5.14 on Twizzlers and Skittles


Getting out of my car in the Rumney parking lot, I noticed Nick simultaneously exiting his vehicle parked in a spot adjacent to mine. “Hey Nick, how’s it going?” I asked before introducing him to my friend as “the kid from the gym who climbs 5.14, and I’ve never seen him eat anything not fried or candy.”

“Good to meet you. By the way, I am trying to eat healthier,” Nick tells us.

Jokingly, I reply, “Really? Are you just eating the green Skittles now?”

On the majority of my trips to the rock gym, I run into Nick, the kid responsible for the gym’s route setting. For the record, I call him a kid, but he is probably in his early twenties, and “adult younger than me” is a better description. Nick is engaging, a fantastic climber, and is always psyched to talk, especially if what you want to talk about is climbing. When not setting, Nick can be found at the gym doing what you would least expect a 5.14 climber to be doing: eating from a bag of Skittles, chewing on a Twizzler, or polishing off a basket of onion rings from one of the local takeout spots. One day, he even jested that his 5.14 climbing is powered by Twizzlers and Skittles.

It’s fun to tease Nick about eating junk, because even if the only thing I’ve ever seen him eat has either a hard candy shell or nougat center, the rest of the time I see him he is running up ladders, jugging ropes, or hauling baskets of holds. In Nick’s defense, I typically arrive at the rock gym at what would constitute snack time, and I’m also pretty sure he climbs more in a day just by forerunning climbs and horsing around the gym than I do in a week. Lastly, he is in the prime of his youth, a glorious period in life when you can eat and drink as much as you want without consequence.

While it’s great to see the powers of youth, it is a terrible reminder that I am getting older. Even though at times most of the time I still feel like my eighteen-year-old self, at other times it becomes very apparent that I am pushing forty. Running into Nick (and others of his ilk) at the rock gym is a weekly reminder that I have to work harder and take better care of myself than I ever have before just to maintain my performance, much less improve upon it. Throw into the equation the increasing amount of time spent in front of a computer and at times, it’s easy to feel doomed.

I like to say that I am extremely self-motivated, and don’t need a race, a trophy, or an end goal to keep me engaged in the process of self-improvement, but as the big four-zero approaches, I have found myself looking for a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) to try to achieve. For the last few years, I’ve toyed with the idea of being able to climb 5.12 and boulder V6. To climbers of Nick’s generation, these would amount to modest goals, but to me they represent the beginning of truly hard climbing. With that in mind, I decided that I would like to climb a 5.12 and boulder a V6 by my fortieth birthday.*

I have never liked the idea of chasing grades, as I believe that it takes some of the enjoyment out of climbing while intensifying something that should be fun. In retrospect, it could be fear of failure, adjusting my priorities, or a willingness to leave my comfort zone that has kept me from pushing myself into the harder grades. Or maybe it’s a simple as I hate taking whippers.

I believe I can climb 5.12 and V6, but it will require dedication to the process of rock climbing and a commitment to going to the gym to train as much as to climb. Looking around the gym at kids people like Nick, I am jealous of their youth, their ability, and the exposure they received to climbing at a  young age. I wish climbing came as easily to me as it does them, and that I had discovered it when I was at a more formidable age—sadly, it doesn’t and I didn’t.

It will be interesting to see if I can stick to and remain focused on this goal. I have a little over eighteen months left to make it happen. Unfortunately, I don’t think I will be fueling my climbing with Skittles and Twizzlers.

*Why does the writing down of goals make them feel more committing?