Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Body heat

Sunday boarding from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.

Having come out of the other side of my massive book project and starting to climb regularly again, I have been thinking a lot about the nature of my need to climb and what I take from the activity. I’m aware that for some readers these comments may sound ridiculous, but they are my feelings and so you can take them or leave them - they simply are what they are.

My deprivation from climbing over the past months and years during this project has been relative. I have still climbed more metres of rock and ice than many people have the chance to and I am grateful for that. I’m also aware that the book project has had still greater disruption for my family. This post is not a moan. I understand that everyone has choices to make in their life which have a big mix of positive and negative consequences and then live with them. Nonetheless, whether it seems self-indulgent or not, the relative lack of climbing over the period had a huge effect on me. A negative effect.

Wanting to make the most of each and every possible opportunity in life can be both an advantage and a big problem. Being drawn in several different directions at once is destructive for success at most things that require work and application. I could write posts about all these directions, but in this I’m just writing about the climbing aspect.

Several years ago a climbing journalist interviewed me soon after I climbed Rhapsody at Dumbarton Rock. I remember him commenting after the interview that he still wasn’t really clear why I liked climbing so much. I think he was not seeing the wood for the trees. I don’t climb to notch up first ascents, to complete hard projects, or to be better than anyone else. Spending my time doing these things is the means, not the end. The end is simply the climbing. The hard projects, training and the pushing yourself simply intensifies the experience. If I’ve pushed myself harder than someone else, it’s simply because I enjoy the climbing that much.

So this need to climb is not something that has to be linked to achievements or grades etc. They merely assist in getting the most out of the climbing. In trying to find an analogy for this basic need to climb, I felt it was similar to the need to have the correct body heat. Imagine you were deprived of the heating or clothing to stay warm. You can still function in your activities of daily life, even enjoy good things. But it is just harder to enjoy them while you shiver. If exposed to this over time, you might even adapt to this state to an extent. The discomfort may fade to a dull hue, no longer at the front of your mind. But it is far from eliminated. At the extremes of deprivation, the discomfort would be strong enough to cancel out satisfaction from meeting any other basic needs or comforts.

Over the past three weeks I have been building back up my basic strength and fitness in my climbing wall. I have found that even when feeling rusty in my movements and weak on the small holds, climbing makes me feel that I can deal with the all the other problems in life. But as I’ve got stronger and fitter, I’ve noticed the effect is stronger. This is more than it being nice to be able to climb things I couldn’t before. The actual climbing feels better. More agility, control and confidence, as well as strength. 

The book project has been a reminder that since I’m lucky enough to have opportunities to climb, I should take them wherever possible, not just for the direct enjoyment, but for the effects in all parts of life. It's also reminded me to take the time to train and build up to a good performance.

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