Abbey Smith: June 2010 Blog
Eleven days. 279 hours. Eight destinations. 3,771 air miles on four planes. 1,214 road miles via one public bus, the Montreal Metro, golf carts, five taxis, two rental cars and three scoffers. Six different beds. Average of 3.5 hours of sleep per night. Two bags. One sprained ankle. This month was a dizzying adventure of Formula One racing, rock climbing, video shoots, decadent dinners and a Utopian retreat.
On June 10, my journey began in Montreal, Quebec for the Canadian Grand Prix. Our Flat Out film crew of Alex King, Eric Koretz and I went to document the talented and daring 22-year-old professional driver JR Hildebrand
, of Sausalito, California, through his weekend racing the iconic 1976 ex-John Watson Penske P4 in the Historic Grand Prix race. This was a special weekend: both the historic and modern Formula One cars raced on the fast and challenging Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, situated on man-made island in the St. Lawrence River, with uncertain weather and lively grandstands.
This was my first modern Formula One race -- and it was an exciting one. The 25-year-old British racing champ Lewis Hamilton pleased the crowd with an extraordinary qualifying lap to claim pole position by pushing the limits of his McLaren until it ran out of fuel on the back straight and had to be rolled off the track. Following the F1 qualifying session, the Historic Grand Prix
emerged in their original livery, grace and speed and made an impressive showcase of how F1 racing used to be in the sixties - mid-eighties. JR had a commanding performance in practice and qualifying that landed him in pole position. Unfortunately, on lap two during a cat and mouse chase with Dan Marvin driving the elegant Brabham BT44, the Penske’s input shaft broke and pulled JR out of the race. Not good for JR, but great for TV!
The following day, I got the opportunity to watch my first modern Formula One race from a catered box seat on turn one. There were no safety car interruptions and each racer gambled on tyre and pit stop strategies that made for a thrilling race. Even though the legendary vintage cars are simpler and more aesthetically pleasing, the modern cars are jaw-dropping fast and driven to the absolute max. Both are a breathtaking display of technical innovation, speed skill, and bravery. In the evenings, we strolled around the city’s restaurant districts that were overrun with rambunctious motor enthusiasts and live music. With great people, delicious food, an enchanting city and exciting race, this was the best of motor sports.
On Monday morning, sleep deprived, over-stimulated and toxic, I jumped into a cab, then flew on a 16-seater plane from Montreal to Hartford, Connecticut and drove straight to Brooklyn Boulders
in New York City to join the 2010 Road to the Nor'easter
shoot. There I found Joe Kinder
and Joe Iurato
collaborating on a spectacular mural on the back wall of the gym. Joe Iurato intricately stenciled the Tapes ‘n Tapes lead singer Josh Grier from an image taken at the 2008 Nor’easter event and Kinder added a chaotic swarm of birds flocking from the guitar strings. From there Pete Ward of NE2C
, the film crew Tim Kemple
and Hennie Van Jaarsveld and I cruised around the city connecting with the people and places that inspire the annual outdoor sports/music/conservation festival coming to Loon Mountain in Lincoln, New Hampshire this September 24-26. In the city that never sleeps, neither did I.
The next day, Pete, Kemple, Hennie, Sonnie Trotter and I escaped the concrete jungle to regain sanity and shoot video at the Gunks in New Paltz. As soon as we pulled into the park, the travel induced delirium faded into psych for climbing. This was my first time to the Gunks, and despite my busted ankle, I enjoyed a tour of the boulders from locals Russ Clune and Al Diamond.
Once the shoot was over, Vanessa Compton rescued me from Pete Ward’s apartment in Northampton, Massachusetts and transported me to Greensboro, Vermont. After our season in Hueco Tanks, Vanessa disappeared to northern Vermont for the summer -- and now I know why she has no desire to leave. She lives in a Utopian village with an art studio onsite, flourishing garden, tranquil lake, accessible farmer’s markets, quality climbing, and peaceful solitude. She’s disconnected from the industrial food grid, cut out the middleman and goes direct to the farmer to purchase local, seasonal and organic ingredients. Surrounded by lush farmlands and like-minded people, it’s easy to eat and live healthy. After the string of long days, late nights, minimal exercise and irregular eating patterns of fasting to purging, I was ready for a vacation.
The first night we enjoyed a local farm-to-table dinner of mussels, calamari, fiddlehead ferns and fresh green salad at the acclaimed Claire's Restauran
t, which will host a collection of Vanessa’s art for two months starting in July. After a good night of sleep, I work up and immediately fell into my natural rhythm. In the mornings we focused on art and in the afternoons we played. We visited Smuggler’s Notch, just outside of Stowe, for an afternoon of bouldering. Climbing on new rock is always an adjustment. At first the slick granitic schist holds and psychedelic swirls were hard to read, and the oppressive humidity and incessant gnats were maddening. But as soon as I left the pad, and focused on my grip and movement, all the daily stress and outside distractions vanished. I was impressed by the solid rock, comfortable holds, technical footwork, and fun, steep angles that require core tension and precision. The best part about Smuggler’s Notch is you can see your car the entire time. The boulders are strewn alongside a super narrow winding road and nestled in a dense forest. After struggling through the warm-ups, trying to trust my wobbly ankle and not fall, I got into the grove and managed to flash the ultra classic Pork Belly
(V8). With good friends and attentive spotting, I have no fear of falling.
The next afternoon we made a short jaunt to the politically radical Bread & Puppets
museum on a farm in Glover. We toured the two-story barn showcasing almost five decades of enormous paper-mâché and cloth puppets that were once used in anti-war protests as well as choreographed performances in indoor and outdoor theaters across New England. We were lucky enough to catch a sneak peek of the powerful mood created by the puppets during a dress rehearsal in the Dirt Floor Theater aka Paper Mâché Cathedral. I identified with their philosophy: “ART IS FOOD. You can’t EAT it BUT it FEEDS you.”
On my last afternoon in Vermont, we unfortunately got rained out of Smuggler’s Notch, but the day was saved by shoe shopping, a picnic in the park, tour of the Ben & Jerry’s factory to taste the new flavor Boston Creme Pie, and a stroll through Church Street, sister to Boulder’s pedestrian mall Pearl Street. In the end it was hard to board the plane in Burlington; this was one of the best trips of my life.