Walking hurts today. Not just the stretching of the muscles, but even the gentle flap of my shorts against scrapes and bruises, bringing fresh pain with each step. The shorts that, incidentally, have a rip in the back from a poorly predicted fall into the talus. The same fall that sent my hip bone directly into a sharp rock, a fall from which I walked away lucky to be no worse than bruised. Usually all of these would be signs that it's been a great weekend.
Yesterday as we were driving away from Bushwhack to meet some friends for dinner, my wife asked me if I had fun climbing. The answer was obviously yes, but what scared me was how long I had to think about it. Why was there any question? In short, I think it's because my priorities have started to change, and not in a way I like.
Years ago, I remember saying that Bitch Slap Arete at Coopers Rock was the perfect boulder problem, because it was one that I could happily work on every time even if I never managed to finish it. I'm sure it would go quickly now, and it's been three years since I've even tried it, but I've been content just remembering the enjoyment that the motion brought me and knowing it's still out there.
After several weeks of knocking out projects in a single session's work, this weekend I finally found myself shut down again. Not physically, since I can make all of the moves on this particular problem. Instead the difficulty seemed to be believing that I could make the moves when I needed to, and expecting to hit them rather than easing off in anticipation of a fall. At the time it bothered me because I interpreted it as giving up on myself. Really it just means I've gotten on something that's an appropriate level of challenge... within my capability, but not guaranteed. My mistake was walking into the day having already finished the problem in my head, and then having to reconcile that with the reality that I walked away empty handed. That I had all of those bruises and scrapes, ripped my shorts, and had nearly broken my hip, but had no send to show for it.
Yet somehow I still managed to answer yes to Emily's question, slow though that answer was in coming. What I remembered, and should never have let myself forget, was the fact that when I think back to days out on the rocks I usually think about the people I was with more than any particular climbs I did. Aside from the obvious advantage to actually having spotters, the beauty of going out with others lies in the bonds formed and the community created. In the shared food and occasionally drink, which in this case included homemade dulce de leche cookies that were one of the most addictive things I've ever tasted. It lies in the satisfaction of watching others succeed even if I fall short. And this weekend there were many successes.
Less than a week after I worked through it, Vince managed to send Flipping the Switch, flying through the same sequence that had puzzled him less than a year ago.
Max, fresh off dispatching Stank, Stunk with Esten, climbed Mr. Miyagi and Drunken Hamster Style before sending the harder roof between them and then thrilling the group with the committing final throw on The Elephant.
Meanwhile, others breezed through various lines on Rattleflake Roof and the Bird Boulder, and Ben put together this video of Jeff's run up Stunk.
Combined with the cool sunny afternoon that materialized despite an early threat of rain, and a spectacular flyover by a pair of hawks, it really was a perfect day of climbing.
So what should I take from all of this? Is the lesson here that I shouldn't let myself become obsessed with climbs? Perhaps, but I think the better answer is simply to prioritize. In itself, intense focus on a single climb can be productive. The trouble comes when the focus on success replaces enjoyment of the process, ironically leaving the eventual send feeling empty, not so much a feeling of elation as of relief that the climb is over.
The answer then (for me at least) is this... Set high goals, but enjoy the road to reaching them. Accept that failure is not absolute, but a sign that goals are appropriately challenging. Enjoy those who I find on the road with me, both new friends and old. Celebrate their success as fully as my own. Remember that if I'm going to risk harm to myself, I'd better be having fun in the process.
People often ask me if I'm going to be a teacher for the rest of my life. I tell them that I'm going to do it for as long as I can wake up and be excited about it. If that's the rest of my life, awesome. And if not, I hope I'll have the courage to leave what's familiar and seek what excites me again. Climbing should be no different.
Time to get back on track.