2:39 a.m., August 11, 2012: Packs packed, Chris and I are about to shut the tailgate on my van and start walking the Garnet Canyon Trail to try to climb the Grand Teton in one day, one of the biggest, most daunting days I will ever have in the mountains. I tell Chris I have to play one song before we head out, and set my iPhone on the tailgate and push Play on “Theme from The A-Team.”
I begin to run in place and spin in circles at full speed in an attempt to make Chris laugh at this ungodly hour of the morning, an alpine start I often like to announce is “so early my dad isn’t even out of bed yet.” Then I have to stop running because I am laughing too hard at Chris’s hyper-speed karate kicks across the parking lot in the darkness.
Three and a half hours later, we are standing at the Lower Saddle between the Grand and the Middle Teton, in the middle of a cloud, and suddenly 40-degree temperatures. We stand there for over an hour, almost ready to head down and give up for the day, or maybe the week, or life. We stand around uneasily, neither of us wanting to call it quits, as if we are mulling over putting down the family dog, and Chris looks up at the Grand and says,
“Let’s walk up there and talk about it.”
We walk up higher towards the base of the Upper Exum, and 15 minutes later, the clouds begin to break. A couple hours later, we are standing on the summit eating burritos and cracking jokes.
I like to climb with Chris because he is kind of a jovial cartoon character who will not be turned away from a climb by anything less than certainly lethal. It cannot be a chance of bad weather, or high winds—it has to be certain bad weather, or hurricane-force winds. Sixty percent chance of rain? Bah, let’s go up there. Raining? It’ll let up. Downpour? OK, let’s go get coffee and come back tomorrow. He has a kind of permanent positivity, an awareness that any minute he gets outside of the office is a chance to do something rad.
I believe this is an identifiable personality trait called The Stoke. Some people have it. All should aspire to it.
Below is a series of text messages from my friend Josh. They were sent in May and June, not on Christmas Eve. As you can read, Josh is excited about going climbing. So excited, he compares the night before to Christmas Eve. Note his usage of words like “psyched,” “pumped,” and “WOOOOO.”
I like to climb with Josh. Actually, I like to do most things with Josh. He has The Stoke.
The Stoke is usually contagious, and if you are exposed to it and are not infected, you may never develop it.
It is often uncurable. A friend of mine, a few hours after crashing her mountain bike into a tree on a downhill run, summed it up in five words while drinking tequila and hoping to ride the next day:
So painful, so worth it.
The Stoke is my friend Lee driving like a Manhattan cabbie anytime his truck points uphill into the mountains, and leaning forward in the passenger seat when someone else drives, because he is so excited to climb, even after 30-plus years in the mountains.
I do not believe this guy is a climber or a mountain biker, but he has The Stoke:
If you develop The Stoke, you will have no shortage of partners in climbing, biking, skiing, or anything else.
People who have The Stoke do not hit the snooze button on their alarm clock and fail to get out of bed to go climbing/biking/hiking/skiing on their days off. They do not complain about food. They do not bail on a day in the outdoors when there’s only a 30 to 70 percent chance of rain. In the face of immediate danger, peril, or running out of chocolate, they crack jokes. Statistically, your chances of summiting any climb are increased by 50 percent if you are climbing with someone who has The Stoke. As are your chances of receiving high fives and exploding fist bumps, and in general having an awesome life.