If motivation waxes and wanes then Ollie Kerr has two moons pulling on him – riding and climbing.
Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.
I didn’t mean to. Or at least, not at first. I meant to stay faithful – with all my heart and soul. I’ve been told the long distance thing is hard but I didn’t realise just how hard. Until I tried.
The temptation was all around me. At first, I was fine. I didn’t even consider it. Even the thought of me considering it never crossed my mind.
Months passed, then one day, I did think about it. Just for a little while. I laughed to myself – how preposterous! After that, I thought about it more often. And for longer.
A few months more and it was almost all I could think about. I’d daydream for hours. But that was ok – I wasn’t actually going to act on it.
Then I did.
Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. I moved to Canberra and got a full-time job.
My plan was to climb every weekend, I was going to crank through an awesome Nowra season, ticking off my highest numbers. In between, I’d check out the local crags and I’d use the gyms to keep myself in shape.
It’s now five years since I moved and my climbing has dwindled to almost nothing. In the last 12 months, I can count the times I’ve been on real rock on one hand – and I haven’t bothered with anything inside. My brother, who I’d been around the world with – climbed the Nose, the Eiger – messaged me a few months ago ‘Are you even a climber anymore?’. His words cut deep.
It turned out that granite isn’t my cup of tea and angular volcanic rock really isn’t either. And my climbing friends are all still in Wollongong or have moved up the Blueys. I made only a half-assed attempt to go climbing with the locals – did I mention I wasn’t into granite?
My university career had been a holiday punctuated by actual holidays. I worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week, two weeks a year. The rest was climbing. Day trips interspersed with weekends away and accentuated by road trips. Nowra, the Blueys, Arapiles, the Grampians, Frog, Kaputar, the Bungles and more. I laughed at the Weekend Warriors as they fled the crag on Sunday arvo, leaving the classics queue-free on Monday morning. How could they call themselves real climbers? I sniggered at those turning up in the gym, in dishevelled work clothes, for a hard training session. The gym wasn’t about training – it wasn’t even about climbing – it was a social event. I joked that I didn’t need to train, I just went climbing.
Full-time employment, when I started, was a hard yoke to bear. Five days a week, 48 weeks a year. Suddenly, climbing was not so important. Weekends were for other activities. Making new friends, eating tasty food, complaining about the hot, beachless summers or freezing, insulation-free winters. I wasn’t sure I was even a climber anymore.
One of the major contributing factors to my reticence was my purchase of a mountain bike. Don’t look at me like that! It’s Canberra – it’s Australia’s best city for mountain biking** – how could I not!? Riding hasn’t kept me as fit as I would like and it’s got nothing on rock climbing, but it isn’t too bad. It turns out, though, that mountain biking is rather expensive. Climbing gear, shoes, chalk and petrol are pennies compared to the costs of buying and maintaining a mountain bike. And, as the saying goes in cycling circles, the correct amount of bikes to own is always N + 1, where N is the amount of bikes currently owned. I just purchased my second.
In retrospect, my climbing didn’t crash, it was more of a slow decline. For the first year or two I could still keep up with most of my old climbing friends on the rare occasions I did go climbing. For a year or so after that, I could pretend, by trad climbing or crack climbing, that I still had it. Eventually, I fell off a route that was just one grade too low.
My climbing diminished to nothing – I went climbing once in an entire year. Unthinkable just a short while ago. I wasn’t psyched anymore. I’d rather have a smashed avocado at 10am followed by a midday nap. In short, I’d lost hope.
Then it happened. An excellent bouldering gym opened – and it was a quick ten-minute ride from work. Suddenly, my psych reignited. In just a few months, I’m right back into it and it’s almost like I never left. Almost.
Suddenly, it’s me slithering into the gym in dishevelled work clothes looking forward to another banging training session. I quickly realised I’m not what I used to be and I’m still not a real climber. The first lesson is that I no longer go by the adage ‘Suns out – Guns out’**. I can see the washboard abs of the real climbers from across the gym – I need just the right light, squinting and an MRI to see mine.
Lesson two was to accept where I’m at. I won’t be heading back out to work my unfinished project from yesteryear. Instead, I will be doing my best impression of Elvis on the crag warm-up. For me, a big part of climbing, especially sport climbing, is ticking grades and routes I’ve never done before. That’s hard to do when my target market has crashed. So, I’ve taken to re-ticking the routes I enjoyed so much the first time around, but also look for the hidden routes and crags that I missed. Maybe I will jump on the no-star route, still with Claw’s original ‘bolts’. It might be deservedly forgotten or it might be a classic – either way it’ll be memorable. As an added bonus, I get to sandbag old friends onto them.
Along with ticking old routes, I’ve reacquainted myself with old injuries. I did the classic gumby-nouveau-gym-climber mistake of getting too strong*** too soon. The Googling I did about making pulley injuries heal faster yielded the same results as it did 10 years ago. Though, in fairness, the website was easier to navigate on my phone. I’ve also found my shoulder is still slightly buggered from that bouldering trip a few years back. The one upside of full-time employment is that I can now afford a physio!
The important thing is that I’m excited about climbing again. A feeling I haven’t felt in a long time. I’ve found the spark and I’ve got to use it. Strike while the iron is hot. And other motivational phrases. I’ve used the gym opening up near my work as a crutch to get me back into climbing.
I used to be a Rock Climber. Now I occasionally climb rocks. I feel I have achieved balance in my life, and I have an open relationship with climbing. We aren’t exclusive, but then, I haven’t promised we would be. The traditionalists may say climbing is between one (wo)man and one rock, but I’m a progressive. I have even accepted who I am – I’m a Weekend Warrior.
Thanks be to God.
* Hobart is a seaside village.
** I never did – but the situation is worse now.
*** Strong is a relative term. Would you prefer ‘too stronger too soon’?