For the Love of Rocks

It occurred to me while I was standing in the check out line at Safeway that I did not fit in. The only items in my cart were a pair of neon purple over-sized dish gloves, a tube of Neosporin, several nail files of various grit, a minor collection of exfoliating boar’s hair brushes, a flat head screwdriver, and one stiff-bristled nylon toilet brush. No milk, no apples, no paper towels, no shaving cream, nothing of that sort. The cashier gave me a look, said “what are you doing with all these nail files?” without explicitly saying it.

To me these were obvious purchases: the gloves were for washing dishes, to keep my hard-earned calluses from going soft. The Neosporin was for repairing a split crease on my middle finger. The nail files were for keeping said calluses from getting so thick that they might snag a pebble and be torn off. The boar’s hair brushes and toilet scrubber were for brushing up the grips on a boulder I wanted to try that afternoon. The screwdriver was needed for bicycle repair and did not factor into the otherwise exclusively climbing-related nature of the other purchases.

I don’t even think about these type of things anymore, but for entertainment’s sake, I thought some reflection might be in order. What follows is an abbreviated catalog of the weirdness associated with a long-term climbing career.

* My street shoe size has shrunk from 10.5 to 9.

* I compulsively file the skin on my fingertips to avoid the dreaded split tip. There musn’t be any small tears or irregularities that might snag on a grip.

* Well-fitting long sleeve shirts are hard to come by. The typical climber physique of broad shoulders, long arms and a slender torso is not something often catered to by finer clothing manufacturers.

* I do not think twice about using words such as crag, crux, crimp, dyno, and beta in everyday conversation. Furthermore, there is no hesitation to pantomime crux moves in public, even if it means throwing an imaginary heel hook on the dinner table.

* Following advice from a respected colleague, I did not use soap, shampoo, or deodorant for eight months. Showers were still had, but as more of a rinse than a total cleanse. All of this was done in an effort to keep my skin free of callus-altering chemicals, and while I apologize to anyone that I spent any amount of time with at close proximity, I will say that my skin was in amazing condition for rock climbing at that time.

* I abhor getting my hands wet, which results in excessive, some might argue obsessive, dish glove use. Seriously, nothing is worse for climbing than soaking your hands in hot, soapy water. Avoid at all costs.

* There is never a problem with wearing the same pair of pants for two weeks straight. Too, I do not buy pants that won’t allow for high steps. You never know when you might have to bust out a mantle.

* Again following advice from a respected colleague, I once ordered this mysterious substance called antihydral from the internet. Invented by champion fooseballers (seriously) to keep their hands dry, this stuff, when applied correctly, keeps your tips in top condition for upward of two weeks. As a bonus, it hardens the skin too, which is ideal for climbing in areas such as Hueco Tanks or Bishop. Of course, when used incorrectly it can dry your skin so much that it splits open like an overripe tomato and, due to the dryness, doesn’t heal for a month.

* As a rule, I never purchase a pair of shoes I do not think I could climb at least V5 in.

* If I know I will be climbing outside on a particular day, I will not shave for three days beforehand. Shaving cream softens the skin on my hands, and we can’t have that. Of course this is not much of an issue for me, as I can’t grow facial hair of any sort.

* There are holds everywhere, on buildings, tables, chairs, dashboards, tupperware, fax machines, picture frames, bicycle pumps, filing cabinets, fruit (watermelon slopers, obviously), everywhere. Naturally, there are cryptic methods of utilizing these grips that must be ascertained, which is why I’m currently figuring out the best way to kneebar my computer desk.

There is more. Much more. For now, however, this will do.

Reflecting on the list above, I am struck by two things. One, I might love rock climbing so much because it completely engages the exceptionally neurotic portion of my psyche. Two, trusting a colleague’s advice only leaves you smelly and with holes in your hands.

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