Do you remember that moment, the one where your chubby hands pushed off the countertop and took your first few steps? Parents clapped, took film that they would inevitably watch when you went off to college, maybe you even got a cake. It was a big deal.
As we become grown, we start to take those steps for granted. We walk to work, to the store, to the refrigerator. It becomes just a mode of transport, something we barely think about as we go from point A to B. But what if we analyzed each stride as does a 100m runner? What if we watched slow-mo film of ourselves walking to the kitchen, through the halls, and perfected our each movement in order to achieve maximum efficiency. A simple act made precise, calculated.
It seems ridiculous, over the top. Maybe even Swiss. (“But Elliot, I thought you were from NorCal?! Aren’t you supposed to be chill or something?”) But there is a truth I must get off my chest. All the pictures I post on Instagram with an ice-axe in my hand, coil of rope slung around my shoulder, are a highlight reel of the sexy stuff. Out here, most of the time what I am doing is learning how to walk. Taking that everyday movement, and perfecting each transition, eccentric and concentric load, and turning it into a skill, an art. Melissa critiques me on each step, showing me how to lock my back leg, flex my butt, and perfect the ratio of step to rest. And once the uber-specific art of walking in high altitude becomes second nature (read: it hasn’t), next comes pacing. The “guide pace”, which ensures maximum mileage and minimal fatigue, is another beast altogether. There are different speeds for every gradient of every terrain imaginable, and I have just hit the tip of the iceberg. What we are doing is not extreme by any measure of the mind, but it’s a step (haha) in the process. I sit for hours in teahouse bedrooms, tying and retying simple knots. I intently listen as Melissa teaches me how to “keep my show tight”. It’s the little things, tucking in your straps, changing sunglass lenses at the right moment, that will eventually allow me to pursue the bigger goals I aspire to. And it’s hard sometimes, watching Conrad Anker hack his way up WI15 and feel like the levels are unnatainable. And I guess in some respect they are, because so few are able. But the only way to find out is to keep grinding away at the simpler skills that are so crucial. Oh, and keep my shoelaces tied.