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In the past few years, I've done a lot of mental reflection about highlining. I always wanted to put it into words, and here it is. It's gonna be about how I managed to control my thoughts and how I felt about the line. About a hell of a mental fight I've had with myself for many years, and how this fight feels at the same time like I will never win.
It all begins with the good old « send ». I ain't no OG, but when I started slacklining, it was mostly about sending longlines, and eventually highlines. Before slacklining, I was an angry man. I still am, but it helped a lot. I used to have to yell and cry and be by myself for at least an hour before I could come back with an empty mind and send a line. I would get so sad when I failed and think about it nonstop. I wouldn't sleep well and wouldn't be happy until I got some more of that send rush. I'd live for that moment, but it definitely was an obsession, with no control over myself. I would walk with shaky legs until the end just hoping for my muscles to remember what I should do...and if it worked, I'd have my shot ! That was it...a vicious cycle...again and again. That hunger for the send would actually take all the pleasure away, the entire process that was happening before and during the send, the countless hours of rigging...all that was taken away by the lack of control over myself.
There was a 100m waterline I wanted to send very badly. When I first rigged it I was only able to take 2 steps without falling. Session after session I could only add a few more steps, until I finally crossed it with a few catches. That's when I realized it might be possible...and at that point, I would forget about the pleasure of slacklining and only think about sending. I love and loved fighting on the line, but I would lose the ability to fight. Then, I remember it like it was yesterday, I fell 10m from the end...that was the beginning of a long journey of « I fell 10m from the end ». I had been rigging and derigging this line with the help of friends for 10 days straight but after this fail I remember telling myself : « If I don't send it tomorrow, I'll give up and won't rig it again »... which I think was kind-of stupid but you know, that's what I had in mind.
On the last day, I arrived at the lake in the morning with a few friends, we rig this line and a few others and I'm ready to go. I decide to take it chill and warm up on the 50m of sonic. It felt good and I felt it, the right time had come, I'll go give the 100m a try. And so I climb the anchor tree, sit on the line, stand up and start walking fast. I'm really fast and in no time at all, I'm approaching the point where I fell last time. It all goes so quickly that I don't even take time to think or stop, that hunger of winning takes full control on me and I'm throwing my feet one after the other... I'm past the hard point, few steps to go : I'm dry, and I sent it ! Oh man I screamed loud that day, all the pressure went away the second I stepped off the line and my mind was light again, ready to enjoy life again ahah.
100m waterline, like back in the dayyyyyys.
This little story is not to say I hated those times, I loved it, it's just to show how different my mental management became after that.
Then came two things in the process: the first one, known by a lot of highliners back then is the famous « try not to think about sending, and you'll send ». Well, it did work for me a few times, but I always thought of it as a pity not to be honest with yourself. The second one is the fact that at some point when the pressure would get to my head, I would give up before even falling. I started thinking about those things and about different solutions. First I would start trying to keep complete control over my body, which means any teeny tiny movement I would do, would be in order to stay in balance. I wouldn't grab the leash, I wouldn't look down before falling, I would stay focused as the last thing I wanted was to actually create the fall. Depending on what kind of highliner you are, this means to get out of your comfort zone, be flexible, fight more, move more, and also if you control your body, that's one less thing to be concerned about.
Then, about that sending pressure. I've had countless sends where I would be full of pressure, it would still work out most of the time because at some point, long highlines started to be easy to walk. But, I knew that with more thought, I could figure out a way. Knowing that now I could control my body, I had to control this powerful stream of pressure going so fast through my brain that I couldn't catch up to it.
There was this 580m in Moleson, Switzerland. I was looking forward to try this line. We helped rigging it and Anto got the first try. He crossed it with one catch because of a leash problem, bad luck but he'll have it next try. He told us it was easy to walk. Lukas got the second try, onsight. Well, back then, it was still like the fourth longest highline in the world and Lukas Irmler is Lukas Irmler you know, so when my turn comes next I feel the pressure coming. I'm shaking, I stand up on the no fall zone cause I want the full send and start walking, lucky for me it's the easiest shit I've ever walked but the lack of fights makes the pressure even heavier. I hear my friends cheering me on as I keep walking and within no time I'm on the other side. Last few steps, I remember I had literally zero fights on this line but god my veins where pumping, my heart was beating fast and hard, dry mouth and goosebumps...I had so much pressure I exploded at the end like I did for that 100m waterline back in the days ( which was probably harder to walk by the way, ahah).
Chilling on my balcony from where my 600m starts you know !
Now that you've read that story, you need to know that after that 12 or something people sent that line, mostly onsight. Which shows once again that the pressure I had was nothing but some self-made, useless bullshit.
I slowly started to figure this one out. On the next big line, 800m full PES, I managed to get a clean send, mentally talking. I for sure had the explosion at the end but I could suddenly walk with a different kind of mindset. On this line I first managed to do what I call « the switch ». The switch brought me to many conclusions but here is what it's mainly about: instead of trying to forget about or get rid of that pressure, use it! Switch those bad vibes into good ones. Which means try to look into what you really want. Do you want the send? YES. But you also want to enjoy the process, don't miss a glimpse of the full journey. That's when you can decide, when you're sitting on the line ready to stand up and walk, whether you'll think later of what drives you to do it or you own your will and stand up not lying to yourself. If you want that send, instead of being slowed down by pressure, use that pressure and transform it as good energy, use it as a strength. If I got so much pressure it's only because I wanted it so bad. But then, if you want it so bad you might as well not let anything get in your way. When you come to wonder if you're gonna fall, just don't give up, because that's what you want: either you give up or you send !
Chilly pose after sending the 800m.
This might sound like failure doesn't have its place in this process but it does. Once you get to that level of control, you basically are not disappointed in yourself anymore. You will fail, but from now on it is legit failure. From now on I would grow from those falls and don't let them eat me up.
For me there was 2 crossings that show best how this worked for me. The crossing of the 1662m highline, and the crossing of the 682m blindfolded:
About the mile, I was waiting for this moment for a while now. Thanks to the best team I could wish for the project was planned and since that day I couldn't stop thinking about it. For sure a world record is appealing, and it makes it even more spicy but mostly I was excited to push my limits further once again. But this time I really didn't get overwhelmed by bad vibes. I chose to make the switch, embrace it and make it my strength.
First try was in heavy wind, got 700m at the longest... got pretty bummed I admit, cried even a little but while I was quiet until the next try, I was thinking about all the process I explained above. Next try, I will control my thoughts and turn the pressure into some of the most powerful sendergy.
And here I am, standing up again,no wind, everyone is quiet at the anchor as I start walking. For the first 300 meters, I fought so hard, each step was a fight but every single move I did was to stay up, I kept focus and didn't give up. It's already mentally hard, I'm super anxious but my mind is strong, I can do it. Past this hard part I start walking faster and faster, having a smile on my face : I got it ! I never managed to make the switch so well, I'm walking towards the middle with no shaking legs, a smile on my face and no fear of falling. And now I understand, in that state of extreme consciousness, that enjoying the whole walk will make the explosion at the end even better.
300m from the end, looks super small but I still manage not to lose myself, I got this, I won't fuck it up being impatient. Since the middle I thought about all the lines I've sent until now and that this one is just a bit longer, and I shouldn't feel any different. Until the point that is probably the best feeling I ever had on a highline : 10m before the end I allowed myself to switch it back, to make those last meters the more intense it can get. Knowing I wouldn't fall right now, I switched to pressure, I switched to wanting to get to the end, and I could fell my blood flowing through my veins, I had goosebumps all over my body and the biggest smile on my face. Last step onto the rock : mental challenge achieved. I managed to control myself completely for 1h13min. Now, I can explode.
Finally, here comes the last key point: Patience. This is for me the thing that makes me put long walks into perspective, to be patient. The thing is, if you're not in a rush, if you're not impatient about getting to the end, but if you just keep walking even at the slowest pace, you will ALWAYS get to the end. It seems logical, but it helped me a lot during some hardcore fight send. The best crossing to illustrate this would be for me when I sent 682m blindfolded :
We had 2 days and a 700m highline to rig, slack and derrig. Might not seem insane for some as I'm writing this but at that time it was quite the challenge. We had a good team and I was on the pulling side, we were 3 people pulling and it took us all day. The line was up, the night came already but there was that perfect sending wind going ( know what I'm talking about!)! My arms where pumped and I was exhausted already but knowing we'd have only the next day to session, I decided to give it a go. I put my blindfold on and I start walking. As expected, it's kinda easy to walk and so I'm cruising in the night. Until I got to the connection, the line was in 2 parts, one part of 250m and one part of 450m. I thought I had walked 450m and so I was getting ready to get to the end soon enough. The thing is the end would never come, my flow got shut down and I was getting so impatient. I started to have very bad cramps in my arms that I couldn't put them down. For the very first time I thought about sitting down without fighting. But suddenly I had a thought about patience, I told myself to be patient, the line was easy, I would forget about the cramps and keep walking, the end will come no matter how hard it is even if it's later than expected. I kept walking knowing that I would stop only when I'll step on the rock ( sketchy doing that blindfolded though). After 20 more minutes of walking I heard Anto telling me « 20 meters !! »... that was such a relief, and in the end it came sooner than expected! I kept walking and sat down like 3m from the end when they told me so. I didn't even scream on this one, my cramps were painful and I was so not expecting the end that the walk was enough, I didn't need that send celebrating, I was already fully satisfied. This was probably the hardest mental challenge I've had on a slackline.
That's it, all that thinking feels great, but is for sure easier to say than to do. I definitely still have so much to learn and also be careful not to overthink. Thank you for reading.