Monday, December 22, 2014

How climbing changed me: looking back on a year-ish of climbing

Hopefully this reads as "How I've changed over the last year" rather than "Why climbing is the best". I started climbing a year ago last fall, and I've wanted to write this for some time, but I have never quite felt inspired, so I decided to just start writing it and see if inspiration comes. Maybe I'll throw up a bunch of pictures of me climbing to round it off.

I've been thinking recently about how climbing has changed who I am. I suppose to a degree anything you do changes you. Our brains and bodies are molded by the way we use them, so it's natural that what we do affects the way we experience the world. But I am noticeably different because of climbing. Let's talk about that.

I miss those pants. 
This is one change I don't exactly love. I'm identified as a rock climber now. I've never liked being identifying as things. I just don't like being classified, so I sort of begrudgingly accept the title of rock climber. But it's true. I do it so often that it's what people know about me, and it's colored my life so heavily, that it's become a part of who I am. And to be honest, I love climbing. I might very well have been born for it. (I blame the monkeys we descended from.)

I've never had good posture, and it's still not great, but rock climbing forces you up onto your toes and makes you to think about how you hold your body. I still slouch when I sit, but when I stand, I stand-up straight and am constantly balancing myself as I move. If I open a door, I flag my leg out to counterbalance. If I reach for something, I turn my body so I can do it without pushing myself off center. I've always been obsessive about not stepping on street cracks, but now I also balance myself and consciously place my feet where I want to, smoothly avoiding them. (Yes, I'm almost 26 and I still avoid stepping on cracks. I just don't want to be responsible for any spinal injuries to my mother.) All this to say, I'm slightly-aware of my body position all the time. This is what I imagine life would be like as a cat. It's sort of a weird thing, but it does mean I don't stumble as often.

Body Image:
One of the first thing I noticed when I started climbing is the relaxed self-assurance that climbers have. There are always exceptions, but most climbers just seem comfortable in their skin. It probably helps that a lot of them have ridiculously toned bodies, but I think it also has to do with climbing itself. Climbing forces you to be aware of your body, to observe your feelings and respond to them, and then to forget about your body and perform. It sort of forces you into your body, and I think that's where confidence comes from, when there's no separation between who you are and what you are. Instead of looking at your body as this foreign material that you have to dominate, it's an instrument for you to use. You become aware of the feeling of your body rather than the external perception of it, and it causes you to dominate the space you inhabit, because you own it. Is that zen enough for you?

There's a big long article about how the objectification of our bodies (with girls specifically) is what inhibits both confidence and capability by making people concerned with the external appearance rather than the internal experience. I think that has something to do with it.

So for the first time in my life I have some upper body muscle, which is good for body image, but I also feel very comfortable with my body just because I'm so aware of what I can do with it. And that's nice.

It sure does make phone calls seem
more approachable. 
Rock climbing is tough. And that's cool. Once after I struggled to finish a climb, my belay-partner pointed out that even if it was rough, I'm doing something almost everyone in the world can't. It's fun to be good at something, and it gives you courage to tackle other things. When I climb up the side of a mountain and stand on top of it, it's easy to feel like I can do anything, and so when I have to face something else hard, I can remember, "this is tough, but I climb mountains."

In addition to the perspective, climbing has taught me how to deal with fear. Climbing is scary. There might be people who don't find falling at all scary, but in my experience, those people are the minority among rock climbers. (Maybe they don't last long.) Most rock climbers I know get scared, and many of them were once very afraid of heights. Part of rock climbing is learning how to master fear, and practicing that, and the way you master fear is the same whether you're making a move out above a clip on an exposed section of rock or talking to an intimidating stranger. For me, I take a deep breath, shake it out, let go of my fear and just act. It helps to sing a song while I'm at it.

This has been a big deal for me, because climbing is one of two things that scare me that I seek out on a regular basis (the other is dating girls), and I've had to learn how to deal with being afraid. Usually I deal with being afraid by going where I don't have to deal with being afraid, but there's something really empowering about recognizing fear and then dismissing it.

Speaking of fear, I have trust issues. This isn't so much an effect of climbing as a realization. Climbing has provided a very clear metric of trust. There are a limited number of people who I trust with my life, and I know who they are. I can count them on one hand. I know I trust them, because when I'm climbing and I'm about to do something, I don't second guess myself based on whether they're going to catch me. And this isn't an intellectual question: I don't climb with anyone who I don't think will catch me (I have before, it's terrifying. Never do it.) This is a deeply emotional, instinctual condition. Am I comfortable with my life in their hands? It's a good lesson about trust in general. If you're hesitating because you don't know how someone will react to something, you probably don't really trust them.

Pictured here: my foot. And Tyler
By the way, not looking down is terrible advice,
because you should be always looking
at where you're placing your feet.
Just try not to internalize what's beneath them. 
This is actually something I'm currently working on. Climbing somehow becomes a microcosm for all my issues. I always want to rest when things get hard. One of the biggest things I need to learn now in climbing is just how to push on through difficult times rather than ease off. When I'm climbing and it becomes tough, I have a tendency to just give up, relax, plan my next move, and try again. This isn't a terrible life-strategy in general, but it limits what you can accomplish when climbing. Sometimes you just have to commit, push on, and hope that there's something better up ahead, because this particular part is tough, so it's probably a bad place to stop. I'm working on that. One of the hardest climbs I've ever done I approached planning to climb until I fell. I finished it without falling. (This was cool, but the whole point was to become more comfortable with falling. So in that sense it didn't help much. Maybe in another year I'll talk about how I'm comfortable with falling, and how that's symbolic.)

On the other hand, I rock perseverance. I'm not sure how much climbing has changed this, but at some point in life I learned how to keep trying, and keep trying and keep trying. Bouldering particularly is an exercise in persistence. I've fallen off of problems dozens of times before I've finished them, and spent weeks working on a single problem. And I've gotten better. This is probably good for me, because I usually don't love taking on things that are challenging, because I like the feeling of being good at things. But the feeling of overcoming something difficult is even better.

This was sort of a recent realization, rock climber girls have become the default attractive body type for me. Luckily rock climbers don't actually have that weird of bodies, but I'm fairly certain most guys aren't primarily attracted to girls that could beat said guys in a pull-up competition. But at some point, girls with big biceps and steely forearms became the norm, so when I see girls with skinny arms I'm like, "That's weird. Why are your arms so thin?" I realized this from a stock image for an article about attraction that someone posted on Facebook (the second image below) and I've since became a little more aware of it.
Clearly a normally proportioned woman
An unfortunate*, skinny arm'ed waif
*Note, this shouldn't be read as a value judgement on differently proportioned girls. I just find it interesting how the girls you surround yourself with affect so strongly what you're attracted to. 

So that's how I've changed over the last year. It's been fairly positive.

Ooo, one more thing:
I want a climber kid. I've always thought having a little son would be awesome (for a long time, a dad pulling his son in a bike chariot summed up my life ambition), but now I have new, very specific excitement for parenthood: the ability to raise little monkey children.

Pictured here: little monkey nephew

Here's to climbing through another year.

Monday, November 24, 2014

You're nothin' but a sister!

So, I have this thing where I want to do things really really well, and so a lot of times they just don't end up getting done. So instead of a unbelievably beautiful posts about how awesome my sister is (really, just imagining it should bring you to tears), here's a list of ways Kate has changed my life (in no particular order).

Teaching me to wear clothes that fit.
Convincing me not to draw on my converse (I never did).
Upholding the name of Perkes with all the cool teachers at Murrah.
Introducing me to H&M.
Introducing me to deodorant. (when I was 11ish)
Introducing me to boxers. (Around the same time)
Basically doing all my art projects for me in school.
Teaching me how to decorate an apartment.
Teaching me that nausea is how all the cool kids deal with stressful social interactions.
Dressing me up in dresses as a little kid (I'm not actually sure if that changed my life or not. I guess we'll never know)
Giving me the heads up on some of the best and worst things about BYU.
Training me in the ways of dark colored pants.
Guiding my taste in music until today (Amy and Cami get a lot of credit for that too, but I still remember the first time I heard Bubble Toes in the car)
Instilling in me the idea that girls make the best friends (unlike a lot of lessons, I don't think this one was intentional, but it definitely stuck.)
Marrying a stellar brother-in-law.
Bringing 2 other cool boys into the family. (We're 10-0 since 1989!)
Consistently being my guide whenever I'm unsure of how to function as a normal person.

Happy birthday, Katie. Thanks for being such a great older sister my whole life.

Friday, October 31, 2014

A request

Dear readers,

Family, friends, acquaintances, strangers, and whoever may happen to read my blog,

You are wonderful.

Really. You are paragons of reason and moderation in a shockingly immoderate world. Oh sure, occasionally you'll post things on Facebook that make me cringe–sometimes I even point out why– but for the most part, I am constantly reassured by the collective honesty, integrity, and general consideration I see in the people I know.

Because there are people. There are so many people, angry, self-assured zealots, raging against all that is not them. Every incendiary blog post, every hateful youtube comment, every moronic tweet comes from some person, and that person is liable to vote, and lobby, and petition, and those are the voices that are heard–this screaming terror that drives our country.

So at 4 a.m. I had a realization. I can't in good conscience sit, idle and watch the narrative of this country, because it is horrifying. And I want to make it clear that I'm not talking about the moral degradation of society, or ebola, or the evils of liberalism, or conservatism or abortion or guns. I know for a fact that my readership is fairly split on these subjects, and I honestly think that our country is more safe, more healthy, and more free than it has ever been before.

 I'm talking about the story of our country, packaged by pundits and politicians and purchased by us. We are better than that–at least you are better than that–but while voices heard in comments and talk shows are these raging pseudo-sociopaths, that is the story that will be told.

So I may disagree with you about a lot of things, but I'm confident in your capacity for empathy and rational thought. So go be active, go to the source, consider issues thoroughly, conduct civil discourse and remember that people who disagree with you are not evil.

I do think most people are good and civil and thoughtful, but I think the people who shout loudest are the ones being heard, and those people don't seem good or thoughtful. Participate, online and in line, and convince more people like you to participate. If enough of us do, we might even get the narrative we need (because we will always get the narrative we deserve).

And go vote, because congress is a wreck and we chose every single one of them.

Monday, September 22, 2014

In which Ammon *doesn't* make a short list.

Wow, it's been a while.  I'd like to say that I've been so busy in my whirlwind of graduate school that I just haven't had time to update, but that's obviously not true.

The thing is, I always feel like in these big life changes that I should be able to say something incredibly profound, but more and more I realize that big life changes aren't incredibly profound, they just... are.

Summer ended, I left Utah and I moved to Philly and I found an apartment and I started grad school. It just sort of is. The profound bits are things that happen incidentally, like when I'm biking home from the climbing gym and ride under the Market Street Bridge at night, or when I skype with a professor in Canada and talk about the science we want to do together, or when I install command hooks on my very own* wall.  But those things don't really make good blog writing.

It's been almost exactly a month since I moved into my apartment, and I'm starting to settle in to my life here.  And it's good.  I love Philadelphia, grad school is wonderful, and everything I hoped it would be (except that we don't get paid until the end of September.  There've been some adventures in profound budgeting). All in all I'm feeling incredibly blessed.  Everything has come together with almost Buellerian serendipity.

So that's that.  I'll try to keep this up to date. Good luck, fellow adventurers.

(although, this)

*I'm still renting

Sunday, August 3, 2014

A short to-do list to do in two short weeks.

I'm leaving Utah in less than two weeks.

I'll probably end up writing a fair bit about that because there's a lot wrapped around that sentence; in the mean time, I'm not done adventuring yet: this is everything I want to fit in before I leave.  I'm also open to suggestions.

Hike Mount Nebo
Climb Little Cottonwood Canyon
Climb Maple Canyon
Visit Lake Powell, cliff jump, deep water solo
Climb the first 8 Pitches of Squaw Peak
Bike the Alpine Loop one last time

and a shorter list of things I won't be able to do, but want to come back for:
Hike King's Peak
Mountain bike Moab
Climb the 22 pitches up to Squaw Peak

When I was in Havasupai on Friday, I found a canyon that I wanted to explore but couldn't, because I didn't really have the stuff I needed with me, and I was alone and I didn't want to injure myself doing something stupid. (We're up to 14 days since last accident!

I don't like leaving things undone, and I suspect there will be a lot of open parentheses left in Utah.


Friday, July 18, 2014

A short list of expensive things–checking in with Summer

I have a lot of spare time these days.  I'm doing a little bit of research, but mostly I'm just lounging around the house and making sandwiches to fill the time between amazing adventures.

Whilst lounging around the house and making sandwiches today, I realized there are a lot of expensive things I'm considering buying/doing.  It seemed like a good idea to share them, so here we are.

Ammon's Expensive Shopping List:
a DSLR camera
Why? because I'm 25 and moving to a city and a biologist told me to get a good camera and use it. (I might just buy a nice-ish digital camera and see if I use that for a while before dropping a ton of money on a thing I would likely drop while climbing some waterfall in the jungle on a field trip)
a new MacBook 
Because I'm going to grad school and I don't want all the cool kids to make fun of my old macbook.  (also because my computer is now old and my battery has some issues)
a trip to Portugal and nearby Europe
I've been putting off going to Portugal since I got home from Portugal.  Basically I figured that I would want to go with my wife and to see the temple when it gets finished.  Shockingly, however, I'm not currently dating anyone and they haven't even officially announced the site for the temple. These things do tend to drag on.  In any case, I think I'd better just stop waiting and save up some money.  The plan is next summer, if you want to come, as my wife or otherwise, let me know.  It's going to be a party. I hear there's deep water soloing.
An apartment in Philadelphia (or a house?) 
Obviously this will cost some money, although not as much as I thought.  For example, if I were willing to live several miles from campus (which I'm not), I could get a single unit for less than I'm currently paying to live in a 2 bedroom apartment with 4 people and an electric stove (I can't stand electric stoves).  Seriously though, I'm excited to have an apartment.  And I'm considering buying a place after I pay off my student loans.  I might just rent while I'm there, but home ownership has a certain ring to it, doesn't it?
A slew of rock climbing stuff: 
Let's be honest, I could spend an unlimited amount of money on climbing, next on my shopping list is a GriGri (which is a fancy thing designed primarily for looking cool.  It also functions as a belay device.) and some nicer shoes that fit me better. Compared to all my other $1000+ purchases, this seems downright reasonable.

In the mean time, I'm hiking Lone Peak tomorrow and then have upcoming return trips to Zion for Fat Man's Misery (this time with 80% less spooning) and Havasupai (probably with 100% fewer marriage proposals).

Oh, in related news, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is one of the best movies I've ever seen.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

There may be many, many fathers. But there's only one that's mine

I was going to type out a long thing, and I still might, but I spent so much time looking for good pictures that I ran out of time to write anything right now.  If a picture is worth 1000 words, this thing is already over 9000 words long, so I don't want to overwhelm anyone.

Happy Fathers Day to my dad, the consummate renaissance man:

The Outdoorsman

The Adventurer

The Builder

The Chef

The Thinker

The Naturalist

The Husband

The Father
(That's my sister about to bite a snake.)

Happy Father's Day!  I couldn't have hoped for a better Father

(Not pictured here: The Comic, The Speaker, The Artist, The Teacher, The Bishop, or The Scare-House Designer.)

Monday, June 2, 2014

Indiammon Jones and the Canyon of Doom

I've been putting this off for nearly two weeks now, not from emotional trauma or anything, just because I couldn't decide how to approach it in a way that would adequately convey this experience.  2 weeks ago I was trapped in a slot canyon in Zion.  Here's what happened:

Concerning Hobbits:
Exactly 2 weeks ago, I was hurrying around, packing for a 2 day canyoneering trip.  My friend and loyal adventure buddy Michelle had invited me months ago, and I was feeling good about it.  I was recovering well from surgery, and had managed to do several things (rock climbing, piano moving, kickball, volleyball, etc) without any serious pain or injury.  I realized it wasn't exactly the wisest thing I could do, but this canyon was so beautiful, I figured it was worth a little pain.  In any case, the doctor had told me that there was no way I could damage myself, barring extreme trauma, so I decided to go for it.

Monday night we slept in a free campsite that I found outside of Zion.  Michelle and I drove down with Kyle (an old friend from the ward) and met up with Karly (Kyle's sister and one of Michelle's best friends) and her friend Doug (who none of us had ever met).  We left provo a little later than we had hoped, so it was around eleven at night when we pulled into the Thunderbird Lodge (Home of the Ho-made Pies).  Sadly we arrived too late to sample any of the 'slutty pies' (as I vaguely remembered them), and we were about two hours ahead of Karly and Doug, so we had a while to wait.  Michelle, who talked most of the way down about all things deep and meaningful, was more or less asleep.  Kyle and I, being somewhat similar and having a certain paucity of words, explored a little and then sat more or less in silence for some time.  I started walking up Highway 9 towards Zion, taking the opportunity to pee outside for the first of many times, but after realizing that Zion was still 12 miles away, and that it was actually quite dark and boring, I worked my way back to the car to pass the time.

My space blankets arrived in the mail just now.
I don't think I'll ever leave home without them.
Some time around 1am Karly and Doug got there, and there was much rejoicing.  I had hung out with Karly before, but we weren't all that close.  She and Kyle are in many ways completely opposite, which makes them fun siblings to spend time with.  Where Kyle is fairly quiet and reserved, Karly is energetic and animated.  Doug, whom I had never met, seemed like a nice guy, the sort of guy you would want by your side if you had to pass a night in a cold windy canyon.

We drove over and checked out the campsite, which was somewhat hidden on an abandoned little section of the old Highway 89. It was late, and setting up two tents seemed like a huge hassle, so we all packed into one tent, with Michelle curled up at our feet.

Michelle and Doug,
unaware of the prison that already surrounds them
The next morning, we drove over to just outside the East gate of Zion, and met up with Parker, Michelle's good friend.  I had met Parker several times, and had always liked him, but had never spent that much time with him.  I knew him as a skilled and fairly experienced climber and outdoorsman, and a fun guy to be around.  He and Karly had organized the trip, and he was the one who had the gear and know-how for all the rappelling.  He had actually driven down from Provo that morning, so he was going on a couple hours of sleep, but it didn't seem to have phased him and we got everything ready to go.

At this point I had a moment of feeling somewhat nauseated. I'm going to chalk it up to the combination of recent surgery and being stuck in very small spaces for 16 hours.  In any case, I went to the bathroom to consider throwing up, but didn't, and we got everything ready to go and squeezed into Parker's car and drove into the park. Once we got outside and walking around I felt good, at least as good as you can expect two weeks out of surgery.  I had decided that I wasn't going to spend the whole time complaining about my surgery, and I'm not going to address it anymore here, but for most of the trip there was dull pain somewhere around the area of my ureter, which made everything slightly less pleasant.

The Descent:
Canyoneering was wonderful. It was a breath of fresh air after 2 weeks of being stuck in surgery recovery mode.  There is something magical about slot canyons, that always feels very Indiana Jones-esque.  I think it's because every turn is a new discovery, and you feel like explorers finding things for the very first time.  It also helps that the whole thing is basically a jungle gym for adults. At some point my scrambling exploits earned me the name Indiammon Jones, which is probably the best nickname I have ever received (just above popular favorites such as Hotdog).  If you've never gone canyoneering, and you're not claustrophobic, find a way to do it.  Come with me next time I go. Throw in a security blanket and an extra pair of socks, just in case.

After about 8 hours, we were feeling like we should be getting close.  We rappelled down a somewhat tricky drop into a bit of water, and came to where the canyon joined with a larger canyon that seemed to be a drainage.  Some of us thought we were done, but it didn't quite seem right–we were supposed to run into the virgin river, which was still farther down to the south east–so after heading to the right for a little bit, we were turned back to the left and went deeper into the canyon.  The first rappel (pictured above with Doug and Michelle) was excellent, and was by far the best of the trip. Unfortunately we got the rope stuck, so Parker had to climb up the rope (twice) in order to get it dislodged.  We weren't able to get the anchor down, so we had to leave the webbing and the recovery rope lodged in the rock.  After another 100 yards there was a very narrow, step-wise drop into water, that looked tricky, so we set up a rappel and worked our way down.  I stayed to spot people as they came down, so I was the second to last person to round the corner and see the virgin river–600 feet below us.

It was immediately obvious that things had gone wrong, but there was a vague hope that maybe what looked like a sudden drop straight down the side of a cliff was somehow something else, but on further inspection it was exactly that.  By this time it was around 7'oclock, we were tired and hungry, and we were coming to terms with the fact that we were stuck.

I think now is a good time to point out that I couldn't have asked for a better group of people get trapped in a canyon.  Every single person was optimistic, level headed, competent, and very tough.  No one panicked.  No one even cried.  We just realized we needed to turn around and find a way out as soon as possible.

In which poor choices are made:
We scrambled back up the tricky narrow rappel, helping each other up as we went.  There was a very scary moment where I was pulling Karly up that I slipped a little bit, but I didn't let her fall to her death, so there's that. As we got back into the 100 yards between the two rappels, it seemed like our best bet was to scramble up the side of the canyon.  It looked very doable, with several platforms in between, so Parker grabbed the rope and worked his way up the side of the canyon.  Meanwhile I looked around a bit to try to find a better way out, but it looked bad the way we came, so Parker climbed.

When he was about 40 feet up it became clear that this was a bad idea.  He was trying to scramble up to a little shelf that was covered in sand, and he had very little grip.  There was a moment where it looked like he was about to fall.  Suddenly we realized that it was very possible that we were about to watch our friend fall to his death. By his account, he made it over by the grace of God, and from what I saw I believe him.  I don't think I have ever seen someone so clearly aware of the fact that they were about to die.  Throughout this. there was a whole lot of praying–that we would get out, that Parker wouldn't die, that he could have the strength to keep going and think clearly after hiking all day long on 3 hours of sleep–and a fair share of witty remarks, because if you can't laugh in the face of possible death, how do you expect to survive?

By now it was getting somewhat dark and very cold.  Parker was getting nearer to the top, and he asked for a bag with water, a flashlight, and keys.  He lowered the rope down and we tied it on and sent it up to him.  And then we huddled together for warmth and chatted to pass the time.  Occasionally rocks would fall down, which was somewhat terrifying both for us and for him.  He was kind enough to tell us each time that he was not dead.  It got dark, and the light from his flashlight was the only sign that he was still up there, risking his life.  By now we were a lot more interested in his survival than our escape, so when he made it within sight of the top only to find that it was impossible, we were just happy that he made it down.

In Blackest Night:
That night was cold.  We were all in light clothing.  I was fortunate to have brought a sweatshirt, and a beanie that I let Karly use. (This was a bit of a bummer, because with a sweatshirt and beanie I was actually pretty toasty, but being toasty when your friends are dangerously close to hypothermia isn't as enjoyable as you might hope.) We spooned together for warm with me on the end next to Doug, so I can finally cross that off my bucket list.  I have never in my life had a longer, colder, or more depressing night.  In retrospect, I consider that a huge blessing, lots of people do that sort of thing regularly.

Around 7 it started getting light, but it stayed cold until noon.  Parker was spent. The climb and near-death experience had taken a lot out of him, and he said he wasn't sure if he would ever climb again.  There was some debate as to what we should do next.  We had water filters, so we had plenty of water, and we had enough food for another day or so.  We knew that some people should know that we were gone, and we hoped that they would call rescue and find us.  Another death defying stunt seemed unwise, but Karly and I were somewhat set on not spending another night in that canyon.  Neither of us had been able to stop thinking about the rope that was still wedged in the rappel we came down on.  Once it was warm enough to move around, I set out to exploring. The rope seemed extremely secure, but it certainly wasn't safe to climb up a rope that could slip out at any minute.  So that went on the back burner while we surveyed our little canyon home.

The Escape:
The entrance to the canyon consisted of a narrow canyon wall with a huge boulder wedged in the gap.  This boulder was probably around twenty feet in diameter, and very roughly conical.  Behind it sand had built up and beneath it limestone had developed, making a small, and very cool little cave.  Doug, who had joined me in surveying the canyon, was nice enough to lift me into the little cave, which was probably about ten feet off the ground.  It worked it's way back behind the boulder and up towards a shelf that formed a sort of platform over looking our little canyon prison.  I climbed up along the boulder and was about ten feet from the shelf, but I was too afraid of falling to go for it.  It seemed climbable, and I could taste freedom, but I didn't feel safe, so I came back down.

On our way back, we saw another little path up to that shelf, that looked incredibly doable.  There were tiny ledges in the wall that went straight up to the shelf.  I asked Parker to come take a look at it, to see if he thought it was doable, and then I decided to go for it.  I got within one move of the top, but it was sketchy.  I was wearing tennis shoes, and I didn't trust my feet to stick.  Falling would be messy with uneven rock to the left, and a twenty foot drop to the right.  The last move would have required a bit of a jump to what could be a very doable hold, or a death trap, so I bailed.  Parker took a shot at it, but couldn't get it either.   I tried it in his chacos, which have a nicer grip, but I still didn't like it.  He was about to try crimping his way up (which is climber-speak for the tiny, half inch holds that require a ton of strength and put a lot of strain on your fingers), but before he did I mentioned the little cave route, and we took a look at that.  Doug helped him in (which was impressive, since Parker, although light, has a good twenty pounds on me).  Parker felt a lot better about this one, because the fall would have only been around 20 feet onto water and soft sand, so he worked his way over to where I stopped, and then went for it.  After another somewhat worrisome moment where he found that the shelf was less level than we initially thought, he made it out.

There have been very few times in my life that I felt as much joy as when I saw Parker climb out of that canyon.  At around the same time the sun came out.  We were going home.

Michelle, showing us what freedom feels like
Many Happy Returns:
As is often the case with adventures, the resolution took somewhat longer than you'd hope.  Although Parker was out, to get everyone else out was still a bit of a chore.  Climbing up a rope is not as easy as you might expect, but we did manage to get out, and then we worked our way out of the canyon.  We did manage to get lost one more time, and found ourself in another precarious and difficult position.  There was a moment when Parker had run up a mountain to scope it out, and everyone else was grabbing water that I just sat, exhausted and worried that we were never going to make it out in one piece, but Parker came back, we drank water (which was excellent) and he led the way out.  By 9:30 we were kissing the highway and feeling incredibly grateful to be free.

And then we drove home.

So that's what happened.  I'm worried I haven't adequately conveyed the experience, and I haven't even begun to address all the things I learned and realized because of it.

In short, life is precious and emergency blankets are a no-brainer.

A Brief Afterward: 
In case you are wondering, it turns out we did the wrong canyon.  There's a slightly smaller canyon to the west of Fat Man's Misery that we wound up in, which drops precipitously into the virgin river rather than getting there gradually.  It's a lovely canyon, just be sure to turn right at the fork.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Day 3: Surprises

It turns out I got bored of posting daily surprisingly quickly.  Apparently there just aren't that many exciting things to talk about in surgery recovery, as most of the major developments revolve around the return of normal body functions, most of which are neither exciting nor polite.  So with that in mind, here's a short list of surprises revolving around surgery:

Surprise #1 -  Almost no pain.  Other than a bit of abdominal pain, I feel essentially fine as long as I'm not moving, and even moving isn't terrible as long as I don't work my abs. This is a lot different from when I injured my kidney, when I was on narcotics and basically sprawled out in bed in pain, all the time, for around two weeks. I'm not even taking tylenol that regularly anymore.  (I think about it sometimes, so I'm at something like 4 pills a day)

Surprise #2 - Shoulder and Neck pain.  Despite the relatively little pain, the worst of it is usually around my shoulders and neck.  This was unexpected, since from what I understand my shoulders aren't that closely involved in my kidney function.  I'm betting it's either because someone was kneeling on me during surgery, or my muscles get all stiff when I don't use them.

Surprise #3 - Shaving.  Turns out they shaved off all the hair around my belly button.  I suppose I should have seen that coming, but yeah.  Surprise!

Surprise #4 - Eating.  This is another non-issue.  Where-as before I basically couldn't eat anything and threw up a few times, this time I was eating grilled cheese and soup within hours of the surgery.  By now I basically feel up for anything.  Supposedly repairing my kidney will make me less prone to nausea, we'll see how that goes.

Surprise #5 - Peeing.  I know this gets into the not-exiting-or-polite body function section, but I'm fairly sure both my kidneys are now working, because I pretty much have to pee all the time. It's honestly a little absurd.  I mean I'm drinking a fair amount of water, but I'm peeing like 10 times a day.  I'm concerned this could be the end of the legendary Perkes bladder (is that really legendary, or does it just come up occasionally on road trips?), but I'm hoping that it's just left over tenderness from having my urinary tract jacked up from all directions.

By the way, happy nurses week!  I really appreciate all the wonderful nurses at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, who made my stay surprisingly enjoyable.  And a shout-out to all my male nurses.  They may not be as beautiful as the women (really though, I've never met a nursing student who wasn't both beautiful and amazing, I'm not quite sure how that happens), but they make for slightly less awkward discussions of urination.

From the return from Havasupai,
when we got lost and ended up in California

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Day 1: homeward bound

Sometimes you get blood from your wounds on your white shirt.

I went home today. I'm feeling pretty good, and am surviving without narcotics, so that's a plus. Now I just need to get to where I can move without pain. I've got blankets, tv, and lots of water. Off we go.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Day 0

Everything went well, I'm hoping one of the surgeons will come in and talk about it, and I asked them if they could get me a movie of the surgery, so we'll see if that happens. I'm the mean time, here's my view, not quite as cool as saturday, but still nice.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Operation: t minus 7.25 hours

When you make a decimal of an hour, do you divide the minutes by 60 or by 100?  Maybe I should just stay away from mixed bases...

I decided that to keep my family informed and myself entertained, I'll post at least a picture every day--starting from the surgery until whenever I get board/back to normal and distracted by fun.

Todays picture is from one of my many recent adventures:
Those are Google Fiber sunglasses,
so they're basically Google Glass.

Yesterday I got up into rock canyon and went rock climbing to celebrate my last little bit of normal life before a couple weeks of surgery recuperation.  It was a lot of fun, and the view (as you can see) was excellent.

It's weird to go in for surgery when I feel as healthy as I've ever been, it seems somewhat counterproductive.  But then I suppose you want to be healthy before surgery, the better to heal you with.

In any case, I have to be at the hospital in six hours, and although I'm going to get a pretty gnarly nap tomorrow, I might as well be off to bed.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Poetry Moment: Of regrets and Robert Frost

When I was in fifth grade, as part of our 'graduation' ceremony, we recited a poem by Robert Frost, with very precise articulation, as coached by Ms. Richmond.  I still remember it today, including the emphases.  The emphasis is difficult to type, but it went something* like this:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
and sorry I could not travel both, 
and be one traveler- long   I   stood....
and looked down one as far as I could
to where it  bent in the undergrowth...
then took the other as just as fair
and having perhaps the better claim
for it was grassy and wanted wear
(though as for that the passing there
had worn them really about the same)
and both that morning equally lay
in leaves no step had trodden black
oh I kept the first for another day
though knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back
I shall be telling it with a sigh, 
someday ages and ages hence
Two roads diverged in a wood
and I-
I took the one less traveled by 
and that     has made all   the difference!

Now I will be forever grateful to my teacher for drilling this poem so deeply into my brain that it stuck for 15 years.  I really love it, and I'm willing to bet that nearly every other student there also still remembers it, but I realized, quite recently, that we were telling it completely wrong!

If you ask people the title of that poem, myself included, they will often tell you it's "The Road Less Travelled" or "A yellow wood" or something like that; but the title of the poem is

The Road Not Taken

This is not a emphatic call to arms, but a quiet reflection on indecision and a meaningless choice between two equal options that shaped the future (or didn't, depending on how you read the final line)

When I read the poem today, I notice other things:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
and sorry I could not travel both
and be one traveler, long I stood
and looked down one, as far as I could
to where it bent in the undergrowth
then took the other, as just as fair
and having perhaps the better claim
for it was grassy and wanted wear
though as for that the passing there
had worn them really about the same

And both that morning equally lay,
in leaves no step had trodden black
Oh I kept the first for another day
though knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back

I shall be telling it with a sigh
someday ages and ages hence
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by
and that has made all the difference.

When Robert Frost wrote this poem, he sent it to a friend of his, who also read it as a call to arms.  He enlisted in World War I and was killed two years later.

Now you can read poems however you want, and this observation that we're reading it wrong isn't anything new. But it was new to me.

*Note: Both times I typed this from memory, so there might be minor errors, I imagine they too have made all the difference. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The rise and fall of Ammon Perkes

per·spec·tive /pərˈspektiv/  
noun - The nagging voice that reminds you that other people have it much worse, and that you should stop whining and get back to productive things; your minor injury doesn't make you a victim. 

Last Tuesday marked the end of a two month run of almost uninterrupted happiness and excitement, a veritable jubilee of wonderful things.  The climax of all that, I suppose, was the news on Tuesday that I had been accepted to The University of Pennsylvania for grad school.  That morning I had left Philadelphia to beautiful weather after a wonderful visit to Penn for interviews, tours, presentations, and meet and greets with professors and graduate students.  Until I got to Penn's campus I had some doubts: Philly is a little grungy, and it was cold and a bit unwelcoming in general.  But the program itself was great, and I would love to be a part of it.  

It's my birthday present to me, I'm so happy!
Monday night, rather than grab drinks with the other students (not really my scene), I took the train out to a climbing gym on the east side of Philly, in this cool, old brick warehouse that looked from the outside like the sort of place you might get murdered.  Inside it was lovely and the nice girl at the counter let me in for free, since it was my first time and I was just visiting.  That was even before she found out that that was my birthday. 

Ammon & Shauna, circa 2 weeks ago
A week earlier I found out that I had received my ORCA grant, which is $1500 cash given to undergraduates for their research, which should help keep me from graduating into abject poverty.  

All this was while I had started dating a girl for the first time in what seems like a long long time.  I'll probably talk more about that in some other post, but her name is Shauna, she's lots of fun and has made this whole semester rather wonderful. We had a great party on friday with all my friends, and a piñata, and thursday Shauna surprised me with a rented puppy (yes, it's a silly place, I've just come to terms with that.  Puppies are great).  Add to that all the amazing adventures I've had with climbing and school and life, and this semester has been unreasonably good, to the point that I was starting to feel a bit uneasy with how many good things were happening, because surely life had to catch up to me at some point.  It certainly did its best. 

Stewart falls, i.e., other adventures
At my soccer game on tuesday our goalie was feeling a bit under the weather, and rather than risk losing on account of him not being able to focus and jump about, I figured I would just play goalie.  This might have been a mistake in retrospect, both because I suspect I might have been able to stop more goals while playing defense, and because it resulted in kidney trauma. 

A kid got a bit of a breakaway and I was running towards him.  I want to say I got to the ball first, but he basically plowed through me, got the ball and scored.  I yelled, because it was clearly a foul, and the ref called it.  But about three seconds later the pain hit me and I had to sub out.  It was more or less overwhelming–to the point that I couldn't really think about who should replace me or what, I just got out and lay on the sideline, where I stayed for the next hour or so, long after we had lost the game 2-1 and turned out the lights in the facility, which was actually quite nice, since they were incredibly irritating anyway.

Eventually I managed to stand and make it home, but the pain wasn't getting any better, and near midnight my roommate and Shauna took me to the ER.  At this point I just wanted pain killers, and each question they asked became more and more irritating ("No I don't have allergies to medication, what sort of an idiot question is that? Just put morphine in me now.").  They ran a CT scan and seemed pretty concerned–actually, that's not entirely true.  They seemed incredibly calm and nonchalant, but they were quickly doing lots of things–and surgery seemed like a fairly likely outcome.  Happily the results came back and my kidney had stopped bleeding (it had been bleeding).  

The next day was rough.  I couldn't keep anything down, I was in a lot of pain, and lying around all day doesn't suit me, but I could barely walk to the bathroom, so it was a bit of a necessity.  Since then the pain has gone down, my appetite has come back, and I can walk all the way to campus like a tired old man.  Lying around still doesn't suit me.  
Right now I'm recovering, I'm not allowed to do anything more active than walking for another two weeks
(not that I feel capable of anything active right now anyway) and then the Urologist is going to decide what needs to happen.  There were some other problems with my kidney, some related, some not, and so I might end up having surgery, but we'll cross that scary, painful bridge when we come to it.  In the mean time I'm gaining a great appreciation for baths, cheerios, the ability to move and function normally, and friends who care about me, not to mention a girlfriend who is willing to take care about me when I feel like I'm dying (and a roommate who did great when she wasn't around). 

Did you know that Where the Wild Things Are employs chiastic structure?
So does stuffed french toast.
So I'm still fairly content with my life, there are much worse things that can happen than being out of commission for a few weeks, and as a whole life continues to be wonderful.  My children's book book club has gained some momentum and is a lot of fun (this last week we discussed Winnie the Pooh. I'm fairly sure I could find existential, meta-fiction in anything as long as I'm in the right mood.), and it looks like I will be going to grad school.  (Penn seems most likely at this point. Although Berkeley and Harvard are not technically impossible, I suspect I would have heard from them by now.)  I'm sure I'll have all sorts of time to reflect and write profound blog posts during my convalescence, since the number of other things I'm able to do is at an all time low.  But I'm often reminded that other people have it worse off, so I'll keep my griping to a minimum.  

Onwards and upwards.  

I'm sure someday I'll make some analogy with climbing and falling
and the role of ropes and quick-draws.
In the mean time, check out how cool this picture is!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sometimes blogging is hard

I'm going to start carrying this in my wallet to give to people in case they ask me my philosophy on life. Also, this is pretty much how I expect to parse a proposal someday

Blag.  That's the noise I make when my blog post just doesn't come together. That's actually happened a lot recently, I have about 4 posts that were in the works that just weren't coming out how I wanted them.

This time, I was going to make a comprehensive analysis of my psyche and my life story in regards to why I approach life the way I do, but it wasn't making for very interesting writing.  Oh well. Lets just say I'm all about adventures and leave it at that for now.