Sunday, 12 May 2013

My guest blog post for Innate Gear...

Vancouver is headquarters to many great outdoor gear producers; MEC, Arcteryx, G3, and old-school-Squamish hard man, Greg Foweraker's creation, Innate Gear. Over the last few months, Greg and his team have been hooking me up with some of their gear storage pieces. As you can imagine, they've come in very handy since I've been living out of a few duffel bags for the last half a year! 

Ah, the Caravan Compartment. My life fits neatly in a few of these guys...

And, the Innate Doppio. The keeper of the coffee!

Greg recently asked me if I'd be a guest blogger for their Innate DNA Blog. He asked if I could write a piece catching everybody up on my experiences over the last nine months as a full-time rock climber. I naturally obliged, but surprised myself a little with how much I had to say. 

Here is a link to my post on the Innate DNA Blog. For those of you who don't like to make too many clicks of the mouse, I've also pasted it below. Though, if you want to see the pictures, you're going to have to follow the link!

Surrounded by Friends...

I quit my job. Then I put everything I owned into a 5X5 metre storage locker, took out a hefty line of credit to…uh, “to go back to school”, and began what I hoped would be a very long climbing trip. I was working for Mountain Equipment Co-op as IT Coordinator, in their Vancouver head office, when I finally acknowledged to myself that my desire to climb outweighed my desire for a healthy RRSP, and stable job. This happened to coincide with a major paradigm shift for the Co-op and for the first time, MEC was looking to build its very own athlete program -- the MEC Envoy.

And so, plans were hatched for my absence from “the real world”; I signed on as one of MEC’s first Envoys! It felt like a dream come true to have the opportunity to pursue my climbing goals so entirely, and with the support of my beloved former employer.

Since learning to climb in a musty old grainery turned climbing gym in my hometown of Newmarket, Ontario, I’ve pursued climbing to the exclusion of almost everything else. I eat, sleep, exercise, and work all for the sole purpose of improving my climbing. The feeling of joy that climbing brought me back in 2001 when I was dragging my little brother to the climbing gym to belay me for hours, wavered little through my life as a climber.

But, somewhere in the last 9 months, I started to lose sight of the simple joy climbing brought me, and my pride at representing MEC wherever I went. I began, slowly at first, to turn myself into a little business, the business of “Sarah’s climbing”; my mind constantly racing with ways to expand my network, and achieve PR success. I’d have moments of panic fretting that my climbing goals wouldn’t be achieved if I couldn’t bag the right mix of sponsorship. I had after all spent the last 4 years as a paper-pushing commuter and so, perhaps it was only natural that my inclination was to work hard at everything – even in my role as a dirt bag climber.

It wasn’t long ago, that my boyfriend asked a simple question about how my pursuit of a hardware sponsor was going. I immediately burst into tears, mumbling something about pressure, alienating myself from my friends, and stress that I was loosing my authenticity – something I have always held in high regard.

Was my obsession with the sponsored lifestyle, the closest thing we have to Hollywood fame here in our little climbing microcosm, alienating me from the friends and community I loved so dearly? Was I losing sight of the point?


When Greg, Innate’s Managing Director, gave me this opportunity to write a blog post about my experience so far as a full-time climber, I initially started to jot down the typical climber rhetoric about “living the dream”, and travelling the world. But, after a few paragraphs, it just didn’t feel quite right. I was in the middle of a “dirt bag climber’s existential crisis” after all. It only seemed fitting that I share some of these thoughts and feelings here.

Today, I am sitting in a cozy little café in El Chalten, Argentina - my home for the last three months and the “main event” in my dirt bag itinerary this year. The granite spires surrounding this tiny Argentine town are some of the most beautiful in the world, and climbing on them is a unique and powerful experience.  

This morning, on a solo hike to a lookout above town, I made peace with my ghosts. Watching the clouds swirl around Fitz Roy, it occurred to me that I loved it here, and that no sponsorship deal or photographic spread would change that.

For years passionate dirt-bags have been wearing thread-bare polypropalene shirts, duck taping their climbing shoes together, and eating dehydrated potatoes for dinner. I was allowing myself to be consumed with building my “business”. Convinced I needed to secure the shoe sponsor, the hardware sponsor, and the gel sponsor in order to achieve my goals. But what I had failed to realize was that with the support of MEC and a few other folks, including  my amazing parents, my cup was full!

With their help, and I no small part, my own determination, I’ve spent a summer climbing in Squamish, two weeks frolicking among the massive peaks of the Waddington Range, a month in the boulders around Bishop, California, and now, three months living below Fitz Roy in southern Patagonia. I’ve experienced enough so far to satiate myself for a lifetime. What more could I ask for?

While I sat, with the warm Patagonian breezes licking at my face, I watched a Condor soaring high above me. Condors will soar for hours, riding the warm air masses as they rise to the summits of these peaks. This Condor was no different, she was not in search of food, or chasing prey. She was soaring, simply for the experience, for the goodness of flight. She’d need to go in search of food at some point, but for the time being, while the wind swirled about her, she was having some fun; Nothing more, nothing less.

That is exactly the point. Being in Patagonia brings me the simple joy that I felt in 2001, and that I still feel today. I am surrounded by friends, and sharing this experience with someone I love. And so, a small weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Like the condor, for the time being I’m going to have some fun, I can worry about how I’m going to eat later. Let’s just see where this warm air swirling about Fitz Roy propels me next. I have a sinking suspicion it may just blow me right back here again next year.



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