Winter blues got me hard this year, even though every year I prepare myself for several months of gym climbing and hermit-ing (AKA eating my weight in snickerdoodles and sushi.)

I booked it to the southeast for my annual getaway trip, in search of sandstone cracks and hopefully another round at Fists of Fury (5.12c), a heinous roof crack at the Tennessee Wall. Even though the route was sopping wet from rain a few days earlier, Evan Raines and I had a full-value day and a half of some of the best single-pitch climbing the southeast has to offer. From the mind-blowing roof on Superwave (a Kirk Brode 5.11c/d) to the classic 5.10b, Love Handle, we explored both east and west walls until the last light faded. The weather gods gifted us with clear, blue skies both days.

Last light on Love Handle (5.10b). Photograph by Tim Foote

But when the forecast started looking a little misty, we considered our options. Feeling properly thrashed from two days on, I was pretty content to snug in a corner and be belay bitch for a day. We went back and forth from Horse Pens 40 to Foster Falls to the Citadel, finally coming full circle.

We got a little bit of a late start on Sunday, but our indecisiveness worked in our favor as it had begun to hail slightly in the morning. Shaina Savoy and I headed south towards Birmingham and Alma Baste drove up from Atlanta. We met Tim Foote, weaving in and out of the boulder field, and dropped pads at Bum Boy (AKA the world’s hardest V3.)

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“Well, guys, it’s easy. Just slap the ‘ho.” Photograph by Alma Baste

With acres of land, the boulder problems are stacked at Horse Pens. Once winter hits the south, pebble wrestlers from all over flock to this renowned destination—and it only costs ten dollars to shred your skin into a bloody oblivion! The rock lives up to the bulletproof sandstone that the south is known and loved for, but what makes it so unique is its unusual features carved by wind over time.

Shaina and I both agreed that slopers were our anti-style. In fact, BOULDERING is kind of my anti-style, since I do so little of it. I have nothing against bouldering. I love watching people float up fifteen, twenty feet of rock to float back down with great ease. From years of observation, I’ve concluded that boulderers have style—unlike me, who mostly exhibits awkward, janky movement up routes combined with rapid, shallow breathing and Elvis leg asking, (with shaky voice) “Is this piece any good?!”

Because you don’t seem as silly yelling, “Take!” on a route, but you definitely feel silly shouting it five feet up a boulder problem. Photograph by Tim Foote

In a single day, you can accomplish twice, if not three times as many climbs as you can route climbing. Commitment level is generally much lower and you never have to worry about leaving beloved gear behind. But you know what else? EVERY PROBLEM IS A GUARANTEED DECK. I’ve been a climber for six years, and when it comes to climbing sans rope, I’m really just a noob afraid of falling.

But we were in a world class bouldering destination that was undeniably one of the best, having been compared to places such as Fontainebleau. And hey, you can’t get a true southern spot in France.

I’ve also discovered that the freedom of running around a boulder field is GREAT for my adult ADHD.

I want to acknowledge Alma’s pussyhat more than I want to talk about the climb. Photograph by Tim Foote

Every sloper felt huge to my hands, but the prime temperature was crisp enough for me to trust my feet. Smooth slopers and moderately stressful mantling top outs are, again, my anti-style, but still, I walked up to each boulder with straight up Beyonce confidence (think: Single Ladies era).

It was totally fabricated, of course, but I attempted Bum Boy with no expectations, a fantastic spot, and cheers of encouragement from above. I slapped those giant slopers with intention and let good friction and cold weather do the rest of the work.

Hey guys, I bouldered AND I did it with shaky Elvis leg.

Photograph by Tim Foote

Pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone is awkward and uncomfortable because to do it, you have to enter a fairly uncomfortable place for a little while. My human brain is wired to seek out what feels safe because I, like most people, am a creature of comfort. But when I start to get a little too comfortable, I am reminded to allow myself a chance to slip into the discomfort of uncertainty.

Leaving a safe place means leaving a neutral, comfortable state and suddenly increasing an amount of relative anxiety. But maybe that’s how we maximize our performance. Have you ever left something to the last moment, and then turned the superhero mode on and just got that shit done? With just the right amount of anxiety in our brains pushing us, we keep moving until the task is complete. A little bit of healthy stress can actually prove to be a powerful motivation to get to the top, whether it’s a job, a boulder, or a mountain.

Both states of mind have a time and a place. Comfort zones don’t necessarily “hold us back” and are just more of a natural state of mind. We need a space to live in where we have patterns and routines with minimal stress because that’s when we really process things the best. Stepping outside of that zone creates new perspectives that we are clearly able to see when we step back in.

I found a roof crack. Back in my happy place/comfort zone. Photograph by Tim Foote

I can count on fairly steady performance when I live within my own comfort zone, but every so often, getting outside of it is necessary if I want to challenge myself and create an opportunity for optimal performance. I want to be challenging myself by asking the question, “Can I do this?” more than I want to live with the certainty of “I can do this”. Venturing beyond what you know is kind of a big deal because you can only grow if you are willing to try something new. The way that you start is by doing one thing differently.

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