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The sacrifice of relationships for passions
I've been prioritizing climbing, kitesurfing, and travel—which is fine, for now
It was just before 7 in the morning, on a weekday, and I was sitting in my car, waiting for Leanne. We hadn’t talked about what we were gonna climb that day—hadn’t made any plans beyond showing up here, at the small parking lot in Rumney where the trails lead up to the mega classics.
It was cool and fresh outside, not yet dripping wet with humidity. The sun was out, the temperature just right.
Except that I’d been up since four. Bad dream. Something about a female tattoo artist pricking my arm with ink before we’d agreed on what the design would be. I kept telling her to stop, but she kept going, and finally, I got out of there, although not before she’d left four little black dots on my arm.
“She left her mark!” Leanne said later when I told her about it.
I was early, so I brought up the Mountain Project app on my phone and started thinking about where we could go. We didn’t have much time—I had to be in a meeting by 11—so I searched for something not too far.
About a week earlier, we had been at 5.8 Crag, down the easy path along the road, where there’s a 12b called Pump Up the Volume. After a few tries, the route beta on the crux sequence was still shrouded in mystery to me: too much chalk, too many options, all of them on sharp, precise crimps or slopey desperate gastons, all of which felt horrible.
On Mountain Project, I went searching for help, and there in the comments, someone had posted a link to a YouTube video. About four moves in, my eyes lit up: there it was, right at the start of the crux: the climber in the video was using a new hold I hadn’t seen before. Neither of us had. It wasn’t chalked—it wasn’t even visible from the ground. But there it was, some kind of finger pocket that enabled a new sequence: a bump to an intermediate hold, then a re-arranging of the feet, then a long span out to the good crimp toward the end of the crux.
Suddenly, I was excited. I’ve been trying on a few 12b’s this season, but haven’t sent any yet. If I do, it’d be my hardest grade ever.
Leanne pulled up next to me in the parking lot and we both got out—I showed her the video of Pump Up the Volume. Look! Right there. I pointed to the climber as she grabbed the new hold. Leanne’s eyes, like mine, lit up, and a wide smile spread across her face. We had our plan for the day.
Priorities that day—and in life
When my relationship of 10 years ended in May, I went through a few stages of grief right away—then I went to my New Hampshire house to climb. I needed the therapy.
Now, I’m here for the rest of the Summer. Climbing is still therapy (it always has been) but it’s also just doing what I love. I’m a mile from the Rumney crags, with a thousand sport routes, and dozens of classic 11s and 12s beckoning me to come try hard, sort out the sequence, get strong, and send. The mountains are here, the swimming hole across the street is here, the garden, and the puppy, and the beers in the fridge—
What is not here, in rural New Hampshire, is a particularly viable dating market.
And that’s totally fine with me—for now.
As Leanne and I warmed up on some easier routes, I mentioned feeling a little transient. Earlier in the Summer, I’d been to New Zealand for almost a month to see my sister and her kids. Then I’d been at my house outside DC for two weeks, sorting out the jetlag and putting my head down on client work.
Now, I was here in New Hampshire. Later, when my son’s school starts, I’d go back to DC, then maybe to Spain, then to Mexico in the winter. It’s a nomadic lifestyle I have planned, and here I’ve just renamed my newsletter—I was supposed to be Post-Nomad. Not bouncing from place to place, but investing in relationships, in community. But how could I invest in relationships if I kept telling people that I’d be leaving soon?
Actually: Leanne felt the same way. Her work as a travel nurse plops her at a new hospital, in a new city, every few months. She takes assignments that are near climbing areas, she quickly finds partners to climb, builds friendships, and then… on to a new place.
Are you feeling like you should settle down? I asked.
I don’t know. Maybe? But then… mostly I just want to climb!
We were done with the warmups, and ready to go over to Pump Up the Volume and try out the new beta.
She told me about everything that climbing gives in her life, and how important those things were. I knew exactly. The point, for both of us, was that we’d made climbing the priority, not just for today, but in life.
She could stay in one place long enough to develop something deeper and longer lasting with someone—so could I. But that would mean giving up the next climbing trip, the next kiting trip. And I’m not gonna do that. Not yet.
We all have our passions
To an outsider, climbers can feel a little extreme about their chosen passion. Maybe they’ve seen Free Solo (completely unrepresentative), or maybe they had a fling with some long-haired climber dude who couldn’t stop talking about his “projects.” Maybe they’re scared of heights (news flash: we all are).
Honestly: they don’t understand. First of all, climbing is no more extreme than skiing, and with less possibility of serious injury, if you ask me. But second, Leanne and I were prioritizing the rock because it gave us everything we both needed—almost. She was there on her day off and I was there at 7 on a weekday because this is the way each of us most wanted to spend our time in the world.
Climbing is my therapy, yes, but also my meditation and my exercise. It is my outdoor time and my social time. My reminder to be humble, that no matter how good you are, there is always something that will kick your ass. Climbing urges me toward gratitude: for nature, for my work that enabled me to buy this house and which allows me to spend time in this place. Gratitude for my climbing friends and for my health. I eat well to climb, I stay lean to climb, and I try not to drink too much so that I can climb.
A story: in college, I ripped up my ACLs pretty good on a long, heavy backpacking trip. The injury stayed with me. On long car trips and airplane rides in my 20s, my knees would begin to ache painfully around hour two. In my early 30s, when I briefly gave up climbing, my knees started to really hurt: up and down stairs, even walking on flat ground for anything more than a few hundred meters. I went to PT, got an x-ray, was told my knee joints were just prone to this kind of pain. I was handed exercises to do to strengthen the ligaments—I didn’t do them, at least not well enough. Then I started climbing again. Within three months, the pain was 80 percent gone. Within six months, it was completely gone, and I was back to being able to live, to being able to walk up staircases without wincing. I was back to hiking New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers with my kiddo.
Rock climbing is, quite literally, a prophylactic that is saving me from a lifetime of chronic pain. (And, it may even be good for civilization).
But that’s just me.
We all have our passions, which lead to our priorities, which lead us to choose how to spend our time on this earth. For digital nomads, it’s usually travel. A desire to see things, experience things, maybe learn new languages, meet new people. The relationships we develop in that kind of lifestyle can be powerful—I know, I’ve been there. But often their power comes from the transcience itself. You are two people, alone and together, in a foreign country, and the music is playing… so why not have tonight?
I’ve had many friendships develop over the years on trips, only to never see the person again. Maybe they are on the Insta, and maybe a DM is offered here and there. But it’s not the same. We have all made it our priority to be somewhere else, and not with each other.
The narrow space
I offered to go first—hang the quickdraws so Leanne could give it the first real proper attempt. I had faith: I’d watched her knock out super hard and technical climbs before. Maybe—just maybe—if I hung the draws, she’d be able to send with the new beta.
I got to the crux and found the hidden finger pocket from the video. It was sharp and awkwardly shaped, but unambiguously a better hold than anything we’d been grasping around on last time. But the rest of the sequence was still a struggle.
We brought up the video again, and watched and did what climbers do: left foot up to the ledge, right foot flags, reach for the pocket. Right hand to the gaston intermediate. Rearrange the feet, right up, left out to the horn. Then, the long reach to the crimp.
The next time up, I imitated perfectly—everything except the long reach. I could touch it, just not stick it. But, for the first time, it was all there. The feeling that it might just go. The excitement at a new high point. The rewiring of neurons in my brain to dial in the sequence, the tendons in my fingers strengthening themselves for the hard crimps, the puzzling out of the problem, and the endorphin rush of progress on a short, small, contained piece of vertical rock that had seemed impassable a moment before.
The thing is, I do want to date again. I want to find a partner who will share with me in life’s hardships and in all its adventure and beauty. But, for now, I’ve left a very narrow space in which that could happen. Because my priority is being on that rock, or being out in the waves and wind. Or, hanging with Jordi—the most psyched and joyful climbing partner I’ve ever known, who is organizing a trip to Spain in a few months’ time. I’ve told him I’ll be there. And I’ve told my kitesurfing friends that I will be in La Ventana this January and February.
These are my priorities.
But, there is a sacrifice being made here. I’m not blind to that. It’s important to me to have a partner, to share life with someone. Most people feel the same, and then they don’t take steps to actually create the space for that to happen. Things will not develop if you’re not there for them to develop.
For now, that’s fine with me.
Leanne, on her second tie-in, reached up left for the finger pocket. Then right hand to the intermediate—then right foot, then left out to the horn. Her reach is slightly less than mine, so she might go to a sidepull before the good crimp. Or, having the foot locked into the horn and her finger strength in the pocket might be enough to rotate the shoulders and reach all the way. But we’ll have to see next time. The sun was rising, the humidity was coming, and I had a meeting to get to.
We walked back to the parking lot, both psyched, both ready to come right back at the earliest opportunity. Our endorphins rushed, the anticipation seeded in our joints and muscles and in our neurons, giving us something to churn in our subconscious, a few more hard tries to look forward to. We’d made progress—
Just at that moment, climbing was giving us everything we needed.
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