I guess I’m fortunate in that many years ago I was able to figure out what made me tick and adjust my lifestyle accordingly. Before I did though, I was dutifully schlepping after the corporate carrot, doing the right things, saying the right things, wearing the right clothes and putting in the monster work hours away from my family and outside interests. And indeed, the money was rolling in, but unfortunately, the zest for life was draining out. Yep, I was pretty much a prostitute to “the man”.
Jump ahead about twenty years now and the story is completely different. I still have a good job, one where I actually like most of the people I work with, and I work a normal day without sacrificing family time or my sanity. I even have a boss who I think understands my whacky ways and tolerates my need to traipse around the world from time to time in order to shake my mental Etch-O-Sketch. And in return, I work hard out of respect and appreciation for him and do my job the best I can. Plus, he’s pretty much just a nice guy. A far cry from the managers I’ve had who demand respect simply because they hold a title…which is a little too common.
Anyhow, much to the horror and angst of the people who knew me years ago, I eschewed the corporate carrot chasing to pursue the things that truly make me happy like traveling, running, climbing and paddling. And pursue them at full throttle I have. I realized early that there were so many barriers that I’d let be imposed on me and even a few that I’d put up myself. Shame on me, but at least I recognized it and did something about it before it was too late. Some people think I’m obsessive about it. I prefer to think of it as living every single second of every single day to the absolute fullest. I see my life as a gift and one that I should enjoy…on my terms and “off the piste” so to speak.
Just a few years ago I started to notice that more and more people were getting into climbing, mostly at climbing gyms. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just a fact. Back in the day when I’d train in the winter at the gym, there might be a handful of people around doing the same thing…waiting out the cold to get back on the rock. Today, these facilities are packed with young professionals who see it as the hip and trendy thing to do. And that’s perfectly okay, but the point is that the “vibe” around the rock climbing scene is just not what it used to be.
A certain amount of machismo has certainly always been part of the climbing scene, but lately, instead of being some friendly competition between the local out-of-work, over-educated, under-employed, dirt-bag type folks trying to figure out life, it’s become just another corporate machine. If any hot new climber sends a route approaching 5.14, then immediately every clothing, shoe, rope and gear manufacturer literally pees on themselves trying to be the first to get their image in all the ads. And once it gets to this point, there’s no turning back for the sport.
I’d been thinking a lot about this recently and frankly I’d started envisioning myself as being back on that gerbil wheel again, doing what everyone else is doing and in some ways losing my identity. I forgot who said it, but there is a quote that goes something like this, “if you ever start thinking like everyone else, it’d probably be best to do something different”.
I love climbing, a lot, and I try and get out whenever I can. But what I’ve found discouraging over these past few years is that even outside of the gym environment, the local crags are sometimes packed to the gills with people with nothing on their minds except sending the hardest problems and proving to the rest of the world that they are worthy. And what’s worse is that it’s oftentimes accompanied with lame verbal references to all the latest gear and a more than healthy dose of “dude and brah”. And because of that, I found myself constantly asking the question, “Where are the people who climb simply because it’s a form of escape, a mechanism to re-center, a place to forget the rest of the world…not a place to impress the rest of the world? Where are all these lost boys and girls?”
When I made the six hour trek down to Ouray a couple of weeks ago I was pretty stoked for a few reasons. First, I needed a little road trip to clear my head of the daily BS that sometimes clogs my vision. Secondly, I truly love ice climbing, though I’m certainly not the best ice climber the world has ever known. Oh yeah, I also got to hang out with a couple of friends and philosophize about a plethora of things on the drive down and back.
The trip was definitely all those things and more, but what I found, much to my good fortune, was something I sort of didn’t expect; I actually found all those lost boys and girls. I met so many incredible people who still had that desire for living the true climbing life. They wanted to get away from the mainstream and find that elusive meaning of life, to stoke those fires of life. Here were the people who needed no external validation, but found their validation through solitude and love of the sport.
What was even more interesting was that most everyone there was not the 20-something, shirtless, ripped Adonis-types, but in fact was more of a 30 to 40+ crowd who had more finely tuned skills than generic brute strength. They clearly loved being there, doing what they were doing and not giving a rat’s ass about who climbed harder or what color climbing pants each other was wearing. My point is that it was like the days of old where the people who loved to climb were out there, getting it done in miserable conditions, not having a care in the world, lending encouragement to everyone who at least tried, and yes, even taking those friendly verbal jabs at an occasional errant tool placement. It was serious business with a lighthearted vibe.
What I liked even more was that at the end of the day, these weren’t the climbers who retreat back to the burbs, drink the latest lo-cal energy drink, nibble on water crackers to keep their physiques in advertisement shape and debate who is the “corest” of them all. No! These are the people who tended to look for eateries with the most be-stickered, rusted out pickups parked in front where they’d share a pitcher of beers and shovel in a mountain of whatever cheesy, artery clogging entree was on special. And between shovels of cheesy goodness, they‘d oftentimes share the most amazing tales of epic climbs all over the world. These are the climbing trips that aren’t financed on the latest sponsor’s nickel or featured in the trendiest climbing rag, but instead they’d been cobbled together with what amounted to a couple months worth of meager savings, a daily diet of store-brand peanut butter and jelly and a cheap point and shoot camera with which to shoot a few pics to share among friends once they returned. It’s all they could afford and was more than enough. They did it because they loved it.
Finally, I had found my people once again. There they were, those lost boys and girls, the hard men and women who first inspired me to look beyond that stupid gerbil wheel and strike out to live life the way it’s supposed to be lived. The same people that still keep the flame alive for the rest of us.