First Time Sport Climbing at Rumney

Over Labor Day weekend, I had the privilege of taking a trip to Rumney, NH to try sport climbing outdoors for the first time.

I say privilege because I don’t know shit about sport climbing.  Zero.  Zilch.  Nada.  My two very gracious friends invited me to come along, and even after I explained — repeatedly — that I would have no idea what I was doing, they said “Come anyway!  It’s the best place to learn!”

So basically my friends are the sweetest people in the world.  But I digress.

Both of my friends are strong leaders and have been climbing for a while (one even used to work at a gym and taught belay classes), so they were the ideal people to go with.  They would lead a climb, set up a top-rope so I could try it, then another would either lead or top-rope and clean behind me.

Not only was it my first sport climbing trip, it was also my first three-day climbing trip, so one of the biggest challenge was just having enough energy to finish everything.  The third day was only a half day because we had to drive back down to NYC, but by then my skin and whole body were both basically done.  


Steph leading Dolt 5.10a

I’m primarily a boulderer, so I’m used to being able to repeatedly throw myself at a problem.  Things don’t count unless you do them all at one time, and even then you get pumped so fast you better just keep moving, because there’s no quitsies.  As such, sport climbing was a very refreshing mental game-changer for me.  In order to have enough endurance to finish the route, you have to take breaks; sometimes you can just prop your feet, lean against the rock, and take a breather for a minute or two.  If you need to take at the top of a problem so you can figure out how to move through it, you can, because your buddy is right there willing to hold you.  This is great for practicing tricky moves.


Steph (left) on Drilling for Dollars 5.8

One thing I also noticed when top-roping was because I felt so secure with the rope, I was accomplishing things I wouldn’t have thought myself capable of.  Drilling for Dollars has a move that’s a far, high left heel, that you have to pull yourself up and over.  One person on Mountain Project compared it to stepping out of a six story window and trusting that you wouldn’t fall.  I saw others struggle with the move from the ground, but using their beta I was able to complete it on my first try.  It was a move that, on a boulder problem, I may not have tried, because I would have been so afraid of falling.  

Moral of the story:  I’m a stronger climber than I give myself credit for.

So while I probably won’t get the chance to do it outside again any time soon, I think sport climbing might be my new hobby.  Next on the to-do list:  acquire my own harness, take a belay test.

Route List, all top-roped, no lead:

Routes I flashed:

Things You Should Have Learned in Kindergarten 5.6

The Nuthatch 5.7

Fat Man 5.7

Drilling for Dollars 5.8

Squeeze My Lemon 5.8

Dung Beetle 5.9

Routes I finished but had to take once or twice:

Toxic Gumbo 5.8

Junco 5.8+ (ps I hate slab)

Dolt 5.10a (had to take about five times but I got there eventually)

Routes I fell off of/couldn’t finish:

Lonesome Dove 5.10a

Underdog 5.10a

My favorite routes were Drilling for Dollars and Toxic Gumbo, and the one I’m most proud of finishing is Dolt, mostly because it was ridiculously high and intimidating.




Daaaaaay by daaaaay

(Just kidding.)

We went up to the Gunks again on Saturday (shout out to the home crag). I only sent three problems (no new, all re-sends):

– Blasted Rock V1
– Unnamed Boulder Problem V1
– Black Boulder Crack V0

But I got further on three of my projects:

Baby Hole V3 – I have successfully reached up to shove my fingers in the actual baby hole and hold on; now I have to figure out how to get my left hand up and over to the dang top (and then the terrifying top out, of course).

The Lorax V4 – I just started consistently being able to get the weird left hand and come out from the big holds underneath. I am now falling when I have to get my right hand up to the lip. It’s a little scary, though, because my right foot keeps getting stuck in the bottom if I fall, and since legs aren’t super long, my ankle gets caught. No breaks, no sprains, but it definitely made me nervous.

Boulder of the Gods – 2/3 to 3/4 of the way up before getting too scared and coming back down. Even though the climb isn’t technically difficult (V0-?), it’s a highball, which makes me terrified. Not only is it a highball, it’s a highball with less than ideal moves at the top and a tree to fall back into. But my goal is to send an easy highball and build more confidence in climbing higher.

I had a much better attitude going up this trip than on previous trips because I was thinking about things on a move by move basis, rather than a send-by-send basis. Bouldering is hard, and if I only focus on whether or not I complete a whole problem I get frustrated, because obviously it’s super hard to send whole problems. However, if I consider it on a move by move basis, it definitely was a day of progress. So I just need to concentrate on moves instead of sends, and I’ll be a happier climber.

The Four Point Day

The first time I went climbing outdoors was April of last year.  After three months of going to the gym regularly, I was sending V1s and V2s.  My boyfriend invited me to go climbing outdoors with him and some buddies up in The Gunks, and I, hungry for my first taste of outdoor climbing on real boulders, readily accepted.

My goals for the day were, in my naïve opinion, reasonable — the low goal was to send a V1.  The medium goal was getting three points.  And the ultra-high goal was to have a five point day.  Looking back on this now, these were definitely some steep expectations. I clearly had no idea what to expect.  As it was, I was barely able to start any problems, much less finish them.

Since that trip, I’d gone back up with the gang numerous times, and despite my many attempts, still had yet to accomplish my Three Point Day.

New York’s random warm streak and minimal snow has lingered all season, and Saturday’s conditions were fine for bouldering.  My expectations for this trip were low — I merely wanted to hang out with my friends, maybe re-send a problem or two, and try not to die of exposure in the cold temps.

We started, as has been the habit of recent trips, at Boxcar Boulder. I re-sent Unnamed Boulder Problem #3 (V1), but for some reason couldn’t get back on top of Blasted Rock (V1). We expected the rock to feel a lot stickier on account of the cool weather (temps in the 30s), but I just couldn’t stay on the top right crimp. Alas! My ego was a little wounded, but I didn’t dwell on it long, because we had new things to try.

We walked all the way down to the big curve in the Carriage Road to try some things we hadn’t been on before. Boyfriend and the strong kids wanted to take a crack at The Art of Nothing (V8), while myself and some others wanted a go at Even Chubby (V1) and the V3 (whose name, if it has one, I can’t remember) next to it.

Even Chubby isn’t a particularly difficult V1, although the end has a reachy throw that is definitely out of my comfort zone (however, videos I’ve seen on YouTube show a right-hand that was not confirmed as being on, and a top-out further out right than we thought – video vs. actual problem yet to be confirmed). Pair that with a rocky bottom, and it was a little scary to do. However, 2016 is the Year of Trying Harder, so when I reached the point where I usually would have looked at the distance to the throw and said “Fuck that,” I actually took a chance and made a push for it. Imagine my surprise when I felt my hand wrap around the lip. Unfortunately, I fell off immediately afterward, but it felt good to have gone for something I normally wouldn’t have and make some progress toward it (and not kill myself in the process).

By this time it was already getting late, and sundown was a mere hour or so away. We had a couple Gunks newcomers with us, so we headed back down the Carriage Road to try out some classics. A couple people took some burns on Gill Pinch and Gill Egg, while A and I worked on Clune Crank. My previous attempts at Clune Crank were not very fruitful. I usually chickened out right before the last move, on account of the (surprise!) throwy finish. I took a couple of burns and, in the spirit of Trying Harder 2016, made a throw for the lip. And I made it! Not only did I make the throw, I stuck on it, and managed my first top-out in a feeling of something other than complete panic. Two points!

At that point we were all pretty much done. “Too bad about the three point day,” was a statement made. And then M got a strange gleam in his eye. “Lazy Mayzie,” he said.

Lazy Mayzie is a very juggy V2 near the Welcome Boulder. From our guesses, it’s a V2 because of the high chance that you’ll dab your back on the boulder directly behind it. Which is exactly what I’ve done every other time I’ve climbed it. I pointed this out to M, and he merely said “So? I’m taller than you, and I can do it, so you can definitely do it.” Boyfriend said “So just don’t dab your back.” And the rest of our motley crew, kind and encouraging and wonderful as they are, were willing to wait for five minutes while I reached for my dream of the ***Three Point Day***.

It was cold, and I was tired. I had one burn in me. I slipped on my shoes, thankful that I had copied M and shoved handwarmers in the toes of them as we walked. I chalked up and pulled on. And by keeping my hips up and my body close to the boulder, I hurled myself up it, without dabbing my back.

And I got it. Not only did I have a Three Point Day, I got FOUR.

M was on top of the boulder while I got there, with a big grin on his face. I waved my arms around in my excitement at the crew below and almost knocked M off the top of the boulder, but thankfully didn’t, which is good because that would have been a total dick move.

As we left the crag, I was exhausted but also ridiculously pleased, proud, and content. To be honest, I had discounted the possibility of being able to have my Three Point Day this season. And I couldn’t have done it alone – I owe most of my confidence, my strength, and my small-but-growing desire to try risky moves entirely to my friends. They provide me with endless support, encouragement, and beta, and they’ve always had my back, whether spotting me on relatively easy problems or talking me through panicky top-outs when my body is already 75% over the lip. Boyfriend, M, A, and the whole gosh-darn MgCO3 crew, this Day’s for you!

End-Of-Season Outdoor Bouldering

It’s officially November, and even though NY has had a weird warm streak this fall, it’s officially time for me to bow-out of outdoor bouldering. I salute all you dedicated crag monkeys who will be out there on the rocks in the freezing cold; but unless you stop by the gym some time, I’ll see you next year.

Last month, Boyfriend and I were lucky enough to get invited to go bouldering at the Powerlinez, in Ramapo, NY. From my understanding, the Powerlinez is a fairly new area – according to Mountain Project, it first “officially” opened for climbing in May 2013 (although people were climbing there before then, albeit without the best wishes of the land owners). We drove up, and after a brief stop at The Gravity Vault climbing to sign the waiver, we were ready for some sweet new bouldering.

The area itself is lovely. We parked in a gravel pull-out on the side of a road and did short hike up the hill on a service access road to get to the actual boulders. As per the name, large power line towers crossed the mountain near the road. The leaves were changing, and the colors were incredible – yellow green, bright yellow, and a few trees already hitting deep fire red. It was pretty cold – low 40s, I believe – so perfect for bouldering (unless you’re like me, and hate the cold, and would have appreciated temps in the low to mid 60s).

The really fun thing about bouldering in the Powerlinez is, for the most part, we had no idea what we were doing. A few members of our group purchased the digital guide, but mostly we just hopped on things that looked cool. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the names of anything we were on, but everything felt cool, ha ha. We warmed up in an area close to the entry that had a handful of 0-2s and a really neat long traverse that I managed to do most of. Boyfriend sent The UnderKing and some unnamed speculated 4s – 7s, and I managed to schlep my way up a handful of zeros. They all had pretty intense top-outs full of leaves and thorny vines, which didn’t feel great when they sank into your face and you had to heave yourself into them to finish the problem. Nature!

We wrapped up the day at Honk If You’re Burly and Diamond Traverse. A few of our band managed to send Diamond, but Honk If You’re Burlystill eluded many (let me note that at this point I was just freezing my ass off and basically just talking to the dogs – but great job on those climbs, friends!). My favorite part about bouldering here was not being aware of the grades – I just hopped on stuff that looked cool without being intimidated by numbers.

On Halloween our group went back up to The Gunks (aka the Home Crag) to scare ourselves with some spooky falls. We started down at Boxcar, warming up on the easy climbs and challenging ourselves with the harder ones. Boyfriend worked Boxcar Arete (V8), and all his hard work paid off, as he finally sent it! We all worked Boxcar Traverse, and as always as soon as the feet ran out, so did our ability to climb it. I re-sent Blasted Rock (V1) and finally sent Unnamed Boulder Problem #3 (V1), with the most ridiculous beached whale body smear top-out in the history of bouldering (BUT I MADE IT, DAMN IT!). After falling off the top-out on our last visit, I was determined to finish the damn thing no matter how ridiculous I looked. After sending those, a few of the gang and myself tried a few cracks a Baby Hold (V3). We got the first part on lock-down, but out of us less-burly climbers, only P was able to bag a send. Next time!

We continued down the Carriage Road, next stop: Andrew’s Boulder. Boyfriend re-sent The Buddha while our new crag buddies got the beginning beta on lock. Several of us tried Andrew’s Boulder Problem, with E valiantly struggling to get around the lip and succeeded, hurrah! I’m still working on the beginning swing-and-grab, and will definitely need to work on this project many many many more times before making any substantial progress. Goals.


Next up: Lynn Hill Traverse (V8), Goldstone Traverse (V4), and Black Boulder Crack (V0). I resent Black Boulder Crack while the others worked Goldstone and Lynn Hill. Lynn Hill has been Boyfriend’s long-standing nemesis, but all the stars seemed to align for him and he managed to finally send it, making for two V8s in one day! Others in our gang worked the opening moves, while A and P took some tries at Goldstone Traverse (which I declined to work this time, not in the mood to grab the razor blade on the third move).

After a brief pit-stop at Suzy A where us shorter-statured kids fell off the early moves, we headed up front The gang put in some hard work on the Lorax (V4), re-sent Lazy Mazy (V2), and I fell off the top-out on Stained Boulder (V1) AGAIN. Argh. I’ll get you yet, Stained Boulder!

All in all, a good trip, finished with some amazingly decadent food at New Paltz Indian Restaurant. We were also lucky enough to catch the beginning of the New Paltz Halloween Parade and see all the kids out in their costumes (WHICH WAS ADORABLE). But now, as we glide through November and into much more freezing weather, I will be staying in the gym, swathed in sweatshirts as I try to build some strength for next year (and the domination of Stained Boulder).

Have a happy winter, all you hardcore outdoor boulderers, and don’t forget your hand warmers!

October Gunks Camping and Climbing

Boyfriend and I were able to escape the city this weekend and do some much-needed camping and climbing up near New Paltz, NY this weekend. The Gunks is our home crag, although we usually only make it up here when we can wrangle together a crew of seven (enough to rent a ZipCar) and then only for the day.  However, getting up and staying without a car is super easy.  We took a 7:00 am bus out of Port Authority Saturday morning, and after a surprisingly fast ride (only about an hour and a half) we were in New Paltz. After grabbing a coffee and a cab (New Paltz Taxi’s offices are conveniently located at the bus station), we headed to the Samuel F. Pryor III Campground.

Not exactly what I wanted to see, but it made the midnight walk to the bathroom more exciting.

Not exactly what I wanted to see, but it made the midnight walk to the bathroom more exciting.

The ride to the campground cost $12.  Our site was ready when we checked in because we had actually booked for the previous night as well, but rain in New Paltz Friday night made us delay our departure.  Upon check-in, the campground guy told us there have been several bears active in the area fattening up for winter.  Our site, originally a car site, was changed to a walk-in because the walk-ins are the only ones with bear boxes.  (Tip: when making a reservation, be sure to call and let them know if you will require a bear box.)

Our campsite was lovely.  It was a walk-in situated on a lane with four others, but far enough away not to hear everyone else rolling around in the middle of the night.  The facilities in the rest of camp were great — bathrooms, cooking pavilion with an outlet, showers expensive enough to be used when only absolutely necessary — and the only downside was that, instead of having a campfire at your site, there was just one central shared fire pit (although I understand not wanting to burn the woods down).  At $24 a night for AAC/Mohonk Preserve members, and $38 for normies, it’s  a bit more expensive than the average dirtbagger might want to pay, but suited us for our short trip.

Campsite situated on the top of a hill. Lots of trees and also lots of falling acorns.

Campsite situated on the top of a hill. Lots of trees and also lots of falling acorns.

After getting our tent up, it was time to hit the crag!  For those of us without a vehicle, there’s a trail leading directly up to the stairmaster across the street from the campground.  After about a twenty minute hike, we hit the entrance pay table and the stairmaster, and after making our way up that (and realizing that I need to mix some cardio in with my strength training), we were on the carriage road.

Amazing leaves, amazing sun.

Amazing leaves, amazing sun.

It was an amazing day with perfect weather for bouldering, so imagine our surprise to find that the carriage road was almost completely empty.  We started our day down at the Boxcar and Blasted Rock.  Boyfriend warmed up on Blasted Rock V1 and few of the smaller climbs on the Boxcar boulder, while I made my attempts at Blasted Rock and Unnamed BP #3 (a V1 on the Boxcar).  We both took a few burns at Boxcar Traverse.

The rest of the day was spent trying and re-trying various projects.  I worked Goldstone Traverse (a long-term goal), while Boyfriend took a few more cracks at Lynn Hill Traverse (he’s super close).  We drifted toward the front so I could take a few cracks at Clune Crank and my nemesis, Stained Boulder Problem.  Boyfriend basically re-sent everything he tried, so it was a good day for him.  I sent nothing but tried to remain optimistic.

After a night spent freezing my butt off (note to self — bring a sleeping pad next time), we woke bright and early for a breakfast of oatmeal and bananas.  Check-out of the campsite is at 10 am, but the campground was nice enough to let us store our big packs in their toolshed while we went climbing.  Day 2 started with some practice runs at the welcome boulder — topping out is a skill I have yet to master, and I wanted to do a few safe practice runs.  Boyfriend sent Boulder of the Gods, a V0 highball, and I felt out the first moves of it.

Toward the top of Boulder of the Gods.

Toward the top of Boulder of the Gods.

Lovely fall light makes for a gorgeous top-out.

Lovely fall light makes for a gorgeous top-out.

After warming up, I tried my hand at Stained Boulder Problem yet again.  I’ve been able to get the tricky start, and the right hand pop-up, and this time I managed to get into top-out position.  Unfortunately, holding onto anything in the gunks is like grabbing chunks of broken glass, so after struggling both my hands over the lip, my skin and muscles couldn’t take it anymore, and I fell off.  Curse you, Stained Boulder Problem!  I’ll send you yet!  Boyfriend did a quick run of Lazy Mazie (V2) before we started down the carriage road.

We re-tried a bunch of things, with Boyfriend re-sending more, etc.  Boyfriend had a strong start on Dirty White Boys but fell a bit short tossing around the side for a hold.  We went back down to Boxcar to do some more work, and I tried Blasted Rock and Unnamed BP #3 again.  Blasted Rock went (finally), but I fell off another top out on UBP#3 (dang it).  Boyfriend went hard on Boxcar Arete (V8), and I think he’ll get it the next time he comes!  He finished up at Andrew’s Boulder (which, unlike Day 1, was a boulder party on Day 2) re-sent the Buddha and Andrew’s Problem while I chilled, skin and muscles completely dead.

Boyfriend working hard on Dirty White Boys.

Boyfriend working hard on Dirty White Boys.

We hiked back down to our campsite, picked up our packs, and got a ride back into town.  Traffic was insane, but even though time-wise it took a lot longer, the cab was still only $12.  Our driver was a super nice lady who told us all about her granddaughter who is getting interested in climbing.  She also took us on a detour down through historic New Paltz, where we got to see some of the original stone houses.  It was a nice little tour, particularly since we usually blow through Main Street on our one day bouldering trips.  We stopped at Lemongrass to get a Thai victory dinner before catching the bus back to NYC.

All in all, it was a really great trip.  The Gunks has such a wealth of problems, and even though it’s not exactly beginner-friendly, the difficulty and sharp holds certainly makes bouldering other places seem easier, ha ha.

My First Pull-Up

It’s official! At approximately 6:00 pm yesterday evening, I did my first pull-up.

To some, this might not seem like a big deal, but to me it’s quite the accomplishment. When I first started climbing, I could barely even lift myself an inch up on the bar, much less get anything up and over. But now, after about eight weeks of training, I’m finally able to do a single pull-up.

This came at a great time, too, because in my previous post I mentioned how I was starting to get frustrated and burnt out with climbing. Having goals like these – not about climbing, but just about training my body to do things I want it to do – and working towards them gives me something else to look forward too at the gym, even if I’m managing to send any problems.

When I started my training a few weeks ago, even though I’ve been climbing for nine months, I still was nowhere near doing a pull-up (or chin-up, for that matter). Here’s what I did to get started:

Reverse pull-ups. Instead of pulling myself up, with this exercise I let myself down (only physically, not emotionally). I put my hands on the bar and jumped up so I was holding myself/my chin above the bar. Then, I slowly lowered myself with control, counting to ten before I was at the lowest point. After getting to the lowest point, I jumped back up on the bar, and repeated twice. I did three sets of three lowers with a three minute break between each.

Assisted campus reaches. Excuse that title – I have no idea what the actual name of this exercise would be. I matched hands on the wide sloping campus rungs, and with my feet on the skinny rail underneath, I went plus two with one hand, then down to minus one with the same hand, then back to matching. I repeated with the other hand. I tried to do this four times on each side. After each set, I rested two minutes, and repeated three times, for a total of four sets.


(No idea what these are actually called.  Original photo from BKB.)

One might not seem like a lot, but from what I’ve heard, it’s really the hill that you have to get over before you’re on your way to being able to do many. I’m modifying my training to include the following things:

More assisted pull-ups. Using the smallest band that my gym has, I do four sets of five assisted pull-ups. I switch feet after each set so I’m not favoring one side over another, and I rest for three full minutes between each set.

Aussie pull-ups. I never tried these until I read about them the other day. I don’t have a set routine for these yet, but it’ll probably be similar to my sets with my assisted pull-ups – five or more, three minutes rest, repeat three to four times.

And, of course, trying to do as many full pull-ups as I can.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, trainer, dietician, exercise guru, or anyone who should be giving anyone any exercise/training advice whatsoever. This is just a description of my training routine; you should probably consult someone who knows what they’re talking about if you want to do your own training.

Bouldering Mental Block

I got really discouraged at the climbing gym Saturday. The day started off so well; I was super hyped to be going in to work on a few problems, but after the warm-up things just kind of fell apart. Part of my warm-up involved a V3 that I had been able to flash just two days previously, but after three attempts at it I still couldn’t seem to send it. Frustrated, I moved on to a V4 I had was able to get up until the finishing move on Thursday. I fell off the second move. And then I fell off the second move again. And again.

It was pretty demoralizing. Since it was Saturday morning, more and more people started showing up, and since these problems were in a new area of the gym, they all crowded around this tiny area. The gym is pretty miserable when it’s packed, so I moved on to another problem I’d been working on. This wall was being taken over by a teen climbing class. Ok, move on. The next wall was covered in toddlers milling about, jumping on the mats and getting under everyone’s feet while their parents merely said “Great job, wow! That’s awesome!” to children who were basically putting themselves and the climbers around them in danger (don’t get me started on the parents that bring their kids to this gym, y’all).

When the walls started clearing up enough for me to climb, I was pretty pissy. Carrying all this pissy-ness onto the walls with me was not a good idea. I took fall after frustrating fall, missing holds that I have been able to get before or not making any new progress on problems I’ve been trying even though I’ve been working on them for weeks (six weeks in the case of a particular V4+). They’re going to change the wall before I finish the problem, I know it. It will be the third problem I’ve worked on nearly every day since having it been set that will be changed before I’ve been able to send it.

This anger, this frustration, and this desperation to finish these problems are all having negative effects on my climbing. I know this. My boyfriend has spoken with me about this many times, since he can carry a lot of frustration into his climbing too, especially when it’s a problem that he’s already figured out the correct beta for but just can’t seem to stick. I let outlying factors fuck with my mental state – the amount of people, the toddlers and their insufferable parents – instead of blocking them out (Really, why should I be concerned about these people? They’re not concerned about me, it doesn’t matter). I let my perfectionism and self-doubt fuck with my mental state – I see a move, know that it’s a hard move, and don’t follow-through and stick it because I know I’ve fallen a thousand times and will probably fall again this time.

There are other outlying factors too. Work stuff, personal life stuff – all these things add up and contribute to the emotions I’m carrying with me on the wall. I need to find the peace and confidence within myself to know that it takes a lot of work and that failure, when climbing, is an inevitable part of the process. Bouldering is fucking hard. Of course I’m going to plateau at V4 and stick there for a long while, because V5s are fucking hard. Falling off a climb says nothing about how hard I work or my value as a person (as much as I seem to wrap them all up together).

I’ve been reading a couple articles about this. “Overcoming the Fear of Failure,” tells me to consider my experience and training, to concentrate on the process of climbing as opposed to the outcome, and finally to be comfortable with the possibility of failure as one potential outcome. The last is probably the most difficult for me, and as the article points out, “you can only assume this mindset by consciously detaching your self-image from your performance.” It’s not about the send; it’s about the experience of the send. It’s about the enjoyment of the act of climbing, not the outcome.

Have you had any experiences like this, in climbing or otherwise? Give me some tips for how you handled it in the comments; I’d love to hear how you worked through it.

No More Meat

** Please note: this is not an attempt to “convert” anyone to vegetarianism. It’s just an explanation of an experience I’m currently going through and an attempt to live more closely aligned with ideals I feel are important to me.   All opinions are my own and only represent the limited amount of research I’ve done on the subject (some articles are linked. I also recommend the documentaries ‘Food, Inc.’ and ‘Vegucated’). **

I’ve never been a vegetarian before. My parents raised me on hearty dinners of hamburger helper, shake-and-bake pork chops, and meaty spaghetti. I never really thought about the ethicality of my consumption or just where my meat was coming from.   Cows lived on farms; meat came wrapped in plastic from the refrigerated section of the grocery store. End of story. Once I left home, my meat consumption declined drastically.   This was more for budgetary and space reasons than any ethical stance; meat is expensive, and freezer/fridge space is currently scarce because I have four roommates (six, if you count the cat and rabbit). Also, since then, I’ve been learning more about the meat and dairy industry in the US, and the information I’ve been exposed to doesn’t exactly whet my appetite.

On January 3rd, I realized I hadn’t eaten any meat yet in the new year. I figured I might as well keep going. It’s now March 10th, and I think I’m officially ready to call myself a vegetarian. Here are a few reasons why I’ve decided to do this:

One: Environmental. Those of you who aren’t from agricultural communities may not be familiar with the sweet smell of industrial meat farms. And by “sweet,” I mean noxious. As someone who grew up in North Carolina, I’ve experienced the intense, fecal, gaseous smells of poultry and hog farms. You could always smell them before you saw them, and there were certain spots of highway where you knew you had to roll up your windows or you’d be forced to smell shit for miles.

The minutes driving through them were bad enough – you can only hold your breath for so long, after all – that I can’t imagine the torture of having to actually live close to one. ‘Pig Poop Fouls North Carolina Streams,’ published in Scientific American, describes the plight of an elderly couple that lived in the vicinity of a hog farm. The wife described how you couldn’t do laundry if the wind was blowing, because the smell of the hog farms would get into the fabric and you’d just have to wash them all again to get the smell out. Her grandchildren wouldn’t visit her. Her life was worse because of her proximity to the hog farms.

Bacteria from these hog farms often make its way into the water system via improperly disposed of hog waste. Most large farms have hundreds if not thousands of animals, all producing a vast amount of urine and feces. This urine and feces are stored in “lagoons,” and are sprayed onto crops via sprinkler systems. This waste is not supposed to leave the property of the hog farm. However, a study done by UNC  suggested that these large hog farm operations have allowed waste bacteria to pollute North Carolina streams and rivers . Researchers took water samples from water sources situated near hog farms and found “DNA from bacteria that live in the digestive systems of hogs and that are not known to live in any other animals or people.”  The water quality has been compromised. A criticism of this study is that the mere existence of this bacterial DNA cannot prove that hog farms are disposing of their waste inappropriately; however, it seems to give pretty damn good evidence that waste mismanagement is, in fact, happening.

I don’t want the state I consider my home to smell like hog shit. I don’t want my parents, who currently live in rural North Carolina, to wake up and be forced to stay inside their home because their backyard smells like hog shit. I don’t want anyone in my family (or, you know, any human in general) to be forced to drink water contaminated with hog shit. 

Two: Humane Treatment of Animals. Most animals raised for meat in the United States live on CAFOs (Concentrated Organized Feeding Operations). Many of them spend their days standing around and covered in their own shit. CAFOs can include both open lots without grass and closed buildings without windows. They exist for animals to be stored until they are the proper size for butchering.

Pregnant hogs are often kept in conditions so cramped they are forced to stand. Their waste falls through a slotted floor and is kept below them, and the hogs are “exposed to high levels of ammonia, which causes respiratory problems.” These hogs also develop ulcers and wounds caused by the pressure of being crammed so close together.

The egg industry also employs questionable methods. Male chicks born into egg operations often get exterminated on day 1. Because they’re male, they’re not going to lay eggs, and because they’re bred from a type of chicken geared toward making eggs and not meat, they aren’t seen as being viable as a meat source. It’s more economical just to kill them and be done with it.

Every time I think about eating meat now, I think about these animals. I think about the documentary Vegucated showing bags full of still-living male chicks being thrown out like garbage. Every bite feels like support of cruelty, and that’s something I’m not comfortable with.

 Three: Health/Beauty/Vanity. In high school, my skin was fairly clear. However, since about 23, my face has virtually exploded with adult acne. After trying almost every product I could get my hands on (scrubs, goos, washes, “treatments,” etc), my face was still a mess. I read a few articles that suggested dairy products like milk and cheese could cause skin problems. I severely limited my intake of these products, and my skin has definitely improved. Is it a decrease in dairy products or merely an increase in produce consumption that have caused this change? I’m not sure, but I’m going to keep with it because my results are good.

Since December, I have not eaten any meat products (eggs, however, continue to be consumed, although at a greatly reduced rate, and milk and cheese have been cut out almost entirely). Overall, I feel healthier and less sluggish, and I’m paying more attention to the type of things I consume and how they will affect not only my body, but my community and my sense of integrity.

** Please note: this is not an attempt to “convert” anyone to vegetarianism. It’s just an explanation of an experience I’m currently going through and an attempt to live more closely aligned with ideals I feel are important to me. All opinions are my own and only represent the limited amount of research I’ve done on the subject. **

Girl on (Plastic) Rocks

I’ve never been a very athletic person. Much of my childhood was spent either in bed or a comfy chair, curled up with a novel. In middle and high school, my whole goals were just to make it through P.E. classes without somehow embarrassing or injuring myself (I am, without a doubt, one of the clumsiest humans alive). I’ve tried kickboxing, I’ve tried jogging, and for a few months two years ago I was old-lady power walking on a fairly regular basis – but nothing really stuck.

Until now. My sig other introduced me to the wonder that is rock climbing (specifically bouldering), and I think I might be addicted.

Sports never were my thing. For one, I never “naturally” took to sports, so I never practiced, so I always sucked at them. I also was a nerdy kid who frantically excused my physical inabilities by believing and maintaining all the media B.S. that athletic people are idiots (on behalf of nerd-dom, sorry athletes, but let’s be fair, you got a few good ones in there too). I’m a perfectionist, holding myself and everyone around me to basically impossible standards. I hate when I make mistakes, and I hate when others make mistakes, because deep down I’m convinced that if I had the chance, I could do it better.

This doesn’t bother me in climbing. Climbing teaches me that not only is it o.k. to fall, it’s the only way to ever get better, and that’s a life lesson I still sorely need.

Climbing isn’t a group sport. It isn’t a competition (I mean, there are professionals and competitions out there, but I’m talking about the low-key essence of climbing). The only person I’m trying to beat is my past self. The only person who controls the outcome of a climb is myself. I get what I put into it – if I train, if I exercise, I can improve, do harder climbs, and accomplish cooler moves. And this has inspired me to practice not only climbing, but other areas of fitness as well – I’m now doing yoga, pilates, and resistance training, and I’ve changed my diet drastically in the last few months. My body feels good, healthy in a way it’s never felt before. My body feels attractive in a way it’s never felt before, even if the feeling is just in my head.

And that goodness transcends my time spent in the gym. That goodness makes me not only more confident in myself, but also more forgiving of my mistakes. It makes me more forgiving of others’ mistakes, as I climb alongside other beginners and we see each other’s weaknesses and work together to make them strengths. All in all, I feel like a kinder, more helpful person, and that’s a good thing.

So let’s hope this is one hobby that will stick.