Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

Kindergarten and Bike Commuting

The end of this week means our family has survived the first month of kindergarten…which, if you’ve been there, done that, you already know is no small feat!  To be honest, I had  completely underestimated how much of an adjustment it would require for the WHOLE family, not just Big C.  But after a rocky start and a few bumps in the road along the way, we’ve settled into a new routine that makes everyone happy (most of the time.)

Gearing up for a Thursday morning commute.

Gearing up for a Thursday morning commute.

And ironically enough, what’s helped our morning routine out the most has been a bike commute!  Over the summer I’d had high hopes of perhaps doing a once-a-week bike to school day once fall arrived.  After all, back in the pre-Baby Zu preschool days, I would regularly take Big C to school in the bike trailer.  But after the chaos of the first couple of Kindergarten days, I was hesitant to add yet another complication to an already hectic morning.  But I’m so glad we decided to try it anyway – turns out a morning ride is just what we need to start our day out on a stress-free note?!?

By car, the elementary school is 4 miles away, along busy streets with lots of stoplights.  Combined with a carpool line that stretches for what feels like a mile, our door to door time via car is around 30 minutes.  And in that 30 minutes there is a lot of stopping, going, nervous clock watching, navigating traffic, whining children, etc…culminating with a haphazard dropoff that always feels hurried, no matter how early we arrive.

Contrast that scenario with our experience on the bike.  By bike, the elementary school is a mere 1.5 miles away.  (There’s a permanent wooden barricade at the back of our neighborhood that prevents thru traffic between us and the neighborhood across from the school.  Cars can’t go through, but bikes can easily fit.)  The busy streets are replaced by a mile of quiet neighborhood roads, and the frequent stoplights are replaced by a handful of cheery children at a bus stop and the occasional dog walker.  Aside from one short hill, it’s a pretty easy ride, even for 5 year old legs.  We spend the whole time talking and laughing, and can gradually transition from being at home to being at school.  There is one fairly busy road crossing at the 1 mile mark, but it’s close enough to the school that cars are slowing down, and will often stop and let us cross.  Even if no one stops, we’ve never had to wait more than a couple of minutes for the traffic to clear.  The last half mile is sidewalked, and spits us out at the back entrance of the school, which means we can bike right up to the door.  No worries about holding up a line behind us, Big C can gather his things at his own pace, say good bye, and leisurely head to class.  If Baby Zu was taking a long time at breakfast (usually the case), I can toss her blueberries in a bowl and she can eat along the way.

Here's Big C's bike rigged for the return trip...and FIVE deer we spotted from the school parking lot!

Here’s Big C’s bike rigged for the return trip…and FIVE deer we spotted from the school parking lot!

Depending on the day, there are three different combinations we use, all of which are far preferable than getting out into the main road fray.

Option 1: Big C on a bike, Baby Zu in a trailer, Mommy on a bike.  This is great if I have other workout plans later in the day (or just don’t feel like running).  Door to door, it takes exactly ONE minute longer than traveling by car.

Option 2:  Big C on a bike, Baby Zu in a stroller, Mommy jogging.  The above mentioned benefits of the commute, PLUS I get in a 3 mile run!  Depending on which route I take back, it takes 5-10 minutes longer than the car way.

Option 3: Big C on a bike, Daddy on a bike.  On Thursdays Steve works from home and his schedule is pretty flexible, so this has been a great opportunity for some father/son time mid-week.

We only commute one way, since Baby Zu usually doesn’t wake up from her nap until just after 3, and school gets out at 315.  Amazingly enough, the bus will have him home by 330, so that’s a no brainer for the afternoon.  However, that means I’ve got to somehow get his bike back home in the mornings.  Thanks to my engineering husband, we’ve figured out a way to strap Big C’s bike onto the handle of the trailer/stroller (we use the Chariot Chinook, which converts between the two ridiculously easily, reviewed here.)  There’s no problem too big for bungee cords, right?!?  Although it’s not a big deal if I’m on the bike, it felt pretty beast mode the first few times I was jogging with the stroller.  But every day it got a little easier, and by now I’m pretty used to the extra weight.

With all the nice weather we’ve been having, our typical week has involved driving to school on Mondays (when everyone is feeling tired and lazy after the weekend’s adventures), and biking to school the rest of the week.  We may change our tune (or at least our clothing options!) once the weather turns cold, but I’m hoping to be able to keep our routine going through the majority of the fall.

Aside from the positive emotional impact our commuting has had on our mornings as a family, the benefits may very well be extending into the classroom.  Recent studies have shown that children who walk or bike to school have improved concentration/focus than their driven/bussed counterparts.  Regardless, I feel good about being able to give Big C some time to be active before he has to sit down in a classroom all day.

Does anyone else bike/walk to school with their kiddos?  I would love to hear how other families work through the logistics!




NRG Craggin’ Classic

Last weekend was the first official weekend of fall, and for climbers in the Southeast, that means it’s time for the Craggin’ Classic at the New River Gorge!  This NRG event is actually just one of a series of climbing festivals held across the country each fall.  The Craggin’ Classic Series (organized by the American Alpine Club), is a chance for climbers from all over to get together and play around on world class rock, all in the name of community, education, stewardship, and fundraising.

This was my 2nd time working this event for Trango/Tenaya (first time was back in 2012), and my first weekend long event since the 2013 Rendezvous back in the pre-Baby Z days.  Event weekends for me are always a chaotic blur of pure craziness.  As a climber, working these events is always a blast.  I mean, my job is to go to a great climbing destination, hang out and talk gear with all sorts of awesome folks, and usually walk away with some amazing photos of me doing what I love (courtesy of Dan Brayack) – seriously, what’s not to love about all of that?!?  But as a mom, these events also bring a whole lot of behind-the-scenes stress, usually surrounding mundane, but important, family logistics.

My favorite shot of the weekend - finishing up P2 of The Prowesse

My favorite shot of the weekend – finishing up P2 of The Prowesse 5.9R

Fortunately Steve and I have learned a lot from past events and are able to sort through most issues before they arise.  We’d secured extra climbing partners so that Steve and the kids could do their own thing while I was off galavanting around with Trango, and managed to find a crag that was suitable both for Trango’s photo goals as well as Steve and his “village” – which meant I could hike back and forth to check in with Baby Z a couple times during the day to nurse.  A friend of mine even let me borrow his car for the day (which could actually end up being it’s own separate post entitled, “Dirt Road Adventures with a Stick Shift and No Power Steering,” but I’ll leave that for another day.)   Somehow, though, despite our best-laid plans, it seems like there’s always an unforeseen glitch that sends everything into a tailspin.  This time around it involved the poorly-timed eruption of 2 canine teeth and a mysterious fever, both of which turned Baby Z into a clingy hot mess that wanted to be attached to mommy 24/7.

Brenna working her way up P1.

Brenna working her way up P1.

But in sickness and in health, this show had to go on, so on Friday afternoon we dutifully headed north in a van loaded down with kids, climbing gear, and demo shoes.  After a feverish night of enduro-nursing and restlessness, I headed to the AAC Campground for shoe demos while Steve and the kiddos headed to Endless Wall with our “village.”  I met up with them mid-morning and warmed up on The Upheaval 5.9, a great slab route that deservedly gets tons of traffic.  I was psyched to watch my boy dominate Totally Clips 5.8…well, maybe “dominate” is a stretch, but he did get to the top pretty quickly, where he lingered at the anchors for several minutes enjoying the view.  Upon reaching the ground, he proudly announced that he “used two quickdraws as holds because it was easier.”  I have no idea where he’s seen that before because neither Steve nor I have EVER done that (that’s written in sarcastic font in case you couldn’t tell.)  With everything going on, we unfortunately didn’t get a picture of it, but I’m pretty certain he’d be up for doing it again next time.

Girl power :)

Girl power :)

Around lunch I got the call to meet my Trango peeps back down at Fern Point for a photo session on The Prowess 5.9 R.  I’ve only done a handful of the trad lines at Endless Wall, so I was psyched to try it (although admittedly a little anxious about the “R” part.)  The route actually begins on Freaky Stylee 5.12a and traverses across Stim-o-Stam 5.11c to the blunt arete.  This initial section is the part that warrants the R rating – the climbing is pretty easy, but gear is sparse, and difficult to protect for both the leader as well as the second.  (I guess one alternative would be to boulder up through the Stim-o-Stam start – a little less sketchy for your second, but also much harder moves.)  Once around the corner, the route tiptoes up the slab to the Stim-o-Stam anchors.  We split the route into two pitches so that Dan could get some “girl power” shots for Trango’s sister company, Stonewear Designs.  The finish was easier (5.6 ish) and marvelously exposed.  The only thing that could have made the view any more gorgeous would have been a backdrop of fall color!

Big C driving his cars over his "NRG Bridge"

Big C driving his cars over his “NRG Bridge”

After Brenna and I tromped barefoot across the top to the ladders and back down to our stuff (read: bring your hiking shoes!), we all headed over to Diamond Point, where I was able to reunite with the fam.  Baby Zu seemed to be feeling better than she had the night before, but was still not interested in doing much besides snuggling.  We played pass the baby while all taking turns on Fine Motor Control 12a.  This line is often overlooked, but actually has a lot of nice, varied movement all the way to the top.  (Don’t forget to bring a brush, there were a few sections that were pretty dirty.)  The business is powerful, bouldery, and right off the ground until the 3rd bolt.  The rest of the climbing backs off some as the bolts get farther and farther apart, and culminates with one final stay awake move several feet above the last bolt.  My first time up I got pummeled.  The moves down low are all really long, and it took a lot of creativity (and trial and error) for me to make the reaches.  I also may or may not have called for the stick clip at the top due to an inability to commit to the 5.10 finishing move.  My second go went far better – a one-hang, with my only fall coming at the end of the boulder problem start.  Not a send, but a good note to end the day on.

New favorite crag-tivity - Generric legos from the Target dollar bin!

New favorite crag-tivity – Generric legos from the Target dollar bin!

The evening festivities involved a dyno comp, hangboard contest, and general merriment and shenanigans.  By evening Baby Zu was feeling a bit better, and I was able to enjoy myself guilt-free once the kiddos were off to bed (thanks to the CragDaddy for holding down the fort!)

The next morning brought iffy looking weather, but a happy Baby Zu that was firing on all cylinders once again.  Aside from trying to fit the Trango tent in my van later on that day, I had no other “work” duties, so we headed back to Endless Wall again.  And this time, after warming up on Euronation (10b version), Fine Motor Control went down without a fight.  Must’ve been a combination of cooler temps and lower stress levels; my beta felt rock solid the whole way up.

We didn’t crawl into bed until late Sunday night…too late for a school night (yes, we have to worry about that now!)  But a slightly more chaotic than usual Monday morning was definitely a fair trade-off for our first family adventure of the fall.  Many thanks to Trango for being so flexible with the Lineberry family circus, and thanks to Dan Brayack for letting me post his awesome pictures up here!  And a thousand and one thanks to the village of friends that helped us get through the weekend unscathed!



KEEN Footwear: From Trail to Classroom

Rigorous playground testing.

Rigorous playground testing.

When Big C was just 18 months old, he got a chance to try out a pair of Alamosa hiking boots (reviewed here.)  And now, 4 years later (believe it or not!), they are still stowed away safe and sound until Baby Zu can fit into them, which will probably be sooner rather than later…In the meantime, KEEN offered to suit up both her AND Big C into some of their new back-to-school offerings for the fall season!

I chose the Monica CNX toddler shoes (in a super cute purple) for Baby Zu.  The KEEN website says these shoes offer “cute classroom style with full-on recess performance,” and I would have to agree.  They are adorable, and Baby Zu gets many compliments on them wherever we go.  I love that they are sporty, but still feminine (especially since Baby Zu still doesn’t have very much hair and we still rely heavily colors to provide gender identification clues.)  And while she isn’t big enough for recess yet, she is most certainly on the move!  With just one velcro strap, it’s easy to get chubby little toddler feet in and out of of these shoes.

I chose the Big Kid Chandler CNX for Big C.  I let him choose the color, even though I already knew he was going to pick the blue and red ones (because they looked like Spiderman…)  According to the KEEN website they are designed for “City Streets, Hiking, Trails and Parks, Playground, and School,” which pretty much covers 95% of Big C’s daily activities.  The fabric is really lightweight and breathable, and dries quickly even after a romp in some puddles.  But best of all they are durable.  He’s been wearing them non-stop for almost 2 months with hardly any signs of wear and tear.

tmonica_cnx_wineberrylavender_fog_3q ychandler_true_bluemars_red_p

My only beef with both shoes is that they are equally comfortable when worn without socks…which is fantastic in every way except the stench factor.  But I guess I’d rather have stinky feet than blistered feet!  They may not be cheap (retail price $50 and $55), but I have learned (the hard way) that buying cheap shoes for your kiddos doesn’t really end up saving you that much money.  Big C’s previous two pairs of shoes were half the price…but had holes in both toes (not to mention ZERO tread left) by the time they hit the 2 month mark.  You get what you pay for!  (And now that I think about it, my pair of old school KEEN Newports are approaching 20 years old, and look like they will hold up for at least 20 more!)


Anyone else have a go-to brand/style of shoes that are versatile enough to wear for both school, play, and recreation?  Feel free to leave some recommendations in the comments below, as well as your own personal experience with the KEEN brand.





Humidity + Humility = Reality at the New River Gorge

This weekend marked our first climbing trip back on the east coast since our big Wyoming adventure (summed up here, here, here, and here.)  And while it felt good to be back on familiar stone, the CragDaddy and I both took a giant dose of humble pie (served dripping in humidity!)

Getting out of my comfort zone on Psychowrangler 12a

Getting out of my comfort zone on Psychowrangler 12a

You know we’re going to get pummeled at the New this weekend, right?” I’d joked to Steve last week.  After a week of rest and a couple of bouldering sessions at the gym, we were still talking about the glory days of our vacation, where both of us had climbed harder than we’d ever expected – hitting personal climbing milestones left and right.  But while we came into the weekend feeling strong and confident, I had a sneaking suspicion that we were in for a rude awakening…

Me thinking that at Ten Sleep I never had to lock off this hard (MENSA 11d)

Me thinking that at Ten Sleep I never had to lock off this hard (MENSA 11d)

On our first day we climbed (or attempted to, anyway) at Kaymoor (White Wall), which I’d only been to one other time.  The hike is not terribly long, but by the time we got there, we were all drenched in sweat…welcome back to summer in the South.  We’d had a few fall-ish days after we’d first gotten back from Wyoming, but apparently that had only been a tease, because conditions were pretty darn terrible this weekend.  I sent the warm-up (Almost Heaven 10b)…and that was it.  In fact, that was the only route that I even got to the top of without pulling on a draw.

Day 2 was a lot better.  We climbed at Beauty Mountain, and I ticked off a pair of classic routes that had been on my list for quite some time – MENSA 11d and Disturbance 11d.  I’d actually been on both once before back in 2012, but had only toproped them, as that trip had been my first since breaking my ankle 8 weeks previously.  Both feature technical face climbing with long reaches between good holds.  The reaches on MENSA involve typical NRG lock-off strength, whereas the crux on Disturbance requires delicate foot placement with a little dose of aggro (ie, get your feet absurdly high and huck for it!)

After my dismal performance the day before, it felt good to remember how to rock climb again and I put MENSA down first go, although it felt a lot harder than I was expecting.  Disturbance didn’t come quite as quickly, as I really had to dial in my footwork and timing for the big deadpoint move.  But after a lot of flailing around beta refinement on my first go, I felt strong and solid on my second try, and sent fairly easily.  (Meanwhile Big C was throwing himself at the slab boulder at the base…and FINALLY sent it with a pretty sweet slab dyno!  We got it on video, so click here to see it.)

Yup, the New is reachier than Ten Sleep...Disturbance 11d

Yup, the New is reachier than Ten Sleep…Disturbance 11d

It was a treat to get a 3rd day at the New, as we usually take the opportunity to hit farther-away crags on holiday weekends.  Our crew decided to go to Cottontop, which to be perfectly honest, was not my first choice.  The most obvious route for me to tackle next is Psychowrangler 12a, which requires a skill set that is the complete opposite of mine.  It’s steep, powerful, and super badass…and also super intimidating.  Last fall I’d shocked myself by actually making it to the top…then I came in with guns blazing right before we left for Wyoming and got shut down at the first bolt.  The move is big, and getting higher feet is really awkward, but it’s from a good hold to a great hold, so most people just jump for it, or even campus.  I am horrible at both of those things (although I must admit I’m starting to enjoy some of my campus workouts!)  The CragDaddy urged me to try again, citing bad conditions as the reason I couldn’t get anywhere on it last time.  But once again, no dice.  I get all tied in and ready to roll and….DENIED!

Ninja obstacles at the crag.

Ninja obstacles at the crag.

After taking a much-needed break to play Batman with Big C, I took a walk with the guidebook, hoping to find something appealing that I hadn’t seen before.  There are several 11+/12- routes on the left side of the cliff that I never hear anyone talk about, although most of them get 2 stars in the guidebook.  The one that looked the best to me was Cotton the Act 11d, so I gave it a whirl. Things were going well initially – a couple hard moves to a good stance, then a long reach to another good rest, wandering back and forth across the bolt line.  But then up towards the top I got stymied by a (you guessed it) long reach at the crux.  No matter how many different ways I positioned myself, I just could not hit the right hand crimp that initiates the rest of the crux sequence.  I tried skipping the hold.  I tried going left and going right.  Nothing worked.  Finally i used the nylon jug (aka quickdraw) to get out to it, then fired the rest of the route to the top.  The route was awesome, but my frustrations continued.

I wasn’t going to try it again, but CragDaddy (once again), encouraged me to try it again.  On his onsight attempt, he’d discovered a tiny, shallow pocket out left that he’d been unable to use, but thought my little fingers might like it better than the long reach out right.  And sure enough, they did!  I could easily get 2 fingers stacked in it with a thumb wrap.  Cranking on that hold with a high right foot enabled me to get to the next clipping hold from the opposite direction everyone else had come from.  After I got it worked out, CragDaddy and I did back to back sending go’s while Baby Zu took an insanely long crag nap.

CragDaddy taking a run up Psychowrangler 12a

CragDaddy taking a run up Psychowrangler 12a

By this point in the day a lot of our crew had already left to head home, but CragDaddy wanted to try Psychowrangler…and convinced me to try it one last time.  Neither of us was anywhere close to sending…but I FREAKIN’ MADE IT PAST THAT FIRST MOVE!  Turns out I’d remembered my beta completely wrong (ie, get right foot up and flag left, as opposed to left foot up and flag right!)  Once I executed the correct way, it was like finding the missing piece to the puzzle, and it felt easy!  (AND we got it on video so that I won’t forget it next time we’re at Cottontop…which will probably be sooner rather than later, since now CragDaddy and I both have a nice project waiting for us there!)

THIS is my beta for the first move...someone remind me if I forget!!!

THIS is my beta for the first move…someone remind me if I forget!!!

So while the word “pummeled” may have been a bit strong, our trip definitely reminded me that grades are a lot stiffer at the New than they are in other places!  (My “12a effort” out in Ten Sleep felt remarkably similar to my “11d effort” at the New…)  And the handful of colored leaves I saw along the trail on the way out reminded me that while it may still be muggy summer conditions here in the South, those fall sending temps are just a few short weeks away.  And then our options will be “Endless” – both literally and figuratively, as I’ve got a mighty long to-do list once it becomes Endless Wall season!





Every Trail Connects…

Big C psyched on the Popo Agie Falls Trail in Sinks Canyon, WY

Big C psyched on the Popo Agie Falls Trail in Sinks Canyon, WY

Recently I joined forces with REI to promote their #everytrailconnects campaign.  Their campaign will provide $500,000 towards trail projects at 10 different locations across the country.  For my part, I’ve been asked to reflect on my own experience with trails, and why they are meaningful to me.  (For REI’s part, keep reading!)

I sort of hesitate to admit it, but I haven’t always been “all about trails.” As a rock climber in my pre-kid era, I always thought of trails as merely a necessary mode of transportation to get to the base of the cliff (where the adventures would REALLY begin.)  It’s not like I hated hiking or anything, but hiking just for the sake of hiking always seemed a little boring to me unless you were actually GOING somewhere to DO something – climb, swim, picnic, or even just a spectacular vista.  The main attraction was the final destination, and the means to get there was…well, just a means to get there!

Then I became a mama.  And I started seeing what a simple walk in the woods was like from the eyes of a child.  First, as a newborn wrapped against my body – so safe and snuggly, eyes filled with wonder gazing up into the treetops.  Then in just a few months, crawling into every nook, cranny, and crevice, while examining every rock, leaf, and twig he could get his hands on.  By the time he was a curious toddler, he was off and running…and falling…and running…and falling.  Now, as an inquisitive 5 year old boy, hikes are filled with impromptu science lessons and other teachable moments.

But my son (and now daughter as well) are not the only ones learning out on the trail.  Motherhood has taught ME that the journey can be just as important as the destination.   Hiking to the crag takes us twice or even three times as long with our kids in tow.  But the experience is twice as rewarding.  Stopping to toss rocks in the stream rather than quickly passing by may mean we get in one less route on the day.  But the gleeful squeals of a preschooler that come after every “plunk” make our pit stops worthwhile.  And the blissful babbles of our 18 month old every time we stop to smell a blooming rhododendron are equally satisfying.

Enjoying a serene pit stop along Ten Sleep Creek.

Enjoying a serene pit stop along Ten Sleep Creek.

So in some ways, I (and my growing family) have come full circle.  Now when I plan our climbing trips, our itinerary is peppered with plenty of family hiking that’s just as much about the GETTING THERE as it is the THERE.  Sometimes it’s a rest day hike through mountain meadows in search of wildflowers and butterflies.  Other times it’s just a brief mountain stroll to stretch our legs on a Friday night before setting up our tent.  And those old, familiar climber trails that were once nothing more than a mode of transportation?  They are now seen as a catalyst for family interaction.  EVERY TRAIL CONNECTS.

Whether we are on the way to the base of the cliff, a gorgeous mountain panorama, or on the way to nowhere in particular, trails are always at the heart of bringing our family closer together.

Which brings me back to REI’s campaign…as I mentioned, there are 10 worthy trail projects that will be receiving funding.  The division of funds was determined by an online vote – head over here to explore more about each trail, as well as learn about how to get involved in a local stewardship project in your area.

And while you’re at it, please feel free to share your own thoughts below about your favorite trails and why they are meaningful to YOU.