Sara’s eyes brightened and her voice warmed. “Oh, Morning Glory Wall is full of wonderful stuff, if it’s not super crowded.” She penned little notes about what routes I should climb at Smith Rock while I ran my fingers through the guidebook entries. It had been years since she’d climbed there—and years since she’s climbed very seriously at all—but I could tell she could still visualize the cracks and pockets in her mind and feel the moves as if she’d been on the rock yesterday. When something’s in your blood like that, it doesn’t go away overnight.
For many of us, our “sports” or the things we do outside for recreation are so important to us, they become a huge part of our identity. They affect how we dress, who we hang out with, even career and life choices. And when something comes along to change it, things can get rough.
A friend of mine was recently considering a job change—moving from a climbing brand to a mountain bike tour company—but was concerned about how it would affect his life as a climber. He identified so strongly as a climber that he was afraid that part of his life would suffer if he were required to identify more as a biker.
Our sport can become such a fundamental part of who we are, it can eclipse everything else. We wonder, What would I ever do if I couldn’t climb/bike/run/paddle? And we silently judge others when they don’t seem as hardcore as they used to be, thinking, Whoa, she hardly gets out on the trail since she started that new job. Or, dude, that guy hasn’t been crushing at the crag since he started dating that girl.
When I started dating a climber a couple years ago—at the time I was an obsessive mountain biker and had barely climbed at all—my friends were a little concerned. One asked, “Does he even mountain bike?” Now we both ride and climb, maybe not as much as we used to do separately, but we love getting out together.
A few years ago, Sara was living for climbing. She was the voice of rockclimbergirl.com, and was repping Arcteryx. She ate, slept and breathed climbing. “At that point, I couldn’t really imagine who I’d be without climbing,” she says. “I feared injury. I remember feeling like I’d wither and perish without climbing.” But over time, she has dialed that part of her life back for various reasons. Now her life is full of working her dream job, building a life with her boyfriend and adopted puppy, growing food in their garden and taking trips to the seashore. Of course, there have been challenges with the transition, but she says these days it’s more about finding her way outside than it is about climbing, even if it’s just a walk in the park with her baby niece and nephew or watching waves lap on the beach with Gibson, her dog.
Life changes. Relationships wax and wane. Babies are born. Jobs are shuffled. We move. We get injuries or burn out. And it all affects how we relate with the outdoors. Maybe we don’t climb outside as much as we used to. Maybe we get into a new sport with a significant other. Or finally find our groove and start getting competitive in our 30s. Our identities might shift over time, but maybe the important thing is to keep searching for that essence of challenge, freedom and transcendence that beckoned us into the outdoors in the first place, no matter how it looks.