escalando org interview

Interview: Revista Escalando

Recently Revista Escalando (Climbing Magazine in Spanish) did an interview with me about combining a traveling, professional climbing career with work for philanthropic programs like Escalando Fronteras.

Thank you so much, Camilo Castellanos and Revista Escalando! And thank you sponsors for supporting my passion in various ways, everywhere I go! Mad Rock Climbing, Kavu, GSI Outdoors, and Maxim Ropes.

Read the interview on Escalando.Org

English version below.

escalando org interview

Revista Escalando  – Escalando.org
Climbing with Tiffany Hensley

By Camilo Castellanos

For 6 months, this North American climber traveled together with her dog Tashtego to run through 30 states of the United States and more than 20 climbing areas, in a style of a simple life that gave her various life lessons. 

Hensley, like few climbers, has mixed hard competition training with a life of globetrotting. “Since I began climbing, at the age of 7, my life was balanced by the liberation of climbing and the weighted richness of learning. When the two sides are fully grown, they are dangling on each end of the stick I hold while walking the tight line above the world…”

What do you like about competition climbing?

Dedication. Since 1998, competing has taught me to dedicate myself, and has also taught me that we are all strongest when we share dedication with others, even our competitors. I believe this is the best way to channel our motivation, break our own boundaries, and push our own limits. 2. Which kind of climbing do you like the most? When I am completely in the flow of the movement, like when I think of nothing but the movement and the sequence. This a hard place to get to, and it feels like mediation, because climbing can compress the focus into a single focus on a single hard move, but as I explore the sport it seems to expand outward like the series of photos from the quark to the universe. I find bigger perspectives as I find bigger and bigger projects, ones that include more than climbing, but also people.

You went on a project and lived in your van for some months, how was that experience?

Incredible. It’s really hard to understand the vanlife if one’s never lived in a tiny space before. It feels like the world grows much bigger, because you spend so much more time outside your own “controlled space” and comfort zone. Traveling also really opens the mind to a perspective full of new possibilities and new resources, because it’s always solving small problems on the fly – and making decisions about what fits in your life. Also, to travel and see the difference organizations make in widely diverse cities, with entirely different cultures – like Canada and Mexico – opened my eyes to universal truths about community power and individual empowerment.

Which type of training do you think is the best for competition climbing?

The best training for competition climbing is found in The Circuit World Cup and Performance Magazine. If you haven’t looked at it, or heard about it, and you want to train for competitions, this has interviews with world cup competitors about the best way to train. In general, competition training is all-around training that works on your weaknesses. I have to train core and body tension, because I grew up climbing gymnastically and dynamically. And in general, the best thing to train are first, your finger strength, second, your shoulders and back, and third, your core. Bringing this all together with body tension and flexibility is a great start, if you are training to compete stronger. One last ingredient is the mind – as Fernanda Rodriguez, a climber in Mexico, says, “The only muscle you can always discipline, anywhere, anytime, is your mind.” And this is true – Eric Horst even says mentality is 30% of climbing.

How did you started climbing?

I start in a climbing gym when I was seven at a birthday part with other 1st graders. I didn’t want to leave the first day, and my mom obliged to bring me back the next day, and the next…until I went with friends, then got my own car.

What projects do you have now?

My projects recently have changed from short-term goals to long-term ones, mostly because school, injuries, and occupations. In August I broke my ankle, and 7 months later I’m learning to find meaningful life projects to substitute those hard grades. Currently I work a lot, because I love working for Mad Rock Climbing in the climbing industry, and when I’m not on a roadtrip or traveling, I hold a second job to pay the bills and save for the next big roadtrip. But my biggest project right now is Escalando Fronteras, working with a team that helps at-risk youth to grow a sustainable supportive community in the rough neighborhoods, beginning with Mexico. Although I’m training to come back to the World Cups one day, this is a project that means just as much to me, and part of the project is to bring some of those kids to competitive extreme sports, like rock climbing.

How have you seen the development of feminine climbing?

Women are closing the gap in climbing. There will always be the hard line between the basic anatomical differences, and we would not be women if we did not have our unique hormonal, behavioral and biological signature. But as rock climbing has as many styles and many disciplines as running, there are many chances for the development of feminine climbing to excel, primarily in endurance, the mental game, and perhaps just in my personal opinion, a certain beauty of style.

What do you think is the most important thing about traveling and climbing?

The education. Education is not a textbook, education is seeing and believing, living and experiencing, exploring with the hands and eating with the eyes. Climbing brings us traveling, and has the opposite extremes of a yen for the untouched and the competitive craze of the controlled urban closeness. I believe there are many sports in which we can explore the different disciplines and remain sheltered. Climbing is absolutely not one of them. Climbing gives us self-awareness, and traveling opens us to world mindedness.

Climbing Borders
How is working as a volunteer in Climbing Borders?

Working as a volunteer is a very genuine, life-changing experience; like workers in the “Banker to the Poor”, the local director Dr. Nadia Vazquez walked us through the neighborhoods on our first visit in order to see the world from the perspective of the kids. Genuinely hanging out with these kids brings volunteers into their world, their emotional turbulence, their frustration. Then makes me wholly aware of yourself and what you know or don’t know. The kids are always motivated to do something, and keep us on our toes.

What do you think is the most important thing of working with those kids?

For me, I see the most important thing is just being there, a mentor. It doesn’t matter who we are, or where we go – we could be skateboarders, or runners, or bikers – just that we are there for them. We talk, we listen, we guide them, and we’re there to offer a different perspective of the world so they can see outside their influences.

Do you think the project has saved those kids from involving with drug cartels?

There’s no doubt Escalando Fronteras makes a difference with the kids every time they go outside. From the first visit to the second, their behavior changes; their physical awareness grows; their attitude towards the mentors is tiny bit more open. I’ve taught climbing for 8 years to kids, adults, beginners, competitive athletes, and learned myself as a student from amazing teachers, and every climbing session builds character, strength, and self-awareness, because climbing is a channel for recreation, problem-solving, and self-expression. Even if there is no teacher in the room, the student needs to learn independently by adapting for each move, each problem, each style.

Which aspects of climbing do you think help the most to develop personal abilities?

Adaptation and self-awareness. Climbing helps them realize they can change, that the world can change, and that they can change with it by learning about themselves.

Do you think this program could be done in other countries?

Easily, I visited a program like it in Vancouver, Canada that worked particularly well, called Climb’N’Conquer, and was well directed by a community leader named Joseph Smith. With the use of any facility, even the outdoors (such as with CEU, Centro for Escalad Urbana in Brasil) anyone can be introduced to the sport, even once, and changed by the physical challenge, the community feel, and an unforgettable perspective of the world from above.

Which is the importance that famous climbers participate as volunteers?

The message: Don’t ever give up. Here’s proof you can be what you dream.

Famous athletes are only a part of the program, because volunteers are the labor of the operation and resources from donors keep the program working like a philanthropic machine. In fact, everyone who participates lends something of themselves to the mission, which is an incredibly selfless and thoroughly laudable.

The part about famous climbers in particular is that they are examples of dedication, they are heroes, they are role models. We follow their steps in our dreams; our heroes are who we think about when we are pushing our hardest. When we need inspiration, when we are starting to fail, we think of what our idols would do in that situation. My inspiration was Chris Sharma, and seeing him in my home gym regularly gave me an example to follow, which was that someone from a small town gym, a kid like me, could be the best in the world. A young snowboarder has a poster of Shaun White, a skateboarder of Tony Hawk, etc, and climbing has those same names for the growing climbing community that is reaching developing, rough and closed-off places.

Pro Climbers International was founded on this basis, that achieved athletes can impact and inspire those on their way simply by appearing in person – and it works. If a kids hears about someone being amazing, and they meet them, it’s a lifetime experience. It’s unforgettable, so it’s worth a lifetime of inspiration. And that moment stays with the kids whenever they feel tested.

Carlos setting up his wings.

The See-Saw

There are times in our lives when we are expanding the fastest, learning from our environment as quickly we can humanly imbibe these experiences and forging our path through the unknown of the future. In that endless moment, we don’t hold expectations, knowing that nothing is for certain, and we are small in this world.

This flow state is a balance, many factors in many sizes that counter and compliment one another, too many to count. We juggle these factors by tossing them in the air, some remaining in the air far longer than others and changing invisibly, while we catch and toss again those balls that came back to us. These factors may be focused to a balance of art and logic, business and pleasure, the taste of sweet and sour, in the simplicity of black and white.

Photos for Print Tiff File Format-1-10

Since I began climbing, at the age of 7, my life was balanced by the liberation of climbing and the weighted richness of learning. When the two sides are fully grown, dangling on each end of the stick I hold while walking the tight line above the world, I feel the flow: the liberation and richness in balance high on an independent point somewhere.

Photos for Print Tiff File Format-1-3

Here in Mexico I feel those sides balancing again. Almost every year there is moment where I feel light and full at once, with that liberation and richness, and as I sit high and see far from the elevated tip of the see-saw, the world becomes clear for a moment.

Praying to the wind.

Then the see-saw dips to the other side of the fulcrum. For the last 8 months, my ankle has been that fulcrum. My body impacts my mentality more strongly, sometimes, than my mind can impact my body. This is a strong connection athletes feel, grandly unique to people in a stage of a sedentary lifestyle.

When I feel pain, depression laps at the little island of my conscious and awareness dims like the screen on a cell phone, so after a long adventurous day of taking photos and moving non-stop, this ache pulls me from my mind into a cave that I can also explore, but in which I sometimes am lost.

Photo

As I become more familiar with this system of caves in the darkness, life becomes easier, and I learn to follow the fresh breeze back to the entrance where my friend self-awareness sits waiting on the other end of the see-saw.

Day with Paragliders

Praying to the wind.

Praying to the wind.

Today had a theme of discipline and caution.
Diego, Argentinian.

Diego, Argentinian.

I tagged along with Fer and Carlos to photograph their paragliding group in the pueblito Rinconada, west of Monterrey. Every launch held some suspense, and the Argentinian named Diego flipped up high and lost his helmet with a GoPro. I counted the seconds as the helmet dropped: almost twenty.

Check out the photos!

portrait old woman

The Fiercest Worrier

When I saw her, her face opined a view on the world,

As if on waking,
Was printed every morning at four am with lines of tiredness,
Blackened by the raise of a son.

At five, I see her stand on display,
Waiting for the commute train,
Her single headline furrowed
Above a flaring column from her temple,

At noon, the Business Section sniffs
The good taco stand gazpacho.

Dusk, the Obituary section crumples up
And soaks in relief in a hot pool of tears.

Ink runs south to her family in Mexico City
On two familiar railroad tracks across the bronze hilly desert.

 

 

“Van, Life, Food: Vantarian Eating on a Roll”

I have a project I’m working on, a tiny book about Vantarian eating for climbers (or really, anyone) traveling on the road and living in a house on wheels.

vantarian eating on a roll

“Van, Life, Food: Vantarian Eating on a Roll” will be vanlife-sized, with a number of crafty and quick recipes from simple hors d’van to vegvantarian scrambles.

Upload to FB (9 of 23)

The recipes will be contributed by more well-known #vanlife climbers who are currently or have spent a lot of time living on the road. So far 20 contributors have suggested awesome submissions, from the snap combination of Funyuns’N’Beer, a quick Seasoned Salmon from Paul Nadler, and fridge-free recipes from Dean Fleming, and a secret recipe from Jason Kehl.

Illustrations will be paired with the recipes, so each recipe has one small sketch of the contributor’s dish, visage, or home on wheels. If an illustration is not contributed, it will be sketched by the tiny cookbook’s illustrator, Clara Lopes.

coyotelou

Clara Lopes’ artwork on Instagram: http://instagramshare.com/UserDetails/26985853

Hopefully it prints before OR Show!

Anyway, just an update. Cheers all!

Tiffany

cropped-elote.png

Moving to Mexico

In 2013, with the help of sponsors GSI Outdoors, Mad Rock Climbing, and KAVU, I ditched a townhouse to live in a van on a six-month road trip around North America. The 2005 Dodge Sprinter was unconverted, so I slept for most of that time on boxes, and on cold days curled up with my border collie. In March, we came across Monterrey, Mexico…and now a year later and four months deep into a visa, I’ve found myself moving in, sharing rent and getting a work permit.

How did this happen? Why would someone from the USA move to MTY?

“Sometimes life is like a movie.” This comes to mind a lot lately, with all the serendipitous and incredible experiences I’ve had these past four months, working with unbelievably inspirational people. It’s actually a quote from Mr. P, a substitute economics teacher I had in high school who could beat-box and speak arabic, who also dropped this sentence on his teenage economics students as through the square classroom window they watched a new classmate with Turrets run around the yard hurling insults at bewildered teachers and karate chopping a small planted tree. Yes, I realized from then on… If you can take a step back and see life through a screen, or a window, life is just like like a movie: just as tragic, just as hilarious, and just as profoundly unbelievable.

What happened is that I found something unbelievable in Mexico, and it wasn’t the addicts and beggars, as one might think. Nope, all major cities – the US too, of course – have problems with poverty, and even worse, governmental neglect. What I found past the hovels without roofs and shantytowns hidden by flashy billboards, the thing that was unbelievable, was the people working to actually change these situations. A team was coming together as an organization and talking directly to sharp and restless youth in the tightly-knit, drug-laden neighborhoods. They were taking them climbing to give them a different kind of ‘high’.

In Monterrey, as other places, the doors are always open to situations we often hear about in the news, in books, and in movies…but through affluence or ignorance, we barricade ourselves inside invisible walls to stay blind to these discrepancies, feeling ourselves victims for witnessing the suffering because the sight is so painful to see.

Much as my step father refuses to admit they did anything useful, the months of traveling after high school opened my eyes to the invisible walls, the barricade; left me realizing how little I knew, and young I was; instilled in me a growing indignation at ignorance and suffering. When I was 14, and left the country for the first time, I saw how a child that grows up in urban Beijing thinks nothing of walking past beggars with feet swathed in cling wrap to display tuberculosis. They saw the beggar everyday; whereas I and my mother were shocked into mutual silence. At the time, I thought ignoring the woman was another form of maturity, an acceptance to what life brings, or God decrees, or whatever…

But each day, even to the present day, I grew more certain this was wrong to do and that unacceptably, undoubtedly, somewhere else in the world there was a solution for this woman – and also for the man without legs beside her, the old hag forcefully grabbing half-empty drinks from tourist’s hands, and the child without empathy; somewhere there was doctor willing to do a surgery, a therapy, a prosthetic to solve any problem…and education to cultivate those solutions.

I believe the biggest problem is the invidious belief that you can do nothing. That is the very worst fallacy of human nature. That last day before we left, I gave the man without legs the last of my trip money, and I hope I never grow up.

 

injury

A Monster Named Denial

Sinking deeper and deeper into that familiar feeling of crazy depression, my ankle felt almost worse.

For four months, I haven’t been able to climb without pain, and climbing is my very simple world. Am I losing grip on my 17-year-old passion, slowly and involuntarily? Is this the end? Should I finish up that business degree, take up art, and make strides toward my dream to open a climber cafe in a spanish-speaking country near a climbing area?

Quickly after getting back on track, I realized how my own denial had caused me to make serious mistakes.

Mistake One: The Adjustment Bureau

Denial took it’s first tottering baby step a few week after surgery, during a visit to the physical therapist. When I asked “How long until I can go for a run?” and the doctor’s answer was “Ah, well…” – I blinked, and my heart skipped a beat (already, denial was causing arrhythmia). The doctor continued: “Don’t even think about running until after 6 months. For now, try the stretches first, then maybe walking…then maybe swimming…” (Swimming? Was that hard?) “…and work your way up.” He was right, of course. Try getting the bike not to wobble, then you can think about the Tour de France. That next week, I was climbing and stepping for the first time on the spin bike. Alone, I pumped on the pedals and refused to stop pedaling, reading Climbing to pass a solid hour. If I’d told a friend to help me slow down, they might have seen how silly I was pushing so hard in a cast. And this was the problem: I should brought in all my friends to help me stay on track. Like an ‘adjustment bureau’.

Mistake Two: No Sleep ‘Til PT

I had three sessions of P.T. in the US before traveling abroad, and the trip couldn’t wait. My goals in Mexico included hiking for days with a heavy pack, jumarring camera equipment up trad lines, doing my first big walls, maybe even climbing a 5.14. When they set the second cast, I was ready to train again. Still on crutches, watching my boyfriend train while I couch potato-ed, reading possessed me. Training for the New Alpinism, Marathon Training for Beginners…these books and others spurned my soul to fly off to the start line and juggle dumbbells. How was I going to deal?

The problem was, I didn’t. I was helping myself prepare for the future, but not for the present. Week two, still in the cast, I was heel hooking on .12c and began making hour-long sprints on spin bikes, turning up the resistance as the ache in the Taylor fracture was overpowered by my addiction to endorphins.

Mistake Three: “Well…poopsicles.”

After arriving in Mexico for our four month project, I began holding the camera like a teddy bear in my arms, changing focus from my climbing to other things: drawing the mountains of the Mexican national park La Huasteca, drawing the streets, shooting video of the at-risk program, and aiming a naked lens at everything I see. So desperate to keep myself still one morning, I knitted a ridiculous small blanket while the boys made a go at Sendero Luminoso. But this was not the problem – knitting only gives me minor carpel tunnel and a tendon ache. The problem was that, however much I wanted to obsess and progress on climbing projects, I could not, and could not let go. (This had happened once before, after winning two micro-fractured heels from a fall onto concrete.) After a while, frustration set in, like an unwelcome roommate to the already cluttered space of my mind. Also settling into the upstairs was resignation, quick to step in when frustration took a break. So that between trips outdoors and time with the roommates, I felt sadness, homesickness, and disappointment. That wasn’t working either, surprisingly.

Then, the heavens sparkled and, suddenly, unicorns existed.

A friend offered to bring me to a physical therapy clinic, where she was rehabilitating a knee injury. I made the decision to drive with her that morning to Clínica Everest (aptly named), over a very appealing job opportunity teaching English. In the office, my friend pointed to my sneaker. “Look at how she’s walking.” It was dented to the left, as if Patagonia had integrated a gangster lean into the lefts of their athletic shoe line.

I was very surprised when the doctor offered two months of physical therapy. Though I walked like Captain Ahab (I do tend to have his tunnel vision, too) still, at the offer of two months, I thought “Well, is it that bad?” Clearly, denial was strong in this one.

So big thank you, Clínica Everest.

I’m thankful that visiting this PT clinic with a friend woke me up to the realization that I was straggling. We are always finding ourselves in ruts, and always find out ways out through the offers of kind people.

With the time remaining in Mexico, I hope to recovery enough to climb more of the beautiful routes in La Huasteca and continue going out with the kids on our trips. Maybe even send 5.13?

So if you are injured before a long trip to La Huasteca, El Salto, or Potrero and may need PT, visit Clínica Everest.
On The Facebooks: https://www.facebook.com/ClinicaEverest?rf=439585619389981

———-

P.S.
We are finding incredible people with enormous compassion who want to help Escalando Fronteras! If you’re reading this an want to help, we can always use more connections and donations. Contact us at escalandofronteras.org

Drawing – It’s Not Something I Do, But…

I’ve recently been inspired to use a new medium to share what I see in Monterrey, and sit down and draw places and people that we normally take photos of. Here, we took a slight detour from our usual route when we exit Huasteca, taking a short road that ended abruptly where it has been eaten by a hurricane, and rocks protected the drop off. Shacks and fences were made from scrap metal and wood, and trees and plants seemed to hold everything together to keep from being blown away. Although the street never got traffic, and was unremarkable, I wanted to try to capture the tacked-together scrap pieces, layer of pretty trees, and the mountain range Sierra de las Mitras in the background.

drawing-1

elote

Corn and Cement: The Taste of Monterrey

The bizarre and large flood plains that are Monterrey and the larger state of Nuevo Leon were originally dubbed “Extremoduro” by an early colonist, or “extremely hard”, and hold 5 million people, making it the third largest city in Mexico (behind Guadalajara and Mexico City). Cement is a highly visible part of the city: not only does the beautiful mountain range of Sierra las Mitras, which splits the city, have large visibly exposed quarries on both sides, but unpainted cinder blocks lay foundation for countless poverty polygons. During operational hours, the quarries’ factories belch diurnal dust in drifting plumes over the west end of the Monterrey.

Cement, in fact, can be tasted, smelled, and visible by the city’s inhabitants. The dust finds a way into everything, coating the sidewalks after a heavy rain, and leaving a similar silt layer of lime on the bottom of the boiled kettle.

Elote is the Mexican street corn, topped cheese, mayonnaise, a spicy cayenne pepper mix, and a slightly soured cream similar to France’s “crème fraîche”. The smell of elote, Monterrey’s perhaps second most salient ingredient, just a culinary topping to the sprawling cement sea, dances through one of the also richest cities in Latin America by escaping the tarps of corn stands from large cooking pots, curling in the nose of pedestrians, and snaking tiny tendrils through the streets of the barrios, not very far, into dark abandoned structures, through windows dark and empty like the eyes of long-gone addicts.

On hazy days, though I can’t actually smell it, I fancy the dust from the cement quarry must sift down from their plumes to collect in the furrowed streets to partner in the dance of the smell of elote.

Architecture

IMG_2610

A Description of Monterrey’s Poverty

I always remember having the luxury of an American life (perhaps with the exception of camping in the Buttermilks in Bishop for a month). Even when I road tripped in my Sprinter around North America for 6 months, my online job with Mad Rock covered the minimum of gas and food.

Every weekday morning at 6am I took the opportunity to use the bathroom, then bask productively, in a Starbucks café, enjoy free coffee refills with my earned Gold Star Level Rewards, and pound out several hours of work. Then I would continue my drive to the Grand Canyon, or up the California Pacific Coast, or off to The Chief, or down to New Orleans.This was America. Rich, warm, and full of surplus luxury. From those six months living in an aluminum can, I hold many fond memories of warm, cozy 24-hour joints filled with students, equipped with fast wi-fi, and offering beautiful views.

When my boyfriend and I moved into Monterrey, Mexico, the Starbucks may as well have been the Four Seasons. It had a history of being raided when the government was in turmoil.

For traveling rock climbers, northern México, needless to say, is a whole different story than the US and Canada.

The poorest parts of Monterrey are filled with urban flotsam and jetsam, an endless sea of city debris tossed overboard by the cement square ships, simple houses that flood the valley below the Cerro de las Mitras as though they were mollusks and mussels swept in by the hurricane several years ago.

Tumbleweeds, brown plastic bags discarded and filled with air that roll and bounce on the streets, follow the uneven pavement past glassless barred windows and doors. Those without bars, have the openings covered with thin crate pieces with faded cursive brands, resembling a capitalistic collage. A string of graffiti runs along the walls of the canal that separates the city, like an elaborate caption to a disparate picture of shacks and glossy glass buildings.

The feeling of walking through a poverty-stricken barrio like Lomas Modelo is one of resignation. In the barrio, there is no luxury, no aesthetics. The children make toys of what they find, like the leftovers of someone’s torn piñata or a deflated ball. The roofs of the houses are piled with trash and broken plastic chairs, flung there by the tide of poverty.

At night, the puddle of lights laps at the foothills of the mountains, where inhabitants can see the city’s nakedly exposed quarries.  Above the urbanization, in the air, a haze obscures the towering peaks of el Cerro de las Mitras, which are faded to near-solid opaqueness. This could be mining dust, pollution, or, on those drizzly days, a mixture together with high humidity, the water molecules trapping but not grounding the CO2 and other flighted chemicals.

The jarring image of poverty is unbelievable in Monterrey. Higher on the hills, the dark eyes of 10-story abandoned cement structures gaze emptily out at the city, and overgrowth hides the many dilapidated buildings between rich estates guarded by high walls, metal spikes and barbed wire.

There’s so much that can be improved here, but the general attitude towards humanitarian improvement is like that of a child who has too much homework to do over the weekend, simply drops it in the trash, and makes up an excuse to the teacher.

Though not everything can be fixed in the world, a program that focuses on the national park, on education, and on ethics can improve the mindset of many children, and at least bring the first step to the path of the city: self awareness.

Follow the Project at: http://www.projectwalle.com