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Peaches Preaches: Dating in the Climbing World

A former dirtbag turned upright citizen searches for love

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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 monthly column.

Dating Rock Climbing Gym Couple

For the past eight weeks, I’ve sat in a cubicle, pounded at a keyboard, and kept a watchful eye over my stapler. At 5 pm, I ride my bicycle a few miles to my second job at Movement Dating & Fitness in Boulder, Colorado: finding a swolemate.

I recently made the move out of my car, my home of eight years, to a new life behind a computer screen in Boulder. It’s caused a few shifts. I know when I’ll receive a paycheck. I have health insurance. I have less time to watch Netflix. The biggest change going from life at the crag to the small city is the new possibility of dating. The crags certainly offer the chance to connect with others. I’ve kissed below climbs, danced on El Cap, and developed solid relationships, tying strong knots with my partners. But in my 16 years of traveling and climbing, those moments were few and far behind. I suspected a stable lifestyle would offer a greater chance at love, or at least some relief from my perpetually single lifestyle.

“I could write an article about dating in the climbing world,” I suggested to my editor. “People love reading about relationships, especially if there’s a prospect of sex.”

She rolled her eyes.

“I know,” I said. “There won’t be, but maybe they’ll stay interested.”

“Maybe you could do a survey of pickup lines,” she said. “Try ‘I work at Climbing magazine,’ ‘I freed El Capitan in a day,’ or ‘I’m a competitive pie baker.’ We need more web content after we go to print at the end of the month.”

With a new assignment, I began procrastinating right away. What would writing about dating accomplish? I worried that I would be labeled a sexist editor at Climbing instead of the sexiest editor at Climbing. I spent the first few weeks bouldering at the gym and then heading upstairs to the hangboard, where I would wait in line with the other weekend warriors. Each time I squeezed by the couple that were always making out on the stairs I felt more than a twinge of jealousy. A guy in rental shoes had more charm with the Boulder ladies than I did. I just frowned and kept walking; I had dead hangs to do.

Boulder intimidated me. It was a far cry from climbing on El Cap, waking up in the desert outside of the VRG, and living a simple life. Boulderites train for the ultimate training day. They wake at 6 am, down a soy-infused wheat grass shot, swim four miles in Boulder Creek—upstream and feet first—then head to their doula class, where they use snorkels to assist in home underwater births. Then they start work by 8:45, because starting on time is starting late. Me…I could barely find my way out of the kombucha aisle at the Pearl St. Whole Foods. I wondered if dating was even realistic.

A friend once told me that there are three things in life: career, relationships, and hobbies. You can have all three at a very marginal level. You can advance slowly with two. If you really want to get good, you can only pursue one. For climbers, whose hobby becomes such a huge part of their lives, many put careers on hold and neglect relationships. That was certainly what I had done for years. With a new job and a continued desire to climb, could I even handle a relationship? I supposed I would worry about that question when and if I got there.

“I put a puppy in my Tinder profile,” Adam, a true ladies’ man, said in the Movement bouldering area. “I get 30 matches a day now. I just posed with one from the animal shelter.”

It seemed cheesy, but maybe Adam was onto something. Dating, like climbing, would be a process of trial and error. You make an effort. You fail. You learn from it. People redpoint relationships, right? I began projecting. I told any girl I talked to that I would be getting a pet. Not one pet but two, or three, or seven. I wasn’t going to get seven cats because that would make me seem crazy. Instead, I would get seven sharks. That would make me bad ass. I asked where I could find sharks around the mountain town. After building confidence with the line on Tinder, I asked a funny, attractive, climber girl.

“Well I’m pretty sure you can get sustainably sourced sharks at Whole Foods next to the kombucha,” she said. “Just stay away from the GMO bull sharks.”

Great, I thought. The kombucha aisle. I’d get lost for sure.

But maybe I was making some headway. At least I was talking to girls. On a Tuesday night, I broke my 10 pm bedtime to see Mija, a hipster DJ with green hair, perform at the Fox Theatre. My roommate Cameron swung his fists from the sky to his knees in a wild mashed potato motion. I popped and glided, pretending I was Turbo, dancing with a broom in the classic 1980s film Breakin. We ran into some girls Cameron knew. I had never met them, but I knew their ex-boyfriends. I felt awkward talking to them. The climbing world is tiny, and dating a friend’s ex is almost inevitable. The incestuous nature of our community has always bothered me. Still, I doubted that I could date a non-climber. Later that night, I flopped into bed, taking a Magnum-sized condom out of my pocket. I sighed. I’d brought an El Cap rack to the sport crag. I would never need that much protection.

At a climbing friend’s karaoke birthday party, I ran into the bathroom and furiously studied the lyrics to Michael Jackson’s Billy Jean. At the bar sat a dozen climber women—intelligent, fit, beautiful women sharing a drink with their equally perfect mates. I saw how narrow my dating pool really was. I’d have to make a serious impression.

I stepped on stage and belted the lyrics, my eyes drifting through the crowd. The climber girl, the one with the witty response, walked through the crowd, parting the sea of people. “Then every head turned with eyes that dreamed of being the one.” My voice cracked, “Who will dance on the floor in the round.”

“One day, you’ll be with one of these girls,” John told me after I stepped off stage. A few years ago, John and I had climbed to Dolt Tower, a thousand feet up the Nose in the middle of the night. We’d watched the sunrise together. Those climbing days seemed distant. In between adventures, he’d married. He and his wife, with the help of a doula, had just had their first baby. His life had changed but he loved his family.

“Yeah,” I said to John. He motioned to four climber women sitting at a table. Three of the girls were married. The witty climber girl downed beer straight from the pitcher. She obviously made poor decisions. I could be another. “….Maybe.”

James “Peaches” Lucas earned his Yosemite handle in 2001 when his friend Coiler recalled the Roald Dahl story, “James and the Giant Peach.”