We had the honor of learning more about nature dork and 5.13 crusher Erica Lineberry. Our excitement about her is electric! Erica opens up about creating her extraordinary life, the balance of motherhood and training, and even lets us in on her secrets for camping and cragging with little ones.
MAMAS, MEET ERICA
How did your childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood lead you to the decisions you have made as an athlete, wife, and mother? You live an extraordinary life. How did you get here?
I have always loved to be outside exploring nature, and I have always been a self-proclaimed “nature dork”. As a little girl, I would explore the woods and fields around our house in North Carolina, armed with my field guides and butterfly net. Neither of my parents were into camping, hiking, or skiing, but I was able to experience all of those things through my church’s youth group. Once I left home and went off to college, I looked for like-minded people to share everyday adventures with. My husband was an avid snowboarder, and pre-kids he and I took regular trips out west to ski/ride. Once we discovered climbing, however, we put our ski gear in the attic… until this year! (We have decided this is the year to teach the kiddos to ski, and are taking advantage of our local ski hill’s homeschool program this winter!)
Where is here? Where is home base?
Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s a great location for climbing. We can access the mountains in two hours or less, and are less than four hours from the New River Gorge in West Virginia. We can make it to the Red River Gorge in Kentucky in seven. Once every two to three years we travel to Wyoming to climb in Ten Sleep Canyon for a couple of weeks.
How did you come upon rock climbing? What was your climbing life like before children?
I believe God dropped rock climbing into my path to free me from the image-obsessed fitness arena that had me in chains. Let me backup. I dealt with an eating disorder during my adolescence and early twenties. Eventually I won the physical battle, but the war left me with mental scars. Because I enjoyed being active (and also because I had an obsession with fitness), my college degree was in exercise/sports science, and with that I became a personal trainer. While I enjoyed helping people lose weight and get healthier, that environment triggered my unhealthy thoughts and compulsions about body image and exercise. After spending a summer doing volunteer work in Nepal, I changed my career path to teaching, which was a LOT more fulfilling and healthy for me. But I was still a slave to my own personal workouts. I stumbled upon climbing when my husband and I were visiting his brother in Montana and he suggested we go to a climbing gym. I was hooked from the moment I walked in. For one thing, it was a lot more FUN than endless reps and sets of weights in the gym. But more importantly, it shifted my focus from how my body looked, to what it could DO. This inspired me to write a blog post titled, “What Can Your Earth Suit Do?” I realized that my earth suit sure could do a lot, if I just listened to it, and trusted it a bit more!
When do you find the time to train while raising young children? When do you find the time to plan your adventures? What does your daily life look like?
Time is at a premium. This means I have to make the time I have really count. My motto has always been to “do the best you can with what you’ve got”. Most of the housework gets done during the daily chaos. Some of it is part of my big kid’s chore list: vacuuming, putting away laundry, wiping down tables. (I’d like to say the rest is done when the kids go to sleep, but it would be more accurate to say that the rest just doesn’t get done. My house is far from pinterest-worthy!) I don’t have a set schedule for housework. I just tackle it as it comes along, but a snapshot might look like this: clean up from breakfast while the kids are brushing teeth, making beds, getting dressed, etc., fold laundry while my son reads out of his phonics book and daughter colors, throw the kids out in the backyard so I can fix lunch, and anything else that MUST get done that day is done during my little kid’s “resting time.” No one in our house naps anymore, but we all “go to our corners” so to speak after lunch to read/play/catch up on everything.
When it comes to training, I have to be efficient. I rarely have more than 1.5 – 2 hours at the climbing gym, so I need to make sure I’m climbing more than socializing. (It can be hard since some days I come in not having spoken to another adult all day!) Thankfully, I have an amazing husband who also climbs (though he’s awesome for far more reasons than climbing). Sharing the same recreational pursuit makes it a lot easier with the kids. With one kid, we would go to the gym as a family, and just take turns on kid duty. With two, that strategy didn’t work for us, so we take turns. On Tuesday, hubby goes to the gym before work and I go to the gym in the afternoon. On Thursdays, I stick with my afternoon slot (during the same time that my big kid has climbing team) and hubby will either go before work again, or after dinner, depending on his schedule.
Planning for trips is actually not that hard, because we have our beta dialed. The first couple of trips in the fall and spring might take a while to pack, but after that it’s on auto-pilot. I can get everything together in about an hour. All climbing and camping gear lives in the garage in a constant state of readiness and the food is pretty much always the same so that’s easy. During prime climbing season, I usually end up folding laundry directly into our clothes bags for the next adventure. We have favorite places to camp at in all of our favorite climbing areas, so lodging logistics don’t take a lot of pre-planning either.
What are some of your go-to family camping meals?
Go to meals… seriously we are not gourmet. After a full day of climbing, hiking, and playing in the woods, I don’t exactly feel like slaving over a camp stove, and the kids are ready to eat ASAP. So the go to meals are simple and fast, and we usually rotate between three different options: Mexican, “fancy pasta”, and hot dogs and macaroni and cheese. For Mexican nights, we bring the fixings for “roll your own tortillas”. The kids prefer beans over meat, and I’ll bring either pre-cooked chicken or beef for hubby and I. Also, an overabundance of chips and guacamole is a must! What we call “fancy pasta” is not really fancy, it’s just the premade raviolis and tortellinis from Trader Joe’s or Costco. We feel fancy when we are eating stuff like “goat cheese and sundried tomato ravioli”, or beef bolognese tortellini. We don’t feel fancy when we are eating hot dogs and boxed mac n cheese, but either way it gets the job done.
Money is a cause of stress for many of us who dream about an alternative lifestyle. Can you talk about how you support your family, how you take time off for your adventures, and anything else you feel comfortable sharing about money management as an adventure seeker?
My husband is blessed to have a steady job that he loves. It pays well enough that we have everything we need and many things we want. He gets paid time off, and has hours that are flexible enough to leave an hour earlier on Fridays if need be. That said, we definitely have to take good care of our finances to adventure the way we want. Most of our adventures are as weekend warriors, which allows us to save hubby’s paid time off for bigger things: holidays, beach week with extended family (that’s a big thing here in the South), and every third year a climbing destination trip for our little family. Most weekends we camp, which is obviously way cheaper than a hotel. On the “travel out west” years, we maximize hubby’s vacation time by flying. This year we are excited to have enough travel points through his work to be able to get two out of our four tickets for free! But honestly, I think the biggest thing that allows us to adventure as often as we do is our everyday spending. We go out to eat on weekends, but during the week, we always eat in. We of course buy our children a few gifts for Christmas and birthdays, but nothing excessive, and we don’t buy very much for them (or ourselves) throughout the year. While we occasionally will go on date nights, it’s usually because there are grandparents in town that will watch the kids for free, and we generally go to the climbing gym! Therefore, money that would have been spent on a babysitter and an expensive dinner can go towards gas money and campsites. A weekend of family adventure in exchange of a date night out seems like a pretty good trade!
Achieving goals takes discipline. Can you talk about what discipline looks like in your life?
Well, as I said before, I don’t have endless hours for workouts. So discipline is a key part to training for me. If we want to accomplish a lot in our training, my husband and I must be diligent about our schedules. We work together to give each other time at the climbing gym. Discipline means coming up with a schedule and then sticking to it.
I am intrigued by the homeschooling. As someone who dreams of an alternative lifestyle, I think about homeschooling all the time. But at the same time, having your children in school all day would give you lots of solo training time! Can you talk about how you arrived at this decision, the pros, the cons, etc.? And, how it directly applies to your lifestyle? Can you also talk to people’s concerns regarding socialization of home-schooled children?
Although it’s only been two years, I could write a novel on our homeschool journey. Homeschooling was not on our radar as far as parenting goes. I’ll be perfectly honest: I knew homeschooled kids when I was growing up, and I always thought they were weird! Hubby and I both went to public school, and I just assumed we’d follow suit with our own children. My son started kindergarten and had a sweet, wonderful teacher. This sweet, wonderful teacher had 24 other kids. She was all by herself except for a teacher’s assistant that came in once a week at most to help out. Reading didn’t come naturally to my son, and he was often stressed out about how “hard” things were at school, and how he hated school because he never got any time to play. (They had 20 minutes for recess and 20 minutes for lunch in an eight hour day!) There were often tears in the morning, and at the end of the school day, he would get off the bus an emotional basket case. His body desperately needed to move, but his brain was fried. “Frenzied” is the best word to describe his after school mode. His pent up energy came out aggressively, and I was constantly reminding him not to play so rough with his sister, his dad, and myself. Also, the littlest thing that went wrong would cause him to fall apart: big, crocodile tear meltdowns that we hadn’t seen since the toddler years. The combination of overtiredness, mental exhaustion, and being forced to sit down at a desk all day was too stressful for my active, five-year-old boy. The last straw happened when I spent a day volunteering in his classroom and saw how little time the children had to move their bodies. I did some research, and pulled him out of public school in January of his kindergarten year. We haven’t looked back since! Sure, it’s been hard, but the benefits far outweigh any cons.
A lot of people tell me, “I could never stand to be around my kids all day every day.” I get it. But what they aren’t factoring is that you get the BEST of your children along with their worst. You get them when they are fresh in the morning and ready to learn. You get the shared reading cuddles, the special snacks and holiday crafts, and the really cool field trips. You get to let them sleep in and wake up when their body has had enough sleep. You get to take a break when everyone gets wiggly and go for a walk around the neighborhood or go run some errands. You get to have playdates with other homeschooled friends at parks and nature preserves in the middle of a weekday when no one else is there. I might have to endure some battles over school work every now and then, but from talking to my friends with public schooled kids, it sounds very similar to their battles on school nights regarding homework!
Yes, I’d get a lot more training time if my son was in public school all day, and my daughter was in preschool a couple mornings per week. But I would lose a lot of our freedom when it comes to actual adventuring. I’d rather have more adventures that I’m “less trained” for, than be in tip-top shape but unable to get out of town on the weekends. Climbing is not why we decided to homeschool, but it probably would have been if we’d known how much freedom it has afforded us! As homeschoolers, we are generally done with academic lessons well before lunch, so we can leave on Fridays whenever hubby can scoot out of work. Every now and then we are even able to meet up to climb with other folks locally during the middle of the week! We can stay ALL DAY at the New/Red/wherever we are on Sunday, because it doesn’t matter if we get back late. We generally climb until dinner, eat on the way home, put the kids in jammies and let them fall asleep in the car. When we get home, we plop them in their beds, and can have the car unpacked in 20 minutes! We don’t worry about a bath, because they can do it after breakfast on Monday morning!
Yes, socialization is a popular question, and an issue I was concerned about when we first started. But it’s turned out to be no big deal. There’s a lot of research that talks about how homeschooled kids are just as socially adjusted, if not more so, than their schooled counterparts. Rather than spout those off, I’ll just talk about our own experience. In public school, my son was around 24 other kids his own age all day, but rarely ever played with them. Mostly they were working independently alongside one another. Contrast that to the nature group we are a part of that meets once a week or so, when my son is around 5-10 other children, ranging in ages from babies to toddlers to every grade in elementary. They have hours of unstructured playtime in nature together building forts, hiking, creeking, climbing trees, and going wherever their collective imaginations take them. The older kids learn leadership skills, and the younger ones get to learn things by example. Academic lessons don’t take the whole day when you are schooling at home, so that leaves us plenty of free time to schedule time with friends. So what my kids may lack in quantity of time around other kids, they make up for with quality time. Another wonderful benefit is how the relationship between my son and daughter has blossomed since we’ve had him home. They spend all day together, and while of course there are sibling spats every now and then, they both genuinely enjoy being around each other, and despite the four year age difference, are really close.
What factors contributed most to your growth as a climber? What did it take for you to move from the 5.10s to the 5.11s to the 5.12s and finally to that 5.13?
One of my favorite parts about climbing is the psychological element. I love reflecting on the mental aspect of climbing, and I can point to specific themes I’ve learned at each grade.
5.10 to 5.11: When I first started lead climbing, I never led anything near my limit. I assumed that I would always top rope a certain grade until it felt easy, then I’d be okay leading it, and would progress to top roping the next grade up until IT felt easy, etc, etc. But breaking into 11s taught me that you don’t have to wait for a particular grade or route to feel easy before you are ready to lead it. Not only that, but you don’t have to wait for a particular grade/route to feel easy before you can SEND it! It’s okay if it feels hard. It doesn’t mean you are in over your head or don’t “deserve” to tie in. If you’re making progress and having fun, have at it! Once I realized that, it opened me up to that next level of climbing, where I could push myself physically and mentally at the same time. Looking back now, realizing that it’s okay for climbing to be “hard” seems like a no brainer, but switching out of that “top rope first, lead later” mentality really did a LOT for my head game.
5.11 to 5.12: The year that I broke into 5.12s was 2012. I sent my first 12a on Christmas Eve of 2011, then made a goal to send 12 12s in 2012. Breaking it down to one per month seemed doable, plus I thought the phrase had a good ring to it! Moving into 5.12 land was when I learned a lot about projecting a route. My husband and I sort of stumbled into a projecting mindset by accident. Pre-kids, our m.o. would be to hike in to the crag and string together as many pitches as we could in a day. With a baby in tow, we realized what a pain it was to bounce around from one “base camp” to the next. Mostly because when you climb with babies and small children the base of the cliff looks like a yard sale. And also it NEVER FAILS that baby falls asleep just as your partner is cleaning the last route of that area. This got us into the habit of pulling the rope and giving the same route a second go. And we realized it was WAY EASIER the second time around: the moves were familiar, you knew what all the clipping holds were like, and most importantly the draws were already in! We also found that projecting a route was great for the lead head: trying moves multiple times really helps you break a route down into doable sections, hone in on subtle pieces of beta, and most likely take falls. Really investing and getting to know a climb like that will make you climb more confidently, because when it comes time to send, you’ll know exactly what to do and when to do it. In my opinion, so much of sending hard is about headspace. You have to completely focus on the moves and what your body is doing; if your headspace is filled with fears/thoughts about falling/failure, you can’t commit 100% to the moves, and when you’re at your limit, you need all 100%!
5.12 to harder 12s and the 13: I really had to work on my bouldering strength in the gym, not just try a problem a few times then move on kind of bouldering. I mean all in, try hard over and over and over again ad nauseam, and then come back next session and try hard again.
For many athlete mothers, we reach a plateau after having babies. After having children we settle for “where I am is good enough, that hour a day will suffice” while deep down we are yearning for more. And maybe there are mothers who discovered these dreams after having babies. Mothers who are reading about women like you, and think, “Yes! I want to do this!” How do we push through the plateau as athlete mothers or get started? Did you have an ‘aha’ moment when you made the conscious decision to take your climbing to the next level?
After my 12 12s in 2012 year, 12a/b just sorta became my jam for the next four and a half years. To be fair, there was another pregnancy and a beautiful little girl thrown into the mix in 2013-14, but my point is that I had plateaued. Not that a plateau is a bad thing. I was really comfortable in 5.12 land; low 12s could generally go down in five or less tries, and I had a decent chance to onsight/flash if the route suited “my style.” I sent a few 12cs, and even a 12d, but it seemed like I’d never be able to capitalize on any momentum I built because something would happen: a string of bad weather, family commitments, lack of partners, etc. The logistics of securing a third partner was probably the most frustrating part about climbing with kids for us. Not to say that our climbing friends aren’t awesome; they are. In fact, they are saints for putting up with all of our kid shenanigans! But while we never had much trouble finding people to climb with, it could sometimes be difficult to find someone to get back to “______ wall” so that we could work “______ project”. We were grateful to have folks that wanted to climb with us and our kids, so we generally found ourselves just going with the flow of where everyone else wanted to climb. Lucky for us, there are awesome 12as pretty much everywhere!
But this past spring my husband said he thought we both owed it to ourselves to try 5.13. I wasn’t against the idea; of course the thought of sending 5.13 sounded pretty rad. But I wasn’t sure I was willing to put in the effort I knew it would take to get there, especially when I already thought 5.12 was pretty freakin’ cool. I got on my first 13 (a one move wonder 13b called Rodent’s Lament) back in the spring, and got completely shut down at the crux. The rest of the climbing was no harder than 12a, but that one move, maybe V8?! The holds were terrible and I didn’t have the finger strength to use them. I hangboarded over the summer, which I hate, but I know it helps. This fall we hit a monumental family milestone: the ability to climb by ourselves without relying on a third partner to help with the kids! It was a game changer as far as trip planning goes. Oh the freedom of going where we wanted, when we wanted! One day in October we were at Hidden Valley and my hubby wanted to work on a 12a I’d already sent, so I said I’d just work the 12c beside it, which actually shares the first three bolts. It was awesome, and I could probably write a whole blog post on what I learned from that one climb. I sent it on my sixth go, and it lit a fire under me. It felt next level, and I wanted more of it. A lot more bouldering in the gym, and a few weeks later I was standing under my 13b again. It took countless tries at the crux, but eventually I did the crux! And since the rest of the moves were significantly easier, I was able to send the route that same day! With my new found confidence, we went back to the New over Thanksgiving weekend, and I was able to work out the moves on The Ruchert Motion, a 13a at Beauty Mountain. A very supportive hubby brought me back out the following weekend despite having sprained his ankle, and hobbled into the crag so I could send it again. For the first time in years I felt like I was ending a climbing season feeling satisfied. I took a break during the month of December, still climbing some for the social aspect, but mostly I let myself enjoy as many Christmas cookies as I wanted!
As a mother and a dreamer, I often get stuck in the headspace of “I can’t”. What inspiration can you offer for moving away from negative self talk? What are your creative strategies for getting it all done?
Start slow, and keep it simple: If your children have never been tent camping before, don’t start with a 10 mile backpacking trip six hours from home. Choose a local nature preserve and start with one night of car camping, or even try a night in your backyard first.
Team effort: Get everyone involved in the planning process to increase family psych. Older kids can help pack if you give them a list, i.e. two pants, two undies, two pairs of socks, jammies, etc. If younger kids are “less than helpful” when it comes to packing, do it while they are asleep, or enlist the help of an older sibling to distract them while you pack.
Safety in numbers: When it comes to climbing adventures, make sure you always have an extra adult (or responsible big kid) around to help out while you are climbing. It’s never a good combo when belayer and baby watcher are the same person! If you don’t know of anyone, a good place to start is the climbing team at your local gym; many times those kids want to climb outside, but have non-climbing parents. See if you can strike up a trade: outdoor climbing experience for some crag babysitting duties! The ultimate gold mine is finding another like-minded family to adventure with. Adventuring with other families means more playmates for your own kiddos, and more adult hands on deck.
Look for memories, not perfection: The important thing is to get out there, not to have things run smoothly. Our best stories and funniest memories are the ones that were not necessarily that awesome at the time. Do the best you can with what you’ve got, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself to do it “right”. Just get out there and do it! Each phase of parenting has its own unique advantages and challenges. Enjoy the advantages while you have them (i.e., crag naps), and embrace the challenges as they come (ugh, crag potty training).
If your Mama Crush is as big as ours and you wish to learn more about what YOUR earth suit can do, check out Erica’s blog post, follow her on Instagram and then get out there and do epic shit.