A Potentially Paralyzing Purchase

Yesterday afternoon I made an investment: I bought my first pair of climbing shoes.

If you know anything about the kinds of shoes I generally fancy, you may wonder why I should be excited about something so much less aesthetically pleasing than my usual impractical but beautiful pumps or platforms.  (Before I explain, I have to add that the climbing shoes are also far less comfortable than even my tallest sexy shoe.)

These shoes are exciting because they represent a HUGE challenge I have given myself.  Inspired by my lanky boyfriend’s continually increasing fitness, strength, and enthusiasm about climbing, I have decided to give this sport a shot.  I am trying remain upbeat and nonchalant about it, but I have to be honest: I’m just a tiny bit TERRIFIED.

A couple months back, the aforementioned lanky fellow, Mr. Mountain Man, took me to his climbing gym and under his direction I attempted a couple of bouldering routes. (Bouldering is climbing up to a specified height – no ropes are involved so you don’t go as high.)  The next day I was sore in new ways, but the experience was intriguing, and I felt, if not too cost-prohibitive, something I could get into. We’ll call that the prequel to my climbing adventures.

After that, nothing happened for a while.  Nothing, that is, except that Mr. Mountain Man kept telling me more and more factoids about how climbing is great for just about everything:

  • Climbing makes you strong
  • Climbing uses your brain
  • Climbing is fun to do with others
  • Climbing makes you skinny
  • Climbing is so super crazy fun
  • Climbing increases flexibility
  • Climbing improves muscle definition
  • Climbing makes you braver
  • Climbing makes your garden grow

After a while this aggressive ad campaign triumphed and I capitulated.  This winter term I’ll give up one of my lunch hours to take Rock Climbing 1 each week.  I have a feeling this is going to inspire many humorous and thoughtful blog posts . . .

Episode 1

Yesterday, to celebrate my shoe purchase and informal induction into the climbing club, we hustled on down the rock wall at the UO Recreation Center.  In order to use this wall you must pay a large angry troll and scale a crag of 45 feet without equipment.

Actually, it’s a little less intimidating than that.  You have to pass the “belay test,” sort of an entrance exam for rock climbing.  Mr. Mountain Man introduced the concept of the belay test early in his marketing campaign.  The first time he mentioned it I nodded with dumb deer eyes: “belay” was a foreign term to me.  Fortunately, he is a kind, positive teacher.  Not only did he enlighten me as to the meaning of “belay,” he thoroughly coached me for the belay test and also threw in a prussic knot lesson for kicks.

A young blond girl whose name escapes me administered the “test.”  It took about five minutes.  I passed!  Then I signed some pink papers saying that I understand that:

  1. Death or serious maiming are potentialities in this sport; and,
  2. No matter what the reason – whether gross negligence, equipment failure, bullying, staff malice, earthquakes, bad hair days, large hairy spiders jumping out from behind holds, or anything else – the UO Rec Center is in no way liable if death, maiming, emotional scars, or broken nails result from my use of the rock climbing gym.

I handed the pink papers back to the nice blond and gave the thumbs up signal to Mr. Mountain Man.  Let the climbing begin!

We went over to a wall and he instructed me to warm up by traversing the wall horizontally for a few minutes.   I’ll spare you the details of the rest of my first session except to say that I did complete one bouldering route and “top out.”

If I could distill what I learned in that session into one sentence it would be:

I am officially a wimp.

Before we went in I knew I was no Amazon, nor do I ever want to be. I’ve always taken pride in the femininity of my small shoulders, slender wrists, and bony but elegant decolletage. But I did think I was reasonably fit, given my very regular activity schedule.

Maybe I am fit, but not (yet) fit enough for this!  I lost grip very easily and anything that angled out even slightly was pretty much impossible. It was very frustrating.  When I did get up on the wall for a minute or two, I could feel and Mr. Mountain Man could SEE one, two, three, or all of my limbs trembling under the load of stress.  I fear this is going to be quite an uphill battle for me.  However, I have my coach’s encouragement and a new pair of shoes that have no other use, so I am going to give it my best.

Fears

In addition to lacking the bodily strength (which I will begin to train to increase immediately), there are some major challenges climbing presents to me.  Most prominent of those in my mind yesterday was my fear of looking stupid or inept in front of others.  In order to learn to climb, I have to actually climb without being good at it first. In the climbing gym, many people are just standing around watching others ascend (or attempt to ascend) the wall.  For me, this is extremely intimidating.  It is hard enough to have Mr. Mountain Man, who I know wants nothing more than to help me succeed, watch me try to get on the wall and fail, or jump off after one, two, or no moves.  Not only does he see me, any number of random people might look at me! This anxiety of mine about being judged and deemed inadequate, which is blend of fear and pride, is a serious weakness.  If I let it rule, I will lose the opportunity to learn many things, not just how to climb.  Over the next few months I am going to have to work hard to put that concern out of my mind, to focus on my actions, not my fears of how others perceive me.  If climbing teaches me nothing but this, it will have been a tremendous blessing.

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