Breathing Pulse of Life

What do you like about climbing? I often feel as though I am unable to give a good answer to that question, at least in all the ways that I think I ought to or should be able to. Our lives as climbers follow very linear trends, predictable arcs in which we make goals and eventually, hopefully, reach the summits of those metaphorical and actual mountains. It’s inescapable that the life of a climber is far less Zen than most of us would care to admit, but it’s also true that climbers are typically less shark-ish than your average Wall Street tycoon.

I admit to enjoying climbing to see myself reach goals. Built into the experience are grades, a bald scale that plainly computes an approximation of where I stand in the grander scheme of things and can even offer insights as superficial as a sense of elitism or inferiority, but also as useful as a barometer of my own personal health or well-being. But really it’s what happens on the way to achieving those goals that makes climbing an art of living. If I said I enjoy climbing because I like to push myself and have occasional successes in the sport, I’d be telling the truth, but not the entire truth. There’s so much more–in both the volume of experience as well as its quality; intangible moments, enlightenments. Climbing draws out of us a keen sense of mathematics, problem solving, engineering (if you’re into new routing) as well as artistry and personal style. Unlike more solitary excursions such as surfing or skiing, climbing intimately relies on our abilities to have meaningful interactions and relationships with our partners. It’s a sport for humanists, as much as it is a sport for loners.

I’m currently in the Northeast. I flew into New York, where my parents still live, and drove up to New Hampshire to attend the EMS Nor’Easter. The event was a blast. I mostly hung out with my good friends Dave Graham and Joe Kinder, and basically laughed the entire time. Most American climbers will know who these two “pros” are, but unless you’ve met them, most don’t know just how fucking funny they are. Dave has this amazing insight and wit that comes out of his mouth like a hurricane: sometimes it’s just detritus and spray, but often there appears in the storm these very imaginative observations about life that always catch me off guard. Meanwhile, Joe is this perpetually interested creature; always probing around for what’s going on. He genuinely enjoys human engagement, even if it’s on a mischievous level. One night, Joe and I ran around the tent area, shaking people’s tents asking for Paul (who is Paul? I have no idea). “Yo Paul, yo Paul, yo Paul. Get up, Paul, get up!” Inevitably we’d get the response, “WRONG TENT!” and then we’d flee and giggle with glee.

The event was put on by NE2C–basically two dudes: Pete Ward and Jason Danforth. It’s truly amazing that two climbers have the wherewithal to organize and then run such a huge production–a two-day festival with a dozen awesome bands, a national climbing competition, a cyclocross bike race and a trail run, not to mention a crag clean-up at Rumney and pro-climber rally. As impressive as it all is, however, I have mixed feelings about the large-scale production of the climbing comp. I sometimes think that comps are meant to be in gyms–tight, small, dark spaces, where people are are engaged because they’re forced to be. In a gym, you’re just prone to that tidal wave of energy; there’s no escaping it, and it’s those naked moments that I’ve enjoyed the vicarious experience of plastic climbing the most. Well, I plan on writing more about this soon in next week’s R&I eblast.

I’ve been enjoying the last few days at home reading, writing and rejuvenating–as well as climbing in the gym at night. It has been some much-needed down time after what was one of the most energetic, non-stop and fun summers of my life–and also one of the most pivotal. I took a vow in the spring to live every day to the fullest, for lack of a better, less cliche way to say it, and to not let summer just pass by as quickly as most summers tend to do. Each day, I worked hard at my job, pushed my writing into new dimensions, learned how to shoot photos and edit video better, and in every spare moment that I wasn’t working, I spent my time road biking up to 50 miles, or gunning it out to Rifle to run some laps or take a burn on a project. Every weekend, my good friends from out of town spent the nights at my house, and we grilled food and drank beer and scotch and wine, and toasted the good life. I climbed my first 5.14a, failed on the hardest 5.13 I’ve ever tried, and experienced these amazing highs and sinking lows–the latter in particular revolving mostly around these gray misanthropic feelings I’d harbored unknowingly until it was just recently brought to my attention.  I’ve been more conscious that this unintentional reclusiveness can sometimes manifest itself as a form of elitism, and in the space of this newfound awareness, I came to a buoyant realization that I actually enjoy myself more by consciously competing for deeper, more genuine interactions with people. And often I find myself experiencing these blushing, sanguine flashes of appreciation for the breathing pulse of life as its manifested in the deep love toward the climbing community and my undeserved fortune to be a part of it.