Craig Wisner

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A Thousand Lives.

“Ma, you scared a goin’? You scared a goin’ to a new place?”

Her eyes grew thoughtful and soft. “A little,” she said. “Only it ain’t like scared so much. I’m jus’ a settin’ here waitin’. When somepin happens that I got to do somepin, I’ll do it.”

“Ain’t you thinkin’ what’s it gonna be like when we get there? Ain’t you scared it won’t be nice like we thought?”

“No,” she said quickly. “No, I ain’t. You can’t do that. I can’t do that. It’s too much livin’ too many lives. Up ahead they’s a thousan’ lives we might live, but when it comes, it’ll on’y be one. If I go ahead on all of em, it’s too much. You got to live ahead cause you re so young, but, it’s jus’ the road goin’ by for me. An’ it’s jus’ how soon they gonna wanta eat some more pork bones.” Her face tightened. “That’s all I can do. I can’t do no more. All the rest’d get upset if I done any more’ n that. They all depen’ on me jus’ thinkin’ about that.”

-Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

I marked this passage in the emergency room, full of fear and doubt and hope about a multitude of lives and paths I had never before imagined.  Ma is right.  It’s too much to bear.  Hiking has been a refuge these days; walking the Arroyo, tracing the stream slowly, crawling in and out of thickets, finding shade to sit and listen.  A small toad in the grass, dragonflies mating on the water.

The present is just fine.

Gloves.

I recently picked up a few pairs of latex coated work gloves at Harbor Freight tools and had a chance to work with them this weekend.  Canyoneering USA recommends and sell Atlas coated gloves (the blue dipped ones, also in the olive green “thermo” lined version) for canyoneering, so I figured I’d give these a try as they’re essentially the same.

glovesI was thoroughly impressed with the fit, feel, and durability (relatively speaking) after using them in Eaton this weekend.  I expected to wear them out in a day but I didn’t come close.  My hands were wet with them on for at least 6 hours and they never gave me issues and the rubber palms actually insulate somewhat well.  The grip on wet rock and wet rope was excellent and there are no traces of wear after multiple rappels, even with some being fairly long and fast.  At $2.99, these are definitely going to remain part of the gear kit.  All that needs modification is a sewn slit in each pair for a carabiner to clip them onto a harness or pack.

Harbor Freight Work Gloves

 

 

Lower Eaton (Canyoneering). 5/10/14

A 5AM alarm and eggs with coffee.   I stand out front of the house and look to the mountains to find a heavy cloud layer and cool temps, prompting me to take a blade to an old wetsuit and turn it into a farmer john, rolling and stuffing it for the trip.  Eaton has been in my sights for a while, a local classic that has somehow escaped my attention thus far.  As Adan is starting to get on the rope with me, more options are beginning to open up, though I’m not sure how I waited this long as the trailhead is only a few miles from my house.   The lower stretches before the first fall are likely some of the most traveled miles in the foothills of Los Angeles.  Steep, broken country, however, keeps the masses out of deeper reaches of the canyons.  Roughly an eight mile loop, the upper 75% is surprisingly pristine feeling given its proximity to a few million people.  Fifty foot rappels apparently do wonders for thinning the herd.

Adan and I found the canyon harder than Keyhole or Orderville in Zion.   Longer rappels, trickier ledges, and an equal amount of swimming, jumping, and sliding into pools.  The anchors are straightforward enough- slings on boulders, around trees, the occasional bolt, but more thought was required than simply clipping bolts on our Zion trip.  The most difficult aspect, by far, is rappelling slick, wet granite, covered in moss and algae, providing comparable footing to being on ice.  The slightest attempt to support weight on the feet will result in a fall.  Adan took a few good ones while on the rope and I managed a sprained finger and bruised a palm from the heroics of simply slipping while walking the stream.  My back is still feeling a nice 10+ foot jump into a 3′ deep pool.

More technical trouble; the Gopro stopped working somewhere about 60% through the day, missing one of the last, biggest waterfalls.  It took a hit on the rocks while being thrown down from a 40 foot fall and had some trouble reading the SD card ever since.  What we also failed to capture was our exposed class 3/4 ridge fiasco while getting out (not that I would’ve had a camera out anyway).  The rock of the San Gabriels is completely unnerving to climb on; so much of it rotten, fractured, and ready to give way at any moment.  As I’m downclimbing a very exposed section of ridge with literally 200+ feet of air to the right and under me, I discover a volleyball sized hold moving under my weight; It’s been a while since I’ve climbed anything with a “you slip- you die” penalty.  We were both certainly firing on 100% and reached solid ground with some adrenaline pumping.

Scrapes and cuts and bruises, poison oak, soaked gear, and tired legs.  Seven hours out and we both seemed to forget to eat or drink…A full spectrum day.

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If I can't hack it as a canyoneer, I can always try wrestling.

If I can’t hack it as a canyoneer, I can always try wrestling.

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The Point of No Return. Once you slide this fall, you’re pretty much in for good.

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Hard to tell here, but this slide is nearly a twenty footer.

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My favorite rappel of the trip. A nice drop through a small slot into a cave. I’d like to come back to sleep in this area.

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River. (Overnight, 4/26/14)

Simple.  Quiet.  I appreciate the character of trips with my children.  We talk, we leave each other alone.  I watch.  These moments without clocks and worldly nonsense offer time to pause and look at who they have become, who they are becoming.  The beauty of family, those whom we can be quiet with- because we know there is time.  Gary Snyder always comes to mind here.  I’ve probably already posted this poem somewhere, but it begs repeating, often.

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FOR THE CHILDREN

The rising hills, the slopes,
of statistics
lie before us.
the steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that,
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together
learn the flowers
go light

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A sense of melancholy always grips me after returning from trips with family; a sense that what I have just been partaking in was the real world, that these are the only people I need, that it is the way things were meant to be.

So we just have to keep on going.

 

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He wanted to try Chef Boyardee canned ravioli for his first time and I forgot the can opener. Knives and rocks work. Thankfully, he hated the ravioli. I warned him.

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Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulu”. I’m happy to have raised a bookworm.

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He still hasn’t beaten me, but this one was close. Somehow down a rook, knight, and two pawns, I managed to force a draw to save my skin.

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Swimming with Beasts.

An average morning surfing a local jetty with John before work- I catch a glimpse in the distance of a tail breaking the water’s surface, soon after a spout blows.

“Hey John…whales!”

A pod is congregating about a quarter mile away on our 10 o’clock.

Another surface breech, this time I see a pectoral fin as the whale rolls.

“Cool!”

We continue surfing.

The whales are now drifting closer, perhaps 200 meters away.  We catch a good look at one, its massive head and back, and are pretty certain they’re Humpbacks.  There appear to be at least half a dozen of varying sizes, a family, all moving slowly north.  Pre-dawn fishermen and beach walkers are beginning to congregate on the sand to look.

We keep surfing, watching.

Within a few minutes, the pod is now directly in front of us, about 100 meters deep.  We decide to swim outside to get a better look, not expecting them to actually be there when we get out.

But the whales hold, seemingly waiting for us, massive shapes lurking below the surface.  Small boils, ripples, and turbulence on the surface give away their locations.

They’re getting very close.  We sit on our boards, watching, slightly nervous.

Without warning, the largest whale slowly  breaks the surface, a smaller one beside it, lumpy black-grey backs parting the water.  The largest is easily over eight feet wide.  They’re less than 10 meters away and headed right for us.  There’s a mix of laughter, amazement, and a background fear that we’re too close.  The massive bodies then dip and silently disappear below the surface.  They’re somewhere in the deep under us.  One then surfaces not far from John.  Another appears behind me.  Again they disappear.  Most stay under, sending ripples and small wakes around us.  We’re fully surrounded, apparently being investigated, and we’re completely exhilarated, yelling at each other in disbelief, craning our necks to figure out where they are.  We’ve been gifted by the presence of swimming giants, powerful yet gentle beasts seemingly expressing nothing but curiosity towards us.

Stillness now.  They’ve moved on, sliding northward, soon surfacing about 50 feet away.

We’re grinning wide-eyed like maniacs.

Zion Canyons. 4/5 and 4/5/2014

The background information and cast of characters on this trip are well explained by Jacob on his blog post, Hike It. Like It: Traversing Zion.

Adan and I did Keyhole Canyon on our first day, a great easy introduction to slots and swimming.  I fully intend to get the kids into this one with me this summer.  The rappels are straightforward and I could lower them if necessary.  Temps should be better as well; I lost feeling in my feet within 45 minutes of getting in the water.

Photo conditions are difficult; all of these canyons were far darker than they appear here.  All of my photos were taken on a GoPro Hero HD without the ability to adjust the shutter speed or exposure so some blurriness ensued…

Canyoneering is too much fun.  Needless to say, it looks like we’re both hooked.  Plans for bigger, better, and harder canyons are already in the works and a new rope is in the mail.  While I’m pretty well versed in rock climbing and climbing anchors, this is a new application of some of those skills that I’m excited to explore.

Keyhole Canyon:

Gearing up and over geared.  Going by the books, we carried more than necessary.  Knowing what I know now, this canyon can be done with a harness and 60' of rope.  Maybe a sling and a link as backups.

Gearing up and over geared. Going by the books, we carried more than necessary. Knowing what I know now, this canyon can be done with a harness and 60′ of rope. Maybe a sling and a link as backups.

The biggest little adventure car, my new Honda Fit.  Los Angeles to Zion on $65.

The biggest little adventure car, my new Honda Fit. Los Angeles to Zion on $65.

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Orderville Canyon:

(Unfortunately I missed most of the best jumps and swims in the latter half of the canyon when the camera died…)

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This hike was a lot of fun. ~12 miles, we finished it in about 6 hours.  More of a hike than a technical canyon, no serious rappelling was involved and most of it could have been downclimbed if you wanted to.  We had a blast in the lower half throwing our packs off of ledges and taking some good jumps and swims.  This sort of travel definitely makes you think about the robustness of your gear.

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Chess Delirium.

I’ve recently found myself dusting off old companions like Modern Chess Openings 14, staring into midnight computer screens, fingers trembling on the mouse as I watch my remaining time hit 16 seconds in an online game that should be won, or drifting to sleep pondering the lines of the Fried Liver Attack.  Most often I feel like a hack, but on occasion a feeling of artistry emerges, coupled with a sense of disbelief and new-found inspiration.  A fleeting consideration that despite my being eons from greatness,  I may actually be penetrating a slightly deeper level of this maddening game.

mikhail Tal

Mikhail Tal. “The Magician from Riga”, one of my favorites.

I never fully left chess, having maintained sponsorship of my school’s chess club for over eight years now.  Over the last few years, however, my energy has been primarily devoted to teaching (beginner) beginners, functioning as a tournament director, or simply providing the space and equipment to play, with little attention or effort put towards maintaining or developing my own game.  Days of spirited analysis and club blitz tournaments are far and few between now, primarily due to the graduation of a dedicated cohort of chess players a few years ago and my waning energy after their departure.

All of which leaves me in the position of being a much better teacher and chess historian than player.  Lines that once easily flowed from memory and hours of study have now become muddled and I find myself all too often blindly falling victim to tactical combinations that once would have been strikingly transparent.

And there is also, of course, the ever humbling experience of being a grown man and losing to a peach-fuzz-mustached Freshman with an oversized backpack during a lunchtime match. That happened today.  Again.  I tell you, it takes courage, though I have long accepted the fact that as the elder in the room, my ego has absolutely nothing to gain.  If I win, it was somehow expected, and nobody cheers me.  If I lose, however, I bestow powerful and irrevocable bragging rights on my adolescent victor.  I beat the teacher!!!

Yet I feel a powerful need to get back in the game.  It may be the only thing that can keep my aging brain from getting too dull and mushy, too fast.  My son has shown an increasing interest over the last few months and I find myself catching the bug again.

There’s one small barrier I’ve been facing lately:  My Own Brain.  Who would have thought sleep disorders are not conducive to furthering chess study?

Salvador Dali ”Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening”

Salvador Dali Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening

Years and years of alternating nights of waking dreams, sleepwalking, apnea episodes, and sleep paralyses are continually robbing me of rest and leaving me in a perpetual state of sleep deprivation, despite being in bed in time to get 8 or 9 hours.  Tomorrow evening I check in to my hospital’s sleep lab for a night of electrodes on my head to see if anyone can figure out what’s going on.  I remember a chess epiphany I had years ago while playing on a Saturday morning on the ICC server: I played better than ever at 7:30AM because I wasn’t falling asleep yet.  Now I often find myself so tired I can’t think straight by noon, leaving me rapidly losing my power to calculate during the simplest of sequences or during a quick online 5/0.  Perhaps my lot in chess will be one of a lifetime relegated to a sleepy stupor at the board and tournament after tournament of getting crushed by gifted 10 year olds in my rating bracket.  The price to pay, I suppose, for an overactive imagination and a brain that doesn’t seem to be able to turn itself off.  But I do love the game.

As Vonnegut would say, “So it goes”.

Mose Allison’s My Brain has become my chess anthem.

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Tonight: 50 problems on Chess Tactics Server, a 30 minute game with my son, and a look at an al-Adli problem (circa 840):

White to move and mate in three.

White to move and mate in three.

 

 

It’s going to be a long road.

Edit:  Perhaps all is not lost.  I solved the problem above within 30 seconds of posting this.  From a 9th Century Islamic scholar composing chess problems to a ceramics teacher sitting in the suburbs of Los Angeles in 2014, what a beautiful game this is.

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