The Nine Stages of Getting Gripped

I’m very pleased to share with you the first (but hopefully not the last) guest post on The Stone Mind. This one from a friend and writer Ian Mathias, who knows a thing or two about getting gripped. 

You got this…

Are you a downhill skier, a climber, a mountain biker, or just the type of person whose hobby involves frequent moments of gripping fear? If so, I challenge you to watch the little lady in this video squirm and not get a full-blown flashback—not just to childhood, but probably to sometime in the last few weeks:

Two million views and counting. It’s a cute story, and an inspiring one, too. But I venture to guess that what gets people sharing this video has as much to do with a sympathetic connection, a certain fellowship of the gripped, as it does cuteness and inspiration. Damn if we haven’t all been there before. And the interesting part: That dialogue never really changes. We get stronger and the stakes get bigger, but we still need to torture ourselves before going for it. Fourth grader or fourth-grade teacher, for two minutes or for 20; when truly gripped by self-induced fear, the narrative arc stays the same:

Step 1: Belly up. Stand on the edge. Or sit at the base of the problem. Tie in and put your hands on the start holds. Whatever it is, one can’t really start this absurd routine until the very last possible moment. Any anxiety before then can be shunted by countless other distractions or choices. The only choice now is either send it or bail—or start squirming.

Step 2: Premature self-assurance. “C’mon, you got this.” “Here goes… something,” as the little ski jumper says. No kidding, here goes something is right. Only that “something going” won’t be you anytime soon, as you definitely do not “just got this.” If that were true—if it would all be as easy as saying “c’mon” to yourself—saying it wouldn’t be necessary. Nope, not ready, just pretending to be.

Step 3: Insignificant gear fixation. Ahh yes, now would be the perfect time to get spooked by a trivial equipment issue or other minor nit. Brush the hold you just brushed two seconds ago. Check brakes… again. Adjust harness, then subconsciously readjust it to where it was originally. Rub the life out of the point of a climbing shoe, as if substituting dirt with grease from your fingertips will really improve performance. “My skis are slipping off!” cries the little girl at the top of the ski jump, but her skis are the same as they were 10 minutes ago. Likewise, it’s not your gear but you who are slipping off the edge because you’re acting shifty and stiff.

Step 4: Beta begging. Since it’s quite clear that “the grip” of fear is taking hold and there’s nothing critically wrong with your equipment, it’s time to obsess over process. If a partner’s around, he or she becomes the target of an array of self-evident questions, which he or she (if a true and trustworthy partner) will answer supportively. If solo, now is the time for intense over-analysis of terrain. Stare at that bad landing or big gap. Stare at it! It looks worse up close, as always. This whole thing is so fucking stupid!

Step 5: Stall. The low point. Nothing new to stare at. All equipment has been touched, though not adjusted in any meaningful way. And the 17th “You got this” self-help session has really lost its bite. So just stand there and wallow. Avoid eye contact. Pray for some kind of hand-of-god intervention that would allow a justifiable retreat. Hey, is that rain?

Step 6: The nudging. The loyal partner, getting cold and/or bored, continues with the same lines of support and confidence, but with a noticeably different tone of voice. As in, believe it or not, there is more on the agenda today than watching you mentally fall apart. “C’mon” is no longer shorthand for “You can do it!” but “Come on and do it already.” Also, the best thing that could ever happen to a gripped adventurer without a partner would be the sudden appearance of newcomers, wanting to either observe—or better yet, send the line themselves. That fear of looking timid in front of strangers is a powerful, totally nonsensical motivator.

Step 7: Commit. Ironically, this is often the easiest part. No thinking really required… just living in the moment, doing it—on the way to the send or to the hospital. Either way, the act itself is surprisingly fast, and therefore not as terrifying as the preceding minutes of essentially questioning your entire interest in this dangerous sport.

Step 8: Chatter, NBD declaration. Assuming everything goes well, the moments immediately following the send are for making yahoo noises and blah blah blah-ing idle chatter to anyone who will listen — releasing the stress and anxiety brought on in the name of recreation. “Yes! Wow! Holy shit. Yes! Oh man, I was scared!” The late stages of this chatter must include at least one decree of “that wasn’t so bad” or “easier than I thought it would feel.” Lucky you. Though if it was a lot harder than expected, you’d probably be upside down and bleeding right now.

Step 9: Bliss out. After all that mental stress and physical exertion, after the endorphins wane, what’s left is a glowing, marginally functional victor, good for buying a round of beers and not much else. As Chuck Palahniuk wrote, “After a night in fight club, everything else in the real world gets the volume turned down. Nothing can piss you off. Your word is law.” Whether or not that line really was NBD, the rest of the world certainly is now, at least for a little while.

 

Headshot of Ian MathiasIan Mathias is a writer based in Salt Lake City. Every year he contemplates quitting his fancy marketing job and becoming a part-time baker, part-time writer, but can’t bear the thought of waking up so early every day. Read more from him at the30x30.com.

 

Bros on A Rope and Other Swingers

There has been some controversy around the “World’s Largest Rope Swing” video, posted on YouTube by the videographer Devin Graham, aka “devinsupertramp.” The video, filmed at the Corona Arch in Moab, Utah, shows a group of adventurous, smartly-dressed youths cavorting about in an orgy of sun, fun, and death-defying stunts. It is easy to imagine the few minor tweaks that would render the video a perfect Mountain Dew commercial. (Might we expect to see a Red Bull Rope Swing Freestyle competition in the near future? I would watch that…)

The above-mentioned controversy centers around the rope swing’s safety rigging and possible impact on a natural arch. In both cases, it seems like the crew is in the clear, however, as the Arch is on relatively unrestrictive BLM land, on which climbing and other activities are technically kosher. (A local guiding concession even runs tours that include rappelling off of Corona Arch.) Also worth noting, the viedo crew did not place the bolted anchors used for these rappels. The safety issue is also less than clear. The swing looks to have been relatively well rigged, with rope protectors used where the rope would rub against the stone during the pendulum swing. And to my eye, all the biners in the video were locked.

This is NOT a rope swing
This is NOT a rope swing. Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, UT. Photo: © Justin Roth

More dangerous than the act portrayed in the video is the suggestive influence it and the other devinsupertramp videos might have on the squishy, unformed brains of the world’s impressionable youth. Like the Jackass movies, in which highly sketchy stunts are elevated to the level of commercial art, the World’s Largest Rope Swing video glorifies a stunt that requires serious rigging know-how. Watching the video, a gullible crew of local college students might get the impression that the Corona Arch rope swing is a great afternoon activity, and a good way to impress a harem of female onlookers. Heck, how complicated can setting up some ropes be?  In short, the video’s glib attitude, played up in shot after shot of laughing and dancing bros and brodettes, is more problematic than the actual stunt performed.

And more problematic still is the inaccurate title of the video, smartly selected to maximize Web traffic. In fact, many much larger rope swings have been performed. Below are just two examples, though admittedly the production quality of World’s Largest Rope swing is much, much higher than either.

Dan Osman, aka the Phantom Lord, was one of climbing’s most polarizing celebrities. His speed free-soloing segment in Dean Fidelman’s Masters of Stone was hard to see as anything else than a balletic death wish set to a heavy metal soundtrack. He was irresponsible, a bad example, a slo-mo train wreck… and of course, the world never failed to watch his exploits with morbid fascination. Osman tied into ropes and  jumped out of tall trees, swung through sandstone arches, and hurtled through the air in what he called “controlled free-falling.” Eventually, on a thousand-foot leap in Yosemite Valley, his luck ran out and his rigging failed. He was 35 at the time of his death in 1998.

On a happier note, there’s “Sketchy Andy” Lewis, who gained a little fame via the recent Reel Rock Film Tour DVD and then a LOT of fame with his toga-clad slack line performance in Madonna’s Super Bowl halftime show. In the above video, you can see Andy do all kinds of crazy stuff, including a two-person rope swing, at the 3:25 mark, that appears to be several hundred feet long.

In the end, the best thing about the “World’s Largest Rope Swing” video is the cinematography. Graham used DSLRs  and GoPros artfully to create an energetic, visually engaging video that has been watched three and a half million times, in a matter of days, on YouTube alone. Though one needn’t be a total stick in the mud to wonder if this success may not be a great thing for everyone in the end. As one poster on Mountain Project commented, “Video was REALLY well done! Which is why this will not end well for the access to Corona Arch, methinks.” Is that the smell of a Dean Potter/Delicate Arch controversy in the making? Only time will tell. Until then. hats off to Mr. Graham and his gang. I’m not sure I’d want to hang out with them, but I’ll certainly spend a few minutes watching their videos.

In Case You Missed It: Guy on a Buffalo

Buffalo Rider movie poster
Note the awesomeness written on this poster: “Before the Indian would starve or the buffalo disappear, he thundered across the plains… 2,000 pounds of stampeding revenge!”

The Guy on a Buffalo series on YouTube is a viral masterpiece that took what was the cinematic equivalent of driftwood and carved it into four hilarious pieces of handicraft.

The original source for these musical shorts is the 1978 “classic” film Buffalo Rider. A movie that would certainly have been lost in the dusty celluloid vaults of cinema history, had an Austin, Texas, band called The Possum Posse not re-invigorated it with their own music and lyrics.

Placing these shorts into the YouTube jungle was, perhaps, one of the finest marketing maneuvers ever executed. No Manhattan firm could have dreamed up a campaign with more  return on investment (5.5 million views and counting for what one can only assume was a small cash outlay). The result is sure to inspire you to take up a rifle and find a baby buffalo to raise until it’s old enough to carry you on its back on a mission of revenge and survival.

And what of the Possum Posse’s “normal” musical stylings? I’m no country music critic (or fan, for that matter), but lyrics like “The only time you call me back is when you pocket dial,” and songs like “What’s Going On With Grandpa,” about a country grandpa coming out of the closet with his “new best friend,” have already started to win me over. Now stop pretending to work and watch these videos: