Having spent a good amount of the last decade investing emotionally and physically in long-term projects, I'm no stranger to the process. Not just the climbing itself, but just trying to climb at your limit - getting into a position where you can actually try hard - is an elegant way to test one's perseverance. Setting yourself up for that rare success means being in the correct mental state, at peak physical fitness, being prepared tactically, arriving in good conditions, and perhaps most difficult, having very little stress in your life. Having one is not too hard, but as most climbers know, having all of them at once is a challenge.
You spend two weeks learning the beta, but then you're a bit out of shape. You go back and repeat other problems to get fit, but lose your motivation by not trying the project enough. Doubt creeps in. You can't find partners, you don't have enough pads. You fix the issues and regain your confidence, but then your trip ends or the season is over. And so on.
So often it seems like we blame our failures on just one aspect of our performance, i.e. "I'm not strong enough," when the reality is complicated. Few climbers are willing to admit they have a mental training deficit. Fewer are willing to admit they have an emotional problem. (Adam Ondra sounds like he's trying to shatter all windows in a one mile radius every time he falls, so why shouldn't I?) Perhaps most egregious of all is a climber who blames their physical performance when they've tactically nullified themselves by using the wrong beta or being unprepared. At one time or another I've done all of these things. I could probably win some kind of award for bitching about all the factors except the one I should be addressing.
Over the last few years I've noticed a trend. I get invested in a project, and I start to edge other things out of my life to reduce my stress level. When I sent a long-term project last year, I was almost wholly consumed by it: my work schedule, training, diet, sleep and even my social agenda were a function of what I thought would give me an edge, and it all did. The year before I was taking vacation days to drive to Leavenworth in the middle of the week for better conditions. Staring down my personal next level, it's hard to feel like there's much else left to cut out. Could I physically climb V12? 5.14? I feel confident that I could. The actual climbing part now seems like a small piece of the puzzle.
With every peak comes a valley, and I had a solid peak last Fall. Subsequently, nagging injuries have made 2014 so far consist mostly of resting. I've gotten outside locally all of twice, plus a brief trip to Red Rocks to do some mellow sport climbing. I have been lucky enough to start routesetting again, which is a great outlet and a great reminder of how much I love climbing as a whole. But I haven't been training, I'm not at peak fitness. Compared to last year, it seems like I've barely been thinking about climbing at all.
In a week we leave on a climbing trip. I don't remember much from my last quick stop in Joe's Valley, except for the donuts. Usually a week before a big trip I would be just finishing up a brutal training regimen, and resting up to ensure that I arrive in perfect physical condition. Instead my training regimen has consisted of marathon web development sessions, Chuckit ball throw reps, shoulder therapy and van converting, with a nutritious diet of breakfast burritos and accidental spray adhesive inhalation.
Maybe .. probably... okay, yes, it's definitely a horrible idea to go on a long trip without being physically peaked, but it gave me a realization. Having not climbed much has me excited to get on as many new and different things as possible. Spending time building the van has ensured that I will have a comfortable and restful space to recover from hard days. Maybe most importantly, because I haven't attached any goals to this trip, I feel no external pressure to perform in any specific way. It'll just be bouldering life, with no extra stress. And donuts. Here we go!