Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Zen and the art of getting older in the CouchSurfing-Sphere

Act I: the yak, the tick and the climber

So, two months ago, this 20-year-old dude contacted us on Couchsurfing, asking for information about climbing in our area, "because he's planning a trip with his girlfriend in spring or summer to France and Spain and it would be cool to meet and we can host them and go climbing together and such!". We answered the day after, sending him links and beta (including the fantastic CAFMA webpage, the local online climbing Bible) about the main crags, the stuff to do and to see, our best locations and tips...
one of our latest all-times fav' local crags: the La roche ronde, in Contrac-upon-horses.
The average mail (let's face it: you see the kind of posts we write on this blog, you can imagine the length of an email of ours...) that took a good hour to write: what kind of rock, what kind of climbing, the weather, where to sleep, park and camp, how to make it to other must-climbs of the Pyrenees (Catalunya and Aragón) from here and “Blah blah blah, tell me more, tell more, like do you have a car? A-ha, a-ha, so on. Keep us posted, dude, we can help with logistics and if we're available when you’re around it'll be a pleasure to meet and such...” Two months passed: dude was silent as a trout. So the other day, as I checked our CS mailbox, I wrote to him this two-line message “How’s it going, bro? How’s the plan doing? Take care, etc”. In MY language - which less and less people seem to speak, I reckon - this is a coded message meaning: “Fuck you, man! You ask for info, I provide first class info, you ask for a couch and some climbing fellas, I say okay! Now what’s wrong with you? Is it so fucking hard to answer: “Thanks for your time, I’ll be checking that and I’ll write back soon!”, within -say- a week? Or am I too old-fashioned? Would have taken something like 43 seconds to write that. Well, I am - definitely - too old-fashioned. After sending my coded message, I went back to normal life and then again, it was Oh, so quiet.
the goats take you down to their place near the river ; the trees show you the way and the owls are not what they seem...

The whole thing became hilarious when the dude answered after two days. He wrote this (exact quote): “Hey. Sorry for late text back. I don't yet know what I am going to do. What kind of equipment you have that I could use together with you? :-)"
Excuse-me-I-beg-your-pardon-What-the-fuck-is-wrong-with-the-kindergarten-teachers-on-your-home-planet? Ok, let me get this clear: not only didn’t you answer nor said the magic word (the one with T, h, n, k and s), nor the other magic word (the one with P, l and s), not even one damn sentence in 2 months... But now, while you still don’t know what your plans are, you want to know what climbing gear WE have that you’ll have a chance to use when you’re around? What for? To save on checking-in your luggage? Or because your car is too small for a rope and 15 quickdraws? Or you’re planning a climbing trip but you don’t have your own gear yet? Don’t get me wrong here: we’re okay to share stuff, we’re happy to help and we’re willing to meet visitors and introduce them to our beloved, beautiful Ariège. But “bro”, in my opinion, you gotta serious issue with defining priorities when it comes to dealing with people you don’t know and you intend to get favors from... The climbing gear is not only a matter of sharing and being generous, it is also a pretty damn fucking bloody matter of SAFETY and it’s your life insurance when you’re climbing. How come the first thing you want to know about us is how much life-saving gear you can borrow from us?

the long way up to one of the best kept secret crags and the buccolique pure and fresh petite spring along the trail...
Picture the scene: “Maan, I wanna go fishing from your place. You gotta boat? Got fishing rods? Can I borrow your worms? You provide sandwiches for me lunch? What about your wife? Think she can row upstream?” So, I personally know I sure wouldn’t rely on an absolute stranger’s gear to lead climb a route. Plus, what's gonna happen after the dude stopped at our place? He is going climbing with somebody else’s gear in Rodellar? Then with another one’s in Montserrat? Terradets? Margalef? Couchsurfing: making the world a better place, one belay device at a time! Now, that’s a hell of a badass climbing trip: a promiscuous climbing-gear party! If we’re lucky, broda freeloady will do the same with our CS toothbrushes (the ones in the bathrooms, not the ones to cleans the holds)... Look, I know, I know! Been there before: when you depend on people’s generosity, things can get complicated, really. No need to send you (re)watch Dogville to make my point.

the yaks (dris) the butter allegedly came from (pic courtesy of us, 2007).
(like this time in Ladakh when a yak shepherd invited me and friend Ber' for tea and - great treasure, priceless treat! - put a little bit of rancid yak butter (actually, yak's cows are called dris) he kept on his heart in a tiny metal box under his shirt, right in our cups. The dense flavor of the extremely sour, (halfway-to-rotten) clotted yak cream haunted me for days. There’s still a hole in my stomach where it landed: some sort of a meteor crater-looking fibrous scar. I obviously tried hard not to let my whole body shout out loud "disgusting!” in silent non-verbal language, but I might have failed. And I probably offended a couple of other Ladakhi people later on when I politely refused their dri butter in tea...)

It's true: you can't always decide beforehand your degree of involvement in adventures whose level of unaddressed risk is higher than you generally would accept. I’ve done hitch-hiking every now and then. And some drivers who gave me a lift scared the crap out of me, true story! Like I thought I would never get off the car alive. And was lucky to, believe me... I’ve seen guys at the climbing gym or at a crag clipping all quickdraws backwards, abseiling down without a back-up friction hitch, not tying the handy fisherman at the other end of their rope and so on... I’ve even gently mounted an ATC onto the rope slack between a climber (on a overhang 10 meters high at that moment) and his dreadful belayer who used the grigri upside-down: would he have fallen, the slack and improper use of the grigri would have taken him to the ground at about 100% of probability. Ended up belaying the climber safely while he went all the way up to the anchor, then down to the ground in one piece, telling the belayer why they should always double check their safety settings before climbing and why they should consider taking a 2 hour climbing course...

hitch-hiking Quebec: I wouldn't give that Me a lift! (pic courtesy of us, 2010)
Either through CSing or just in real life, I’ve used some strangers’ microwaves or teapots that almost killed me. Needless to mention those bikes I borrowed which had no brakes at all (no Kim, as far as I remember, yours worked just fine and I never thought my life was in danger: thanks for that!)...

So yes, to get to the point quickly: I can take you to the crag in my car, fair enough. You can sleep on my couch, eat my food, use my wifi, use my bathroom and pat my cat: be my guest! You can use my tips and check my climbing books, you’re welcome! And of course, we can climb together and you can use my rope and draws, fellow climber! But:

Is that really the whole point of Couchsurfing?
Saving YOUR money at MY expenses?
Is that about YOU using others’ stuff like a hungry tick landing on a dog after too long a winter?
Is the concept of sharing THAT fucked already? Do you only care about how cheaper you trip is gonna be thanks to random strangers?

Sadly, this is only one of several similar CS experiences we’ve had in the past few years, with some equally young and cool, easy-going CSers whose mission is to “live life to the fullest, wooo!”. And it’s - somehow - disappointing. Yeah, I know what you must be thinking by now: I’m an old fart and I’m not as cool as I used to be. And obviously, this is not the community, nor human kind. It's two individuals and their circumstances. I know! Nevermind... I’ll be outline for a while now, on a long walk in the woods, mumbling the Dharma bums’ mantra again and again until my mind is at peace: “CouchSurfer #247, equally empty, equally lovable, equally a coming Buddha; CouchSurfer #248, equally empty, equally lovable, equally a coming Buddha; CouchSurfer #249, equally empty, equally lovable, equally a coming Buddha; CouchSurfer #250, equally empty, equally lovable, equally a coming Buddha”...


Act II: the re-return (to sender)

The Roche ronde, with its je-ne-sais-quoi of Piccolo Dain...
After several readings of his message about not knowing what he'd do, not acknowledging anything he received and asking to borrow OUR gear, I tried to calm down. It generally takes nothing but time. I then answered, as politely and sincerely as I could, in order to transmit the general ideas expressed above: about answering, even with three words, about getting his shit together and knowing what he wanted instead of asking for things with no apparent consciousness of anything nor anyone but himself and such. All this, without any sarcasm, harsh judgement nor wtf? reaction, and concluding with an enthusiastic "and let us know when you got clearer plans as we'll be happy to meet and help anyway!". I may have dropped a little irony here and there, though. Interestingly enough, what the dude didn't bother doing in 2 months (answering a damn email!), took him less than 15 minutes this time:

"I feel quite bad that you think this wayBut probably you're right.
You just took things so serious.
I don't know my plans yet.
I'd have contacted you in the future and told you how, when...
I just don't even know what to say now.
I'm sorry. I feel real bad. But yeah okay.
P.S: I'm not the person who feels awkward.
Probably we just look to things different."

Wallis om fire and on the tips of the feet!
So, yes, the conclusion is: he feels sorry BECAUSE I think this way. Not because he behaved like an a-hole! And I took things so serious. What does that even mean? That I should have assumed he was asking for tips just to make me waste my time? That he usually contacts random people on CS to ask for things, as a hobby? That I should have gone on being the enthusiastic idiot who accepts everything and is cool with anything, instead of being honest and putting a limit to his pointless asking? Well, dude here is just not acknowledging at all what is at stake: his asking and asking and asking for more instead of putting in even one single thing! No kind words, no interest whatsoever, no plans, no good vibe... Just asking for his damn vague interest. Then, finally, comes the hilarious PS: I'm not the person who feels awkward. (!!!!) Well, you definitely are the person who SHOULD feel awkward, sweet heart! Like the problem is mine? To conclude on a tolerant and empathetic note, he added we probably looked at things differently. Yeah, so you're also implying that I am being disrespectful of YOUR culture by asking for any basic sign of a little bit of education? Like I should have felt honored to even receive your email in the first place?

Progressively, I started to remember situations and understand how the same kind of subjective, selective perception of things, brought us to conflicts. I mean, I sure enough just re-invented warm water*, but I understood something. I'm sorry I made him feel bad and I reckon it was not a big deal for me, I just felt pissed and said it. But it's not gonna be a big deal for him either. He'll survive it, he'll live long and prosper. But what if we both learnt something? He decided to ignore giving me any news nor feedbacks about my first message, stuffed with positive feelings, enthusiasm, good will and a decent pile of tips and ideas... He chose not to acknowledge it for over 2 months. My second message, nevertheless, much shorter but expressing reproaches and sharing negative feelings, was read and answered to in about 10 minutes! How amazing is that?

steeper than it seems? yes, indeed...
The relative weight and consequent response we - unconsciously I hope and want to believe - decide to give to a negative stimulus, seem to be much heavier than that we tend to give to a positive one. Not as a rule, but probably at some moments or in some states of mood, of tiredness, of stress, while experiencing anger or frustration and such. So, that would be my own little re-invention of warm water over these last few days, and an exercise for next few weeks: to focus on reacting and giving feedback to more positive stimuli than negative ones. And definitely, yes: the dude and I sure enough look to things different. Maybe even, let's say it's cultural. Or maybe, possibly, he's 20 years old and I probably was somewhere close to being like that seventeen years ago (holy crap, seventeen years ago!). But it's not a tragic thing and it's certainly not "too serious": it's an opportunity for us to grow as we go through life! Meeting people who look to things different, hearing them and sharing points of view is a gift. I was not angry, I merely expressed myself and I'm happy I did: I learned something and he might have learned something too... I may have used "a-hole" at some point in this article, though. But I never said it to him and don't actually think he is. It was more of a comic resource than judgmental. I just believe he's young, not very aware of how his decisions and attitude impact others... Needless to say he never ever answered that last message I sent back, with an excerpt of my recent paper on "the selective response to negative stimuli, the mood-loop feedback and their consequences on social interactions in human societies at large: an introduction" (it's supposed to be a joke along the warm water thread, second-degree, ha ha! and "joke along the warn water" dangerously sounds like something Jimi sang. My dear Nico B., this one is for you!). And how we should all focus more on what's good than on what's bad, everyday of our lives, in order to eventually generate a better, healthier mental and emotional environment for all of us, fragile beings, to move around and strive into...

next time you fail to onsight a route, take the opportunity to witness how amazing the view is from just below the crux...


* I'd be thankful if somebody could tell me the proper saying for that in English: a kind of self-derision when you suddenly realize something that has probably been around for ages but is an absolute revelation for you at that moment. Literally speaking: "a small step for man kind, a giant leap for me!". We also call that "to re-invent the wheel" and I could look for it myself, but it's more fun to have somebody telling it to me. And no, it's not laziness...


  1. *Reinventing the wheel is the correct one so you were right there.

    1. thanks Mr. U.!
      indeed, the answer couldn't come but from a wheel expert.. ;)
      take care xx