I often feel guilty when I have a lot of time off of work and I don’t spend it climbing, but the truth is that Brooklyn isn’t a bad place to hang your hat. I roughly calculated one hundred and seventy days of rock climbing a year at this point in my life, which is nothing to sneeze at! (And then there’s that little nagging voice in my brain that keeps telling me I could get out more if I REALLY tried.)

I live on this really pretty, quiet block in Crown Heights. I fell in love with my neighborhood pretty quickly. The diversity is refreshing. The energy of the city is unparalleled to any other city I’ve visited. And don’t even get me started on the food. I enjoy taking the subway but I bike to work every day, something I never thought I’d do. I now cherish every second of wind in my hair and people watching as I pump tunes the short nine blocks to my job.

This past weekend I quit rock climbing, which I thought was going to be weird. Because I work so much during the week in order to have as many days off as possible to take trips, I thought it would be hard to not leave the city—and it oddly wasn’t.

After returning home from four days of climbing sandstone in beautiful New River Gorge, I found myself with a three-day weekend ahead of me and I consciously made the decision to stay in Brooklyn. I think that sometimes I need that balance between city life and nature. Instead of waking up in the back of my car in the middle of the woods, I woke up with the wind blowing through my large bedroom windows accompanied by city traffic. A full French press of coffee later, I walked to Grand Army Plaza farmer’s market with my compost scraps that I’d been freezing. It was a normal, boring weekend. I really love passing through the plaza on my way to work. There’s something about The Soldiers and Sailors Arch that reminds me of The Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France.

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The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch at Grand Army Plaza

Later in the week, I was riding my bike to work and as I pedaled, I thought about how you can miss too much when you put your head down. Being a city-dweller, I’m often guilty of this. When you’re in a rush to get somewhere, your eyes travel to your feet shuffling on the sidewalk, one foot following another. I’m sure you can get where you’re going much faster this way, but what’s the point if you don’t enjoy all of the small, subtle in-between moments?

Stepping away from climbing for a week or so doesn’t bother me anymore. In fact, what I am able to walk away with is profoundly more important. I used to think that living in New York City defined too much of me, or I’d worry about taking too much time off in between climbing trips or not getting to the gym every weeknight, and that maybe I wouldn’t climb as strong as I could. What I’d realized was that it doesn’t matter that you’re a 5.14 climber if you don’t know how to enjoy cruising up a fun 5.8. What’s the point of training to death for something if it breaks your heart if your goals aren’t met? I’m not saying that I don’t have goals myself because I do, but in twenty years, I won’t remember my proud onsights as much as I will remember the people I spent that day with and how they made me feel.

Someone once told me, “You can’t hold climbing too close to you—it becomes like anything else in this life. If you hold it too close, you can’t see it for what it really is and truly love and appreciate it for the same.”

Five years from the time I put on my first harness, I now understand that climbing, just like living in a city, doesn’t actually define my life. I don’t love climbing because it’s what I’ve chosen to do with my life. I love what my life has become because climbing is a part of it.

4 thoughts

  1. Love this Kathy! I know all too well the guilt of not being in the Gunks on a beautiful day because its also a beautiful day in Brooklyn. I must not be a real climber right? People give up everything, spend every last dollar to climb every day they humanly can, filled with passion to get out. Yet, here I am, choosing the city over the cliff for the very same reasons you mention. I’m not a real climber, no passion, no dedication.
    Yet thats not true, I am a climber but I’m also a city dweller. They are parts of me I love and I need both to balance me out. Having both, thats me, my experience, not someone else’s. Too easy to get lost comparing your experience to everyone else. This, and Sasha Turrentine’s recent article about the city/outdoor balance have been nice to read. Good to know I’m not the only one.

  2. I learned in child/adolescent development that, when growing up, kids use their parents as a ‘secure base’.

    You see this behavior in puppies when they walk behind your legs, kids at the park when they aren’t sure about going down the big metal slide – people need a safe zone to return to when the outside world seems scary.

    Climbing, like anything we do, can become that safe zone. As you said – you need to take a step away from climbing to appreciate it for what it is, but also use it as a base to continue exploring and growing.

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