Sick, Brah: The Ineloquence Of Talking About The Outdoors

You, outdoor recreator, are quite probably quite educated: Bachelor’s degree, possibly a master’s degree or Ph.D. You wore a cap and gown and were handed a number of certificates decorated with fancy letters saying you went to college and finished — maybe even college for adults, which is called graduate school. But you climb rocks, or ski, or mountain bike. Shred, crush, get barreled from time to time.

In the Wednesday staff meeting, you sit up straight, sport unwrinkled business casual, and expound powerfully and authoritatively on sales figures, legal documents, strategic analyses and other data and insights. Or you teach, lawyer, guide and coach dozens of employees, design budgets of hundreds of thousands of dollars of corporate capital, and in general act like an adult.

But then on Saturday, on your bike, or at the base of a climb, or around a campfire, you’re all like It Was Siiiiiiiick, Brah! while pulling up on your air handlebars or making phantom hand jams in front of your face.

I know. I used to write marketing copy for an enormous software company all week, sitting in on conference calls and then architecting massive documents on how Product X will Optimize Your Company’s IT Infrastructure. I would wrack my brain for multi-syllable buzzwords for hours, and then at 5 p.m. Friday, basically begin talking like “Ted” Theodore Logan, only with more F-bombs.

I’m a writer. I can afford to eat based on the idea that I can string together several hundred or thousand smart-sounding words at a time, clearly and efficiently. If I were to write the beta for a climb called Mother 1 at Vedauwoo, for inclusion in a consumer climbing magazine, it might look like this:

Mother 1 is a Vedauwoo offwidth classic, and some say it’s sandbagged at 5.7+. You won’t find any face holds to use outside of this flaring chicken-wing and armbar crack, so bring your offwidth technique. If you’re new to offwidths, remember that an inch or two of upward progress is actually good. Be patient, place some gear, and once you get to the hand jam at the top, you’re home free. Belay at the top of the crack or walk up the 5.2 R slab to the top of the Nautilus, where you can clip into two rap bolts.

But if you and I were standing at a climbing gym and I were to tell you about Mother 1, it would sound like this:

Dude, I was so fuckin scared of it I took like I think two#4s and a #5 up it. We get there and I’m totally shitting my pants at the base of the climb and I finally get on it and start wedging myself into it, and somebody said go left side in, so I did, and immediately you get in it, and it’s flaring, and of course the rock has all kinds of crystals in it, but they’re all facing the wrong way, down, and plus they’re all fuckin greasy and polished from years of people climbing the route, and of course you have to use your whole body, so you can imagine like 50 years of skin oil all over this thing. I’m leapfrogging a 4 and a 5 all the way up, and I get higher and higher and I’m totally panicking, shaking and sweating, all like whew, whew, whew, you know that like shaky exhale when you’re about to fall. And I get up to the point where the crack narrows down to a hand jam over your head, and I suck at hand jams, so I’m like fuuuuuuuck with this pathetic hand jam and trying to paw my way up the rock, just looking like a total amateur, like if I was belaying me, I’d be embarrassed for me, you know what I mean? And I somehow get in a Number One in the hand crack and I just suddenly pop out, no warning or anything, just like AAAAAAAAAA, and I think Chris had a little slack in the rope when I went, and I just cheese-grater down the rock for about 15 feet, scraping the shit out of my forearms plus I’m already bleeding from the ankles from climbing the offwidth like a goddamn grizzly bear. Anyway, I get back on it and top out, and basically go into this adrenaline-flush nap at the top as I’m sitting up there belaying. So, you know, it’s not that bad.

I always wanted to be a writer, so I read great authors: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, James Joyce, Steinbeck, blah blah blah. Then I went to college, then grad school. The kinds of things that increase your odds of being able to hold your own in an intellectual conversation at a dinner party.

Then I became a climber, which somehow made me less likely to quote Shakespeare, and more likely to refer to The Big Lebowski or the Beastie Boys. There are many people like me — climbers, mountain bikers, skiers, and other outdoorsfolk. Next time you’re standing around a campfire, count the number of friends you have who are smart enough to (potentially) climb the corporate ladder, but dumb enough to climb mountains for “fun,” able to talk in the jargon of business, but prefer to talk in the dialect of radness, at least on weekends. You probably know lots of people like that. Or maybe you are people like that?


23 replies on “Sick, Brah: The Ineloquence Of Talking About The Outdoors

  • Aaron F

    BRAH!! Yep, I get it. Sitting around the campfire, screaming down a hill on a mountain bike like your hair is on fire, hiking in the desert, and basically scaring the hell out of yourself for fun…….all these things are an escape from the everyday doldrums that we have to suffer through so we can pay our bills & live this life.

    Imagine being one of those people who don’t have the escapes, who can’t get away, or have too many things that tie them down. Imagine if the only person you were was that person who wrote those programs, taught those classes, sat in those busines meetings, or managed those hedgefunds. Just imagine……if that’s all your life was.

  • John

    I was all like, “Dude! It was Awesome!! My foot got stuck and I was swearing at it like a third M-Effing person!!!”
    Then I said “Eloquent” and my Mojo evaporated. For a minute or two anyway.
    Another awesome story.

  • Laidlaw

    Today’s Schedule:

    9am: Content Strategy Meeting
    10am: Social Media Marketing Meeting
    11:30: Mobile Development Standup Meeting
    12:30: Pack up the bikes for a SICK-ass weekend in GJ/Fruita!!

    Juxtaposed grandiloquence in my usual vernacular. 😉


  • Jillian

    Woah. You are entirely too correct… as usual. I work in marketing/social/community/god-knows-what at a large software company, and I’m all eloquent during the 9-5. Total walking thesaurus with an air of ‘I’m so flipping smart’. (Blah)

    But then like this morning. I was having a sophisticated conversation with a customer in person, and noticed he had snowboards everywhere in his office. So we got to talking about that instead (turns out he designed this crazy binding setup). Next thing I know we’re both using words like ‘chill’, ‘stoke’, ‘rad’.

    I wonder if it’s because normal words and sentences can’t convey true emotions. We use a totally different language!

  • Tyler

    I’m not sure if I got the point of the article.

    Yeah, we speak like literate people during the work week and then dirtbags during the cragging weekend.

    Was there a punch line or something I missed?

  • Jill, Head Geargal

    Nooooooo you can speak like an intelligent person and still enjoy the outdoors. I absolutely cannot stand bro-speak. SOMEONE out there must be with me on this. Tell me you don’t really talk like that. You sound so normal on the phone.

    • Kim Kircher

      I know, right? It’s almost comical to watch and hear someone transition between these two “languages”. But, we use the vocabulary given to us. Last year I heard a pro-skier friend of mine talk about “sessioning” this “sick line”. I glanced at her and squinched my eyes. She didn’t just say that, did she? But then a few weeks later I actually used “session” as a verb. What at first seems odd and clumsy can become part of our vocabulary simply through osmosis. That and a little adrenaline (or even beer) can make the language sprout on our tongue.

  • David Evans

    I always wonder why mountaineering writing is so eloquent (think ‘The games climbers play’ or Annapurna) but kayaking writing is so banal “Dude, it was so rad!”. Even though we are just going different directions on the same mountain the standards of writing are completely different.

  • Ethan

    Dude, I love this. I keep noticing that it seems like a lot of the really enthusiastic/outgoing outdoors folk are bizarrely highly educated, and you put it better than I ever could here. Being a Ph.D. student in Molecular biology, I can definitely relate to the “career lingo” vs. “climbing lingo” dichotomy.

  • Eric O'Rafferty

    Classic! Can completely relate. Generally, in real (??? ha ha!) life with its various modes of communication (including net forums) I try to write well so I can be clear and understood. But I still like to have fun.

    But you gotta let your freak flag fly! We are a micro-minority and I think the special language lends a bit of shorthand to our passion for the things we do. Plus it implies inclusion as part of the “tribe.” Being connected is a huge thing for us humans and speaking the language lends itself to that.

  • Jerry M

    I’ve followed on Mother 1, and ‘Sandbag’ is the nicest thing I can think to say about it. I was hoarse by the time I got to the top from all the panting, and using my Rolodex of 4-12 letter words. I’ve never left so much skin, dermas, and body fluid on a rock like I did that day.

  • greg petliski

    Not me. I work jobs in the out of doors so I sort of get paid to say shit like “That shit was rad” in regards to a bridge or a rockwall or a trail corridor.

  • Tien Shanman

    The slang used by the American outdoor sports subculture just plain sounds stupid. If I hear the words awesome, stoked, sick, shredded, etc. I feel like applying a swift chop to the jaw of the speaker.

  • Elaine Pike

    I hope when I tell you this you won’t go: “Oh my god, really?” but I’m a 57 year old female climber who, 4 years ago, rejuvenated an early 1980’s love of climbing. I laughed out loud when I read this. Way to capture the climber psyche. Whether it’s a cakewalk 5.6 or a terrifying 5.10c, climbers are always yammering about the challenges. It’s a wonderful, infectious passion, that keeps us tying in for more.

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