“Dude, you’re so lucky,” my friend said. “You get to climb warm, sunny rock all winter.”
I raised an eyebrow, then looked around. “You mean … this place?” I swept an outstretched arm across our craggy vista. We were at the Puoux, which I knew to be one of the worst sport-climbing crags in America, a country already lacking great sport climbing compared to the entire European continent.
I felt that I was many things for being at this loud roadside chosspile just a stone’s throw from a major interstate. Desperate and deaf, to name a couple. But, lucky? No way.
I always put the left shoe on first.
I rack my draws gates in.
And I never lieback a jam-crack because it’ll break your mama’s back.
I know putting my left shoe on first won’t really help me send. But I still do it. Why?
Is it vanity to believe that, deep within ourselves, we hold these mystical capacities to steer our futures toward some benevolent, glorious place—like redpointing my project—if only we could figure out which is the correct shoe to put on first?
Or is that just stupidity?
Compared to a shit-eating dog, most of us are pretty darn lucky people. Does this awareness bring any contentment? Not really. Why doesn’t the simple fact that we aren’t shit-eating dogs bring any meaningful contentment? Except for a few enlightened ascetics, most people seem to be hoping to change their luck, ostensibly because they believe that their present situations could be improved.
But I am beginning to realize that we don’t really know anything about luck, least of all whether it’s good or bad. For example, last fall I finally climbed through the crux on my project after a year of falling at this one point. All that was left was easy climbing to the top. I had done it!
Then, a jug broke off the wall and I fell (and cursed, then cursed some more). How could this have happened? What bad luck!
But I learned an important lesson that day about patience, and ultimately, the route became more than just another tick; it was an enlightening moment that I believe has made me a better person and a more experienced climber.
So I guess the hold breaking was good luck? Who knows?
Anyway … back to the Puoux (pronounced: pukes). The etymology of the Puoux is a riff on the French crag Buoux, the so-called “laboratory” dubbed for its developers’ drilled pockets. Puoux is also chipped, only it’s not in Southern France. It’s 50 feet from I-70 outside the Western Colorado exit called No Name.
It’s hard to explain how unpleasant it really is to be at the Puoux. For one, every diesel rig from here to Lubbock passes by at 9,000 rpms, often sounding their deafening klaxons as they pass through the tunnel adjacent to the crag.
On the first warm day of spring, Jen and I decided to end our winter hiatuses from climbing, and go to the Puoux.
We arrived at our sad backyard crag only to find a booming scene of people, babies, dogs, a keg-sized stereo blaring dubstep, and topropes strung on every warm-up on the wall. I twitched with a pang of fury. Is the Puoux getting popular? This place sucks! Don’t these people know that? What’s wrong with them? Why would anyone come here!?
Then I remembered that I come here. I shrugged my shoulders.
We decided to try to warm up on a harder route uphill since no one was on it and it was removed from the clichéd sport-climbing tableau of obnoxious people playing obnoxious music, with their obnoxious babies and their obnoxious dogs—not to mention the dead animals, and for all I know, human remains below.
Now halfway up the wall, I clipped in direct to rest. Suddenly Jen yelled, “Ughhhhhhh! A bird just shit in my mouth!”
What?! I looked down and Jen was gagging and spitting on the ground as if she had just been poisoned.
“Are you sure?” I called down.
“It was wet and brown!” she yelled, her voice trembling.
“I think bird shit is white,” I offered. “It probably wasn’t bird shit.”
I climbed a little higher, went in direct again and looked down. Now Jen was frantically moving the rope bag, and all of our gear away from the base of the wall.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“There’s shit raining down on me!” she yelled. “SHIT is all over everything!”
I looked around. I didn’t see any birds. I figured snowmelt at the top of the wall was causing mud to trickle down on my belayer. She was probably just over-reacting, I reasoned.
Besides, I was enjoying myself: first day out on rock, sun’s out, I’m warm and happy. These moves are fun. This is a great day!
I thought back to one of my all-time favorite climbing articles, “The Last Cry of the Butterfly,” by Chris Belczynski (Rock and Ice, No. 128). He writes about how he, as the leader, spends hours in his own world, inching his way up an A4 first ascent in Alaska. About his partners, he writes: “And the belayer? Ah, the belayer—but who would give a fuck about him?”
I reached the top, and finally lowered down.
And that’s when I saw it … literally everywhere.
“There’s shit everywhere!” I exclaimed, actually surprised.
“I. Fucking. Know!” Jen growled.
“What is it?”
I looked up. The only thing going on was an active beehive, located in a rotten section of the overhanging wall above us. Bees were busy buzzing in and out of their alcove.
“Maybe it’s the bees,” I said. “Do you think they’re making honey?”
“Maybe,” Jen said skeptically.
A wet, brown fleck landed on my hand. I sniffed it.
“It kinda smells sweet,” I said, full of hope. I took another sniff. “But … it kinda smells like shit.”
I looked up again. Now a drop landed right in my mouth.
Jen looked less-than-pleased with me telling her what she already knew. In fact, she was already packed and halfway down the trail.
“Yeah, smart guy,” she said. “We have to get out of here. And never come back.”
We went straight to Dairy Queen for some Blizzards. DQ was literally the closest option that would make us feel instantly better.
On the drive over, I did some “research” on my iPhone by posing the question to my Facebook friends: “Do bees get diarrhea?”
Brady Robinson at the Access Fund informed me that, yes, bees get diarrhea and go on “cleansing flights” to purge themselves.
I searched for “cleansing flights,” and it appeared that Brady was right. It’s a real thing. On the first warm (above 50-degree) day of spring, bees will come out of their hives. They haven’t excreted in over five months, and they really, really need to go. So, basically, they spend an entire day merrily crapping their little bee brains out.
“Well,” I said to Jen in between bites of my Blizzard, “it appears that it wasn’t honey after all. It was turds. Bee turds.”
“What are the odds?” Jen said. “I’ve never heard of this happening to anyone.”
Again I turned to my iPhone and Googled, “What are the chances of being shit on by a colony of bees?” We found one statistic that said it’s a 1 in 380 million chance—more rare than winning the lottery.
“So … we’re lucky?” Jen asked.
“Good luck. Bad luck. Who knows?” I answered. At least we had a chunk of warm, sunny rock to climb all winter.