You, outdoor recreator, are probably quite educated: bachelor’s degree, possibly a master’s degree or PhD. You wore a cap and gown and were handed a number of certificates decorated with fancy letters saying you went to college and finished—maybe even college for adults, which is called graduate school. But you climb rocks or ski or mountain bike. Shred, crush, get barreled from time to time.
In the Wednesday staff meeting, you sit up straight, sport unwrinkled business casual, and expound powerfully and authoritatively on sales figures, legal documents, strategic analyses, and other data and insights. Or, you teach, lawyer, guide, or coach dozens of employees, design budgets of hundreds of thousands of dollars of corporate capital, and in general act like an adult.
by Brendan Leonard, published in The Climbing Zine Book, now available. Banner photo: The author (left) and Chris El-Deiry on the summit of the Grand Teton in Wyoming, after climbing the Upper Exum (Photo: by the author)
But then on Saturday, on your bike or at the base of a climb or around a campfire, you’re all like, “It was siiiiiiiick, brah!” while pulling up on your air handlebars or making phantom hand jams in front of your face.
I know. I used to write marketing copy for an enormous software company all week, sitting in on conference calls and then architecting massive documents on how Product X will optimize your company’s IT infrastructure. I would rack my brain for multisyllable buzzwords for hours and then at 5:00 p.m. Friday would basically begin talking like Theodore “Ted” Logan, only with more f-bombs.
I’m a writer. I can afford to eat based on the idea that I can string together several hundred or thousand smart-sounding words at a time, clearly and efficiently. If I were to write the beta for a climb called Mother 1 at Vedauwoo, for inclusion in a consumer climbing magazine, it might look like this:
Mother 1 is a Vedauwoo off-width classic, and some say it’s sandbagged at 5.7+. You won’t find any face holds to use outside of this flaring chicken-wing and arm bar crack, so bring your off-width technique. If you’re new to off-widths, remember that an inch or two of upward progress is actually good. Be patient, place some gear, and once you get to the hand jam at the top, you’re home free. Belay at the top of the crack or walk up the 5.2 R slab to the top of the Nautilus, where you can clip into two rap bolts.
But if you and I were standing at a climbing gym and I were to tell you about Mother 1, it would sound like this:
Dude, I was so fuckin’ scared of it I took like I think two #4s and a #5 up it. We get there, and I’m totally shitting my pants at the base of the climb, and I finally get on it and start wedging myself into it, and somebody said go left side in, so I did, and immediately you get in it, and it’s flaring, and of course the rock has all kinds of crystals in it, but they’re all facing the wrong way, down, and plus they’re all fuckin’ greasy and polished from years of people climbing the route, and of course you have to use your whole body, so you can imagine like fifty years of skin oil all over this thing. I’m leapfrogging a 4 and a 5 all the way up, and I get higher and higher, and I’m totally panicking, shaking and sweating, all like whew, whew, whew—you know, that like shaky exhale when you’re about to fall. And I get up to the point where the crack narrows down to a hand jam over your head, and I suck at hand jams, so I’m like fuuuuuuuck with this pathetic hand jam and trying to paw my way up the rock, just looking like a total amateur, like if I was belaying me, I’d be embarrassed for me, you know what I mean? And I somehow get in a #1 in the hand crack, and I just suddenly pop out, no warning or anything, just like “Aaaaaaaa,” and I think Chris had a little slack in the rope when I went, and I just cheese-grater down the rock for about fifteen feet, scraping the shit out of my forearms, plus I’m already bleeding from the ankles from climbing the off-width like a goddamn grizzly bear. Anyway, I get back on it and top out and basically go into this adrenaline-flush nap at the top as I’m sitting up there belaying. So, you know, it’s not that bad.
I always wanted to be a writer, so I read great authors: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Gabriel García Márquez, James Joyce, Steinbeck, blah, blah, blah. Then I went to college, then grad school—the kinds of things that increase your odds of being able to hold your own in an intellectual conversation at a dinner party.
Then I became a climber, which somehow made me less likely to quote Shakespeare, and more likely to refer to The Big Lebowski or the Beastie Boys. There are many people like me: climbers, mountain bikers, skiers, and other outdoorsfolk. Next time you’re standing around a campfire, count the number of friends you have who are smart enough to (potentially) climb the corporate ladder, but dumb enough to climb mountains for “fun,” able to talk in the jargon of business, but prefer to talk in the dialect of radness, at least on weekends. You probably know lots of people like that. Or maybe you are people like that?