Friday, May 16, 2008

My Lazy Retirement

What happened to all that free time? To those long lazy mornings when I was going to loll about in my PJs sipping coffee and petting the cat? To the problem of not having enough to do in retirement to stave off boredom?

Forget about it!

Since getting back from Red Rock I have been one busy Relic. Granted, for the first couple of weeks, I chilled, recovering from the trip. But since then, my schedule seems to be designed to test how much activity it will take to wear me out.

I climbed at Rock State Park here in Maryland with daughter Karen, who was visiting on Spring break from grad school in Boston. We top-roped several climbs and, for the first time, I was able to get up a couple of routes, one rated 5.8 and another 5.9, that she couldn’t. When we were done she complained, “I don’t much like being smoked by my 60 year old father.” I replied with a philosophical grin, “I kind of like smoking you. But remember, time is on your side.” Indeed, it won’t be too long before she is visiting me in the nursing home and regaling me with stories of her climbs and races and swim meets, while I wonder how I am going to get out of the bed and into the wheelchair.

My regular climbing partner Peter and I made a trip to Seneca where we confirmed the received wisdom that weather forecasts for that valley are worthless, at best. Saturday was predicted to be wet, but turned out mostly dry. On Sunday, when the weather was supposed to be sunny, it poured. We managed only a couple of routes on the South End (which has a nice short approach that avoids the, by Bill, dreaded Stairmaster).

I’ve also been to the Gunks several times to climb with Peter, my friends Jon the air traffic controller and Don the mortgage broker, as well as Jean and Annie, who were on their annual trip south from Vermont to get a jump on the rock climbing season. On one of these trips I met Carolyn, a New Paltz resident-climber who is preparing for her guiding certification. We climbed together one day.

The Gunks climbing has been pretty interesting. I am working on stepping my leading up from 5.6 to 5.7, and to that end have managed to lead Limelight, Bloody Mary, and the 5.7 second pitch of Morning After. I even led Arrow (5.8), after following it. But, Gunks 5.7s do not appear ready to surrender the sharp end of the rope to me without a fight. I failed miserably in my effort to drag the rope up Handy Andy, a one pitch, thin-face 5.7 near Brat. I went up, and backed off. I went up, and fell. Twice more I went up; twice more I backed off. Finally Peter, apparently tiring of watching the fiasco, took a turn and climbed right up. Grrrrrrrr! By this time I was so discouraged that we had to enlist the services of a passing boulderer (who came walking along the carriage road complete with crash pad strapped to his back) to follow Peter and clean our gear. I whined all the way home in the car. On a subsequent trip, I followed Jean up the 5.7 direct start to Thin Slabs. As I struggled to stick to the sketchy holds, I decided I was in no hurry to come back and lead it. Worst of all is Laurel. How in the world does one start that climb? I have no idea; the foot-hold are non-existent.

There does seem to be a pattern here: the thin face climbs give me trouble, and many sevens at the Gunks consist of tiny, sloping holds on slabs. I decided the problem must be my shoes. Yes! I need better shoes. So, I went from shop to shop trying on every pair of climbing shoes they had to fit my long but skinny size 47 feet. Each pair promised miraculous edging, smearing, jamming or heel hooking (whatever that is). But slowly I confronted the awful truth: my La Sportiva Mythos shoes are just as good as any of these others. The problem may not be the shoes. As Pogo might have said in my situation, “I is met the enemy, and they is my technique.” Damn!! So now I am reduced to practicing my footwork and strengthening my hands. While climbing for two days with Jon, I consciously tried to use only the tiniest footholds available. I’ve dug out my grip trainer and am squeezing away. I’ll let you know if any of this helps.

Speaking of Jon, we had quite a soggy adventure. As seems to be standard practice when I climb with him, on the way north from Maryland I drove through a hard rain in New Jersey, only to find the sun shining on the Gunks. But it had been raining pretty hard in New Paltz the previous couple of days, which meant a lot of water was still draining down the cliffs, particularly in the corners. These conditions gave us a good chance to pretend to be fearless alpine climbers mastering wet rock on some of the easy routes. Jon led us up through the water on Tipsy Trees; and then I did Northern Pillar, with water running down onto my helmet and across the holds on the top, corner pitch. Not really the North face of the Eiger, but still fun.

Jammed in among these climbing trips, were two excursions to South Carolina where your Relic taught at the Department of Justice training center in Columbia, and a trip to Boston to visit Karen for her birthday. I’ve been home for only a very few days in the last six weeks.

Next week I am off to New Hampshire to climb with Karen on Cathedral Ledge and visit my Mother for her 97th birthday. The following week I am going back to New Paltz to climb with Jon and Carolyn. Lois and I are talking about a week long hiking trip through the Presidential range in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, and I am hoping to organize a climbing trip west in July, maybe to the Tetons. In August, Lois and I are going to Honduras to help build a school.

I am starting to have second thoughts about this retirement business. Maybe I need to get a nice office job, so I will have someplace to rest up from all this activity.

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