DIY Jean and Fleece Chalk Bag for Rock Climbing

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This year Lincoln got its first climbing gym at the University of Nebraska outdoor rec center. It’s a short approach from my office on campus, about a carabiner’s throw away, so I sneak over two or three times a week to crux it up.

I’m still a noob when it comes to the jargon, though I’ve been rock climbing off and on for about ten years. My DIY chalk bag gives me some much needed crag cred. I’m obviously not a flat-lander or a belay slave. No way. This DIY bag surrounds me in a dusty cloud of climbing potential and legitimacy. It says, “I rock climb so much that I can’t afford a store-bought bag. Also, I have a sewing machine.”

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This 30-minute project only took me 4 hours! It was grueling, like a pitch full of tiny crimpers. But I’m pretty stoked by the final product. I incorporated elements from sewing plans on this blog, this instructable, and this site.

My chalk bag is about 7″ tall and 6″ diameter across the bottom. I’m making smaller ones for the kids, since they’ve been stealing mine and bathing in it before every climb like its pixie dust. Theirs are roughly 5″ tall and 4″ diameter.

In parting, here are some climbing terms to master, from climbing.com:

Bucket or Jug
The most secure of handholds; a hold so deep, incut, and big it’s like grabbing a lithic bucket lip.
Usage: Gimme buckets and gimme jugs, cuz Daddy’s so pumped he needs a hug!
Crimp
A small edge upon which you crimp your fingers, i.e. bend your digits to exert pressure on the knuckles, bringing your thumb against your index finger to close the grip.
Variant: Any small edge is a crimper, while a crimp-intensive climb is crimpy.
Crux
A route or problem’s most difficult passage or sequence. To crux doesn’t always mean to reach a route’s crux, but instead to redline anywhere on a climb.
Usage: Rachel is cruxing hard on Los Dynos del Muerte, and she isn’t even at the crux. Stand by for a takefest.
Pump
That tight, weak, swollen feeling in the forearms that comes, while climbing, from the accumulation of lactic acid combined with restricted blood flow. It’s much easier to get pumped than to de-pump. Also, as a verb, to sag to a straight-armed position and then cock to initiate a dyno or deadpoint.
Usage: I have the perma-pump; no matter how long I rest, I’m totally flamed out 15 feet up.

The Sounds of Duck Hunting

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I wrote a few days ago about our recent overnighter at Wildwood, a small lake north of Lincoln, Nebraska, nestled between fields of corn and soybean. I mentioned there that our sleepless morning was interrupted by spurts of shotgun fire. But I forgot to describe the source of the shooting.

I didn’t actually see them until sunrise, but their commotion in the quiet morning air gave the duck hunters away.

If you’re too busy too duck hunt, you’re too busy.
Jase, Duck Dynasty

It was long before dawn when I awoke to gravel crunching in the parking lot, first under rolling truck tires, then under shuffling boots. I checked my cell phone for the time. It was 4:30 AM, about two hours before a Nebraska hunter could legally open fire.

Gray limestone gravel paves all the roads and parking lots in my camping memories. Those small chalky rocks, with random angles but uniform size, create a sort of man-made welcome mat on mother nature’s vast front step. Reflecting on all our family trips as a kid, dusty gravel was always first to greet me as I jumped out of the truck. The sound and texture of it are subtle but distinctive and unique to that point where driving ends and a campout begins.

As the waterfowlers unloaded their truck beds, oblivious to me and my eavesdropping, I heard the unnatural clatter of their most essential trapping, the flock of decoys. Dozens of hollow-bodied, featherless, plastic ducks, who would be carefully placed to create the illusion of a safe and inviting stretch of lake-shore property.

Until this point, the sounds of the setup were mostly quiet and cautious. I heard some rustling in the bushes and grasses, and soft splashing as the hunters waded out and distributed their bait in the most effective pattern they could think of. I could picture them pausing in the cloudy moonlight, to imagine how the scene would appear to their prey. Maybe the decoys would seem too eager, or too exclusive, as the ducks flew past in search of friends.

Eventually, with the stage set, the splashing stopped, and the waiting began. The hunters were clearing the air. At some point I fell back asleep.

sunrise at wildwood lake

At 5:30 AM, the decoys came to life. I’ve never heard such a lively group of ducks. Their quacking seemed forced, as if someone were squeezing it out of them against their will. It was awkward. No real duck could have the lungs to maintain such a consistent, rhythmic squawk.

And yet, apparently, the hunters found something to shoot at. The shooting was almost as relentless as their calling. Blam, blam, blam, …, blam, blam, blam, blam, blam! Then, more calling. Squawk, squawk, squawk, squawk, …, squawk, squawk, squawk, …, squawk, squawk! Over and over, back and forth.

The kids, exhausted from a late the night by the fire, slept through it all. But I was wide awake. As I stretched out in my goose down sleeping bag, I thought about the ducks. I wished they could be taken more elegantly, with less squawking and blasting. And I hoped the hunters were grateful for their kill.

Hunting presents a difficult contrast for me: you take an animal’s life to, hopefully, sustain your own. I first confronted this contradiction while bow hunting last fall, when I shot my first buck. My heart was pounding and my eyes were damp as I let my arrow fly, an arrow that would stop his heart from beating and his eyes from seeing. As someone with a relatively small and superficial connection with the earth, it was both exhilarating and terrifying to end the life of a creature that is one with the earth, a creature that spends all of his existence with it and in it. I’ve never felt so close to and so far from the natural world at the same time.

These thoughts and feelings came back to me as I listened to the duck hunt. And I realized that the sounds of a hunt can be beautiful or disgusting, depending on the attitude and reverence of the hunter.

Camping With the Kids at Wildwood Lake, Nebraska

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A thin glaze of ice on Wildwood Lake, with wild woods behind.

Last weekend I took the kids camping at Wildwood, a small reservoir just north of Lincoln, near Branched Oak. This was my first overnighter alone with the full crew. Five kids, no mommy.

I’m not going to lie, camping with kids is stressful and exhausting. Half of the time I’m stoking a fire or prepping a meal. The other half I’m helping an unhappy camper, wiping tears, warming fingers, zipping, buttoning, or tying. But camp we must.

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An old iron bridge, with many failed attempts to break the ice below.

The earth is a part of me, and I want it to be a part of my kids. I want fresh dirt in their pores and fresh air in their lungs. I want the open spaces to inspire them, the unexplored shadows and hilltops, the depths and ledges, to challenge them.

I want them to experience what would happen if… Break a stick just to hear it crack. Splash a pond to see the ripples. Dig, build, break, throw, run, jump, climb, spin, taste, just because. See what happens.

All good things are wild and free
Henry David Thoreau

There’s no other time or place when kids can so much be kids. When they’re outdoors, unleashed and unrestrained, there are few limits they don’t create. As a result, they get to experience all of themselves. And I love to watch them grow as the discovery unfolds.

Anyway, here’s a quick summary of our night at Wildwood: eating, crying, eating, crying, storytelling, sleeping, waking to drunk people yelling and breaking things, sleeping, waking to shotgun fire, sleeping, shotgun fire, etc., eating, hiking, cleaning up after drunk people.

The shotgun fire came from some very excited duck hunters.

The crying came from our 18-month-old on her first campout without mom.

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The full crew, in full effect.

Walt Whitman Poem To Bryant, the Poet of Nature

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From the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Newsroom:

Wendy Katz, associate professor of art history, has discovered a new poem by Walt Whitman. While researching art criticism in the penny newspapers as a Smithsonian Senior Fellow in Washington, D.C., she found a poem by “W.W” in the June 23, 1842, issue of New Era.

I tend to avoid poetry, along with any other literature or art that reminds me how uncultured and unread I am in comparison to people who understand these things. On the other hand, I seek out activities like camping and hiking and rock climbing that are uncomfortable and that remind me how weak and small I am in comparison to the long steep trail, the gnarly route, the bitter cold, and the raging storm. So, I’m going to branch out and give poetry a chance.

The poem is titled To Bryant, the Poet of Nature. FYI – a diadem is a crown with jewels, and a lyre is a miniature harp.

Let Glory diadem the mighty dead —
Let monuments of brass and marble rise
To those who have upon our being shed
A golden halo, borrowed from the skies,
And given to time its most enduring prize;
For they but little less than angels were:
But not to thee, oh! nature’s OWN, we should
(When from this clod the minstrel-soul aspires
And joins the glorious band of purer lyres)
Tall columns build: thy monument is here —
For ever fixed in its eternity —
A monument God-built! ‘Tis seen around —
In mountains huge and many gliding streams —
Where’er the torrent lifts a melancholy sound,
Or modest flower in broad savannah gleams.
W.W., “New Era,” June 23, 1842