Last Saturday, I found myself in Trident Booksellers, a cute coffee shop/bookstore in downtown Boulder, Colorado. Trident sits off the West End of the Pearl Street Mall, in the shadow of Boulder’s signature Flatirons—three iconic rocks that provide a slabby playground for the thousands of climbers that call the city home.
Even though the weather was beautiful, I wasn’t spending my weekend outside. I was alone, tapping away on my manuscript inside Trident. I spend a lot of days this way.
A man I know—a Bangladeshi Buddhist monk—tapped my table as he went to order a drink at the front. I smiled; happy to see him. He came back, Kombucha in hand. “We are studying out back, if you would like to join us.” I grinned a big grin, and said absolutely, I’d be out in a minute.
Boulder’s the sort of town where things like that aren’t too far out of the ordinary.
Out back, I found my monk with two friends who I had met once before, while rock climbing. They were all studying for their exams at Naropa University, a small Buddhist university. They asked me what I was doing. Writing my book, I responded. “Oh sweet, what’s it about?” one asked me. “Climbing?”
I laughed. “No, although you’d be forgiven for thinking that,” I said. “I am reading a book about climbing, though,” I said, brandishing a copy of Brendan Leonard’s new, bright-yellow book, Sixty Meters to Anywhere. “Have you guys been climbing since we last went?”
“No!” the woman says. “We’ve tried to get out with Meg a few times, but it hasn’t happened.”
“I’ve got a rope and draws with me,” I said. “I could take you.”
We worked for a few hours, and then skipped off at 4:30, rushing home to grab our climbing gear, reconvene, and squeeze in some evening laps before the daylight died in Boulder Canyon.
We cheers over a few post-climb ciders and a vegetarian pie at Backcountry Pizza. Glad I ran into you two, I say. That was fun.
“I just feel so good after I climb,” the woman says. “I really want to learn more!”
This sentiment is what lies at the center of Brendan Leonard’s memoir, Sixty Meters to Anywhere.
Climbers, as anyone who has the pleasure of knowing one will attest, are kind of obsessive people.
For some reason—there’s something about the sport—people who get into climbing tend to get really into it. They take endless Instagram photos. They spend their evenings pouring over gear catalogs. They move into vans so they can travel all over and sleep closer to the crags. They sprint outside at 5 p.m. to catch laps in the Canyon after work. They write memoirs about the ways climbing has changed their life.
Sixty Meters to Anywhere is one of those books about climbing changing someone’s life.
The book describes Brendan Leonard’s struggles with alcoholism, growing up in the Midwest. After one DUI arrest too many, he heads West, to Montana, where he gradually discovers the healing powers of mountains—and eventually, the addictive and restorative properties of rock climbing.
I wouldn’t call this book a “climbing memoir,” although Leonard spends a little too much time describing the nuts-and-cams action of ascending routes for my taste (and I’m a climber myself). This book is more of a memoir of self-reflection, discovery, and redefinition.
What do you do with yourself when the thing that once defined you (alcohol, for Leonard), is the one thing you can no longer touch?
That’s the central question of the book, and it’s a thoughtful one. Anyone who ‘s been through a tough breakup, had to give up something they loved, or faced a major life or career change can relate to the struggle in these pages.
As with Leonard’s previous book, The New American Road Trip Mixtape (my review here), the writing is light and conversational. You could read this book in a leisurely afternoon, although the chapter structure maybe lends itself better to a casual cruise over the course of a few days. That’s how I read it.
It’s a good, light read if you like climbing, have struggled with addiction or alcoholism, or enjoy stories of self-discovery.
More of Brendan Leonard’s writing can be found on his website, Semi-Rad.com.
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