Saturday, April 7, 2012

My so called life.....

High off the ground in Georgia
       Climbers have been trying to explain what we do and why we do it since the very beginning. I am not about to try and explain why I do what I do, because I can't. None of us can. We can give generic responses like: "It's so peaceful.", "I want to see where my limit is.", or " Its my way of expressing myself in nature." etc etc. I believe George Mallory said it best when asked why he wanted to climb Everest. His answer was "Because it is there!". I don't think he was talking about Everest itself though. I think he was describing that urge we all feel. That knot in the chest. That gravitational pull down a phantom path. He was describing what every climber that has ever existed feels, the presence of our "dark passenger". We climb because IT is there, always there, telling us to go harder, higher, faster, longer.
   Since I walked into Rocks and Ropes in Greenville, SC at age 17 my life has been on a course; I have had an objective. That objective has been to make climbing my path in life. It is a most arbitrary path I will admit. Essentially I try and find the hardest, not easiest, way up a rock face, for no reason other than, because that's what I like to do. Some of these faces are 10ft tall and some are 1000's of feet tall. And get this... I don't like doing things that I know I can do. I look for the faces I may NOT be able to do. That is just insane if you really think about it. But I spend my days reading books about, watching videos of, talking about, training for, resting after, hydrating for, dreaming about and thinking of climbing.
Getting the first ascent of "Crown Royal"
       I've made a lot of sacrifices in the pursuit of my dreams. Relationships have suffered and blown up in my face because a lot of the times climbing seemingly came first. Loved ones worry about me constantly because to them I'm on deaths door everyday, which is not the case, but try telling your Mother that climbing  400 feet up a vertical face or whipping 40 feet into the void isn't that dangerous. Sometimes I can't go out to the bar with my friends because I'm working a hard route the following morning and I don't want to be out late drinking. I work jobs that allow me to climb as much as possible, sometimes I leave for 2 months at a time. So I'm not really building a retirement fund working for a big corporation but instead I'm guiding and working at a gear shop. But then again I don't want to be working some career I care nothing about. I'm content making just enough money to be comfortable while not cutting into my climbing. Its a simple life. I have set my life up so that I don't really have anything to fall back on but I can also pick up and go as I please, to a certain extent. I've seen the older, weather worn climbers. There's no end game in this life. You do it until you can't. Then you die. To me that is beautifully simple and honorable! To give all of one's self to a single pursuit. So yes, sometimes I eat tuna and ramen for days on end and I get really depressed on rainy days. And so most of the times my bank account is lower than my IQ, and I'm no genius FYI. And yes the only women in my life are usually my climbing partners and you can't date your climbing partners just so you know. You don't want your belayer pissed off at you because you didn't do the laundry.
Looking for new unclimbed routes
       There is a lighter side to this lifestyle. That's a drastic understatement actually. There is a GOLDEN side to this life I lead. When most people are out at bars on a Friday night I'm usually hiking out of the woods with one of my best friends under the stars of a dark, crisp night sky with a mountain we just climbed far behind us. When the average person is at work I'm deep in the backwoods climbing in remote and beautiful settings, surrounded by pristine, natural wonders. My vacations are frequent and cheap and can be up to a month or more in length. I never question my fortitude because I get to test my mental and physical limits daily. I have friends all over the country that I can crash with for free, unannounced. I'm part of a community of brave, humble, tough and unique characters from every walk of life. My best friends are people I trust with my LIFE on a daily basis. When I go to work I'm either teaching people how to climb outside in the places I would be if I were not working or I'm at Looking Glass Outfitters, talking to people about the climbing and helping them find the right gear or pick the best place to climb for the day. My boss calls me to ask if I can cover for him so he can go climbing and I do the same to him. I don't even wear shoes to work most days! Climbing pays my bills, but I'm not getting rich. Its just enough and not too much. Essentially I'm living my dream, a simple dream but the dream nonetheless.
Showing off my sponsors' gear
     From my passion and training and a little luck I've managed to get sponsored by two prominent companies in the international climbing marketplace, making me in a way, a "pro" climber. La Sportiva, an Italian climbing shoe company and BlueWater Ropes, an American climbing rope company, have selected me as one of their athletes. Being sponsored basically means that these companies recognize my passion and abilities and therefore give me their products to use when I climb ( I'm bound by contract to use only their products and not a competing companies') and in exchange I promote their products through word of mouth, pictures, articles, BLOGS, events and other marketing mediums. Now let me say this... I am not some super elite athlete. I'll give you an analogy using other pro athletes to put things in perspective. If Chris Sharma (one of the top climbers in the world) is playing at the NBA All-Star level, I'm playing for a respectable college team who occasionally makes Sport Center's Top 10. I'm a relatively strong climber but not at the cutting edge of my sport. I read somewhere that the grades of difficulty I climb put me in the top 1% percent of climbers in the world but there are still 10 year old girls and 40 year old men that climb harder than I do. Climbing is like golf, it is a lifetime in pursuit of perfection and is a unique but similar journey for everyone involved.
This is why its important to have your trusted friends as partners.
   While climbing is my job, I haven't sold out to THE MAN. The climbing community is a family of like minded people. I can call my "corporate" sponsors anytime if I need help in life. I've done shots with CEO's of marketing at the crag and I call them on their birthdays. 90% percent of the time people have no idea what I'm climbing or "projecting" ( the art of working one route that is at your limit for long periods of time). Every so often I hire a photographer or put out a video promoting my sponsors but most of the time I'm out there, just climbing. But if my sponsors decided to drop me today, nothing would really change in my life except my ropes and shoes wouldn't be as shiny and new all the time. I'd still go climbing everyday and I'd still be madly in love with my sport/art. I don't do it for the glory or attention and it is still as pure to me as it was the day Jason and Sara Heath took me under their wings as a clueless newbie. If anything it means more to me now  than it did then.
     I'm 26 now. My hair is thinning, rapidly. Hangovers hurt a lot more as do workouts. I have to actually stretch before climbing. I'm maturing as a climber and slowly stepping into a position with more responsibility to my community rather than the "loud, naive gumby" I once was. I still have a lot to learn and I also try to pass on my knowledge to younger climbers as my friends did to me when I was starting out. I still have the mindset of an 18 year old with severe A.D.H.D. but I'm growing up nevertheless. I've started to take a step back and look at my life as I am forced to become more and more aware of my fleeting youth but I must say I'm pretty content. I think I still have my best climbing in front of me and I'm happy with the past climbing has laid behind me. I've met amazing people and seen amazing things from perspectives most people can only dream about. I like to think I have a better grasp on why I do what I do after all these years and I'll do my best to convey what I've learned about myself, but this is like trying to describe to someone what love feels like. All I can think to tell you is that I love climbing the way a mother loves her only child, that I need climbing like a lover needs the warm skin of their partner, that without climbing I would be lost in a world of consumption and  greed. Climbing is the first thought on my mind in the morning and the last thing I think about before I fall asleep. To add to George Mallory's answer to an old question, I climb because it is there, I climb because I can not imagine a life without climbing..
Bouldering at 13,00ft in Colorado

Thanks for reading and please pursue your passions at whatever the cost.

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