I’ve always considered myself a lifelong adventurer. Not a hardcore adventurer, but an adventurer nonetheless. Indeed, after graduating university, most of my friends started searching for “real jobs” while I worked as a landscape gardener so I could travel the world by bicycle and backpack.
I’ve lived in other countries and learned other languages. I’ve climbed big rock walls hundreds of feet high, run marathons, competed in outdoor endurance and adventure races, and completed multiple-day desert mountain bike trips.
At 42 years old, I’m the oldest of my adventuring friends—most of whom are 7 to 10 years younger. I’ve always felt I could hold my own.
Until this weekend.This weekend, my long-time and much younger friend Tom and I took a long overdue climbing and mountain biking trip to New Hampshire where we planned to climb the five-pitch, 500-foot-high Whitney-Gilman Ridge at Cannon Mountain and then ride downhill at Highland Mountain Bike Park.
We had easily climbed Whitney-Gilman five years ago, but it had been just as long since I’d climbed anything more than the monkey bars in the park across from my house with my Little Brother Anthony.
You’ve probably already figured out that I learned some hard lessons last weekend. I learned I’m in terrible shape compared to five years ago and I learned that my climbing skills have diminished. I learned some other lessons, too, but I’ll get to them later.
The hike through the woods to the talus field leading to the foot of the climb wasn’t steep, but I was winded just minutes into the walk. The 30-minute scramble over the talus field, a 45-degree mangle of shifting, broken rock, was even worse and I had to rest every few hundred feet. I was exhausted and dizzy at times. It had been hard five years ago, but not this hard.
After many rests, with Tom looking back with concern, we did make it to the climb. I led the first of the five pitches, a 5.4, which means it was pretty easy. A new climber following an experienced lead climber should be able to climb a 5.4 grade.
I gloried in the feel of the rock and the fun in crafting creative protective placements in the face with my nuts and camming devices. And I made it to the top without any trouble. It was a magnificent climb and I was keen to continue on with the next four pitches.Tom led the next pitch, purportedly a 5.5 and just a little harder than the first pitch. I had led it five years ago. It should have been a piece of cake for a guy who used to lead 5.10 and higher, but Tom struggled on it. With three more pitches to go and two of them two grades higher than this one, we feared we couldn’t complete the climb safely. Honestly, Tom probably would have been fine, but we both worried about my abilities, especially with the day turning to dusk.
For the first time ever, we backed off a climb and hiked back down that horrid talus field to the parking lot and a cool swim in a lake.
Tom was quiet but perturbed. I could see it in his eyes. His most steadfast climbing partner of a decade couldn’t keep up anymore.
I felt ashamed and humbled. I was embarrassed that I’d had to crawl so slowly up the talus field to the climb…
…but only for a minute.
What was the point in regret and shame? The day was what I made it. Instead of feeling negatively, I thought about all the wondrous events of the day: the thrill of pushing my body to its limits up the steepest talus field I’d ever encountered and the adrenaline rush of competently free climbing hundreds of feet above the valley floor despite not having climbed for half a decade. How many 42-year-olds did I know who would even think about such a mission?
Then there was the excitement of rappelling over the edge of the second pitch of the climb and then, much later, the swim in the cool lake at the foot of the mountain. How many of my friends and colleagues would ever in their lifetimes experience an adventure like this?
Maybe three.Sure, I will work on my fitness and take the memory of this adventure as a lesson that I’ve let my body slip. But I’ll not look at it darkly and with frustration about the weight I’ve gained and the fitness I’ve lost.
Instead, I will appreciate that I was able to experience that day at all. I’ll take it as a lesson that, if I want to continue to enjoy days like this one, I’ll have to work harder on my fitness.
I’ll also remember that each day is as good as I make it.
And this was a great day indeed.