Archive by Author | Nicole

Hello World

I’ve been meaning to pick this blog up again for a year and a half now, but since I feel the need to do a thousand things at once, I end up not doing many and only half-way finishing the rest. This is certainly going to be a discontinuous rant, but I’m in the mood to write so write I shall.

I find myself embarrassed when people ask me what I’ve done with my life. I’m going on 30 and have managed to waste the majority of the last seven years. As mentioned above, I am compelled to pick up many things at once. I want to return to school, finish remodeling our home, flip another house, run the gym, open other locations, develop an after school program so that I can tutor again, coach climbing, climb 5.13 and V10, become a national route setter. Every commitment however involves a sacrifice, and that is why I don’t commit. Chris and I spend weekends sitting around the house, working on gym projects, ‘planning’ for the future, afraid to drive to Chattanooga in case it is wet but desperate to get out of the house. If I go back to school, I won’t have as much free time to climb. If we open another location, we’ll have less flexibility. If I devote to training more and climbing more, I’ll miss out on educational opportunities and travel for the sake of traveling. And I just can’t decide.

So here I am, 30 smacking me in the face, ready to change this decade. Maybe I can do it all. If I go back to school, it will force me into a more rigid schedule. I can still work the gym and train partially because I’ll be forced to use my time wisely. We already have our hands tied with another location. We’re both beginning a training program. I’m booking tickets to go to Joe’s for three weeks in April. And it feels good. I do see life passing me by sometimes and that is unsettling. My family is moving on and I don’t get to visit them as often as I’d like. I moved back from the west coast to cultivate better relationships with them only to have them move out west! That’s how life goes. Do the things that add value to your life and the life of others. Let the rest follow its own path.

I am from a very successful family and I was beginning to pity myself for not doing more with what I have. Climbing gyms don’t seem rewarding, community oriented, or philanthropic. I should have become a doctor when I had the chance. I could have really done some good. I read an insightful article the other day about what it means to ‘make a difference’. Can we improve someone’s quality of life through climbing, teaching, creating social opportunities? Yes? We may potentially save a life by providing safety education to new climbers. We’re helping the local community, growing the economy, we’re sharing our wealth with non-profits, with kids who could be at home in a dangerous situation. It’s easy to lose sight of that. Then you run an event to build awareness of non-profits in your neighborhood, inviting low-income or disadvantaged families into your facility at no charge to experience climbing and mentorship, and you see energy and happiness. It’s intoxicating, and you realize that’s why you do what you do.

I’m hoping by writing that I can begin to change my path and my attitude. I’m not a talented writer. I write like a 10yr old who hates sitting too much to read and would rather run around the barn and find ponies to brush. I never matured beyond that stage, which is both good and bad. I want to be outside, I want to be active, to feel productive, but I also want to learn, to sound smart, to garner accolades, which require time and dedication. Maybe I’ll find a nice mix over the next ten years and finally know what I’m living for come middle-age.

I’d love to review climbing gyms, but I’m terrified of the backlash. I have enough trouble in this industry as is. I can’t tell you how many emails I have sent only to be responded to with, “Hi Chris.” Or people who come by the gym and tell me, “I’m looking for the owner, Chris.” Or I’ll be giving a lead test and someone will tell me a story about ‘the owner’ who just so happens to be named ‘Chris’. I am admittedly meek and mild, especially initially, so I get what I deserve. It is totally my fault. I still don’t have the confidence to call a lawyer, to tell the architects exactly what I want, to talk to the general contractor, or to explain my vision for the walls to the Walltopia guys. I’m a work in progress.

I’d also enjoy documenting our journey opening a second location. It is such a cool process. And of course my successes and failures with climbing, being a manager, running a business, remodeling the home, and the like.

And who thinks it’s fun to write when there is no one to read it? Probably another one of my shortcomings, that if it has no impact then it isn’t worth doing.

-Nicole

Climbing

Climbing has been somewhat of a sore subject for a while now. Chris and I have been juggling so many things for the last two years that we have only gotten outside a handful of times. I recently read a post which reminded me of my mindset when I first started climbing. After I graduated from grad school, I decided to take some time off in hopes of identifying the right next step for me. I received quite a bit of backlash, surprisingly. People told me I was throwing away my future, acting as a drain on society, telling me I was incredibly spoiled (some truth there!) and that they wished they could do the same thing. I found myself thinking, “If I can do it, why can’t you? You just need to make the choice.” Somewhat of a naive response if you were to ask me again today.

Like I said, I began seriously climbing at the age of 24 once I had finished up with grad school. I was on the path to pursuing medical school or graduate school for biomechanical engineering. I had been accepted to Duke, the #2 ranked graduate school for my program. I was feeling extremely burned-out, as if I was putting one foot in front of the other just because that was the expectation. I was lucky to be out of school without debt, and had even managed to pocket some of my scholarship and work money. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to take an extended road trip with my future husband. I have always greatly enjoyed traveling, and this was my chance.

We packed up my little civic and hit the road. I didn’t have much equipment at all, so I invested in a down sleeping bag, a coat and jacket, and some climbing gear. Chris had been climbing and camping for a long time by this point and we were able to eek out a few months in his ancient tent. I stole some other camping gear from my brothers to save cash.

We headed out west and sport climbed for two months or so. I was just breaking into the 5.12 range. Unfortunately, we were struck with several weeks of awful weather with no change in sight. Chris threw in the towel and suggested we travel home to the Red River Gorge, where he assured me we could find respite from the rain. In late November. We regretted that choice. I don’t remember terribly well, but I think we stayed home for Dec – Feb or March, and then hit up Rocktown for a few weeks and the Red again. My long term road trip dreams had been drowned.

We worked the following summer and got married in the fall. (We don’t waste much time.) We set off on another, hopefully longer, road trip. I fell in love with bouldering in Rocktown, so we chose Bishop as our next destination. We went out in November, climbed for a month, and moved on to Moe’s Valley. That was an awful experience. I had just climbed my first V8 in Bishop, progressing from V5-V8 in a month. I was feeling awesome about my progress. Then, boom, I tore a bunch of stuff in my hand and forearm after a heel cut when I was in a three finger pocket. I did my best to continue climbing, eventually tearing a collateral ligament and developing carpal tunnel. Once again, our road trip was cut short.

We went back to work and I took several months off of climbing. Chris and I were ready for a change as a married couple, and chose to move out to California where we thought we could climb with more frequency. Wrong. The cost of living was so high that we bought a fixer-upper home and spent ALL of our time working and remodeling the house. I am pretty sure we only made it out to climb once or twice the entire year we lived out there.

We were emotionally and physically drained, wondering what in the world we were going to do with our lives. We were quickly approaching 30 and we knew it was time to start getting our ducks in a row. We talked a lot about selling the house and road-tripping long term, trying to pick up sponsorships and live off climbing alone. As much as we both love to climb, we knew an exclusively climbing based lifestyle wouldn’t sustain us.

I rode horses when I was younger and competed all over the country. I totally poured myself into the sport, neglecting my schoolwork and relationships. It was a lot of fun, I learned a lot, but I didn’t value myself as a person. I knew the same would be true if I tried to pursue climbing as my livelihood. Having only your athletic performance to measure yourself by wouldn’t work for me. I wanted to try a ton of things, learn new skills, and be a well-rounded person. I’ve always lived for experiences, not success. Any time I move down the path where only my accomplishments are measured, I become a very unhappy, empty person.

That’s when we began toying with the idea of opening a climbing gym. We have often been disappointed with the staff, offerings, setting, and design at other climbing gyms we’ve visited. We thought we could offer a truly unique experience and take the indoor climbing industry in a new direction. This type of employment would allow us to stay true to who we are, allow us to tackle an area we’re passionate about, give us good reason to keep climbing, and hopefully provide a means to support ourselves and contribute to society.

Once we got our finances in line, we started thinking about what we wanted to create and where. I really didn’t like living in California. We were far away from family and felt very out of place. I wanted to have the option to see family on the weekends and have their support within easy reach. I knew we would count on it to develop and grow our business. That meant we would need to be somewhere out east. Several major climbing destinations exist out there, including the Red and the New. Our business would require an adequately sized city, and we wanted to be within an hour of a major climbing area. We pinpointed where other large climbing gyms were located and decided Lexington seemed very neglected. It was so close to the Red, nicely sized, near enough to Cincinnati and Louisville to attract customers from those larger cities, it has a giant university which was a huge draw for me (I desperately want to go back to school), AND I have lots of family in Lexington.

We scheduled an appointment in February to scope out land in Lexington. During that time, we completely fell in love with the city. It was decided. We were moving to Lexington. We finished up our house projects in Riverside, quit our jobs, and sold our first home.

For the time being, climbing is once again on the back burner. That was a sacrifice we were willing to make to set up our life for the long haul. We will create lots of climbing and travel opportunities not only for ourselves but for our staff. We want to build a business where people aren’t stagnant, where they feel like they are continually growing, progressing, adapting, and pursuing what they love. We want setters to get outside and climb, to attend competitions, to observe World Cups, to check out new climbing locales, to learn from some of the world’s best setters. We want our fitness staff to attend yoga workshops, nature retreats, fitness seminars, workshops, etc. We want people to LEARN, to CREATE, to LOVE what they are doing and to ENJOY what our clients offer us.

Naturally, we wouldn’t be content just growing a business. We have also purchased a 100yr old home in the heart of Lexington, 1 mile away from the University. It’s a beater, but we’ll make it into something. We are also remodeling my aunt’s kitchen, something I have wanted to do for years. She is a true southerner, constantly cooking for the entire town in which she resides. People don’t even knock on her door or inform her of their presence when they enter her house. Her home is home to anyone who wants to call it so. I love being able to give back to my family, and to be part of a community that supports us and that wants to grow with us. We are so fortunate!

Rodents

We have really struggled with rodents here in Lexington. We constantly have intruders in our walls, and a large animal recently dug a giant hole in the roof. Chris has tried to patch up several break in points in the siding, but they somehow manage to find other access. We ended up having to put a whole new roof on early. With the large hole from the rodent and the leak in the laundry room, we knew we couldn’t wait any longer. The plan was to do it ourselves to save money, but sometimes you have to put on your big boy pants and swallow the bullet.

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Patching.

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Thanks, raccoon.

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New roof.

Porch Turned Carport

We have a large porch on the back, left side of the house. I believe one of the previous owners had intended to screen it in, but never got to it. As with the other additions, it was poorly constructed. The posts hadn’t been elevated and so the bottoms rotted out. The post that was attached to the main part of the house was also rotten due to poor drainage.

We invited Chris’ dad down to help us convert the porch into a carport. There was no way I would have been able to help Chris enough with the 100+lb posts to do it ourselves. In three days, we knocked it out.

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Porch before. You can see the rotten bottom of the posts. The slate was popping up and there were TONS of carpenter ants underneath.

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Terrible drainage. We added the green gutter and filled the hole with blocks and concrete.

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Rotten and offering no support.

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New posts in place.

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We worked through one at a time. You can see the posts are supported by metal plates that elevate the bottoms so they don’t sit in water.

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Attaching this sucker to the wall. Note the rotten brick due to poor drainage on the right.

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Finished product. We’ll eventually finish ripping up the slate. You can now pull a car into the center.

Laundry room

When we moved in, the renter’s washer and dryer were in the basement. I think I’ve shown a picture of the basement, but it’s not a pleasant place. In our last house, the drain for the washer went no where. It was too expensive to fix, so we just went to the laundromat every weekend. I knew we were going to be in this house longer and I really didn’t want to spend the time driving to the laundromat every weekend, especially knowing how busy we would soon be with the gym.

I decided to convert the pantry into a laundry room. We are moving the kitchen anyway, so I thought it was a good use of space. Chris ripped everything out of the old pantry, drilled holes through the floor for the supply lines, and cut out a hole in the cement siding for the dryer vent. It was a pretty nasty job, but well worth it. We figured out that there has been a prolonged leak into the old pantry for a while due to the way they tied the old and new roofs together. The gutters also weren’t draining properly which exacerbated the issue.

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Demolished laundry room. You can spot the leak in the upper right corner.

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Running the supply lines.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is the hole Chris had to crawl in and out of for the supply lines. He said he thought it used to be a chimney since there were a bunch of ashes.

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Putting up green board.

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Removing trim and beadboard at the last minute. It worked!

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Cozy.

When the washer and dryer arrived, we found out that Chris had cut things a bit close. We ended up having to remove the trim and beadboard to get the washer and dryer into the space. It was a sight. One of the delivery guys deemed it impossible, but thankfully the other guy was patient enough to move the things inch by inch to slide them in there. I was very thankful!

Woody

Besides a small co-op bouldering room in Lexington, there isn’t a climbing gym within an hour’s drive. Not to mention, the little co-op isn’t exactly welcoming us with open arms. Before we even bought a house, we knew we needed space for a woody. One of the appealing characteristics of our current home is that the ceilings are relatively high. Not mansion high, but relatively high. I think they are 9-10ft.

Building a very simply, small woody is not easy. I didn’t realize just how hard it would be. First, we had to order and wait on the materials since we can’t fit them in our vehicle. Then getting the main supports in place was a huge you-know-what because we couldn’t find the studs. We always struggle to find the studs. We have tried every approach imaginable, and nothing works. So Chris spent hours installing two wood planks. The rest went pretty smoothly. The t-nuts took a long time to drill and pound just because we wanted a really dense grid. Mounting the plywood was tough with only two of us… Those suckers were heavy before t-nuts, let alone after. I managed to come up with a creative solution and we got it done!

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Locating studs is no easy task.

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Drilling for t-nuts was also incredibly tedious and labor intensive.

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Mounting everything with just the two of us was a lesson in patience and innovation.

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Boy, were we glad once it was all done! It ended up at about 35 degrees. That was the steepest we could make it without blocking the window and light fixture. We’re really enjoying climbing on it. The best thing about having a minimal woody is that you can easily reset in an hour or two. We don’t ‘set’, though. We just throw the holds up on the wall in a random fashion. It’s really nice to be able to walk in and climb without any crowds, no one to watch, no grades, no pressure. I do miss having a larger gym to play around in, however, and am anxious for ours to open!

Flooring nightmare

Most of our house is covered in laminate or engineered hardwood. We have one room, the current kitchen, which has pine. When we toured the house, we noticed heart pine in the closets, signaling that something salvageable might exist below the faux wood. It was my dream to find an older home with original hardwood floors, so I was stoked. Of course, the heart pine only existed in the oldest part of the house, which is about half.

I had no idea what kind of work was cutout for us. The laminate was tongue-and-groove and glued down. We initially attempted to pry it up just using a crow bar, but the adhesive was serious. I did a little research and decided the best course of action would be using a heat gun to warm the glue and let us get the boards up.

It worked. Kind of. Unfortunately, a lot of the wood was damaged in the process and it took me a solid week to expose the heart pine in the living room, dining room, and small hallway. The wood was badly splintering, and Chris and I began to wonder whether the work was worth it.

The second step involved a respirator, a scraper, and some goo-gone to remove the adhesive from the heart pine. I worked tirelessly and developed some painful tendonitis in the process. I got most of it off and hoped the rest could be removed by the sander.

I was really disappointed that we would have to sand the wood. The color and patina was incredible, but the wood was in such poor condition and the glue so hard to get off that we had no choice. We rented a random orbital sander since heart pine is soft. The drum sander would have been too much. I think we used 120 and 200 grit paper, in that order. At one point, the splintered wood punctured one of the pads. Chris frantically searched for a new pad all over town before returning the random orbital sander to the shop. They actually apologized, removed the splinter, and sent us back home. We were concerned they were going to charge us an arm and a leg for the damage.

Once we finished with the large orbital sander, we went through by hand and chiseled and sanded the splinters down as best we could. We weren’t terribly worried about their appearance, but we wanted to make sure the floors were comfortable to walk on. Chris crawled around on hands and knees to sand out swirls caused by some kind of grit under the large random orbital sander.

Side note: The house sustained significant termite damage at one point in its life. House jacks now support the central beam of the house. I am assuming the termites also chewed through the heart pine since quite a bit of it has been replaced. There is sign of damage around one of the registers as well, but it is covered by the vent. So two sides of the living room have newer pine floors, as does the part of the floor that used to be open for the oil heater.

Once all the sanding was done, we used a non-toxic oil and stain to finish the floors. It is called Monocoat, and we have been very impressed with it. We rented a floor buffer to apply it, which was a huuuuge adventure. Chris had a lot of trouble maneuvering it around the uneven surface. It would bounce around and slam into walls. It was terrifying and hysterical at the same time. We eventually gave up and finished the rest by hand. It’s important to know that the oil sinks into the floors so quickly that if left for more than a couple of seconds it will leave lines. We learned this right off the bat. Chris told me he was ready, so I poured some oil on the floor. THEN he realized what a difficult task it was to get the buffer moving in the correct direction. Thankfully, it’s by the door and will be covered by a door mat. Lesson learned.

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Painting

I hate painting. I really do. I painted our entire house in Riverside by hand, and thereby developed a passionate dislike of painting. Of course, these older homes have been poorly painted over so many times that it makes my life much more difficult. So far, in both the Riverside house and the Lexington house, peeling paint has been a real issue. Dirt and grime isn’t cleaned off, someone applies a cheap paint, and you wind up with a world of headaches. So it goes.

In Riverside, we painted everything white because we were going for a more modern look. This time around, I wanted a warmer, aged feel.The house was built in the 20s and added on to two or three times. It has a rear addition, a front addition (not really an ‘addition’, they just enclosed the front porch), and a 2nd level addition. I want to restore as much character as possible. Some of the 5″ trim remains, but that’s about it.

I thought gray would be a nice tone on the main level. The house is quite bright, with lots of large windows. I figured I could go with a somewhat dark color without it feeling dreary. I was vacillating between two tones when Chris shouted, “That one!” We are those impatient people who go to the store, buy what we want, and leave. Which can lead to a series of mistakes.

We went with Benjamin Moore Natura (a zero VOC paint) in San Antonio Gray. Thankfully, we were able to snatch a paint sprayer belonging to Chris’ dad which made things go a lot faster. We weren’t interested in salvaging the floors, and we purposely waited to ‘move in’ until the house was painted so we wouldn’t have to worry about damaging anything. We just hit everything with gray paint. I was pretty nervous when it started to go up, and I hated it after it dried. I was nearly in tears thinking we spent all this money on fancy paint and we were just going to have to start all over. I started to calm down once the trim was painted and subsequently lost it again when we removed the painter’s tape and the paint came with it. Grrr, you old houses!

A week later, I repainted the trim and surrounding wall. And the paint dried a different color. I have no idea why, but it doesn’t match, even when I try to feather it in. So, yet another thing to add to the list will be repainting at some distant point in the future when I can stomach it. Don’t use painter’s tape on old walls. It just isn’t worth it.

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Removing trim in the back addition while the first coat of paint dried.

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Anyway, I do think the gray will work once I finish the decor and furnish the room. Also, removing the enclosure on the porch will help to brighten things up.

Park City, UT

I met up with my family in Park City, UT, to do some climbing over the summer. We were there five days, but weren’t able to climb for two of them thanks to a huge cold front. It snowed non-stop on one day, and was extremely cold and rainy the other. We had a good time nonetheless, and plan to do a lot more climbing in the SLC area in the future.

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This was the first day of climbing. We ventured into the Little Cottonwood, but weren’t there long.

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Confidence inspiring.

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Thankfully, Dad packs everything but the kitchen sink. David took advantage and borrowed Dad’s rain pants.

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We only braved the storm through a couple of routes.

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Second day was spent at American Fork. It was quite cool in the shade and the rock was still wet from the last two days. My dad took a nasty spill before we called it quits and tried to find a sunny crag. Following two hours of bush whacking, we gave up all hope and went into town to climb indoors.

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The final day was the best. If anything, it was too hot.

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My brother and I climbed this stout 5.11 in the Big Cottonwood. Dad gave it a solid effort, but the sloper crux came at the beginning. It felt solid v3-v4, suggesting this sucker was quite a bit harder than its given grade.

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On the final day, we went on a nice hike before flying back to Indy. The views were spectacular.

New House

Well, we bought a new house in Lexington, KY. It’s definitely a ‘fixer-upper’.

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It has good bones, but needs a lot of help. The upstairs is an addition as is the back bedroom. It has been a rental property for a lot of its life and hasn’t been well kept. It was built in the 1920s. Many renovation diaries to come!