The challenges I took on last year were varied and … well … challenging. I worked hard to perform my best in national bouldering competitions against an ever-younger, ever-stronger field. I clawed, cursed, cried and laughed my way up a muddy tower in the South Pacific jungle. I set a goal to spend at least 100 days outside during the year. Each of these endeavors, of course, provided its own unique set of triumphs and tribulations, but all of those came within the context of being a full-time climber. 2016 presents a whole new set of mini-missions, goals, and undertakings that will all be pursued under the overarching challenge of the year – limited time.
I have always struggled with finding balance and reconciling my relatively traditional Midwestern upbringing with my desire to pursue a more untraditional path. The pendulum of my life has swung from full-time pursuit of a more “typical” life to full-time climbing, passing through just about every combination of the two in between. Last year I was at the all-climbing-all-the-time end of that spectrum. And while lack of time to pursue my climbing goals, travel, sleep and do just about anything was not an issue, lack of balance was.
Recently, in an attempt to bring the pendulum back towards that illusive happy medium, I added a job into the mix. And the pendulum moved, all right. The significant addition to my schedule sent that pendulum rocketing right past that middle-point when I first began working at USA Climbing, and my newest challenge has been a different version of the same challenge that has been there all along – finding the balance. My time to climb is now more limited, but with that also comes a renewed psych to use that time wisely and efficiently. Last weekend I felt more excited to get outside than I have in a long time, and I sucked every last bit of marrow I could out of the 60 hours between Friday evening and Monday morning.
Of course it only left me wanting more. That is what I felt I was missing at times when I was climbing full-time. The wanting and yearning. Now the hunger is back, and it feels so good. I’m already compiling a list of places and boulder problems in the mountains nearby that I have left unexplored over the course of my 12 years in Colorado. Creativity in scheduling and efficient use of time are going to become crucial, and sleep will inevitably fall a few spots on the priority list. But who needs sleep, anyway, when there are early mornings to be filled and late sunsets to take advantage of? There will also be a few trips out of Colorado, of course. A weekend at the Red Rock Rendezvous is in the near future, followed by a quick jaunt to South Africa. And maybe along the way, I will find the courage to spend a bit more time pursuing photography…an idea that I find to be very intimidating.
I’m also embarking on a journey that involves no mileage at all as I rediscover, yet again, who I am as a climber and why I love it so damn much. I think that for the past few months, I’ve struggled with an identity crisis, of sorts. Being a climber is central to who I am, and climbing has been a significant part of my identity for nearly as long as I can remember. Competitions have comprised a good chunk of my climbing experience, and they have provided a framework for goal-setting and accomplishments throughout my twenty years in the sport. When I was young, participating in competitions felt like a way to legitimize my involvement in an unknown fringe sport like climbing. Winning ribbons and standing on podiums was a bridge between my untraditional activity and the traditionally sports-centric Midwestern culture. Although my relationship with climbing has evolved significantly since then, some part of me is still always drawn to the structure that competitions provide. Now, as I slowly move away from being a competitor, I am struggling with the shrinking of that part of my identity.
The transition away from one part of my climbing identity, however, has allowed me to refocus on other parts of my climbing, and I have already begun to rediscover and reconnect with aspects of the sport that I haven’t experienced in a while. When I have more than just climbing to focus on, my entire climbing experience always improves. I try harder, appreciate the movement more, have a ravenous appetite for outdoor days, and feel that psych bubbling up on the days I don’t climb. Plus, I don’t have the extraneous stress right now of preparing to perform at a competition, and it feels nice to climb with that weight off my shoulders.
Staying relatively stationary compared to other years and not having all the time in the world to climb will be a whole different type of challenge than climbing a jungle tower or competing against the young guns in national competitions. And so, in 2016, I will continue the quest for that enigmatic thing they call “balance”. I will walk the line between the two worlds I’ve always bounced between, working my semi-normal job by day and escaping to my more atypical world of climbing by night, weekend and holiday…and mayyyybeeeee the occasional work day, too 😉