I think that for a little while, I was starting to feel like the things I used to enjoy were becoming almost mute in my life. The things that used to take the edge off of other stresses were slowly becoming…….not really anything. It’s a pattern I’ve repeated in my life since I was young. I think that most people experience this in their own way: burning out on something and moving on to the next.
I’m three weeks into in my travels (after three months on the road with a two week break back home in the northeast). Am I burned out yet? No, but I have been taking my climbing days more casually – much more than I ever have before. It’s kind of nice to take my time, planning and mapping out the whens and wheres of my brief stint down south and not driving through the night to rush to my next destination. (No more driving through endless nights, but still blasting Gin Blossoms and old Saves the Day.)
And if I start to feel like I’m burning out for a day or two, I have to set my mindset right and shift it into a new gear; if you don’t try to restart your system, a new garden will never grow.
Recently, I’ve begun wondering if I’m doing what I’d always said I’d never do: fixating on climbs to be able to tick them off – another notch on my belt. I certainly have a big list of projects and routes all around the country at this point. It’s my “If Your Dreams Don’t Scare You, They Aren’t Big Enough (-Ellen Johnson Sirleaf)” List. I go back and forth between thinking that this is wrong, and then justifying it with reasons of “personal growth” or something blah blah.
I don’t think that aspiring to be a stronger climber is wrong. Think about when you first started climbing and how much you dreamt of conquering your first V-whatever in the gym. You tried and tried over and again, until your fingertips bled and skin became calloused – your first climbing callous! A milestone of hardened, taped up skin that when reached, you waver back and forth between pride and embarrassment (at least, I did. Whenever I went to hold somebody’s hand, I would shrink back with unease because my hands were rougher than his).
(I don’t do this anymore – get embarrassed, I mean. I’ll still hold hands; you just have to ask nicely.)
I’m a big believer in becoming a stronger climber, mostly because your physical strength and mental strength grow parallel with each other. Climbing hard is important to me, sure. The motivation to push past whatever grade you are climbing comfortably at into a grade you are slightly less comfortable with is the same for everybody, whether that number is 5.5 or 5.15. I personally enjoy the thrill of challenging myself and especially pushing past a wall when I hit it. However, the importance of climbing smarter is increasingly growing for me and I’m beginning to understand the affection for a greater objective rather than a greater level of difficulty.
The day that Paul Brenner sent Puppy Chow (5.12c), he recommended Trojans (5.11c) at the Toxic Hueco area.
“I have a good feeling about this one for you.” Paul said in that naturally calm tone of voice of his.
I glanced at the first several feet of sketchy blocks before the initial crack began as I racked gear to my harness. Carefully tiptoeing up to the base, I awkwardly straddled the rock and sat in a puddle as I punched in my first piece. Clipped and ready to go, but why not throw in another nut for safe measures?
If I could give Trojans more stars, then I would (in addition to several thumbs ups, cookie-cakes and smiley emojis as well) because it certainly deserved it. It felt like a familiar dance with careful foot placements all the way up through the overhanging crack. Interesting face holds here and there, and a stunning flared crack which puzzled the heck out of me. Eventually, the wider section spit me off and while I didn’t get an onsight, I pulled my way back up the rope to study where I’d fallen. A smallish dimple was revealed to me, and while most people would cruise past it without using it, my negative ape index just doesn’t give me enough height to reach the last few holds.
I used it and busted out to the chains.
He pulled the rope to rest and break for lunch and I was unsure if I wanted to work that hard again for a redpoint. Knowing I could wretch my way to the top the first time was enough for me.
Paul was so psyched for me that I’d finished it and asked, “Are you happy?”
And I was.
And then there was something in me that stirred. Maybe it was watching Peter Hoang attempt and then redpoint it afterwards, maybe it was because now it wasn’t about the onsight or the grade, or maybe I just really loved how much Paul believed that I could do it.
When someone believes in you so much, you start to do the same. When someone believes you can climb anything, sometimes you do.
Paul told me that it was easy, now. He said to put in the gear and take a deep breath (maybe two), and then: climb it like a rock climb.
Trojans isn’t a route that I’d say I redpointed just to redpoint. It’s not going on a list of things I’ve done (or didn’t do). I did it the second time because I knew that I could (it’s so easy for me to say “I can do that too” and then not actually do it). It’s something that inspired me to give it everything I had in me that day, and when I’m starting to grow weary from the road and climbing in general, I think of that day. It became apparent to me, then, that I’m not chasing a grade, but more of a feeling. The grades matter less and less. The onsight, too.
That’s how I restart my system; that’s how I regrow my garden.
As great as I think onsighting things can be, in the end, it still matters very little to me. I try to go into things with the idea that if it goes the first time, that’s awesome as hell. I can’t be upset if it doesn’t. (I won’t be upset if you don’t onsight things, either, but I’ll be stoked as hell when you do.)
A lot of times, conversation can revolve around how hard or what grades people climb – which is fine. It’s good to have knowledge of what kind of level the people you’re partnering up with climb at. I had the great pleasure of meeting Becca Droz and Sam Sommers from Restoration Climbing in the Red last week, and Becca asked me how I like to start conversations when I meet new partners on the road. I really like to ask people when I meet them: what styles of climbing do they love to climb? What gets them most psyched and how has climbing changed them?
My days in the south are slowly dwindling down. Now, dreams of the Monument are in my head (thanks to Peter) and the wildness of Wyoming is calling me this summer. On to the west, no longer questioning my reasons for certain things and no longer feeling burned out, but simply full of hope and a new fuel to try and take this energy from me and create: I want a splash of vibrance on a warm, desert afternoon and I think Utah is calling my name.