I've always been too sedentary. That wasn't so much of a problem when I was younger but now my metabolism is shot and I'm in danger of turning into one of those American Beef Cows In Nikes that makes us look like a nation of wimps. No way. I'm far too vain for that. I'll take up heroin before I get fat.
Hoping I wouldn't have to resort to something that drastic, on Saturday I went to a rock-climbing gym for the first time. There was a group of guys at Be who were into it but I never went with them, silly me. Also hearing from my friend Red again, who's always full of athletic stories, got me to thinking about it.
It certainly didn't occur to me that you'd have to partner with somebody all the time. A guy who works there named Dave ran me through the terminology and the rope goes here and the harness goes there and you brake by pulling here blah blah, then I got hooked up with the best climber in the gym that day, a guy named Todd. He's a CPA, probably five or six years older than me.
They had me "belaying" first, being the guy at the bottom holding the rope for the climber. That was pretty stressful in and of itself. You have to keep the rope tight but not too tight, you don't want to restrict the climber but you don't want him to fall to the ground either. I was probably too conservative now that I think about it, but better to err on that side than the other.
Being a first-timer, I don't think anybody was expecting me to go up the first wall route as fast as I did. I just now remembered, Todd said: "You went right up the wall." At the time I was thinking: Yeah, so? Isn't that the object? What he meant was "I'm surprised you went up the wall so FAST."
Little did I know. I should have hung back and savored the easy routes. The second route they put me on was just terrifying. I mean, to me anyway. Twelve feet overhead the wall inclines in toward you and there's not much to grab onto to get over the hump. My inner ear was going "AAAAAH! I'M GONNA FALL TO MY DEATH!" and I got that one over with even quicker than the first. Just due to sheer terror.
It was the third route where I finally met my match. The holds were far enough apart that I couldn't make the moves. I missed a grip and ended up dangling in mid-air at the end of the rope. I asked Todd what I was supposed to do next and he told me where to stand, what to grab for. The next hold seemed two or three body lengths away but he said "just push forward with your legs, you'll be there." I thought HA HA! YOU'RE INSANE! My fear of falling was still making me too cautious. But he was right, once I finally got up the nerve to do it. It was simply a matter of "standing up" into the next hold.
The regulars at the gym apparently like this. I watched the good climbers and they spend most of their time dangling off the rope, consulting with each other over how to make the next move. Maybe ten seconds re-attaching to the wall and trying the move, nope that didn't work either, then another minute of dangling and consulting. I don't like that aspect much, it seems too fiddly. It was kind of thrilling to finally make a move that had seemed impossible only a few seconds earlier, which I could only do when I utterly destroyed my new no-swearing rule, but it's just too taxing to be considered a leisure-time activity. I was hoping for a way to burn calories without having to do boring regular gym stuff, not hang from a rope debating hand holds. I suppose I can just say that the next time I go and choose the easy routes.
There is this wall in the first room with a four-foot bulge in it, right? I saw it when I came in. Then I did all my climbing in the second room around the corner. Hours later when I came back into the first room I saw that wall again and it LEAPT out at me. Suddenly I realized all the sinister menace in that bulge that I hadn't understood the first time. Looking at it before, as a civilian, it had meant nothing. I looked at it after becoming a climber and realized that it hates me. I could feel my guts turning to water as I visually tried to pick a route around that bulge. Any way up past it looked pretty poor and I felt even worse. I won't be tackling that particular route any time soon. I wonder if that's what motivates the good climbers: That rock face hates me, and I'm going up it anyway. Will the wall make you its bitch or the other way around?
The thing I like about physical activity is that it pulls you out of yourself. Forces you to succumb to the will of the universe.