countin' the days

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

J Tree!

After all these years of living only 135 miles away, I finally made it out to Joshua Tree National Park (or, affectionately, J Tree). I had no idea it was so close to L.A., and what's more, I had no idea how frickin' awesome that place is.

I spent 6 months in Asia this year, and -- as my previous blog posts have made obvious -- a good deal of that time was spent rock climbing. By the time I left a few weeks ago, I had finally crossed over that painful beginner threshold, feeling pretty good about actually being able to climb rocks. Now, this is no way means that I actually know what I'm doing, but rather, that I can figure some stuff out and make it up the rock. Which, after many days of struggling up routes, counts as a huge accomplishment to me.

J Tree is a whole different story from what I'd gotten used to in Asia. The rock in Asia is mostly limestone, and the routes are bolted for sport climbing. J Tree is trad(itional) climbing on towers of quartz monzonite, with lots and lots of crack.(Crack climbing, that is.) You have to learn how to jam your hands, fingers, even entire arms & legs into cracks to make it up the routes. I also had to learn the fine art of taping up my knuckles & fingers to avoid leaving pieces of flesh attached to the rock. Also, unlike Asia, it was damn cold. Winter in J Tree brings low temperatures and high desert winds, with the rock itself sometimes getting so cold that it chills your hands to the bone. This was an entirely new experience from climbing limestone in Thailand in my bathing suit, reaching for the chalk bag every few moves because I was so drenched in sweat from the sticky humidity that I could barely stay attached to the holds.

Fortunately, I was out there with my homies Charley & Tatiana -- yes, the folks who appeared in my blog sometime back in May when we met up with them in Thailand for a couple weeks of killer Ton Sai climbing. They were full of helpful info about how to deal with the gnarly cracks, and answered my many questions about how those funky-looking pieces of trad gear actually work.

All in all, it was a total blast. The weather was perfect, the climbing partners were fun, the routes were challenging and always rewarding. My climbing is rapidly turning into a full-blown addiction and I'm loving it.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Well, I decided to make some radical changes to the set of various travel itinerary options I've had in front of me for a while, and at the moment find myself -- brace yourself, it may come as a shock -- celebrating Thanksgiving with my American family in that city of superhighways, boob jobs, and taco stands that happens to be my hometown. That's right folks, I'm spending the holidays in Los Angeles.

Here's how it all went down. I had been trying to make a decision about what to do next in this journey for quite some time. I'd been juggling with a string of ideas, but eventually decided it sounded best to head over to right-next-door India to do some serious yoga. And, I had to leave Thailand. My visa was running out with no chance of renewal, so I hopped on a flight down to Kuala Lumpur thinking I would rush and get my Indian visa there, and hurry off to a yoga program I'd found that started 10 days later. Then, the time came to go get my visa and I just didn't go.

After many weeks of indecision and confusion, I finally got to grips with the fact that I was not ready to be doing this. I'd been pressuring myself into a decision that I was mentally and emotionally unprepared for, and on top of feeling pretty lost about my life in general, was just straight up burned out. And Buddha knows, the worst place to head off to by yourself when you're feeling tired and worn, is India. At the same time, I was more or less hating Kuala Lumpur and feeling increasingly bored and restless by the day.

So I jumped on down to Bali. I spent two weeks there with the specific purpose of trying to screw my head back on a little, do as much yoga as I could manage, and try to figure out what the right next move would be. It became clear very quickly that I was ready to leave Asia. And the more I thought about it, the more obvious it became that spending time around family and friends was just the thing I needed. And now, here I am.

Everyone likes to ask me if I'm in "shock." But, this is the third big international trip I've returned from straight to LA, so the shock of American flags and immigration officers, of the cultural excesses and obscene traffic jams, of everyone's general unfriendliness and not receiving smiles in return from strangers... that's all American stuff I was prepared for. I spent my last week in Bali trying to mentally prepare myself to peacefully handle these kinds of things.

That being said, I have been completely knocked to the floor in shock about other things I was entirely unprepared for:

1) The price of gasoline ($3.50/gallon)
2) Bumper stickers that say "Give War A Chance"
3) The percentage of cars in dense traffic jams that have only one person in them (90%?)
4) Billboards
5) TV commercials with smiling upper class white women spinning in circles holding onto a good dozen shopping bags
6) Women at bars in LA dressed like complete and total whores (now, I realize I'm coming from a string of conservative, heavily religious countries where this kind of thing doesn't happen; but this does not change the fact that women in LA dress and act like they work at a strip club)
7) Actually hearing Bush's voice on the radio or TV

But, I'm doing alright. Truth be told, it's been really nice to hug my family and hear my favorite people's voices on the phone. Eating Mexican food and watching 'South Park' hasn't been so bad either. I don't know what's next for me, that's what I'm here to figure out. But the journey's not over, I'm just taking a much-needed break. And it is Thanksgiving after all... an appropriate time to look back at the last year of my life with gratitude and awe, and at the same time give thanks for having this place to come back to.