My alarm goes off early. Too early, because I didn’t get home until late last night. I had a quick shower to remove the dust and dirt that I had accumulated over the weekend, and then I slept for just a few hours in an unmade bed. I get up and I look down to find the chalk-stained trousers that were dropped on the floor last night. Those crushed, patched-up trousers are my favourites. The ones that make me feel free and strong whenever I wear them. Today, however, I have to wear something else and have other feelings.
While I type away on a keyboard, I can feel the blood pumping through my fingertips. The pads of my fingers are pink and peeling. They are a little damp, as though they want to repel contact with the smooth plastic of the keyboard. Yet they don’t hurt. Quite the opposite, in fact. They remind me of who I am.
I can feel the muscles in my shoulders burning. I smile, letting my mind drift off as I recall these last few carefree days. If I close my eyes, I can see the trees that are growing new foliage. I can hear my friends laughing. I can hear the sound of my own laboured breathing and feel my teeth clenching from the effort. The grain of the rock beneath my skin. My heart is beating furiously, which I try to reign in as I release my hand from its grip and give it a shake, before plunging it into the chalkbag and bringing it to my mouth to blow away the excess chalk. Although I gave my all to send that pitch, my all wasn't enough. Nevertheless, thinking about yesterday brings a smile to my face. A slight electrical charge surges throughout my body. It’s as if what happened over the course of those two days influences everything that happens during the week. It’s energy. It’s drive.
Who knows what the weather will be like this weekend. Who’s going to be there. Maybe I’ll send a message just to test the waters. No, I better not. There’s still too much time between now and Friday.
What was I doing? I better concentrate on my work.
This is precisely what I found when I stepped onto the route. After the initial (6c) pitch, I put my hands on what I discovered to be a 40-meter, full endurance (8b) on tuffas. This pitch is varied, technical, and pumpy. After working the moves, I knew right away I was lucky to have chosen such a beautiful route; this single pitch at any crag would be a must-do, 5-star. As I took in the rope with a smile, I could hear my second’s agreement as he worked the moves with exclamations of delight! The (7b) pitch is a long stunning colonnette, and then there are the two magnificent (8a)’s on tuffas. The easier traverse and top pitch might not deserve too much celebration, but they allow you to link between four incredible pitches.
Working on Une Jolie and figuring out every detail, I couldn’t help but remember my adventure on the Voie Petit (500m, 8b max) back in 2016. At altitude, above a glacier, and on granite, these two routes have little in common, but my process was just the same. Negotiating with my fear 300 meters up a new wall is always an intimidating position, especially my fear of failing. I had to refocus on the pleasure and enjoy it. After all, I was abandoning my kid for a full day, so I had better make it a worthwhile success.
My achievement wouldn’t come through a grade, though; for a long time, I have realized grades are all relative. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if it is a 9c or 7c; no one cares! It’s only climbing. It can only be for MY pleasure that I decide to put myself through fear, tiredness, and then, hope, and belief, which all turn into a passion. Of course, over the two days that I worked the route, I had quite a few moments where I despaired in figuring out a method. I also went to bed those nights, asking myself why I was doing this. But then, waking up at 5 am to beat the afternoon sun, I itched to put my hands on the rock, savored the idea that I could only rely on myself to get the rope up; this project reawakened the climber that I am.
I came home with precise sequences in my head and the knowledge that if I trained, visualized, and prepared, I had a chance to link it all. I knew training would be challenging, especially motivating for another endurance lap through the summer heat. But I was finding myself again, finding my space to be a climber and a good mum.
I returned to the route with James a month later while the grandparents took care of Arthur. Part of me wondered why we were leaving our baby, and we both felt a bit empty without him jumping around the van. But then in the early morning, I put my game face on, James transformed into Mr. Perfect Belayer, and the fun began. In the (8b), I had no idea if I had the necessary endurance, but in a month’s training, I had noticed that it was all coming back quickly. I climbed precisely without a single mistake. I have no idea how it happened–maybe being a parent and having little time forced me to improve my efficiency. The (7b), the first (8a), the (5c) it all went smoothly. Then, in the last (8a), I made a few mistakes. I forgot a few methods, and there was a moment at the very end, where I realized I had to make the right decision very fast, or I would be off, and maybe not have the energy to try the pitch again.
It is here that I faced my old friend, the fear of failing; every climber has to find a way of dealing with this. When I was a competition climber, I used to tell myself to focus closer on the pleasure of the movements. This time, with my forearms about to explode, and while I was struggling to slow my breathing on a relatively restful tuffa, I could see in my mind Arthur dancing to his favorite music. With that, I realized that falling would be ok; failing was indeed not that sad. Accepting the possibility of not doing it gave me the energy to finish the pitch and scrape my way to the belay. One more (6b), and I had done it, I was again the climber I wanted to be! I had proven to myself that there was a balance between being a mum and a climber. That even the joy of my little one could give me strength for climbing that I hadn’t had before.
I'd love to tell you James and I drove back home playing Une Jolie, but that would be too whimsically poetic. After all, ticking the climb for its name or notoriety is not the experience I was after. Plus, James hates the song, but James's story of understanding French poetry, and as I say, “truly” becoming French, is another story altogether.
Written by Eva Toschi
Photos by our Weekend Warriors
Stage 6- Buoux
We stayed four days at the "Auberge des Seguins," which is a perfect location to go to the crags on foot. They even let us take our dinners outside by the bedroom while the baby was already in Bed. Buoux doesn't need any publicity. It is a unique, incredible crag, and there is a reason for its Fame. Buoux is a Must visit". No matter what your level is, you will find a gem to climb!
Stage 7- Mouries
Mouries is a long way from Buoux, and we had initially planned some extra stops. But the heatwave had begun, and the other planned spots were not as exciting. So, instead of climbing stops, we biked for two days, visited an abandoned troglodyte village (les grottes de cales), and loved it!
Mouries again is an old lady, and if you can get away from requiring extremely tough grades and enjoy the technical climbing, you will love it. Mouries is a climbing lesson in itself.
Stage 8- Fontvieille secret crag
I can't tell you the secret crags, as they are secret because they aren't technically allowed. To find them you have to ask as you meet climbers on your previous days and if you are lucky they may tell you the secrets! France is full of them, and sometimes these are the best crags!
We arrived back home after 25 days of traveling and climbing. It wasn't always restful, but then living with a baby is never restful! Every day brought us load of discoveries, from a wild tortoise to incredible pains au chocolates, to meeting an old friend. Baby Arthur loved it. The minute we stepped back in the house, he was pointing again at the window, asking, "where next?" For James and me, we finish this adventure delighted to have realized that we still have so much left to explore, and it is all less than 100km from our home. This bike and climb trip is only the first!
The weather forecast should be more reliable now. Things are looking good both for Saturday and Sunday. I was counting on that: I couldn’t even fit in a midweek session. I couldn’t take a day off. I’ll write to the group. They’re all over the moon. Someone has a family commitment on Saturday, but they’ll make it on Sunday. Others, like me, want to climb both days.
I float the idea: “does anyone feel like going back to the crag from last weekend?”. It’s our regular crag. The one that we all started climbing on, but have turned our noses up at over the last few years, in favour of more prestigious destinations. I’d like to attempt my old project again. I was so close to sending it the other day. Maybe this time...who knows. Anyway, if we go there, great, but I’m good with whatever. As long as we climb. As long as we’re together. I want to bring a few beers to drink with the others when the sun goes down. Maybe I’ll have reason to celebrate. Maybe I won’t. It doesn’t matter. It’s best that I leave the beers by the front door, close to my backpack when I get home. That way, I won’t run the risk of leaving them behind amidst the rush to set off.
I feel like I’ve already bounced back from Monday’s tiredness. My skin is replenished, my muscle fibres are mended, and my muscles are now relaxed and toned. I could do with a little workout...The gym is closed. Maybe I’ll manage to fit in a session on the fingerboard when I get home. But I shouldn’t go overboard, otherwise I’ll be back to where I started. I’ll make it a short session: just to give my body an artificial taste of the sensations that await it this weekend.
The route is a 7-pitch (8b), and 6-months after having a baby, the idea of achieving this was going to be my “I am back” diploma. When I chose it, I knew I was on my way back to fitness, and I had just figured out a rhythm where baby let me train and sleep a bit. Fitness isn’t everything, though I also needed focus, dedication, and the will to finish such a route. What I experienced as a young mum was a total shift of focus in my life. Every second of the day, part of my mind was on my little one – Does he need anything? Is he in danger? When baby Arthur was 6-months old, I couldn’t write a full text, read a book, or focus. I willingly disappeared behind “the veil of mum.” But I was hoping I would find my fully functional brain again, on top of my late abdominals.
My brain’s been on stand-by since lunch. I’m struggling to focus. To focus on what is going on around me, I mean. I’m sitting at my desk but it’s like my body is already somewhere else.
I’m at the bottom of the wall, pulling my harness out of my backpack and getting ready to climb my usual warm-up route. I’m at the bottom of the wall with my belaying device in my hand, while my companion is happily climbing under the warm morning sunshine. I’m on the wall, fighting against my hands that are losing their grip and against my head that is rebelling, wanting to put an end to this exertion. I imagine being able to control myself for once and I can see myself finally clipping the anchor. Without being crushed by the weight of the myriad of justifications that I could come up with to not give the best of myself on these 30 metres of rockface. The tiredness of having worked all week and never getting to work out properly. Not even this time. Eating badly and drinking too much beer. My elbow that is complaining a little. Sleeping too little for too many nights.
No. I don’t say these things to the others (after all, they’re all in the same boat). I don’t even let myself think them. They won’t stop me any more. They won’t drag me down.
I see myself descending from this pitch and I’m brimming with happiness. Not so much for sending my project, but because of my friends’ smiling faces and the beautiful, familiar place that we find ourselves in. For the beer and the banter that await us tonight around the fire.
Above all, for having overcome all of the excuses that I could have made and, even if only for two days, for being who I am: a vertical warrior.
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CONFESSIONS OF AN ANONYMOUS WEEKEND WARRIOR
by Eva Toschi
4.0 minute read
CONFESSIONS OF AN ANONYMOUS WEEKEND WARRIOR
by Eva Toschi
4.0 minute read