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Peaches Preaches: Battling the Bubble

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“You walk without a sense of purpose,” a Berkeley bar manager once told James “Peaches” Lucas before firing him. A dedicated climber who spent 15 years living out of caves, tents, and then a Saturn station wagon to pursue the sport, Lucas stumbles through life but marches to the boulders, crags, and walls. Peaches Preaches is his monthly column.

“Maybe we should name the potholes,” I told Justen Sjong. For the third day that month, we met at 6:30 a.m. and drove to our sport project on the Bastille, in Eldorado Canyon. His Volkswagen van bumped and swerved on the dirt road. Massive, freighted-down trucks carrying spring water for delivery and constant traffic erode the road. The small town of Eldorado Springs deliberately neglects the road that bisects it and runs into Eldorado Canyon State Park for long portions of the year, to slow visitor traffic through town.

Justen Sjong follows the author on their Eldorado Canyon sport link-up. Photo: James Lucas

At the base of the Bastille, Justen swung his arms in circles, trying to get blood into his digits for the first pitch. Ten feet of crack climbing lead to the first bolt, a tiny finger dimple of a crimp, and a few smears on Madame Guillotine (5.12c). As an early morning Eldorado maintenance truck drove by five feet behind me, he pulled the 5.12 “warmup” move, and continued to the crux at the fourth bolt, a mantel on small crimps followed by a difficult-to-clip bolt. He avoided a rest and a belay on the top of the Bastille Crack (5.7) and continued up runout 5.11 to a higher station, halfway up the 400-foot sandstone formation.

“On belay!” Justen shouted. I scrambled to put my shoes on, decided which layers I should shed, and started manically crimping. Even on toprope, this pitch scared me. I barely felt awake and wished I’d had coffee that morning, though I’ve never drank the stuff in my life.

As a drug, caffeine seems like an effective source of energy. For day assaults on El Cap, caffeine helps with endurance. I’ve dabbled in Shot Bloks and a few times with tea, but more often to get a caffeine fix I’ll drink soda. However, my marginal soda consumption has been cut short since moving to Boulder. In November of 2016, the residents of this chichi mountain town approved an excise tax of two cents per fluid ounce of sugar-sweetened beverage. At the start of July, I started paying extra for soda at Whole Foods. Having to count every penny just to live in Boulder’s suburbs, I gave up soda.

In 2014, a Gallup and Healthway survey of 189 metropolitan areas found that Boulder had a 12.4 percent obesity rate, the lowest in the country. In 2016, the same survey group found that the state of Colorado had an obesity rate of 20.2 percent, the lowest in the country. For the past 15 years, since they began the survey, Colorado has maintained its status as having the lowest obesity rates. So why is Boulder instituting taxes that will promote further weight loss? According to the city of Boulder, the expected $1.5 million of revenue generated by the tax in 2017 and the $3 million in 2018 will be allotted first to “the administrative cost of the tax,” and then after that, to health programs for low-income residents. While taxes on sweetened beverages help decrease consumption, having the tax in Boulder, a town with an extremely low obesity rate and a high average income, feels like a form of socio-economic discrimination.

After Justen led the second pitch, a short bit of 5.7 crack climbing and a traverse, I racked up the quickdraws for our finishing pitch on the Bastille’s steep upper headwall. Hairstyles and Attitudes (5.12b) follows a line of large holds to a break, then a difficult sequence of rounded holds to a pocket, then a short section of steep climbing, and then large huecos to the top of the wall. My first time on it, I struggled, attempting the slightly overhanging pitch as an afternoon thunderstorm rolled in. I’d left a bail biner when the lighting and the crimps overwhelmed me.

This time I knew the beta, and felt fit, having Mini-Traxioned the formation to suss the beta and from doing a bit of running on the First Flatiron.

On weekends from June 3 through August 27, the city of Boulder is running a pilot parking program in which visitors to its showcase Chautauqua Park will be required to pay $2.50 per hour for parking. They also posted no-parking signs on the streets around the park. But as the website says, “The Chautauqua Access Management Plan (Camp) will not explore limiting demand to the area, such as decreasing access to open space.” However, the paid parking and the limited bus schedule (7 a.m. to 7 p.m—no alpine starts or late descents) make climbing on the iconic Flatirons more difficult. Last year, I ran up the First Flatiron’s Direct Route over 10 times, aiming for a sub-1-hour time on the 1,000-foot 5.6 route. If I run hard enough to make my heart explode, I can keep the costs down to $2.50.

After topping out the Bastille, Justen and I traversed the top of the formation to Your Mother (5.12d), a steep, seven-bolt sport line. The iconic route appeared on the 5th edition, 1995 cover of High Over Boulder by Pat Ament and Cleve McCarthy. I went first, letting Justen rest a little longer. I grabbed loose flakes, gingerly clipped bolts placed in flakes, and climbed to the last bolt. Climbing volunteers, Justen included, had replaced all of the bolts on the three routes, except for the last one on Your Mother, which most people who send the route, skip. Scared, I clipped the old bolt, grabbed a left-hand crimp, and jumped to a right facing horn. I missed the hold and fell into space. After resting a bit, I figured out the move and climbed to the anchor. A few minutes later, Justen followed suit, but stuck the move, completing the Bastille sport project.

“Not bad for having a dad bod,” Justen said. He’d moved to Boulder over a decade ago, and like me had struggled with the “progressive” rules in the town. I wondered if I’d be able adjust to the community as well as Justen had, doing hard sport-climbing linkups, and somehow navigating the city’s ever-multiplying laws.

A week after Justen sent, I returned. Justen belayed me, though he had thrown out his back. I fired the scary Madame Guillotine, hiked Hairstyles and Attitude, and climbed up Your Mother, but failed at the last move to the jug. Maybe I could fit into the Boulder climbing scene—I just need to lose weight, run faster, and embrace the rules around the city. I needed to push harder to send the last little bit. Lowering off Your Mother, though, I wondered if it would even be worth it. The one thing I knew was that the best part about Boulder is complaining about Boulder.