I showed up to meet my friend Becca at the bouldering gym in Seattle on a Monday afternoon. When we discussed what time to meet, she said something about needing an hour’s notice with the baby and all. I figured she meant that she had to arrange things so her husband could watch the baby while she left the house. But then I walked around the corner of one of the walls, and there he was in his car seat on the floor of the climbing gym, all of 3½ months old, chilling and content as the Buddha.
“Bouldering is just easier with him,” Becca says, you know, as opposed to roping up and climbing 40-foot routes. If he starts crying, Becca says, she can just downclimb or hop off whatever problem she’s on and take care of it. Indeed, I say. Becca and her husband weren’t exactly slowed down by the baby’s birth back in December, taking him for ski weekends in their travel trailer almost immediately, one watching him while the other went out and got in some turns.
Two women playfully giggled at Becca’s son in the car seat as she worked her way up another problem. When she came over to chat, one of them said, “That’s so great that you bring him here, all the colors must be great for his development, a lot of mothers would be overwhelmed at the idea of taking a baby somewhere like a climbing gym.” Becca just shrugged and said, “Yeah it’s not too bad,” then ran laps on a bunch of other problems in between feeding her son, changing his diaper, and watching me awkwardly try to keep him from crying as she walked up a slab route.
I don’t really know anything about parenting, other than what I see from my friends and family. Besides the fact that it’s a big deal, and you know, it completely changes your life. But I have met quite a few women who loved the outdoors before they had their first child and have learned how to raise their children and not lose that connection in the process. Which I think is inspiring.
A week after I started working with my friend Hillary back in 2008, I ran into her at the Twin Owls trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park. She and some friends were walking into The Pear to get in a few pitches of climbing before a wedding that afternoon. One of their friends had volunteered to haul in a Pack and Play for her then one-year-old daughter. A year later, Hillary was on a charity climb up Mount Hood, packing nursing pumps to the summit. Then she would bring them to the crag, as we flaked out the rope, saying, “Well guys, I have to go…pump. So I’ll be back in a couple minutes.” In 2010, she was just finished nursing her second child in time to train for and climb Mt. Rainier in August. The next summer, she and I were racing back into Denver from Eldorado Canyon, late getting down from a climb, and in a rush to pick up the kids from day care.
I have found that early in the morning, when I’m grinding out unmotivated laps on a run around a park in Denver, nothing puts me in my place like getting passed by a lady pushing a running stroller uphill. And it is easy to take more of the group backpacking load when a six-months-pregnant woman (Becca) is trying to cram more food and gear into her backpack at the trailhead. You know what’s tough? Carrying a 40-pound pack uphill. You know what’s tougher than that? Carrying a 40-pound pack and a developing baby in your belly. Or making time to exercise when you’ve got one, two, or three kids who need you. Or mountaineering trips when you have to do all the stuff everyone else does, and, oh yeah, pump breast milk every few hours. And never saying things like, “Oh, before I had kids I could _________. But not now.”
My friend Amy and I spent a few minutes trying to nail down a photo of both of us jumping in the thin air on the summit of Mt. Whitney a couple weeks ago. It was her fourth big-name summit – in addition to Mt. Shasta (twice), the Grand Teton, and Mt. Rainier – since discovering charity mountain climbs when her two kids were finishing high school and raising more than $18,000 for a nonprofit.
My high school football teammates in my small town used to say, “I saw your mom out running again yesterday, in the rain.” I would say, “Yeah, she loves to run.” Because I didn’t really get it, how inertia takes over a lot of folks in middle age and they stop moving. A few years later, after running 20 to 25 miles a week for 20 years, busted knees forced Mom to stop running. So she just walked. At I think a pace of 4-5 mph, by my best guess when I’m with her. And she went to spin classes and met a group of ladies on the weekends to crush out 25 miles on her commuter bike (she can’t ride a road bike due to a broken wrist a few years ago). And started going to the climbing gym an hour away.
People ask me, “What’s your mom like,” and I tell them that she’s a ball of energy, running on caffeine and chocolate, kind of like…me sometimes. She’s a stubborn lady. I remember her saying one time when we were out for a four mph walk, Oh, I wish I could still run. She never makes excuses, never stopped moving because of this injury or that injury, Oh I have a bad back/bad knees/don’t have time. She just makes time.
So when she says she wants to go down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon sometime, I know she’ll be fine, and I can plan a two-day trip, one day down, one night at the Bright Angel Campground, and one day to walk back up the eight miles and 4,400 feet of elevation to the South Rim. I told her a couple weeks ago, Let’s plan on that next year, in October, for your 63rd birthday. And she said, Oh good, that will give me something to train for.
Brendan Leonard is Semi-Rad.