JHG Gord McArthur Low Res 10-20-15-115171


Photos by Jon Glassberg/Louder than 11/#lt11

In any case, big vs small, strong vs weak, fast vs slow, the outcome is generally inevitable or even predictable: the favored stands the tallest, the impossible remains unreachable, and the Giant crushes the frail.  Pretty standard.

When something puts you into a vulnerable state, when it creates emotion, you can feel the “real” of it all, you can see clearly the meaning, or the purpose.  When you question whether or not a task is possible…that if you’re even capable, you’re brought to a place of choice ­– do or do not.  But what I think I’ve come to realize, is that when you make your choice…you need to make that choice with a full heart, for the right reasons, and then commit your every effort to see it through…to success or failure.  You see, the point is not to be fixated on “I will succeed”, but rather, “I’m giving everything I’ve got to the ‘finish line’ “, and from there, the rest is noise, no matter the outcome.

Sitting with my feet up on a rock, 2ft from the lake, camping at my favorite “spring getaway”, my thoughts have finally slowed down; finally allowing for reflection.  For the last 9 months life has been ultra-fast paced, giving no room for any sort of “down time”.  Every spring I plan a trip to a climbing area called Skaha, one of Canada’s most popular climbing destinations.  The best part: the camping…10ft from a beautiful lake, and climbing with no stress…just fun…with fun people.  So relaxing, so peaceful.  So perfect.   For me…relaxing is darn near impossible.  Always on the go, always something to do – training, traveling, climbing, family stuff.  There’s no time for down time…are you kidding me? Except for now, this moment, as I write what’s been compiling in my head for the past 9 months.  Yeah, this moment is what I’ve been longing for: sun in face, feet up, lawn chair, and beer in the cup holder.

Perfect, so let’s begin.

Hanging on the end of the rope, swinging back and forth, spinning around and getting dizzy, it became apparent…this route was harder than I anticipated.  I knew, when putting it up that it was going to be some sort of “next level” for me, but I didn’t expect this, I didn’t expect to get shut down so quickly.  I’ve had some success on hard routes, and so I figured…maybe this would be within reach…in a reasonable amount of time.  Nope nope nope.  Time after time I would try, and time after time I’d fall.  Frustration, anger, disappointment, all the emotions colliding at once.  Enter the slippery slope of discouragement.

I don’t have a problem with trying hard.  But where I struggle – is when it comes to seeing through the “trying hard”, all the way to the finish line.  In anything, I’m a great starter, a great “in the middle of it all”, but have a wickedly hard time crossing the finish.  Whenever I’m faced with a challenge, something that puts me to my ultimate testing point…I don’t deal well with it.  Excuses that give way to backing down.  Reaching for a reason to give up, there’s always a way to hide from exposing yourself….myself.  And it has become oh too often my path that I walk.  Until now.

The “Storm Giant”, a route I bolted in massive cave, near my home, is approx. 80 meters along a huge roof system. One pitch, with 50 quickdraws, start to finish.  And it’s been kicking my ass.  This past winter I put a lot of effort into the route and kept coming up short…super short.  I would try so hard, and fall every time either at or just shy of the halfway point.  Now, climbing approx. 40ish meters upside down is no easy task but when you look past your 40 meter point…and see another 40 meters of climbing, and all the dangling quickdraws that lay ahead…my thoughts were always the same – oh shit.

This winter was a tough one.  Competing had some success and failures, followed by emotions that were all over the place.  That’s always a roller coaster.  Always learning, always trying to progress, etc. etc.  Competition life is a tough one.  Past that, I’ve been working on building a climbing gym for the past 7 years.  This project has left me high and dry so many times.  The process has brought me to my knees on many occasions, leaving me feeling helpless without direction.  Combine these things with life’s typical basket of stresses, well…without going into detail…it’s been a tough year.  But, as many Toronto Maple Leafs (the hockey team) fans would say, “there’s always next year”.  And it’s true.  And that’s the beauty of life…there’s always the next day, the next year, and so on.  Having a bad year doesn’t mean it’s over, or it’s time to cash your chips in.  It just means that there’s opportunity around the corner, waiting for another shot at life, a project, competition, or whatever.

I told myself it was going to be the last time of the season that I would venture out and up to the cave.  The logistics are pretty involved getting there in the winter (lots of driving, then snowmobiling, then trudging through deep snow).  Let’s just say it’s an endeavor….every time.  Anyways, I told myself it would be the last time.  It had been a long winter and I was getting tired, mentally and physically, losing my momentum to the point where I didn’t want to climb.  But I knew I had to go back there.  Maybe because of a little pressure, but more so because something inside of me didn’t want to make excuses to give up.  This was a new feeling, a new experience for me.  For some reason, standing in front of a giant, I had the confidence that maybe I could beat it.  Like David standing in front of Goliath, he had the confidence to defy all reasoning, to believe he could win, that he was unstoppable.

Coming close to my usual highpoint, doubt started to sneak in.  Trying hard not to look at all the dangling quickdraws that lay ahead, the distance that separated me from the end of the route…it just seemed impossible.  But that’s when things started to change.  There was a moment that my mindset of wanting to give up shifted to “just keep moving”, “just keep going”, “this isn’t over yet”.  Move by move I put my ice axe from one hold to the next.  I was now at my high point…but I hadn’t fallen yet.  I wasn’t hanging on the rope this time.  Oh baby! I’m still going!  Excitement raged through my body, giving me a whole new level of confidence.  Screaming from below, I could hear my belayer going crazy.  I had done it, I had broken through a wall that was stunting me from any progression on the route.  But it still wasn’t over yet.  I kept going.  I kept climbing.  This feeling, this rush, it’s what I needed; to realize I was capable of slaying the giant.  For so long I believed that this giant was too big, to strong.  I couldn’t win.  Until that moment…when I started to believe I could win.

I fell about 50-60 meters into the route.  Exhaustion took over and thus I found myself hanging on the end of the rope again. But that didn’t matter.  In fact, I was so happy, you would have thought I had sent the route. No, I didn’t’ send the route.  But what was more-I broke down a wall that was holding me back.  A wall that I had put up, a wall that I had created to hide from my giant(s).  You see, it’s not necessarily about the climb.  That moment, breaking down the wall (on the route), it made me realize that I had put up a lot of walls in life.  Great starter, great “in the middle”, great wall builder.  No finish line.  Too many walls become very hard to navigate through life; keeping me from the finish line.

Crossing the finish line is something to cheer about. It doesn’t matter what your finish line looks like, or what circumstances your finish line involves…only that crossing it gives you a sense of victory.  In sport, in life, whatever, cross that finish line, and you’ll have the power to cross the other.  Slay one giant, and you’ll have the courage to go after another.

This mentality, for me, believing in what I’m “actually” capable of, has allowed me to see the finish line(s).  My breakthrough with the storm giant was huge.  I went from, “this is impossible”, to “only a matter of time”.  The route will take everything I’ve got, and then some, to finish.  But with that new high point, and rest of the dangling quick draws, the finish line is within reach.  No excuses this time, no backing down this time.  This time…it’s going to be different.  This time I’m going for the finish line.

It’s a beautiful day.  The sound of the waves brushing the shore in front me.  I can sit here, peaceful, confident, and calm.  Tough year…yup.  But this is the start of “the next year”, and so far…it’s going real good.  My 7 year climbing gym project is going ahead full tilt.  I’m excited for a summer of rock climbing and having fun.  And soon, real soon, I’m prepared to re-group and suit up for the next round of facing my giant…the “Storm giant”.  And it’s going to be awesome.

Believe. Try hard. Keep going.  Don’t give up.  Have courage…and be your absolute.