“My name is Paul, I’m mostly into really, really hard movements. Movements that have never been done before, and may have been deemed impossible in the past.
“My goal... in my mind, is to make every movement perfect. I want every movement to feel really, really easy. And when I can do that? That’s the best satisfaction for me.”
Paul Robinson is one of the best rock climbers alive today, specialising in short, incredibly complex climbing routes known as boulders. In 2010 he completed his long term project ‘Lucid Dreaming’, a staggeringly difficult route — arguably one of the most difficult routes in the world today — one of a handful of boulder routes graded at the almost unheard of V16 level. To date, no one has repeated the ascent.
I sit at home, with an Xbox 360 controller firmly pressed into my palms. I’m playing Trials Evolution. Having just come home from the gym, I’m still wearing my climbing gear. My fingers are covered in tape, to suppress the tendon pain in my digits. My palms are doused in chalk. My hands are littered with calluses.
These days I find myself spending a lot of time climbing, trying to build the kind of physical strength and technique that might allow me to glide up sheer rock like Paul Robinson. I’ll never be able to climb routes at his level — that would be impossible — but every climber has his or her own personal ‘Lucid Dream’, and that’s the beauty of it.
These days I spend a lot less time gaming and more time climbing.
But Trials Evolution feels a little different.
I click ‘back’.
‘Back’ is the button you press when you want or need to restart a level on Trials Evolution. You restart mostly because you want the perfect run. Anyone who has played Trials Evolution with a personal competitive edge understands the imperative. A single fault on most tracks means that, upon completion, you’ll receive a silver medal — not a gold medal, and certainly not a platinum medal — and when every single player on your friends list has a gold medal, you don’t want to settle for second best.
It’s about challenging yourself; it’s about testing your own boundaries. As soon as you finish the level, your time is compared with those of all Trials Evolution players around the world. Most likely, I’ll never be able to compete with those at the very top, but I’m determined to outdo those on my friends list. Every one has their own ‘Lucid Dream’.
My brother calls me on my mobile; all he wants to talk about is Trials Evolution.
“I’ve never gone for perfection in any other part of my life,” he says, and he uses the word ‘perfection’. “But in Trials Evolution, I want to be perfect."
I suspect he’s slightly drunk.
“If I think I’ve started slowly, or I think I can go faster, I just restart.”
I had been struggling with one climb for weeks. Most of the people I climb with had already finished the climb, but I had yet to complete it. It just wasn’t my style.
I can remember every single move from memory.
The first move is a left-hand reach, from a sit start, then a semi-dynamic move up to a right-hand jug. I match the hold with my left hand, then shift my weight to prepare for the next movement. From the beginning I had this part of the sequence down perfectly. Even at this precise second I can visualise the exact movements necessary.
The next move is the crux, and there are two ways I can solve it. I can skip a hold and use my strength to bump straight up to a pinch finish, or I can make a reachy move out right, take my feet off the hold and try and use my core strength to restrain my body weight from swinging off the wall before moving up for the finish.
But my pinch strength is weak, and I’m short, so my reach is a problem. This climb does not fit my own personal climbing style, not in the slightest.
I swing out right. My left foot slips. I hang on for a second as my legs barrel beneath me and I fall to the mat below.
I push 'back' and restart.
In Trials you can watch replays of the fastest times. In fact, if you’re serious about Trials, and you want to improve, watching these replays is mandatory. It’s the only way you can improve in any significant way — to figure out the best routes, when to accelerate and push your body weight forward, when to decelerate and land on your back wheel.
Climbers call this ‘beta’.
‘What is the sequence?’ Where should I put my feet?’ ‘Should I go up statically for this hold, or is the movement dynamic?’ Climbers talk and share information because every climb is different. In bouldering, a specific form of climbing that focuses on short, difficult movements, routes are referred to as ‘problems’. Some people call Trials Evolution a puzzle game.
Finally I 'solve' the crux. The solution is frustratingly simple in hindsight — the sign of a good problem. My footwork is good, so I find a hidden hold — the jug I matched earlier — and use it flag my leg all the way left, shifting my centre of gravity to a position where I can easily reach for the final hold. It feels effortless.
The chalk remains on my hands. My grip on the controller is secure. Skin peels from past efforts; I rub my thumbs across blisters and remember how they got there.
Trials Evolution often feels like an incredible effort. Through practice, you acquire skills and techniques that allow you to adapt to the radically different set of challenges it consistently throws at you.
As I sit in my climbing gear, I feel an overwhelming sense of familiarity. The initial struggle and the attempt to overcome that struggle. The need to learn something new, and the joy that comes from learning something new. The need to learn routes, then execute them perfectly — so that movements you once deemed impossible suddenly feel easy and light.
The reward from climbing is the same — exasperation, relief, a short sense of exhilaration, then on to the next seemingly impossible challenge.
Hi, my name is Mark, and I’m mostly into really, really hard movements. Movements that have never been done before, and may have been deemed impossible in the past.
My goal, in my mind, is to make every movement perfect. I want every movement to feel really, really easy. And when I can do that? That’s the best satisfaction for me.
Sometimes it feels a little bit like Lucid Dreaming.