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BY Shingo Ohkawa
This year’s RRGCC Rocktoberfest proved the crescendo to an already emotionally-charged week. Ahead of my annual visit to Kentucky’s Red River Gorge to teach traditional climbing at the weekend event on behalf of SCARPA, I’d spent the week with my folks in Pittsburgh, PA for the first time in nearly a decade.
A task to help clear out their basement was, to say-the-least, a daunting one. For hours, alone, I sorted through the various eras of my past, and was reminded of a time when climbing played a much smaller role in my life. It’s hard to believe that something so utterly encompassing, to which I’ve devoted the better part of my adult life, was once a mere afterthought. As I slowly segregated each memento into three piles, the trash pile, the keep, the donate, I was overcome with feelings of nostalgia, but also with joy at the climbing life I had chosen to follow.
With a pensive heart, I drove south through West Virginia, then Kentucky, toward Slade, arriving to the Rocktoberfest venue that Friday afternoon. I was instantly greeted by old friends and so many familiar faces, all of whom I would have never met nor have grown to know and to love, had I pursued a different life. The following morning, I met with my clinic’s participants; we were eight in all, six participants plus my assigned assistant, Mary Grace. Despite our wildly disparate beginnings, the eight of us discovered that our shared passion for this one thing had brought together and united this motley group.
For some, our brief encounter at the Red, cramming as much of the craft as I could in our progressive clinic, was just the beginning. How I wonder where it’ll take them, who they’ll meet along their respective ways and how it’ll change, fundamentally, who they’ll become and how they’ll view the world. For others, like Mary Grace, who’d already committed to the climbing lifestyle, I ponder how her experiences will uniquely alter and distinguish her path as compared with mine. Will her adventures lead her to some shared understanding, as if we’ll arrive to a similar place in life but via different routes?
Finally, I see all the different “versions” of myself I’ve lived until now. How I was absolutely convinced that I would never waver from certain goals, and how interesting it is that, I’ve travelled entirely divergent trajectories to arrive, right here and now. Climbing has the potential to affect each one of us. Looking back on a life shaped by climbing, I now, through opportunities to teach at events like Rocktoberfest, look forward to the knowing how my small, and fleeting contribution might have influenced others to explore their lives in ways we could never have foreseen.