The Colgate Scene
May 2007

"Passion for the Climb" — it's what exemplifies the spirit of Colgate people. You share a thirst for a life of accomplishment and the will to do things right. In academic, professional, community, and personal endeavors, you relish the effort, the process, the journey, and care deeply about how you lead your lives, as much as you care about reaching the top.

We know there are countless ways in which the "passion for the climb" manifests itself in Colgate alumni, faculty, staff, and students. As the university embarks on its "Passion for the Climb" campaign, we wish to build a collection of these stories.

Our writing tips and guidelines are posted online. Send submissions to: Please put "Passion for the Climb essay" in the subject line and include your daytime phone number and e-mail address. Although electronic submission is preferred, you can also send typed essays, double-spaced, to: "Passion for the Climb" c/o The Colgate Scene; 13 Oak Drive, Hamilton, N.Y. 13346.

We look forward to reading your essay! Every essay we receive will be read and considered for publication. If your essay is selected, we will contact you.

[Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko]

The jump is the result of a split-second decision — a twitch of the muscles to push off, requiring the shutdown of one half of your brain and the screaming of the other. But for that decision, the decision to jump, to exist, I have to make hundreds of decisions first: what board shorts to wear, which rock to jump, what foothold to use. That process of assessment, analysis, decision, action repeated over and over again is the climb.

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All essays in this series

My summers in Sonoma County are filled with climbing: I climb rocks and river banks only to jump head-first back at the green water, I climb into refrigerated 5,000-gallon stainless tanks to sterilize the stink of fermented Cabernet, I climb down to a beach of rough, gray sand from chalky terra cotta bluffs, I climb between barrels stacked five high and three feet apart to pull samples, I climb out of bed with my legs just starting to stick from the heat pushing through the California Oaks outside my window and onto my maroon corduroy comforter.

But climbing up newspaper-gray rocks on the Russian River — curling fingers over layers of stone as water drips from my hair and chin painting Pollock splatters in wet shades of gray — gives me the most to write about. I've tried to write about rock jumping before. But never directly. I always slip it into another essay or story, because I never know how to describe it — the jumping, the falling, the water face-first. There is so much to attempt to describe in the seconds between stone and splash. Those moments are short, choppy, and incoherent.

Alana told me a few weeks ago that an underclassman was talking with one of her professors about doing an honors thesis. Apparently the student said something along the lines of not wanting to do an honors thesis because there is "this guy at the Barge and he's always there and he's always doing his thesis and it really creeps me out." That guy is me. I'm creepy-thesis-obsessed-Barge-guy, and I scare sophomores, apparently. I find this title slightly inappropriate. I trim my beard regularly.

I'm also not the only thesis-obsessed person at our coffee shop in college-town Hamilton, N.Y. Well, right now I am. I'm writing this at my usual table with my headphones on, surrounded by a cup of coffee (black), a plate with crumbs and a muffin paper on it, a half-gone VitaminWater, a stack of papers, some books for my thesis, and I'm typing away furiously at my laptop. The sun is coming through the storefront windows and whitewashing half of my vision above my laptop screen — which looks sort of like a broken barcode because my shaggy hair hangs over my eyes. So maybe I understand why someone would find me creepy.

But it's not just me. There's Alana, Caitlyn, Jeff, and Ryan, and a few others. We hack away at theses and papers. We share pictures, chocolate, and distraction. But most of the time we're silent with each other, any combination of three or four of the regulars (on weekends sometimes all of us) tapping away at our keyboards, flipping pages between sips of coffee.

Some time on April 27 I will turn in my honors thesis. I'll be strung out on caffeine, with bloodshot eyes, my hand twitching while it clasps 60 or so pages. Those 60 pages will represent more than just what I have to say about the cultural criticism of Disney theme parks. It will represent thousands of cups of coffee, 20,000 pages of reading, and hundreds of hours at the Barge, with Alana, Caitlyn, Jeff, and Ryan repeating the process: assessment, analysis, decision, action. Those 60 pages will be, if you'll follow my metaphor, the jump. The twitch to push, to finish, to turn it in. But that twitch is the result of reading, coffee, writing, the Barge — a climb.

I realize, now that I've written this, that the reason I never try to fully describe the jump off those Russian River rocks isn't because the jump is indescribable, or somehow transcends language. It's because I don't want to write about the jump. I want to write about what matters — I want to write about the climb.

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