Off Route

Going off route happens to every climber at some point in time. Maybe it’s a sucker hold, tantalizingly chalked but undeniably terrible. You thought the line meandered. It didn’t. Now you’re pumped, tired, holding onto something awful and wondering what’s next. Sometimes, you retreat, back down, regroup, and try again. Sometimes you can’t reverse course, and you’re airborne.

Since I moved to Chicago, I’ve felt like my life is off route. I’m still struggling to find a way to integrate my climbing life with my life-life. I fought all winter to survive, to stay excited about climbing despite a lack of time outdoors, and to fullfill my work obligations in the face of mounting dissatisfaction.

At some point, I stopped working towards my climbing goals.

At some point, I stopped caring that I wasn’t making progress.

At some point, making it to the gym at all became victory, even if I was too tired to train or even climb well.

Before my week long trip in early April, I called home. I was limping through a busy period at work, stressed out of my mind, and worried about my upcoming trip. I desperately needed climbing to be there for me. I was worried that I wouldn’t enjoy the trip, or climbing itself.

Thankfully, I was wrong. Sanity was temporarily restored. I had an amazing week sleeping burrowed into my sleeping bag (it was cold!), meeting new folks, and steadily destroying my skin. Though I had wandered away from climbing, it was right there waiting for me when I got back.

But it had to end. As I got back to work in Chicago, the same frustrations returned. Logistical issues and the lack of a like-minded consistent climbing partner made the status of future trips uncertain. So for some reason, I stopped writing. I meant to. I knew I ‘should’ write. That I would lose readers if I didn’t. Somehow though, I couldn’t make myself do it.

This post isn’t an apology, only an explanation. I’m trying to find a way to be true to myself and get my life back on route. I’m working on finding ways to be happy in the circumstances I’m stuck with until I can make a move to change them.

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Begin Again

I need to buy a plane ticket. After a few months of Chicago winter, with ever mounting stresses and pressures at work, I should be jumping at the chance to escape on a climbing trip. Instead, I’m afraid.

I wrote before about a scary fall that happened while I was climbing in the Red this autumn. Since then, I’ve been working to regain and improve my leading confidence, but it hasn’t been an easy road. I need this trip, I need this time in the outdoors because daily life leaves me tired, stressed, and depleted. But I’m afraid, because I’m worried that I’ll want confidence and mastery that I probably won’t have on my first outdoor trip in over 3 months. I’m wanting climbing to be easy and restorative, but I’m not sure that it will be.

I’ve recently started practicing yoga. It’s been more challenging and rewarding than I thought. One of the things I’m learning in yoga is to accept what my body can do on a particular day, to not force poses I’m ready for.

Great blog post from Heidi Wirtz over at the North Face website, and some beautiful photos. Click through for the post.

I want to try to take what I’m learning in yoga and apply it to my climbing. When I get back out again, I want to be present in my body and my mind–accept what I’m ready to do and try not to force the rest. Though it’s not in my nature, I want to trick myself into becoming a beginner again.

Everyone takes time off, from the most earnest beginner ripping off skin on huge jugs, to the seasoned climbers who suffer injury or accident. Sometimes it’s work that gets in the way, sometimes it’s family, or travel.

To get started again: Let go of what was, what you used to be able to do. Accept where you are right now and be present. Do what you can one day at a time, listen to your body. Breathe in and begin again. 

Performance Paradigms

What happens when you don’t live up to your own past performance?

What happens when you get worse instead of getting better or staying the same?

I wrote earlier this year about some of the transition blues I was having after my move to Chicago. I made my goal of 20 days climbing outside this fall, but if you asked me, I would tell you that I had a mediocre season.

I’ve written before about the negative impacts grade-chasing has had on my climbing experience. In July, I was dreaming big and getting disappointed when my expectations didn’t meet reality. This fall, I expected the numbers I was climbing to stay the same, despite drastically reduced training and outdoor time, and the added stress of a move to a new city and a job.

Smith Rock, May 2012, when life was a bit simpler.

Grades are a measure of performance. One measure. The easiest measure, not the only measure, and not the best measure.

I have always had high self-expectations. My analytical self loves grades, precisely because they’re an easy measure of performance. Did I send the grade I wanted to? Am I meeting the expectation I set for myself? These questions become easy to answer when your metric is whether or not you sent a particular grade. A simple metric is attractive, but it causes you to lose sight of the incredible richness of the climbing experience.

To let grades and sending define performance as a climber is to narrow the whole spectrum of climbing experiences to a single binary measure, a black and white vision of success or failure. 

As the season wraps, I’m trying to appreciate how I’m growing as a person and as a climber as the result of my experiences, not worry about what grades I’m climbing. Since it seems (to me) to be related, I’ll close this post with this great quote by Alan Watts:

Also, when we are dancing we are not aiming to arrive at a particular place on the floor as in a journey. When we dance, the journey itself is the point, as when we play music the playing itself is the point.

Ups and Downs

As climbers, we spend a lot of time going up and down. We go up and down the trail, up and down routes at the crag, and up and down the road that gets us there.

I haven’t written here in a while because I’ve been having some ups and downs with my relationship to climbing. Mostly downs, actually.

I had a scary fall two weeks ago. I was climbing an easy (for me) route which I had climbed once before that day. The next bolt was at my waist, as-yet un-clipped, when I made a move for the clipping jug and missed.

I fell.

As I was falling, I felt the rope come behind my leg mid-air. I reacted instinctively, throwing my head and shoulders away from the wall. When I came to a stop, upside down, just the tip of my left toe touched the wall. I ended up with a small rope burn and seriously shaken confidence, but no other ill effects.

At the same time, I had just started graduate classes and was really struggling. It felt like I wasn’t good at anything I was trying to do–not classes, not climbing. I was definitely feeling down.

For me, a weekend trip to the Red entails 15 hours of driving for two days of climbing. It’s seriously tiring, and it’s hard to get any work done over the weekend. I began to question my decision to come climb–was it even worth it if I was going to suck so badly? The scary fall triggered a whole slew of questions about my commitment to climbing, my commitment to my career, and worries about my ability to have climbing in my life while learning and living in Chicago.

The Red is magic–always worth the trip.
Photo by Flickr user jcschu07, click through for more of his photos.

I don’t have answers to many of these deeper questions yet, but I am feeling much more positive now, mostly thanks to amazing friends in the climbing community.

I made a number of truly special friends on my trip, who remain friends even though they are now very far away. Talking to them helped me to process the aftermath of the bad fall and figure out how to move forward with my climbing.

I am making new friends in the climbing community here. They have encouraged me to get back on the sharp end, been patient and understanding when I get scared, and their psyche has kept me motivated. Last weekend, I went back down to the Red, took some practice falls, sent a few routes, and tried some hard stuff. The fear is still there, but I’m not letting it rule me.

Grad school is hard. Making it outside to climb when you live in Chicago is hard. Figuring out how to balance climbing and a demanding work schedule is hard, but this week, for the first time since I started classes, it feels like I’ll be able to pull it off. :)

Training Dreams

Today is the day before work starts for me in earnest. Some things are kicking in already, but tomorrow the deluge will begin. I wanted to take a moment to think about my health and my goals for the semester, so I sat down and planned out a training schedule and some training goals.

Those of you that have been around for a while might notice that some of my goals are reprises from last spring–whups.  I am dreaming big and hoping that I’ll have the dedication and determination to stick with this schedule through what I anticipate to be a very busy fall.

Goals: 

  1. Redpoint 111 5.11s and 12 5.12s — I set this goal over the summer, and then realized that it was way too ambitious for the time I had left. It’s probably too ambitious for this season too. I’m keeping it around because I want to be committed to building a base and pushing my limits. I’m hoping to make progress on the totals this fall, but I’m not sure accomplishing this goal is realistic. Current count: 20/111 5.11s, 3/12 5.12s
  2. 20 Days Outside in the Fall — This one is pretty self explanatory. Getting outdoors time is really important for improving, especially for me, as I am still working to address my mental weaknesses. Current progress: 2/20!
  3. 5 Pull-ups in a Set — I set this goal because doing pull-ups makes me feel confident and bad-ass, not because I’m hoping it will improve my climbing. Currently at a 3 rep max.
  4. 10 Push-ups — I still can’t do a real push-up. I got pretty close to doing one normal push-up last spring, then went on the road and promptly stopped training push-ups. This a smaller part of a broader effort to do more opposition muscle work this fall.
  5. Lift Two Days a Week
  6. Redpoint 5.12b — I have about 5 days around Thanksgiving, which is the longest block of outdoor time I’ll be able to get all fall. I’m hoping to have a project in mind by then, and cap off the outdoor season with a win.

In recognition that I’m not going to have as much time as I want, I’m backing off on performance oriented goals, and trying to set goals that will motivate me to get make time for lifting and climbing, and help me stay consistent. What are your big goals this fall? What steps are you going to take to accomplish them?

After the break, I included my training schedule for those of you that are interested. :)

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City Love, City Hate

Last week, while I was writing this post about living in my truck, I was in the process of moving into my apartment in Chicago. It was a bit weird to be writing down all my tips for living in a small space while I was in the process of acquiring all the stuff required to live in a much larger space. While I’m excited about starting a new phase in my career, and I think I made the right choice professionally, I’m not sure I’m sold on living in Chicago.

I loved the minimalism and simplicity of living in a small space on four wheels. I loved being completely (or mostly) independent, free to go wherever my whims took me. I loved being outdoors all day every day. I loved meeting new people every week, and learning from other climbers.

I wasn’t ready to give up life on the road. I miss it. I’ve definitely had some post-move blues here in Chicago, and I’m weathering them as well as I can.

I’ve been trying to keep myself sane and positive. I take it one day at a time. During the move, I accepted that I wasn’t going to be able to train enough to keep getting stronger or better. Instead, I focused on keeping good movement quality while I climbed indoors, and on getting out enough to maintain the gains I made over the summer. This approach–maintain what you have, don’t try to force improvement–is a tip I picked up from 9/10 Climbers Make the Same Mistakes. It gave me a coach-approved excuse to let go of my perfectionist self and just be grateful that I got to climb at all.

Finally, I made plans to get outside! It took three long weeks in Chicago for the stars to align, but I’m headed down to the Red this weekend. If you’ll be around, feel free to send me an email or shoot me a tweet to let me know! :)

Projecting in Maple

Projecting can be a rocky road, especially if the project in question is close to your limit. I’ve been working lately on 49, a 5.12a on the Minimum Wall here in Maple Canyon. It’s a challenging project for me for a number of reasons–it’s long and sustained, it overhangs, and the bolts are well-spaced. I only have a few days left here in the Canyon and on this trip in general–I really want to pull off a win and send before I leave!

On Ground Work, 5.11c at the Minimum. Erik Jenson photo.

It seems like every time I’m on the route, I make a different mistake. I’ve one-hung it four times now, once even while hanging draws. At the end of my last day working the route, with three one-hangs in a day, I felt tired and beaten. I went back to camp and slept for 11 hours straight, and stayed away from the route on my next day climbing.

I’ve noticed a trend in my first go of the day of a route I’ve been working on–I tend to rush my climbing. By the time I pull on, I’ve been thinking about the route since I woke up, sometimes for the whole day before too. I go over key beta in my head, vizualise a successful send, think about why I failed the last few times, and plan how I’m going to do better. This anticipation creates a sense of urgency that causes me to rush my climbing–more than once, it’s caused me to fail on ‘easy’ or ‘wired’ moves. In my hurry to get the crux and do it right, finally, I’ll skip adjusting a foot lower down, or fail to hold enough tension in my body to execute a move.

My goal for tomorrow is to hop on my project relaxed and unhurried. To be patient with myself and with my body, and to give it all I’ve got. Wish me luck! :)