The Moments Before Your Big Moments

I got an email from Statigram the other day offering to collect my “best Instagram moments of 2013.” I thought Why Not and clicked a couple times, and a few minutes later, I received in my inbox a 15-second video of my five best moments, complete with a piano soundtrack. It was nice. Facebook did something similar and offered to show me my 20 Biggest Moments. That was cool. I scrolled through my Instagram photos and thought, Man, I had a pretty fun year. Scenic, even, if all you saw were the 1-inch by 1-inch photos I posted from my phone.

Memory is a funny thing. As proponents of the “Three Types of Fun” system often point out, your brain has a way of forgetting the bad parts of life, and you only remember the good parts. I didn’t post either of those “Year in Review” things to social media, but I did take a look back and try to remember some of the other moments. Things that happened peripherally to all my Instagram climbing and other outdoor shots. The stuff you don’t brag about in captions.

For instance: One of the first visceral things I did in 2013 was climb up about 40 feet on an easy route in the Ouray Ice Park and drop a 30-pound block of ice on my right knee, which then bounced off the inside of my left shin and right shin. I tucked my face in between my ice tools and gritted my teeth, waiting for the hammering pain to go away. A few minutes later, I posted a photo of my friend Jesse’s wife Melanie toproping her first ice climb ever. Yay!

On April 3, midway through a mountain bike ride near Sedona, I stopped and took a photo of my girlfriend rolling through a meadow in front of Bell Rock as the sun dipped, giving everything a nice golden glow. Fifteen minutes later, I misjudged a step and launched myself over the handlebars, then slammed into the sandstone in sloooooow-moooooootion OHHHHH FUUUUUUUCK, giving myself a deep thigh bruise and smashing a bone in my wrist. I spent the evening sitting in my van in the parking lot of a supermarket, icing my thigh with a bag of frozen corn. Jealous of my life much?

In early May, I stood on the only spot not covered in pigeon shit in a corner at the base of the east face of Grey Rock at Garden of the Gods to belay my friend Jayson, trying in vain to keep the rope off the literal 150-cubic-foot sea of dried crap covering every surface within 20 feet of the wall. Later, I posted a quite majestic photo of a climber on the arete to the left, a silhouette high above the valley below, not a clue of the mess of excrement just to the climber’s right.

And so it went, throughout the year.

Wow, I remember that sunrise. I also remember the pungent wet-dog smell of my sleeping bag when I unzipped it a few minutes earlier after several days in the backcountry, and I don’t own a dog. There’s that photo of those two guys climbing on the route next to us. I took that about 45 minutes before we rappelled off the second pitch in a downpour. Sometimes instead of weeping with joy when I reach the belay after a scary pitch, I concentrate on taking a photo of my partner following me.

Don’t get me wrong; I had a fun year. I bet you did too, when you look back on it. But be honest: wasn’t it also a fun year, fun-in-quotation-marks-fun? Everybody knows that’s what makes that sunrise/sunset/summit photo worth it: the cold, the heat, the mosquito bites, the mud on your shoes, the dirt caking your skin, the sand in your eye, the shivering, the bruises, the blood, the sweat, the vomiting—oh, you didn’t vomit? Well, trust me, I felt a lot better afterward.

Here’s to all the Instagram- and holiday-card-worthy moments—and here’s to all the pigeon-shit-infested, accidental bloodletting, dirty, sweaty, morale-crushing times that come before and after them.


13 replies on “The Moments Before Your Big Moments”
  1. says: Greg

    I totally feel you on this. In august I did a presidential traverse in the white mountains with a couple of ultra running buddies and had my arse handed to me. That doesn’t mean I didn’t take some sweet photos. The beautiful images of my buddies cruising the ridgeline off in the distance don’t communicate the pain, suffering, blood, sweat, and boogers happening behind the lens. At first stopping to take a picture was an excuse to stop and rest. And me being behind was me ” looking for the right angle”. Eventually I stopped taking the camera out altogether. The funny thing… I can’t wait to do it again! Some of my favorite moments have taken place while suffering the most.


  2. says: Katie

    I totally feel you. The three days of hiking through torrential rain to reach Cuidad Perdida, only to be attacked by swarms of silver dollar-sized mosquitoes? Definitely “fun.” The kind that seems not that bad when you’re looking back after a nice cold cerveza. Cheers for once again writing what I feel–but making it funnier than I could.

  3. says: Jordan

    How about instead of one of those photo collage Christmas cards that are all happy and cute every one sends out a photo collage of their worst moments, those might be worth hanging onto.

  4. says: Kate

    Yep, the only climb I’ve ever done in Garden of the Gods was on Grey Rock, and about half way up my partner stuck his hand in the crack and it started squeaking manically. Not his hand, the crack. Or, you know, something living in that crack. He almost threw himself off the wall trying to get away from whatever was in there. In the end, we both climbed the route without jamming that section, and whatever was in there never came out.

    Also, this entire post also applies to everything having to do with kids. You take pictures of the smiles, the sweet sleeping moments, and the little kid running through the woods moments. You sure as hell don’t take pictures of the moments when the same child informs you that he’s a big boy who doesn’t poop in his pants; he pooped on the floor over there!

  5. says: Natalie

    This was one of the toughest years of my life, both outside and in. But I wouldn’t trade the amazing pictures, memories, and personal growth for anything! Here’s to another life-filled year!

  6. says: KG

    Enjoyed this read…interesting year you’ve had…I’m not so sure about the physical pain, but hey to each his own! 🙂

  7. says: Terrence Sheehy

    This is a great post. It reflects the advice author Norman Ollestad’s father gave him a a young boy. In his memoir Crazy for the Storm, Ollestad relates that his father would often push him as a young boy to persevere through adversity by telling him that life is about “pushing through the crap to get to the good stuff.” I think that’s what this post is about: pushing through the crap to get to the good stuff. That beautiful sunset. The triumphant look on a friend’s face. The exhilaration of conquering that pitch. Working your butt off for that paycheck. Studying hard to get that “A.” That’s the good stuff. You just gotta push through the crap to get to it. This philosophy has greatly influenced how I parent my son in dealing with complaining and negative attitudes when he is confronted with a difficult challenge or unwanted task. Please keep writing these great posts. I really enjoy your attitude and perspective.

  8. says: Sabrina

    I didn’t vomit, but I cried a lot, I was scared to death a lot, yeah that was “fun!” But I saw some incredible scenery, stood on some summits, and my picture of Bugaboo Spire won a prize in a photo contest! That was fun!

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