Unfortunately I always feel like I should write a blog. It feels like a chore even though I actually enjoy writing and think it’s a very worthwhile thing to do. I’m in this bad territory of being OK at it: good enough to string together some meaningful sentences but not good enough to do it particularly well. Anyway, I’ve had a growing (albeit dull) sense of anxiety about having produced no words from the last three months of my life, which have actually been pretty full and now I’m in this strange position of not knowing where to start or what to write about.
This was second highlight of the trip - can't you tell from my expression?
The first thing I haven’t written about is a trip I made to the South East of the States. Always somewhere a little off my radar for it being (poorly) labelled as a sport climbing and bouldering destination (why would I go sport climbing and bouldering in the states when I could climb BIG WALLS in Yosemite!?). That said I’ve always been curious because in some ways it feels like the ‘real’ America. Out West is like the phoney America, with none of the terrifyingly drunk, tobacco-chewing, anti-abortion believing, grits munching, shotgun wielding yanks of ‘Y’ALL' country. Louis Theroux doesn’t go to the Bay Area unless he wants to party.
I don’t want to write a standard ‘trip report’ affair, I would bore myself to sleep let alone all the nice people who decide to read my blog in their lunch breaks. So I think I will just talk about the nicest memory I have from the trip.
I like to think of myself as more than just a climber and less single minded than most. After spending most of the last two years not actually climbing much (shoulder wingery) and yet still filling my life with interesting things, I think I’ve proved myself right. However the first thing that comes to mind when looking back on my trip to Chattanooga was onsighting a 12c (7b+) sport route. Yep that’s pretty boring, I know! It’s not as if it’s even an achievement. Of course for someone who’s never onsighted 12c before it would be, but I’ve onsighted 13b/8a, numerous times. I can’t even say I was proud of myself for getting back to 12c fitness quickly after 6 months off because the route was technical and required little in the way of strength and fitness.
So why do I remember this route so well? I guess it was my first experience after the op of being in ‘that place’. 'That place’ being the place where everything goes well, each hand and foot goes where it’s supposed to, where you have this underlying sense of happiness but you’re not really aware of having it until you get down (we can argue about that one). You’re just thinking about the next move, but at the same time you’re not thinking at all. At least not in the normal sense of having internal narrative such as ‘I will put my right hand here, or I need that next hold ’. It’s more like a shifting heightened sense of awareness of your body doing certain things and needing to do certain things in order to do the next move. It’s kind of an emptiness and a fullness at the same time. I had an intense experience of ’that place' on this particular route because the route was really beautiful and also because I hadn’t been in ’that place' for so long.
Mina, Katy and I getting into city bike flow
Sport scientists, philosophers, monks, people who think and read about this sort of thing call this state Flow State. You climb much better in Flow but that’s not the only reason why it’s good, it’s good because it feels like nothing else. When you hash out all the other reasons, like attractive men, travel, mental challenge, beautiful places, flow might possibly be the reason I’ll always go climbing. It’s that place, or that feeling that people who do sports, or dance, or art, or music, or meditation: it’s what they all chase but maybe they don’t know it. Flow is also the reason I like to climb hard (in the most relative sense of the term). Trying a route hard enough forces me in to flow.
The day of that 12c (it’s called Predator by the way and it’s at Castle Crag) I happened to be climbing with a friend of a friend who I’d never met before. A girl who looked like she’d come straight out of the Amazon and entered a fashionable (second-hand) outdoor clothing store. Long legs, dark hair, big personality and a dog at her side with none of those things. I immediately warmed to her because her warm up was to drink two strong beers and jump straight on her project. As a professional, I don’t advise doing such things, but I did think it was funny. Moreover I respected the complete lack of effort to conceal her disinterest in normal procedure.
I’ve climbed long enough to know why people do such things. Of course a good (and perhaps the main) reason for getting drunk at the crag is that it’s really fun. That said, I could see she really wanted to do her project, she didn’t just want to have fun. It’s not that she didn’t care, in fact she probably cared too much, and she knew it. The beer and lack of preparation was her effort to cultivate a ‘don’t give a f**k’ mentality, 4th day on, tired body, tired skin. If she went up her route not ‘giving a f**k’ she would enjoy it more and would be more likely to send. If you care less you climb better. Why is that?
Another heroine of mine - Brittany Griffith on the Bloody Mary's for breakie
It’s a common misconception that if you really want to do something you should try hard. For most of life’s activities which I do well at I don’t try to do them at all. For example I never try to walk and I can walk pretty well. I never try to speak and I can do that (to an OK standard). In any cases where I really try to do such things, I often mess up. Ever had a job interview where you really try to sound intelligent and instead you forget basic rules of grammar and speak largely in slang to the point of incoherence? Ever been filmed walking down the road and you replay the footage and it looks like you have something stuck up your bum because you’re trying to walk naturally? Both those things have happened to me, yet when you think about it, it’s ridiculous; why would you try to walk or try to speak?
My Mum is terrified of heights, she can’t walk close to a cliff edge. When I was young she would tell me and my brother to come a way from the edge. I would say to her ‘Mum how often do you fall off a pavement?' (sidewalk for American readers)? Never is the answer. For some reason when there is pressure to perform, a situation where we can’t fail, we end up trying too hard and in doing so we’re much more likely to mess up. If you raise the pavement to a great height above a snake pit all of a sudden you’ll see people crawling along hugging the pavement in fear of falling, despite knowing that in all their lives they’ve never once fallen off the pavement. The best example is dating. How often have you met the perfect man or women but you’re not attracted to them in the slightest because they are trying way too hard.
I did OK at not trying to like this snake at the Chattanooga Aquarium
The horrible fact is that someone who really tries to get that girl, or walk, or stay on the pavement is actually way more likely to fail. The reason for that is that trying usually means thinking about what you’re doing instead of doing it. When you’re climbing, if you’re too busy thinking about how you really want to do the route because it’s raining tomorrow and you really want to do your first 12c and you want to put your quick draws on a different route, then you’ll never have your attention on the moves. If you’re in an interview and you’re thinking too much about sounding good instead of just allowing the words to flow then you won’t be very articulate. It seems like a paradox, this idea of not trying. Of course climbing requires effort and when you feel your fingers slipping you need to fight to stay on, but to climb well you have to let go of what’s distracting you.
Mr Willcutt knows a thing or two about trying too hard
I’ve noticed this most when I’m soloing. If I’m not thinking about what would happen if I fell then I climb much better; more calmly and efficiently. But I have a strong imagination and often my mind wanders more than I’d like. In the case of soloing it sometimes wanders to what it would be like to die, what my Mum would think, who would get my van or what the news papers would read. Obviously the consequences of an error aren’t great so I start trying harder to climb well and in doing so I tense up, over grip, climb awkwardly. On days when this happens I usually give up with the soloing because I know that the chances of me messing up are infinitely increased by this mode of thinking. Sometimes i think that this is the quality of a good soloist. It isn’t that Alex or Dean or John Bachar are any braver or stronger or fitter than the rest of us instead they have this ability to not be distracted by a wandering mind. To climb freely and smoothly and confidently despite the risk. Consequently you don’t get many talented soloists that aren’t talented climbers.
Are the talented climbers also talented at getting girls? In this case, I think not..
So what’s the conclusion here? Since this is supposed to be a blog and not a philosophy essay I’d prefer not to end with any solid conclusion because for one, it’s a very difficult thing to do and secondly it’s nice to leave room for more thought. But today I think I found a solid last thought: from now on I’m going to try harder at not trying hard.
So in this blog post I’ve talked about flow state in climbing and about the paradox of not trying and in doing so I’ve successfully managed to say almost nothing about my trip to the States or my on-going infuriating shoulder re-hab which is taking all of my mental and emotional power. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
Katy trying too hard to get the best wine