Saturday, December 4, 2010


The snow is deep, it's December and it's cold, conditions that make it easy to demotivate. So here's an article written by Michael Moore, reprinted by permission, plus a couple of pictures to remind us there's always psyche to be had, in climbing and in life.

Maurizio "Manolo" Zanolla
5.15a at Age 48 more...

The Middle Ages: Trying hard is all there is

The other day in the gym, I saw a guy wearing a shirt with a logo: "There is no trying in football. There is only success."

Understood as a motivating witticism for college kids, perhaps the statement stands, as long as you don't think about it too long. Should you - and I have - it's absurd.
Trying is all there is. Success surely might be the end result, but trying is the path. Earlier this year, I even thought of making my own T-shirt, one I could wear while climbing, lifting weights or mountain biking. I didn't do it, finally, but my shirt would have said this: "The Year of Trying Hard."

The reason I didn't need the shirt as a motivator was a magazine article I keep close at hand. It's a story about training for rock climbing, and it breaks down a variety of training programs, then makes some recommendations about how you should train given your age, which the magazine helpfully broke down by decades.

In my case, I went straight to the section dubbed "50s." The other sections, for folks in their 20s and 30s, had motivating headlines like "Strong as Ever" and "The Time to Send." When climbers use the word "send," we really mean ascend, as in succeeding on a route. Thus, the route is sent. But I will come back to that in a bit.

For the 50s, the headline read "Maintenance." The piece then went on at length about how our 50s are a time when our bodies begin to fail us. Yes, you can still perform at a high level, but success is often based on technique and wisdom rather than strength. So what you folks in your 50s should be doing is training to maintain your current level of fitness. Even that wouldn't be easy, the magazine suggested, as the body starts a precipitous rate of decline in the Middle Ages.

I was not amused. I'll be danged if I'm ready for maintenance, I thought. So I talked the article over with some of my climbing buddies, several in their 50s as well, and we decided we'd prove the magazine wrong. Thus, the Year of Trying Hard.

At first, I thought only in terms of climbing, and I set some goals for myself in terms of climbing grades I'd try to reach. But as I set to work on those goals, I found a sympathetic resonance in everything else I did. Some things were obvious, of course. Weightlifting helps with nearly everything, including climbing, so it made sense to push harder in the weight room. Mountain biking is great for cardio fitness, which never hurts when you're humping a 35-pound climbing pack a couple miles uphill to the crags. So I pushed the bike, putting in extra miles and elevation gain when I got the chance.

Although my fitness level was high, my "maintenance" body responded as the year moved on, rising to the challenge of harder climbs, longer rides, heavier weights. By summer's end, I was climbing at a level I hadn't achieved in nearly 30 years.

As my physical self prospered, I found my mind carried along. At work, I found myself thinking about sentences - their structure, their flow, their sound - more deeply. Could I "send" the story more fully? Outside the office, I found myself working harder on my friendships, an area where I have been historically slothful, expecting them to prosper simply because they exist. I found myself in conversations that dug down deep to the core of what it meant to climb in the mountains, to risk life and limb, to be a partner in such a serious undertaking.

To risk hyperbole, I found myself laid bare to myself. If I really tried, what was I capable of? What could I be better at? The answer, of course, was alarming but simple: everything.

A month ago, the job of city editor at this newspaper came open, right in the midst of the Year of Trying Hard. Truth be told, my work life as a reporter was good, inspiring and busy, but also manageable and easy going. To move up meant more responsibility, including the overwhelming responsibility for the workplace sanity of others. A part of me said, rather loudly, "Don't do it!"

But as I thought it over, I found myself once again looking at the climbing story that encouraged "maintenance."

Maybe there's a time when maintenance will be good enough. That time is not now. So here in the Year of Trying Hard, I welcomed the job like I welcomed harder climbs, with open arms and heart, mindful that life itself hangs in the balance.

Lee Sheftel
5.14a at Age 59 more...

Gray Thompson
Crushing at 70 more...