Happiness is a wide crack

Happiness is such a random thing, and day by day we always want different things. Different people in our lives, different social situations. Our definition of happiness constantly changes with how we define our lives. Philosophers have studied and declared that human understanding of our own basic happiness is founded on our ever-changing, day to day existence. I’ve always thought that the thing about making choices and creating change is that it’s hard to even admit that you have to (and most people don’t make it much further past that). All choices are hard (even the easy ones) and change takes work. If it didn’t take time to truly grow up and grow into the people we are to become, then life would seem much shorter (and so much more boring!)

I’ve spent so much time away from climbing in the Northeast to play down south that I was feeling a little apprehensive to come back to the Gunks, the place where the magic in my life started. So many things have changed since the days when I followed my first trad climbs. I was nervous then, too. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to match up to my partners’ skill level and I would, in many ways, hold them back. I had to let go of that fear pretty quickly to get anywhere at all.

  My first lead climb in the Gunks, Arrow (5.8). Photographs by Jinda Phommavongsa

My first lead climb in the Gunks, Arrow (5.8). Photographs by Jinda Phommavongsa

It was when I began focusing on progress rather than perfection that everything shifted. I remember driving back from a weekend of ice climbing in New Hampshire with Jon Hutt, my best friend and partner for years. Jon has the knowledge, skill and heart of a true mountain man. He told me that regardless of how many years of experience, he had barely scratched the surface. This was the tip of the iceberg. It made me realize that you will always be better at something than someone else, and that someone else will always be better than you, which is why it became more important to focus on how far I’ve come rather than on how far I have left to go.

  Jon and me after a day of slaying ice in Ouray, Colorado

Jon and me after a day of slaying ice in Ouray, Colorado

Scott and I met our good friend, Tom Chervenak, for some climbing in Lost City a few weekends ago. (Tom and Chris Fracchia have recently launched a new Gunks app which you can read about here! It’s a phone guidebook app that covers 297 routes of the Trapps – pretty badass!) Anyway, Tom put up the FA of an awesome new 5.11 (which has been lovingly named after his wife). It’s seen about four or five ascents and I was excited to try it on top rope. We dropped our friends Lukos and Laura Otremba at the boulder field and headed onward and up. Dropping our packs and digging out the rope and rack, Tom asked me if I was ready to rack up. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t aghast as I started rattling off a list of excuses; I hadn’t climbed in weeks, I was just getting over a horrible cold and my strength wasn’t back. Luckily, excuses aren’t enough to stop me (and if that wasn’t enough, the funny look on Scott’s face that I’ve come to know so well motivated me to start clipping gear to my harness).

I thought I’d totally blown the first crux down low. I’d looked at the thin line to the left that I was supposed to go up and thought, “F that.” and started traversing right. Realizing I was completely off route now with gear too far below (that may or may not have kept me off of the ground), I focused back on breathing and down climbing back to my starting point. (Best advice Scott has ever given to me regarding the rock: NEVER climb up something you cannot climb down.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the motivation behind the things we do, and what powers us to give things our all. The goal can be an admirable one (and most goals are), but if the motive behind it comes from a negative place, is the point lost? Things like guilt and jealousy are probably the least productive emotions can get and creates competition (the unhealthy kind). If at any point in time I am doing ANYTHING for ANYBODY else, then I have lost my way. (A long list of examples include: never moving to another state for a boy, not converting to a different religion to make a relationship work, not climbing a rock because I need to feel better than somebody else to feel better about myself.) I know that in this vast world we call life, it isn’t always about me; this is one of those times that it just has to be.

Anyway, I’ve been worried that my reasons for doing things are not the right ones in pretty much every aspect of my life lately, including climbing. Having gone through a similar experience last ice season, I recall just taking some time off to reassess things in my life. It comes down to being honest with yourself. You can be truthful or you can lie to others. You can be truthful or lie to yourself, but can you also call yourself out on your own untruths? Somewhere along the line, we all begin to believe our own bullshit. It’s like being able to see both sides of a situation. I’m constantly looking for new perspectives to help me understand and seek new truths. I think the saying goes: “Don’t believe everything you think.”

  Exploring Lost City on a perfect fall day

Exploring Lost City on a perfect fall day

When it was go time, I remember breathing in such a ridiculous, grueling manner that I almost forgot I had moves to make. And then I reminded myself why I was doing this and who I was doing this for. That’s when the movements harmonized with my breath and I stood high on my right foot and pushed for the next hold with my right hand, and then the left. My fingers greased off of the left hold and I said “No no no no!” as I sank my fingers into sharp edges and sucked my entire torso into the wall. I got it back. “Well done Kathy!” I heard Scott’s voice from below and thought “Not yet!” as I scraped my way up to a better rest and a place to plug gear.

Getting the FFA would have been rad, but I blew the roof (not because I was pumped, but because I pulled the roof, kicked up a right heel hook and hucked for what I thought was a hold and peeled off). I might have time to go back before the end of the season, and if I do, I’m going to try hard because I don’t feel like a stranger in the Gunks anymore. I’m going to try hard because I’m not wrapped up in what other people are thinking and doing (because it has nothing to do with what I’m thinking and doing!) and I’m going to try hard for ME.

  A dirtbag day at Foster Falls this summer. Photograph by Nick Lanphier

A dirtbag day at Foster Falls this summer. Photograph by Nick Lanphier

This past weekend, Sam Cervantes and I woke up at 5 AM to drive north. It’s been at least two years since I’ve done any Massachusetts climbing, and Mikey Perkins, Day and I had ourselves a pretty heartwarming little reunion. About two years ago, I met Mikey who had wandered into the gear shop one day where we spent a NY minute talking about (what else?) climbing. In my excitement, I gave him my number and months later, made it up to visit with the hope to check out a monster off-width I’d only heard about. I’d never climbed an off-width in my life. That day, I couldn’t even manage to start the damn thing but I knew I’d be back.

  The initial invert moves on Bulletproof (5.13). Photograph by Wayne Burleson

The initial invert moves on Bulletproof (5.13). Photograph by Wayne Burleson

Bulletproof is a 5.13 overhanging off-width which has been freed only a few times, I’ve been told. Last year, I had the pleasure of belaying Christina on it. This year, I decided to come back to it and give it everything I had. I remember when Sam Latone and I climbed together in the south, and he told me that at some point, it makes sense to project harder routes so that you can practice the moves and suss out placements and eventually come back for the send. I’ve never been much of a “project person” until this past year, but I absolutely agree with Sam.

Bulletproof is for sure a project now! The whole thing felt pretty bad (and by bad, I mean good). The invert actually went pretty well, and the hardest parts were getting established into the very beginning (using chicken wings and hand/fist stacks), and then trusting the hand/fists enough to place your legs above your head. This was probably one of the scariest moments I’ve had on the sharp end. And once you’re inside of the pod IT’S STILL HARD. You’re just so tired! Two days later and I’m still thrashed and I can’t wait to go back and try it again.

This coming week, I’m on a new mission to scope out some exciting routes that Bart Bledsoe was so kind to recommend. A lot of them are FAs of his, Kris Hampton’s and Ray Ellington’s, and I’m honestly just stoked to make an attempt on any of them.

  Shooter being a helpful scale

Shooter being a helpful scale

Right now, I’m on a few new missions. I’m moving out of my charming townhouse apartment in Brooklyn this week, too. I met a guy this summer who is in the middle of building a tiny home. Now, I don’t necessarily want to live in a tiny home, but I came back to NYC with the tiny home frame of mind. (Apartments in NYC are probably about the same size and a thousand times the cost anyway) but what I kept asking myself was: why do we need all of this STUFF? Your stuff should support YOU and you shouldn’t support your stuff. I was feeling tied down and so I got rid of it. Thirteen donation Ikea bags later…There’s a good chance that I’m going through my quarter life crisis, because I came home from Tennessee a month ago, sold all of my furniture and bed, gave up my apartment and lease, bought a couple of plane tickets and have plans to live out of my car (KIDDING).

(Sort of.)

(But if you’re reading this and you’re my mom, I’m totally kidding.)

I keep looking for easy buttons and easy answers, but there aren’t any. Erick says it’s just a rough pitch, and I’ll get through it. Sam thinks I’ve purposely backed myself into a corner which will force me to make a decision, and hopefully it’s the right one. I keep considering the risk versus the reward, and obviously the greater the risk, the greater the reward. Isn’t that how climbing works? Aren’t we supposed to apply the skills we’ve learned on the rock in other areas of our lives? Arturo told me that if you remain in the fishbowl with all of the other fish, you’ll never be a butterfly.

And I want to be a butterfly, damnit.

  Photograph by Wayne Burleson

Photograph by Wayne Burleson

I recently found a list titled “Twenty-five things to do before I turn twenty-five”. I laughed as I read through some pretty ridiculous bullet points (fill a jar with magical thinking, go snow camping, learn to play ukulele, make a thousand paper cranes, Arctic dive – I’m really good at romanticizing ridiculousness.) Some of them, I actually accomplished before turning 25 (live in the city for one year, learn how to lead climb, perfect the art of pie making, go skydiving, purchase a pair of rain boots). Anyway, the point is that I’ve changed so much since that girl entering her twenties haphazardly wrote some random list of “things” she thought she wanted to do with her life.

For me, the thing that makes me happy (right now) is creating change. And that isn’t all of the time; I’m certain that I’m going to eventually want some sense of normalcy in my life again, and a kitchen. (How else am I going to bake on the road? Unless someone buys me a Dutch oven…but I’m not even sure there’s room for one in the car.) Right now, I’m going to let myself have my quarter life crisis and see where it takes me.

When you start restructuring your life from the ground up, you don’t always know where you are heading. I like that. I like taking myself apart and putting myself back together.

  Attempt number one of many. Photograph by Day Acheson

Attempt number one of many. Photograph by Day Acheson

There are things in this life outside of climbing that seem to nudge me in the general direction of happiness, or at least into a state of appreciation and contentment. I think that that used to be enough for me. Some days, it’s freezing flowers, melting butter in a pan, walking my dog for longer than a NY block, watching children laugh and play, baking fresh cookies. Curling up with a loved one and enjoying a simple dinner. Listening to your favorite song in the car. The best cup of coffee of your life.

Guys, this whole pursuit of happiness is a sham. Saying that you are searching for something suggests that it isn’t here yet. And then there’s a chance that it may never get here, or that we’ll never find it. A constant search for happiness is what thwarts happiness. A constant search for change and growth – a desire to become more – keeps us steady and focused but open and receiving. Engaged, curious, and available. Whatever the circumstance whatever the moment: you are choosing rather than chasing. I don’t want to chase my dreams; I want to live them.

I am not stating; I am declaring.