Interview with rock climber and writer Travis Skrine.

12 Oct


So much of your life in recent years has been spent quite literally in open places, in the wild, climbing. Can you describe that special relationship you have with nature and various kinds of rock? And do you think the urge to balance freedom and control is something everyone “has,” and at some level either struggles with or embraces, or is it something that surfaces only for a certain tribe of us?


To be human in 2014 is the most bizarre and beautiful existence I have ever known. The amount of stimulus, options and distractions that I choose to ignore or indulge on a daily basis is a trip and a half. We have done some pretty remarkable things as a species, but the tranquility and vastness that this planet harbors in the natural world is unparalleled to anything we could physically create. The complex imagery and layers of color painting the desert sky in anticipation for the setting of the sun needs no explaining. It is simply perceived and without effort, energetically tuning the accompanying environment. Something much bigger than any of us, and on display for what seems time itself.

One of the things I appreciate most about Mother Nature is her confidence and tenacity. She doesn’t ask questions. Does not consult with anybody or anything. She just is, just does. I love how we are an after thought to it all. For so long, I believed this was all here for us.

To strip away our worldly distractions and surrender to something as powerful as the mountains, or as magnificent as the ocean is blue, simplifies things for me. Throw climbing into the mix… forget about it. It is a selfish and seemingly pointless pursuit at times with polar extremes, but a beautiful one undoubtedly.

It is scary how easy it can be to tune out my intuition at times, and look to logic to make a decision. It’s like folding up the personal road map to my highest calling, shoving into the glove box, and using a GPS to do the navigating. When I find myself in a rhythm with climbing, or travel in general, tuning into my intuition seems much more natural. The flow is almost animalistic, and what is relevant in the moment is rather primal. Climbing has become one of my greatest teachers and is the strongest form of meditation I have come across. It is so much bigger than the act itself and facilitates space for internal yin and yang to exist in harmony.

The desire to balance freedom and control has been one of the dominant themes of my young adult life. Finding balance may be a much deeper pursuit than I will ever understand. My biggest fear is committing/ investing in something that I will regret at the end of it all. Fear that my life will not have amounted to the potential allotted to me. That kind of fear is the burden of mortality. In pursuing freedom I have become a prisoner, living in fear of being trapped and confined to my own poor choices. It is an ironic predicament to have. But, I see that in order for me to embody the divine masculine the way I would like, pursuing my heart’s desires and making a stand to accomplish my goals is the only way to move forth. I have begun putting out the things I am looking to call in, and finding a healthy balance between freedom and control is the current task at hand. It may take many lifetimes, but the work has intentionally begun.



Do you find your style evolving as you continue to climb, or do you find yourself continuing to explore and perfect surfaces and tactics, with all their depths and complexity?


Training is a big part of the experience for me. To bear witness to my weaknesses and train specific movement accordingly is something I really enjoy. To put in the work, apply it, and reflect over a cold one with my buds is like cashing a paycheck at the end of a long week with a bonus on top. To push past physical limitation and break through what once felt impossible teaches us so much about ourselves and what we are capable of. The feeling of being completely worked on route, yet continuing to climb, is one of those life experiences that changes things. I am going to try and paint a picture of what I am talking about, but cannot promise it will make any sense.

Ok. You are currently in the Red River gorge in Eastern Kentucky, climbing on some of the steepest and most beautiful sandstone known to man. You have done sixty or seventy feet of challenging climbing out a negative 30-degree ampitheatre. You have invested a good chunk of time and energy on this particular route, so falling isn’t really on your list of things to do. You are on the last rest hold (a hold large enough to shake out the pump, get your heartbeat down and contemplate life for a moment) as far as you can see, and you know that the meat of the route is before you. It is do or die time, and doing is what you came to do. Your breath, technique, endurance, and ability to read rock are now your biggest allies. You take one more shake, one more deep breath, and work up the courage to leave the rest hold and enter into the beast’s chambers. (Hardest section of the climb, aka the “crux”. Aka Giddy Up!) A few moves into the crux, everything seems cool. You might even still be smiling. You are still breathing, pump is at bay, and you make one more move. Before you know it, your vision slowly begins to shrink. Two more moves, and you are almost blind from trying so hard. All you can hear is your heartbeat, the voice in your head telling you that you are f’d in the a, and the fear/psyche/try-hard screams purging from your suck hole. And while your senses and brain start to shut down temporarily, your forearms are on the brink of exploding from a lactic acid overdose. But then, somehow, when all hope seems lost, this ounce of reserved energy kicks in, and you slap something and manage to stick. Much to your surprise, you did not just take a thirty-foot fall into the air. No. You, my friend, are still rock climbing! And your mind is definitely blown! Your buddy belaying is shouting up nonsensical profanity, but all you really hear is the sound of nothing.

Your brain and body have no clue WTF just happened. It takes a second to come back to your breath, to your body. You rest for a moment and think to yourself, “Keep your shit together and climb smart. You never want to have to do that again.” Adrenaline is a hell of a drug, and the potency of a release like that keeps you coming back for more. Most of the time I fall in that situation, but the times that I have persevered is as good as it gets. Doesn’t matter if it’s a 5.10 or a 5.14… it is all about pushing yourself in a way you didn’t know you could.




Do you have a process for approaching a new climb? Do you tend to plan in a formal way, or do you just climb?


My motives are generally driven by aesthetics. It’s the lines and features that are just out there, waiting for us to climb. Those times spent face to face with an ancient, raven black water streak, for example. Dry only a few months of the year with just enough holds to make it go… it’s electric! Gold at the tips of your extremities is so special; it’s hard to do anything but laugh at how perfect it is.

Early spring, I was conversing with one of my best friends and climbing partner, Dyl. We were discussing the desire to progress and why and what exactly is the underlying motivation. The biggest reason ended up being quite simple. It is to be equipped with enough experience and confidence to show up at any crag on earth and choose the line or lines that inspire. To be capable enough to play on anything, no strings attached. Simply for the joy and pursuit of inspiration. Whether it is the easiest or most difficult in the area, having the key to that kind of castle is the dream. Not to mention, it is the most fun you can have with or without clothes on. Damn right I want to keep pushing it. It seems to keep getting more and more fun as it gets more difficult, too. I will never be a professional climber. That is not and never will be the goal. The goal is to find my personal limit, break through it, and keep on truckin’.


What is your current project?


My current project is rehabbing my shoulder back to health. Strengthening the complexity of the shoulder is turning out to be a much bigger project than I had anticipated. It is difficult enough to continue progressing at anything in life, let alone doing it in a way that keeps us free from injury physically or spiritually. It goes back to the balance thing, and clearly I was not balancing my practice well enough. Rest is huge, and I straight up suck at resting. It has helped me understand that I am not going to rush the healing process so that I can climb next week. The goal is to be able to do this, among other things, for the rest of my life, and I pray that it will all work out.


When did you first know that you wanted to climb?


I was twenty years old and viewing the world with a fresh perspective after a summer dirt bagging through Europe. I have never felt more American than the way I felt at the tail end of that trip. I knew I needed to see the U.S. and decided Colorado would be destination numero uno. I ended up couchsurfing in Boulder, and walked into a door that literally changed my life.

Tired and wrecked from the twenty-four hour push, I ended up staying in and watching a climbing video that the cat hosting me had. I watched it twice and would have watched it again had I not been in zombie territory from sleep deprivation. I returned to Michigan a few weeks later and spent the next six months exercising and dieting to prepare myself to try this climbing thing. I knew that whether or not climbing was for me, I was in a very unhealthy spot in my life, and climbing was the motivation that inspired change. It was the catalyst for freeing myself from the dark existence I fell into around that time in life. I took the trip to Colorado initially to experience the mountains. I could have never predicted what experiencing the mountains would turn into.


Who are you reading right now?


I am currently reading as much literature on anatomy, nutrition and types of healing that I can get my hands on. I am moving to Kauai in December to begin studying at the Pacific Center for Awareness and Bodywork. I have been using my shoulder to experiment with different forms of healing, and it has been motivating me to learn. Life is funny like that. It seems like the onset of this shoulder injury could not have come at a more perfect time. It has been a good reflection for me, solidifying my desire to explore the healing arts. I may not practice massage or body work, but I am committing to something outside of climbing and am psyched about allowing myself a step in that direction.


Which writers and genres inspire you?


Kerouac, Palahniuk, Castaneda, Vonnegut, Conor Oberst, Black Thought. I thoroughly enjoy tales of those riding the coat tails of societal taboos. Mystical journeys. Personal confessions of the darkest, grittiest nooks of the human experience that only exist collectively. Gypsies. The warrior path. Organized Chaos. I really enjoy hearing others’ interpretations of what we are doing here. How others spend their time. How they process. I am a big fan of abstract styles. Tangents. Dribble. It kind of helps me feel a bit less crazy because my thoughts and writing style tend to follow a similar format.


You also write, or have written, amazing creative work. Where do you find the intersections between that work and your climbing, if you draw connections or lines? Is there significant bleed-through? Does one feed the other?


Writing has been my go-to tool for processing my overall experience for as long as I can remember. I recently separated from my partner and have been doing a lot of internal work on paper. Getting my thoughts out in a healthy way has been very medicinal. I keep a journal to keep tabs on how I am spending my time and the potential to use it for reflection. Even though I may never go back through and read my journals, knowing that these precious moments were documented adds weight to the experience. As if by capturing time, I never have to let go of it. I can take it with me forever like a photo album or souvenir from the Grand Canyon. It’s kind of weird, like this squirrel mentality to hoard and collect. But, for whatever reason, collecting moments on paper has seemed like a good idea to me over the years. I just pray if I ever have kids, they never find them.

Since I have been out of school, I don’t believe much, if any, of my writing has ventured more than ten feet or so from the top pocket of my pack. The writing I do share, oddly enough, is poetry and rap. I have this dream of rapping with a live jazz band. Bold horn section, epic percussion, and the smoothest piano player out there. My style is strongly influenced by my connection to spirit and the natural world. It is not your typical rap… there is nothing “cool” about it. I just have a blast doing it. Freestyling and messing around has been a part of who I am since the fourth grade. My friend Mark and I had a rap group, and it is something that’s been following me ever since.


So I have to ask this question of everyone, but given your work, maybe especially you. If you could become a different animal, which animal would you be? And why?


If I could be anything other than human, I would be a bird of prey. Osprey, eagle, hawk… I would be pretty open to the idea actually. Watching a bird jet through the sky is something else. Effortlessly cruising, incredibly aware and truly free from everything but the moment.
I spent the last couple years living and working on farms in southern Oregon, and it gets HOT there in the summer. One day I was seeking shade and sat down with my friend/teacher to share some conversation and tobacco. Right in front of us an osprey came flying out of the sky, full speed. She grabbed a bass from the pond and flew off into the forest above the valley. I remember looking over at my friend’s face and being at a loss for words. There is nothing ordinary about flight. It was like a spell had been lifted, and whatever conditioning I had to witnessing flight prior was broken. Honestly, it was one of the coolest things I had ever seen and down right humbling.

Truly though, I love being a human. I feel so damn blessed to have been born with all of my fingers and toes. My eyes work pretty well, my hearing is ok, and all of my organs function. I have had a lot of love and teachings in this life and pray to spirit every day with gratitude. It’s a wild existence being human, but the greatest life I have ever known.




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