Friday, April 15, 2011

Sometimes more solo than tandem

Teresa and I are planning a training weekend in Leavenworth this weekend... a crack here and there has started to show. I’m struggling with motivation in a big, big way. Partly, I’ve been so enjoying my time doing alone things... at my own pace, without having to keep up with anyone else. Alone things feel so different than climbing... climbing has, pretty much, always been about trying to keep up with someone else, or accepting the role of leader and the sometimes welcome pressure of setting the pace for someone else to keep up with.

With Teresa, I really feel that we’re capable of being peers... we climb about the same level; we have a solid base of skills and a really solid grasp of common sense and problem solving; neither of us has to lead or follow; and we have a crapton of fun when we’re out there just the two of us. We just make a really, really good team. And even so, we still have some differences that we are working to reconcile.

I’m struggling to find a place of partnership that is not me doing this for Teresa; that’s not me making commitments or choosing routes or taking trips or climbing pitches because I know that’s what Teresa wants. I’m struggling, hard, to find a place of partnership that is motivated from the inside... to make a commitment to Teresa to join her for routes and trips that I’m genuinely stoked about... that, when we pull the plug on the camp mats at 5am, I’ll be up and at ‘em and ready to climb, rather than laying there wishing for rain.

Partly, I don’t feel like I’m as connected to the “ambition” organ that seems to power most climbers. Climbing is scary and blissful, for me. For me, the baseline is that basic human organism’s natural “WTF” over tying yourself to a rope and setting off up up up something. That’s the baseline at which I can operate right now. I’ve been able, at other times in my life, often motivated by other peoples’ wants and needs, to push myself to accept a higher level of fear in order to achieve someone else’s goal. Once in awhile, I’ve found that motivation and ambition in myself, to achieve my own goal -- although, it’s not lost on me that those times have mostly occurred when I’m climbing with people with whom I do not have a relationship … when I’m a climber and the other person is a belayer and I don’t have as much sensitivity to his or her feelings or needs as I do when I’m connected to my climbing partner by more than just a rope.

I want to climb, I love to climb, but at the first hint of external pressure or expectation or even a request for a baseline commitment from a partner -- which are all a necessary part of climbing for all of us who choose roped routes -- I retreat a little. I feel those familiar sense memories of moving with someone else’s tide -- not because of them, but because of my lack of experience moving with my own -- and hear the voices in my head, of “suck it up,” and “do it for me,” and my own saying “ok, I’ll lead if you want me to,” and the worst, “I don’t care, I’ll do whatever you want.” I feel the unwelcome mix of fear and exhilaration that feed some peoples’ souls, and that leave me just plain exhausted.

The last couple of years, I have become a lone wolf in more ways than I realized. I’m most content, now, in my adventures that are solo -- or -- when the stakes are so low that my partners are not depending on me for their own success. When I get to decide based on my own internal measures whether a certain risk is worth taking, or not worth taking. Maybe that’s just laziness... an excuse. I don’t know. But I do know I’m not the world’s greatest climbing partner right now.

I hate the question, “What does this mean?” because I don’t particularly think there’s an answer... I think that any particular thing that we ask that question about just is, and it’s not about what it means. This quiet day at the kitchen table, I find myself asking... what does it mean for me as a climber, that I want to go have some fun climbing in beautiful places with good friends, and to be outside and push myself in my way, at my pace, but not push myself at someone else’s pace or subject myself to external pressure? What does that mean for me, as a climbing partner?

I guess it doesn’t mean anything. I guess it just is. I guess I will continue to communicate as honestly as possible with Teresa (and my other climbing partners) about what’s going on with me... about where my soft spots and wounds are, and about what I’m genuinely stoked about and what gives me more pause. The funny thing is that it’s not the harder, longer, more committing objectives that give me pause... those are the weekends I’m completely stoked about. It’s just hard for me to get motivated about our training trips, because I know how much adrenaline I burn during those training weekends that aren’t an objective; I know how much fear I face; I know that the prioritization of pushing ourselves vs. having fun is a little bit different for me and for Teresa.

Or maybe, Teresa is right, and we’re both saying the same thing just in different ways when we talk about our training weekends. Maybe I need to quit my yapping and rock climb.

So, we’ll practice this weekend. We’ve got iffy conditions and a plan for two days of climbing (with a compromise stop off to ski a few runs on the way home). I imagine that all this personal angst will be for naught... that we’ll get out there and remember just how much fun we have climbing together. That we’ll each get a little scared at some point, and we’ll help each other through it like we always do. That we’ll find our bliss and come home tired and banged up and happy and remembering why we climb -- individually, and together. And then we’ll pull out the calendar and the guidebooks and start making the ticklist for our next adventure.


  1. Climbing for me is a very selfish pursuit, I climb because it makes me feel balanced and happy.

    Is the objective you are training for something you want to do because you will enjoy the experience or something you are doing for the sense of accomplishment? Working out in the gym can be tedious but if the training you are doing outside isn't enjoyable, then maybe your objective won't be either?

  2. How do you find people who push you to climb more?? If they bug you, send them to me! I'd even be happy with someone who doesn't push me to climb less!

    Have fun this weekend! And I think you're right, it doesn't mean anything.

  3. I totally hear this, although I think I'm coming out of an unmotivated time right now. But, I have a hard time getting super-psyched about a weekend of cragging as opposed to one big objective, or a route I've had my eye on for a long time.

    I would make the small suggestion that you look at your weekend trips as "going climbing" rather than "training trips." If you lived east of the Missouri River, climbing at Leavenworth and Smith Rock would be called "vacation."

    I suppose the alternative is to slack on training, and politely bribe Teresa to lead all the hard pitches ...

  4. Peanut butter. I like peanut butter and watermelon. And coffee. :) Somehow, I dont think Rippin' Guns Lingafelter would let me take them all though.

    I do LOVE your suggestion, Brendan, about every weekend being like a vacation. That's how they feel to me. I can come home after 2 days on local rock and feel like I've been gone for a week. That feeling is part of why I love to climb.

  5. I want that on a t-shirt. Maybe we'll have to have team shirts. Hmmmm... what would yours say, T?

  6. That's a brilliant idea. More importantly, what would Maile's say?

  7. I'm backing yours to read "Hellz Yes!"

    For Maile... maybe...

    "Why are we out here when we could be playing in snow?"

    Or, perhaps,

    "Will you get down here and give me a cookie, please?"

  8. Or, if you're bored of cragging go do Outer Space!

    I would be there today if I had a partner!