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Cancun to Habana

So I’m sitting here in Cancun after having navigated the whole no American dollars changing hands so as to not support any regime that doesn’t coincide with medieval political views. I’ve been slammed on my bags twice for having brought too much gear, at least a third of which being donated items to leave with people who have literally no access whatsoever to a market of high-quality first world good. I don’t mean anything like Dolce & Gabbana. No, I mean like Gilette, Colgate and MLB.

Some toothbrushes and toothpaste, a couple of baseball mitts with balls, powdered milk and thread. Basic life necessities that are just plain difficult to find. It also seems that American companies are often psyched to be able to donate to a cause as venerable as this. One day and one day soon will we have free trade again with our closest Caribbean neighbor.

So, sitting here on a marble floor watching tourists buy straw hats and little wooden musical instruments painted in vivid prime colors, I find myself so freakin excited.

I get to go to one of the most beautiful countries in the world with a group of great people to do the thing I love most in the world: rockclimb. And even chronicle it for my own sake and for the stories and great things I can share.

Visas taken care, bags checked and a yen for friend plantains like no other, we get to Habana tonight and should be in Vinales in the morning. Hopefully within twenty four hours I will have tasted limestone yet again and have met some great new folks.

Here we go again.

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Anyone who climbs often dreams about extended climbing trips where crisp textured rock is contrasted by bright blue skies. A few months on the road where you live simply, explore beautiful places and climb until your fingerprints are permanently altered. With every passing week you feel like a chamber inside you opens up, surrendering yourself to the journey, the excitement that comes with every new day and the challenges that you might cross (like your first 8a). In time your forearms will battle lactic acid Huriyama-like during 45 minute on-sights, your power will be Sharma-esque and your lead head will be full-on Croft-y.

Unfortunately this is no longer the era of sell your car, drop your lease and tell your girlfriend, “It’s me baby, really. It’s not you, it’s me.”. We have to be more astute these days about how we fit the life-altering climbing adventures into the modern world. Job resumes with employment histories that show a turnover every year or so are generally frowned upon. There aren’t many occupations that allow you the flexibility of being able to take off every once in a while for three weeks to a month, let alone a few months (a tear emerges).


If you were considering sponsorship, well let’s just say in-house development becomes the priority when layoffs and shrinking budgets are becoming the norm. If you worked in the trades, there is a good chance you no longer have a job. If you worked in investment banking there is a good chance you no longer have a job. If you worked for Starbucks, there is a good chance you no longer have a job. But this current period of economic recession just might be the telephone booth you and Clark have been looking for to change into your super-climber gear (picture that great 80s neon and lycra).

Before running off uninformed about why you can do this, let’s quickly cover what a recession is and why they are special. Classically a recession is defined as two or more consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth. Or as the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) puts it, ‘a significant decline in economic activity lasting more than a few months’. If you’ve been reading the finance headlines you know this is not new. Yet when you look closer you realize that recessions are natural in the economic cycle. Just like forest fires are mother nature’s way of cleaning house, recessions bring a bubble economy back to it’s fundamental support levels. What does that mean? Things often look worse than they are.

Lets look at the basic forecasting tools of a recession: GDP, inverted yield curve and unemployment. Looking at current GDP stats, each quarter has still been higher than than the preceding quarter, though just by a lesser extent. In times of economic turmoil people are not out buying cars, homes and washing machines. Instead they are buying lower ticket items because, face it, the US doesn’t understand how not to go shopping. Retail soft goods and discount markets often weather the storm better than capital goods, and domestic travel becomes preferred to international travel. You’re reading this magazine aren’t you, because you can’ t think of giving it up, especially now.

Let’s not get technical about inverted yield curves and the psycho-social analysis that goes into expectations and consumer confidence. Better to leave that to the dismal science. However, it is a tool forecasters use in investing. Normally we expect returns (the yield) on any given investment to be higher in the long term than the short term. An inverted curve says people are investing in the opposite manner and expecting the short term gain to be higher than the long term, thus a negative future outcome.

In comparing this to a red-point, you get involved with a route because of the probability of you sending the route in the future. Thus the potential to gain more in the long term than in the present. If you are just climbing 5.10, you could probably send a 5.10a/b almost every session and maybe the occasional morphologic 10c/d. But if you want to start bagging easy 5.11 or even break into 5.12 you need to start investing time and energy towards that now. It may mean foregoing the satisfaction of going out and slaying all of the easy 5.10s you can find, but in a short period of time you’ll be blasting through 5.10 and projecting grades harder.

So if this is reversed, and all that invested energy in the future forecasts to give less benefit than now, logic says take the instant benefit. Cha-cha-ching. The lack of instant financial gratification on the market chart vertical should then result in instant satisfaction on the vertical horizon: it is the time to go climbing.


The obvious knee jerk response by anyone with a sense of fiscal responsibility would be, ‘Are you crazy?’; as It is true that it will be more difficult to find work in periods of economic downturn. Unemployment is rising, the labor pool is saturating with qualified candidates, thus the competition for every open position is increasing. If you are really excited about your work or knee-deep in parenthood then maybe this isn’t the right choice for you. But for anyone who is dissatisfied with what they do and lacks any form of ball and chain, this is the perfect exit point.

Many employers are willing to negotiate severance packages that reduce their overhead while basically paying you to take a hike (or a climbing trip). In times of recession individuals often turn to further their education or obtain training in another skill so as to widen their range of possible prospects. Why not kick it off with a month in place with delicious regional cuisine and a square footage of rock per square mile that would make Bishop blush?

Climbers are evolutionary chameleons that are innovative and strategic by nature, this can only aid us in our future employment pursuits. Just like altering your style from sandstone to limestone to gritstone, we must fit our surroundings in the current economy. After your hiatus, return to the job market renewed and pursue what you have yearned to do for years. Span the financial gap by selling your story to a publisher and inspiring others to reach out towards their dreams.

If you want to pick up a new side of the sport or another sport in general, you normally require a solid block of time to be able to learn your way in. Looking to bump your bouldering up two grades, live in a tent and make it happen. Think you have the endurance to put twenty pitches of any consistent grade together in a day, harness yourself a partner and find out. Still have that cherry alpine link-up waiting for an FA, buy a plane ticket and get it before someone else does. Inspired to put up new routes, pick a place where you can live for few dollars a day and develop an area.

Two thousand and nine can be the year you talk about as the year that you fulfilled your climbing dreams. It is projected that, well, projects will get dispatched this year at an unprecedented rate. If 2008 was looked upon as a bad-ass year, with all of the crushing that US climbers did in Europe, Jumbo Love and all of the headpointing that went down, just wait for 2009. You might want to get that pre-order in for Dosage VI, because it’s going to be off the hook.


Possible cons to the situation are navigable, aside from not getting a job for a while when you get back. The US dollar is probably shot to hell from the monetary expansion used to fund the stimulus package, so you will probably be doing DiGiorno and not delivery at your casetta down by Sperlonga. However, other more exotic (code for third world) destinations are close and have a low cost of living (aka cheap eats, treats and sheets) and bountiful concentrations of local climbing. This might be when we start heading south over the boarder and exchanging identification with the guy you share the cactus with while avoiding the coyotes. He might have family not far from El Potrero Chico. There’s always the back-up of sleeping on a friend’s couch when you get back, the stories take at least a month before they get old. And if all else fails, Barack will hook you up with a personalized stimulus package.

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Quick n Dirty: Low-Knead Bread Recipe

low-knead bread recipe

low-knead bread recipe

So about a month ago the trials started with the No-Knead Bread Recipe, both the abridged version and the full-length version.  After a few experiments resulting in some flatter, some crustier and others with just an okay crumb, the winner has been found.  Some off-time has been spent scouring other blogs and insights into easy, high-quality home breads.  The key this time was not in any crazy additives or changes, but perhaps just a re-sequencing of events that were already found in the original order.

One quick qualm was with this recipe’s recommendation for 1/4 oz of instant yeast.  What does that mean when you use spoons and volumetric mechanisms?  Most research, including the back of the jar state 2.25tsps active dry yeast for .25oz instant yeast.  In the idea that bread was wanted, and not a helium balloon, .33tsp ADY was used in the shoot-from-the-hip method.

Speedy no-knead bread (makes one large loaf)


3 cups bread flour (or all-purpose)

1/4 oz instant yeast

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp natural, unrefined cane sugar (like sugar-in-the-raw)

1 1/2 cups really warm water

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar

oil as needed while prepping for second rise

1.  Mix the water, yeast and sugar together and let sit until the concoction begins to foam.

2. Combine flour, salt, olive oil and balsamic  in a large bowl.  Add the foaming concoction and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap.  Let dough rest about 4 hours at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

3. Lightly oil a work surface and place dough on it; fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest at least 30 minutes more.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees.  Put a 6-to-8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats.  When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven and oil lightly.  Slide your hand under dough and put it into pot, seam side up.  Or just dump the shaggy pile on in.  Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.

5. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned.  Cool on a rack.

The first rise went well so the dough was removed from the vessel, oiled and kneaded for a minute or two just to make sure the oil was in there and the ball would not stick to the bowl.  Wrapped up like a present and set it back by the heater (in a Maine winter, that is the only place to get things warm unless you have a wood stove).

About fifteen minutes later Castirona (the trusty cast-iron enamel pot) was put in the oven at 450F.  Just got out of shower and got dressed and pulled Castirona out of the oven.  A quick greasing with extra virgin olive oil on a paper-towel and the preparations are done.  Spatula ready in the right hand, the left hand tipped the bowl, with the 2nd risen dough mass, completely upside down and let gravity put in the transition energy.  The amalgam of ingredients stretched out of the plastic mixing bowl and separated slowly from the oiled inside.  The spatula is only needed for the last bit.  Giving the no-longer empty Castirona a shake to even out the jiggling ball of dough that is already reacting to the scalding pot.  Right back in the oven for 30 minutes.  Annndddd go!

A lackadaisical tendency led the bread’s first stead to be for about 35 or so minutes.  No biggie, this is not the critical burn phase.  The second stead ended up being over twenty minutes, probably should have been fifteen or less.  However, if you did not know this you would never have known.  The crust is crunchy and brown, the crumb is airy and absorbitant and there is some cracking on top.

Twenty minutes or more of resting are advised, then the use of a decent  breadknife.  Olive oil with pepper, balsamic vinegar and diced tomatoes, and thin slices of wicked fresh avocado along with a Tempranillo made this bread absolutely stellar (and a healthy appetizer to boot).

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Seeing Our Shadow

Be afraid!  Be very, very afraid!

Be afraid! Be very, very afraid!

So it’s Groundhog Day again.  The alarm clock goes off and we wake up to another morning of dismal economic news, partisan punditry and some kind of music that will remain in our head for the entire day.  The good news is that Punxsutawney Phil, the seer of seers, the prognosticator of prognosticators is here to lift us out the monday morning doldrums.  Or so we hope.

This is the 123rd prediction of the whistlepig rodent, a tradition that started while President Grover Cleveland was in office in 1886. Now we have another strong democrat in office who also wants to be known as a great reformer.  So, 123 years later, what similarities do we see between Groundhog Day ritual and our government.  An Inner Circle at Gobbler’s Knob that consists of 22 old white men in top hats and tuxedos, pulling the rodent out of his hole and waving him, a den dwelling creature who hates heights, high aloft a crowd of thousands (people are curious why he has seen his shadow 96 times).  Sounds like a lot of pomp and no relative circumstance.

These men have titles that sound more like Sesame Street pseudonyms for current politicians.  Names like thunder conductor, storm chaser, sun beamer, fair weatherman, big wind maker, and fog spinner should come at the bottom of some type of decal-oriented trading card.  What will be next?  Hi kids, Hillary Clinton, the Thunder Conductor, has a special announcement, after which your handlers can bring you to the toddler changing area because she is sure to make you soil yourself.  It would be too much fun to keep playing that name game, which would be more like an elementary roast.

This year’s Groundhog Day is supposed to have brought record numbers, thousands upon thousands of people.  Well, if hundreds of thousands of people still had their jobs, they wouldn’t be standing in the frickin’ cold hills of Pennsylvania watching a tormented rodent shiver so hard he cannot bite his handlers.  Then his predictions are supposed to be heeded to when old Phil has a 60% accuracy rate.  There are a few other JV team groundhogs who boast better stats too.  Though the National Climate Data Center reports that the overall groundhog prediction accuracy rating is closer to 39%.  What does this say about a nation that looks to rodents as prognosticators of weather.  At least that number is better than our last president’s outgoing approval rating.

So the ritual here is translated as this: it is a sunny day and you step out of your house and see your shadow and get freaked out the weather will worsen.  Otherwise, you step out on a cloudy and possibly downright stormy day, see no shadow, and this is supposed to mean that spring is on it’s way.  What a load of crap.  To nitpick some more, what is with the name ground hog, there is no relevance to a hog.  And the synonym of woodchuck, the thing eats leaves and berries and never touches wood.  Let alone that woodchuck does not even stem from American etymology, but perhaps borrowed (because we have never stolen from the Native Americans) from the Algonquian name for the animal (possibly Narragansett), wuchak.

So what is this day all about.  The ‘seeing’ process is as such: the ground hog is waved in the air like a foam finger at a sport’s event  and then place on a mown over stump (no doubt sold for some extra cash) in front of two scrolls.  The varmit points to the scroll that holds the future in its text, though his handlers say that despite the message, you cannot blame the messenger.  At least he has a choice, because if it were solely on the shadow that would be bass-ackwards, as shown in the last paragraph.  Nevertheless old Phil, on this 2nd of February in the year 2009 pointed to the scroll that read:

As I look around me a bright sky I see
And a shadow beside me
Six more weeks of winter it will be

Really the scroll should have read:
As I look around me a group of morons do I see
Put me back and leave me be
Go back to your world and leave this idiocy
Solve why the icebergs are melting into the sea

So far in 2009, 6 of 14 groundhogs predict an early spring, the other 8 swing the other way, and there are probably a few more that will arise from rural reporting.  What type of impact has this had?  The Dow Jones Industrial Average saw its shadow too, opening down about %1 and has continued to drop with poor earnings data kept arriving.  The Nasdaq did not see its shadow and is seeing a tech-induced rise.

In this type of an economy it is hard to want to stifle an event that has had more of an economic stimulus than any government program since the beginning of this recession.  Though a proposition that could be made, and guaranteed to spur economic growth, is to create a pharmaceutical product that alters the sensitivity of rods and cones in these famed creatures so that they no longer see shadows, but, instead, a disco ball of color and light.  Maybe LSD or cannabis sativa would just do the trick, I hear the government has some research on their effects.