I was the iconic over-stoker climber. I pulled plastic and real rock whenever I possibly could – pre-work, post work … sometimes during work. I ate, dreamt and breathed climbing, devouring each and every Alpinist article, Weekend Whipper video and full-on climbing-related book whenever possible. I’ve never had the strongest fingers, though I was usually the most psyched person I knew at the crag or climbing gym.
But if I’m being honest, I knew an injury would be totally inevitable. I wasn’t a smart or healthy climber. “Longevity” never entered my mind. All I thought about was the next time I could tie in or chalk up. I literally climbed for 27 days straight with no rest days. I was falling off warm-ups toward the end of this stretch because my body was so beat, but the psych was so damn high.
Then it did, in fact, happen. I was on my fourth weekend-warrior trip in a row to the crack climbing mecca – Indian Creek – and countless days into a no-rest-day streak, when I tweaked my shoulder.
Thankfully, nothing broke or tore; however, it was a shoulder impingement. Though, being the psyched me, I kept climbing on the injury. I barely slowed down because my shoulder only ached after a climbing sesh. Mama didn’t raise a wimp, I’d tell myself. But she did raise an idiot: winter came and I kept climbing in the gym, even after the pain crept in. The psych was high.
By late winter, my shoulder would hurt laying in bed, brushing my teeth, reading a book, cooking dinner … you name it. So I finally went to see a professional, and they said I should stop climbing for a good chunk of time (duh). Then COVID hit. And every gym and business shut down. Almost all of my climbing friends didn’t want to kick it, or we were all anxiety-ridden and pretty bummed about current affairs when we did. I couldn’t climb, and it felt like the world was ending. The psych was not high.
I lived by myself in a one bedroom apartment and was working from home at the time. Since socializing wasn’t really an option, save a select few, most of my days consisted of rolling out of bed, walking into the next room to work all day, then spending evenings alone. I’m the type of person who’s comfortable spending large swaths of time alone. So in this situation in normal times I simply would’ve gone bouldering in the gym, hit the auto-belay, or top-rope solo’d outside. But Homo sapiens are social creatures, after all. Plus I couldn’t climb. And no one really wanted to hang thanks to virus concerns… The psych was not high.
On the verge of falling into a mental abyss, I began long yoga (i.e. stretching) and meditation sessions, usually twice a day: immediately after waking up and just before hitting the hay. These solo sessions were wonderfully de-stressing. It immediately became apparent that stretching and focusing on improving my shoulder stability and strength would pay dividends for my future self’s desire to climb. But I still craved a performance outlet, a funnel to pour my anxieties and overall inactivity from daily life into. I’ve always been high energy, and climbing was my funnel. However, I still couldn’t actually climb; I could barely do a pull-up without significant soreness. I began the search for another activity.
The most obvious answer seemed to be trail running. I loved being in the mountains, thrived in fresh air and sunshine, and already had a pair of shoes, so I flocked to Salt Lake City’s foothills in early spring. Romping around the trails and trail-less hills was enjoyable, but I’ve always held a genuine hatred for running. I thought it’d be different away from asphalt, but my attitude pretty much stayed the same. People do this for fun?!, I repeatedly thought during every outing.
Darting down snowy slopes with a pair of skis under me has always been sweet, so biking seemed like a solid warm-weather equivalent. After finding a killer online deal on a used bike, I, like virtually every other human in the world, was bit by the lockdown-biking bug. It had been years since I had ridden as a workout or for fun, and after my first time pedaling around the city I was absolutely hooked. With my body weightlessly charging into the wind, I finally found another activity that zenned my mind and pushed me physically. The psych grew yet again.
After that first time in the saddle, I set personal goals and discovered a welcoming community. I love the act of climbing, but the ability to challenge myself while meeting kindred spirits was always the true magic of recreating in the vertical world. Though biking is not exactly the same, it does offer similar elements: the ability to mentally drown out daily noise, become friends with like-minded folks, and the satisfaction of pushing physical limits.
My shoulder is still not fully healed, and climbing is constantly on my mind. It’s a bummer to think about the planned climbing trips I had to cancel. It’s almost painful to consider all the long days on the wall and nights under the stars that I missed this season.
But part of me is thankful for the injury. Without it, I’m unsure if and when I would’ve discovered a passion for flying around roads and singletrack with the weightlessness of a bird and the untroubled mind of a child. And biking only opens the doors to future human-powered possibilities. Setting out on big adventures from my front door with everything needed either strapped to my bike or my back is an idea that’s new-to-me and very much on my mind. Bike-to-ski, bike-to-scramble, bike-to-hike … the opportunities are endless. Because of an injury, new experiences have actually opened, not closed. The psych is very much alive.