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. 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 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 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 fell in love with 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 is unparalleled to any other city I’ve been to. 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—sometimes I need that balance between city life and nature. I awoke with the wind blowing through my large bedroom windows. A full press of coffee on the front porch of our charming townhouse later, I then walked to Grand Army Plaza farmer’s market with some frozen compost scraps. (I know, freezing compost—I’m told that it’s such a city thing to do.)

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.

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The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch at Grand Army Plaza
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Treasures from the farmers market

A few afternoons later, I rode my bike to work. 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 can’t enjoy all of the small moments in between?

For me, 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 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 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.

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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