Peaches Preaches: Lessons for the Ages

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"You walk without a sense of purpose," a Berkeley bar manager once told James "Peaches" Lucas before firing him. A dedicated climber who spent 15 years living out of caves, tents, and then a Saturn station wagon to pursue the sport, Lucas stumbles through life but marches to the boulders, crags, and walls. Peaches Preaches is his column.

The author navigating the upper moves on Pumped Full of Roy, Roy, New Mexico.

The author navigating the upper moves on Pumped Full of Roy, Roy, New Mexico.

“48 is the new 38,” my buddy JT told me over the weekend in Roy, New Mexico, having just sent Squeeze My Nuts, a line of diagonal crimps and slopers in the Jumbles. A decade older than me and a longtime partner, JT espoused his wisdom with a heavy helping of bullshit, “and 38 is the new 48.”

Over the December weekend, my girlfriend Nina Williams and I drove five and a half hours south to the flatlands of Roy, New Mexico. We traded cold and icy winter temps for perfect sunshine and a sending breeze for my 38th birthday weekend. While my peers seem to be climbing 38 V10s, running 38 miles, and then climbing a 38-foot V10 highball on their birthdays, I just wanted to enjoy a bit of sunshine and rock, and ease into the fact that I was aging. The climbing had gone well despite a recent tweak that I’d experienced at the gym.

“I hurt my knee stretching,” I told JT. I’d been unable to unlock the first powerful move on Squeeze, a lockoff and powerful bump to a slot off a high left heel, but had done it from the second move. After twenty years of climbing, I’d come to terms with the concept that increasing my strength would be difficult so I’d invested in finding other ways to improve.

Earlier in the week, I met with a climbing coach in Boulder, Colorado to work on my hip mobility. I surmised that if I could become more flexible, I could climb harder. I’d always adhered to the notion that stretching was for cheaters but figured that getting older meant this old dog would need to learn new tricks. Halfway into my stretching session, I felt a knee injury flare up. I’d taken most of the morning easy on the first day in Roy, climbing moderate routes in my approach shoes. “Dragging mud all over the sandstone!” JT bellowed. By the time we reached Squeeze, I thought that I’d have the gas to do it, having taken a slow approach shoe warm up.

I attacked the problem, sorting the moves, repeating them to get them dialed, and then trying them again until I had it all sorted except the first move. I rested and tried, fell, and repeated the process until I had no chance left. Meanwhile, JT tried the problem twice and quickly dispatched it.

“I’ve learned the difficulties of aging and how to handle my injuries while you’re just getting started,” JT said. A month before, a surgeon removed a cyst running over his elbow. The doctor had neglected to remove some of JT’s saltiness though.

The following day, we headed to a new bouldering area. Without a guidebook , we climbed on the problems that looked good to us. Instead of fixating on pushing the difficulty of my climbing, I focused on the adventure of the sport. This time, I wore my rock shoes for the warmups. The problems on the Mushroom boulder felt hard but I dispatched them. On Vert and Ernie, a V5 compression arete, I sorted all the moves and then linked them, making a slightly scary punch to the finishing jug. I felt stronger already.

We then headed over to my project from last year. On Pumped Full of Roy, a steep line of V7 crimps in Mills Canyon, I sorted the top and started working the first two moves, the crux. I almost stuck the stab to a crimp move off a toe-hook. I felt better, navigating my slightly tweaked knee, and my need for rest while still having fun. I felt like I was settling into my 38 years.

When I returned from Roy, I texted Owen Summerscale, the guidebook author, to ask him about Vert and Ernie and the other boulder problems we had climbed on. I was pleasantly surprised that they’d all been harder than I thought. Meanwhile Squeeze My Nuts had been downrated from V8 to V6. “I screwed up listing it as 8,” he said of the guidebook typo. And Pumped full of Roy dropped from V7 to V5. “If you get the toehooks just right, it isn’t that bad,” he texted.

I took a few breaths and tried to let my ego subside. I’d climbed well when I didn’t know it and poorly when I did. Perhaps getting older was about focusing less on the numbers and more on the experience. Maybe little lessons like that would make 39 be the new 49.

Read more Peaches Preaches.