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Hard Bark


Submitted by roninthorne on 2006-06-08 | Last Modified on 2006-12-10

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This is how it is.

I'm tired and sore from a weekend of sending hard new lines, working harder projects, repairing trail and picking up trash. It's almost 11 p.m. and I gotta work in the morning. Early. My climbing partner, Doctor GoodWhack, would say that I'm wasting my time. He might be right. He'd say that you're all worthless and weak, and that the ones of you that aren't are either too comfortable, too old and beat down, or too young and stupid to waste time or rope on.

He's got a lot of hard bark on him, as Karl might say. I hope he's wrong. I'm betting on it, in fact, that's why I'm sitting here typing on a laptop with a big shaggy mutt draped across my feet instead of curling up next to the dark-haired lass in the four-poster upstairs.

Because I want you to know. I know you're out there, sitting at your desk or table or in your car, where ever, picking idlly at your skinned knees or gobied hands while you read this, feeling the aches, or the Hunger, when there are no wounds, no aches. I was one of you once, before all these miles and memories, these scars, all these years... all this hard bark.

I know that, even with this tide of pushing for high numbers and press attention, trying to milk bucks or swag or just a moment in the sun out of this fickle, pointless, incredible obsession, there are dreamers out there, dreamers who dream not with their eyes shut, in their beds, but with them open, in the deep woods, on the big stone, or some tiny, unknown little chunk of rock lost deep in the woods. I think about you, sometimes, hanging there on hooks, gingerly pulling up the drill while flakes fall away, or working through some demanding sequence between clips, or laying hundreds of feet of trails, for hours, piling stone and moving dirt, cutting and placing logs, making A Way.

I believe in you, from all these many years down the road beyond my own folly, when the convenience of sheer numbers makes it easy to forget being young and proud, headstrong and reckless, hungry and open. Even with all the blah, blah, blah that makes up most of the mags and forum space these days, I can feel you there, just the other side of the screen, dreaming of long, clean lines, of hard, steep moves, or clipping that next bolt, someday.

You hear the green song while everyone else is racing down the trail, hell-bent for leather to be first. You know the peace of being last on the trail, and the serenity of that first moment, alone at a new belay, with a new climb behind you, still ringing in your soul; a rope's length above your partner and the world, and light-years from all the crap that clogs the gears and weighs you down.

And you're doing incredible things. You climb sooner, faster, stronger, and better than "we" ever did, and you genuinely seem to be trying to rediscover (or at least reinvent) community and true love for each other. You're pushing into the big hills and the hard numbers routinely, and that's one of the things that stirs me to the keyboard. For all my hard bark, and the likelihood that few of you will give enough of a shit about what an old climber thinks about anything.

So enough preamble, I guess we're gonna dance or fight, one of the two, so we might as well get it on.

You're fallin' down on the job. You crank hard and you dress really cool but you're sloppy and careless and self-centered to a fault even in this narcissistic sport.

(And no, this is not that "When I was your age we walked ten miles to school through burning hail, uphill both ways, and when we got home they beat us and killed us," crap... this is me, talking to you. Thanks for your time... I won't keep you much longer, I swear... I gotta get some sleep.)

Facts is facts, and the fact is that we did (and still do) put up the new routes, keep what few animals we ever had about in close check, and manage to not only build but routinely maintain the trail system at several crags, for years. Decades, even...

All while holding down jobs requiring at least 40 hours per week (in my case 50-60+), and commuting at least an hour each way (in my case two and a half), and tending to all the sundry crap that life will try to tack on you in the years between your age and mine.

You buy crap guidebooks. Those jackals at Falcon Press have been printing minimal information and sending the masses hither and yon for years now, creating impact and land issues and cutting and pasting the same mealy-mouthed obligatory crap from rip-off to rip-off. Leave no trace... unless it's on a crag located on delicate access land that no one bothers to mention. Respect the earth, but not the climbers whose work they are stealing to make money we never see a dime of.

Ask the people at the crag who put up the lines. If they can't tell you, find someone who can. Any guidebook that doesn't list first acentionists is crap. Period. You want a mini-guide, call it that... but don't leave out the history of the routes and crag to avoid admitting that you stole the info instead of meeting the people and finding out their stories.

It's your history... and you're letting it slip away. People like me (and even a few nice ones, as well) are out there putting up lines, building trails, carving out crags you'll never hear about. Because they've seen what happens. At Franklin. At Hidden Rocks. At Oak Creek Overlook, Paradise Forks, Jack's, the Supes. The word goes out and people come, regardless of how many cars are there when they arrive, because they just gotta be on the scene. Gear left on projects gets stolen, and projects get worked with the red tags still dangling.

And those of us who came for the silence and the sound of the river sigh, pack our gear, and move on to the next lost corner.

We're mostly working class stiffs who spend hundreds of hours and thousands of hard-earned bucks (yes, thousands... priced a new rack, rope, battery drill, aid gear, and health insurance policy lately?) over the course of decades. We put time and love, sweat and blood into the routes that Falcon Press and their bastard cousins routinely misname. Which is pretty much like having one of your relatives call you by the wrong name at a family picnic... after a while, that crap kinda gets on your nerves. That is why I'm here, trying to keep a little of the betastream unpolluted and complete with names and dates and everyting.

So, a few tips. Despite what my partner thinks, I don't automatically assume that you're all idiots when you turn up by the carload at Franklin, or Seneca, or the New. Help me prove him wrong... and keep this last little spark of what just might be humanity alive, under all this hard bark.

Get involved. Ask questions. Introduce yourself to climbers you don't know... who knows, you might meet someone who put up the routes that you love. Climb with new people. Go to Park Service meetings and Access Fund Rendezvous. They are your crags, and your responsibility. Don't just go to Carderock on Crag Day or send a check and wash your hands of it. Hell, take a year off and hit the road and go dirtbagging... or "soul climbing," as you seem to have renamed it... it's all good. And even if the poser editors at the rags spew disdain, remember... they all did it.

We've left you a legacy... the same one the generation just before left to us. And like us, it is your time to earn it, and prove either myself or my climbing partner wrong.

If you move two stones and pick up two pieces of trash every time you go climbing, and if all your friends do too, you'll be amazed at what you can do in just a month. If you climb the less popular lines, you learn to find the beauty in every line, and enjoy the absence of crowds. As you go on, you'll learn that climbing is so much less about simply moving over stone, and so much more about finding that place inside of you, anywhere, anytime.

And then they really will be "your" crags, because you're not just visiting, anymore... you're making all of it a part of you, and becoming part of it all.

Christ, I'm tired and my freaking neck feels broken from bending over this thing and there are probably a thousand typos... but it's 11:27 and my alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m. and if I don't want to sleep on the couch I better get up to that four-poster I mentioned about an hour ago.

But I want to thank you for your time, and your love of the sport I also love so much. Be strong, stand proud, question everything, try everything, give lots of hugs, take lots of pictures, keep a journal, pull hard and don't be afraid to fall, in life or on the stone.

It's how we learn to stand back up, after all.

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