I turned to look at the clock over by the check-in counter to see how late it was getting. The guy standing there is one of the employees I've seen at the gym many times but never talked to. So imagine my surprise when he said "He's always late." It's true. Kevin has never once gotten to the gym on time.
I almost laughed, but that would be mean. I'm really not all that upset about it. Kevin has to work and has a wife and two kids to worry about. I don't. So instead I repeated it back to the guy at the counter: "Yes, he's always late!"
I tend to think I'm slipping stealthily through the world of The Normals more or less unnoticed, making little or no impression. But once in awhile one of them will let on that they're paying more attention to me than I thought.
On our previous trip the gym, on Monday night, I saw Dave. He's a guy who was working there on the Saturday I decided to take up climbing, about a year ago, and he gave me belay lessons. A couple of weeks later he also initiated my cousin Laura. I asked him if he still worked there, and he said no, he's got an engineering job now. He was just there to take a climbing class Lance is giving. (Lance is one of the new owners of the gym.) I introduced him to Kevin, who said he's trying to come to the gym twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays. That was news to me.
The climbing classes are a new thing Lance started right after the ownership change. It seems like all the regulars are involved. I asked the graceful girl why she was going up the same route over and over again, and she said it was an exercise Lance had given his students. I would have gotten in on a class myself if I thought I was going to be in town for awhile.
Watching that girl go up the same route over and over again, getting a little better at it every time, has sold me on a new way of approaching the sport. My usual modus operandi is to bully my way up a route I'm not really qualified to do, using any and all dirty tricks I can think up. Then I proclaim it conquered and go on to another, even harder route. I don't think that's sustainable. I come home from the gym wrecked, mentally and physically, sporting brand-new cuts and bruises on top of the old ones from the week before. I'm a little old for that kind of grand-standing.
I think from now on I'll assume that if a route requires me to push myself to the point of exhaustion, then it must be too hard for me. I should back off and do an easier one. And not just once, but over and over again, like that girl did, until I can make it look easy. Just gliding right up the route, one move following the next in fluid motion, never slowing down.
I sort of had an inkling of this idea in my head when Kevin finally arrived, over 30 minutes late, but it wasn't fully-formed and I didn't put it into practice. I went right on bullying my way up our regular routes. If anything I was even sloppier than usual, because I was trying to mimic the long confident moves I saw that girl making, and failing spectacularly. It didn't help any that we'd been there only three days earlier, so my forearms were still sore from last time.
Kevin suggested we start going twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays. What am I going to do, wuss out? Twice a week it is. All the more reason for me to start pacing myself.
I'm going to miss my old gonzo climbing style a little bit. My favorite part of climbing is the terror, and now I've minimized its likelihood. Of course that was happening anyway. I've completely lost my fear of going up the wall. This was my first-ever night at the gym where the first route didn't start the adrenaline flowing. The fear center in my brain was bored into inaction, I guess. Dang.