Clouds hang heavy on a fall weekend in Slade, Kentucky, keeping climbing routes at the nearby Red River Gorge dry and mercifully cool.The weekend weather provides a short-term population bump for the town of 300, as rock climbers from around the country prepare to take on The Red’s sandstone walls.Most of the crowd will eventually end up at Miguel’s Pizza, a local establishment that’s been an integral part of the area’s climbing scene since the mid-80’s, when Miguel and Susan Ventura moved from Connecticut to Slade to buy into a co-op with a group of friends. Over the past 30 years, Miguel’s has transformed from a struggling ice cream parlor to a thriving establishment that serves as the unofficial basecamp for one of the most popular climbing destinations in the country.Climbers describe Miguel’s with the rhapsodic, religious fervor of someone returning from a pilgrimage. It’s a meeting place for the faithful, a sweaty, chalk-covered convention where terms like trad and GriGri are common shorthand rather than exotic insider terminology related to a suicidal pursuit, and a testament to the Venturas’ willingness to shape their space to the needs and preferences of a community. Cilmbers were often dismissed by other locals as hard partying dirtbags (in the most pejorative sense of the word), but Miguel broke the mold with hospitality. He forged friendships with local legends like Porter Jarrard and Chris Snyder, both of whom set many of The Red’s classic lines in the 80s and 90s, and his ice-cream parlor quickly became the go-to spot for visiting climbers in need of a space to camp, scout, and sort gear.Miguel’s patrons turned out to be lousy customers, but lively, welcome company. Business stayed lean for years, but Miguel’s became a natural hub for climbing activity at The Red, a spot to rest, debrief, share information, and recover. Miguel abandoned ice cream to sell pizza at Susan’s suggestion, and slowly converted loiterers into customers. The Venturas’ tolerance of their patrons’ “put it on my tab” economic philosophy and eccentric behavior allowed the nascent community to flourish, and primed Miguel’s for success as word of The Red’s imaginative, challenging, well-protected routes spread.The crowds showed up in the mid-2000s, spurred by the sport’s increasing popularity. Publicity from outdoor films and festivals sponsored by gear companies also drove new traffic. The Petzl Roctrip in 2007 gathered the best climbers in the sport to celebrate the opening of a new recreational access point in The Red, and generating some spectacular footage in the process.The facilities steadily expanded over the decade to accommodate newcomers, adding bathrooms, a dishwashing station, and a two-story pavilion complete with picnic tables and gear racks. The pizza, made with homemade dough and topped with garden fresh ingredients, remains too good for even the most frugal or calorie conscious to turn down. All this makes Miguel’s an essential part of the Red River Gorge experience.It’s a rare institution in the digital age, a place to untether from work email, grocery shopping, rec league soccer games, cable news, and other mundane, tedious aspects of modern life without abandoning the company of other people.Miguel’s remains indelibly counterculture and an outpost for a particularly anti-establishment strain of outdoor enthusiasts. Meanwhile, the sport has more mainstream appeal then ever before thanks to improved gear technology, codified safety measures, and the headline generating exploits of a current crop of dynamos like Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell, and the still incredible Chris Sharma. The outdoor industry is also leveraging its impressive financial heft to grow the sport (and gear sales), with The North Face, Clif Bar, and Patagonia sponsoring films like180 South and Valley Uprising that have helped cement the legacies of big wall pioneers like Yvon Chouinard, Royal Robbins, Lynne Hill, and Dean Potter.Unsurprisingly, the benefits of growth come with challenges. New enthusiasts who connect with the sport through commercial channels can struggle to navigate climbing’s complex notions of purity and authenticity, along with the practical and cultural differences between gym and outdoor settings. A group that always attracted iconoclasts and weirdos feels increasingly normcore, a shift that reflects the commodification and assimilation of van life, slacklines, Chaco’s, and other outdoor adjacent lifestyles, activities, and products.Miguel’s is a rare place to observe hardcore types and casual novices mingle in real time, and, perhaps, an object lesson on graciously facilitating that integration. I visited Miguel’s for the first time in May. As a novice climber without the natural talent or competitive drive to meaningfully improve, I attended as a sidekick and observer with two friends who’ve been climbing at The Red for nearly a decade. I was nervous and a bit reluctant to go, expecting to spend the weekend as an obvious fish out of water surrounded by acolytes. Instead, I found a welcoming space with an organic, self-enforced communal ethic, both on the walls and at the restaurant. I’ve never spoken to so many strangers in such a short span of time, each of them interested in where I came from and how my trip was going. The expensive gear-denoted elitism that’s crept into some outdoor spaces was largely absent, as was any conflict or sense of entitlement when small, experienced groups shared space with large, sponsored trips.While Miguel’s seems capable of continuing to accommodate the entire climbing spectrum, there’s a question of whether or not this is a sustainable status quo. The same could be said for national parks, climbing gyms, bike parks, and every other supposedly rural space that’s suddenly filled with activity as more people retreat into the woods. In this mass pursuit to reconnect with nature, are we replicating the cultural patterns that send us outside in search of relief? Time will tell, but places like Miguel’s will need to continue leading the way.
Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on January 10, 2014 at 8:20 pm Point guard: Tyler Ennis, 11.7 PPG and 5.6 APG & Nate Britt, 6.0 PPG and 2.8 APGSyracuse’s star senior errr… freshman point guard has been nothing short of phenomenal this season, posting a 4.7 assist-to-turnover ratio, which includes just 18 turnovers in 15 games. He can score but doesn’t need to to be effective. Like Ennis, Britt is a freshman point guard. But unlike Ennis, he plays like one. His assist-to-turnover ratio stands at a paltry 1.5 and he has struggled to shoot. On the season Britt is shooting 37.3 percent from the field, and a measly 16.7 from beyond the arc. Advantage: SyracuseShooting guard: Trevor Cooney, 13.9 PPG and 45.3 3PT% & Marcus Paige, 17 PPG and 4.4 APGCooney came into the season as SU’s biggest wildcard after a putrid 2012-13 campaign. But it didn’t take long to show he had turned a corner, splashing 7-of-8 from long range in a season-opening win against Cornell. The redshirt sophomore also averages 2.1 steals per game. Cooney is a good scoring option for SU, but Paige is the best scoring option for UNC. Paige scored 32 points against then-No. 3 Louisville, and 23 against then-No. 11 Kentucky, and can beat defenses in may ways. AdvertisementThis is placeholder textAdvantage: North CarolinaSmall Forward: C.J Fair, 17.2 PPG and 5.6 RPG & J.P. Tokoto, 10.1 PPG and 5.7 RPGWhile Fair has earned superstar status for the Orange, Tokoto, a sophomore, is making his way up the same ladder. He has been handed a larger role this season and he’s done well with the opportunity. He’s shown flashes of brilliance defensively, collecting five steals and four blocks against Davidson on Dec. 21. He’s also gotten stronger with the basketball, having given up only 30 turnovers in 415 minutes compared to 31 in 302 minutes last season. But Fair’s leadership and play this season puts him on a different level than most players in the country. Advantage: Syracuse Power forward: Jerami Grant, 12.3 PPG and 6.1 RPG & James Michael McAdoo, 14.4 PPG and 6.5 RPGGrant has freak athleticism, skying high for shot blocks and massive dunks in the early going. He’s scored in double figures in 11 of his 14 games this season, and is coming off a double-double against Virginia Tech. Grant may not start every game, but he’s almost always on the court at the end of games. The way people talk about Grant is the way they used to talk about McAdoo. McAdoo’s the proverbial star that never was. His scoring numbers, while good, have not increased from last year. He’s an offensive threat, and is capable of having a big game, but he’s also capable of flopping like he did during a four-game stretch this season where he averaged just eight points per contest.Advantage: Syracuse Center: Rakeem Christmas, 5.6 PPG and 3.9 RPG & Joel James: 3.7 PPG and 4.4 RPGChristmas has developed into a far more dangerous scoring threat than he was last season. Yet his defense in the 2-3 zone still leaves much to be desired. Like Syracuse, UNC is dealing with injuries at the center position. James was out the previous four games before returning to play in eight minutes against Miami. James has started in every game he’s played but has yet to record double figures in either rebounds or points scored. Advantage: Syracuse compiled by Sam Blum, asst. copy editor, [email protected] Comments