Thursday, November 28, 2013

Highline Free Solo (free soloist mindset, that is to say about motivation, preparation and the way)

Lately I posted two full interviews about free soloing featuring Andy Lewis (click HERE) and Jordan Tybon (click HERE). Together with my my part it was going to be featured in a new "Slackline Corner" section in "GÓRY climbing magazine". The main editor after reading the material gave me a call. It was a good news. The full interviews together with the pics will be published on 4 to 6 pages and probably the picture on a cover will promote the article. I am pretty psyched about it and keep my fingers crossed that everything works out. Down below you can find my take on free soloing and the story how I got into it. Sometimes in the nearest future I will also publish interviews with Faith Dickey, Michael Kemeter, Petr Kučera and Spencer Seabrooke.

"I took my first steps on a highline back in 2006. I walked my first line during first slackline competition 'Slackline Masters' organized in Sokoliki Mountains. I remember on the way to this event my imagination was kindled by the thought of trying first highline in Poland ever. I was trying to convince myself that I am capable. I calmed myself down; 'Yet, in the end I am a climber so the high is nothing new', 'I am pretty skilled slackliner and every piece of equipment on a highline is doubled'. But as soon as I tied in and set on that short line strung between two peaks, all of these rational arguments were erased and instantly replaced by incapacitating irrational fear and the will to escape.

Sending my first highline in Sokoliki back in 2006

I was lucky enough to send this line first try. I named it 'Little Boy'. I remember exactly how I felt after sending it and this memory is still quite vivid. In general I am not a type of a guy, which looses it every time after sending a highline. That day though, I screamed so loud I am pretty sure people heard me in a village down below in the valley. My body kept shivering for the next half an hour powered by adrenaline, complete euphoria and pure happiness. I could not calm myself down. In retrospect I know that achieving my goal, defeating myself and most importantly feeling of relief induced that state of mind. I felt safe again and the fear was washed away when I got to the other side. Though at that time I was free soloing some easy climbs already, the thought of walking a highline leashless was just surreal. I promised myself I would never do it. The feeling of being suspended in space, the impossibility to grab and hold on to something like in case of climbing, lack of self-confidence and control over my body and mind excluded that option.

Full circle, after 6 years of constant adventure free-soloing my first highline (photo by Dominik Kapusta/'Little Boy' 2012)
Free soloing five pitch "Regular Route" up the Upper Cathedral Spire (photo by Jordan Tybon/ Yosemite, 2013)

Next three years passed and slackline managed to take over my life entirely. I gained some experience, walked hundreds of highlines around the world and eventually together with Somewhereelseland made it to Joshua Tree National Park in California. During that trip I realized few important things. I was way more aware of my body and mind reactions. I was also much better highliner then three years ago. The other things changed too. The moment of stepping off the line didn’t bring me the feeling of relief anymore, quite opposite actually. Sending highline from beginning to the other side wasn’t that important to me anymore. What matter was the process of walking the line and being in a space was bringing me most joy now. If only it was possible I would like to stretch this moment indefinitely.

Enjoying the exposure (photo by Lidia/ Ostrov, 2013)
Free-soloing at Mt. Lemmon (photo by Jordan Tybon)

I knew I was missing something and it was a bit hard to admit to myself that something was free solo. Still, during these last three years I was constantly looking for new challenges, moving my boundary of fear. I was sending more exposed highlines, the lines which were on my limit soon became doable in a “swami-belt” and the in an “ankle-leash”. After some thought I knew all these challenges were just the search of that moment I felt after sending my first highline.

Free solo is an ultimate test of you skills. The choice you have to make is identical to the one you had to make before sending your first highline. You can face your fears or escape. That doesn’t change although the intensity of the experience is always the same. There is no trying, no “maybe” or time for uncertainty. Once you step on the line you have to leave that behind you. For potential mistake you will have to pay highest price - with your life.

Swaming "The Shenis" on the Lighthouse Tower (photo by Jordan Tybon/Moab, UT)
"Ankle leash" send on the "In Had to be Snakes", just before soloing (photo by Jordan Tybon/Moab, Fisher Towers, UT)

Naturally I had to answer the question if this is something really worth the risk and contemplate possible repercussions of my own death. I continue to think about it everyday. It cannot be denied, free solo is pretty egoistic activity but so is any extreme sport and to some extend every human being. Believe me when I say I don’t want to hurt my friends and my family by my death. I appreciate every one of them, but if I don’t do it I wouldn’t be truly happy. I think they do understand me at least partially and I try to do the same. It is hard to understand it if you don’t do it yourself. I watch my friends, people I love free soloing and I am scared for them too but I also feel what they feel and I get it.

In terms of height and length, my first free solo was almost identical copy of the line in Sokoliki. As it turned out after sending it was also really similar emotionally. Feeling of pure happiness and euphoria came back. Though this time the form was manifestation of perfection, composure and mastery. I was fully in control of the situation and myself.

My first free-solo "Chongo Gap" Highline (photo by Jordan Tybon/Joshua Tree, CA)
Another freesoloco in J. Tree. Here on the "Hall of Horrors" Highline (photo by Faith Dickey)

Even if tried really hard it is impossible for me to fully describe the free solo state of mind. It is equally difficult to answer to the question “why” in a logical to a normal person way or explain rationally what really drives me.

Free soloing is something special to me. It is almost magical. When I am leashless on the line I feel truly free. I can escape from myself and met my true self, experience primary fear. After every free solo I can’t stop smiling and enjoy every moment of it as a baby.

Nowadays everyone tries to hide under security cover, elongate their lives, don’t do risky and rash moves and invest well in their selves. Personally, for me the moment, when I stand up on the highline completely free, I leave that scheme. For the moment I live fully, I live in a moment. My mind is clear and only present counts. There is no past and no future. I am levitating in the air on the one inch piece of webbing and my fear and meditative calmness melts into one. This feeling and this moment are liberating.

That doesn’t mean I play Russian roulette with death. I also don’t seek the worse, but I am trying to enjoy my life. Free soloing can teach you a lot. I try to apply these lessons in everyday life.

The preparation process as well as free soloing itself is way more complicated then it seems. I’m always trying to choose the best decision and I believe I am aware of the risks around me more then, lets say, a person commuting to work be car every day.

Freesoloco on the industrial line in Hamburg (photo by Jordan Tybon)
Free solo double knee drop (photo Jordan Tybon/Ostrov, CZ)

In decision making process I take into account things like my physical and mental preparation, frame of mind, mood, weather, technical difficulty of the line (to which also consists of many elements). And if I have any doubts I just back off. I can come back any day but I have only one life.

Physical preparation covers training, which is focused on proper technique, endurance and automation of motor skills. It is essential to master catching technique and to sustain 100% effectiveness. For example I didn’t take unexpected leashfall in more then three years now. I like to keep it that way just to build my self-confidence.

Free soloing "Hole Rock" Highline just before dark (photo by Jordan Tybon)
First freesoloco ascent on the "Mongol Invaders" Highline (photo by Jordan Tybon/Castle Crags, CA, USA)

For the mental training you can use any limited protection methods, as well as free soloing it self. As far as creating good training methods focusing on the physical aspects is relatively easy, that is not a case with mental training. Even though I learned quite a lot on my own, I did not understand everything completely and a lot of situations, my own reactions and feelings were complete mystery to myself.

That is why I decided to start cooperation with a sport psychologist Dominika Zapotoczna. I will not reveal detailed exercises or exactly how our cooperation looks like. It would be no use for others because it is highly personalized. What I can say is that it helped me a lot already to better control my emotions, concentration level, use my body in a proper way and introduce appropriate actions long before achieving my goal. Everyday I learn something new about myself.

Mostly it is bunch of work (photo by Jordan Tybon/Castle Crags, CA, USA)
With Dominika Zapotoczna, most positive person I know (photo by Wojtek Kozakiewicz)

I am hoping, by sharing my story and thoughts with you, I made the topic of free soloing a bit more understandable. I wanted to show it is not something irresponsible, reckless or just completely inexplicable. Though I cannot recommend it to anyone because of the high risk. If you want to know if it is something for you or not, you have to find the answer like anybody else, that is in your self."

Peace & SlackOn!

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