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121-Best Advice From A Stranger Ever…

It was my first and only trip to Bloomington, Indiana and my excitement for some adventure surged through my veins, making every conversation a hopeful guide to a beautiful piece of rock, tucked away for the locals.  Bert and I loaded up his gear samples for work, each registered and categorized in his mind (and I’m sure on paper, somewhere), our mountain bikes, and climbing gear of course.  I’d only been a climber for a few years at this memorable slice of history in the tale of Matt, but the craving to explore the vertical world was strong as my craving for chocolate chip cookies, which if you know me well enough—I won’t turn one down.

As Bert used his expert business skills to conversate from a personal to business level with store managers, I eagerly awaited the moment to fire off the big question, “So, are there any places to climb around here?”  The climbing associate fielded my excitement and after a long hesitation, which clearly indicated two possible trains of thought, he gave us his best answer.  But first, allow me to indulge the hesitation—train of thought number one pulls out of the station with “there is a sweet wall tucked away down a 2-track road just off the highway outside of town.  I’d get in trouble for giving you these coordinates, but since you guys are from out of town and you seem pretty awesome, here they are…”  My anxiety likes this train.  It’s full of fuel, has a destination on the schedule and is on time.  All aboard!  Train numero dos is the one that squeals from rusted trucks revolving for the first time in years.  The grease has dried up and there’s a good chance the drivers will seize long before it ever arrives to a station anywhere.  Unfortunately for us, this was the train we were about to board.

“If you pull off the express way at mile marker 189 there are some rocks” came out of the lips of this young sales associate.  He minds as well just spit on the floor, gave me his best western snake eye and said, “You ain’t from round these parts, are ya stranger?”  Instead, we walked away with the best piece of information that he could scrape up and honestly, it ended up being quality enough for Bert and I to joke about twenty years later: “There’s plenty to climb, you just have to use your imagination…”

After taking a quick swim in my pool of mope, I dried myself off and figured he was right.  How imaginative can I be?  Besides, I was on a road trip with my best friend and who was this salesman to tell me there was nothing good to climb?  Turns out, he was right, there was nothing good to climb, so the ropes remained in our bags and we returned home with a bunch of photos of me climbing the campground bathroom walls, chain-link fence, radio towers, trees, poles, playgrounds and whatever else my imagination could cook up!

Fast-forward through the early 2000’s, past the teens, taking a slight pause for COVID when climbers everywhere were scaling their kitchen cabinets, and creeping across their basement ceilings with ice climbing tools… imaginative I say.  Moving on into post-pandemic living and up to two weeks ago—this is where you’ll find me and my wife teaching our kids how to use their imaginations.  It was slightly above freezing and our first real snow settled into the grass the night before.  It was bouldering time.  The sun was shining while we pulled on our climbing shoes and took turns climbing our new found bouldering wall near downtown Flint.  Not the best holds or highest wall.  The features are not customized to mimic El Capitan, nor were there taped routes to point a new climber where to go, but it was rock and it was climbing.  What really mattered was the company.  The real secret to a quality and memorable climbing session is not the rock or how you perform on that rock, it’s the people that you are taking in the experience with… and using a little imagination.

Bert, thank you for being a great friend, adventuring with me on rivers, lakes, trails and mountains.  Beside knowing Jesus, it’s quality friends that make our life full and memorable.


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