Everything Is Epic


At a grocery store last week, the cover of Cosmopolitan‘s January issue caught my eye with the headline “EPIC SEX.” Immediately, in my head, I started imagining the scenario:

“… and that was after about two hours of this. So I untied him, and we cleaned up all the broken watermelons, put away the jumper cables and started to drive to the hospital. That’s when the car broke down. It was raining, and as I got out of the car, I dropped my phone in a puddle, so goodbye phone. Since we couldn’t call a cab, we just started walking. Finally, after a half-hour, someone stopped and gave us a ride. In the emergency room, the doctor looked at the X-rays and said ‘So how did you get a trophy stuck up there?’ and I was like, ‘I don’t think I have to answer that; plus it’s a statue, not a trophy,” and he says, ‘No, it’s obviously a bowling trophy. I can see the guy’s hand here …'”

Of course, the Cosmo article was not about “epic” in the sense outdoorsfolk use it when describing mountain bike rides, ultramarathons, and long days of climbing and mountaineering. I assume Cosmo just looking for another word to describe “improved” sex, which seems to be a monthly cover topic, based on my ongoing informal survey.

It appears that, despite warnings like Maddox’s “Not Everything Is Epic, Shitheads,” we’re changing the definition of the word, like we’ve done in the past with “gnarly,” “sick,” and, ahem, “radical.” Urban Dictionary now defines epic as “the most overused word ever.”

Fact: Beowulf is epic. “Epic poetry” is one of the original uses of the word. Hell, it takes most people a few days just to read Beowulf, which is pretty epic, compared to scrolling through my Facebook feed.

In its traditional use in mountaineering, epic was a noun, not an adjective — you had “an epic”: Broken bones, open bivies, nights of suffering, frostbite, chopped ropes, crevasse falls, people not knowing whether they’d make it back alive, rescues — you know, Ernest Shackleton and his crew surviving their Antarctic voyage. Joe Simpson crawling three days back to camp with a broken leg. Aron Ralston. Now, it’s pretty much everything, isn’t it?

A hashtag search for #epic on Instagram the other day found 1.6 million photos, including the following epic things:

  • A guy’s shirtless self-portrait
  • Two photos of people playing Jenga
  • A labradoodle puppy eating a hair tie
  • A photo of a limo on New Year’s Eve
  • A 7-year-old kid doing a cannonball into a pool in Bryan, Texas
  • A photo of Someday by Justin Bieber perfume


I used to pride myself on never having had an epic. Sure, I’ve had plenty of long days, but nothing where I didn’t think I was going to live. Maybe have to survive a night out with no shelter, or spend the next three days not walking, or stay moving for 19 straight hours, but no broken legs on a climbing route, no getting lost in a whiteout, nothing like that.

The good news is, you no longer have to get your toes amputated, spend a night on a snowy peak without a sleeping bag, go without food or water for 48 hours, or drink your own urine to have an epic (although all those things are in themselves still epic). You can just play Jenga, or take a photo of yourself with your phone, or have a hangover. Or, as the aforementioned Cosmo article advises, you can “hook up like high schoolers,” “lead him on,” and/or “tease with a vengeance.” I am about to eat a burrito, which, if my math is correct, is basically the same thing as Beowulf. Or, to break it down:

Slaying Grendel + slaying Grendel’s mother + slaying dragon = burrito


Semi-Rad is brought to you by Outdoor Research.

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  1. That timeline is awesome (dare I say epic?). I like how the length between the 1960s and present day is longer than the length between the 8th century and 20th century!

  2. Until recently I claimed to have never had an epic.

    However, a couple weeks ago, we had a long day on Solar Slab in Red Rocks. We had taken a somewhat leisurely pace on the way up, climbing 13 pitches in 7 hours. We then underestimated the class 4 descent in the dark and proceeded to take about 14 hours to get back to the car. One might think: this is a desert, how bad could the bushwhacking be? One word: cactus (I was glad I had my belay/gardening gloves). Oh, and it was snowing for the last 2 hours.

    It was well (ok, a couple hours) before sunrise when we got back to the car, so I insisted that it hadn’t really been an epic.

    Then a car pulls up across the street, one guy shuffles over to my car window and points a gun at me and demands all our stuff.

      1. Pullout on 159 right outside the gate. On the way back I was congratulating myself for avoiding a parking ticket by parking outside the loop. In retrospect I should have chosen the ticket.

  3. You hit this right on the head. How can you describe something that is truly epic (or an epic) anymore when it’s become so diluted? My thoughts are the same with “adventure.” But at least when someone asks for an “epic” story around the table, you’ll always have that burrito…

  4. Yay! Seeing the title of this and knowing how you LOVE the word made me so excited to read this one. Last line is the best and may have to be the quote of the day. You think people will think I’m weird?

  5. Seriously! I’ve taken recently to just saying GREAB. It stands for gnarly rad epic awesome bro and can apply to anything that is actually none of those things.
    You rode two loops of the local mountain bike trail and had fun? GREAB.
    You got a two sodas out of the machine when you only put in a dollar? GREAB.

    1. I don’t know you at all, but I’ve taken to saying greab all the time too. An epically important invention for the ironically inclined mountain person. Your stroke of genius is much appreciated.

  6. or

    Epoch: An interval of geologic time longer than an “age” and shorter than a “period”, during which which the rocks of a “series” were formed.

    Slaying Grendel+ Slaying Grendel’s Mother + Slaying a Dragon+ Eating a Burrito = Epic Coprolite

  7. Hahahahaha! Climbing Magazine’s readership will laugh so hard it’ll shit epics when it casts its collective beady gaze on your work. Congratulations on that, btw.

  8. I read this post a few weeks ago. Then on Monday as I was driving home from a weekend in Bishop, I saw a McDonald’s billboard advertising a Big Mac: “Epic Taste. Epic-er Price.” God damnit humanity, we’re better than this (I think).

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Article by: brendan