In which I climb vertical surfaces

On a weekday night, just after dinner, the Rocks and Ropes’ climbing gym is surprisingly crowded. As I filled out my release form, I watched climbers cheerfully make their way up vertical surfaces–all smiling, it seemed, all happy–I wondered if I’d made a terrible mistake.

I’d signed up for the eight-week women’s climbing class on something of a whim. I was looking for a new challenge, and besides, one of the characters in Next Book might be a climber, so I needed to do some research regardless, and there was the class, right at a time where I could attend it, with room still in it.

I’m scared of heights. Did I mention that?

I’d belayed Girl Scouts up those walls, which was something, though I’d never made it more than a few steps up them myself. But my rational brain knew the ropes were safe, even if some more instinctive and deeper part of it didn’t, and the refresher lesson with the knots and harnesses pretty quickly brought back memories of how this worked in theory, at least. Still, I felt kind of ill as I practiced my knots and kept glancing up the wall–the easiest wall in the gym–that we were going to climb.

I felt one of the grips on that wall. It didn’t seem so bad. It felt like there was something to hold on to, anyway.

I decided to climb first, fearing I’d lose all courage otherwise, while my partner–who, like me, was a beginner, though the class is mixed level–belayed me up. I got as far as the red line beneath which you don’t even need climbing gear, because it’s so low and safe, and just a couple steps more, and then the churning of stomach and brain told me somewhat forcibly to stop, a feeling I knew well from other experiences with heights.

I stopped. My partner belayed me down. Coming down wasn’t so bad. It was kind of fun, actually, and some small part of my brain relaxed at that, because one of the scary parts of any height is knowing you have to get down from it again.

My partner took her turn climbing, making her way to the top. I climbed again, and having done it once made the second time just a little easier, and I made it a few more steps past the red line.

The third time I made my way–well it felt like the ceiling was still a distance away, but I’m told from the ground it looked like I was just about there, so I’m going to call it just about there. I came down (coming down is fun–you just fall as your partner slowly lets out the rope), full of breathlessness and adrenalin. It didn’t matter what anyone else was doing. My goal had been simply to make it up that wall, and I had. (And the class turns out to be the sort of supportive class that gets individual goals, and celebrates them all.)

Even writing that made me feel kind of terrified all over again. I don’t know that the next climb, next week, is going to be easier, exactly, but now it feels possible. There are techniques for us to work on, but for now, for me, my goal is simply to make it up that wall again, and to become just a little more confident about doing so.

It was fun, fear and all.

And today my brain has that coming-awake feeling that goes with learning something new.

And I’m sure there’s some sort of writing-related analogy for pushing past that I-can’t-do-this moment to go just a little farther.

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