My Legs Hurt (aka the Winter Solstice Quadrathalon)

Giving up right now would be really, really easy. There is no prize at the end of this. No time to beat, and if being honest, I don’t even know exactly when I started this morning. Sometime a little after sunrise I guess. I should just give up, it would be the smart, rational thing to do.

But I don’t. I clear my head and push my skis a little further up the hill. I dip my paddle and twist my torso, propelling my little red kayak forward just a little more. I keep running, taking that next step down the icy trail, even if my run is basically exaggerated walking at this point. I get back onto the bouldering problem and try again. Why? Because today I decided to do something stupid.

While I’m not new to ridiculous ideas, a quadrathalon of outdoor sports on the 2016 winter solstice is one of those head-scratchers that even I don’t have a very good explanation for. I guess something about taking the shortest day of the year and packing with sunrise to sunset adventures felt like it might teach me something. Either that or I’m just more of a masochist than I realized and just wanted to kick the shit out of myself.

The plan, which I hatched the previous evening, was to max out a day on Vancouver’s North Shore. First, I would splitboard up to Brockton Point and ride down Mt. Seymour. Then, I would drive to Deep Cove and kayak a lap around Jug Island. Out of the ocean and back at the car, I wouldpeel out of my dry suit, stash my gear and trail run up to Quarry Rock. Last, after a short break to shovel some food in my mouth and chug a coffee, I would go climbing. It being a particularly wet and snowy winter, this meant a session bouldering at the Hive, a North Vancouver climbing gym. According to my phone’s weather app, I would have a little over 8 hours to do it all.

The rules (which, if I’m being honest, I made up mostly as I went) were simple. I would start from my house in East Vancouver once the sun was up. This was more the result of forgetting to plug my phone in and having no alarm to wake me than a pre-planned rule. The second rule, was that I had to finish everything by the time the sun started setting. The proverbial starting gun would be when the friendly barista at the coffee shop near my house placed a piping hot americano in my hand, and the finish line was when the bartender at Deep Cove Brewing handed me a cold beer at the end of the day. For most of the “events”, completion was finishing a trail or looping around some landmark. To finish the climbing leg, I had to climb 15 bouldering problems, all at least a V2 difficulty or higher.

Coffee in hand, car loaded with gear, I immediately ended up stuck in traffic. Crawling along Highway 1 towards the Iron Workers Memorial bridge, I started to worry. My 8 hour window was quickly turning into a 7 hour window, and if the traffic kept up, it was looking more like 6.

Thankfully, it cleared on the north side of the Burrard Inlet and before long I was drawing quizzical looks for why I had brought a kayak to a ski resort. Thankfully, only one father decided to ask me, in perfect dad joke inflection, if I was sure I was in the right place.

The mountain was a sea of grey, the pacific northwest fog so thick it reduced visibility to around ten feet in any direction. The snow had a thick, icy crust, having melted in the previous afternoon’s sun and refrozen overnight. I tuned into the silence of the winter woods and kept plodding up, my splitboard’s skins carrying me up the hard packed trail with relative ease. Apart from one ecstatic dog that would sprint past me, then back to his snowshoeing owners somewhere behind me every twenty minutes or so, it was an uneventful start to the day.

Legs starting to burn ever so slightly, I topped out Brockton Point, snapped a photo, clipped my board together and rode down the still icy slopes of Mt. Seymour Resort back to my car. One leg down.  

A quick drive landed me me in Deep Cove, where waterfront mansions and kitsch shops give way to the calmed entry to the unfortunately named Indian Arm, a stretch of the Burrard Inlet that turns sharply north into the Coast Mountains. I unloaded my red and black kayak, dropped it on a narrow sliver of pebble beach and stripped out of my snowpants and ski wear, pulling a neon green dry suit over my already sweat soaked thermal underwear.

As I launched the kayak, a small child on a walk with his mother commented that I “look like a giant Christmas elf” with the red kayak and the green suit.  

My energy was high as I started out towards Jug Island. In the summer, when I’m paddling regularly, the round trip takes about an hour, usually with a few minutes practicing strokes and rolls in the calm waters behind Jug Island. This time, my back starts hurting right as I pass out of the cove into the wind-whipped crossing. The waves are small, maybe reaching two foot swells, but I’m out of practice and the seat in my kayak broke in summer, leaving me with a jury-rigged solution that provides little to no back support. That’s about the time I remembered that I forgot to put a pump and paddle float into the boat before leaving home. Capsizing at that point would have really sucked.

I managed to keep the boat upright and finish the lap, passing a curious harbour a few feet off my to left on the last stretch back to the shore. It seemed friendlier than the seals I encountered in the summer, when the cove is packed with paddlers and tourists

About halfway into the run, the pain starts. My legs protest, my feet start to slip on the icy trail and my stomach reminds me that I haven’t eaten anything since early morning. On top of that, I'm pretty sure I was dehydrated. I put my headphones on, turned up a podcast and pushed through the final stretch.

By the time I get to the climbing gym, I’m worked. I’ve thought about quitting a few times before, but walking into the bouldering gym is the first time I really stopped to consider it. The last three “events” were all outside, adventuring in nature.

If I could go climb some actual granite nearby, that would be great, but nothing is going to be dry enough to even attempt. Maybe I should just go to the brewery. Doesn’t finishing in a gym sully this whole tihng?

I’m making excuses, a lot of them, but the truth is that I’m just exhausted. I force myself to get out of the car and into the gym, where I struggle warming up on some easy bouldering problems. Fuck.  

No one else in the gym knows what I’m doing. And, if they did, I doubt any would really care. I don’t blame them, it’s a pretty stupid idea. Although, a lot of climbing probably seems like stupid ideas to the rest of the world, particularly the one-upmanship on the leading edge of bold climbing.

“Oh, you climbed that giant piece of granite? I’m going to do it faster and with less safety equipment”.

“Well then, I’m doing to it without a rope altogether”

“Ok, then I’m going to do it without a rope, but I’m going to base-jump off the top”

But, while these things might seem stupid, at least they’re usually pretty extraordinary, or in far flung places. I, on the other hand, was falling off easy boulder problems because I decided to spend a Wednesday punishing myself a 45 minute drive (30 with no traffic) from my house.

There’s nothing herculean about the effort I’m put in. The mileage I traveled on each leg, be it on snow, water or icy, muddy trails, was in the single digits – somewhere around 25 kilometres in total. The climbing wouldn’t have been hard on real rock, let alone pulling on plastic. And, at the end of it all, there’s a brewery next door and take out Thai food on the way home.

Despite knowing all this, and knowing that I could walk away at any time and no one would have any idea I quit, I kept going. Sore, tired and starting to get a little bit loopy, I pushed through 15 bouldering problems. Then did a few more, bolstered by the shot of adrenaline I get for finishing the whole day.

I was sitting at the brewery beside the climbing gym, drinking a spruce tip black IPA by 4:05 p.m.. The sun setting, I asked myself; did I learn anything important today?

Not really.

But, I did figure out something to write about this week. So I guess I did learn something; sometimes getting over writers block means skiing, kayaking, running and climbing in a single day, which is cool, I guess.

My legs hurt.

Cameron Fenton