My apologies for dropping off the grid this past week! Didn’t realize it’s been a week since I last posted until I sat down in this crowded Malibu, CA Starbucks. Much to talk about! I’ll split these posts up, but this week has been filled with National Parks, Beaches, Jiu Jitsu Mecca, and the like.
After bailing out of Dallas last week, I drove eight hours to Santa Rosa, New Mexico with the intention of doing something a little out of the ordinary in the New Mexico desert: swimming. On the way, I realized that I’d been driving next to Historic Route 66; a famous American highway that was a staple for Vagabonds throughout the mid-20th century in the US, running from Santa Monica, CA to Chicago, IL. I stumbled upon the famous “Cadillac Ranch” on my travels, which was unexpectedly cool. I’m finding that the coolest things on this trip are the ones I’m stumbling upon by chance. After crossing into New Mexico from Texas, I came around a bend and the Earth opened up. West Texas doesn’t have a lot of topography, so coming around the bend to see the plateaus and ridges of East Arizona open up to me, vibrant and beautiful in the orange sunset, was a spiritual moment. So much so that pulling the car over to take a photo on the side of the highway was absolutely necessary.
I spent the morning in Santa Rosa at the famous “Blue Hole of Santa Rosa”, which is a natural spring in the middle of the New Mexican desert. I was told by the lifeguards that the water, which maintains a vibrant, deep blue color due to it’s constant underground recharge, stays a constant 61 degrees year-round. In the midst of the 92 degree New Mexican summer, the water was frigid, but refreshing. My body had been aching from the constant onslaught of BJJ, so this was my natural ice bath, so to speak! I’ve never bought into the ice bath trend, but after soaking in the cold water and having my joints rejuvenate, I might be one to reconsider.
My morning in Santa Rosa was followed by a two hour drive through New Mexico to Albuquerque. Nestled at the foot of the Sandia Mountains, this booming city is home to a world of adventures: Breaking Bad tours, Authentic Tex-Mex, and, more importantly, a Gracie Barra stronghold. After getting to the city around 3pm, I met up with some people from a Slackline New Mexico group on Facebook to do some slacklining in a park in the middle of town. I’ve been slacklining for the past year as a way to improve my balance and rehab my torn meniscus, and the results have been abundant! I can tell it’s helped with my hip mobility and passing stability. What’s unfortunate is that I couldn’t snap any photos from this session: I had apparently visited Albuquerque during one of the ten rainy days it receives every year. Adam, my main contact from Facebook, didn’t mind. We hopped up on the longline (150ft) in the pouring rain, letting out primal screams as we tried to balance on the one-inch line as rain and wind battered us form above and to the side. If slacklining has had any effect on my jiu jitsu, it’s in the two areas I’ve needed it badly: my balance and my patience. You can’t rush balance, and you need to be balanced in order to learn patience.
A quick search on Google brings back four Gracie Barras in ABQ, but I’d come to find out there’s actually SIX in the city limits. I set my sights on training at the main academy on San Pedro NE. Before training, I had a rare hankering for donuts, so I figured I’d treat myself. I stumbled up a place in ABQ near the academy called “Rebel Donuts”. I figured I’d start some writing while working on my blog posts while enjoying a carb-filled breakfast. Turns out Rebel had a bit of a soft spot for Breaking Bad, kinda like myself, so grabbing one of their themed “Blue Sky” donuts was a must! I showed up for class at 11am and was greeted by one of the employees, Mark. Mark is a blue belt at the academy, and informed me that I was actually an hour early for class. Oops. Not a problem; I got a chance to work on my last blog post while waiting! As the mass of people trickled in, I was simply shocked by the range of skill I was about to train with. Six black belts, a number of brown belts and purple belts, and a sea of blue belts and white belts. There must’ve been 30 people on a Thursday afternoon. I simply blended in; no introduction was made to the class that I was there. I liked that.
Class went, er, not as well as I’d have liked. I hadn’t considered the effects of the higher elevation and dry desert air would have on my northeastern blood. I was completely gassed by the end of warm ups. We ran laps around the mats, drilled some armbars from guard, and some light yoga to start. Then came time to roll. I was grabbed by one of the brown belts and started rolling. Their style of jiu jitsu was very traditional compared to mine; mostly closed guard, pressure passing, etc. I’ve been excited to train with some of the more traditional styles on this trip, coming from my own sport jiu jitsu background. I’d play my X-Guard, get a sweep, then get scissor swept and crushed from the top. That’s how most of the day went. I had a blast rolling with some of the brown belts and purple belts there. It felt good to hold my own against these “upperclassmen”; I even managed to sweep a few of them.
I debated not putting this in my post, but I figured it’d be a good thing to mention. For the first time on this trip, I ran into someone who clearly did not want to train with me, and was intentionally putting on undue pressure. My second round was with one of the blue belts. I played my usual game: I started in butterfly and transitioned to X-Guard, then swept. As soon as I completed the sweep, I felt him tense and saw a flash of anger in his eyes. He gripped my sleeves and spider guard swept me. He got into knee on belly, and then drove every ounce of his weight into my sternum, grunting and pulling on my collar the entire time. I moved to escape by stuffing his leg into half guard, which was met by him driving his head into my chin and aggressively knee cutting. I didn’t make a big deal about it at the time, but I nearly walked out of the gym right then and there. I’ve never felt like someone was trying to intentionally harm me on the mats until training with this guy. I understand that you’re not always going to run into the nicest people on the road, but I’ve never trained with someone so seemingly intent on hurting me. Definitely but a damper on the whole day.
Through my huffing and puffing, I noticed the instructor, Wesley, gesturing over to me. Wes was incredibly intimidating; his stern look, bald head and beard screamed “I don’t f*** around.” I was hesitant, as my body was aching and I didn’t want to risk an injury, but I slapped hands and bumped fists. I’ve noticed throughout this trip that my mental toughness is getting a workout in ways it hasn’t before. In trying to get the most out of training at all of these gyms, I’ve started pushing past my old “point of no return” more and more. Wes had been eyeing me the entire class, and was wise to my game at this point. I was totally shut down the entire round, but I had fun regardless. After a quick photo, I changed, grabbed my stuff, and went to explore ABQ! The city was beautiful. I ended sleeping in a Planet Fitness parking lot for the night. Finally started getting used to Jeep Sleep!
I woke the next morning ready to head west and give training a break for a few days while I explored the National Parks, but not before hitting up one last Breaking Bad attraction! I ended up grabbing lunch at the location where they filmed their Los Pollos Hermanos scenes; turns out it’s actually a local burrito and burger chain called “Twisters”. The manager, Juan, was shocked how far I’d been traveling, but was very interested in hearing about my journey!
After my Twisters Burrito, I headed west. Along the way, I stopped at Barringer Meteor Crater, a perfectly preserved impact crater in Western New Mexico. Being a geology nerd, stopping there was a must! Worth the $18 entry fee. I spent the morning there before heading to yet another stop on my journey, and one that was highly anticipated: the Grand Canyon. I reached the giant hole in the ground right about 4pm. To be brief, I was speechless. I talked about the correlations between geology and BJJ in my Memphis post, and the Grand Canyon reaffirmed this. I was blown away by the sheer size of the canyon itself; it seemed to go along forever. Standing on the edge, you can look almost straight down to the canyon floor a mile below; a canyon that was carved by a relatively small trickle of unrelenting water over the past millennia. You can see for literally 100 miles in most directions on a clear day; I was fortunate enough to have visited on one. I hung around the South Rim for a few hours before heading north to Horseshoe Bend, which turned out to be one of the most picturesque locations I’ve ever been to. I caught the bend after spending the night in another Walmart parking lot, and got there shortly after sunrise came over the desert. The blueish-green water illuminated below the glowing red sandstone was incredible. I recommend everyone to go there if you have the opportunity. Don’t look down, though!
As I was leaving Horseshoe, I stopped briefly to talk with a park ranger, also named Mike. I asked him if there was any way to get down to the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon. Mike informed me of a boat launch about 40 miles west named Lee’s Ferry where I could meet the river. Well, it was early enough in the day. I figured why not! I drove the 90 minutes through the blazing heat to Lees. I managed to get pulled over on the way, but got out of the citation. Be respectful to Park Rangers, my friends. I got to Lees in the middle of the day, so the heat was at it’s height. I was informed by the ranger that pulled me over that I’d come to the canyon on “Free Fishing Day”, so I was overjoyed to find that I could fish the river without the usual license necessary! So there I stayed for a few hours; I stood waist-deep in the frigid Colorado River, fishing pole in hand, and I was at peace. It was experiences like these that I was looking for on my travels, and to find them was emotional, to say the least.
I left Lee’s in the early afternoon and started up to Zion National Park. I was eager to get to Zion, and managed to reach it just before sundown. The drive through Kaibab National Forest on the way to Zion was surreal. I drove through a prescribed forest fire, which was interesting! As cool as the Grand Canyon is, Zion is something even more special. Something about the 3,000 foot cliffs that surround you on both sides… it was personal. It put you in your place. It put you in perspective. I was shocked to find a booming little town in the depths of the canyon as well! I stayed the night on the side of the road in the canyon, but only after a small hike up a cliff face near Checkerboard Mesa. I awoke the next morning ready to conquer the most popular hike in ZNP: Angel’s Landing. The hike itself called for 1,500 feet of vertical gain in 2.7 miles. The 5.4 mile hike took me just under four hours, and was easily the most beautiful hike I’ve been on. The steepest portion of the hike doesn’t occur until the last half mile, where the trail narrows to less than a meter wide at some points; 1,500 ft. drops to the valley surround you as the trail narrows. Don’t worry: there were chains to grab onto to steady yourself! I met a woman named Rachel at the start of this last steep section; she was from Georgia and was in town on business. Her husband had hurt his ankle the day before on another hike so she was going solo. That view was something. I feel bad sometimes; my photos will never do these places justice! After hanging out at the summit for a half hour, I made the two hour descent to the valley. Before catching the trolley to my car, I needed to stop and rest my feet in the Virgin River. Note to Self: Break new hiking boots in BEFORE a five mile hike.
I slept again in the canyon, and made my way the next morning to my next destination, the city of sins: Las Vegas, NV. My experience in Vegas can be summed up in one word: disappointing. I won’t do much writing on the city itself, mostly because I simply didn’t enjoy myself. I can see the city being fun with a crew of friends and $600 in your pockets to throw to the casinos, but for a solo traveller on a budget? Not so much.
The jiu jitsu and the climbing were the highlights of the city, however. I ended up dropping in to train at a Cobrinha affiliate in the heart of Vegas. This was also right after Cobrinha’s displays at Worlds this year, so I came at a good time. I walked into the academy and was greeted by the main instructor, Hector Vasquez. He was incredibly welcoming and was very excited that I was visiting his school! I didn’t get a chance to call ahead, so I surprised them, but they didn’t mind in the slightest. I attended the noon Gi class. For a noon on a Monday, I was surprised to see that most of the class was younger kids. Teens. We started class with a guard recovery drill; I’ve been trying to work on my recovery explosiveness, so this was a welcomed drill. They introduced me to a staple of Cobrinha’s game as of late: it’s a RDLR/Half Guard-like position that was incredibly hard to pass. My mind was blown with how little you needed to move your hips to prevent the knee cut form this position. I took notes viciously during this class. We used this position to transition to X-Guard, which played towards my game very well.
I managed to roll with most of the students that day, as well as Hector himself. I first rolled with Giovanna, a 15 year old orange belt. Her open guard was absolutely vicious. I’ve rolled with purple belts who didn’t know spider guard as well as this girl. I followed this up with rolling with Jackson, one of the brown belts. He picked me apart piece by piece, which was expected. I rolled with one of the white belts, and even he gave me trouble with his open guard. Hector grabbed me for a roll, which was a fun five minutes exchanging x-guard sequences. I could feel the respect from everyone, which was a breath of fresh air after my experience in Albuquerque. My last of the seven rolls was with Michael, a 17 year old blue belt out of the academy. Although he was young, I was told he had just taken gold at Worlds not two days earlier. I was excited to roll with I world-class blue belt. We went back and forth, exchanging sweeps and positional advantages, but he definitely controlled the pace. His passing was fluid, his transitions were spot on, and his jiu jitsu was just overall pretty. If something was consistent across every skill level I trained with at Cobrinha BJJ and Fitness, it’s that everyone’s jiu jitsu was fluid. I’d HIGHLY recommend training here if you’re ever in Vegas.
After Leaving Las Vegas (heh, movie puns), I made a BeeLine to the coast, but more on that in my next post! I’d spend the following days training in the Jiu Jitsu meccas of San Diego and Los Angeles. Tune in until next time!