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On Motivation

Remember in January when you would have sat through a Glenn Beck tantrum for a chance to get your hands on a choss pile?  Those days are gone, replaced by the height of summer and its oppressive, lethargy-inducing heat that bakes stone and seems to coat climbing rubber in Chef Boyardee.  This is the point in the year when a drop-off in motivation can be expected.  With sunset at 9:00 pm, every day is a potential climbing opportunity.  If you’re like me, spoiled living in Boulder without kids you know of, you’ve been saturated by climbing to the point that you’ll head out with your buddies, crack a beer and sit around the crag for an hour, climb two routes, watch the spectacle for another hour, then call it a day.


So in general, how can a climber maintain a continuous, high level of motivation? Here are three things that work for me:

1.  Try something new.  Instead of migrating to Shelf Road and frying to a crisp clipping bolts on Cactus Cliff, head to the higher altitude of Vedauwoo and get destroyed by 5.7 offwidth.  If you’ve been aimlessly climbing whatever your partners sporadically pick, spend a little time figuring out something you’d be stoked to do and find someone equally as enthused to go.  I’m constantly in search of memorable climbing days – places and routes that make the beer taste better when I get home.

Lizz hasn't done much Eldo climbing. The beautiful line The Flakes (5.9) is a great way to start. (Photo: Eli Powell)

Climbing different styles will get you out of your comfort zone and make you a better all around climber. My motivation level skyrockets after a day spent fearing for my life at Lumpy Ridge, climbing a big wall in the high country or revisiting Moab’s desert sandstone after months of granite climbing. Such experiences reconnect me with why I love this sport.

Jason, the splitter-crack expert, locking off on a crimp to clip a bolt in Mill Creek (Photo: Landon Wharton)

2.  Climb hard in the gym once or twice a week, even during extended periods of nice weather.  This may sound crazy, but doing so will make your days outdoors better.  Few days outside, especially after-work sessions, yield the type of workout that can be done in a 1-2 hour gym session.  I’m always more motivated to hop on tough routes outdoors when I feel as though I’m in good shape, have worked hard am and thus deserving of climbing well.  My mental and physical abilities are peaked after legitimate training and I’m more likely to send tough lines.  In the summer my gym climbing is very structured.  I route climb instead of boulder and I try to get absolutely burned.  Then I go to the weight room and do a simple 20 minute circuit involving lock-off exercises, core exercises and a general hang board workout.  Doing this even once per week maintains my endurance, finger strength and power throughout the climbing season. In contrast, during the winter months, I usually forego the weight room and do much more bouldering.  In winter, I focus on power and pure difficulty, knowing that endurance can be recovered closer to the beginning of the outdoor season.

Locking it in on Northcutt Direct. (Photo: Eli Powell)

3.  Don’t take climbing for granted.  This is easy for me.  I didn’t climb a route, even indoors, until I was 24.  I lived in Nebraska until I was 25.  I’m now 28 and have lived in Moab and subsequently Boulder.  I remember leaving Lincoln the day after taking my last final and submitting my Master’s Thesis.  At the pitch black of 3 am I arrived in Moab and went to sleep.  The next day I woke up to a Martian landscape of deep red cliffs and a philosophy of living each day outdoors and to its potential.  The smell and feel of desert sandstone still gives me a nostalgia that seems to fire every synapse in my brain.  Since then, climbing has been the single greatest positive force in my life.  Climbing is my meditation, therapy and the source of many close friendships.  I’ve gained incredible perspective from experiences on the rock.  Life’s little problems fall into oblivion when I’m 100 feet off the deck, completely sideways on C’est la Vie, trusting a #2 nut to protect my existence.  I’ve been an athlete my whole life, but climbing is the only sport that can make everything fade into instantaneous obscurity with such consistency and efficiency.  Complete focus is assured because my survival instincts are triggered. What’s on the line is often more than just a win or a loss.

Billy smoking Gunsmoke (5.11a) at Maverick Buttress

Swimming Lessons

He fell like a sack of flour
into the sea

Tumble and drift
life floats by

Waves of static
comprise the fury

Of crowed sidewalks
and encrypted trivialities

Receiving each message
conceding it substance

The information super high
by the ways

In everything we see
It’s what we try to achieve

And it is empty

He landed in the wave
and never learned to swim

And we are lucky to climb.  We’re lucky because of the efforts of a group of hard-core entrepreneurs like Leighton Kor, Jim Erickson and Lynn Hill, who, in their own ways, pioneered the sport.  We’re lucky because we’re not so tied down by obligation that we can’t escape.  We’re lucky because we’re young.  Our bodies will collapse long before our minds fail.  Kids and commodities can be our kryptonite.  But for now, we’re here with the ability, physicality and freedom to venture into the abyss of wilderness that beckons us to ignore gravity, disregard danger and trust our lives to each other.  We’re lucky to have discovered a means and desire to experience nature in a way that most will never touch or even conceive.  Just ask the portly fellow sitting on the bench after his sidewalk hike, watching some noob scared out of his wits climb Finger Ramp at the Garden of the Gods.  Like most everyone else, for him climbing is a fanciful impossibility, a door locked by years of vicarious living.  It would be no different if he saw it on television.  We’re lucky because we recognize the choice.  That alone is a powerful motivator.  I will not wake up an old man regretting how I spent my youth.

Daylight Somnambulist

Drive an hour to get in line
Compliant product of hijacked time
Captivated captives through our primes

Sit inside then sit inside
9 to 5 then 5 to 9
Panoramic paper pushing
Death in a required tie

Choices in front of our faces
Are camouflaged in conventionality

Of vacant trajectory
Hostage by gasoline
Hostile through history
Pacified by TV

This cage by clever design
Grows taller over time
As life melts
Into rivers of cash
That never run dry

This cage
Crimson yet clear
Fosters immense addictions
That encapsulate and infatuate a tiny piece of brain
While peace of mind bleeds a drought
And memories that never were
Stream between remote control buttons
Draining into the circuitry of manufactured idols


But the bars aren’t real
The bars aren’t real
The bars aren’t real

Now is prime time
To recognize an existence
Brought to you in high definition
As asleep in two dimensions

Burn those chains
Complain again

Overweight and uninspired
Overexerted without desire
Drugged in ambivalence
Mired in insignificance
Never once relevant
What are you going to do about it?

What are your keys to motivation? Post them in the comments if you have ideas to help me keep off the beer belly for a little while longer.

E.F.R. - It’s so great to see poetry up on Climbing House! Holla! (Insert that ridiculous snapping business you boys do). Here’s the thing: My motivation comes from an older but not wiser perspective. Climbing reminds me that one can reclaim even a misspent youth. I’m a gym rat, really. But even stemming in a corner at the BRC, doing what I never thought I’d ever do, feeling bones rejoice in the difficulty as muscles resound in true refrain … this is the anatomy of my chorus. Metronome heartbeat slamming in my chest, my eyes open wide, and I can see not just the music I’ve become but the scale of my life. When I look down and see my belay, I’m reminded how love and friendship should always work. We can only get up when we know we’re properly tied in to those who have our backs as we risk everything. That’s what keeps me going, anyway. That’s what keeps me writing, making music out of nothing but everyday notes and jottings.July 19, 2010 – 1:25 pm

Kate - Thanks Adam- that was beautiful! You guys- my friends- are the biggest motivating force in my life. I love being surrounded by people that inspire me- inspire me to push myself both physically and intellectually.

The peace found at a top of a route, or a small mountain lake after a long hike, is unlike anything else.July 20, 2010 – 11:59 am

Adam - Thanks for the comments, guys.

Well put, Erica.

Kate, thanks for the compliment. You’re an inspiration to all of us as well. We’ll be climbing soon, I’m sure – and Little D will be talking about mustaches in no time. Then we’ll bbq and throw pennies at chipmunks.July 20, 2010 – 8:45 pm

Tommy O - Often, I feel that as one person, I am too much like the speck of dust floating in a morning ray of sunshine, mostly likely unnoticed, in some quiet remote room of the house. The subtle currents of air sweep and steer, determining my direction.

As a society we are overworked. Our minds and bodies are malnourished. Our families are tattered quilts. We are inept, aimless creatures taught to never know our true potentials, our gifts for each other forever squandered. Our possibilities blanketed by endless consumption. Taking, Taking, Taking, Tossing. New this, New that, new new new and more more more.

As a collective, these habits have helped us grow numb to our inner animal. We have positioned the natural world which gave us birth as the enemy to be conquered. Too hot? Invent AC. Too cold? Insulation. Food doesn’t last long? Pump it with chemicals.

I too, like you, came to climbing later in life. I was 20 years old when I first laid eyes on a real mountain, and 21 when I first roped in on the real thing. On the rock I have experienced a gamut of emotions; scared shitless and shaking, full blown rage, doubt, total fear, indecision, panic, and absolute exhaustion. Thankfully I have also experienced instances of iron clad confidence, assurance, bold commitment, aggressive explosiveness, serenity, and a subtle yet perceptible euphoric high.

Our collective lifestyle seems to have systematically veiled from us the true fruits of being alive. It seems most of us would seek to avoid most all of the aforementioned sensations, opting for a life more civilized, predictable, and comfortable. I myself am guilty of drifting into such currents.

However, when I am on a rock, who knows how many feet above the ground, contemplating some obscure detail formed by eons of interactions of various forms of energy too large for me to fathom, I feel like I’m being seen, like the speck of dust that I am is commanding the attention of the force that governs not only my existence, but that of the rock. I feel plugged in. Can I label it, no. Wish I could sometimes. But I think that’s part of it. The mystery. The mystery motivates me. How did this rock get here? Why do I feel the impulse to climb it? When I align myself to the rock, I align myself to its nature, and I guess I feel that for that specific moment I am part of it, part of the nature that made it, I sense my inner animal, my primal self.

I remember when I thought leading a 5.12 would be next to impossible for me. I also remember when I proved myself wrong. I think part of my motivation to climb is about killing my inner critic, that fucker who says I can’t. The one who says one speck is impossibly incapable. Another motive is the shared life with friends. The churchlike fellowship and communion I feel between us as we push each other, trust each other, open ourselves to the vulnerable reality of our limits, is primal and sacred to me. I can imagine us as an awkward yet sensible tribe, seeking and obtaining a simple existence from the elements. As we’ve come to know the rocks, we’ve come to know each other. The collective societal forces that tend to separate, fragment, and compartmentalize our lives and relationships break down on and around those crags. I revere the ability to just be with others being too. Just to be a speck with other specks. But instead of drifting, we together have learned that it is in our power to determine our direction, seek it, and open ourselves to discover what it takes to get there. It inspires me that the same can be done for us as a larger collective. We can view our larger issues as if they were routes of varying difficulties. We can identify our individual strengths and combine to form a plan of attack and execute until the job is done, no matter the obstacle. I guess I can say another motivation is this precise sense of hope; that we can, and that we will for whatever direction we set our minds.

In climbing, as in life, alone is impossible. I would not be the climber I am without my great friends and fellow climbers.
To Kate, I love you, you have given me the greatest gift and my motivation is to treasure it and continue to climb until our breath leaves our bodies.
To Adam, my great friend, I thank you for pushing me to defy my own doubts and to quit bullshitting myself and just rope up, there’s always bail biners if it ain’t meant to be.July 20, 2010 – 11:43 pm

Tyler - I wrote a blog post a while back that was supposed to describe a bit about when I broke my ankle climbing, but it turned into a post that dealt intimately with motivation. Here’s the opening bit from the post:


It’s easy to forget the excitement that comes with new experiences, especially when we get excessively comfortable in our lives. I sometimes feel like a restless person, although I only have direct access to myself, so I have no gauge for this. I’m sure that everyone knows the itch that comes with boredom, with routine, with looking forward, and seeing twenty, thirty, forty years of the same thing stretching ahead, dull and grey. I have no desire to live a life of 7:00am commutes, nine-hour days, dinners with TV, sleep, repeat. Nobody does. It just seems to be what happens. We wake up one day, and find that rent is due, work is waiting, and the weekend is for errands. Watching the season finale of “Lost” has become the American dream.

People want to be comfortable, it’s a natural desire. But comfort can be a trap. It whispers at us, working to keep us on the couch, out of danger, safe. It’s a baseline – this is okay, this is what I want, I don’t need anything else… I don’t know any better.

But, we do know better, don’t we? We can count ourselves among the lucky ones who understand the distillation of life on the rock, on a hike, skiing, swimming, living somewhere other than in the comfortable middle. Life on the outside is a privilege, and we know we have to work for it. In a society of nine to fives and two weeks of vacation, it’s easy forget ourselves, to lose track of the quiet that comes when you’re scared, pumped, and the only thing to hear is the thumping of heart in ear, reminding you of nothing. It’s easy to forget the gratitude you feel when the rock has a hold just where you need it, when that foot finally sticks, when we remember that these experiences are exceptional things. It’s a fight to keep motion in our lives, when everything pushes us towards entropy.

We bleed on the rock, and it takes away our pedestrian fingertips, leaving callouses and an awareness that we are not meant to be masses of flesh pushing numbers from one spreadsheet to another, consuming all we see. But, this awareness is not always enough, is it? We’re wired to pursue ease in ourselves, and we each struggle to keep from winding down to nothing but breathing routines, plodding from one stale moment to the next. The difficulty is in pushing against the habits that make us forget we deserve more than “Judge Judy” and a fifty inch screen.

Everyone has trouble finding the time and money to pursue the kind of lifestyle they want – that’s universal. But these difficulties are obvious, and relatively easy to overcome with responsible living, impulse control, and time management. Get to work in time to climb after, don’t go out to eat twenty times a month, etc, etc. Make the time to do the things you want. My circle of friends is ridiculously active: we have soccer players, ultimate frisbee competitors, skiers, musicians, climbers, hikers, runners, students, workaholics, parents, disc golfers, readers, writers, gamers, artists, potters, woodworkers, photographers, climbers, chefs, dancers, and on and on and on. Each activity is amazing, and each conflicts slightly with another. Balance is hard, but the act of trying to find it seems to make contented people. I’m lucky to be surrounded by such motivated people – it shows me what is possible, and gives me a great baseline for “normal.”

I climb for the aches and scrapes, the pulled tendons and broken bones, the sore hands and tired feet, because these things remind me that I’m worth more than my paycheck, that there’s more to breathe for than the next night of Must See TV. As smug as it sounds, I enjoy going to work and listening to my coworkers discuss last night’s dinner, because, while I’m sure the sauce was wonderful, while they were eating, I was ninety feet off the deck, reaching for a quickdraw with shaking fingers, and knowing that the person below me would save my life if I fell.

I climb for my friends, for the opportunity to trust and the opportunity to be trusted. I climb for the commands, the “on belays,” and the “I’ve got you’s,” because we all know how deep those words really go.July 22, 2010 – 7:12 pm

Tommy O - Word Tyler, word.July 22, 2010 – 10:35 pm

E.F.R. - Yeah, Tyler. WORD.July 26, 2010 – 3:49 pm

Andrew - I miss you guys, with tears in my eyes……..July 26, 2010 – 6:13 pm

Amy - I am motivated when I watch friends pushing themselves hard on a climb and enjoying it ALL whether they send or not.

I love how Climbing House gives us all a venue to express ourselves thoughtfully. Some things are difficult to express to one another when we are all together, though the feelings are there.
I love getting to know you all better. Thanks for sharing.July 28, 2010 – 11:21 pm

Adam - Tommy and Tyler,
Thanks for the input. Sharing so many great experiences on the rock with you makes me less embarrassed when I’m piddling a little staring down a runout, or when I’m piddling a little on an over-bolted 5.9.

But I propose that we watch Lost next season and have pillow fights instead of climbing.

Amy, I agree, but what do you mean by “send?” I get motivated when I see your arms – talk about a gun show. I’ve been practicing my “yes ma’ams” so I don’t have to feel their wrath.July 29, 2010 – 12:21 pm

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