Toronto – top 8 first impressions

“Instead of trying to make your life perfect, give yourself the freedom to make it an adventure, and go ever upward.” ~Drew Houston

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Nathan Phillips Square

It’s been a while since I’ve put finger to keyboard and shared a piece of my writing with the general public, but, after a bit of a break, I’m back and in a brand new city. Last fall my partner, Zeke and I made the very difficult decision for him to take a work contract in Toronto. We are very established in Vancouver, our lives, friends and families are there and as climbers, we love our mountains and boulders there oh so much. Leaving one of the nature meccas of Canada for the concrete jungle which is Toronto did not appeal to us in the least. But, sometimes life has other plans for you. Sometimes you have to take big risks and it’s never easy and it’s always scary.

Zeke went ahead of me and spent five weeks in Toronto before I joined him there after Christmas so he had a little bit of a feel for the city, but this past month we’ve really started to experience it together in a whole new way, so I wanted to share my first impressions of Canada’s largest city and how we’ve fared so far.

Here are my top 8 first impressions of the ‘Ront, as his oldest daughter calls it.

  1. People are really friendly here. Like Canadian friendly, eh?

On the West Coast there is a serious bias against Toronto. We all like to gloat over our “warm” winters, our gorgeous scenery and just being the cool, chill ones on the hippy West Coast. We think of Torontonians as snobs who are caught up in the hustle and bustle of big city life and have disdain for everyone else. Well, I’m here to tell you – guys, we were WRONG. Torontonians are REALLY nice. Like in a “how can they be this nice and live in a big city?” kind of way. I’m constantly surprised by the general politeness and manners and geniality of 95% of people I encounter throughout my days. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a big city and with that comes the general edge and intensity of living in such close quarters with millions of people. I’m not saying everyone on the street will stop and say hello (and that would freak me out anyway), but honestly, I feel like it is possible here. Vancouverites – we have a thing or two to learn from these guys. I love Vancouver folks, I’m from there for goodness sake, but man, people can be really rude and cold back home sometimes. It often catches me off guard. Once you get to Vancouver Island things chill out, but in Vancouver there is a coldness that I don’t fully understand, and it has nothing to do with the climate.

So, it was a delightful surprise when just yesterday on the subway here a pregnant woman got on the train and immediately three people jumped out of their seats to give her a seat. In Vancouver I’ve seen a pregnant woman with two kids in her arms get on a bus and no one moved an inch. Not sure what gives, but I’m giving Toronto a big old Canadian pat on the back for proving that the friendly Canadian stereotype really does exist for a reason. Also, no one in Toronto thinks badly of Vancouverites (as far as I know) – they only have good things to say about Vancouver and the West Coast when they do mention it at all. So, there you go. These are my experiences anyway as a Caucasian 30-something woman.

2. Transit here is pretty bad for such a big city. 

 

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Toronto’s streetcars – you get on and off in the middle of the street. So bizarre and a little scary. It’s amazing more people aren’t hit by cars, but it’s likely due to the fact that traffic crawls in Toronto.

Wow – this one blows me away. Vancouver you beat Toronto here, and I never thought I’d say that. Canada’s largest city has a population of 2.8 million (over 5 million if you include Greater Toronto), making it the 5th most populous city in North America and yet it only has two subway lines. That’s right – two. Um? Am I missing something here? When the place you’re going is on the subway line and the subway isn’t delayed or broken (which, so far is pretty rare) then it’s great, but the moment one of the subway lines shuts down, or is delayed – you’re kind of stuck. Toronto also has trams and buses of course, but the trams move at about the same speed as someone walking. One of the things that makes me laugh the most is when I Google travel times across the city and the walking time ends up being maybe five minutes slower than transit, tops. This happens all the time. So, I have been walking the city a lot, which is a great way to discover new cities anyways and I would recommend walking as much as you can here. Don’t trust transit. And I know I’m not just being a whiny West Coaster (who has also lived in Hamburg, Germany where transit is beyond anything anyone in North American can even imagine) here because I’ve talked to Torontonians who say this is the biggest embarrassment to Toronto and something the city has been working on for decades. I wonder when it will change? If ever?

 

3. Toronto winter is pretty warm. At least so far.

 

I was preparing myself for a -30, oh my god I want to die Canadian winter here. I bought a super warm wool coat, spent a million years (it felt like anyway) finding good boots, bought mittens, asked my family and friends for scarves and toques and everything you can think of. Zeke and I were terrified of how cold it was going to get. I survived four New Brunswick winters by the skin of my teeth and was not looking forward to that again. But guess what? For the last month the weather has been better than Vancouver winter. As in, it’s been above freezing and has hardly rained for almost a month. We had three cold days, I believe, and when it does get cold here it’s really the wind that’s the worst culprit, but in general, it’s been downright balmy. To the point that I really would like a snow dump. I really would like a day where I feel like a true Canadian. I know, I know….be careful what you wish for. I’ll report back in February on this one folks. I may be eating my words, or not being able to eat them because I’m wearing a balaclava.

 

 

4. Toronto has the best drinking chocolate I have ever tasted in my life.

 


SOMA Chocolatemakers folks. Have you ever had a shot of intense, chili-chocolate goodness that made you feel like all was well with the world and you could suddenly climb a mountain and sing for joy? That’s what SOMA drinking chocolate shots are like. Pure joy. I’ve had to limit myself to one a week now (um, which sometimes ends up being three times). Every day was becoming a bit dangerous for my “mostly healthy” lifestyle. Although if I ever do run a marathon, I’m having 20 drinking chocolates the following week. Check them out: www.somachocolate.com

5. The TIFF is my favourite place in Toronto so far.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zeke and I are both huge film buffs and back home we (along with his parents and often his kids) are regulars at all the cinemas in Vancouver but we particularly love the VIFF (aka the Vancouver International Film Festival/Vancity Theatre.) When Zeke’s company booked our accommodation downtown Toronto we didn’t really know what to expect but were happily surprised to find out that we were a three minute walk from the TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival)/ TIFF Bell Lightbox Cultural Centre. As much as we love the VIFF (and we do – those seats!) it’s hard to compare its one screen and one lounge area to it’s big brother out East. The TIFF in its current location was opened in 2010, has five stories, five screens, a film reference library, galleries, a gift shop, a cafe, workshops, a lovely restaurant (LUMA) on the second floor and an equally lovely lounge right next to the restaurant which is open to the public, and also happens to be my favourite place to write so far. It’s pricey, but since it’s a public space you don’t have to buy anything in order to hang out there. It’s a gorgeous spot and I have to say, it’s pretty freakin’ great (pinching self). And of course the programming at the TIFF is top notch. We arrived just in time to catch some films in Canada’s Top 10 Film Festival and felt lucky to be at two screenings with the directors in house. There is something special about festivals – there is a feeling of sharing experiences with others, appreciating the arts and the work and passion that goes into indie films and having a much more personal connection to the films since the directors are often at the screenings. So that was a pretty special way to start our TIFF experience. We look forward to many more films to come and discovering the film scene and other great indie cinemas in Toronto in general.

 

 

6. There is no nature here. Or anything green. At all.


Yes, I know it’s the middle of winter and yes, I know I’m in a big city, and yes, this is Eastern Canada, but I am missing nature, the mountains, trees , or anything green in a big way right now. Toronto is one giant mass of brick and concrete, skyscrapers, old buildings and just a whole lot of grey. Even getting down to the lakefront isn’t simple and in the middle of winter it’s not even really that appealing. We’ve heard that when it does snow (we’re still waiting…and waiting) you can cross-country ski on Toronto Island, which does sound fun, but so far, nada. So, in desperation yesterday I googled “indoor gardens in Toronto” and luckily found a list: www.blogto.com. We did manage to get out to the Allan Gardens Conservatory on the weekend, which is open seven days a week and is free to the public and it was a lovely little splash of green, flowers and plants. I’ll be sure to report back on the other gardens soon.

7. Toronto has a ping pong night club. And it’s kinda awesome.

 


 

We live just around the corner from SPiN, Toronto’s hipster ping pong nightclub. Yes, I said that right. Apparently the first one was established in New York (I’m guessing Brooklyn) and soon someone had the brilliant idea to open one up in Toronto. Imagine 12,000 square feet filled with balls flying, beer drinkin’, tables a tappin’ and people a laughin’ and that’s pretty much SPiN. We tried it for the first time last week and only booked half an hour, but it was great. You get an individual table, a huge basketful of ping pong balls, and sweepers who come around to collect all the balls so that you….get this…NEVER HAVE TO PICK UP A BALL. Okay, for anyone who has ever played ping pong that is the most annoying part of it, right? It’s worth it to come to SPiN for that reason alone. Of course, with great ball collecting comes a great old price tag and this is no cheap, drop-in community centre price. It’s a night club after all. The prices are as follows:

GENERAL PUBLIC:
$22.12 PER HOUR
$11.06 PER HALF HOUR

WALK-IN RATES AFTER 5PM

GENERAL PUBLIC:
$35.40 PER HOUR
$17.70 PER HALF HOUR

There are also memberships available which make the hourly rates much cheaper and give you all sorts of other perks too, but I’m not sure of the prices. In any case, for a casual ping pong nerd like myself, this place is pretty darn fun. We’ve been told that once the evenings hit it starts to feel like an actual nightclub (I can only imagine trying to clean up the balls after a bunch of drunk people have been playing all night), so if you are a “serious” ping pong player come during the day. We saw kids there too so apparently they are allowed in even though they serve alcohol. Maybe Ontario has different liquor laws? It wouldn’t surprise me.

8. There is an all women spa in Toronto that is my new heaven on earth.

 

Okay, so I said that the TIFF was my favourite place in Toronto, but the only reason it wins out over Body Blitz Spa is because I can’t take Zeke here. And you know, I love movies. I’m telling you if Body Blitz Spa started screening indie films, I may just set up camp and never leave. Oh right, and if they let me dress Zeke as a woman and bring him in.

As a “welcome to Toronto” and “I’m sorry for making you move to Eastern Canada in the middle of winter” Christmas gift, Zeke gave me a gift certificate to Body Blitz Spa which is a women only space with therapeutic waters. There is a large salt pool, a smaller Epsom salt pool, a cold salt water pool, a sauna, a steam room, and full spa services on site. There are two locations in the city but I booked mine for Body Blitz West on Queen Street. You can book time at the spa to just use the waters, but it is quite pricey at $60 a pop. Zeke booked me a 60 minute massage with a registered massage therapist and with that came use of the pools. You can arrive 90 minutes prior to your appointment to enjoy the waters and then I also used them afterwards. The staff were welcoming and professional and they let you know right away that you are in a clothing optional zone and the use of cell phones is strictly prohibited for obvious reasons. The banning of cell phones for privacy had an added bonus of creating a serene, social and relaxed atmosphere in the baths themselves. In terms of the percentage of nudity to clothed (as in bathing suits) I would say it was about 50/50. The main thing was – it didn’t matter and no one cares so do whatever feels good to you.

I was lucky enough to be able to go during a weekday and that’s what I would recommend if you can. When I was leaving the spa at about 4:30 it started to get crazy busy and apparently that’s what it’s like most evenings and weekends. They have a large poster on the wall which tells you the recommended order for the therapeutic waters and I actually suggest following it (although it really doesn’t matter) to get the full effect. I ended up skipping out on the steam room because I couldn’t handle the heat and get claustrophobic, but later my RMT told me that it’s totally doable if you put a cold towel around your face when you’re in there. Next time!

So, as I began the circuit I became more and more relaxed until I’m pretty sure I melted right into the pool after my massage. It was a stressful first couple of weeks in Toronto and a huge adjustment for me and this was just the thing to bring me back to myself. I loved being surrounded by women in a women-friendly environment and the waters were honestly super healing. As I have learned from the extensive physical therapy I have to do in order to be a climber, contrast baths are amazing for healing any kind of injury. The combination of hot then cold opens your blood vessels, allowing more blood to flow to the injured area and thereby increases the speed of healing. I have an on going shoulder problem from climbing and after the incredible massage and water therapy I felt about 50% better. I wish I could afford to go every day and I cannot wait to go back. Oh and did I mention that they have a “juice phone” in the pool area where you can order a smoothie that is then delivered to you minutes later as you relax in the pool? Talk about decadence. It was pretty much the best. I think I glowed for about 24 hours after that experience.

Phew. I hope you’re still with me. Apparently I had quite a lot to say after a month. Now that the blogger ball is rolling (or flying in the air, if you will) again expect many more posts to come. Thanks for the balmy welcome TO. Kristi out.

Another boulder, another busted ego

“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are right.” –Henry Ford

I love this quote and how it applies directly to climbing. Have I talked enough about the ego busting nature of climbing? How just when you think you’ve progressed you’re brought down a peg or two? It’s the challenge and beauty of this ridiculously hard sport and I think it’s one of the reasons I really like climbers. The egotistical ones don’t tend to stick around for long. I’m not saying there aren’t some huge egos out there in the climbing world, but the nature of the sport itself tends to keep the more humble athletes…the ones who are willing to try to move their arm up an inch for hours at a time. That takes…a certain kind of personality.

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Thank goodness for car sharing programs like Modo that let us non-car owners get to the hard to reach places like the Squamish boulders. Some of the boulders are down long and bumpy dirt roads and you practically need a blood hound in order to find the right spots. Others are really accessible on the side of the road. The Squamish Bouldering guide is super handy for those wanting to climb in this area.

So, last month we seized the day and booked a Modo car and drove up to Squamish for another day of ego busting outdoor bouldering. Man, that is one beautiful drive that I never get tired of! Have I also mentioned that I really need to start doing more outdoor sport climbing? At least then I know something is catching my fall. Every time we go up to Squamish I know it’s going to be hard, I know I my pride will be hurting and I know I will be frustrated and yet it seems to surprise me every time. This time was no different. All I wanted was to finish one project. One freakin’ boulder! Yes, for the experienced climber this may be laughable, but for me…it’s a real goal. Zeke had a goal to finish a V5 level boulder and he totally rocked it, in addition to a whole bunch of other boulders. As always, I’m impressed and amazed by his climbing.

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Titanic – a classic boulder in Squamish.


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I love the new Prisma app and it makes climbing shots look pretty darn cool.

Zeke was just as determined as I was to find a project that I could tackle and complete and towards the end of the day….the miracle finally happened! There is a fine line in life between pushing yourself too hard or not enough and finding the right boulder or route to climb lies in that very hard to find sweet spot. In my two years of climbing I’ve learned that you really do need to push yourself past that comfort zone and that does not mean you are being reckless or tempting fate. For example, my fear of heights pops up regularly when I climb but now that I’m a couple of years in I am starting to recognize it and realize that it’s often completely irrational. When that moment hits and my heart starts to race, if I’m feeling stable on the problem I stop, evaluate and if I have the guts I push through. Sometimes that means just moving one hold higher and that is ok. When I’m able to push through that fear I can’t even describe how amazing it feels. Overcoming your fears is the most underated happy drug out there. Seriously. Try it. Now enjoy some pics of Zeke sending a couple of his problems. Gotta love climbing jargon.

So, after some attempts at various boulders and a whole lot of hiking through the forest with our crash pad and gear, Zeke found me a highly rated easy boulder to climb and at first, I didn’t think I could do it, much to my chagrin (side note – chagrin is such a good word.) But, then Zeke reminded me of this fancy thing I know called “technique” that you know, I use all the time in the gym so why not outside? When I figured out the beta and actually applied this fancy “technique” thing guess what? I fell on my ass and cried all the way home. Just kidding. I nailed the problem! I couldn’t believe it. I set my fear aside and focused on the actual movement and of course had the best spotter ever behind me and voila – mission accomplished. So, it took all day, but I was able to leave with that little boost. And hopefully our next trip up will go even better. Every time I boulder outside I feel like I’m slowly gaining XP points like in some sort of climbing video game. With any luck I’ll gain a few levels in the coming years.

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Thanks again bouldering for teaching me to be humble, patient, kind with myself and courageous.

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Helpful links

The Squamish Bouldering guide

www.quickdrawpublications.com/product/squamish-bouldering/

Modo Carsharing

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Focus – the mind and body connection

A very strange yet very real thing happened to me while climbing with Zeke at the Hive North Shore last week. I learned something – your mind is unbelievably powerful. Who knew? Well, I suppose some people have already learned that, but to experience it in real-time is well, kind of remarkable. What’s even more remarkable is when they work together, in opposing ways that force you to rethink everything you thought you knew.

Confused? Think back to the first time someone got you to pat your head and rub your belly at the same time. Was it easy? Did it ever become easy? Think about how it felt to consciously separate the movement of your two hands and have them do two fairly opposite movements. It hurt your brain right? (and are you trying to do it right now?) You were forcing your brain to rewire. Now imagine you’re learning to juggle. You know how it should look, you know the basic principles but both sides of your brain are working in opposite ways, as well as your body. It’s counterintuitive. But…once you get it that first time…something clicks. The lightbulb goes on, the penny drops…pick your metaphor.

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Remember playing Twister? Right hand blue, left hand yellow, right leg orange…oh boy! Bouldering is like Twister on the wall, perhaps with slightly less falling over other people.

Which brings me back to last week. It started off with a very steep problem that is basically a ladder climbing up on a steep curve to the top of the wall. Whenever you climb at this angle every single movement takes a ton of energy. You’re carrying all of your weight (and this is when I really wished I weighed a lot less!) on your arms and legs and if you dawdle at all your arms strain and you inevitably fall. There’s only so long a person can hang on, even with great grip strength. I love climbing in caves, upside down, steep angles…all of it. It’s so much fun, but pretty much some of the hardest physical climbing there is. And…your brain has to work in a new way. When climbing in a cave, or at a steep angle your hands and feet have to work together but in opposite ways. This is why I think a lot of engineers or physicists are also good climbers. They get the mechanics of it. I wish I could explain it all scientificy but hey, since most of us are not scientists best to talk about it layman’s terms anyways, right? There’s so little keeping you up in a cave that you must rely on counterbalance, resistance and push and pull from your hands and feet.

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See how climber Lisa Rands is using her right leg and left hand to balance herself in this cave? Photo by Andrew Kornylak.

In any case, I was trying to climb a steep ladder and was just not getting it. It felt next to impossible. Then Zeke gave me some new beta – he told me just to think of climbing a ladder and leading with my hands. Sounds simple, right? Oh right..it’s just a ladder, an upside down ladder, I realized. The next time I climbed it – it felt easy and I finished it no problem. Just a slight mental shift and slight technique shift made the impossible possible. Crazy, eh?

Haidsteig, Prein an der Rax, Niederösterreich, Österreich

We intuitively know how to climb a ladder or learn it early on as children, but when it’s in the form of a climbing problem sometimes we just need to remember that we know how to climb ladders already. (Photo from Wiki Commons – Haidsteig, Prein an der Rax, Niederösterreich, Österreich)

 

My next mental test came on a tough problem. The Hive has its own rating system and the easier problems are the in 1hex-2hex (V0-V2) range with things starting to get challenging for me at the 3hex (V2-V4) range. The other day I attempted a 4hex (V4-V6) problem, which is normally far out of my reach. The hardest problems at the gym are 6hex (V8 and up) just to give you an idea. I kept getting stuck at this one section and couldn’t progress. I wasn’t too worried since it was a tough problem, but Zeke was sure I could get past this one part if I just readjusted my thinking and retrained my brain. What I had to do seemed simple – as I reached for a particular hold I had to keep my left foot on and not let it cut loose. I know I know, it seems really simple. SEEMS. But it’s not. The body’s natural inclination is to relax once we’ve gripped something with our hands which often means we forget about what the rest of our body is doing. So when I am reaching up and almost jumping for a hold my leg will naturally lift off. But in this case the key to getting past this section was to keep my left foot on. So, what did I have to do? As soon as my right hand hit the top hold I had to shift focus and think about my left foot. That’s all. But I had to tell my brain this as it happened. And guess what? It totally worked! I forced my brain to think about my foot as soon as I caught the right hold and I not only kept my left foot on but was able to progress further in the problem. I was completely amazed. I got a serious buzz from it and an intense confidence boost which allowed me to flash (flash means to get a problem/route the first time in climbing) another hard problem in the gym (well, hard for me.) This is one of the reasons that climbing never gets boring and is constantly stimulating and challenging. It’s tiny little mental and physical shifts like this that allow the impossible to become possible. And if we can do that on a simple climb, why not life? Sometimes the smallest shifts lead to the biggest changes. Sometimes we have to force ourselves out of our comfort zones in order to re-think the way we do things or the way we see things. Needless to say – it was one of the best climbs I’ve had in weeks, perhaps even months.

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Climbing is such a physically demanding sport that we sometimes forget that it really does require our brains just as much as our bodies. The best climbers may not even look like the strongest ones (though of course the best climbers are alway ridiculously ripped) because the best climbers have a whole arsenal of qualities that they have worked on that make them the best. They are strong and fit, yes, but they are also strong-willed, determined, willing to fall A LOT, notice subtlety, are aware of everything their body is doing and their mind is thinking, encourage others and are humble enough to accept help and are able to push all of their boundaries through trial and error and training and focus. Anything is possible when the mind is free. I even noticed this when horseback riding this week. The thing about working with animals is that they pick up on your emotions, and even your thoughts (if you’re distracted) and any other energy that may be coming from you. When I went to ride this week I was a bit distracted and stressed and rushed to start off with, and my horse reacted accordingly. By 20 minutes in I had found my groove and was much more relaxed and so was he. It’s remarkable. And climbing is very similar to this. If I start off stressed and anxious or distracted I have a very hard time climbing anything. I’ve had to take time outs where I just sit and let my mind still before I can even get on the wall or on a boulder. That works wonders. Yoga and meditation are great ways to improve your climbing FYI.

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Things often seem out of reach until we actually reach for them.

So when you’ve hit a wall (pun intended) in climbing, or life, think about your mental focus. Think about what you can change, how you can approach something differently and what subtle change can make all the difference. Let’s see if I can remember it for next time. Happy climbing everyone!

I’ll leave you with this awesome video of Chris Sharma (one of the best climbers in the world for those who don’t know the climbing world) tackling a V15 cave problem. Yep, V15 as in V is for VERY hard and 15 is the number of years I’d need in order to maybe do a couple of moves on this.

Finding inspiration – 5 things that inspire me

There’s a word we toss around a lot in our society these days  – inspiration. With the rise of the hashtag, all sorts of new and luscious as well as annoying expressions have taken shape and become part of the zeitgeist. I’ve been reading a few articles lately on the word “empowerment” and how it’s now being used to sell products to women. I found that fascinating. As a word nerd myself I love to explore word usage and how it changes and I also have to stop myself from falling for clichés and overused expressions. As a writer, that’s a constant battle. So, how does this relate to working out? Staying healthy? Climbing? Well, I think we all have ideas that we cling on to, words we need to hear that keep us going, and expressions that inspire us when we’re down in the dumps. I’m a huge fan of quotes. I’m a sucker for them. Not the cheese ball ones, but the really meaty ones. Maybe it’s the copy writer in me that loves it when a huge idea can be boiled down to just one sentence. I mean I spend huge parts of my work life doing just that. Which brings me to my point and my post – inspiration. That’s a word I’ve been thinking about lately and one that still hasn’t lost its effect on me, though it’s used a whole ton. What inspires me? What inspires you? How can I inspire myself and others? What does inspiration really mean and how does it relate to my health and life goals?

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Forgive me as I start off [white and] nerdy, but Merriam describes inspiration as:

  • something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create : a force or influence that inspires someone

  • : a person, place, experience, etc., that makes someone want to do or create something

  • : a good idea

That’s pretty broad if you think about it. All it takes is…a good idea? A good person? In that case anything and anyone could theoretically be inspiring. And that’s not at all a bad thing. As a creative type myself I am always looking for inspiration and I find it in many ways. I have an Aphrodite soul that is constantly looking for muses. So, this post really applies to how we are inspired in all areas of our life, not just fitness. What makes us tick, what gives us a boost, what helps us finish the last 4 kms of a half marathon, what gets us through our toughest days…So without further ado here are five things that inspire me. This is not at all comprehensive, but it’s a place to start.

  1. Olympic athletes
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I was lucky enough to attend my 3rd Olympic games at the London 2012 Summer Olympics and managed to get tickets to women’s volleyball. You know what was inspiring? Seeing the Korean team take on the powerhouse US team.

This one should be fairly obvious but I have to say, since I was a little kid I have been obsessed with watching the Olympics. My family and I would basically have the TV on for two weeks straight every two years and we couldn’t stop watching. When I was 8 years old I was lucky enough to go to the Calgary Olympics with my family and was completely blown away by the energy of the whole event, how it brought people together and the pure magic of it. Fast forward to 2010 and perhaps some of the best weeks that I can remember when my city of Vancouver hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics and I was in pure heaven. Then…as if I wasn’t lucky enough I happen to be living in Germany when London hosted the summer Olympics and was able to stay with my cousin and go to a few events. Whenever I watch the Olympics I always think, “is there any sport that I could still do?” And not even in a non-ironic way, although kind of because…you know, it’s the Olympics. Maybe archery? I am a pretty good ping-pong player…and thus begins my usual thought process post-Olympic viewing. I am just so inspired by the athletes’ dedication, incredible levels of fitness, their physiques, strength, power and mental strength. They give up everything for a chance at a win. What a crazy life to lead, but I’d like to believe that the process is just as important to them as the results.

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As an ex-field hockey player myself it was incredible to see Olympic level field hockey. That game takes serious grit!

2. Music

Music is simply something I can’t live without. I started playing piano at the age of 6, began the saxophone at the age of 15 and eventually got a Bachelor of Music and a Master of Arts in Ethnomusicology. But it’s not just that, it’s that I can’t go through a day without listening to music, I can’t go for a run without my playlist, I can’t wash the dishes without that special energy that only music gives me. I’m an arts marketer and promote world music and jazz concerts for a living and the thing that gives me the most joy is discovering a new artist who is special and has that “je ne sais quoi” quality. I get a charge that runs through my body and makes me want to listen to their music non-stop for days on end. I may have to write a post dedicated to music that inspires me the most but that’s also like choosing my favourite child. It really depends on the time of day or day of the week. 😉

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Running in my favourite park in Hamburg, Germany (the Stadtpark or “City Park”) and blasting my tunes.

Needless to say, there is nothing quite like music to get you going physically. That’s one of the reason I love music as an art form – it moves the mind and the body in a very deep and very personal way. So even if I told you my favourite music to workout to (Stromae is top of the list at the moment) it may not work for you. As a runner you can get playlists that have the exact beats that you want to run to depending on how fast you want to go. Strangely enough the music that inspired me to finish one of my half marathons was German rap. Seriously. Particularly the rap of German/American rapper Casper. He has this gritty voice and awesome depth to his music that somehow makes you dig deep.

3. Strong women

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I love strong women. And I don’t just mean physically strong although I do have a special place in my heart for those women. I love women who show me what it is to be strong, and what it is to overcome obstacles. For example, Rebekah Gregory, a runner who lost her leg in the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013 and two years later came back to run and finish the marathon. Below is a video of her crossing the finish line. I dare you not to cry.

For anyone who hasn’t run a race I’m telling you now – marathons are HARD. Okay I haven’t actually run a marathon yet although it’s on the to do list, but I have run four half marathons and those were hard enough. I just can’t imagine what it took for her to go through that horrific trauma, heal, learn to live life without a leg, and then learn to use a prosthetic one, overcome her fears and triggers that running a race again would no doubt bring back and then go back to the scene of her trauma and run that race. I just can’t imagine it but I have the utmost respect for her and others like her who have met life’s biggest challenges head on. That is so badass. She is just one example but there are so many women around the world who inspire me every single day to do more, be more, try harder, be more grateful and support one another. Women are often pitted against each other in life, but women are so much stronger when they stand with each other and support each other. So I’m sending a general “THANK YOU!” to all the strong and amazing women out there, including my own mom, my sister and my grandmothers. My maternal grandmother is sadly no longer with us but she was an amazing woman who never complained and was full of love for everyone. My grandma Louise had hip replacement surgery back in 2010, then on the way out of the hospital had a heart attack, almost lost her arm due to this, made it through that, regained a lot of her strength, had another fall more recently where she broke her arm, made it through that and is still with us at 90 – if that’s not strength I don’t know what is. You all truly inspire me. I think I may need to dedicate another post to this one too.

4. Nature

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On top of The First Brother in Manning Park. There’s nothing quite like sitting on top of a mountain that you’ve climbed and feeling like you’re on top of the world.

I’m lucky enough to have grown up on Vancouver Island, which to me, is one of the most beautiful places in the world. And now I live in a city (Vancouver) that is steeped in natural beauty. All I have to do is look out the window right now and I see the North Shore mountains. Even so, there is a difference between seeing nature and being in nature. When I get burnt out by city life, I take to the mountains or nature. My mom told me that when I was born she had my star chart done up and although I just follow astrology for fun, I do remember her telling me that it said I should always be close to the mountains or the ocean. I’ve lived in places where I was far away from both and it was hard. I longed for one or the other every single day. When I lived in Hamburg I was surrounded by water (Hamburg has more canals than Venice and Amsterdam combined) which was wonderful and close enough to the ocean to keep me sane. But there is something about being in the quiet of nature that not only inspires me but brings me back to myself. My mom, Star Weiss, wrote a book called “Havens in a Hectic World – Finding Sacred Places” which explores the spiritual geography of British Columbia and how people find their own sacred spaces and places of worship here. Did you know that BC is the most secular province in all of Canada? And why? Nature. Many of the people in my mom’s book found their sacred places in the beauty of nature, whether it be a waterfall, a mountain peak, or a labyrinth traced in the sand, we all have special places in our lives that help us to re-centre, fill us with inspiration and restore and heal us. What’s your sacred place?

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Recently Zeke and I drove up to Squamish for our first day outdoor bouldering this year (see earlier post) and on our way home we stopped at the lovely Whytecliff Park in West Vancouver just in time to catch a stunning sunset from the cliff side. I was overwhelmed by the beauty and felt calmer than I had in months. Here’s Zeke soaking it all up.

5. Travel

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One of my absolute favourite photos of my friend Genevieve and I who are both travel lovers and had the chance to travel together tons when we were care-free, naive 18 year old Gap students in the UK and then years later when we both lived in the UK again. A couple of years ago we decided it had been too long since we’d traveled together so went on a weekend trip to Seattle. Seattle may not seem like the most exciting destination but being back in that travel mode together was a blast.

I’ve always had a bit of a gypsy soul. I have vivid memories of long car rides with my family where my mind would wander off and I would envision myself in distant lands. As soon as I turned 18 I was out the door and living in the UK for a year. In 2005 I returned and lived there again and then in 2012 I hopped on a plane and lived in Germany for the next two years. There is something so liberating about travel and it doesn’t have to be a huge trip. Sometimes all it takes is getting out of our usual spaces and out of our comfort zones and being somewhere else to shake us up, help us see things in new ways and inspire us with new ways of living, new foods, new cultural habits and different scenery. I have a constant longing in my soul to explore. And don’t get me wrong, travel can be really really hard (and we all know it is often very expensive.) Long travel days are the worst, being somewhere that you don’t speak the language is incredibly humbling, and constantly being worried about where your next meal will be, where the next bathroom is, am I safe etc. can be wearisome. But, it’s always worth it. Some of my best days in life were while I was traveling, like our last day in Portugal last fall when we discovered an amazing beach thanks to our climbing guide and spent the day bouldering and swimming and sun bathing until the super moon filled the sky and we felt an intense joy, love for each other, and gratitude. Moments like that make all the hard parts of travel worthwhile.

“The gladdest moment in human life, me thinks, is a departure into unknown lands.”  ~ Sir Richard Burton

Surreal beauty

I had never seen colours like this in the ocean until I visited Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera. This is still one of my favourite places in the world and I feel a tug on my heart strings simply by looking through the photos from my magical time there. For more of my photos of this amazing place visit my Flickr page.

 

So I’ll leave you with this question, “what inspires YOU?” Feel free to answer in the comments. I’d love to know! And of course I’d be pretty remiss if I didn’t end this with an inspiring quote.

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Climbing and the body image struggle

“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

This may be one of my most personal and scariest posts that I’ve written yet, but, it’s kind of urging me to get it out there. That’s one of the weird things about being a writer. You have all these stories, or posts or words floating around in your mind at any given moment and some of them will just stop, scream at you to be written and then not leave you alone until you get them on a page. This little dude seems to gently poking me so I’ll pay attention before he goes apeshit.

I’ve had body image issues my entire life. There, I’ve said it to the whole interwebs. Doesn’t sound too surprising for a woman right? Sadly, I grew up in a society that dictates how women should look, how important their looks are and how this is what they should value the most, to put it very bluntly. Of course, most people won’t come out and say it like that, but it’s currently the way things are and it’s so deeply entrenched in our society (and I’m talkin’ North American society here), that most people don’t even realize to what degree their decisions are informed by this. I like to think that society is changing and I have also lived in a society (Germany) where I didn’t feel that my looks were scrutinized in the same way. So, society seems to be slowly changing and adapting to embracing all body types and most importantly scientists and healthy types are starting to realize – having a certain body type does not dictacte if you are fit or not. This seems to be surprising news for some.

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A few of the many body types out there.

I’ve been active and sporty pretty much my entire life, from the first time I strapped on a pair of skis (or rather they were strapped on to me by my parents and my skiing addicted dad) at the age of four to the first time I climbed a mountain with my family at the age of five (I love you Mt. Albert Edward) to just yesterday when I biked two hours to and from work. Being active is not something I have to force myself to do because I love it – it keeps me healthy inside and out, it makes me feel like myself and it keeps me sane. That’s not to say working out and keeping it as a routine and getting out the door for a run or a climb is easy – but it’s something I love to do and want to do and that makes all the difference for me. It’s an integral part of my life that is so vital to me now that I will sacrifice other important things just to make time for it. Because at the end of the day I’m not much good to others or my work or anything else if I’m not first happy and healthy. That’s something I’ve learned the hard way.

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Post-run happy work out selfie. This is what I workout for. The glow, not the selfie.

So, throughout my life my weight has fluctuated up and down due to various circumstances or stress or during my undergrad when I devoted all my time to my music degree and making muffins for my roommates (oh wait I still do that) and none of my time to my health and fitness (but hey it was a super fun four years!) I’ve always been strong with square shoulders and have developed muscles easily and for this, I’ve oddly felt self conscious my whole life. Although the ideal “fit girl” may have muscles she has a very particular type of muscles, not too much so as to avoid being bulky, not too little, and she has to have a size 2 waist, weigh no more than 130 pounds, have a slight frame and….shall I go on? We all know the type and if you are this type that’s A-ok and celebrate it! The point is, we should all just be able to love the type we are and work from there. When a woman (like me) who will never be 130 pounds or be a size 2 attempts to look this way, misery ensues. Looking like that (and for who exactly?) would require a 24/7 non-stop and totally not fun level of commitment that, for me is A) not even remotely worth it and B) not even remotely healthy because health is a holitistic thing.

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My very first month of climbing in the “kiddie pool” as my fellow climber Leslie calls it. I remember the pain my muscles felt after those first weeks.

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Two years later. I still experience pain but usually due to overuse or injury now. It never ends when you’re a climber.

I am lucky enough to have a partner who is not only a wonderful climber, but just an incredibly fit athlete with stunning muscles. I think he’s freakin’ gorgeous, but more importantly I love what he can do with his body on the wall. It’s graceful and skilled and beautiful to watch. His weight has not fluctuated in 20 years, unlike mine which fluctuates when I just look at a donut. My point is – we can’t compare ourselves to others or it will drive us to the brink of insanity. Let’s just celebrate each other. And celebrate ourselves for getting out there and doing something as awesome as rock climbing (or whatever it may be that you love and do).

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My boyfriend Zeke ripping it up on our epic day of beach bouldering in Portugal. I could watch him climb all day and often do.

Two of my main sports are climbing and running – both which tend to be a lot easier if you have a very light, very slender body type. Even my strong, fit and muscly boyfriend often jokes about how he would climb better if he was 10 pounds lighter or had smaller muscles. It’s a thing for men and women in this wacky world of climbing. Take for example, one of the world’s best female rock climbers right now –  Ashima Shirashi just turned 15 years old, is 4’5″ and 63 pounds. Guess what? The girl can seriously crush. She is incredible to watch. But she’s also 63 pounds. With the rise of women in climbing (which I LOVE!) the younger generation of teen girl climbers are now climbing at the same level as 20-30 something male climbers. Their bodies are perfect for it. So, will I try to compete with that? Well, I couldn’t even if I wanted to, which I don’t. But I’m sure as hell proud of them. Keep it up girls!

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Ashima Shirashi. 15 years old. Complete badass.

One of the world’s best male climbers is Adam Ondra who comes in at a “hefty” 128 lbs even though he is 5’11”. The dude is just one stringy climbing muscle. He is also incredible at his sport. His body seems molded to the rock. But honestly, it’s not his body I admire the most but his grit. He has the mental strength of a gold medal Olympian, which, if climbing were an Olympic sport, he no doubt would be. But again, should I compare my body to his? Probably not. 😉

Adam Ondra

Adam Ondra. 128 pounds of sheer grit. Oh yah, and a little talent. And a hell of a work ethic.

Thank god my life does not depend on me being a professional rock climber or runner.

So society, I’ve decided I’m going to stop trying –  to live up to your ideals, that is. I’m done with that silliness. I’m just going to accept myself as I am. Is that okay? I’m just going to keep climbing even if maybe climbing would be easier if I was 15 pounds lighter, or had a completely different body type. I’m just going to keep running even if I don’t look the part. I’m just going to keep on striving to be healthy, strong and fit the rest of my life no matter how that may look (which may be amazing to some, good to a lot, not good enough to others, terrible to a few and well…let’s just forget the rest). I’ve developed some crazy back and arm muscles from climbing the past two years and sadly there is a part of me that is still self conscious about that. It’s hard for me to accept that I probably will always have to buy slightly larger shirts now because my latissimus dorsi aka lat muscles have gotten so big. I know there may be people who aren’t fans of that or think it looks weird. I know there are people who, even without trying think, “oh wow, I wouldn’t want that much muscle as a woman.” It’s sad but true because I think many of us have judged others’ bodies in one way or another throughout our lives. Like I said, these things are drilled into our brains from an early age. But, oh well. Enough is enough.

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Back muscles! Photo from Shutterstock.

After all these years I am finally learning to embrace the beauty which is a strong woman and a muscly woman. I have SO much admiration for the kick ass female climbers that I see – their incredible strength, agility, grace, technique and general badassery. You guys seriously – you guessed it…rock! And you know what? I’m going to embrace strength because I love how it feels, and I’m learning to love how it looks. I love that I can do chin ups/pull ups now. I love that my core has gotten so strong that my body handles all back pain 150% better now. I love that I can pull myself up a wall or a boulder all by myself. I love that even with this growing strength, at the end of the day it all comes back to your mind. Your mind is the most powerful tool of all which is why I realized – I need to change the way I think about my body. If I don’t, my climbing progress will stall, my negative body talk will effect me and my partner and I will just feel constantly frustrated and sad. Why would I want to live that way? It’s just not fun. Plus, I love food and I don’t want to feel bad about having a cookie now and then, as in most days. I eat healthily 80% of the time – really! But, chocolate.

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So, for anyone out there who is thinking about trying climbing, or any other sport and you think your body isn’t right for it? Screw it! If you love it – do it! The most important thing is to have joy in whatever sport you choose. And then learn how best to do that sport with your body specifically. There’s a great book for climbers called 9 out of 10 Climbers make the same mistakes and in one chapter it delves into how to climb for your body type. My partner is 6′ tall, very flexible, incredibly strong and has an ape index of +2.5 inches. I’m 5’5″, strong, not very flexible (thanks running), and with an ape index of -0.5 inches. For any of you non-climbers – a negative ape index is not a helpful thing in climbing. Naturally, he climbs in a completely different way than I do. He knows his strengths and his weaknesses and he knows exactly how to use his body on the wall. So, instead of stressing about “why can’t my body be like his/hers?” think, “how can I use the strengths my body has to make me a better climber?” For myself, I know I am good at moving dynamically and powerfully so I try to use my momentum whenever possible. I try not to spend too long just hanging and wasting energy. I’m not saying stop working on your weaknesses of course, but when that’s what you focus on and obsess about, trust me, it doesn’t make for a good climb. Or a good outlook on life either.

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da Vinci’s Vitruvian man. Supposedly the perfect proportions but hey, it was 1490. I think we’ve learned a few things about perfection since then.

“Some of the world’s greatest feats were accomplished by people not smart enough to know they were impossible.”    ~Doug Lawson

Go out there and do what you think is impossible. Don’t let the world tell you what your body can and can’t do or how it should or shouldn’t look. Rock it people. Kristi out. Time for a run.

 

 

 

 

Climbing in Portugal

 

“Just breathe Kristi. Breathe.”

I look down at my surroundings and try to focus on their peace-inducing beauty. I see the sun dousing the Portuguese countryside with its rays, giving it a dry and warm glow, I hear a dog barking off in the distance and I see a crumbling old farmhouse across the valley. Yes, I think, that’s better. Then I look down again and realize that I’m clinging to the side of a rock, by choice. What the hell am I doing? I’m terrified of heights! I think to myself.

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Moonrise over Rocha da Pena

“Kristi you’re fine. Trust the ropes. You’re fine. Breathe.” Our climbing guide, André tells me with a calm and practiced voice.

I know that I’m safe…well, safe-ish, and in good hands, but I still can’t help my panick attack.

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My first time sport climbing outdoors!

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All set for a day of adventure! Photo by Anna Hartley

You see at this point I had been bouldering for just over a year, and had yet to try outdoor rock climbing, or sport climbing. I had ventured up to our local climbing playground of Squamish, BC on occasion to try some outdoor bouldering with my boyfriend and other friends and had been thoroughly humbled by that experience, being a gym rat and all, but I was not prepared for the mental barriers that I would face on the side of that rock in Portugal. Though I’ve always known I’ve had a pretty severe fear of heights I’ve always loved being in the mountains, so on an unassuming day in May of 2014 I somehow got roped into trying bouldering, no pun intended. My friend Leslie and I fell for it on the same day – we loved the intense mental and physical focus that it demanded, we loved being free of ropes and equipment and the need for a belay buddy (bouldering is climbing without ropes to about an 18 foot height), and we loved that it basically was a giant puzzle for your brain and body. It just clicked with us. So, despite my serious fear of heights I continued to boulder and fight that fear on the higher climbs. But, when you start off by bouldering, you really aren’t prepared to have to put trust in ropes or equipment. So, as I stood there, midway up a very easy problem, I found myself completely and utterly paralyzed, unable to think of the reason why I thought this would be doable for me.

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Our fantastic guide, André Glória, setting things up for us.

Let’s take a step back into our trip. My boyfriend Zeke and I had arrived in Lagos, Portugal on the Algarve Coast just a few days before. Neither of us had ever been to Portugal before so we didn’t know the area or what it had to offer. We had the fleeting hope of finding someone to take us climbing but as each day passed that hope seemed to be slipping away. We later discovered that climbing is still very much in development as a recognized sport in Portugal due to the usual things like bureaucracy and a lack of understanding about climbing so much of the climbing has been done in very restricted areas or on the DL. So, as we were walking to our Airbnb one day I happened to turn to my left and see a sign saying “climbing” at the very bottom. I did a double take before we excitedly walked into the little office along the winding old streets of Lagos. To say we lucked out by walking into that office that day is a massive understatement. We had inadvertently walked into the office of Volta do Mar, a fantastic small adventure tour company owned and operated by our soon to be climbing guide, André Glória. The kind staff in the office told us that we could go climbing no problem and put us in touch with André to arrange a time and day. Within a few hours we were all set for a day of sport climbing, Portuguese food and cultural experiences. And it was all that and more.

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Attempted pre-climb selfie.

We met up with André, an experienced climber, scuba diver and travel guide who had lived and traveled all over and his equally adventurous friend Anna (originally from Perth, Australia, but living and working in Paris and a fellow writer and photographer like myself) and the four of us set off to drive to Rocha da Pena, in Loulé, a hilly area about an hour’s drive North East of Lagos. André had suggested that we begin climbing later in the afternoon after the hottest part of the day had passed so on our way we stopped in a traditional Portuguese restaurant to try their famous Chicken piri-piri, a Portuguese specialty. Side note – for vegetarians (like Zeke), Portugal is a tough country to eat out in. We had delicious chicken (and Zeke had an omelet that they had put together for him in their effort to make something “vegetarian”), and rich and delectable cakes and by the time we left I couldn’t imagine being able to pull myself up any kind of rock due to the heavy ones in our stomachs. Luckily we had a bit of a drive and hike to get up to where we would begin our first climbs of the day. Although we waited until the hottest part of the day had passed it was still ridiculously hot, with very little shade and us poor West Coast Canadians were sweltering in the 30 degree heat. As you can see in the photos below, we tried to use every little bit of shade that we could to stay as cool as possible. André had brough along everything we might need – tons of water, lots of snacks, sandwiches and all the climbing gear of course. Europeans sure know how to make a day out of – well anything, really. It’s one thing I really appreciated about living in Europe and still miss.

 

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Security check – done! Can you guys all remember to belay? Um….we’ll see!

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Zeke all ready to sport climb after a 12-15 year or so break (though he’s been bouldering regularly throughout that whole time). He sure didn’t miss a step – I was so proud of my amazing climber! (He’s also proudly toting his Hive Bouldering shirt, our local bouldering gym.)

André set up top ropes for Anna and I, and because Zeke had considerable sport climbing experience (though he hadn’t been sport climbing in over a decade) he challenged him to lead the route. For those who aren’t familiar with all the climbing lingo, top roping is where a rope is already set up for you (by a fellow climber) so that you don’t have to worry about clipping yourself in as you go up and is the easiest way to learn to climb outside (and inside for that matter.) With lead climbing you have to clip yourself in as you climb since you’re the first to go and it’s a whole lot scarier since if you fall you may end up falling 15 feet or more depending on where your last clip was. So, I was pretty damn proud when Zeke seriously rocked a number of climbs on lead.

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Zeke and his impressive high step.

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Spread thin.

Although I had only taken one short class on belaying, André thought I was up for the task and both Anna and I received quick belay refresher courses and Zeke and Anna ended up lead belaying as well. We were all a little nervous, but I happily soon caught on and felt confident and happy holding someone else’s life in my hands by the end of the day. Thankfully we were protected by gri-gris, assisted braking belay devices, which basically give you an extra back up as the belayer if you aren’t paying attention for a moment – and I was sure grateful for that. Incidentally that was also one of my Christmas presents from Zeke – I think he wants to make sure he’s extra safe in my hands all the time as well. For me this was a huge confidence boost and although I still have a ton to learn about rock climbing knots and belaying and all the intricacies of the equipment I felt happier after that.

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Rocha da Pena

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Successful belaying!

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Meta shot – photo of a photo. Anna shooting André. Fellow photographers think alike!

As the day progressed we each had turns on various routes and eventually ended our day at the base of Escadas do Inferno, aka the Stairway to Hell. By this point I was exhausted, mentally more than physically by my various attempts to overcome my fears and get used to the feeling of trusting the ropes, but Zeke climbed until sunset and us photographers enjoyed taking as many photos as the light would allow. On my last climb of the day I had really frozen completely at one point and with André’s guidance I was able to push through that and eventually make it back down to the ground in one piece. Fear is such a strange beast and will completely take over at the most unexpected (and really, expected) moments and completely take a hold. But the thing I have learned through climbing is that this fear is usually only about 20% based in real dangers. Sure, rock climbing may seem very dangerous from an outsider’s perspective, but when done properly the risks of serious injury or harm are relatively low. There is a fine balance between taking calculated risks and being reckless, especially in climbing, every good climber learns his or her real limits and abilities and uses those as a general gage. In those moments when I have pushed through my fears I can’t even describe how amazing it feels. You can feel the mental barriers falling away every time it happens and afterwards you’re able to climb things you never thought you could before. I think this is why climbing continues to be as popular as it is. It’s not a sport that allows ego or unacceptable fear and it pushes us in every way to overcome or at least deal with our weaknesses.

Fear quote

True story.

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Escaladas do Inferno

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Zeke tackling the stairway. Photo by Anna Hartley.

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Rapelling into the sunset.

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Here I am enjoying the beauty and tranquility. Photo by Anna Hartley.

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How climbers wave, featuring Anna.

As we hiked out in the dark, with head lamps strapped to our helmets, dirt and grime covering our feet, scratches covering our legs and big grins on our faces all I could think was, “boy I could use a beer.” As soon as this thought was uttered out loud André followed my lead happily and took us to an authentically Portuguese “dive” bar in the countryside where he ordered us four Portuguese beers. I can’t remember a time that a beer tasted so good. Except maybe the time I had slept in a bothie overnight on the Isle of Skye on a trekker tour after a massive storm. But that’s a story for another day. In any case, if a beer could hit the spot, this one saw the spot and just dumped all over it gloriously. As we chatted and laughed all the way back to Lagos I reflected on what a truly phenomenal and memorable day it had been, fears and all. We got to know Portuguese culture, eat real Portuguese food, climbed real Portuguese rocks, drank real Portuguese beer, hang out with some fantastic people and were given the gift of directions for an incredible day of beach bouldering the next day (that post to come soon) all thanks to our guide, André who went out of his way to make our experience the best it could be – authentic, challenging, eye-opening and most of all – fun! For any of you climbers who are thinking about a trip to Portugal – do it! For anyone else, André offers a whole other set of tours from food, fado and wine tours to biking tours to extreme snorkeling (yes it’s a thing and you need to get André to tell you about it). No matter which one you choose, it’ll be five stars. Muito obrigada to André and the Volta do Mar team!

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The exhausted and dirty but happy climbers at the end of the day back in Lagos.

Links and further reading

Volta do Mar adventure tours and more: www.voltadomar.pt

Volta do Mar on Facebook: www.facebook.com/voltadomarpt

Anna Hartley’s article on our day out in Rocha da Pena was posted in Australian lifestyle magazine PRIMOLife in November 2015. Check it out: www.annahartleywrites.com

 

Bouldering outside and things inside my head

Hillary quote

Last weekend was our first time bouldering outside this season after our usual winter stint in the climbing gym and I was super excited to get up to Squamish. The weather was perfect, we’d been getting back into shape after being so sick and we were ready to test ourselves outside…well, kind of. The first time I bouldered outdoors I was utterly and completely humbled – it is a completely different sport and definitely a different ball game. My climbing skills were almost non-existent at that point so it wasn’t all that odd for me to feel like I couldn’t do much of anything, but the part that really shook me up was the fear and panic. I remember how I felt when I got stuck on a boulder about half way up and realized that I would have to either climb down or jump on to the relatively small and flat crash pad. In that moment I knew, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in the gym anymore.”

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Zeke cruising through a problem that I just couldn’t quite finish.

So, it was with some frustration that after nearly two years of climbing my first day back outside this spring was such a bust, or at least, in my mind it was. I was scared from the first boulder – from the first moment I touched real rock again. There were no fancy hand or foot holds, no soft and large mats to jump down on, nothing to really make you feel all that safe if you fall. And you know what? I really don’t want a broken ankle. I guess that’s what happens when you start climbing in your 30s, you care more about injury prevention and safety, which is great, but it also makes you extremely cautious because basically outside – you don’t want to fall accidentally if you can at all help it. This is where rope climbing has a serious advantage and one reason that Zeke and I hope to do more sport climbing this summer. Being able to fall is a rather huge perk for us boulderers. But, to be outside in nature is one of my absolute favourite things in life so even if I can’t climb a ton, it’s still wonderful to be there.

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I was in love with the way the light hit the moss in the forest.

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Our little crash pad doesn’t really offer that much protection so naturally falling is not our favourite option.

I was really proud of Zeke during the whole day. He set goals and he was actually able to check some of them off at the end of the day. His lack of fear and athleticism and technique is always inspiring to me. So he really rocked hard for his first day back and that gave me a thrill. I love the way that climbing encourages you to really support other climbers and I especially find this in bouldering which is such a social sport.

And while Zeke was finding his outdoor groove again I was having a serious internal battle. And I mean serious – like every possible thing I could stress and worry about was floating through my head in a series of not-so-comical but still cartoon-like images. It was so bad at one point that I just scrambled up on top of a boulder and sat there trying to collect myself. This is supposed to be fun! This is something I chose. I want to be here. This became my new mantra. I couldn’t climb anything without panic setting in, or fear taking over, or my body just not responding the way I hoped it would and could. After a good while of trying to let go of that beast, EGO, I finally brought myself back to a place where,  even if I couldn’t accomplish much, at least I could enjoy watching Zeke climb and celebrate his victories (oh yah and keep him safe.) Still, the boulders seemed to taunt me….seemed to beg me to climb them..come on Kristi, you know you want to…you know you can’t go home without tackling just one more…. So near the end of the day Zeke found a problem that he thought I could manage. The problem was seemingly easy and I could see exactly how it should go for the most part, but I couldn’t seem to trust myself or Zeke catching me, or the mat, or anything else. Midway up on my second or third attempt I froze and panicked in an all-too familiar way. I was shaking and my head was fuzzy, my heart beat quickened, my entire body tensed in what can only be described as a cat ready to pounce position.

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Each attempt got me a tiny bit closer to my goal but not without huge effort.

I quickly climbed my way back down and tried to drive away the panic. I knew this was ridiculous. The problem was well within my abilities, it wasn’t super high up so even if I fell I would be okay and Zeke was ready to catch my fall too. So, at a point where I thought I should just quit climbing entirely, questioned why I even do it and wanted to just sit and cry I forced myself back on the boulder. Not because anyone was telling me I had to do it, but because I could feel this was an important turning point in the day and maybe even in my climbing.

I got back on the boulder and this time I pushed through to the end of the problem and the fact that I had gotten that far truly amazed me. The adrenaline rush that followed didn’t make my heart race in the same way, rather, it calmed me. I could feel the blood pumping through my body in a way that was driving me instead of holding me back. I thought about pushing myself even further and climbing on towards the next problem but decided to call it a day. When I came back down my mind just completely stilled. I was proud, even if the accomplishment was seemingly small, and I suddenly felt more like myself again. The bizarre cartoons in my head were gone.

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The amazing thing about climbing is that just moving one step further can sometimes make your entire day. In this case, it sure did. That one small physical move is symbolic of the strength of will it takes to overcome our fears.

By the end of the day I had been through every emotion possible – fear, anger, frustration, sadness, embarrassment, joy, peace…you name it. And I came out feeling much more centered, focused on the tasks ahead, determined to not beat myself up but also to work harder on overcoming my fear of heights. With these lessons learned Zeke and I had a lovely rest of the evening enjoying what Beautiful BC has to offer. We stopped to watch a stunning sunset from Whytecliff Park in West Vancouver, and stayed until the chill in the air forced us away from the cliff.

So thank you bouldering, Zeke, my inner strength and the beauty around me for that day. I’m so grateful to have a sport that challenges every part of me and pushes me to grow. Can’t wait to be back outside again soon – outdoor climbing season here we come!

 

 

Beach Bouldering in Portugal

 

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It doesn’t get much better than bouldering on a stunning beach in Southern Portugal.

Well, I certainly didn’t expect my last post for The Vancouver Sun to be about a nude beach and bouldering in Portugal, but I didn’t really expect to go to a nude beach and boulder in Portugal as well. Life is certainly full of surprises. The Vancouver Sun has shut down its community blog section so I’m re-posting my last Sun post here on my climbing, health, travel and adventure blog. Come with me as I dive back into the memory of our perfect day of beach bouldering on the Algarve Coast.

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There’s a very cool little cave at the back of the beach that has a fun and short, but challenging problem.

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View from inside the cave.

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Sunset at Praia das Furnas

After our wonderful, challenging and epic day of sport climbing with André of Volta do Mar, we were given one final gift – the gift of an out of the way bouldering spot on the beach. And aren’t you lucky…I’m giving this gift back to any of you lucky readers who happen to be climbers who happen to be lucky enough to find themselves in Portugal with a chalk bag and a pair of climbing shoes. So get your pens/phones out and write down/click for Praia das Furnas, Rua Serpa Pinto 32, 7630-174 Odemira, Portugal. Trust me, you won’t want to miss out. You see my boyfriend and I boulder primarily in Squamish, BC, which is beautiful and the forest is magical, but the granite is notoriously challenging to climb. Foot holds are almost non-existent, or completely non-existant and forest landings can be terrifying with branches and sharp rocks in the way. So when we finally found our way down a gravel road to Praia das Furnas we were like kids in a candy shop. The boulders were plentiful, not scary and all had soft, beach landings. Welcome to heaven.

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Throughout the day we sat at the edge of the ocean and let the streams of tide wash over us and cool us down. There were all sorts of neat patterns made by the tide that were mesmerizing.

It was a hot September day, the kind that is just right. Not too cold, not too hot, which is about what Portugal is like in the fall, so I definitely recommend going at that time of year. We lay on the beautiful soft sand, surrounded by happy nudists and soaked up the atmosphere and sunshine until the sweat trickled down our faces. We jumped into the ocean…which is not warm, FYI. Portugal is on the Atlantic and the water can be intensely bone chilling. We went snorkeling earlier in the week and had to wear wet suits in order to stay warm, just to give you an idea.

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What you’ll need to rent to spend time in the water in Portugal.

But, this cool temperature was perfect for our day of bouldering. We would tackle a problem, or just climb as far as we could along the rocks, take off our shoes and chalk bags, jump in the water and cool down and lie in the sun again. Repeat as needed. We were so blissfully unaware of the passing of time that suddenly we realized that the day time beach dwellers, aka the nudists, were starting to leave and a new, beach bonfire crowd was starting to arrive. We were lucky enough to be on this beach on the same day as the super moon and we climbed as the moon rose breathtakingly over the ocean.

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The supermoon rising over Praia das Furnas

There aren’t many perfect days in life, but this was one of them. Zeke’s smile was almost as large as the giant, pulsing moon and we couldn’t think of a better way to spend our last full day on the Algarve Coast. We made a pact to come back and spend days at this beach, climbing every problem we can manage. There is no guide-book as far as we know, but the difficulty of the problems are probably pretty easy to figure out. We only tried a handful of problems but hope that in our next trip we can record some of them in more detail. Our tip for now – just look for the chalk! We even had one friendly Portuguese man come over and attempt to give us beta (for non-climbers, beta is the series of moves required to finish a particular problem/climb) in his broken English and we felt that kinship that comes from being a climber anywhere in the world.

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Why walk a beach when you can climb it? So much fun.

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We found this amazing arch only at the end of the day, but could have spent all day on it and highly recommend that if you do go.

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This rock was made to be climbed. Heel hook central!

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Zeke tearing it up.

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My absolute favourite photo of Zeke climbing that day – talk about a perfect setting.

I can still feel the glow from that day, hear the sound of the waves crashing as we lay in the sun, feel the sticky grip of the rock under my hands and feet and the heat from the sun pulling forth beads of sweat as we tackled each problem. I can still remember the cool and impressive supermoon as it got bigger and bigger and took over the sky, something my camera sadly couldn’t capture properly, though I tried. I can still feel the depth of gratitude welling up as I enjoyed every minute of that day.

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Sandy, dirty, sweaty, ocean salt covered from head to toe, tired and utterly joyful. What a day.

So, thanks to those who followed my Vancouver Sun blogs for the last four years but I can tell you – the adventure is far from over. I’ll continue writing on this platform and possibly others so stay tuned for more adventures in travel and climbing.

For all my links visit about.me/kristifuoco

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Fear – climbing your way through it

“Anything I’ve ever done that ultimately was worthwhile initially scared me to death.” ~Anonymous

I have a pretty severe fear of heights. One time when I was on a road trip in the South West with my two friends we stopped in the Grand Canyon. My friend, who is a photographer, really wanted a photo of the other two of us, sitting right at the edge of the canyon. As I got closer and closer to the edge the sheer vastness of the canyon completely overwhelmed me and I froze. I actually froze and couldn’t move. I panicked. Eventually I got up and ran from the edge. When my fear of heights hits I can feel it grip my stomach and make every muscle in my body freeze. As you can imagine, in climbing, this is a bit of a problem.

Looking down on the Grand Canyon was an intense experience. It feels a bit like you will be swallowed up by its vastness. Imagine climbing that kick ass rock!

Looking down on the Grand Canyon was an intense experience. It feels a bit like you will be swallowed up by its vastness. Imagine climbing that kick ass rock!

So why did I decide to climb you might ask? Strangely enough, I’ve heard from many many climbers that they also have a fear of heights. This is perhaps yet another indicator of the addictive power of climbing. In some ways starting off with bouldering helped me since I never have to climb more than 18 feet. On the other hand, I’m never roped up and always have to climb or jump down, so in some ways being roped up at a higher height is slightly easier. In any case, dealing with fear is a daily task for any climber and here are some ways that I deal with it.

Visualization. You hear this one a lot in sports in general. Visualize finishing something, accomplishing something. In bouldering, I try to see each move in my head before I even put a hand or foot on the wall. My boyfriend has suggested using the problems I’m working on as a form of insomnia management (climbing yourself to sleep you could say) and I have to say, this is much better than counting sheep, but it also helps you climb better. The other day I got him to talk me through every move of a problem he’d been trying to finish for ages as we lay sleepily in bed, and the next time he was at the gym, he sent it the first time. Your body has muscle memory and so does your mind. Learn to embrace the mental aspect of climbing as much as the pysical.

Time for some visualizing!

Time for some visualizing!

Yoga and meditation. One thing that amazes me is how much yoga helps climbing. I love yoga, but sadly these days don’t practice it enough (which I need to change), but every day I think, “if I was doing more yoga, my climbing would be better.” Sure, the physical aspect of yoga will help your climbing with increased flexibility, muscle control and core strength, but it’s the mental that can really help you out. I’ve found that my most successful climbs are after I’ve had a few minutes to just be in my mind, let it be still, meditate on the problem and give myself that boost of mental energy and mental strength I need. Then as I climb I breathe my way through the problem and stay as focused as possible. When my mind is distracted I often forget moves, lose my nerve or let my body tense up.

Yoga is a climber's friend!

Yoga is a climber’s friend! (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Relax. Fear is inevitable. Especially when you are a newbie climber or recovering from an injury. What doesn’t help is tension in the wrong parts of your body. The moment I start to feel fear when I’m climbing, and I notice it, I try to make an effort to relax my body and breathe through the fear. If I can, I rest in a particular position for a moment, close my eyes, refocus and breath and drop my shoulders. This makes an enormous difference. Just the simple act of straightening my arms and dropping my shoulders usually puts me in a far superior and more secure climbing position and I can often continue on and work my way to the top. Let all the weight sink down. Use the gravity you are fighting so hard against as a way to loosen your whole body.

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Digest your fear in small bites. It’s okay if you can’t climb the face of the Chief after your first month of climbing. In fact it’s okay if you never can. One of the hardest parts of climbing is not necessarily the physical, but letting go of ego and managing fear. I’ve always been hard on myself and I have trouble being a beginner, as I’ve mentioned. Recently I managed to finish a challenging problem at the gym and I was so proud and happy, but the next time I was at the gym I wanted to show my boyfriend how I could climb it and of course, I couldn’t do it. I felt humiliated and frustrated. My ego and fear got in the way of my climbing. So, every time I climb, I make a concerted effort to be happy with seemingly small progress. Just getting one move further on a hard problem, learning how to adjust my body in a better way, using better footwork on the exact same moves…whatever it may be, it’s still progress. Dealing with climbs in smaller doses, breaking them apart and being happy with tiny bit of progress will make them much more achievable.

How does a caterpillar eat a massive leaf? One tiny little bite at a time. (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

How does a caterpillar eat a massive leaf? One tiny little bite at a time. (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Sometimes you just have to push through. I firmly believe that you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself when you climb (and in life), though as I’ve said, I’m not always good at this. I also believe that caution is key, knowing your body, not pushing yourself when you are exhausted or injured…I believe all of that. But, I’ve experienced first hand what it feels like to push through a real moment of fear and force yourself through a problem. The “crux” of the problem, or the hardest part, often requires a leap of faith (or sometimes even a physical leap) and that’s when your buddies might be shouting at you to just do it! If you can push through that fear you will experience the high that climbing is all about. There’s nothing like it. And this in turn fuels your ability to climb everything else. And also gives you a goofy happy grin and may also be followed by high fives, and some booty shaking in the gym. At least if you’re me.

Use fear as a positive motivator.

Use fear as a positive motivator.

“What is needed, rather than running away or controlling or suppressing or any other resistance, is understanding fear; that means, watch it, learn about it, come directly into contact with it. We are to learn about fear, not how to escape from it.” ~Jiddu Krishnamurti

Fear is not something to be afraid of. Sounds strange right? It’s there for a reason – it’s indicating some kind of danger, but it’s also just a feeling and can be dealt with. Understand your fear, why it’s there and what parts of it can be overcome. I’m proud of myself every time I climb, no matter how little I may achieve. I’m proud every time I do something that initially fills me with that quivery feeling. It’s in these moments we grow as climbers and as people. So get out of your comfort zone today and do something that scares you.

 

 

Dealing with injuries – 6 tips to recovery

Conversation with the finger physiotherapist I visited after injuring my finger climbing this summer:

Physio: So, tell me. How did you injure your finger?

Me: Climbing

Physio: Oh! Another climber. Of course.

Me: So….when can I start climbing again?

Physio: Climbers! You are ALL totally addicted!

Foot slip

Just the slip of a foot can lead to a sprained ankle or wrist. This sport is not for the faint of heart!

This pretty much sums up many a climber’s life. You fall in love with the sport (or perhaps have been in love with it for years, or your whole life), you get injured and all you want to do is get back to climbing ASAP. I injured my A2 pulley tendon around September 10th after my foot slipped on a crimpy hold in the gym this summer and now it’s December 2nd, and after around 6 weeks nearly full rest, a lot of therapy and a lot of patience I still can’t fully straighten my finger. After the injury first occurred I figured I could at least climb one handed, right? Yes, this is how addicted I am. I tried that a few times with my climber boyfriend, just wanting to be at the gym and not lose conditioning and then realized this was not the wisest, or easiest endeavour. I at least could watch him climb and be in my happy place. But, the reality of the sport of bouldering in particular is that it is incredibly hard on the body, and chances for injury are high. As I’ve discussed with a few other climbers – in bouldering there is a higher chance for a slightly more minor injury and in all other kinds of climbing there is a lower chance of a bigger injury (like falling on your head for example.) It’s what it is and I don’t know a lot of boulderers who aren’t nursing some kind of tendonitis, joint pain, or injury at one point or another. So, as I near the end of my first major climbing injury I have a few tips that might help you along the way too. I’m not a doctor, but I’ve sure seen a lot of therapists in my life and slowly feel that I have learned some knowledge along the way!

1. See a doctor or physiotherapist immediately. Depending on the severity of your injury, the first thing to do is book an appointment with a specialist so that you can have all the tips and advice you need right away to treat your injury and to have it heal properly. This really makes all the difference. As soon as I got a special night time cast for my finger to regain the straightness it made all the difference.

2. Rest. Rest. Rest again. Repeat as needed. This one is the biggest key, the seemingly easiest to follow and yet the most aggravating for a climber. Your body needs time to heal. Listen to it and rest it.

3. Remember that you aren’t going to lose all your conditioning as you recover. This one freaked me out. I had worked SO hard to build the right muscles, train hard and get to a level of climbing I was pretty happy with having just started in May. I was terrified that I was going to lose all of that by resting. I was happily wrong! Sure, I lost a bit of muscle strength and was a bit rusty on some of my technique, but the rest time was actually really good for my body. My shoulder tendonitis got better and I focused on other exercise, strengthening my core and legs and I can see the results of this now that I’m back at climbing.

4. Ease back in gradually. You can’t go from injured to climbing caves in one day. This one takes a whole heck of a lot of patience. As soon as I got back to the gym I was so happy to be there that I wanted to try all the hard problems, but I had to stick to big fat juggy problems (giant holds that are easy on the hands) and still need to be very careful. In some ways it’s almost good because it makes you focus hard on your technique and being a careful climber.

As a way of easing myself back into bouldering my boyfriend took me to Cliffhanger, a ropes gym next to the Hive for my first try on the ropes. It's MUCH easier on the body and was a great way for me to be climbing without putting too much pressure on my finger.

As a way of easing myself back into bouldering my boyfriend took me to Cliffhanger, a ropes gym next to the Hive for my first try on the ropes. It’s MUCH easier on the body and was a great way for me to be climbing without putting too much pressure on my finger.

5. Know that your mind will need recovery time. This one surprised me the most. I had a lesson with my instructor the other day and she noticed right away that I am climbing very tentatively at the moment. I’m scared to hurt myself, scared to put weight on the finger and I don’t trust myself fully right now. This unfortunately creates tension in your back and shoulders as well as unsure feet which is a recipe for a bumpy climb (and not intentionally bumpy). She told me this is totally normal, though and that you just have to work on regaining that mental strength as well as the physical. Just knowing that made a huge difference and made me a whole lot less frustrated with myself.

6. Perhaps this should be number one – injury prevention! There is a whole article within this point, but injury prevention is about knowing your body, training properly, warming up properly, pacing yourself during climbing and knowing when to call it a day. Trust me, it’s much better to quit your climb half an hour early than injure yourself in a slopping tired attempt at the end. But, as I know well, having the discipline to stop when needed…not so easy when you’re having a blast!

For more tips and advice check out this article from Climbing Magazine.

Happy climbing and hope you stay injury-free!

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