Do You Have The Stoke?

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:

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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.


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  1. My friend, Eric, and I share The Stoke. Climbing, cycling, cow tipping… you name it, we’re stoked. Not that there’s anything wrong with your overt celebrations, but we’re usually much more subtle. We’ll just trade big smiles and nod knowingly and not utter a word, looking at the next splitter pitch or the 10 mile downhill. Since Eric has oversized canine teeth, this makes him look like a deranged Dracula which makes the situation all the better.

  2. I agree. Though I also think it’s important to have stoke about something other than getting outside. Like writing (which you clearly have the stoke for, Brendan) or making movies or math or whatever. I think there’s so much focus on stoke for getting out in the outdoor world that people forget that, actually, there is more to life than just going climbing / biking / trundling. Basically, I’m saying stoke should be applied to all things in life — hopefully your job, your chores, your relationship, your many interests and hobbies.

    1. I don’t know that you HAVE to have The Stoke about something other than getting outside. There exist plenty of people that have The Stoke about comic books or the like and never experience it about the outdoors either. In either case though, it seems that The Stoke is sorta infectious and makes you a generally rad person to be around. :-)

    2. Agreed! A recipe for life:

      Find your Stoke in the mountains, at the beach, or wherever it’s hiding. Sneak it past the border guards that patrol work/life balance. Apply generously as needed. Refill at your next earliest convenience.

  3. “Statistically, your chances of summiting any climb are increased by 50 percent if you are climbing with someone who has The Stoke.”

    ^How was this calculated? Is there a standard formula of Stoke?

  4. Yeah, I need more friends like this. I don’t think I necessarily have the full “stoke” but I do end up being the motivator often. However, I think I’ve lost a bit of the motivation to be the motivator as I’ve gotten older 😛 Need to get that back!

  5. One of my favourite things to say to friends of mine who are lacking in “the stoke” is:

    “60% chance of rain means 40% chance of not rain! I like those odds.”

  6. Can we make a song list for the mostest awesomenest playlist for partners in “the Stoke”?

    My first vote is “Eye of the Tiger”

    Thoughts? Recommendations?

  7. Totally get the Stoke. Glad to have a name for it.

    It’s about being out there… why wouldn’t you want to go?

    This is related to Kelly Cordes Fun Factor scale. If you have the Stoke, then within 24 hours of having a massive, nasty, painful, near-death epic, you’ll be thinking, “you know, that wasn’t so bad… it was kinda fun actually… let’s do it again!”

  8. I keep coming back to this post — I send it to friends over and over. I love it. Thanks for keeping the stoke going with this! :-)

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Article by: brendan