The hu­man side of Alex Hon­nold.

THE HU­MAN SIDE OF THE SU­PER­HU­MAN CLIMBER WHO FREE SOLOED EL CAP­I­TAN JULY 2017: I poured my­self a few fin­gers of heavy brown stuff with­out ice or a bull­shit whiskey stone at my wife’s and my one-bed­room, money-eat­ing apart­ment in the Haight-Ash­bury of San


With Alex, we talked about the me­dia cir­cus around his June 27 free solo of El Cap­i­tan. We also talked about his cur­rent girl­friend, whom he’d met at a book sign­ing in Seat­tle. “Whose book sign­ing?” I asked. “I mean … mine. Alone on the Wall,” Alex said with a smile. Who else’s would it have been: Mal­colm Glad­well? Chuck Kloster­man? Atul Gawande? What was I think­ing?

Even­tu­ally, later that night, we all went our sep­a­rate ways. As we said our good­byes in front of the restau­rant, Alex called an Uber for us. I men­tioned that the Pool op­tion, in which you share the car with other riders, is of­ten cheaper. “No mat­ter,” Alex in­sisted, “It’s re­im­bursable.” I thought it was funny that Sam was leav­ing for a ho­tel while Alex was adamant about find­ing a couch to sleep on. Per­haps the cramped sleep­ing quar­ters on a couch mir­rored the van setup he’s used to. For all the fame he’s found, the man still has to find his own bed to sleep in. It’s not all bright lights, big city. No li­mos or red car­pets or han­dlers or fix­ers.

Back at my pad, on the very couch he’d be sleep­ing on, Alex sipped his wa­ter while I nursed my whiskey. We opened up about buy­ing houses and city life. Where we wanted to set­tle down and if hav­ing kids was on the ta­ble. He talked openly about the rea­son­able life­span of a ca­reer as a pro­fes­sional ath­lete and how he might, at age 32, make sure he’s set up in the fu­ture, about re­tire­ment plans and IRAs and 401(k)s.

I learned more about Alex that night than I’d ever un­der­stood from any ar­ti­cle I’ve read or writ­ten about him. I’d read about his seem­ingly sim­ple and un­emo­tional views on solo­ing and the risk of death in­curred each time he stepped off the ground. Ap­par­ently, there was even a book about it! But I saw a dif­fer­ent side as we chat­ted about his fa­ther, who had died sud­denly of a heart at­tack in 2004. Whether or not it might be bet­ter to lose some­one you loved un­ex­pect­edly, in the snap of your fin­gers, or slowly, watch­ing help­lessly while they’re con­sumed by can­cer, ALS, Alzheimer’s, or some other ter­ri­ble dis­ease.

THEY SAY DON’T MEET your heroes be­cause they’ll just dis­ap­point you, but I say fuck that. I think putting a lit­tle hu­man in our heroes is some­thing we all could use. It’s nice to know that no one on planet earth has all of their shit to­gether. Your heroes are prob­a­bly good at some­thing very spe­cific, but the rest of their life is full of the same mun­dane woes, wor­ries, chores, toil, and has­sles that plague us all. And, like the rest of us, they have their pref­er­ences and predilec­tions, their fail­ings and foibles: They ei­ther like kale or they don’t. They’ve ei­ther seen

They say don’t meet your heroes be­cause they’ll dis­ap­point you, but I think putting a lit­tle hu­man in our heroes is some­thing we all could use.

The Wire or they haven’t. They ei­ther think that East of Eden is the great­est work of fic­tion ever writ­ten or they don’t. They ei­ther drink whiskey or wa­ter. In the climb­ing realm, this means they are no more en­light­ened nor un­der­stand more about life than you do just be­cause they hap­pen to be in­sanely good at our sport. Guess what? Heroes are not gods; they don’t have spe­cial ac­cess to se­cret knowledge we pe­ons will eter­nally grasp for. They are hu­man be­ings. They know no more about how to deal with liv­ing, lov­ing, or dy­ing than the next guy.

So what then? No more heroes? Nah. Be in­spired by peo­ple. I can push my train­ing to another level watch­ing In­sta­gram videos of Sam thrash­ing him­self on the sys­tem board. I can tap into an ex­tra bit of bold­ness on runout sport routes when I chan­nel some Hon­nold men­tal tough­ness. I can find in­spi­ra­tion to climb bet­ter, more thought­fully, more ef­fi­ciently, or with more guts through the videos of and feats re­al­ized by any num­ber of in­cred­i­ble climbers around the world. Then, on Mon­day, when I’m fac­ing a pile of copy­writ­ing work and a moun­tain of emails, I can re­mem­ber Sam and Alex are work­ing just as hard on their ca­reers as I am. Spotlight or no, I can’t do what they do, but they can’t do what I do ei­ther. What you do. What we all do. TWO MONTHS LATER, I at­tended The North Face Speaker Se­ries at the Cas­tro The­ater in SF to see another close friend, Emily Har­ring­ton, speak with Alex. We all had din­ner be­fore the event and drinks af­ter. We ribbed each other about how bad we are at stay­ing in touch de­spite only liv­ing a few hours apart. Their pre­sen­ta­tions, the typ­i­cal talk and climb­ing-video stuff, were great.

Dur­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion, some­one said, “Alex, please be real care­ful do­ing what you’re do­ing. I mean, we’re all big fans and we want you to be around for a long, long time.” It was of course the same well-mean­ing but trite state­ment he’d heard a mil­lion times al­ready. He re­sponded kindly, sin­cerely: “Look, I ap­pre­ci­ate that, I re­ally do. But truly … I mean … no one in this room wants me to be around longer than me.”

The joke stuck, but you could hear in his voice the sin­cer­ity of the state­ment and his pause, as he con­sid­ered the fu­ture be­fore him. In that mo­ment, Alex, the hero, the New York Times best seller, the man who’d free soloed El Cap­i­tan, the man whose climb­ing and celebrity seem to have him float­ing above the clouds, brought him­self right back down to the same planet that you, me, and all the other reg­u­lar-ass climbers live on day-in and day-out. A lit­tle worry, a lit­tle warmth, a lit­tle in­sight that, for all his ac­com­plish­ments, the man doesn’t know the fu­ture any bet­ter than any­one else, but that he did want more of it just like we all do.

“I mean I’m set­ting up, like, a 401(k) and stuff, so I’m plan­ning on be­ing around for a while,” he said. “At least, I hope.”

AN­DREW TOWER traded in a core-climber life for a cushy desk job in San Fran­cisco where he fills his time climb­ing in the gym and com­plain­ing about it.

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