Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Story of Gear

"Don't spend money on gear, spend money on plane tickets." solo expedition kayaker (and grandmother) Audrey Sutherland, who has paddled more than 8,000 miles around the world. 

It's November and there is a cold drizzle falling outside. Despite my pleading entreaties to the weather gods, rock climbing seems to be officially over here in the Northeast. With rock season over, its time to box up my cams and send them to Black Diamond to be reslung. The original nylon slings seem to be in good shape, but at the ripe old age of 8 years, the prudent thing to do would be to have them replaced, fresh and ready to go for next year's rock season.

Or perhaps, I'll wait just a little while longer. There might be one more warm day hiding in the forecast and I don't want to miss it if half of my rack is in SLC. Then again, if I had new cams, the newer lighter C4s, it wouldn't matter. And with that, my inner gear whore starts the wheels turning.

Despite my determination to not let the season end just yet, a new season means a new sport. And a new sport means what else- new gear! I've been really looking forward to trying my hand at some backcountry skiing this winter. The one unfortunate thing about this is that a backcountry rig ain't cheap and its hard to find that gear used, at least it is in this neck of the woods. I can rent backcountry gear up in the Daks or New Hampshire, but not locally, so it would be terribly inconvenient if I wanted to go run up the back side of Hunter in the Catskills one afternoon. Having your own gear can be very important sometimes because it just might mean the difference between doing something you love outdoors and staying at home. And as expensive as skis are, few people are blessed to have a spare rig just laying around to lend to a friend.

And there's ice climbing. I do own ice tools, crampons and boots. My boots are a pair of Scarpa Freney's that picked up several years ago for $100 on Sierra Trading Post. Apparently, there are very few men on the planet with a size 5 foot, or whatever the men's equivalent of a women's size 7 shoe may be. Because they are men's shoes, they have a pretty funny shape. In terms of length, they are short, but since they are built on a men's last they are wider then a women's shoes. They look like moon boots. For a child.

They've gotten me this far. And considering I average less then 10 days of ice climbing a year (OK, let's be honest, more like, less then 5 days), there is really no need for a new boot when those work perfectly well. But oh, the La Sportiva Women's Nepal Evo GTX! How beautiful they are! I look at their thin, dainty profile in sharp contrast to my bulky moon boots and wonder if my footwork on the ice would be improved  by the narrower, more streamlined boot. Perhaps, if I had better footwork, I would climb better, enjoy climbing more, therefore I would go climbing more and this is how the logic goes to justify the need to buy boots that I don't need. Same for tools. I climb now on a hand-me-down pair of Quarks, wrapped to the hilt in grip tape by my DH, the Guide. These are perfectly serviceable for my limited forays each winter, but when I look at the new Black Diamond Fusion tools- Father, forgive me for I have sinned. I've had impure thoughts about purchasing those tools.

It's in these moments that Audrey Sutherland's words haunt my thoughts, like my own damn Jimney Cricket. I go to work everyday, getting more and more pasty as I languish under the fluorescent lights. I make money then spend it on gear & toys I'll rarely get to use because I have to go to said job to keep making the moola. Or I could stop the insanity, learn to be content with gear & toys I do have and then spend money on plane tickets.

If only it were that simple. Plane tickets, in addition to their upfront costs also require time away from work. No work, no pay. The hidden cost of the trip is the lost revenue. In this way, the gear is cheaper. And then let's not forget the added bonus of it sitting on the floor next to the door, silently mocking me each time I run out said door, late for work again.

It's a fine line between having the right gear that let's you get out more and helps you enjoy the experience more when you do get out, and overdoing it on having the latest & greatest simply because it is the latest & greatest. Where that line is, I believe, is different for different people. DH, the Guide, for instance, has more of need for those shiny new, light-weight C4s then I do. So each season, I work on vanquishing that inner gear whore and instead focus on getting out and enjoying the sport itself with Audrey Sutherland on my shoulder of course.

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