This week we have a few words all the way from Montreal, Quebec. I met Corinne during my first visit to Ceuse back in 2011 and we instantly hit it off. She is a lot of fun and one of those people always psyched on climbing and life in general, and not such a shabby climber either!
Ethan asked me to write about a meaningful climbing experience; well climbing itself has been a great experience in my life this far. So here is my love letter to and about climbing, one of the loves of my life.
First of all, I am not what people call «a climber», despite my deep affection for climbing; I do not live out of my car, I am based in a city — in great northern French-Canadia, a.k.a. Montreal—, and my life does not revolve around climbing. Rather, climbing has taught me a new and simpler meaning of the word “happiness”.
When I started climbing a few people told me, half-jokingly, that I should beware of turning into nothing but a “grade-seeker”, that my life would «become unidirectional», that I would «lose my balance» or become «addicted», and I am assuming they meant that in a bad way. The fact is that climbing has helped me remain balanced.
I started studying medicine in 2009 and at that time I had no clue what climbing was. Ceuse and Everest meant the same to me. I enjoyed a simple life in the city with friends and family, I liked to go running in the park, go to the movies, visit museums and art galleries—hispter! Working and studying was the most important part of my life, though I somehow knew that it couldn’t be that way forever: school could easily get me stressed out and it became a major concern. I did not know what to aim for, and let’s be real, very few people would dare tell you what to expect in life other than to work the usual 9 to 5, make money, and take vacations once in a while. Which is totally fine with me really, I mean I am going to live like this for a while and decide what to change if I get bored, but I digress… Since I’m an anxious and performance-driven individual, med school made sense for me then. Ironic, as that was the part of myself I wanted to change.
In September 2009, I had a bike accident which fractured the left half of my face and left me with the after-effects of a concussion. I had an cosmetic surgery about a week after the accident so I never really had to deal with my «new disfigured face», but I could not go running anymore—any jump or step would hurt, and dealing with pain became a daily challenge. It became bearable over time, of course, but the concentration I used to have, that which is needed to stuy and focus on textbooks, took much longer to come back than anticipated. This did not help my school-related anxiety (!). I had to find a way to look at things differently.
Climbing came into my life in that setting. I was looking for a low impact physical activity, and swimming in a pool just would not cut it—and still hasn’t. A friend took me to the local climbing gym during spring 2010, and I found myself in Squamish for a week or two that same year. My first encounters with the lovely people of the worldwide climbing community happened at that time: individuals from all over the world travelling to share and practice their passion—how cool! During school time, going to the gym after classes or between crazy evening/day shifts was sometimes what helped me wake up in the morning, despite a deep lack of sleep or motivation. Let’s say that it quickly became a part of my routine. From then on, I was «cursed»: every vacation I had was spent climbing and discovering new areas in the world.
My point here is that climbing did not take me out of «real life», climbing is what made this «regular-everyday-normal» life enjoyable on a daily basis. Instead of the big ups and downs which come with being dedicated to a career, I became more grounded and started feeling joy from smaller but much more important things: I enjoyed every sip of beer we had with friends after a good climbing session, I enjoyed the simple life out camping in a new country, hearing stories of people, travellers from all over the world and, most of all, I enjoyed feeling my body moving in space and utterly screaming to me «hey! You’ve never done that move before! How fun!
I did not know what the real difference was between happiness and satisfaction before then, as silly as it sounds. When I achieve hard work-related goals, I definitely feel proud and satisfied, I feel like the energy I devote to my work is finally paying off. I feel like there is some sort of purpose, which gives meaning to what I do, which is cool… I might feel like a better person, but despite those achievements I realized that I was not happier. I might sleep better at night, but I’m not happier. Climbing helped me understand that. I can allow myself to «not give a fuck» about what I do when I climb. I can allow my brain to take a break, to wander around the lovely settings which climbing takes us to, or concentrate on my body moving, or to just stop thinking about «stuff». To actually stop thinking so much for once and just enjoy, without expectations, the free movement in space that is climbing. It also taught me patience, and it helped me to deal with the performance-related anxiety I mentioned previously.
It was these maturing thoughts which led me on the road for about a year in 2012-2013. I took some time off school and lived the good simple life. I left with a friend for a few months to the west coast of the US and Canada—in her Aztek, you know, that car that turns into a tent?— then traveled alone in southern US and finally Spain. As you can imagine, I had a blast. I still missed school and books and teachers—geek! However, the numerous discoveries I made about myself, about others, about how people interact, for instance, and the fact that I was so simply and deeply happy, were of course more than enough to keep me on the road all that time, and could have kept me on that path far longer.
So real life is where I live, and my non-climbing life is doing very well, and I feel proud and lucky; there are things I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to achieve whithout this much dedication. I do believe though that I am constantly missing the simple and pure happiness I feel while on a climbing trip—that is a bit of my «melancholy french side», my apologies; though this is also what makes me appreciate small everyday details, like the smell of a good coffee, a nice walk in the city under the sun, a tasty meal with friends, an unexpected conversation, etc.
This is what climbing has brought to my life, and for that I will be forever grateful.