My Gumby Year



It was only a few years ago that I discovered that I have a classic case of ADHD. All the symptoms listed on were clear to me. From being easily distracted, to not listening to others, obsessing over a new hobby or interest to the exclusion of everything else and the ever popular compulsive behavior which has resulted in being fired from a job that I liked to getting traffic tickets. Let me briefly describe my current obsession. Climbing.

A week after my 60th birthday, I went to a climbing gym with my son in-law. At the counter was a 20 something guy, thin to the point of looking like Ric Ocasek of the Cars band with really long black hair tied in a pony tail. “Hey, it’s cool you’re taking your Dad climbing with you.” I imagined what his comb over would look like in 20 years and smiled. “It was my idea,” I said. After a lifetime of being a competitive runner, my ankles and knees suggested I try another sport.

Diablo Rock is the local gym where I go and is managed by the great climber Hans Florin. His name was familiar to me because I got together with my cousin Dave Altman, a noted Bay Area climber and the names would roll off his tongue-Ray Jardine, Ron Kauc and Hans. It’s a large, warehousy looking place that I’ve come to really enjoy.

All climbing gyms have the same smell. It’s a combination of climbing chalk, sweaty clothes and the young. In American shopping malls, it’s the fat people that are in the majority. In a climbing gym, it’s the opposite, the fat being relegated to watching or in rare cases, belaying their energetic 8 year olds up a 5.5 wall.

I am 8 months into my Gumby year. In that time, I’ve bought 5 pairs of climbing shoes, hoping to find that perfect pair that doesn’t feel like a vise is clamped on my foot and allows me to use the footholds on an overhanging boulder problem. I have plenty of climbing tee shirts and pants. My thick overpriced cotton climbing shorts are my favorite attire. I ’ve bought a type of shoe that I have never heard of called “approach shoes.” Those and flip flops are the non-climbing footwear of choice. I wear my approach shoes and Patagonia climbing pants to work without irony and flip flops everywhere else.

The obsession got worse. Soon after starting, I was watching climbing videos on youtube. Chris Sharma, Hans of course, Akio Noguchi and the young phenom, Ashima Shiraishi, a 14 year old who climbs routes few others can while blowing bubble gum bubbles and giggling. I also discover the so called underground writing scene. Brenden Leonard, Luke Mehall and the other denizens of the climbing zine. For “fun” on road trips for work, I listen to Chris Koulous’ Enormocasts in the car. Yes-I have a disease.

Unless Hans is in the gym, I am at least 25 years older than any of the other climbers. It’s not an issue because the other climbers ignore me for the most part. On the odd occasion, I am noticed, it can be a thrill. About 4 months into my Gumby year, my son in-law did a top roped 5.10b that had an overhang. We finished it (called “sending” in climber speak) and were standing around when one of the uber climbers-shorts, no shirt, long Fabio like hair comes up to us and says-“hey, I was watching you guys and your footwork was really good.”  Man, I floated out of the gym that night. Silly when you think about it.

It hasn’t been all indoors this first year of climbing. I discovered some boulders in nearby Vacaville and the son in-law went out there with a guidebook. So far I’ve been there 5 times, 3 with him, twice by myself. Then I went to a small crag in Berkeley with my cousin Dave Altman and received a lecture on anchors for 45 minutes (some of which I remember, I think) and then I went up a couple of 5.8’s which were harder and much more fun than the 5.10’s in the gym.

Yes, it’s true, I’m not an authentic climber. I have never placed a cam in a crack or even sport climbed. And while it’s no shame in being a gumby, I’m trying hard not to be a poser. So, if you see my gray haired skinny assed self at the Diablo Rock Gym, try not to laugh as I struggle up a 10c or 11a. Thanks.



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