whether the weather

I find myself constantly checking the weather.

The first few years of my climbing career, Brian and I climbed outside every weekend regardless of weather; nevertheless, we checked the forecast multiple times daily between weekends just to know what we were in-for. A fifty-percent chance of rain could mean that there was a fifty-fifty chance for any rain at all, or it could mean that it would definitely rain for fifty percent of the day. And you would think that if there was only a twenty-percent chance for precipitation, it should be safe to be outside. Often though the sky would dump tons of rain on those days. There was also the rare zero-percent chance-for-rain-days when a thunderstorm of Old Testament proportions would arrive. So even when we did check the forecast, the weather remained unpredictable, and we would have no idea what was going to happen. By far the worst thing to happen though, was when we would decide to stay home because of a high chance of terrible weather and end up missing perfect weather and climbing conditions. That has happened more times than I care to remember and leaves a lingering feeling of total human failure in my gut.

After about five years of climbing together almost every weekend, Brian and I started getting sick of the unpredictable weather at the New River Gorge, when it rained whether it was forecast to or not, or was so hot that the otherwise dry rock would be sweating: even if we could find dry routes to climb, we’d still getting soaked from precipitation or perspiration while we hiked and camped. Our stuff would get wet and never dry. We kept going though. At that point in our young lives, it was better than staying at home and cleaning the house. Or maybe it was just a compulsion we were unable to thwart. It was the only way we knew how to be.

For a while, climbing seasons meant fall, spring, summer. Winter in Western PA and West Virginia meant taking a breather from climbing outside, though on some nice days we would still try to get on real rock, frozen fingers and toes be damned. As the years went by, climbing seasons became more than weather and temperature, more than fall, winter, spring, and summer. Whole chapters of life became a different climbing season. When you stick with something for more than say, seven to ten years, you begin to notice your life becoming organized in this way. Seasons of life can be even more wild and unpredictable than the weather without a way to check the forecast. Seasons of life can interrupt your climbing career for more than just a weekend here or there. But the thing I realized at some point was that in one season, you might not climb very much, but when that season is over, you can look forward to being immersed in it once more.

So far, I have not lost climbing to Real Life seasons: not to pregnancy, not to life with a newborn, not to injury, not to having a sick parent or child. These times in my life just became a time of climbing inside: climbing with new and different purpose, climbing for sanity, climbing for rehabilitation and healing. And these seasons of only climbing inside taught me something else. They taught me that I love climbing no matter what, no matter when, and mostly, no matter where. If I have to climb inside for the rest of my life, so be it. Climbing is as important to me as eating or breathing.

Climbing seasons began to change all the time once we had kids in the mix. The Season of Newborns: we were too afraid to take them outside when they were so tiny, and we thought they would instantly die or be grabbed out of our arms by giant mosquitoes. The Season of Toddlers: we took them outside knowing we would have to manage temper tantrums when naps couldn’t be had, and we wondered if we were crazy for even trying. We always had to find friends who were willing to join us; and thus, there were always people to witness the mess of our family.

The Season of Big Kids was bliss while it lasted. We climbed outside a lot during this season. We chose to homeschool, in part so we could travel and climb any time of the year. So while the happy parents climbed and took turns hovering around them to fend off danger and wild beasts in places like Hueco Tanks, TX, Maple Canyon, UT, and the New River Gorge, WV, the kids played in the dirt, immersing themselves in microbial wild beasts. They loved going outside. They loved camping. They were always game to go somewhere and hang on a rope.

Then came the Season of the Tween. It was a season that seemed to come way too early when our oldest turned nine. Should he really be getting an attitude that young? This was the season when our strong-willed kiddo hated climbing and thought it was stupid. It was a season of forced This-Is-What-We-Do-As-A-Family! climbing. It was a season of Who-Could-Hate-This-Sport!?– You’re-Crazy! climbing. It was almost a season to end all seasons of climbing outside forever for all of us. It was a season of great turmoil.

The Season of the Teen, as anyone could have predicted, did not change the conflict of interest but did increase in difficulty. There was weeping and crying out, “Why?!?” The teenager went to highschool and the freedom of homeschooling both of our kids ended and climbing outside whenever we wanted was over. The teenager became involved with a water sport (possibly the furthest thing from climbing there is) and is happy to step foot in the climbing gym once every two months if that. Ironically, he is still happy to demand we buy him new climbing shoes as he grows. Traveling to climb is out of the question most of the year.

Rightly so, this has also become known as the Season of the Renegade: Nobody wants to climb?! Fine! I will go by myself! I wake up at five am on a Saturday to drive four hours to the New River Gorge and climb with friends who do want to climb. I climb all day and drive home happy and exhausted and sore and hungry and get home at eleven pm. I eat M n Ms and drink Coke so I don’t fall asleep at the wheel. I feel hardcore. This scenario has happened 4-5 times. I have taken my younger son with me a couple of them. I have encouraged my husband to go on his own renegade climbing trips with others. With secret tears and deep heart sadness that our family no longer climbs together, this may actually be sustainable.

The next season I imagine for myself and my husband will be The Season of the Empty Nesters. This could be a resurgence of The Newlywed Season when we were always away from home climbing somewhere. Climbing is a sort of glue that will keep Brian and I together and happy in Middle Age and Old Age. We will sneak away to climb somewhere out West— maybe somewhere we have never even taken the kids!– and be gone for weeks on end. Our muscled arms will have wrinkly and saggy skin dangling off of them. We will look half our age. We will again have a reason to check the weather even though we already always do that anyway.