It was a warm summer day in a place that I can’t remember the name and couldn’t tell you how to get there. I do remember being with my best friend, her boy friend, and couple of guys from high school. All I can see in my memory, is Kim and me standing next to each other with our necks craned upward. Todd, the boyfriend, is next to us in a wide footed stance wearing gloves and gripping a rope as though his life depended upon it. It didn’t. But, Topher’s, the subject of our attentions, life does depend upon it. Topher, connected to Todd through a harness and safety rope system, is attempting to stand/hang on to barely one inch wide ledges of a limestone rock cliff while every muscle in his body shakes from exhaustion.
Climbing, it looks easy but it really, really, isn’t. It IS amazing, however. I was pretty excited when the Boy Scouts decided to try out Upper Limits in Bloomington last weekend. With Topher’s shaking muscles imprinted in my memory, I spent last week doing a variety of exercises to strengthen my core, arms, shoulders, glutes, and calves. By last week, I mean about two days then prayed the rest of the week that I would be strong enough to climb more than six inches off the floor. (My resolutions were a cliché after all)
I faced a 65 feet tall former silo turned into a climbing facility for my first climb in 25 years. At first, you think the height is what is going to scare you. Honestly, the height itself didn’t bother me. I was as scared in the first 6 inches as I was at 6 feet and at 26 feet. I had to fight my fear that I wouldn’t be able to hold myself onto the wall. I’m not sure any amount of strength training would have eased that fear.
Fortunately, my mid-life crisis clock ticks loudly. I am also competitive. I felt a need to prove myself relevant to the young ones around me. I find the best way to minimize their attempts at insulting me with a “You’re how old?” is to show them that age doesn’t matter. Or, is it really me that needs the proof that my age doesn’t matter?
I climbed on the wall. At 6 inches, my fears asked me, “Do I need to climb higher?” I answered, “Yes, I do.” At 6 feet, my fears inquired again. I climbed on. My mid-life crisis motivation took me higher than where most of the climbers in our group had climbed. I may not have been the best but I was near the top, though not literally.
Once my mid-life crisis motivation was drained, I examined climbing holds, reviewing each one for good grips and angles. The next hand-hold was out of my reach, so, I utilized a foothold below that shifted me upward. In this position, my hands were below shoulder height. Trust me, it’s an unnatural position to be in when you’re clinging to the inside wall of an old silo. My arms contributed meagerly from that position. The lack of security kicked my fear of not being strong enough to cling or maneuver into overdrive. Having already proven myself to myself, I strained against the thought “Do I really need to climb higher?”
As unnatural as the position was, moving my hand out and around to the next hold was just as awkward. For 10 seconds, although it felt like a full minute, I was relying on only three points to hold, balance and cling. Once that hand was in a good position, I moved the other hand to a higher, more natural hold. For five seconds, I breathed sigh of relief over a successful maneuver. Then the fear and mental block reared back up. “Do I really need to climb higher?”
Admittedly, I asked to be lowered to the ground before I reached the top or fell. My request had more to do with my mental block rather than my lack of strength. I figured I’d gone far enough. But, looking back, did I?