After returning home from four stellar days of climbing sandstone in beautiful New River Gorge, I found myself with a three-day weekend ahead of me. I consciously made the decision to kick it at my home base, Brooklyn, NY. I often feel guilty when I have a string of days 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 175 days of rock climbing a year at this point in my life, which is nothing to sneeze at! (And then there’s this 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 had fallen in love my neighborhood in a very short period of time; it didn’t take much. The diversity of people is refreshing. The energy of the city, unparalleled to any other city I’ve been to. And don’t even get me started on the food. I love 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.
So, this past weekend I quit rock climbing. Sometimes, I need that balance between city life and nature, and sometimes, I need to not feel like I am only a rock climber. I awoke with the wind blowing through the large windows, gently caressing me awake. A full French press of coffee on the front porch later, I walked to Grand Army Plaza with my compost scraps. I love passing through the plaza on my way to work. There is something about The Soldiers and Sailors Arch that reminds me of The Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France.
Have you ever passed by a complete stranger and just smiled as widely as you can? I’m talking the biggest, toothiest grin you can muster. The reaction is priceless. Have you ever tried this before? I swear, it’s amazing.
On the way home from the farmers market, I passed a girl running towards me by the public library. Just before a collision, I quickly shifted left. When our eyes locked, I gave her a genuine smile. She smiled back and it FELT really genuine. It filled my heart and added to the merry feeling I’d been carrying with me all morning, along with my frozen compost. I know, freezing compost—it’s such a city thing to do. (Earlier, I had exchanged them for a bag of apples which a few days later would become a wonderful bourbon apple crisp.)
I generally always listen to music to drown out the din of the traffic (because safety third?) As I rode to work a few afternoons later, a gorgeous Amazon woman with ebony skin and beautiful surfboard earrings rode her bike next to mine and spoke. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, so I smiled and kept pedaling. She continued to say speak, so I removed the headphones and she said these sweet words: “What a beautiful day for a ride! This day is made of perfect.” And you know what? It was.
And as I pedaled off to work, 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 can’t enjoy all of the in-between small moments?
For me, it doesn’t matter if 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 spirit if you don’t accomplish that goal? I’m not saying that I don’t have goals myself because I do, but in twenty years, I won’t remember the onsight or the send as much as I will 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 is not my life. It’s because the person I am now has changed in big ways, and that’s partially thanks to climbing. I used to be afraid that it was all that I knew how to do. I don’t love climbing because it’s all that I have. I love what my life has become because climbing is a part of it, and I’ve used it as a stepping stone to help me get through the times I once believed I did not have the courage to do so. As it turns out, I have always had the courage.