Monday, January 16, 2012

It really is all about having fun.

"The best climber in the world is the one having the most fun!" ~Alex Lowe

I am not a strong climber. I can top-rope .10 on a "low gravity day." My trad leading abilities top out at about 5.6 and I can't even get my ass of the ground of V1 sit-start.

Of course, when I started climbing, I had big dreams and big goals. I wanted to be a 5.10 trad leader and a 5.12 sport leader. Now, I'd settle for 5.8 and 5.10 respectively. But since I've been stuck at the 5.6 level for the last 3-4 years, I'm beginning to question even that. I'm physically strong enough to pull off harder leads, but haven't figured out how to slay my fear dragon yet, so I stay on more or less comfortable terrain. But that is a blog post for another day.

I use to get really down on myself for not climbing harder. I didn't train enough or didn't know how to train properly. I was too lazy to work enough at it. I just didn't climb enough to be that good. I had a bajillion internal conversations with myself about why it even mattered anyway; its not like "she climbed hard" was going to be on my epitaph or anything. Whenever a climber is killed in the mountains or passes away, people always remember what kind of person they were- the deceased's endless energy or megawatt-smile or how they encouraged new & struggling climbers. I have yet to read the obit of a climber and see any reference to what grade they climbed. (Although to be fair, if they had the first ascent of some proud and classic lines, they might be referenced.)

Yet I couldn't seem to give up my focus on climbing harder. I tried to justify my obsession; I wanted to travel to other climbing areas and climbing harder was a necessity for enjoying more of the terrain instead of hunting all over the place for the few entry level lines. At my home crag in the Gunks, there are plenty of fun moderate routes, but if you're climbing on the weekend, expect to spend most of your day waiting in line to climb them. I told myself that I wanted to climb harder so I could climb more. The funny thing was, the more I focused on not being good enough, the less fun climbing became, the less I wanted to climb and surprise, the more I sucked at it when I did go! On more then one occasion, I contemplated selling off my rack and just giving it up altogether.

Many times when I would bemoan my quandary to fellow climbers, the above quote would be thrown back at me. It got to the point where I hated that sentence. I hated the sentence because I got to the point where I no longer knew how to have fun. I know that sounds strange, because why would you get into a hobby that involves hanging off the side of a cliff in potentially life-threatening conditions if you don't get something out of it? But seriously, there was a time when every climbing outing just resulted in disappointment and frustration. I wanted to have fun, but I just didn't know how.

Then I figured it out.

You don't focus on what you don't want to happen (having a bad day), you focus on what you do want to happen- to have fun- and then you just do it. When I started going out without any expectations and instead, just focused on having fun, well, hot damn! I had fun and I found myself climbing harder. Then I wanted to climb more because it was fun, and by climbing more, I also noticed my climbing improved. I was feeling more confident on lead, climbing stuff on top-rope I didn't think I could do- it was Zen and the Art of Climbing.

I didn't realize that I finally figured it out until this past weekend. I had the opportunity to take an ice climbing clinic with the fabulous Zoe Hart at Adirondack Mountainfest. I was nervous about looking like a totally gumby in front of Zoe. And the cold! We had our coldest day of the year on Sunday- our local guide Jack told me later that the high was probably 0 degrees in the canyon where we were.

Going into the clinic, I was initially afraid of the cold. In fact, I almost missed it because I stopped by EMS to rent a pair of double plastic boots just in case. I had packed just about every layer I owned. But when I finally met up with my group, my fear suddenly changed. Maybe their coffee hadn't kicked in yet, but those folks looked serious and I started to doubt that I was going to be able to keep up. These folks looked totally badass and when Jack said we were going to go to Positive Reinforcement, I felt myself gulp hard. (In retrospect, I may have confused Positive Reinforcement with Positive Thinking, which is a much harder line.)

I'll spare all of the details because in the end, what matters is, I had a great time. I remembered that Zoe is a guide, not a talent scout, so it didn't matter if I failed, only that I tried. It didn't matter if everyone in the clinic was better then me, all I could do once I walked in that room was try my best. And instead of fearing the cold, I decided to take it on as a challenge, to see if I could dial in my system and stay toasty is the coldest conditions I have been in yet. I surprised myself with how well I climbed, not compared to anyone else, but just for me. And I had so much fun dancing to the songs in my head as a belayed- a fantastic way to stay warm. I felt I met the challenge of managing the extreme cold pretty well and learned some areas where I could improve as well. I met some great folks, traded some emails and will hopefully have some new climbing partners in the future.

And when it was time to leave, as I steered my little car back on to the Adirondack Northway and pointed her south for home, I continued the good vibes by having my own little dance party in the car on the way home. I had a smile from ear to ear. In that moment, I realized I was the best climber in the world.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Celebrity Death Match 2012: Resolutions vs. Goals

I love Christmas. I suppose its because I have a lot of great memories from when I was a kid. But I dislike New Year's. This year, I down-right despised it. In fairness, this may have had more to do with the fact that instead of skiing or climbing over the holiday, my husband and I moved our entire apartment. I hate moving. I always end up infuriated with myself for having too much stuff. Maybe that will be another blog post.

But I digress. Why do I hate New Year's? Because if making a change or a shift in your life is so important, why wait to do it? Start now, whatever day that happens to be. A few days after bemoaning this point on my Facebook page, Kelly Cordes made the same point, except his was way cooler because you just can't top a mullet.

Case in point. Between the holidays and not having a serviceable stove for about week, my previously squeaky clean diet has gotten a little out of hand. I actually patronized a fast food restaurant today. Eww. How did it get that bad? I gave myself license to wait till January 1. With the deadline fast approaching, I often found my brain saying, "hurry up and eat this piece of crap before you go back on your diet." And now here it is January 4. I'm carrying around 5 extra pounds and I'm cranky & irritable. That's classic addiction, folks. All because I got suckered into the "New Year's Resolution" B.S.

So I resolved not to resolve. The definition of resolve is "to come to a definite or earnest decision about." A definite decision about. The very word implies a permanence, a lack of backsliding. The problem with this of course, is that when we "resolve" to do something, and then fail to adhere to said resolution, our human nature is to just give the whole thing up. How many people do you know who resolve to go on a diet January 1, slip and eat one donut and instantly go back to their old ways of eating? Exactly. 

Of course, this has a lot to do with how we go about resolutions in the first place. The majority of the time we resolve to not do something. No more smoking. No more fridge raids in the middle of the night. No more carbs. I think anyone who understands human nature would agree that we are more likely to follow through on positive goals we set instead of resolving to no longer engage in negative behaviors and habits we would like to change. 

So I've been toying with the idea of "setting goals" instead of "new year's resolutions"- maintaining focus instead on fun things I want to accomplish that will add to my overall quality of life. I know the timing is rather auspicious, after all its only 4 days into the new year and this all sounds a lot like these pesky resolutions I keep railing against. But with the move to the new apartment, it reminded of this article I recently read on I encourage you to read the whole thing, but the long & short of it is that Vietnam soldiers who stayed in Vietnam while they dried out from their heroin addiction did better staying cleaning stateside then vets who came home to get clean.  Why? Environment. Many of our habits are subconsciously tied to environmental cues. You have a better chance of changing the behavior if you also change the environment/routine surrounding them. New apartment = new routine, so why not be intentional about creating a routine and environment that really works for me?

The deal was sealed though after reading this inspirational article from Erica Lineberry over at Cragmama. Just a humble list of her goals for the 2011 season with an intimate report on whether or not she achieve them this season. What I loved most about her list was her response to the goals she didn't achieve this season: "no biggie." That's the beauty of positive goals: even if you don't achieve them, you're still better off for having tried. Whereas if you resolve to stop doing something, and then you fail and do it again, where has that left you? Feeling like a failure. No beuno. 

So what are my 2012 goals? Well that's another blog post. :-)