Conversations With Londoners

London, England Travel Blog

“So, second day in Lisbon, she tells you she doesn’t love you. Says she doesn’t have room for you in your life. You said it got worse every day — I don’t see how that’s possible.”

That’s Barney, my colleague here in London. He’s 22, 23. Something like that. He sits next to me in this office where I will be working for the next five weeks. 

I’d come here to London at the request of my boss, but more importantly, at the request of a romantic interest — the one I’d been chasing for the better part of a year. She’d wanted me in Europe for the summer, so we could continue our romance at a slightly closer proximity. I’d just spent an awful week with her in Lisbon, which I was currently recounting to Barney.

“Oh, it does get worse,” I say. “Third day and fourth days she’s very sick. UTI. Starts treating it with cranberry pills.”

“CRANBERRY PILLS?” Barney interrupts. “Shitting cranberry pills?”

“Yeah,” I say. “Doesn’t do anything.”

“Of course it didn’t do anything, because you need to take shitting antibiotics!” he rages. A modern man, Barney. He doesn’t suffer fools.

“Yeah,” I nod. “I know. Anyways, turns out after I leave that it’s not just a UTI — it’s a kidney infection. (Which antibiotics also would have treated.) So she’s had a kidney infection literally the entire visit.”

“Is she like a fucking hippie child?” he asks. “Kind of girl who would wear a flower crown? Why the fuck is she taking cranberry pills.”

“Ehhh… kinda,” I say. “She was wearing a flower in her hair in Lisbon,” I say, drifting off in memory. Weeks later, when I pack to leave London, I will find this bougainvillea in my luggage. I won’t know what to do with it, and will, sadly, put it back in the inner-breast pocket of my jacket. Unable to let it go.

“Hey! Hey!” Barney snaps in front of my face. “Finish your fucking story.”

“Oh, right,” I say, coming out of nostalgic memory, and back to the hard reality of the thing. “Fifth day was her birthday. That one was alright. We were supposed to go to the beach but never got there. Drank a pitcher of sangria by the famous tower, you know the one. That got her talking a little. OK day.”

“Sixth day — she’s promised me we’ll talk this day. ‘Just give me a few days,’ she said. ‘Saturday, Saturday we’ll talk.’ So, Saturday: she gets a new roommate. Her other one is out of town, so the whole time I’m there she’s been trying to sublet it, you know,”

“Jesus Christ,” says Barney.

“Yeah,” I say. “I know. I was less than happy about that. She was always trying to buy a fucking washing machine too, and shit like that? Didn’t seem very present. So anyways. Sixth day, new roommate. She gives the roommate the only set of keys.”

“Noooo,” he says.

“Yup. I told her not to, but anyways, she gives away the keys to this new person she just met. Then she makes me go pick up some more furniture. Awesome. Already told her I’m not into the whole building a house thing. But anyways, whatever, we end up getting this furniture, struggling with it on the metro, right? Then — of course — we’re locked out of the apartment. Did I mention she’s still got the kidney infection?”

“Jesus Dan,” he says, shaking his head. “You did not have much luck on this trip, did you?”

“Noooo I did not,” I say. “Anyways, so we spend that night wandering around in the cold, trying to get the keys. She’s miserable. I’m annoyed. We still haven’t talked any more about what happened on Tuesday. About us. Eventually we get the fucking keys and go home. Everyone’s angry. That’s it. That’s Saturday. No talk.”

“Next day’s Sunday. Last day. She wakes up, tries to have sex with me. I just… can’t. I’m so sad, I don’t want it, you know? Sex for me is all about the emotional connection. And she’s shut that down, completely. I go to the bathroom and just cry. 

“She wants to go to the beach, but I just want to get this fucking talk over with, you know? I force it, probably. Anyways, it goes from: she ends up inviting me to move in with her, to telling me she doesn’t have space for me in her life, to me telling her I was with another girl in New York. We run out of time, I gotta go catch my flight. And then I leave her a letter that says that I love her.”

There’s a beat.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Barney asks. “Really, what made you think ANY. OF. THAT. was a good idea?”

“Things did get away from me a little bit,” I admit.

“No fucking shit they got away from you,” Barney says. “Wayyyy far away.”

Then he adds: “Can I read the letter?”

I hesitate for a second, then say: “Sure. Why not?”

I have nothing left to lose.

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An Almost-Disastrous Climbing Trip to Indian Creek

Indian Creek Creative Writing Essays

“There’s no cell service at the Creek.”

Jake’s garbled voice came through Meg’s car speakers. We were testing the ranges of civilization, on I-70 out of Colorado. Red, scrubby desert stretched for miles all around us.

“The only way to communicate at the Creek is by posting a note on the message boards,” the voice on the phone said. “We’ll meet you there tomorrow. Good luck.”

As we cruised through Moab, headed South, I sent the last messages I would send for three days. They bounced up from the Utah desert, hit a satellite, and then redirected across the Atlantic Ocean, to Italy.

We’ll be out of touch for a few days, I said. Let’s use this time to think about things.

Please be careful and come back in one piece? The response came. Otherwise all this pondering will be pointless.

Sure, I said, and the car continued on.

Within seconds: no signal.

Tomorrow would be the first day in four months, or maybe more, that this woman I and would not talk.

We drove on, and for there first time in months, I put my phone aside, my mind at ease.

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Why the ski town is seductive

Vail 2015 World Championships Fireworks

On the amazing appeal of doing nothing.

A ski town is a place of perpetual adolescence.

This fact becomes clearer to me every second I remain in Vail, Colorado. People do not come to a ski town for any particular reason besides looking for something new. People do not come to these places with goals, and as long as they remain, one must assume that things have not changed.

The ski town is simple. All you really need to know is right there in the name: “ski town.” People come to these places to ski, to adventure, and to make just enough money to string things along. If you’ve got a job, a ski pass, and enough for that next six pack or bud sack, what else matters?

The Ski Town atmosphere reminds me a lot of college.

I moved to Vail with my girlfriend immediately after we graduated university. It sure beat moving back in with our parents, and as a lifelong lover of the outdoors, I couldn’t complain about living in the Rocky Mountains, either. The place would be a stopping point; a brief interlude in which to ski and seek out our passions. We’d had our share of people and parties, penis and pussy; college gives you all that, backgrounded by education.

Vail offers the same things, but backgrounded by skiing.

I can justify the college experience, but not the ski town one. Maybe college seems more justifiable to me because it was the first time I found myself in that sort of young wild and free atmosphere. But in my own head, I tell myself it’s okay because, statistically, a college graduate will earn twice as much money over the course of their lifetime as someone who never attended university. In college, no matter what else you are doing, you are at least working towards something.

In a ski town, you are working towards nothing.

Many of the young people who move through these places have not gone to college, or have graduated college long ago and left their ideals far behind. The people who move through these places are lost and wandering. They make lots of money and they spend lots of money. They are rich in experiences, but poor in futures. They are a new class of American drifter.

These are not bad people.

These are good people who enjoy the fruits of the earth and value their bodies more than any Wall Street accountant in New York. Before all else, it is important to establish that people in Vail are happy.

The pervasive happiness is what makes it so very difficult to do anything of substance in this town.

We work towards long-term life goals in order to feel fulfilled. We do it to impose a sense of progression on an ultimately inconsequential and random life. We do it to create happiness, long-term fulfilling happiness of the sort that your grandparents might talk about.

Gratification in a ski town is quicker, and more primal.

Someone once described snowboarding to me thus: “no matter what’s wrong in your life, no matter how badly you failed that test, no matter how many guys your girlfriend cheated on you with, when you’re on that mountain, none of it matters.”

This ode is surprisingly apt— I hope the similarities to the way a drug addict might lovingly describe his substance do not go unnoticed.

When there is instant gratification a few steps from your door, it seems a shame to waste it. And snowboarding is not a bad drug. I firmly believe in the transformative power of outdoors fitness. It has the power to change lives and improve people. This is part of what makes it hard to do anything else in a ski town.

I have 50,000 words of a book to show for my junior year of college. I can now ride double black diamonds; I have that to show for living in Vail. Both are solid achievements. They both took dedication, time, and hard work. I grew from both experiences.

Here, I was going to explain the difference between the two milestones; yet, even sitting at a keyboard with the explicit intention of separating the two, I can’t do it. I cannot explain why one of those experiences should be more worthy than the other. I know, in my heart, that writing the book is the “better” accomplishment. It might, maybe, make me some money some day. But probably not.

Maybe I feel that way because writing a book is more societally acceptable.

Ski culture lives off to the side of mainstream America. Many people from all walks of life enjoy downhill alpine sports such as skiing and snowboarding, but usually for no more than a weekend or two a year. Even the people who spend every possible weekend in the mountains are looked down upon by the hardcore skiers who make their homes in these resort destinations.

“Ever since Vail Resorts moved their headquarters down to Broomfield, it’s just all wrong,” a middle-aged Vail local told me on a chairlift. “They’re all weekend warriors now. They just don’t understand about this,” he said, gesturing to the expanse of fresh, weekday powder shining below us.

Ski enthusiasts and ski bums are a protective group, but they’ll welcome anyone who genuinely wants to share their passion. Anyone. It doesn’t matter how many drugs you do, how much your family hates you, or how short your resume is: a ski town will take you in. Ski towns will accept you for you. And realistically, you can live in a ski town forever without ever changing one iota, as long as you can stand doing the unskilled work of washing dishes or helping people get on chairlifts or serving people food.

In a ski town, there is no push to improve yourself off the mountain.

But ultimately, isn’t all of a human life in pursuit of arbitrary goals? What makes a house in the suburbs and a $80,000 a year job any more valuable than a mountain apartment and a job you can leave at the base of the gondola?

People here in the mountains are direct, grounded, and in pursuit of animal passions. Put to paper like that, this lifestyle is both seductive and scary.

I can see why some people choose to stay here for decades.

But to me, it just feels a little off.

Recovering From a Concussion

Recovering from a Concussion    

So, simply put: I smashed my face on Thursday. Knocked it so hard I don’t even remember the point of impact. I came to on a blindingly white mountain, on my knees, a snowboard strapped to my feet, bleeding from my nose; disoriented, literally without a knowledge of what year it was. I had to check my phone. January 2015. I called my girlfriend. “I just took a pretty bad fall,” I told her. “I think I’m gonna come home.” While we continued to talk, I realized I had blood on my shiny blue snow pants. My bright-green jacket was spattered down the sleeves, too. Droplets of dark red blood continued to stain the icy-white below me. “Okay, good to talk to you. Hey, I just took a gnarly fall, so I think gonna come home. I’ll see you soon.” “Babe? You just told me that,” she said. “No I didn’t.” “Should I come pick you up?” “Did I really say that twice?” “You did,” she told me, grave as can be. “That might not be a bad idea then, yeah,” I said. I took off my helmet and examined it for signs of damage. It appeared fine. My goggles weren’t even scratched. I turned my head left to try and figure out where I was. I saw mid-Vail. “Oh, there’s mid-Vail,” I thought amid the ringing. My eyes saw the landmark but my brain didn’t quite understand how I had gotten to this point. I live in Vail; I am never lost on the mountain. This time though, I was. A concerned skiier stopped to ask if I was O.K. “I don’t totally remember how I did this,” I told the man, gesturing at the blood dripping from my nose. “But I’m headed home now. I live here in town.” “Well don’t take any chances,” the man told me. “Yeah if it gets worse I’ll head to the hospital,” I reassured him. I nodded. I didn’t feel it, but the pain must have been enormous. I slowly slid down the rest of the black diamond.


My brain is foggy.

There is no other way to put it. My brain is far and away the best part of me, so I am afraid to see it go, even for just a quick weekend out. I take a break from writing this essay to watch the Colorado Avalanche on television. The announcer is discussing concussions. “You know the players say this is a game of collisions: at a point it’s almost inevitable.” The Avalanche are losing. They tie it up, and I feel rested enough to continue writing a bit before overtime starts. I forget that there is no overtime intermission. I write nothing. The Avalanche lose, 3-2.


I go snowboarding twice more in the days immediately following my injury; I have made plans which it would be rude to cancel. Friends come from out-of-town to see me. “Are you still concussed?” they ask me. I say yes; I do not nod. I ride conservatively. A careless stranger accidentally bangs the safety bar on the lift against my tall head. The blow rings around inside my helmet, and then inside my skull. I pop three of the innumerable extra-strength Tylenol pills in my pocket. Acetaminophen may be used to manage the pain of a head injury, but non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs such as Aspirin or ibuprofen should not be used, as they could exacerbate a bleed in the brain. The human body can metabolize 4,000 milligrams of acetaminophen in a 24-hour period before the liver begins sustaining permanent damage. That means eight extra-strength a day. I lose track of how many I am taking, but it feels like it is less than eight.


Proper concussion recovery necessitates not only physical rest, but cerebral rest as well. High school athletes are advised not to attempt any homework for up to a week; I am off reading and writing.

I find I cannot do my job, which involves reading and synthesizing information, effectively. I work from home, so I simply set aside the computer. They will go on without me. Instead, I watch the Peyton Manning play in the NFL playoffs, looking aged and inaccurate. The Broncos lose. The next day, it is revealed that Manning played the entire last month of football with an injured quadriceps. That’s impressive; I cannot imagine suiting up to play a game of football with my head swimming the way it is. It is an absolutely unthinkable prospect— and I once waited five hours to seek medical attention after seriously rupturing my spleen. Pain is no stranger to me. As I lay in bed, an icepack on my head, watching the Broncos take hit after hit, my level of respect for NFL players increases tenfold.


My face does not bloom purple; my brows do not swell. Besides a tiny abrasion on my chin and a small cut under my left eye created by my ski goggles being violently pushed into my face, I appear relatively unscathed.

I do not fade away and become gaunt, as I did when my spleen ruptured. I wear no sling. I have my ski town injury, but nothing to show for it. No one who does not know the story inquires about my health. Even those that do know do not seem to understand the thing. My girlfriend takes off work the night of the incident. She softly punches me in the head a few days later while trying to readjust a pillow. The plot of the Friends episode we are watching leaves me; I stare blankly for a few minutes, reveling in the loss of full-fledged, focused sensation.


I pick a fight with my girlfriend.

I tell her I do not think she is going anywhere. I say her dream to move to the Netherlands is likely impossible. She hasn’t put in the groundwork for something of that nature. She has no marketable skills and I have few. I do not care to see it through. “I feel like you have a lot of anger that you’re taking out on me,” she says, stony-eyed. Only later, as the days stretch on and my brain refuses to clear, will I learn that “Irritability, depression, anxiety, emotional lability” are symptoms of post-concussion syndrome. I don’t think I can attribute my being a dick to a knock on the head though. It doesn’t feel right.

Nothing feels right.


As most athletes know, the difficulty in recovering from a major injury is in restraint. The brain and the body run on two different tracks, and those of us who like to play hard never want to lay idle for as long as we should.

Before last year’s Super Bowl, reporters asked Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker if he would play in the game despite concussion symptoms. Welker had suffered two concussions that season. “What do you think? I mean, you want to be out there,” Welker said. “The Super Bowl, this is what you dream about. You’re going to be there, I don’t care what it takes, you’re going to be out there in this game.” The Broncos got clobbered in Super Bowl XLVIII, 43-8. I watched the game from the Intensive Care Unit, swimming in a Fentanyl haze as hawkish doctors and nurses watched my ruptured spleen for any sign of further deterioration. If my numbers dropped below a certain threshold, they stood poised to sweep my family and friends away, and to cut me open. My splenic rupture cost me four days in the hospital, two weeks off of university, and months of continuing pain at even the slightest physical exertion.

splenic rupture

I’ve had better Super Bowls

And yet, I was back in the climbing gym two weeks before the date my doctor had told me I was allowed to resume the activity. To a restless spirit- to a competitor- there is nothing worse than inactivity. It is soul-death. This is why, six months after the Super Bowl bout, Welker again found himself rollicked in the middle of a football field, sustaining his third concussion in a ten month span. Critics and commentators around the world of sports called for his retirement, asking “how many is too many?” Yet Welker plays on. What other option does he have?


It is easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, especially in light of the mounting evidence that the effects of concussions are cumulative, not to mention the tragic suicides of several high-profile sports players, including NFL linebacker Junior Seau and a few NHL enforcers who made their living by taking (and giving) shots to the head. I’m not denying the stupidity of continuing to play contact sports, or to hit the slopes, or even to refuse rest while in a concussed state. Let me be clear: it is moronic. It is now over a week since my concussion: I have been snowboarding thrice, and attempted work on several occasions. I have written this essay, intentionally, before I have healed. I can think of no other way to properly convey the state of my mind. It is somewhat like being in love: your head and your heart are in two different spots. I know I shouldn’t risk my livelihood. I trade on my brain, and my sentences.

But much like Wes Welker, I am young, and I cannot stand not feeling alive.

Even if that kills me.

Work the Problem

The Myth of Sisyphus

It is 1:49 AM on a pointless Thursday morning. I’m 20 years old, flying down an utterly empty Interstate 25 at 117 miles per hour, watching the corners of my vision blur, feeling my poor ’97 Honda rattle from side to side, and thinking: “God damn, these are some video game level thrills.”

It’s a weird thought, but the only one I have for the sensation that with a slight jerk of the wheel, I could send myself flying top over bottom into the next life. Of course, in a videogame, “the next life” is usually literal. Black screen, load last checkpoint, carry on. Keep calm and respawn.

How many times have I done such an act, I wonder. I spent my childhood chasing the dopamine drip of the Xbox– the “Nintendo,” as parents are apt to call anything that puts a controller in your hands. I’ve beaten hundreds of videogames; played tens of thousands matches of online deathmatch; posted even more than that on online gaming forums; spent my formative years alone in a darkened basement. How many deaths have I died? How many lifetimes have I lived?

Bungie.net stats for Xbox Live gamertag “beat82”:

Halo 2: 5,303 games played. 36,440 kills. 34,664 deaths

Halo 3: 3,876 games played. 52,400 kills. 39,456 deaths

Halo Reach: 1,241 games played. 16,841 kills. 12,758 deaths 

As it turns out, in my twenty years, I’ve lived a fair few lives. And yet, I realize, I’ve lived none at all. So much of my life has been “video game level thrills,” that I have no other lens to interpret death. As the speedometer scrapes 120, the urge to jerk the wheel and flip the car is pressing. I just want to see what would happen. See how accurate Grand Theft Auto is. See how spectacularly I can waste my life.

***

In October 1995, Swedish mountaineer Göran Kropp set out to do something that had never been done before.

So he climbed on his bicycle and pedaled all the way from his home in Sweden to the Mount Everest Base Camp in Tibet. The journey took five months. When he finally arrived at base camp, Kropp dismounted, and conferred with the community of guides and climbers at the base camp. Against the advice of the native Tibetan sherpas, Kropp climbed and summited the tallest mountain on Earth, alone, carrying all of his own gear, without the bottled oxygen that is generally viewed as a life-saving necessity in the thin Himalayan air. Kropp then climbed down the mountain, got on his bicycle, and cycled back to Sweden, the way you or I might return home during the evening commute.

In 2002, Kropp fell 20 meters from a routine, roped rock climb in the Cascade mountains near Seattle. The climb, nicknamed Air Guitar, was graded 5.10a, not a particularly tough rating for a world-class climber. Nonetheless. One quick slip, and Göran Kropp plummeted towards the ground, the cams and carabineers and quick-draws that held his rope- the equipment that was designed to keep him safe- flew up off the rock in a chain, like a zipper closing a jacket. The belayer on the ground could only watch gravity do its work as the pieces of safety equipment failed in their duties. A shattered Styrofoam helmet, blood on the sand, and Göran Kropp, age 35, dead on impact.

A life well wasted.

***

 

A Life Well Wasted was a podcast I used to listen to: a well-produced, This American Life style riff on the culture and community that had sprung up online around the video game industry. In high school, I’d spend endless hours with an Xbox Live headset in one ear, an earbud in the other, listening to this, or some other videogame podcast. Podcasts were big, back then, to me.

No matter how many times my mother told me to go outside, or offered to take me to the movies, to pay for me and a girl to go to the movies, I refused to move. If she cut the power, I’d play my Game Boy. I was happy where I was. In video games I never had to be normal. In video games, I never had to live a life I didn’t like. The corrections were always easy.

Reload my save.

Change my loadout.

Use a cheat code.

Fix the problem.

Change my life? Why?

My life changed with the disc.

***

 

Ken Baldwin was twenty-eight years old when he vaulted over the guardrail on the Golden Gate Bridge, trying to kill himself. The fall was epiphanic for Baldwin, who later recalled, “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.”

This is a quote I stumbled across in The New Yorker, at a time in my life where it seemed that I couldn’t escape the spectre of suicide. I’ve never forgotten it.

***

 

Rock climbers have this saying, “Work the problem.”

A boulder problem, to use the parlance of the enthusiast, is a relatively short climbing route, from a set start to a set finishing point– usually, although not always, on top of a large boulder. Bouldering problems require a different type of climbing than you might generally associate with the sport: bouldering employs no rope system, and climbs rarely go past fifteen feet or so. The focus is on strength and technical skill, rather than the endurance required by more traditional ascents. Bouldering problems also tend to be very difficult, with climbers often having to attempt them multiple times to figure out the correct sequence of moves and grips required for the summit. And then of course, you have to actually be able to perform those moves, which are almost always harder than they look.

A boulder problem is a dialogue between the climber and the granite. A negotiation. It is not easy; it requires effort, perseverance, and work. When you start on a boulder problem, you can expect to fail. You can expect to fall. You will learn to fall gracefully, or you will fall out of the sport. You will sometimes have to leave and come back another day with fresh fingers. In a spurt of frustration, you might even punch a rock.

This is working the problem.

Bouldering at Horsetooth Resevoir

When I started climbing rocks as a hobby, I did it because I found it relaxing. I did it because I needed something new in my life. I did it because I needed to feel something again.

Before I ever set foot in a climbing gym, or learned how to tie in to a belay system, I climbed when I could, because in some way it made me feel better. It made me feel slightly more alive, to hang off of a rock face using little but my sneakers and fingers made strong by years of clutching the prongs of a console controller. Spending my mornings on a real rock face felt a little more worthwhile than spending my evenings driving a six-inch tall man up the side of pixelated Renaissance-era architecture in Assassin’s Creed II.

Before a friend ever showed me how to work a boulder problem, or told me that I’d have to ditch the sneakers for $150 climbing shoes if I seriously wanted to climb rocks, I had found myself working on a completely different sort of problem.

***

 

Arriving at college, I had discovered that, contrary to my prior beliefs, thousands of lives lived in Halo: Reach were not acceptable substitutes for my own life. Nor, as it turned out, were drugs or alcohol. Sex was, for a time. Love, too. Friendship proved the most lasting. But still, caught in a seemingly endless loop of wasted time, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was squandering something.

“You’re a writer?” this man, DJ, asked me. “We’ll have to dialogue then, since I’m actually a published poet.”

“Yeah, I write I guess,” I said, “But I really need to stop doing stuff like this and actually sit down and get writing.” I grimaced, shrugged, and took a pull from the bottle of cheap vodka I held in my hand.

“You know, you need to get out here and do stuff like this so you have something to write about,” DJ encouraged. I nodded, thinking about it.

A few months later at a party where I was blackout drunk, one of my good friends threw some unprovoked punches, and beat DJ out of our social circle.

I woke up the next morning, heard the story, and wondered what I was doing with my life.

***

“If we didn’t waste our lives, what else would we do with them?” an old roommate asked me recently. He was completely serious, asking me this question as he bought tickets for a football match between Ireland and Britain. It was finals week, his grades were terrible; he’d popped an Adderall, and was laser-focused on planning an upcoming trip to Europe. “Dude. Everything is better there,” he said.

Initially, I brushed this guy off as the stoner he was, but I found his question lingering in an unnerving way. Was there really little more to hope for than a life well wasted? This ex-roommate seemed to think so, as he slowly smoked and sexed away the days with his father’s money, doing the bare minimum while I worked and networked and wrote and wrangled some small form of recognition for myself in my chosen arenas.

As we sat over coffee, I found the idea would not leave me. I saw the question, “What else would we do?” grow tendrils and slowly strangle all other thought processes, until the different ways in which we wasted our lives was all I could think about. I thought of this old roommate, happily whiling away his days with a whitewalled bong. I thought of my sister spending her days with the Peace Corps, helping African children live longer so they will survive to generate more African children. I thought of a girl I once knew, cutting short her own waste of a life with a bottle of pills and a vodka chaser. I thought of myself.

My anxiety mounted.

“I’m going to go hit the climbing wall,” I said.

“I knew you were going to say that,” the old roommate said.

Crystal Wall — Poudre Canyon

It’s tough to say why I still like climbing, my relationship to the sport long ago having moved from hobby to habit. Nowadays, I rarely even make it to the sun-baked sandstone and granite rocks that attracted me to the activity in the first place. The indoor climbing wall at the rec. center is much more convenient for me. Climbing is no longer an escape from daily life, but a part of it.

And yet, for some reason, climbing never feels monotonous. It feels frustrating, and tiring, and I wish there was a nicer wall in town, and there’s always someone better than me climbing when I am; but for some reason I keep going back. I wake up most mornings, toss my smelly climbing shoes and my chalk bag into my backpack, and don’t even begrudge them taking up most of the space.

Maybe it’s the workout, the fact that returning to the overhangs and pull up bars of the wall has given me, for the first time in my life, some form of fitness. Slowly but surely, the sickly pallor of too much time in front of LCD screens has faded. My shoulders have firmed, tensed, and welcome the massages from the girls who now seem willing to give them.

Perhaps it’s the natural gracefulness and the poise with which girls move across the wall, which makes me simultaneously excited and envious.

Maybe it’s the friendly community of climbers that populates the gym, always happy to give pointers, puzzle out the problems, or simply chat about life.

Maybe it’s simply the fact that I have nothing else to do. No better way to waste my time. Maybe climbing is simply my new video game.

Maybe it’s all of the above.

I’d be lying if I pretended to have answers.

But I like to think that I still like climbing because of the way it reminds me daily that things are worth keeping at. It reminds me to always keep working, keep considering, and keep improving. Climbing keeps me humble; it reminds me that I am a normal human being.

And how that’s nothing to be ashamed about.

The Palace — Poudre Canyon — Colorado

“The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

-Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

30 Rock Persoective shot

The other day, I solved a boulder problem that I had been working on for weeks at the gym. This problem tested every skill I had developed so far as a climber, used every muscle in every limb, and after more than fifty failures and falls, it felt immensely satisfying to finally grip the triangle of yellow tape that marked the finish.

“Yeah, that’s a fun one,” a fellow climber commented, after watching me summit, “but you’ve really got to campus it.”

Then this guy went to start this problem that’s given me so much trouble, grabbed the starting hold, and proceeded to climb the entire problem using only his hands.

I was frustrated. But even more, I found myself thinking damn, I want to be able to do that.

“You’re an asshole,” I said. He laughed.

“Give it a try.”

So I walked forward, put my hands on the start, let my legs hang limp in the air; and fell on the second move. I hit the crash pad hard– the thick foam cushion coughed up a cloud of climbing chalk, a reminder of climbers come before me. I laid on the crash pad for just a moment, got up, dusted myself off, and started to work the problem.

Finger Ripper