The light wind blew across the hilltop on an unseasonably warm winter's day in New York. Warmer than usual, sure, when compared to the normal deep winter on the East Coast—but that light wind made up for it, leaving perfect conditions behind. I'd had a break from climbing; an injury, a new job and a love of surfing had kept me away. I was back now and out on real rock for the first time in a while and it felt good.
As I moved through a moderate circuit memories came flooding back to me. Flashes of sessions of old—of Font, Albarracin, the gritstone on England, the wind in the trees, the stillness of nature, the support from friends. I paused, wondering what triggered this flashback cascade and a smile of realization ran across my face: The rock. There's something in the feeling of moving over rock that brings the sport alive, something those who only climb in gyms will never feel or know. The feeling of the friction, of pulling just enough on hold to move across it, of trusting a smear. The feeling of a cloud moving in front of the sun, the temperature dropping and a previously impossible move working as the friction kicks in.
As we walked back to the car I dropped behind the others. The path wound its way back across the hilltop, now empty of people. As I crossed a stream I paused to take in the sounds of nature, purposefully storing another memory. It struck me that an hour from that silence was the greatest city on earth, full of gyms and people pulling on plastic.
If only they knew.