Saturday, December 1, 2012

Permission to Suck

This phrase has been on my mind a lot lately. I'm not exactly sure where I first heard, but it seems to have more-or-less originated David Kadavy. And I know I've often read Seth Godin talking about taking risks and embracing failure as part of doing something meaningful.

The thing is, if I only do things that I'm good at, I'm not exploring my boundaries. If I refuse to suck at something, I can't do anything new. I've mentioned before that my friend Jim says that you're allowed to suck at anything for the first year. If I play my cards right, I'll always be sucking at something.

So here are a few things I've been sucking at this year.


Somehow I made it through childhood without learning how to swim properly. So I decided I was going to learn how to swim this year. It would open up a number of opportunities for me like triathlons, kayaking, etc. I was going to sign up for lessons at the local rec center during the summer, but the class filled up too quickly. So my family and I started just going to the pool once a week while school was out.

It turns out that chasing kids around the pool is a bad way to learn how to swim. The best I could do was try to float on my back in the kiddie pool and find my balance in the water. My legs still seem to want to sink, but I guess it helped get me more comfortable with things.

A coworker had given me a book about swimming technique, and some of the ideas from that were floating around in the back of my mind. So while we were at the hotel pool during our Thanksgiving Getaway, I was surprised to discover that I was suddenly able to swim from one end of the pool to the other. Not very well, mind you. I was expending much more energy than I thought should be necessary. But I was doing it. I even managed a back stroke. As long as I can practice a bit more often, I'm pretty sure I can get to a point where I can feel okay saying that I know how to swim.


This just looked like a lot of fun. I've never had very good balance, and it's something that I'm trying to improve. My wife wasn't thrilled with the idea of spending the money on a slackline when we don't have anywhere in the yard to rig it up. But when I came across a Gibbon line at an REI yard sale, I had to grab it.

This has given me an interesting opportunity to be terrible at something in public. The only places I've been able to practice are at parks and at the office. But it doesn't really matter. Honestly, I expected people to laugh at me a lot more than they do. Instead, they mostly seem curious. And of course some make jokes about me needing a pole like tight-rope walkers use. I wonder if seeing someone going through those first stumbling steps of failure while learning something new encourages others to overcome some fear they might have of taking on new challenges of their own.


This one is brand new for me. I decided some time during the summer that this winter I was finally going to learn how to ski. My real interest is in backcountry ski mountaineering kinds of things, but that doesn't seem like a great environment to learn in for an absolute beginner. So it's groomed slopes and lifts for me right now. Still, I want to learn using the same gear that I'll some day be using on more adventurous terrain, so rather than renting the equipment, I hunted down some bargains and got the best gear that I could without breaking the bank. Now I'm financially committed to doing this.

Last Sunday, after we got back from Utah, I drove up to Loveland and signed up for a first-timer lesson. I happened to meet the instructor while I was sitting around waiting for the class to start. I told him that he was going to think my alpine touring setup was kind of weird, but he seemed to think my rationale was sound.

Those big floppy skis were every bit as awkward as I thought they would be on the hard-packed resort slopes. But it all basically worked just fine, and the lesson was a ton of fun. I'm going back tomorrow for another lesson and more practice. I don't know that I'll be descending any backcountry couloirs this year, but I'll get there eventually.

Rock Climbing

Okay, I have to say that considering I've only been climbing since about May or June, I feel pretty good about how my skills are developing. But the best I've been able to do so far is top-roping some of the 5.10 routes at the gym. Somehow I've got it in my mind that you have to be able to lead 5.11s before you can really consider yourself a good climber. That's probably not accurate or fair, but apparently it's the standard I'm holding myself against.

My very first climbing experience was at a little introductory course at the REI store in Denver. It was a very safe and encouraging environment to suck in. Everyone there was starting at the same place I was, so there was no pressure to be good at it. But taking the next step by going to a climbing gym full of people who know what they're doing was really intimidating.

When it comes to being intimidated by something that I really want to do, I find myself having to just stare in the mirror, or so to speak, and telling myself, "Get over it." So the first time or two, I went by myself, played around in the bouldering cave, rediscovered some humility, and having a really good time. Once my daughter started going with me, it got a little easier. It always helps to have someone around that you know, even if they're six years old.

F and I are getting better and better all the time, I think, and I'm not so self-conscious about being mediocre as I was at first. It's been a great way for us to spend some bonding time, and we're both learning a lot about pushing ourselves to improve. She sent a 5.7 last Thursday that she'd been working on for a while. It was so cool to see the thrill of achievement in her eyes.


For me, sucking at something can be a big motivator to work harder. Nobody likes being awful at something they're trying to do. But it's the all-important first phase of learning something new. Embrace it, and once you stop sucking at whatever your thing may be, find something new to suck at while you enjoy the feeling of excelling at the old thing.

So what are you sucking at these days? I love to hear the enthusiasm of someone who's found a new pursuit that's worth struggling for.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving Getaway

I'm a little slow blogging about Thanksgiving. So much so that it's already being relegated to my cluttered drawer of memories. But honestly, if I have a choice between blogging and going out and doing something fun, the fun is going to win every time. Sorry, guys.

For quite a while now I've been wanting to get out of town, at least for a couple of days. And even with a four-day weekend, a couple of days were all we had - C had things to do closer to home on Saturday. So we seized on the opportunity to make a quick trip which we had intended to do a couple of months ago but were unable. As so often is the case for me, this inspiration struck me while pushing my mouse around on Google Maps.

Flaming Gorge is an area in northeastern Utah in the Ashley National Forest. The Green River is dammed up to create a large reservoir that spans the border with Wyoming. I didn't know anything about the place, but it looked worth checking out. And Dinosaur National Monument is right in that area, too, so between the two, I expected that the family should be able to find a good time.

I left work early on Wednesday, we hopped in the truck, and headed west on I-70. At Rifle, Colorado, we headed north through the dark on state highways, dodging the occasional deer in the road. Around 10:00 we pulled in to our hotel in Vernal, Utah.

On Thursday we got around relatively early and headed out. Some of the food we had meant to bring from home was forgotten, so we stopped by a grocery store to pick up the ingredients for our Thanksgiving feast - PB&J sandwiches!

The drive from Vernal to Flaming Gorge winds through hills full of geologic and paleontologic interest. There were several road-side signs describing the kinds of fossils found in each area, much of which had formerly been a prehistoric coastline. Most of the amenities at the Gorge were closed for the season, but that was okay with us. Had we planned on camping, it would have been more of a problem. We drove across the dam and around the reservoir, taking in some scenery.

Flaming Gorge dam

Flaming Gorge reservoir

Worrying that any more time in the truck would result in a munchkin mutiny, we turned back to the main road and parked at the Swett Ranch trail head. By that time, the sun had warmed things up as much as it was going to, but it was still quite cool. So we bundled up, grabbed our packs, and went for a hike down one of the forest service roads. Lots more deer in the area.

F, M, and C hiking down a forest service road

Swett Ranch is situated in the valley between the highway and the reservoir. It was a picturesque setting.

Swett Ranch

A stand of aspen near Swett Ranch

M with sticks, wielding his trekking pole

F, who isn't so much into sticks

We found some rocks just off the trail where we could sit and have our lunch. Then, back to the trail head. After relaxing in the hotel room for a little bit, we went down and played in the swimming pool for a while. There weren't many restaurants open that evening, so supper was of the microwaveable variety supplied by the grocery store, eaten in our room at whatever tables and floor space we could make work.

Friday, after breakfast, we packed most of our stuff and then headed back to the pool. Then back on the road. The internet told us that the visitor's center on the Colorado side of Dinosaur National Monument was closed for the season. So we decided to make for the Utah side instead. A quick glance at the map told me that a non-highway route should be straight-forward, but I missed a turn and we ended up taking a long, very pretty drive to a dead end at a fish hatchery at Jones Hole. Backtrack and take the highway. Lose a couple of hours. No big deal.

Some cliffs near Jones Hole, UT

There are hourly tours to a dinosaur fossil quarry from the visitor's center. This quarry turns out to be an ancient river bed which was lifted up and turned about 70 degrees. The man who discovered and excavated it arranged for the bones to be left in place and a structure erected over it, so you get to see everything preserved as it was embedded in the earth millions of years ago. I think the ranger said there are some 1500 fossils in this wall.

Dinosaur quarry

F posing near an allosaurus skeleton (cast)

You can touch some of the fossils

We returned home by the same route we took on Wednesday, and much on the same schedule. We were back to I-70 just after sundown, so I was able to see the deer in the road much better this time. We were kind of burned out on listening to music, so we listened to a few episodes of the Dirtbag Diaries which were cached on my phone. We got home at 10:00, happy to sleep in our own beds again. Which is to say, we were happy for the kids to each have their own beds - those two trying to share a bed in the same room as C and me just doesn't work very well.

So it was a bit of a whirlwind getaway, but it was just what I needed. I got to spend Thanksgiving with two of the things I'm most grateful for: my family and the beauty of nature. And we got a chance to show the kids that experience is more valuable than unnecessarily large meals. As far as adventure goes, it may seem pretty pedestrian, but it was possibly the best Thanksgiving I've ever had.

I have no idea.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Sunday on Mt. Meeker

It's been a couple of months since the last time I got out for a really good hike on my own. Not that I haven't been out at all - I've gone on group hikes with CMC folks, either as part of the Wilderness Trekking School class I took, or as part of the prerequisite work for taking their Basic Mountaineering School next spring. But there's something very different about group hiking - it's not quite what I'm usually looking for when I venture out into the mountains. So with a break in my schedule and some inspiration gained while looking at some topo maps, I struck out yesterday on a gem of a route that doesn't get a whole lot of attention.

Mount Meeker, in the southeastern part of Rocky Mountain National Park, is one of the more prominent peaks visible from Denver. But if people know which one it is, they usually think of it as being the thing in front of Longs Peak. But it turns out that it's a great mountain in its own right that merits a closer look.

The feature on the map that captured my imagination was Meeker Ridge, which extends southeast from the summit. So that was the route I chose. Meeker also shares another approach with Longs Peak on the Loft route. But I did that one back in September, and the best parts of that climb are after the turn-off to Meeker.

View Meeker Ridge in a larger map

I drove to the end of CR 113n in Meeker Park on Sunday morning. Daylight savings time had just ended, so the sun was already up by the time I hit the trail at 7:15. The weather was pleasantly cool, and there was a fair amount of snow below tree-line. A single set of out-and-back tracks, presumably from the day before, were the only sign of other hikers I saw on this trail.

After following the trail to the saddle between Meeker and Lookout Mountain, there is an almost-clearing that marks the point where the beaten path is left behind.

A view of Lookout Mountain from the saddle

As you bushwhack up the hill, there are several outcroppings of rock which afford nice views over the treetops.

Horsetooth Peak

By the time I gained Meeker Ridge proper, the snow had cleared out, either scoured by the wind or melted by the sun, now unimpeded by the forest shade. Along the ridge there are great piles of rock which I dubbed the Ancient Ruins, owing to their similarity to many of the toppled castles in Europe.

Ancient Ruins on Meeker Ridge

The wind was a sustained 20 miles per hour, with stronger gusts regularly buffeting me as I worked my way upward. And the sun was hidden behind an overcast covering of clouds for the entire morning. I made enough headway to squeeze through the window of time I had set before turning back. Just after noon, I was approaching the fantastic knife edge that leads from the so-called ridge summit to Mt. Meeker's true summit. The wind was unnerving as I made the last very exposed moves onto that edge, but I couldn't let my efforts be foiled by a little bit of fear. Of course, it turned out to be pretty fun.

Mt. Meeker, from the beginning of the knife edge, with Longs Peak in the background.

Quite by chance I stumbled upon the summit register stuck down in a hole beneath some rocks. The paper had fallen out of its tube and was wet with snow, so my writing was blurred and clumsy.
Meeker summit register

When I stood back up, I saw the only people I would encounter all day - two guys who were approaching the summit from the Loft route. I talked to one of them for a little while as his partner worked his way up the summit boulders, but I didn't want to linger, as it felt as though daylight would fail all too soon.

As I returned to the ridge, I discovered a small Bodhisattva statue nestled in an alcove of rocks.

A Bodhisattva statue on Meeker's summit

The sun was out for much of my descent, casting a golden glow on the tundra grasses on the mountainside. The wind was still constant, but it felt a little warmer. By the time I got back to the trail head at 15:50, I was thoroughly spent. But the true aches from the day's jaunt wouldn't be felt until this morning. This is what a Monday is supposed to feel like.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Optimism Vs. Engagement

Just when I think I know something about Life, a deeper truth comes along and sets me to reeling.

In my last post, I presented all of the wonderful signs of the season as evidence that there are many more great things to look forward to as Time moves along in its great cycle. The very next day, as we got on our bike to ride to school, my daughter, F, enthused:

"I can't wait until today!"

I think this is the Zen Stick that Jane writes about from time to time.

I turned to F, as best as I could from my bike saddle, and started to correct her. "But it's already today...." But she was right. Optimism for the future is a good thing, but how much better is it to be 100% engaged in the here-and-now?

That girl never ceases to amaze me. She has this inner light that refuses to be ignored, that touches everyone she comes into contact with. I try to have a positive impact on the world around me, but I still have a lot to learn. I'm reminded of these lyrics:

I had a match, but she had a lighter.
I had a flame, but she had a fire.
I was bright, but she was much brighter.
I was high, but she was the sky.
 -- Cake: Mexico

I am privileged to be surrounded by lots of people that are so incredibly smart, talented, bold, enthusiastic, caring... But there was a time when I would never have guessed that a six-year-old would be the most inspiring person I've ever met.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Firsts of the Fall

The first Saturday morning bike ride in sub-40° temperatures and overcast skies. Convincing yourself that as long as you make it out the door, it counts as a workout. Bundled up in at least two layers from head to toe, telling yourself that it's not really that cold. You just have to acclimate to the cooler weather. Getting home 30 miles later with thoroughly frozen hands that thaw to burning pinpricks. A well-deserved cup of tea and a hot shower.

The first pile of leaves raked up from the ash tree that has gone from green to golden seemingly overnight. The kids jumping in, heaping the leaves around themselves; tossing handfulls up in the air and laughing as the leaves shower back down, sticking to sweaters and hair. Thinking maybe you should be trying to capture it all on video, but unwilling to tear yourself away from just being in this moment.

The first hike with snowflakes drifting down at the trail head. A few miles of distance and one or two thousand feet of elevation later, the snow is knee-deep in places. Facing into the wind, you half-wish for goggles and a balaclava. But the slight stinging of the driving snow is just the mountains' way of teasing you, telling you that you're always welcome to come visit as long as you're willing to accept their house rules.

Times of change are a reminder of the richness of experience that awaits us. After a summer full of sunshine, shade trees, and summits, it wouldn't do to forget or take for granted that we're surrounded by wonders that are subject to the slow rhythms of time. The turning of seasons reminds us not to mourn the days that have passed, but to celebrate days yet to come.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Review (and gift): Knocking 'Round the Rockies

I recently finished reading a great little book: Knocking 'Round the Rockies by Ernest Ingersoll. It is the account of the author's work in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming with the United States Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories in 1874 and 1875.

In recounting his experiences and adventures, Ingersoll waxes poetic, scientific, historic, comic with an engaging rapidity. There are anecdotes of Indian battles and trouble with mules; histories of Denver and other towns he visited; details of the operation and economics of the 19th-century mining industry; and many interesting social and linguistic observations may be made in the reading.

Here are a few of my favorite passages:

There is no possible desolation greater than these lofty peaks show - fastnesses where winter is supreme and chaos retains a foothold upon the earth - fragments of a primeval and Arctic world dotting the fair expanse of tempered nature below.

 "That reminds me," laughed Mr. Wilson, "of a funny thing that happened once in Nevada. Coming back from a mountain one day, we surprised a bear and shot at him, but missed him, and he ran off very lively. We followed along and chased him right through camp. There were only a Mexican and the cook there, and they, seeing the bear run by, started after - the Mexican on the horse with an old army pistol, and the cook with nothing but his rolling-pin. The bear got away, but what that fellow proposed to do with the rolling-pin was more than he or I could tell."

 I can no more express with leaden types the ineffable, intangible ghost and grace of such an experience than I can weigh out to you the ozone that empurples the dust raised by the play of the antelopes in yonder amethyst valley. Moses need have chosen no particular mountain whereupon to receive his inspiration. The divine Heaven approaches very near all of these peaks.

Not only do I recommend this book, but I have the rare chance to give it to all of you. Kind of. It's available for free via Google Books! So curl up by the campfire with a pipe and your laptop or tablet and enjoy this glimpse of the Rocky Mountains as they were some 138 years ago.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Busy body, muddled mind

How can life be so busy without producing anything in particular to write about? I think maybe I just suck at introspection and making connections between the physical and mental aspects of life. I have not been idle, but I guess I'm feeling uninspired. So I'm just going to dump a bunch of stuff here. Thanks for letting me vent. Just smile and pretend like you're listening.

At the beginning of the month, I went out to Indian Peaks with a guy named K, whom I met on South Arapaho peak back in August. We were most of the way along the ridge of Mt. Neva when some scary looking clouds started blowing our way, so we bailed. As the clouds rolled in, they were so low that the Arapaho peaks were completely obscured. But we were only a little way along the trail back to the truck when everything cleared up and the sky was a perfect, uninterrupted expanse of blue. I think we were both kind of kicking ourselves for not going for the summit, but given the evidence we had to work with, I think we made the right decision when we turned back.

The next weekend I was supposed to go climbing in Golden, but things fell through with my partner. So instead I went to Boulder and got in a good bike ride. Up Lefthand Canyon to Peak-to-Peak highway, and back down the St. Vrain canyon into Lyons. When I got to the top of Lefthand, I ended up getting mixed up in the Buffalo Bicycle Classic, which followed my route all the way back to where I was parked.

After I got home and we all had lunch, the family and I went down to Sloan's Lake for Adventures Denver - an expo put on by a number of outdoor companies to promote recreational activities to urban dwellers. That was a lot of fun. We didn't have a whole lot of time before things closed down, but F and I ran around and did as many of the activities as we could, including paddling around the lake a little bit in a canoe.

So all said, I wasn't too heart-broken about the climbing plans not coming to fruition. At least I was able to salvage the day.

My father was in town the following weekend. I wanted to take him up to Indian Peaks, but we didn't have time for that. We did try to get out to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Nat'l Wildlife Refuge, but it ended up being closed due to road work. I managed to make him have a few vegetarian meals, including a dinner at Leaf in Boulder. And though he put up some joking resistance, I think he enjoyed it plenty well.

Another climbing trip cancelled last week due to an illness ravaging the household of my partner (not the same one who flaked on me before). Bummer.

Meanwhile, I started taking classes for the Colorado Mountain Club's Wilderness Trekking School. While many of the topics it covers are not new to me, it's a prerequisite for taking their Basic Mountaineering School, which I'm hoping to do next spring. And I'll still be learning a lot in WTS, and I'm meeting new people, making connections, and trying to figure out how to be sociable. The school's field days will be occupying many of my weekends for a little while.

We had our first WTS field day yesterday, which took us to Watrous Gulch, just the other side of I-70 from Torrey's Peak. The aspen trees are in the midst of their autumnal turning from silver green to the most vivid shades of yellow and orange. At times, while walking through the fallen foliage on the trail, I imagined that the round leaves were coins of gold from some lost and scattered treasure.

One of the biggest challenges right now is trying to stick to some kind of fitness routine. I'm mostly avoiding running right now, still trying to let the PF in my right foot work itself out. The weather is great for cycling, but the sun rises so late these days that there's no time for a ride in the morning before I have to get F up and ready for school. And with C's evening classes on Mondays and Wednesdays, and my WTS classes on Tuesdays, afternoon workouts aren't much of an option. When school isn't preventing it, F and I have been going to the climbing gym after I get home from work. That's something, at least.

So I finally resolved myself to the fact that, though it's still prime cycling weather, I have to start doing my workouts indoors on the trainer, early in the morning. Riding outdoors will be relegated to weekends. And even though I suck at bouldering, right now that may be my best bet for getting out and climbing on actual rock on a regular basis. It's something I can go out and do without worrying about finding a partner, and I'm sure I ought to be able to squeeze that into my schedule somewhere.

Chimney Rock in southern Colorado has been in the news recently, as it was newly made a National Monument. Reading about it sent me back two years to my Grand Canyon bicycle tour. It's got the wanderlust stirring in the back of my mind. Don't know when I'll be able to hit the road again like that, but I think I need to get out of town for a while.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

A few days of Big Apple

Last night I got back from a few days in NYC. Before I left, F asked me if there were any climbing gyms in New York. "Yeah," I responded, "New York has a lot of everything except wide-open spaces and mountains." One of the things they have a lot of that I love the most is vegan restaurants.

Right after I checked into my hotel on Tuesday night, I headed over to Terri for supper. It's become a tradition of mine to eat there the first night I'm in town. Great-tasting vegan fast food always seems to hit the spot after half a day of airports, jets, and taxis.

The next night a coworker and I met up with a former colleague at Han Gawi, a vegan Korean restaurant. I'd been wanting to go there for a while, but it wasn't somewhere that I really wanted to go by myself. The food and atmosphere were both great.

Thursday was my last night in town, and I was feeling kind of burned out on being around so many people. So I was tempted to just hit the salad bar at Whole Foods and eat in my hotel room. But that would have left me with an evening of staring at the internet in hopes that it could alleviate my boredom. So instead I coaxed myself into walking down to Gingersnap Organics. I first heard about this place from Choosing Raw and have been wanting to check it out. But it's a little out of the way, and I was reluctant to try to drag omni' coworkers to a raw vegan place. So this was a perfect time to go by myself, and it did not disappoint. Nori rolls, a burger, and the most amazing coconut cream pie ever!

While I wasn't working or eating, I mostly spent my time reading and listening to the Enormocast. That's a fairly new podcast about climbing that I recently came across, and I'm catching up on all the episodes dating back to December of last year.

If you're even just a little bit into climbing, go check it out now. I'll wait right here for you.

I decided to send Chris Kalous, the producer/host of the show, an email to let him know that I'm enjoying it. I'm not sure I can really even call myself a climber at this point (almost all of my climbing so far has been in gyms), but I like having these virtual connections to the community. It was a very short exchange, but it caused me to reflect on a few things. And I reached the conclusion that I need to stop making excuses and letting my shyness hold me back from doing something I really want to do. So ignoring the fact that I have almost no free time in my schedule, I headed over to Mountain Project and decided to find myself a climbing partner. So hopefully I'll have rock-climbing stories to tell in the near future.

While I was packing for the trip, I grabbed two small paperbacks off my bookshelf to take with me. One was a Michael Moorcock novel - The War Hound and the World's Pain - that I picked up at a thrift store and hadn't read yet. It was a pretty good twist on the old Grail Quest theme. The other was Neal Stephenson's Zodiac, which I haven't read in ages. So it's been a real treat revisiting that one. One quote that struck me in particular, and belongs here on SPL, is this passage on riding a bicycle at night:
My nighttime attitude is, anyone can run you down and get away with it. Why give some drunk the chance to plaster me against a car? That's why I don't even own a bike light, or one of those godawful reflective suits. Because if you've put yourself in a position where someone has to see you in order for you to be safe -- to see you, and to give a fuck -- you've already blown it.

Cynical, but classic Stephenson Attitude. Love it.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Quick plug: ABC Kids Climbing

I skipped this weekend's hiking/mountaineering outing in favor of an all-day climbing date with my daughter, F. We went out to one of the bouldering areas on Flagstaff Road in Boulder and did some climbing and scrambling for the first part of the day. For lunch we picnicked on almond butter & jelly sandwiches and apples from the tailgate of the truck. After that it was starting to get pretty warm (some of the rocks were hot enough to burn our hands), so we left there and headed back into town.

I heard about a kid-friendly climbing gym in Boulder, so we decided to check that out before calling it a day. The place is ABC Kid's Climbing, and the staff said it's the first, and possibly only, gym of its kind in the world. It was pretty amazing. There are many top-rope and boulder routes set up for little bodies with smaller reach, and they rent kid-sized gear. But there are also plenty of adult-sized routes to keep the parents entertained. In fact, many of the bouldering problems are more highball than what I'm used to at our local climbing gym.

When we arrived, I went through the quick belaying certification process so F could climb on the top-rope wall. But as soon as we were done with that, she went straight to a side room where they have a zip line set up and stayed in there the entire time. I'm not sure if she was just tired of climbing for the day or if the zip line was too much a temptation for her to focus on anything else. But in a small way, I'm glad that our regular gym doesn't have that particular distraction so she can actually work on her climbing while we're there.

Another thing: we witnessed two separate climbing birthday parties today - both for girls! (One of the really cool things about climbing is that it seems to be enjoyed by males and females equally at all levels.) One group was top-roping on Crown Rock on Flagstaff, and the other booked their party at ABC. Either way, what a great idea! We'll see how she feels come January, but for now F is saying that she wants to have her next birthday party at ABC.

So if you find yourself in Boulder with an adventurous kid, ABC is definitely worth checking out. Everyone is bound to have a good time.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Density vs. Friendliness

When it comes to human populations, there's an inverse relationship between density and friendliness. That isn't to say that people in big cities are necessarily unfriendly, but that in heavily populated areas, folks are just less likely to acknowledge each other than when there aren't so many people around.

It's evident when driving. In any rural area I've ever been in, if you drive by a local on a remote county road, he's probably going to raise a finger or two from his truck's steering wheel in a kind of wave. When you get into a town of any size, the waving stops.

I see it when I'm out riding my bike. Away from the city, on roads and paths that don't see a lot of two-wheeled traffic, cyclists generally greet one another as they pass. As you get into more heavily-traveled regions you're lucky to get an "on your left."

It's especially obvious on hiking trails. If you get out there early enough, everyone you encounter, and it usually isn't that many, will offer a "good morning!" The farther you get from the trail head, the better the potential for a brief conversation. If you meet someone on a seldom-visited summit, they just might talk your ear off. Comparatively speaking, anyway. But on your way back out, when the afternoon crowds are out for their weekend constitutionals, the pleasantries begin to erode until you're lucky to even get a nod of acknowledgement.

I get that, when there are a lot of people around, it becomes impractical to say hello to every single one of them. And I don't go out hiking or riding my bike so that I can socialize with strangers. Generally, that's my alone time and I'm out there to absorb the scenery and quiet focus not commonly afforded me at home.

But I'm not really out there to escape. I'm driven to the outdoors by joy and love for the trail. I see the same thing in a lot of the faces I meet. But I can also see that not everyone is there for that reason. And that's fine. One of the great things about Nature is that it can mean so many different things to different people at different times.

Maybe part of the reason for this density-to-friendliness ratio is that sparseness gives us more sense of identity within a Tribe - a feeling that there's something that unites and sets us few apart from everyone that isn't out there. But as density increases, it becomes less obvious what common thread might bind us together. Or the commonality becomes less relevant as numbers increase. Whatever the case, I try to hold in my mind the reason that I'm out there and let it remain untouched by whatever indifference may emanate from the afternoon crowd. They may not be the reason I'm there, but I almost always will have a smile, a nod, or a "Hi!" to share with them.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Decisions and consequences: Navajo and Apache Peaks

Lately I've been slowly reading through the classic text Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills. Before my weekly hike last Sunday, I had just finished a chapter about safety and risk mitigation. One of the things it talks about is observing decisions, both as they are made and after the fact, and determining whether they are good or bad. And if they are bad, ensuring that they do not lead to additional bad decisions which cascade and threaten the outcome of the climb.

In that spirit, I thought it would be fun to present last weekend's hike to Navajo and Apache peaks as a series of decisions, consequences, and observations.

Decision: Wait until the last minute to figure out where I'm going. Like, the night before, just minutes prior to going to bed. Consequence: less time for research on my proposed route, which was to go up Airplane Gully to Navajo and follow the ridge to Apache and possibly Shoshone.

Decision: don't bother setting the alarm clock. Consequence: Overslept. (Since when did 05:00 qualify as oversleeping?!) Trail-head parking was full by the time I got there, so I had to backtrack and park at a pull-off on the side of the road. No big deal, and led to an interesting opportunity...

Decision: park the truck as quickly as possible and head back up the road on foot to try to get a picture of the huge bull-moose I just saw skittering across the pavement in front of me. Inconsequential: he was long gone (or at least invisible) by the time I got there. But I'm sure he would have been happy to see me, too.

Observation: even without the perfect light of sunrise, there are some amazing photo opportunities in the IPW. It was a perfect day for hiking.

The moon about to set behind Shoshone

Navajo, Apache, and Shoshone reflected in Lake Isabelle

Decision: take the standard Class 3 route up Airplane Gully to Navajo. Consequence: it was safe and fun. There is some interesting history behind the plane crash that happened here in 1948. (Plundering souvenirs is illegal. Don't do it.)

Wreckage at the top of Airplane Gully

Observation: on the decent down the north side of Navajo, it's disconcerting to find, on what I expected to be a 3rd- or 4th-class scramble, a piece of forgotten protection in the rock from previous climbers who were using ropes. Maybe this route is a little more than I bargained for.

Navajo's north face. See if you can spot the hiker.

Observation: when Gerry Roach says a route is "impractical", he doesn't mean that it's a bit of a hassle when there are plenty of other perfectly serviceable routes available. (What do I care about practicality, anyway? You want to know what's impractical? Climbing a mountain, that's what. No practical purpose served at all. Practical is staying home and doing yard work.) No, what he means is he doesn't recommend it, and unless you really know what you're doing, you listen to Gerry Roach.

Observation: the Chessmen formations along the ridge between Apache and Shoshone look pretty serious. Gerry was right. It turns out that other people have done this traverse before, but doing it alone is probably irresponsible.

Amid the Chessmen

Decision: let's just go for it and see what happens. There should be bail-out points if it turns out to be impassable. Consequence: early bailout was imminent, but I had fun.

Observation: more protection, this time in the form of a piton, in the rock where I'm soloing down the ridge toward Isabelle Glacier. A piton? Seriously? What kind of unethical and underconfident climber drives a piton in a Class-4 route (at worst) where a nut would have more than sufficed?

Or maybe they knew something I don't. Hmmm.

Decision: a glissade down the glacier is the fastest, safest way off this mountain.

Two hikers and a dog out on the glacier

But this is what the glacier looks like on my way down the ridge.

Oh, wait! I made another decision this morning that I didn't even notice: leave the ice axe and gloves at home. But a wedge-shaped rock ought to serve okay as a brake. And as for my hands... well, there's nothing for it. At least I had my helmet. Self-arrest position, and Go!

Another decision: drop the rock before it hits me in the face. Consequence: one hell of a ride, numb hands, a bruised rib, and a funny story.

My glissade path, starting from the snow-filled gully at the top of the glacier
By way of a retrospective analysis, I think that this outing was well worth-while. It was scenic, exciting, and I learned a lot. People talk about knowing your limits and staying within them. But how can you know your limits without exceeding them once in a while? Fortunately, I didn't quite do that this time, though I may have sometimes bumped up against them a little. Still, maybe I need to stop pushing it more and more every time I go out. The thing is, it keeps getting more and more fun.

What I really need is a climbing partner with a compatible schedule.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Long time, no post

I realized the other day that it's been a few weeks since the last time I posted anything. I couldn't tell you why that is. I've been doing all sorts of fun, sometimes crazy stuff.

On July 15th, I hiked up Sawtooth and Algonquin in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. To save myself 6 or 7 miles of hiking, I drove in to the Beaver Creek trail head. Even with the TRD Offroad package, my Tacoma was barely up to the drive along Coney Flats Road. The drive back out was especially exciting (read: worrisome), since it was pouring down rain the whole time.

Sawtooth Mountain, viewed from the Beaver Creek trail head

The next weekend, on July 22nd, I climbed Mt. Neva, also in IPW. An early start from the 4th of July TH was important, since parking fills up quickly. The climb was super-fun, but the trail was a bit overcrowded on the return. I met a couple of guys on the summit, but otherwise felt like I had the mountain to myself. There was another party on the way up as I descended, but I short-cutted down the face of the ridge, so I didn't actually cross paths with them.

Mt. Neva, with Lake Dorothy in the foreground

On Thursday, July 26th, I ran in the Metro North Chamber Challenge 5k race again (see also: last year's post). This year we had a big turn-out from work - 11 runners in 3 teams. Everybody did really well. It was a lot of fun, and I got a couple of medals which I actually stuck around to receive this time.

(Most of) the group from work for the MNCC 5k

Saturdays are usually C's days to go to her art space while I hang out with the kids. Then we switch off and I go hiking on Sundays. On the 28th, my daughter F told me that she wanted us to all do something together on Sunday, so on July 29th, I finally got to take everybody out to IPW for the first time. Trail head parking was full, so we had to park by Brainard Lake and hike 1/2 mile to Long Lake. We found a great little area for beginner bouldering where we had a picnic and did a little bit of climbing.

F. sitting in front of a bouldering route she just sent.

Yesterday, August 5th, I was back in my normal solo hiking routine. I made last-minute plans to go up Navajo and Apache peaks, and I wanted to try to traverse over to Shoshone as well. That last one didn't work out, exactly, but it made for a pretty good adventure. More on that later.

Navajo and Apache Peaks

Aside from that, I got to attend a Colorado Mountain Club orientation - I finally joined with them so I can take some of their classes. I got to hang out with with a good friend of mine who was in town from Texas. That allowed for some catching up with other friends I haven't seen in ages. Early-morning bike rides up Lookout Mountain and Flagstaff Road, visits to the climbing gym, yard work, a dentist appointment...

So I can't claim that I've been too busy to write blog posts. Indeed, I have a couple of unfinished drafts sitting around. But I have been getting out and having fun. I'd love to hear what everyone else has been up to.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A foot in two worlds

"A foot in two worlds" is kind of an imprecise cliché. "One foot in each of two worlds" would be more accurate... But I digress.

It's kind of disheartening how quickly reintegration can happen, and the experience of just a few hours ago gets shoved into the box of distant memories. Even last night as I was making camp, the day's efforts on the mountains seemed much further in the past than they were. Maybe that's why it is so important to keep on doing things as often as possible: trying to keep that feeling of adventure alive. Or maybe it is so I don't feel like I'm going to spend the rest of my life talking about that one time I did something that, for an ordinary guy like me, was extraordinary.

I like to take a journal with me on some of my adventures. The passage above was written on July 5th, the evening after I got home from my short backpacking trip in Indian Peaks. The "reintegration" it talks about is, of course, the return to normal life, its mundane duties, and a society that's disconnected from my most emphatic experiences.

I think I have a bit of a problem: when I'm out hiking, climbing, running, riding, I feel more connected to life as it should be. I am in the moment. I am at home. Everyday life is starting to feel less and less like Normal and more like an interruption from what I'm supposed to be doing.

Let's say there are two types of adventurers. The first we'll call Weekend Warriors. These are the people who have more-or-less typical Monday through Friday, 9-to-5 jobs, and during their free time they go out and immerse themselves as well as they can in their outdoor pursuits. The second type we'll call Dirtbags. This is the full-time tribe of devotees who eschew the draw of civilization and worldly goods, sacrificing modern comforts in favor of fulfilling their passion. Some of these people are professionals and get paid or sponsored to share their experiences with the rest of us. But however glamorous the lifestyle may appear at first glance, very few of these people become wealthy by their endeavors. They do what they do out of love of their trade, even if it means living out of a van for much of the year.

I'm firmly entrenched in the former camp. I have a day job, a family, a home in the suburbs. It isn't a bad life. To the contrary, there are many things to love about the comforts and privileges I enjoy. But it isn't always easy bouncing back and forth between adventure and what I often perceive as the mundane.

The trouble I have after returning from an adventure of any kind is that the feeling of freedom is so quickly subdued. By the time I've driven from the mountains back to my house, everything I've experienced has begun to fade from the forefront of my mind into the vaguer pool of memories. And I'm afraid that I've become addicted to the feeling of new memories being forged rather than old memories being remembered and relived.

What can be done about this?

A common pitfall is to dream of all the things that can be done after retirement. Once we've fulfilled our obligations to society through a lifetime of productivity, we will be free to pursue whatever adventures we choose without the leash that leads us back to "normal" life. It is said that youth is wasted on the young. And I believe too often the inverse is also true: retirement is wasted on the old. If I do nothing now, I'll be in no shape to do anything when I'm old.

Dropping out is another tempting fantasy: quit the job, sell the house, live the vagabond life of a Dirtbag. Barring some drastic life change being imposed from the outside, I think that decision has to be made earlier in life. It wouldn't be fair to my family to force them into a lifestyle that is decidedly more attractive to me than to them.

All I can do is play the hand I'm dealt: continue to appreciate and enjoy the opportunities I have to experience the wonders that surround me, whether they're found in the wild places of the world or right here at home. Dissatisfaction is a slippery slope that can only rob me of the gifts I have been given or earned. And after all, not only am I always forging new memories - some of the most precious kind - with my family, but I am playing a part in molding the memories my kids will (hopefully) cherish in years to come.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Independence Days in the Indian Peaks Wilderness

The rest of my family has been out of town for a week and a half, now. C took the kids to visit their grandparents in Michigan. And with some extra time off work for the 4th of July, what better way to spend Independence Day than completely on one's own in the middle of the wilderness?

I'd been poring over my map of Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, hoping for a nice 3-day route to jump out at me. Part of what I saw there amid the contour lines and trail markings is going to have to remain a project for the future. But I was able to make most of it happen.

Tuesday morning I got up really early. Unnecessarily early, even for a hiking day. My camping permits had been secured. The cats were boarded at the vet. I had rigged up an automatic watering system for the planters on the deck. Our fish was in the care of our wonderful neighbors (along with emergency information, should I fail to show up to get the fish back). The house was ready to take care of itself for a few days. My backpack was ready to go. So even though I poked around quite a bit, I was out the door and on my way to the mountains pretty early.

Long Lake

I arrived at the Long Lake trail head in the Brainard Lake recreational area some time around 7:00. Donning my pack and trekking poles, I set out for Pawnee Lake, just beyond the like-named pass over the continental divide. It's a short hike, maybe 6 miles, but beautiful and sometimes strenuous. I still had much of the day before me when I got to my destination for the first night.

Pawnee Lake

Upon arrival at the lake, I met a guy named Joel who had camped there Monday night. It was his first time backpacking, and Nature initiated him into the ranks by drenching him with rain. Taking that information into account, I sought as well-protected a camp site as possible. It was of particular importance to me, as I brought only a tarp to serve as improvised shelter.

After sitting by the lake for a time, having a snack and studying my route for the next day, I scouted the area. Fortune smiled upon me, and a perfect place to bed down for the night peeked out at me from beneath a large rock outcropping.

My camp site for the night of July 3rd.

Having made my sleeping arrangements, I lazed around for the rest of the day, exploring around the lake, reading, resting. There were tons of wildflowers in bloom, and everything was absolutely gorgeous.

Columbines in bloom.

It did rain for a while that afternoon, but my equipment and I stayed perfectly dry in our natural cubby. It was surprisingly comfortable, too, if I laid in just the right way. I woke up the next morning feeling well-rested. While I cooked my breakfast, bats flitted about to catch the plentiful mosquitoes hatched in the marshy area just below my nest.

The hike back up Pawnee Pass was a fine eye-opener first thing in the morning, but I made it up without too much trouble. The west side of the pass is pretty bad, as far as maintained trails go. The rock near the top is unstable and likes to slide out from under you.

The west side of Pawnee Pass, being the notch just left of center.
A white-tailed ptarmigan on the trail west of Pawnee Pass

From the top of the pass, I headed north to Pawnee Peak. I encountered another hiker who had gotten an early start from the trail head that morning. He said he was going to go up Mount Toll before heading home, but he must have lingered on Pawnee for a while, because I didn't see him again after I left its summit.

The south ridge of Mt Toll, viewed from Pawnee Peak

The south ridge of Toll is a straight-forward hike. Nothing else about that mountain can make any such claim. I wasn't prepared to descend the north face, which probably would involve rappelling, but I had read about a so-called social trail that skirts the west side and brings you to the saddle between Toll and Paiute. My first attempt to find that trail was abortive. After making it part-way, the route dead-ended. So I went back to the ridge, descended a little more, and found an entrance to the "trail" marked with a cairn.

Entrance to the western traverse around Mt Toll. There is a hard-to-see cairn right in the middle of the notch.

I stowed my camera for the sometimes-harrowing descent down a steep, crumbling gully, so I don't have any more pictures of the route. At the bottom of the gully, I found reason to believe that if I had gone a bit farther down from Toll, there would have been a better way to get through the first part of the traverse. But note that I'm not really recommending this route to anyone. Even without a large backpack, it isn't really the safest place to be. But if you want to get from Toll to Paiute without technical climbing gear, it's really your only option.

Approximate route traversing the west face of Mt Toll. The blue route is the one I took. The green section is based on speculation. The red is a no-go.

From the saddle, I down-climbed the east side to avoid an ice sheet (yes, even in July), but it ended up causing me to lose more elevation than I'd hoped. I cursed myself for not just climbing up and over the prominence on the ridge, but going down seemed like the safer option at the time.

Paiute Peak, viewed from the south. When viewed full-sized, a hiker can be seen atop the left-hand part of the summit.

As I approached Paiute, I saw a small group of big-horned sheep, with two little lambs playing rambunctiously among the rocks. I went as slowly and quietly as I could, but they disappeared down the west face of the ridge before I got very close.

Bighorn sheep just south of Paiute Peak

It was only around noon by the time I got to Paiute's summit, but I was feeling drained. I certainly had no energy for scrambling around in places where a mistake would carry mortal consequences. Fortunately, the ridge between Paiute and Audubon is no such place. Relatively speaking, anyway. So I made my way up the west ridge and over to Audubon's west side, where I joined the trail I had descended the previous time I went up Audubon.

Audubon's west ridge, viewed from the south of Paiute

I passed a couple of hikers who were also descending - they wondered where I had come from, given that there was nobody on the summit when they left. And with it being past 14:00, I was a little surprised to see a handful of people on their way up the trail.

A cairn along Audubon trail. Things were much greener than when I was there in June.

It would have been easier for me to just follow the trail back to my truck, but that wouldn't be much fun. And anyway, I had a camping permit for two nights, and I didn't want to waste it. So I turned north where the Audubon and Beaver Creek trails intersect and made my way back into my designated camping zone. Probably 1.5 miles from there, just a little below tree line, I found a spot where a brook ran near the trail, and just up the hill there was a clearing in the spruce trees where I put up my shelter for the night.

My camp site for the night of July 4th.

It was an overcast night, but it didn't rain. The full moon shone through gaps in the clouds from time to time, but even when it wasn't visible, its light reflected off of the clouds and kept it from getting very dark. Even as exhausted as I was, it was a disappointingly wakeful night. But I kept forcing myself to go back to sleep until I woke for the last time at 5:00. Since it was such a short distance back to the trail head, I had thought that I would just hang out for a while and finish the book that I brought with me. But the clouds that had persisted through the night began to threaten rain, so after breakfast, I packed up and was on the trail at 6:40.

On my way down, just after the first switchback below the intersection with the Audubon trail, a large buck with velvet antlers bounded across the path. Apart from the sheep at Paiute, it was the first large animal I'd seen out there, so I snapped a few pictures before moving on.

A buck near the south end of Beaver Creek trail

I began to see the morning shift of hikers on their way up the mountain. And just before getting to the parking lot, the trees opened up for a last good view of Pawnee, Toll, and Audubon. A last view for this trip, anyway.

Pawnee, Toll, and Audubon

So that's how I spent my Independence day: hiking through some of the most beautiful wilderness anywhere, sleeping in a cave, summiting four of the named Indian Peaks. It was my first time camping without a tent, and while luck had plenty to do with its success, I think a tarp may be the way to go from now on. It was also my first field trial of a home-made alcohol stove (made from a cat-food tin) and wind screen (made from soda cans I found). Those also worked quite well.

When my nephew and I were on the Appalachian Trail back in May, one of the many conversations about food involved burritos. So I decided to see what I could do about making some burritos on the trail. This was also a pretty good success. Instant rice, dehydrated refried beans, and some whole-wheat tortillas I packed in a freezer bag with a poster board backing to keep them from getting crushed. The burritos could have benefited from some nutritional yeast sauce and salsa, but when you've worked up a major appetite hiking all day, such luxuries are hardly required.

View Indian Peaks, July 3 - 5, 2012 in a larger map

Friday, June 29, 2012

Mmmm, breakfast! Oat bran with chocolate, almonds, and coconut

I recently picked up some oat bran from the supermarket so I could see how it compares with normal rolled oats as a breakfast cereal. After all, oat bran has more protein and fiber than oats, and fewer calories per gram. After having it several times over the past two weeks or so, it's safe to say that oat bran is going to be kept in stock in our pantry.

It could be argued that oat bran is more highly processed, less "whole", than rolled or steel-cut oats, but I'm not going to let that dissuade me from eating it.

So far, my favorite way to prepare oat bran is with cocoa, almonds, and coconut. It has a taste and texture that falls somewhere between candy bar and cake batter. But of course, it's much better for you than either of those things.

  • 1/4 cup (a little bit heaping) oat bran. You can get this in bulk at Sunflower (cum Sprouts, anon) or other health food stores.
  • 3/4 cup water. It's best to use imported distilled artesian well water. Just kidding. Use the tap.
  • ~ 1/4 teaspoon salt (about 4 or 5 good shakes)
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 oz. raw almonds (about 24 pc.), coarsely chopped. Also available in bulk.
  • 1/4 cup finely shredded coconut. I use some kind of organic, unsweetened, reduced fat stuff, so, you know, I'm sure it's really good for you.
  • 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses.
  • 1-2 teaspoons Truvia or other sweetener, to taste.
  • ~ 1/4 cup almond milk

Put the first three ingredients into a fairly large soup/cereal bowl. Cook in a microwave on high for 3 to 3.5 minutes. The oat bran and water are actually measured since it only takes one measuring cup, and if you do the oats before the water, the measuring cup is clean when you're done. Also, if you get the ratio wrong the result will either be too pasty or too runny. As always, everything else is usually just kind of eyeballed, though I did measure that stuff out too one time, just to make sure my estimates are close to accurate.

Mix in the remaining ingredients except for the almond milk. Once everything else is well combined, add just enough almond milk to smooth out the texture. This also has the effect of cooling everything off so that you don't burn your mouth trying to eat the piping-hot oats. Because obviously waiting around for it to cool on its own is out of the question.

You may have noticed that this recipe follows much the same pattern as my fudge brownie oatmeal. That's not surprising or coincidental. I love the flavor combination of blackstrap and cocoa. And I don't like doing anything complicated like turning on a stove when I first wake up in the morning, so if a hot breakfast isn't coming from the slow-cooker, it has to come from the microwave. That's unpopular in gourmet circles, but I'm much more the pragmatic type.

I hope you enjoy, if you give this a try, and that it will fuel some kind of awesome adventure. Or at the very least, give you a nice happy feeling before going about your daily grind.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Was that Stupid or What?

Somehow I grew up without ever learning how to ride a wheelie (or manual, for those pedants out there) on my bicycle. I've decided I need to correct that particular oversight. So on my ride to work, while on one of the somewhat secluded sections of path, I've been trying to practice a little bit.

Usually I don't pull up hard enough, so the front wheel rises a little and drops right back down to the ground. Obviously the corrective measure is to pull harder. So I pulled harder. So hard, in fact, that the bike went over backwards, and I didn't make the bail-out. The result was a predictable case of road rash.

Road rash.

I'm not very spry, graceful, or good at things that require balance, so I knew this was going to happen sooner or later. It's probably why I didn't learn to do this as a kid.

In the days since I took that spill, I've had a number of people ask about it. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Them: "Did that happen on your bike?"

Me: "Yeah."

Them: "Were you just being stupid, or ..."

Me: "Just horsing around."

I know they're concerned that I may have been hit by a car or something, and I do appreciate that. But it gets me thinking about the alternative. Is a one-person accident necessarily the result of being stupid?

I say that in general, there's nothing stupid about trying to do something you've never done before. And a lot of times trying comes with a certain amount of risk. So you're going to take a hit now and then. Does that mean that the pursuit isn't worthwhile? I don't think so.

This incident came hard on the heels of another small scrape I got while bouldering. I got myself into a position where I had to put a knee down on the rock to make it up onto a bit of a ledge.

My kids are young enough to be impressed by the smallest of injuries. If I come home and they show me a skinned knee, the first thing I ask is, "Did you get that while doing something awesome?" Likewise, when I come home with a patch of flesh missing from my leg, they want to know all about it. I tell them that it's just part of going out there and doing certain things, and that just because I got a little hurt while doing it doesn't mean that I didn't have fun. Maybe I'm not the best parent, but I do try to instill in my kids a sense of balance between safety and risk acceptance.

My friend Jim says that you're allowed to suck at anything for the first year of doing it. I think I like that perspective a lot better than "Getting hurt while trying new things is stupid." And Jeff Atwood recently posted something on Coding Horror that may well be my new mantra:

Go read the article. It's short, but in shorter, he states that "The only thing preventing us from being awesome is our own fear of sucking." His advice is
  1. Embrace the suck.
  2. Do it in public.
  3. Pick stuff that matters.
I'm not sure that the things I'm currently sucking at really matter, but they sure are fun. And I'll probably continue to practice my wheelies when nobody is looking.