Standing beneath my project, I wondered, Why am I here? I had recently come off a successful spring climbing season, but when spring ended so did all of my motivation to crank. Summer set in, along with warmth and humidity and, shit, what else could I blame this terrible lethargy on? Climbing had felt easy until now. The lightness I'd experienced just a few weeks ago had been replaced by heaviness, yawns, hesitation and a powerful urge to drink my face off. I'd rather do anything else except climb more. How much does a kayak go for these days? I had to admit it:
I was Not Psyched.
Every year, I enjoy learning how to make some new dish of exotic food, one that's artful and will take me 12 moons to master. Last year, it was sushi. This year, it's paella - the traditional rice dish of Spain. These experiments with raw fish and expensive spices keep me off the Taco Bell.
I am actually a chef by nature, a culinary master with a voracious appetite and an extraordinary palate, but somehow got rerouted by the anorexia of sport climbing.
A cool gazpacho and triple whack of añejo are fueling this adventurous rant right now. Does that get me psyched? Of course it does, and you should be, too.
Being motivated, inspired, doing, getting after it - these terms compose the mother-word psyche, and Psyche is our most coveted elixir as climbers. Being psyched gives us reason and narrows our purpose. It's self-affirming and uplifting and without it we'd be like all the other bored, anxious fatsos in this doomed country who have no greater purpose other than wanting more things.
Robert Frost wrote, "We dance round the ring and suppose; the secret sits at the center and knows."
We may not know exactly why we climb, but we seem to do it because we're psyched. It makes no real sense. More Don Julio's and tapas, please. Bring them! Perhaps some mind-altering nutrition can lend meaning to the slippery idea of getting stoked.
And, in the process, please don't be afraid to criticize yourself. I do it every Tuesday Night.
PRE-CLIMB, PORN FED
To be truly psyched is to feel an internal force or power that elicits a physical response.
Internal forces are too difficult for us to control, however. It's much easier to rely on external solutions to solve inner problems. That's why we take aspirin when our head hurts, drink caffeine when we're tired, and watch climbing videos when we want to get psyched.
I was groggily watching the summer Olympics when I caught a segment NBC had put together on pandas. Pandas generate high ratings because there isn't a woman out there who doesn't go nuts when she sees one. Women see pandas as stuffed animals they want to cuddle with, whereas men see pandas for what they really are: a mayhem of claws and muscle that ought to be ended with bullets.
Anyway, the panda segment was all about how zoologists made this one male panda mate with a female. The male panda, however, was Not Psyched. He didn't want to Do It. To fix the problem, the panda's captors shut him in a small cage with a TV that was playing some 24-hour panda porn network (they have these things in China). After watching pandas get freaky, the male panda promptly shagged the shit out of the female.
No one is really sure why watching "porn" arouses people, but it doesn't seem to be a solely human trait. We do know, however, that most people don't call climbing films climbing films, but rather, climbing porn because it arouses, in this case, psyche.
If you're feeling flaccid, the eclectic library of excellent climbing porn out there may solve your motivational problems. Boulderers will like bouldering videos, sport climbers will enjoy vids of Rodellar, and everyone will like watching Chris Sharma go deep-water soloing.
Of course, acknowledging which flavor of climbing porn gets you off will essentially be acknowledging your largest weaknesses and flaws as a climber and human, but only if you think about it too carefully. (Fortunately, if you like TNB, not thinking too hard shouldn't be a problem.)
The problem is that porn is a fantasy - you often see a stitched-together clip of a climber sending, as if that's how it always goes, but you rarely see the four months of dogging, falling and cursing that precedes the money shot. Viewers who are unable to separate fact from fiction will be in danger. That's because watching climbing porn may only provide you with enough psyche to get off the couch and out to the crag, but not much more. Sugary visions of climbing like they do in the videos will end as soon as you chicken out. And just like that, the psyche will go limp.
Now's a good time talk about how hot and humid it is.
So, what will keep the stoke burning when you are actually climbing?
Cameras. Nothing makes climbers better and braver than having a photographer fire a Nikon D3 at 200 2.8 at 50 frames per second at them.
Since my business is putting together magazine articles, I see this all the time. The photographer will say something like, "Who wants to lead the run-out death slab a few times?" and suddenly, you'd swear that we'd been sent back to the 1980s because every climber in the near vicinity steps out of the shadows ready to face certain danger and possible death.
A simple shutter click shoots white-hot liquid psyche right into brains and brawn, and very few men are immune to it. I don't know why this is, but when males have the opportunity to be photographed, the first thing they do is take off their shirts. For men, the camera causes sexual posturing, confidence and, yes, even Psyche.
Women, however, tend to be more self-conscious in front of a lens, which is understandable given how often you hear girls being criticized by their jealous, hypocritical male counterparts for appearing in photos wearing sports bras.
Kodak confidence, as it's called, can be dangerous. In the last year, I can think of two instances when a young skier died during a shoot for an extreme skiing movie. One 19-year-old local died when he hucked a 90-foot precipice and landed on a rock. A debate arose about the moral responsibility of filmmakers "pushing" kids who aren't "old enough to comprehend risk."
Unfortunately, any time there is senseless tragedy, the first thing pundits do is look to remove personal responsibility and place the blame on society at large. I mean, if Johnny jumped off a cliff, would you?
I was in the third or fourth week of my low-psyche doldrums, which, now that I think of it, seem to occur every year right around my birthday, which I hate anyway since the day is so self-indulgent. I was beginning to wonder if my motivation would ever return, so I asked my friend Joe Kinder for advice.
Joe is a sponsored "Kid" who gets to climb full-time. He travels the world with his smoking-hot girlfriend, who is also a really good climber, and the two of them can generally be found killing it at one of the world's best venues.
That's not what's impressive to me, though. Joe is perpetually and eternally psyched to climb and it's all he does.
Growing up, I had a border collie named Bailey who was manic like most in his breed, only times 10. I once endured a three-hour game of fetch with Bailey, who eventually passed out cold from exertion with the ball in his mouth. I slyly took the ball from his comatose jaw, and he suddenly sprang to life, ready to go at it more till either I stopped or he died.
Other activities Bailey enjoyed included catching snow flung from my shovel in his mouth till his jowls bled. It made him so happy.
Joe is a little bit like Bailey, only he's into rock climbing.
"How do you stay psyched?" I asked Joe.
"I stay psyched the same way anyone does, fuckin' naturally," he said. "I wake up and get mad inspired. When something is your passion, it's easy to be excited about it."
"If someone's not psyched, what do you suggest?"
"Create something, eat an ice-cream sundae. Don't surround yourself by Boulder people. They will make you feel like a piece of shit (P.O.S)! They are all so beautiful. Maybe surround yourself with some absolute punters people that you know you can school. I usually just find a different route to climb."
"Well, I'm the biggest gumby here, so that won't work. Any other tips?"
"Yes, do an easier route and send it. Sending is a very important thing for satisfaction in rock climbing. When you have confidence and enjoy yourself, you are a Baller!"
I took Joe's advice to heart - sent easier routes, avoided people from Boulder, ate ice cream, etc. But, like watching climbing porn and gaining Kodak confidence, these things only yielded a temporary fix to what seemed to be a grander, deeper problem. That ferocious psyche that I'd felt in the spring just wasn't there. I just didn't feel like a Baller.
Recently, I completely bailed on a precious weekend of climbing, which I hadn't done (by choice anyway) in a while. The decision to spend the day making paella infused me with purpose greater than myself. I drove from one gourmet grocer to another, searching for the Western Slope's finest shellfish and spices. The recipe I was following called for 12 clams, 12 mussels, 10 jumbo shrimp, chicken, chorizo, fresh peas, onions, tomatoes, garlic, small-grain rice, a vial of saffron, Spanish paprika, and an entire lobster, which I tormented my girlfriend, Jen, with by letting it crawl on her shoulder. I spent roughly four hours preparing food, adding ingredients at appropriate intervals to a giant stainless-steel pan. Finally, I folded in a lemon aioli built out of mashed garlic heads, raw eggs, olive oil and zest.
Five close friends and myself, not to mention the small baby growing inside my friend's wife Sarah's belly, feasted that night on the paella, followed by coconut ice cream. It was good friends and good times. We drank wine and fine beer and totally obliterated any possibility of climbing the next day.
It didn't matter. By morning, I felt satisfied in a way I hadn't in a long time. I felt full, but not from the paella. There was something about feeding over $100 worth of gourmet food to my friends that was satiating in many ways that sport climbing, where You are the star when it's your turn to climb, is not. And then, in that hungover space, the need to go climbing rang like a pang of hunger to my soul.
In the course of writing this column, I've realized how closely related Psyche is to all the rest of our most basic desires to eat and screw. They all stem from the same root, in a way. Food, sex and even climbing are only good when you're not feeling glutted. When you're hungry, you have desire. And while desire may be transitory, if it stems from a true place within it will always return.
Andrew Bisharat loves tequila because it evokes a mouthful of salt after climbing towers in the desert.