Conquistadors of the Useless, or Pursuers of Passion?

 

“Don’t try to change the world, find something that you love
And do it every day
Do that for the rest of your life
And eventually, the world will change.”

––Growing Up, by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

Millennials get a lot of flack.

We’re dubbed lazy, entitled, useless.

Our work ethic is questioned, our desire to live in vans reviled, and our love for the outdoors?

Useless.

But is it?

I’ve wrestled with this question late at night with wine in hand, mile 7 of a trail run, and over countless cups of coffee. It’s clear that our society, so centrically created around capitalism, values what we produce. In fact, so often, our value is determined solely on what we create.

In terms of money, it’s easy to define. As a society, we value wealth, and those of us who choose to claw our way up the corporate ladder will, usually, be rewarded for our time and dedication to the man. Whoever he is.

This idea is something I understand well. Working my way through secondary and higher education, I knew following a specific path would ensure my success. I knew how to do exactly what I was told to do.

I soon realized, though, like many of us do, that continuing to pursue that life would be empty. While the security of money is nice, and up to a certain threshold ($75,000 to be exact), can actually make you happier, sacrificing happiness to get to that point isn’t necessarily worth it.

So, when I chose to study creative writing in college, I knew I was setting myself up for societal failure.

 

When I decided I wanted to focus my efforts on writing in the outdoor industry, I laughed at my silly masochistic self.

Because if writing isn’t enough to sustain yourself, or prove your worth in society, playing outdoors is even worse.

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Desert trail and sandstone towers in Moab, UT

My feelings of uselessness increased the more time I spent outside. Days passed without a single thing to show. I hadn’t written anything. I hadn’t changed anyone’s life. I certainly hadn’t made any money.

But I felt so much happier.

What came next was an energy for preserving our wild and beautiful places. This energy evolved into passion, which included writing to government officials and advocating for public land.

It still made me wonder if spending all this time outside––climbing, skiing, running, and whatever else––was actually worthwhile.

As it appears, rock climbing is useless. And despite various attempts to justify the sport, many people continue to agree that nothing good comes from climbing rocks.

It might be true for some people. Maybe there is an entire branch of the climbing community that doesn’t see the value of public lands, refuses to attend crag clean-ups, and will go on their merry way never giving back to the community.

Beneath their inability and lack of desire to give back, however, lay the seeds of passion.

Although I don’t know many (if any) people in the climbing community who do not care about anything and anyone besides themselves, there is something within them that draws them to the sport. This passion, I believe, is exactly what the world needs.

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Anger, resentment, jealousy––these emotions often stem from an experience in our lives that told us we couldn’t. Whether it was society, our parents, our significant other, or a complete stranger. At some (or many) points, we decided to let someone see the fragile, brilliant dream inside of us, and they laughed, or doubted, or overran us with their sarcasm.

Along the way, so much of our passion died because of doubt.

What I love about the climbing community is that “no” isn’t a reasonable answer, and we continually rise to a challenge. We spend our summers waking before the sun, and our autumns climbing in headlamps, because we just want the thing to go. We spend days, weeks, months, sometimes years, climbing the same damn route because we’re too stubborn to admit defeat. We suffer flesh wounds, centipede bites, rock fall, numb toes, tendonitis, rolled ankles, broken ankles, whippers, and thirty-foot run-outs.

In climbing, we shape our character, we define what is and isn’t possible, and we refuse to back down.

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Red Rocks, NV

The same is true of any sport. It’s in the face of adversity that character and resiliency grow. So maybe, on the surface, climbing seems useless.

After all, we’re spending years of our lives hanging off the side of cliffs.

But when you look into the benefits the sport creates, and how the fissures splay throughout our society––the activists it creates, the stories of endurance and the human spirit it tells, the passion it inspires––it’s hard to say the sport is futile.

 

Weekly Round-Up #10

They say nature heals. For 24-year-old Alexis Alzadeh, nature saves. After being sent from Atlanta to Utah for detox and rehab, Alexis discovered parts of herself she never knew existed––like the desire to ski, summit mountains, and climb rocks. Moving to Utah and completing her recovery program included “setting fire to the old parts of [her] that no longer worked.” This poignant and powerful essay shows, candidly, how nature saved Alexis’ life.

Many backpackers consider themselves ultralight, but Clint “Lint” Bunting takes it to the next level. He drinks straight out of streams, uses sticks to pitch his tarp, and chews his vegetables before boiling them to cut down on dish use. Although his style may not resonate with everyone, it’s interesting to put a new spin on “fast and light.”

When I first started climbing, the idea of falling on bolts terrified me. Six years and hundreds of falls later, my bolt-angst has decreased, until, that is, I see some gnarly, rusty, decades old spinner on an exposed bolt. We can all make a clear distinction when it’s that obvious, but what about all the bolts that look like they might hold? Here’s a quick and dirty guide to knowing when to trust a bolt and when to back it up.

In America, we are obsessed with productivity. We need something to show for our day, and ultimately something to show for our lives. Oftentimes, the third question asked during an introduction is “What do you do for work?” We structure our cultural norms around it. So what about those of us who like to climb rocks? Who live on the fringe? Who forgo 401k’s, affordable health insurance, and steady paychecks? Climbing doesn’t pay the bills, and initially only offers something to the climber, not the world. But maybe that’s enough. These moments of introspection and reflection throughout our international crags may be what our generation needs. Check out this thought-provoking essay on Mojagear about being a “Conquistador of the Useless.”

Four Resources For People Who Love the Environment and Want to Protect it

I don’t know about you, but as I watched the election results streaming in on that fateful November night, I grew more and more fearful about the state of our world and what would happen if a climate nay-sayer became President-elect. And then it happened.

After shedding a few well-deserved tears I decided it was time to pull myself up by the bootstraps and finally put my words into action. I love the natural world, and I value all the work that’s been put in to protecting and preserving the places where I send my hardest routes and face my demons. Unfortunately, those places are under threat now more than ever.

So what can we do? Turn that frown upside down! While the people running the country may reject facts, there is a movement happening at the local and state levels and it is currently being fueled by anger from the recent election. So hey, at least something good is coming from it!

Here are four fantastic resources if you want to get involved. There are many ways, most obviously by donating your time or money. But another great way to make an impact is through conversation. Tell people about these great organizations. The more people know about these organizations, the more who will fight against climate deniers.

(And a big shout-out to Sarah over at Girl on Rock, for inspiring me to write an article like this!)

Protect Our Winters (POW): Protect our Winters is an awesome coalition of people who love winter and want to keep it coming back with high snow accumulations. They have the POW7—seven ways you can help in the fight against climate change, as well as a webpage with all 100 senators names, states, and contact information. You can also find a script for your call incase you’re a bundle of nerves when the phone starts to ring.

The Access Fund: While not necessarily dubbed an environmental group, the Access Fund has been protecting and sustaining America’s climbing areas for 25 years. From buying the land to protect it, to developing trail systems, to being advocates for the places we love to climb, the Access Fund is an incredible voice for the climbing community. On their webpage you can find a list of organizations in your state to volunteer with.

Greenpeace: While Greenpeace doesn’t acknowledge the burdensome role that Methane gasses play in our changing climate, they are a voice for the environment. They work to keep Exxon Mobile Accountable, to take action against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and in general they fight against the fossil fuel industry. There are many ways to volunteer your time, or just get educated with the many resources and articles on their website.

Patagonia: Hands down one of the best companies I’ve come across. Patagonia has been an advocate for the environment for decades. They started the “worn wear” movement—a movement that is counterintuitive to the money-mongering companies across America and the world. On their website you can find The Activist Company, which provides small loans to hundreds of nonprofits and NGO’s across the country. Finding that information on their website is a great way to figure out who’s doing what in your area. In Salt Lake alone there are 18 environmental grantees from the Salt Lake Climber’s Alliance to the Wasatch Community Gardens.

In straight terms of education, check out www.grist.org to keep up to date on what’s happening around the world.

I know a lot of people believe they can’t make a difference. I beg to differ. I also think now’s not the time to have that sort of attitude. In the least, we can cause a ripple affect, and if there are enough ripples, we can cause a tidal wave of change.

Corny, I know, but I love it.

What organizations do you love and stand behind?

Joe’s Valley (And Why the Climbing Community Rocks)

I’ve never considered myself a boulderer. Not on any level. In fact, it wasn’t until recently, after I’d moved to a completely new city and state, and lost all my previous climbing partners, that I found myself in the bouldering gym. Doing boulder-y things. Like trying to be burly. And dynamic. And walking around in a bro-tank.

Just kidding. About the burly-ness that is….

img_5938Anyways, the more I’ve bouldered, the more I’ve come to enjoy the movements and strength. (Plus the grunting, you can’t forget the grunting.)

With all my new-found intrigue and lack of total loathing for bouldering, I suggested to a couple friends we head down to Joe’s Valley in South Central Utah for the weekend to wreck our fingers on the magnificent sandstone. img_5794

And wreck we did.

We decided to start out on the warm-up boulder by the creek, then quickly progressed to the incredible Big Joe problem on the Big Joe boulder. It’s a V7. I’m not a V7 climber. However, working my way through the strong movements gave me hope that someday I might find myself completing more difficult problems.

The rest of the day we putzed around on a few 4’s and 5’s and were mostly shut down on everything we tried. Ah, the beauty of the desert.

img_5778That evening my fancy fiancé made Dutch Oven enchiladas and we all sat around the fire playing music, enjoying a few too many glasses of wine, and dabbling in philosophical conversations.

Waking up early the next morning was definitely not an option, so we hit the boulders in Man Size, near the campground, around 10. Not only was it my first time on a bouldering trip, but it was my first real experience climbing with a group of women who were climbing hard and trying hard and encouraging one another. On top of that, the guys we were climbing with were also encouraging and empowering and inspirational.

After lunch we headed back down to the warm up boulder, so I could work on my v5 project, and some of the guys wanted to check out The Angler. We were all cheering each other on, letting out some words of affirmation and motivation when two of my friends (who were climbing outside for the first time EVER…yay converts!) said to me, “Wow, I think climbers might be the most positive people I’ve ever met.”

Yeah. This community is home to me.

ASDT Rendezvous

You guys. I don’t even know where to start with this post.

I just returned from a weekend long adventure in the mountains with 100+ incredible women from all over the country. img_5895

Women who drove from Oregon, who flew from Florida, who carpooled from Salt Lake City.

And why? Because there’s something stirring in all of us. There’s an energy in our souls that calls us to come together because there’s power in numbers. There’s power in knowing and being known, in understanding a bit more of ourselves by learning about others and their stories.

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I heard about And She’s Dope Too through Instagram (you can check out their feed here, or their website here), and stumbled upon the information through their Rendezvous when I was poking around on their online shop. Immediately I thought, a weekend getaway with a bunch of outdoorsy women? I’m in!

So I packed up my car, nervous and wary about showing up by myself, and jumped onto I-15 to Ogden. Once I saw the ASDT pop-up tents, and turned into the Dancing Moose Farms parking lot, all my fears were contained as I was welcomed with genuine smiles from the check-in table.

After only a few hours, I knew I was attending a life-changing event.

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The women who shared their stories around the campfire are women who have overcome great obstacles. They are women who have gone from not wanting to get out of bed in the morning to inspiring thousands of people to run. They are women who have been stirred from the monotonous lifestyles they grew up with to passionate, curiosity-driven whirlwinds of light and self-love and intrinsic power.

I am so inspired.

With each women I met I became more inspired. I was inspired by the woman who decided to reconnect to herself in nature after her divorce. I was inspired by the woman who didn’t think she could stand-up paddle board, but attempted (and succeeded!) anyways. I was inspired by the many married women who refuse to fill the entire role of caretaker, housekeeper, dinner-maker because they have passions of their own they so desperately need to pursue.

And also, I was inspired by the men at home who encourage and empower their wives to participate in events like this because they know that the power of women is not something to fear, but instead something to embrace.

There is still so much I need to process, but as I do you’ll all be the first to know.

My deepest, most sincere thanks to ASDT for putting on a weekend where I could feel fully free and deeply known.

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She is free in her wildness, she is a wanderess, a drop of free water. She knows nothing of borders and cares nothing for rules or customs. ‘Time’ for her isn’t something to fight against. Her life flows clean, with passion, like fresh water. -Roman Payne

10 Reasons You Should Climb Rocks

1. It’s therapeutic

Climbing puts you in a zen like state. I come into the gym, or hit the trail and everything falls away. The stress of work, of relationship, of money (always money, right?), slowly makes their way out of my consciousness and into the greater energy of the universe where it gets demoted to nonexistence. My stress disappears and all that matters is movement and the present.

2. It’s an awesome workout

I deeply and passionately loathe working out. I sometimes feel dragged to the gym by my fiancé like a kicking, screaming five-year-old. “But I don’t wanna!” I tell him and he shakes his head. It’s not fun. And I won’t believe you if you tell me otherwise! But climbing is fun and it’s challenging and if you climb long enough and hard enough you’ll feel those beautiful beads of sweat forming on your forehead and get the release of endorphins like you do after 500 air squats in the gym.

3. The community is unmatched

As human beings we desperately long for a sense of community. Look to religious groups, crossfit, and book clubs for your proof. We want to feel part of something and realize that no, we’re not alone on this strange planet just hanging in the balance of the galaxies. Climbing not only gives you a sense of community, but gives you friendships for life. (Case in point: My fiancé and I met at our university’s climbing gym.)

4. You get to be outside for days, weeks, or months

Self-explanatory.

5. You consistently get to face your fears

This probably sounds like a point that should be on the list of reasons to not climb rocks. However, the majority of us spend our days running away from our fears at supersonic speed. Facing your fears builds confidence, and then eradicates your fears—I am living proof of this. I used to be terrified of heights. Now my list of multi-pitch routes I want to climb grows on a monthly basis.

6. It lets you fail. A lot.

I hate failing, and throughout my life I’ve consistently fought the drive to be perfect. I don’t want people to know I’m weak or incapable. When I first started climbing I only made it so far because I couldn’t put on a front. Climbing leaves you bare and vulnerable. It doesn’t leave room for white lies or perfection. What it does give you though is the drive to push through your weakness and your imperfection and your failings. It gives you the opportunity to rise up. It gives you character.

7. It lets you encourage others

I love this about climbing. When I tell people I climb, I let them in on a big part of my story. I get to tell them about all the stuff I’ve overcome. I get to share my passion. This fire inside me encourages others to face their fears and to try those things they always wished they tried.

8. It can humble you

There’s a lot of ego in climbing. Head into the gym and you’ll see a wide variety of humans doing a wide variety of things. You’ll see guys using sheer muscle to make their way up a problem. You’ll hear grunting and some really strange self-talk. The climbing sphere, like any other, has some people who have a hard time reigning in their ego. However, if you give in to perspective and let it, climbing can humble you in a way nothing else can. One day you can be confidently dominating a V4 and the next you can be shut down on a V1. You can climb an 11d in the gym and then head to Moab and try out a 5.9 crack that completely destroys you. And that’s okay.

9. You’ll feel like a badass

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been regarded as a “badass.” (Disclaimer: I’m definitely not a badass. I read old fiction novels and drink tea and enjoy binge-watching “Friends.”) However, in this current day and age it seems like anything that involves getting off the couch and interacting with the natural world is considered “badass.” I’ll take it because it drives people to get off their behinds and do something rad. Which, I must add, this world definitely needs more of.

10. Because why not?

This may be the most valid point I have to offer. What will you lose from climbing? Two hours of your life—if you absolutely hate it. But the gains are astounding and life-changing. Stay tuned to hear more about how climbing has changed my life.

It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves. -Sir Edmund Hillary