew could follow Alisha and Andrew up the coast to find some more monkey adventures. Matt was down, he just wanted to surf. I was down, but my wallet was not; and Roxanne had just graduated so she probably would have driven to Canada if it was an option. We parted ways while I ran errands at 5.10 and Alisha and Andrew headed north. Our monkey instincts prevailed; we called them and got directions, and in the evening began our drive.

The sun set before we started along the coast, so we missed the views up until San Luis Obispo, where we crashed at Nathan Huerta's house, a fellow highliner. The backyard was a lovely comfortable patch of grass, and we utilized it well, sleeping late (accept for Matt who ended up with the sun on his face bright and early). The next day we continued north, with surfing and Big Sur in mind. It was my second time in San Luis Obispo, but the first time I could see it in daylight. It is a quaint sort of college town, with old houses and surrounding landscape beautifully laid out with rolling hills, farmland, big tree's and rocks to climb and highline on. We drove for hours, jamming to good tunes and soaking in the views.

They call that drive the most beautiful for a reason; breath taking is the least I could say. The ocean hangs left the entire way, with colorful foliage and landscape on the right.

We stopped at a beach famous for fat elephant seals; a tourist destination where the squirrels are as friendly as Jehovahs Witnesses on your doorstep. I could tell it worked, if you want to see squirrel obesity that is the place. Speaking of obesity, we walked from the parking lot to the boardwalk and watched as the fat seals lay in the sun, flipping sand on themselves, barely moving like fat piles of lard. Some males were fighting, and nearby a pack of seagulls hounded a seal who screamed at them and charged. I used to think seals were cute, but that scene just looked grotesque, and a little too human. It was cool though.

Finally we arrived in Big Sur. Now the coastline hugging the ocean was a series of huge hills and deep ravines, rolling and topped with forest. It was beautiful, landscape I had never seen.

We followed our friends up a winding road and stopped just in time to see the sun dip behind the horizon of the ocean, which looked endlessly dark and powerful from atop those hills.

Our night was windy but we managed to build a fire in a clearing which stayed mild. We took a long walk up the hill and back. Friends who came with us from San Luis Obispo cooked us delicious food, and we downed a bottle of alcohol-free tequila. You read that right. We slept among the leaves underneath branches and sky, and it was good sleep.

The next morning we packed up and headed out. We stopped later on at another beach called Pfiffer, one which is 'off limits' to tourists but beautiful nonetheless, with super secret ninja highline written all over it.

When we finally arrived in La Selva, we were all psyched for surfing and borrowed gear from Andrew, headed down to the beach and got in. I was thankful to borrow a wetsuit that fit, and for my first experience I can say - holy shit they are warm! Feet, hands and head might go numb, but my booty was cozy in that thing! I took out a longboard with no leash and no experience, paddled out and began my thrilling and abusive relationship with waves.

The Texas coast is like kindergarten compared to the California coast, and I was so psyched I lost track of time and how many smashes to the face I received from waves. Eventually Andrew came out and tried to help me, but after some time we saw a fin in a wave nearby. My experiences in the ocean have been mostly in the Gulf, so I had no clue what to think. Andrew suggested we get out. That was the fastest paddling I had done all day, and when I arrived back on sand he informed me it was only a dolphin. Idiot Faith! I could hardly balance on still ground, so I decided it was probably better to stop since I had been in the water for 2 hours and we had a week ahead of us. Roxanne would take the next morning shift with the board, so we spread out our camp, built a fire, roasted hot dogs and had a proper beach night.

The next days were spent surfing (or trying to) and checking out the bridge on the beach; a rusted out tressle begging for a highline.

Finally we devoted a day to rigging the first highline on La Selva Beach. We sorted out the highline gear we needed, then Andrew and I scaled the rusty old bridge (easy climbing besides the risk of tetnis) and began wrapping the beams with tree wear. I had a GoPro on to document the historical establishment, and things were going well until First Response showed up, a gung-ho blonde who decided shouting at us and telling us the police were coming was the appropriate way to behave. We tried to remain civil, but  I really do not understand why humans lose their humanity as soon as they begin a career of any authoritative position! She could have nicely asked us what we were doing, first of all, and then informed us that we were not allowed to, instead of acting crazy and angry from the get go. Alas, the life of a slackliner is filled with angry people with badges.

We stopped our process and came down, explained to her what we were doing, and that there were no signs stating anything related to trespassing. She flipped her mood 360 degrees and started acting chummy with us. Some lady had apparently called the Police and stated that "kids were climbing the bridge." Naturally the big boys rolled in with their SUV and thrust back shoulders, little did they know my GoPro was on the conversation the entire time. The chief was a polite asshole, asking ridiculous questions then putting me down when I tried to explain slacklining. He was on the swat team, he "plays with bombs for a living." So, at the end he told us that he could not tell us not to do the highline, but that we shouldn't try and do it again that day. Thanks for permission on camera, Mister Officer!

We returned the next time earlier in the day, with Eric Rasmussen to help rig and rage. He took the far side, and we scrambled up the bridge again with a plan. Our friends were the look outs, ready to alert us if they saw shady old women on the phone or the popo.

I was paranoid, but we managed to rig the line and Andrew took the first ascent, it was his home town after all. It was a beautiful spot; not only the post industrial look of the rusty beams but the ocean next to us, waves crashing, surfers ripping, and sky. Juxtaposed, they created a beautiful urban highline.

 Eric got on the line and raged, walking back and forth doing every trick out there, giving me plenty of time to run around the beach trying to snap as many memories as possible.

I knew I would solo the line before we rigged it, and after several walks in an ankle leash I felt ready. It was something around 60-70 feet long, and on type-18 and aeon backup it felt soft and dynamic. I soloed it, felt the power of the ocean, the atmosphere, the friends nearby and my own focus, and it was one of the most enjoyable solo's I've ever done. 

So, no cops, only sending, raging and beautiful weather and good people. What more could a highliner ask for?

A huge thanks to Dave, his parents, Nathan, his roommates, Andrew and his parents for hosting us, and to all the monkeys who made this trip so rad. See you guys next time!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Apocalypse in Joshua Tree

After Moab the rest of my team (Jordan and Janek) returned to Europe to work. I stayed on, planning to spend some time at home and somehow make my way to Joshua Tree to spend the 3rd new year's in a row.  I was not sure if it would be possible, financially, however a determined dirtbag can make anything happen.

Rambo, our janky Honda Civic, had seen better days but was still plugging along. At the last minute I made plans with a friend, Matt Donahue, to drive up to Tuscon and continue on to Joshua Tree in his slightly more reliable truck. I scrounged jobs in Austin to earn enough for gas and food for a one week stint  in one of my favorite desert areas. I knew there would be a huge crew of slackliners there that year, and it was fun that could not be missed! I was disappointed to go alone without my team, however balance beckoned, and I answered.

A few days before I was supposed to leave, a childhood friend, Roxanne, had recently graduated and expressed interest in going with me. She had a brand new SUV which would take us all the way and back with no problems. Roxanne had never dirtbagged, climbed or slacklined, but was eager enough to try it all. We made a plan, packed up and headed out. What luxury! Driving this car was like floating on a cloud, I could barely feel how fast we were driving. It was great to have a friend to talk to as well, and we had 3 years of life to catch up on.

We stopped in Tuscon for a night and slept on Matt's couches, in the morning packed the rest of the gear and continued on. I am constantly thankful for my multitudes of gear when I have to use my ropes to secure bags or crashpads to the top of vehicles.

We arrived in the nighttime, finding The Pit the same as always, with good ol' Phil still enjoying his white wine by a campfire made of wood someone donated from a remodel job. We met a few new faces, opened our own wine then eventually slept next to the fire on the sandy rug.

The next morning we drove into the park to search for a campsite, a difficult mission considering New Years was two days off. We found the German crew (Lukas Irmler, Christian Krr and Alex Schulz) along with Brian Mosbaugh and his girlfriend. Next to their site we lucked out when a large group left and we swooped in with a crew of new friends in their prius. New Years at Hidden Valley is the only place to be. Over the next few days many old friends and new would show up.

The next couple days were spent bouldering and poaching highlines that the Germans rigged.

As usual a long pause from climbing left my skin and muscles weak, but I was happy to be breaking myself in all over again. We scrambled up to the Cave Corridor lines and hung out with a large crew on top.

Big Boy, my previous longest line and the previous world record highline (two years ago) hung heavily at 67 meters (220 feet) with Strong II and a backup rope. It had been sent repeatedly by the Germans, but I felt extra pressure to send it since I had only walked it one direction before. I fell a couple times, but managed to walk the direction previously unsent. I could feel the fatigue of the drive, the climbing and the late night fire talks in every shake of my body, however I tried to send back. The trembles were uncontrollable, and I fought with every step. Three quarters of the way across, my body gave in before my mind, and I whipped unintentionally for the first time in two years. I attempted to catch the line slightly, merely slapping it with my hand and then hitting the back of my ear before rolling ribs-first around the leash. Ouch. Besides breaking my unintentional whipper sabbatical, everyone who was watching decided to make a big deal out of it. I guess seeing me whip is an unusual sight, and no one would allow me to forget it. Despite that walk, I sent the 90' line in a belt loop swami, helped Roxanne ascend and descend, and met a photographer who wished to sell some photos of me to Patagonia.

Overall, I now could say I walked Big Boy both directions, tick that one off the list!

New Years commenced with a night at the Chasm of Doom; the tight passageway through a pile of boulders that remains a traditional adventure to be had in Joshua Tree. The point is to go with a group, no lights whatsoever, and maneuver your way through various tunnels until arriving on top of the boulder pile for a celebratory safety meeting before descending back through the passageways and back to a warm campfire, if you are lucky. Many a down jacket has been sacrificed in this chasm, but it remains fun every time. This year was interrupted by a group of city folk who came in fifteen all with headlamps atop their heads. They passed our group, rudely, and continued to bombard us with light despite our requests to let us enjoy it the way it is supposed to be enjoyed. We referred to them as the "Light People," and made sure to blame anything unsavory that happened around Hidden Valley on them as a whole for the rest of our trip. After four hours of scrambling, hearing the count down in a dark passageway and almost roughing up the light people, we trekked back to camp where the fire was dim but alight. Cheap champagne was passed around, but New Years remained timid. Roxanne and I were happy to finally retire to our crash pad bed next to the fireside.

Climbing felt better with ropes, and along with Dave and our new friends Alisha and Andrew we were able to do some great routes.

Another day we headed over to Thin Wall where Andrew and I both lead our first trad climbs; easy 5.7's that were short but mixed and allowed for various placements.

Because of the easy grade it was not the challenge I had imagined, however it was fun to place gear, figure out which was the best, and know that my own safety was up to me. I lead two routes next to each other. Roxanne did really well toproping, and by the time the sun set we all left satisfied.

Most of the time I spent highlining this year was in the area known as Hemingway. It is nearby Hidden Valley campground, and home to some of the most aesthetic highlines in the park. I rigged the 100 foot Hemingway highline with Andrew Craig and Alex Schulz, with my favorite mix of type-18 and aeon as backup. I love the Hemingway area because it has 360 degrees of beautiful Joshua Tree views.

While we sent the line the German crew rigged "Ranger Danger," a line I established in the park the year before. At 56 meters it is quite challenging. Andrew sent the Hemingway line OS FM, and later even walked it in a 'super progressive' spandex outfit!

Dave also came up and raged the line. He sent as gracefully and freely as a beautiful butterfly! 

I walked the line again this year in a swami belt. It felt great to feel confident, though the year before I had walked it in an ankle leash, so I could tell that my level was not where it once was. Alisha also got on the highline, and though it was quite long for a beginner, had some great moments just standing and feeling it. 

There was a big crew of slackliners on top of the rocks, and it was great to see so many people raging!

Roxanne had never slacklined much before our trip, but I was determined to get her to Tyrollean across a highline. Ranger Danger seemed like a good choice given it's length and exposure, so I hooked her up and she zipped across!

Besides rigging and walking, the weather was perfect for noon-time naps and laziness.

On the third day, with the craving for a new line, I rigged "Mustache Mania," a 69' line on two small peaks next to Ranger Danger and Hemingway Highline. It was completely on natural protection, and with the Germans help the line was up quite quickly. One side had a slung knob, with the sling wrapping around another peak as a directional, while the other side was a small boulder wrapped backpack-style with slings. We backed this anchor up to a bigger boulder nearby the other lines, since the the rock was not connected. It was a perfect line, exposed in both directions. On threaded tubular, it felt like the good ol' days. I sent the line OS FM Ankle Leash. 

I had a creeping feeling that I wanted to solo the new line, and finally after several walks in an ankle leash, learning the feel of the line, becoming comfortable with the exposure and my abilities, I went for it. The feeling is unbeatable. 

I love establishing a new line and watching everyone send it. It is a beautiful thing about highlining; sharing the experience. 

Finally our time in Joshua Tree came to a close. I was sad to leave, this desert is a magical place that feels like home every time I return. Thanks to global warming us slackliners and climbers had the best winter weather we could imagine, warm and sunny. Our campsite had become some kind of weird rosetta stone, and besides the strange yoga-Matt guy who came and weirded us all out, everyone else seemed to be really rad. Mustaches and temporary tattoos continued to be a theme, and though our trip was supposed to end there, it was really only the beginning. 

 Thank you to everyone who made this trip one of the best in my life!