Thursday, August 25, 2011

Kicking the Funk Out

After a frustrating couple weeks being in over my head with work, projects, and that craziness that is the wrapping up of summer, I had a day where I felt like a normal person.  Can I just tell you about my great day, and then get back to putting up all my backlogged blogs I've run completely behind on?

It seemed just like any other day- work, running errands, heading to the gym to get in a bit of climbing.  But oh no, this was not going to be any day of climbing for me.  This was the day I turned a corner, and saw a glimpse of my climbing future.

You see, I've been climbing for about two and a half years now.  During some of my darkest days of soul searching, I fell into the world of climbing and my life was forever changed.  Here was a world where everyday problems dissolved as soon as my hands hit the wall.

When you climb, the problems in front of you involve figuring out how to maneuver, how to get over the roadblocks in your head, how to get to the top.  And then you do it.  You realize that your back taxes and difficult relationships, your career hurdles, your empty fridge, and your high maintenance cat are totally insignificant, because you got over this wall.  It's pretty neat.

Literal metaphors aside, I've been climbing steadily for the past two years, without improvement.  I've sat back, initially to nurse a torn tendon from a bad fall, but it's become a total mind block.  Something had changed.  My fear of heights came back, and I've been one foot out the door, run-out-of-steam exhausted after an hour when I would have just been warmed up during those first magical months of climbing.  I had all but decided I was never going to improve, that the fearless climbing hunger had waned, and that it was more important for me to have a longer, if less impressive climbing career than a short and amped one.

Today, something changed.  I was prepared for my usual repeat of the same routes I can always do, and the same failed half-hearted attempts at the ones just beyond my reach during my slotted hour of enthusiasm.  Instead, I started slow.  I sat longer.  I watched other climbers.  It was that perfect quiet afternoon in the boulder room, where you don't have to wait for the routes you want, and you can sit on the floor without blocking routes.  A few others were attempting the same routes, taking turns working out the problems and giving each other tips on how to hit the moves.  These were routes I never thought of attempting, but as we watched each other and made suggestions, I realized it was one of the first moments I felt a sense of community at the climbing gym.  Which is what I'd immediately felt at my old stomping grounds in New York when I was a fledgling climber.

Two of the burliest dudes began attempting a hairy V4.  It was technical, balancey, and all on an awkward, slight overhang.  Oh, and it involved a major dyno move of lunging up to the final hold, about 3 feet above the one before.  In walked a little girl, who couldn't have weighed more than a sack of potatoes.  She watched the guys quietly, then walked up to the wall and scooted up that v4 like it was climbing up a ladder.  She didn't even need to use the dyno move, because she mantled off the two walls to get to the top.

She's usually climbing most of the days that I'm there- apparently she's been climbing since she was two and just competed at a national competition.  She lead climbs, dangling like a spider from the tallest walls in the top-roping room.  (Leading is waaaay more difficult, and you have to clip the rope into carabiners as you go up, instead of held by a bolt at the top of the route.)

"Awesome," I told her when she came down from the V4.  I tried not to gush.  I listened to her advise on a couple other problems, then she demoed a few routes for me that had been giving me problems.

"I always get stuck here," I said about a tricky roof.


"I don't know what to do with my feet."

"Why?  You just do it."

That seemed to be her response to everything.  When I told her I couldn't finish one because it made my fear of heights kick in, she said why, just do it.  It was like Socrates combined with a 2-year-old.  But she did have a point.

And that was how I finally got onto, and climbed, three V1s.  Maybe I had been too obsessed with getting all the 0s first, or that I just didn't believe I was good enough.  There's a point where even if you are in shape, you can't get any further without the right technique.  But with your head in the right place, and with a 10-year-old climbing prodigy barking orders at you, you can definitely push yourself to the limit.

Are my arms feeling it?  You bet.  But it's the best pain in the world.

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