I did my first lead climbs at the Gunks, in New York. Back then I was feisty, eager, and adamant that I could pull anything off. After my first lead tying off trees for pro, I decided I was ready for more, hopped on a climb, placed two pieces, and took one of the biggest whippers of my life. On a climb called Baby. The Gunks never really got to be more for during my time out east. It was where I constantly got schooled, while in school in New Jersey. My friend Andrew and I would roam the carriage road looking for a likely two-pitch 5.6 on which to spend the majority of our day. We would toggle the guidebook to our harness, appraise the route, and often times come down with elaborate rappels before even getting to the top.
Last weekend I was back at the Gunks for the first time in twelve years. It was just like I remembered it. It kicked my butt. I didn’t really expect anything different, and in fact I might have been disappointed if it had seemed easy. What then would I have thought of my younger self?
In the middle of my book tour I’m also on a climbing tour of the US. Quick forays to Vantage, Washington, Rumney, NH, the Gunks—all in-between dodging rolling luggage in the B Concourse at DIA. The climbing helps keep me sane, but I’ve also had to re-adjust my view of what climbing means in the midst of all of this movement.
Bodies take time to catch up. I’m bad at letting mine do just that. I have clients all the time who feel out of sorts that first day we are up on a climb together when the day before they were operating on brain or teaching a five-year old math. I have always told them to go easy on themselves. Now I need to take my own advice.
Yesterday, back on the home turf in Eldorado Canyon, it was no different. Somehow committing to heady leads above loose flakes with mirco cams was not jiving with making sure I had enough shampoo to make it through a seven-day trip out east.
If you let climbing fully get under your skin, it might never not be a part of you. Believe me, I’ve tried to pretend I don’t need it. Tried to pretend it’s not the one thing that cuts the rest of me off—that part of me that cannot slow down, cannot break out of mental loops, cannot stop thinking of what and how and why and why not.
But then I actually go and climb.
I’d like to think this recent burst of travel has taught me to better appreciate the other people who climb in this world. Those who don’t just have access to it every day. And to then, in turn, appreciate climbing more. That felt like a good thing to contemplate yesterday with the Eldo river rushing below me, drowning out any sense of a city but also any sense of full composure, with the air cutting beneath the roof, with hollow blocks, with rounded holds, slippery feet, and then, finally, a respite.
For me, yesterday and as of late, it may not be pretty and it may not be graceful, but it’s climbing.