Life has some pretty crazy twists and turns in the last couple months. This time around the story starts with my epic skiing accident that crunked out my left knee, then delves into the making of The Island Volume One, and then follows my last month of country hoping out here in Europe. Life is good! I hope you all enjoy!
Foreword and Forever Island - David Graham
Back in March I went skiing with my bro’s Brett Lowell and Chad Greedy at my local resort Eldora up in my old hood Nederland. I had just finished the Bridge of Ashes rig out in Elkland, and was enjoying the much-needed respite from the process of projecting and hauling copious amounts of pads around the Front Range. Doing something other than climbing rules, and the precious Vitamin D found on the slopes does shadow people wonders.
We were cruising around the trees, doing some fun runs, and jumping around the snowboard park; the crew was happy! I was doing my thing, working on my 180 transitions, the snow was super wet and really slow, so getting rad wasn’t really an option. It was too be a mellow day on the slopes.
But we all know that’s not possible. Going skiing and being mellow is like having a conversation with people who are using their iPhone’s. For some people this isn’t so much of a problem, and for some people like myself this it’s a massive problem. I need to get cray apparently. A reflexive action, once skies are strapped to my feet. It’s the number one reason I don’t ski a lot.
The over psyche, the urge to get “rad”, these are major issues when skiing, if you aren’t really as good as you think. It can spur on catastrophic consequences. It can be really bad.
As the day continued, we naturally started feeling more rad. I was zoomin’ around, Chad was doing some 360’s, so we stepped it up a notch and tried to do some more dangerous things. Brett toppled near a barrel jump and whacked his head. His goggles fell off and it looked super painful, but the omen went unnoticed. Chad did the rainbow rail like a boss, and I did a big iron cross off this ramp over some rail.
It was dodgy, but we were solid. I should have just gone back to the lodge and called it a day.
It was getting late. I decided one more run would kick ass. Bad call…
I decided to try and hit this jump on the flats we’d sesh en route to the park (this is the Eldora Park BTW. LOL) skating along to gain speed as fast as I could with my crunk 1990’s rental skis in order to get the minimum speed necessary to clear a gap. I launched, lost my balance, landed slightly more left then expected, went off another little bump in the shadows into some deep wet snow, started turning, ski boot didn’t release then CRUNCH CRUNCH!!!!
Disaster had struck.
My knee buckled in two directions. A feeling of massive trauma and severe pain in my femur confirmed what had just happened. I had done something very wrong to my knee and I felt like I had almost broken my leg. Exasperated, shocked, I inspected the damage. I was freaking out. The damage seemed severe. My knee was numb, it hurt, dull deep pain coursed into my mid section, it was time to bail. I was only certain of one thing, I was not getting in a Ski Patrol sled, that wasn’t necessary, and immediately I started to ski down the slope on one foot. This somehow worked, and my knee joint didn’t fall apart, giving me hope that things weren’t worst-case scenario. Chad shuttled me back to the house as the real pain hit. Ice, fear, terror, TV, couch, depression…memories of what ensued are blurry…I was crushed. Sleeping felt impossible. But I could walk. A little bit. It couldn’t be that bad. I needed to see a doctor. I should have gone to Elkland. FML.
The next day I wasn’t sure how devastating the injury was. ACL? MCL? Meniscus? All of the above? I was certain it wasn’t anything too devastating, as my knee didn’t just fall apart. It wasn’t deformed. I could limp about. Thumbs up and game on. It could have been worse. I could have broken my leg. At least I had just had my best climbing season in my life. I had a solid year and a half run of progression, and I needed some rest anyway. Fortunately I had just ended my run. Now I would get to rest.
At least I had lots of work to do. Work I would probably most certainly continue putting off. I had been rock climbing too much over the last months, procrastinating computer use, temporarily disregarding my future.
I realized that the best-case scenario for me would be to use this time off from climbing wisely. Take one month off, kill off the epic To-Do list, and then start in on some cross training and rehab the shit out of my knee.
For the first time in my life, an injury didn’t mean ultimate ruin. It wasn’t the end of my life; it was actually the start of a new one.
A safer one with stronger knees, and no gap jumps.
A more successful one where work gets done, and projects that aren’t on rocks get sent and not discarded.
Getting injured was actually motivating. What was happening? Had I evolved? Become wiser? Did I get those Saturn Returns?
Whatever had happened was very important. A new page in my life had just been turned, and I actually noticed it turning. The sensation one feels when using the expression “game on” engulfed me like a cloud consuming a peak. I felt my facial expression morph into one that I saw in the movie The Social Network, radical motivation to succeed and do something everyone told you couldn’t, a potentially false sense of confidence, but a genuine one, even if partially unfounded in reality. I liked it and decided to run with it. Figuratively, not Literally.
Cameron Maier and I had been toiling away trying to compose a watchable version of the first film from the Island Trilogy, an intended video series we filmed with Jon Cardwell, Isaac Caldiero, Seth Giles, and Chad Greedy during the 2009 and 2010 sport climbing season out in Europe. I had attempted to produce this film around four times with different editors and failed every round. I tried multiple with Jon Cardwell. I tried with Nathan Bancroft. We couldn’t realize the story. We didn’t understand how to convey the idea we wanted to share.
Every time we came up short, the motivation for the project dwindled. Like a glacier melting away, a giant valley or ravine would be all that was left, like a giant empty space to remind us that was something once there. Something that seemed so conceptually grandiose at one point seemed evolved into something tedious and unacceptable. The energy and psyche was melting away, the landscape was changing radically, morphing the horizon, leaving us with a memory.
However something changed in the fall of 2012, Cameron and I started to grasp how we could share the idea we wanted, even with all of the ridiculously crunk footage from the first three months of the trip. It would just be a lot of work.
What was to be the first movie, was also filmed the worst, and was missing the most material. We needed material from the adventure in order to show the epic, foreign, nomadic, perpetual-ism found in professional climbers lives, but we had massive technical difficulties; some files had been deleted, others corrupted, and the majority of what we really needed to use in the film was juts plain unusable, shaky and with bad camera settings.
We desperately wanted to turn this mess of data into this vision we shared. We evolved the original idea in respect to what we were lacking, and developed methods for telling tell the story with what we had to work with. We had lots of music Scott Schorr and I had been created, more confidence, and most importantly, a theory of how to make these films a reality.
The last clump of ice from that melting glacier I spoke of began an incredible reversal. Replenished and powerful, it regained it shape and volume, and began to grow. Bigger than ever before, it began to reshape and evolve the landscape, and it was again a spectacle. A living, breathing specimen of beauty that bounced back like only a non-littoral metaphorical glacier could.
As I was injured, I had the chance to actually commit to the project. I wasn’t trying to combine full days of climbing with night sessions of editing, I wasn’t trying to fly anywhere or explore any new zones, I was actually trying to finish off the first piece of the puzzle. It was an ironic relief. I realized that all my strengths in finishing off my projects in climbing could be applied to other types of visions. This project was going down. It was getting sieged. And it did.
As my knee injury evolved I saw some physicians and went through the motions to figure out what had happened. It was confirmed that surgery was not in my near future and no irreparable damage was done to the joint. I came away from the accident in pretty good shape considering how bad it could have been, and began climbing again. As Cameron and I were working on the film more then four times a week at this point, we had made massive headway, and liked what we had created. New complications arose however.
My imminent departure to Europe was confirmed when I agreed to an awesome new partnership with the Spanish outdoor apparel brand Trangoworld. The opportunity was one of a kind, and in hindsight one of the best decisions I have made in my entire career as a professional.
I agreed to do an event in Madrid at the King Kong Climbs gym on April 27th, which left us around 3 weeks to finish the movie. This new deadline was a shock to both Cameron and myself, as it meant we couldn’t just perpetually take our time editing and polishing our seemingly eternal film project. Decisions like how the film would get sold, how it should start and finish, and how on earth we could do those things were forced into being made, and the result was us double timing our workload. As the film wasn’t my only task at hand, I was getting stretched thin again. Even without climbing in the equation, it was hard to finish off the video. The Island was making massive progress with its short films we were producing, and we began working on the notorious 2.0 version of the website we had been dreaming about all these years. Along with my partner and web mastermind Sander Pic, we constructed a theoretical Launchpad for our websites’ future explorations, guaranteeing we could someday blast off and reach that realm we have been striving to explore since the dawn of this idea.
We finished the core edit in about two weeks. I was going to physical therapy, training at the gym, hanging out with my lovely girlfriend, and working on the film. Life was simple! We made so much headway we even had time to re-edit a number of the sections we done months earlier, doing the best job we possible good with the material at hand. Next came Color and Audio, which I am pretty sure we suck at. We regulated what we could over the last week and as my departure date neared we crunched down. We finished the film two days before I left, and watched it with a group of friends of for its first screening at Cameron’s house. Great Success!!!
With the actual termination of the film we had two other small products that were released as well. The Island Trilogy Trailer (http://island.io/7JNoN3ih ) was super fun to produce, albeit really challenging for us at the time, and conceptually difficult to realize. I used Modul8, a VJ software, to animate Sander’s artwork (http://plebeian.tv/#information) to the beat of a small intro song which I crafted with Ableton and Native Instruments Komplete (like all the songs I made that are in the film, found at https://soundcloud.com/the-island) that morphed into the PsiTrance song by Captain Hook, Liquid Hook. Cam controlled the edits, and we banged it out. It seemed to really get people psyched, and has been mentioned as the best climbing film trailer of all time (that’s right, we are PROUD!!!) The trailer we released for Island Volume One was an old edit Jon Cardwell had put together we like so much.
So enough talk about computer stuff and video jazz. I left the next day for Madrid feeling quite banged up. My knee was healing, but not as fast as I wanted it to. I felt frustrated by the constant pain while traveling. The airplane was heinous, and lugging the bags around was way harder then I expected. Feeling slightly disabled I met with my dawg Finuco Martinez, the mastermind behind many amazing climbing brands from the past, and the Boulder line produced by Trangoworld. Finuco brought me directly to the Desnivel library where I made a jet lagged Spanish interview with the notorious Dario Rodriguez. After that we cruised around downtown Madrid and checked out the scenery, rolled over to the climbing gym to set some boulders for the next days event, then hit the hay.
The Trangoworld event went great. We had a mini boulder comp, people chilled out, and the BBQ kicked ass. The people are super friendly at King Kong Climbs, and the legendary Oscar Martinaz joined up with Finuco and I to make the event kick ass. I shared the Island Volume One for its first public screening, and it was well received. The next day we quested out to El Escorial to try some classic hard boulders, and met up with a bunch of the local homies who make Madrid an amazing place to go climbing. Nacho Sanchez, a super strong Spanish climber joined up with us and we raged on scattered classics all the while battling with subtle snow flurries. I managed to send a classic Klem Loskot boulder called El Monstrou De Los Reglettas in a short session, an 8b I had always wanted repeat, obviously because Klem put it up.
The next day we hit up some zone I forgot the name of, maybe Zarzalejo, to try an 8b+ established by Nacho Sanchez. It was sick. As rainstorms passed, the wind robbed me of all my chalk. Finuco and I hung out in the rolling green fields with the granite eggs, and I battled with the boulder. After I destroyed my skin, landed badly on my hip, and ran out of chalk, we decided a to grab a beer. The boulder was left unclimbed, but I figured out my beta so I will have to return. We would be on the road early the next day to Val di Mello via Milan, meeting up with the Trangoworld Team, and praying for blue skies in Italy.
Fast forwarding through the shit Ryan Air flight, we landed in Milan and directly went to the café and enjoyed some baller ass Italian coffee, got picked up by our Italian Trangoworld associates and commenced the two hour journey to Val di Mello.
The Italian guys drove fast, so to take our mind of the danger at hand we all tried to spruce up our Italian skills; confirming how little we know, and how much we have to learn. The older folk power napped, and I made iPhone videos, we pulled up to our hotel finally in the beautiful granite laced valley that is Mello, and commenced with a much needed feast of pasta and pizza. Blanco, Nacho, Rebekka, Fermin, Ramonet, Oscar, to name a few, but our Spanish posse repped it hard.
The event was sick. For five days we cruised around in search of dry rock by day, sessioning anything that looked rad, and exploring amazing new rock much like the stone in Ticino. I climbed some awesome 8a+ boulders, some of which were quite tall, and all of them had moves that were awful for my knee injury. I survived everything, and topped out a bunch of rigs, and it was super rewarding to send some more boulders and actually feel sore. The sensation I was getting strong was amazing, something I hadn’t felt since that fateful day out on the slopes. I was getting fired up, and my Spanish, French, and even my Italian felt on point.
By night, we raged. I DJ’ed the first party with the Wild One, Phillipe Ribiere, and it was sick. We had a blast and played music late, everyone got drunk, and by the end I was exhausted. The next evening I shared the Island Volume One to more the 250 people and it was mind blowing. I almost shed a tear.
It was incredible to see all the hard work that we had put into that film being appreciated and enjoyed, by people who might not even be rock climbers. We had actually done it. Made a film that people can watch. And I saw that in Val di Mello for the first time.
The next night we made an improv “anti-party” in response to the death metal band which had been slotted for the evening and was polluting the magical valley with death metal vibes. I played a set I was really happy with we moved down to the big tent for the mega party which caps off the event and danced the night away. We all got crunk, it was hilarious seeing everyone let loose! The Spanish partied hard, the Italian people raged and the rain held off for the festivities. Val di Mello was in its prime.
The next day people were brutally hungover; especially our crew since we went for it pretty hard. Most people took off without looking back, the event was over, it was time to go home. But being the die-hard bad ass climbers that we are, we went bouldering in our haggard state, even though it was raining again. We climbed some sick little 8a called Bad Ass and called it a day. We all had to move the next day to some new location, but shared the common destination of the Milan airport. We slept well, got up early, and began the pilgrimage once again. The Spanish went to Spain of course, The Finn went to Finland, and the American. He went Bulgaria.
I was invited to Sofia by Walltopia, a badass wall company that is currently taking over the the climbing wall world. I really like the crew of people they have working at the company, and the owner Ivaylo is one of the most interesting, motivational, and entertaining people I have ever met.
There was a massive sales meeting, which I was quite unbeknownst of, the main reason I had come to Bulgaria was because Ivaylo and my friend Adam Koberna had suggested it, and Walltopia was interested in working with me as an athlete. I had never been to Eastern Europe before this point, and had been looking forward to it for months. The possibility of partnering with such a visionary company, to work with such smart passionate people, and to come to Bulgaria and see somewhere completely new, was inspiring.
My homies were there as well! Mike Beck and Chris Sharma were some of the first faces I saw upon arriving at the pimp ass 15 story Novotel in downtown Sofia, and we were immediately whisked out rock climbing into the rainy mountains.
It kicked ass.
From the moment I landed in Bulgaria I was doing something. It was a busy agenda: sitting in on fascinating meetings where real business actually happened, going climbing on sick alpine granite and exploring the immense bouldering potential, eating awesome food all the time at all kinds of different restaurants, and partying at some baller little venues out in the heart of Sofia. We also got to check out the amazing new sci-fi looking Boulderland gym Walltopia was just finishing up. The beautiful and crazy new gym uses LED lights instead of tape to mark the holds of the individual problems, and resembles some scene out of a Tron movie, blue and purple slashes of light replace paint, the ceiling twinkles like the night sky.
The LED system is interconnected with the Internet, implying that the day these walls move to other countries, people in gyms all over the world will be able to simultaneously climb on the same rigs, and try the same sequences. You wanna try Daniel Woods current project? Load it up. Groundbreaking! It makes me wanna climb in a gym more! It’s the future of gym climbing.
It was time to move forward. The weekend in Sofia couldn’t have been better, but it was time to go climbing. It was like a right of passage; I had become a Walltopia Athlete, and seen yet another place I had to return to. I can’t wait for all the work I’m going to be doing with this company, and returning to such a nice country.
I really like their style.
I had a flight back to Milan early on Sunday, we had a big rager the night before to celebrate the end of the meetings so I was psyched to get some rest. I felt extremely haggard, but made it back to Italy, journeyed between airports on buses, gathered my rental car, and found Nalle Hukkataival. We both flew back to Italy for one reason: to try some sick shit in the mountains of Switzerland. That feeling of “Game On” blended with utter fatigue, was priceless. However, it was even more emotional to cross the border of the country that banned me three years ago. A feeling of relief set in as we drove through the brisk mountains, questing towards Magic Wood.
We woke up to rain, used the Internet while drinking coffee and saw that the next ten days were all with the same icon. The brutal rain icon. This was very bad. We had to move to the south central zone of Switzerland in 7 days, after switching out our rental car for a new one in Milan, so we didn’t have too much time in this region. The situation looked grim, the locals explained that everything was soaked, and it had been raining for months.
We went out bouldering to see for ourselves. The rumors were true. Everything was wet. We decided to try things anyway, psyche was so high, and we needed to climb. We worked some stuff in the Darkness roof. It was too wet. We went to Practice of the Wild, and despite dripping water, we made good progress, and gave up once it was too wet. We worked La Force Tranquil, another 8c, but that too became too wet. We felt fit, we felt like the boulders were possible. That meant nothing. The boulders were wet.
After a couple days pretending the climbing was ok, the weather became so bad that the forest reached the point of complete saturation. Everything was 100% soaked. We decided to change the venue up, chasing the Fhoen the storm had generated. A quick stop in Murgta, allowed for some dry conditions. Nalle managed Enltinge in a quick session, but the storm broke through the mountains, and we climbed in the rain the rest of the day on some 8b until everything was again too wet.
The next day we cruised to Silvretta in Austria to try Anam Cara. We survived a customary pre climbing Schnopps shot from the farmer who owned the “hotel” we checked into, then found the boulder amidst some snowy ski slopes. Splitter conditions, we felt blessed! It was our first chance to climb when it wasn’t raining in a long while, so we climbed all evening into the darkness, coming close on the boulder. The forecasts were expecting sun the next day so we left our pads, hoping for a morning send session before bouncing to Milan, then driving to Verbier.
We awoke to brutal rain and saw that a giant death cloud consumed the bouldering area with blizzard conditions. We hiked up through the storm, got our pads, starred at the soaking piece of rock we wanted to send, then hiked down. We drove to Milan, got our new car, drove to Verbier and settled in with old friends. The next day we checked the forecast and saw the grim news. Ten days of rain again.
We were to be meeting Kyle Berkompas of Chuck Fryburger Films to make a segment about trying this incredible project I found back in 2006. The boulder is something like two 8c sections in a row. The first part isn’t much of a problem on its own, and the second part is most likely solid for 8c and has its own start. I imagine the boulder linked together is harder then 8c, so its safe to say it’s a realistic next step in the overall difficulty of bouldering.
We have been here in the rain for over ten days now. The weather was even worse than we thought, but we have been making the best of things by jumping between different valleys and micro climates in order to find climbable rock. I have spent three sessions on the big rig so far and have it in two overlapping sections, and Nalle has been taken down by some Swiss sickness. Since the last day I climbed there, it snowed nearly a foot up around the problem, and the mega project has become 100 percent saturated by the rain and snow that has fallen. The lower valleys are now filled with fog and rain, and whatever rock was climbable, is now very wet.
But don’t worry friends!! We are professionals, and we’re going to figure this out! The rock IS going to dry over the next week because the sun is coming soon. We’re gonna send all the sick ass projects under the pressure of our last week in Switzerland! Look forward to the story of what actually happens here in Switzerland in the next post, and look for even more current news at www.island.io
Blue Skies Amigos y Amigas!!!!
Don’t forget to check out the Island Volume One!! It can be purchased here http://island.io/7JNoN3ih, and why not check out my Instagram as well, my name is Dave_Graham_