When you go on a climbing or backpacking trip and someone says, “I’ll bring the coffee,” do you secretly bring your own stash to supplement whatever they’re bringing, because you know you’re going to drink double the amount of coffee they think you’re going to drink, and then some? I do too. This is not a control issue; it is a coffee issue.
Do you like coffee? Do you LOVE coffee? How much? Of course, it is not quantifiable. It’s like saying you’re the “#1 Fan” of an NFL football team, which is, of course, not validated by any ranking system. If coffee were a football team, I would be that shirtless guy standing in the end zone seats with my entire body and head painted to match my team’s uniform, going completely batshit for all three televised hours, as if my actions could help my team win. Coffee fuels nearly everything I do in the outdoors, and 100 percent of the writing I do.
Sometimes I get headaches from not drinking enough coffee. When I am high up on a climbing route and I am calculating how much more time we have until the sun goes down, I perhaps should be worried about things like rappelling down in the dark. Instead I am anxious about more coffee. Will there be a coffee shop open on the way home? If not, where’s the closest convenience store? Will they have coffee, or do they stop making it in the late afternoon? I have several times before spent all day climbing in Eldorado Canyon, sweating my ass off in the sun, and immediately afterward rushed to the Eldorado Market to sit outside and two-fist Gatorade and coffee until I become less of a grizzly bear.
Halfway is all the further I can make it anywhere in the outdoors before I start thinking about my next cup of coffee. We’re at the top of the climb, all the scary leads are done and all we have to do is walk off or rappel down. We’re at the summit of a peak, and ready to turn around and start making our way back to the car. I am thinking about coffee. Where is the good shit, the check-up from the neck up. I am serious. Look at my face. Espresso, french press, drip, pourover. I must have it. I must have it now.
Some people hate Starbucks. I battle with this. Part of me thinks lots of Big Corporate things are bad, but a bigger part of me enjoys the fact that I can get a cup of strong coffee in many places in America that I couldn’t 20 years ago. Of course, on the road, I don’t mind truck stop coffee. It is not the best, but given no other options, I will drink the shit out of that shit. It reminds me a little bit of real coffee.
I have battled a couple addictions in life, and won handily. I am proud of this. I am addicted to coffee, and I am not going to battle it. I am going to embrace it. Last spring, I had stomach pains that my doctor said were either an ulcer or gastritis. He asked how much coffee I drank every day, and I told him, 32 to 40 ounces. He said I might think about decreasing my coffee consumption. I nodded and said okay while a little man inside me made a mean face at him and gave him the finger.
One time last summer when my friend Tommy and I got up hella early to do a climb in Tuolumne, we skipped breakfast, but I mixed together cold water, protein powder and Starbucks Via in a 14-ounce Nalgene bottle and chugged it on the drive to the trailhead. Tommy said he would rather skip coffee than drink cold coffee. I was like, What are you, some kind of savage?
My grandmother is 84 years old, and when we are together for the holidays, I will routinely make a pot of coffee at 7 p.m. after dinner. I ask my grandmother, Grandma, if I make some coffee, will you drink some? She has never said no. My grandmother is awesome.
I paid $9 for a single cup of Japanese siphon coffee a couple weeks ago. It was worth it. Believe it or not, some of the best coffee I’ve had in the western U.S. is at the Bellagio Buffet in Las Vegas. As my pal Jayson said to me, “Leonard, I’d pay 40 bucks just to drink coffee and eat dessert at the Bellagio.” I would too.
You know what the halfway point is on a Rim-to-Rim hike or run in the Grand Canyon? Some people would say the Colorado River, since it’s the bottom of the canyon. In my mind, it is Phantom Ranch, where a cup of not-that-bad coffee is $2. Of which I will pound two before continuing up to the South Rim. If each cup were $15, I would pay that at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, where coffee is an unexpected luxury and a privilege.
Story and photo by Leonard, Brendan, author of Rad, Semi.