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Us and Them: Living Life Unconventionally

Submitted by theclimbergirl on 2009-01-19

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by Sara Lingafelter

By Sara Lingafelter

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A tribute to my biceps
Kari H.
A tribute to my biceps. Photo: Kari H.

My non-climber supervisor at one of my jobs has become a friend. Paul lives in a house, has a beautiful and successful wife, two fancy cars, and two amazing daughters. He works full time for a state agency, in a salaried job. I'd assume he has health insurance, and retirement. He's living The American Dream.

Paul listens with a kind of morbid curiosity when I talk about my life. Fairly early on, when I was talking about living basically out of my car for a couple of months (and loving it)(in retrospect, perhaps something I shouldn't talk about with co-workers) he looked at me incredulously and asked, "What happened to you to make you like this?"

Then, last Friday, we were grabbing a cup of coffee and catching up... he gave one of my biceps a squeeze and commented that he's only looking out for me, but that "this" has got to stop. That there's a fine line between "fun" and "weird," and I may be getting awfully close to that line. And if I'm interested in dating boys, I should probably not get a whole lot more muscly.

Now, reading that, your hackles might be -- calm down. He's really, truly, looking out for me, in his way. Not to mention, I had it under control. I shot back that I wouldn't be interested in boys who don't like my muscles... and that I like boys, but I like climbing more. Thanks very much for your concern.

It went on... I told him that I've embraced the label "unconventional," and he revised, after a while, from "weird" to "eccentric."

"Eccentric sounds an awful lot like crazy," I observed.

He clarified, "No, eccentric is crazy with money."

"Well, then you'll have to call me crazy," I responded.

At another point during the day, while discussing the not-set-in-stone-nature of my continued employment, he started to reassure me that everything's going to work out. As if I was... you know... scared. I shrugged, and said, "Paul - I'm not a thousand feet off the deck without a rope... this is nothing."

As so eloquently observed by my buddy, Trevor, "There's nothing like not dying on a climb to make you feel good." A little job security stress? Meh. I'll land butter side up.

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Northwest Profile # 60, Blue Tarp Camper
Sara Lingafelter
Northwest Profile #60, Blue Tarp Camper. Photo: Sara Lingafelter

I'm not the only one. We all maintain relationships with friends and family who aren't like us. People whose universe doesn't involve the stress of dropping your entire 'biner of nuts from three pitches up a six pitch climb. People who haven't found themselves sleeping under the stars soaking wet in a sudden downpour thinking "thank goodness I'm in my synthetic bag instead of down." People who sleep inside 365 days a year and have never driven through the night. Whose hands don't sweat when they see a picture of a big rock with a crack in it. And, who don't routinely trust their and a partner's life to their collective judgment, skill, equipment, experience, and creativity.

So - here's a handy little checklist to see where you fall on the "us" and "them" scale. And by the way, if you're a climber who identifies with more items in the "them" category, I envy you. You've achieved the kind of climbing/life balance that I have yet to experience.

The Gym

: A good day in the gym is 30 minutes on the elliptical and a water aerobics class.

Us: A good day in the gym is getting there when they open the doors at 10am, and leaving when you can't hold a pencil at 7pm, complete with consuming at least two meals and a couple hundred calories in snacks without leaving the building. An even better day at the "gym" is a day spent at the local crag.


Them: Hit Nordstrom, pick up a jacket, handbag, and a pair of shoes for $700. Get caught in a rainstorm, wish you had an umbrella.

Us: Hit REI, pick up a jacket, pack, and a pair of shoes for $700. Get caught in a rainstorm. Think how thankful you are for you and your belongings to be encased in Goretex.

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Home, at Red Rock, NV
Sara Lingafelter
Home, at Red Rock, NV. Photo: Sara Lingafelter


Them: Shower daily, with five different types of cleansers and conditioners; blow dry hair; and put on clean clothes.

Us: If you get to wash your hands in a sink before putting in your contact lenses, it's a banner day. Hair isn't any more dirty after 14 days than after 5 days so why bother. You can't wash it in the morning 'cause your partner's ready to rock and roll on the first pitch of the day; can't wash it at night because (1) you're too exhausted to heat water on the fire; and (2) who wants to go to bed in 20 degree weather with a wet head? Check clothes for blood stains before putting on, and decide, eh, a little blood isn't that big a deal. People who negative scan need to find a hobby.


Them: Have never pooped outside. Ever.

Us: Have to consciously remind ourselves during your first walk in the park after a climbing trip that you must find a sani-can or bathroom when you've gotta go, instead of just dropping trou 250 feet from the nearest waterway.


Them: Something to drive to and from work and the mall.

Us: Something that must be capable of being lived in comfortably, ideally for you and a smelly, unshowered, non-romantic partner.

A Luxurious Overnight

Them: A night in a fancy hotel, with room service, a King size bed, high thread-count cotton sheets, a white bathrobe, a big bathtub, the finest in little sample soaps and such, and a view of the water.

Us: Sleeping under a roof, in a bed, after a meal that wasn't cold, with a view of some beautiful rock.

A Rustic Overnight

Them: A night of car-camping, complete with four-inch air mattress, 6-person tent, cooler full of everything previously in their fridge, and pillows off the bed at home.

Us: You and a partner, stuck on a route somewhere in the dark, with a burned-out headlamp, and whatever you've got (1) on; and (2) in your summit pack (or packs, if you're lucky).


Them: The reason for going to work in the morning... the biggest single expense, and biggest single investment they have. The place they sleep, eat, dress, bathe, watch television, and spend time with their families.

Us: Wherever our gear is.


Them: The place they go from nine to five during the week, which makes them tired and stressed out.

Us: The place we go in between climbing, to rest, relax, and let our wounds heal.


Them: Farting in the office.

Us: Accidentally peeing on your climbing partner at a hanging belay.


Them: A long drive is going to visit the in-laws in the next city over.

Us: A long drive is one that involves seeing a sunrise, a sunset, and another sunrise.


Them: Fresh poached salmon with hollandaise sauce, spring vegetable risotto on the side, with steamed asparagus and a glass of Chardonnay. Total number of implements used to prepare, serve and eat: 23.

Us: Calories. Total number of implements used to prepare, serve and eat: Do fingers count as one, or ten?

The Meaning of the Word "Partner"

Them: Uncle Steve's "friend" Mark.

Us: The person you sleep with, travel with, eat meals with, play outside with, share gear with, and trust with your life, but who you'd never think of kissing. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

So, there you have it. You're not alone. There are many of us "weird," unconventional people out there. Or, maybe I'm just weird by virtue of being, and spending so much time around, other unconventional people and not around enough "normal" ones.

I've lived both lives -- more conventionally, and now, less conventionally. I wouldn't change the way I live for anything. I guess I just need to remember to be more discreet about the way I live when talking with "Them," since I don't want some well-meaning friend to report me to Adult Protective Services for being unclean, underfed, and sleeping in my car.

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4 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

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Haha, nice article. The "them" life is so boooring, much better to be dirty and bloody on some rock face.
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And, how ironic that I was on a road trip with no connectivity when this hit Awesomeness. The weather in J-tree was stunning last weekend, btw... :)
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5 out of 5 stars Your article was hilarious! "They" most definitely don't understand "us".

I can relate to the strong arms thing, and I agree, I sometimes like men, and only like those that like my muscular arms : )
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I really enjoyed this article. Over the years i've climbed i've noticed the separation between the "Us" and "Them" and the "Us" lifestyle is so much more fulfilling.

I think it's funny when people ask me (who lives in wisconsin) "what are you doing this weekend?" and i reply- "i'm going to Kentucky to climb with some friends." They usually looked confused or amazed that i'd go allll the way to kentucky for a weekend trip, but it's normal to me.

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