Damn, I can’t believe it’s March already, what the hell. I also can’t believe I’ve now included another budding hobby to my rotating list of shit to do: rock climbing. A friend of mine mentioned that, with archery and rock climbing, he’d love to have me on his team for the zombie apocalypse. The man has a point.
It’s funny because rock climbing has always been in my peripheral, but I never had the desire to try it. It’s one of those things where I constantly see something, but there’s little to motivate me to make that leap. A friend of mine in my early college days was all about that and I thought it seemed kind of weird to just be climbing shit “for fun.” I didn’t even climb trees as a kid. Well maybe like 1 tree and I was covered in ants and yeah it wasn’t a good look.
Traumatic childhood experiences aside, the concept of climbing shit never connected with me. Maybe it was because in my youthful ignorance, it fell in to the category of “Shit Black People Don’t Do” and I held that list very dear during this time. I have lists for a lot of dumb shit, don’t ask. But if it makes anyone feel better, I’ve since done away with that list and haven’t dug in the trash for it in years.
After getting back into archery, a friend of mine (SP) was talking about the rock climbing place she and another friend go to, which is conveniently around the corner from where I live. I had a glazed look on my face as she’s going on about this thing. The only words I really heard were “…you wanna join us?” And I’m like “Yeah for sure, sounds like fun,” because I was totally paying attention. Then SP goes on about a 2-hour class before climbing. I ask her who is climbing what and she says I’m gonna learn the basics of rock climbing. Part of me said “The only thing I climb is into my bed, the fuck you mean?” The other part said “Huh, this could be interesting, well if I don’t die.”
Fortunately it was a group affair and so I didn’t feel nervous about performing poorly. Plus food was promised after so at the very least, if everything was a shitshow, I’d be able to fatten myself up under a mountain of shame. Mind you, this was a Friday after I had worked a full day so I can’t say I was at 100%, but I had enough to at least give it a shot.
As a preface, the other (now) friend that was meeting us was the same one from the previous week where I bailed and went to my local archery range instead. She’s cool people. I soon discovered she’s as terrible of a person as I am. A comrade in arms indeed. We’ll call her RCA (Rock Climbing Archer). So RCA meets me first because SP wasn’t showing up ’til a lot later and I still needed to do the class. I sign up, after fighting this laggy-ass iPad for about 15 minutes. Seriously, it said my birthday was invalid like 5 times. What a POS.
The class didn’t start for another 10ish minutes so I follow RCA to the entrance to the course and holy shit was it something. If you took a growth ray to any school desk, took the legs off, flipped it over and built it into a series of walls, you’d get the rock climbing gym. A cornucopia of fake vomit and dried up gum pieces peppered each course from wall to wall. It was a sight to see. I wasn’t 100% about touching those with my bare hands to be completely honest. In my wonderment, I nearly forgot I had to do this damn class. RCA ditches me and says she’ll find me later. Cool.
I learn about rope tying etiquette, how to belay, and basically what not to do. It took about an hour and some change, which was a lot less than advertised. Good by me. Before we were let loose, we had to practice belaying our instructor. In a series of ultimate trust exercises at some real heights, I succeeded in not killing her.
After I was loosed on the rock climbing world, I decided to try an auto-belay wall because I’m an ultra introvert and the very notion of asking anyone I don’t know for anything terrifies me. Plus, RCA and SP were nowhere to be found, so fuck it. So my black ass is staring at this wall like “Yeah those notches don’t look very helpful.” Mind you, the shoes I got were the right size, but my feet are as wide as Fred Flintstone’s. RIP my toes.
I struggle to get up a quarter of the way before realizing that I’m much too high to just “jump” down. I mean the auto-belay would slow my fall, but instinct is a mother fucker. I legit stayed about 20 feet off the ground for 15 minutes figuring out the short version of my will in my head for when I invariably died from his height. I eventually convince myself to let go and fall gently onto the mat. Huh, I guess this thing really does work, go figure. I was grateful for taking a shit much earlier as I probably would have done so mid-fall.
Like a masochist, I try to get up the course again, barely making it up a quarter of the way. I felt so many judging eyes, my god. Then instructor says “Hey yeah, that’s like one of the hardest courses here.” Oh, well that makes a lot of sense and now I feel really dumb. RCA finds me and asks if I’m ready to get to it. My instructor says “I think he is, he got about half way up one of the harder courses. He’ll do just find on the mid-level side.” I certainly was trying to figure out how the hell everybody had more faith in me than I did in this whole enterprise of climbing shit.
RCA and I join up with the rest of the crew, then we get down to business. We pair off and SP is my partner. I’m deathly afraid to start off so I offer to belay her first while I mentally prepare myself for failure. She gets up to the top with relative ease and I’m even more intimidated now. It’s my turn and I actually tie the rope correctly the first time. Small victories, small victories. This course was about medium in difficulty according to them so I felt a smidgen better, but was still terrified.
I push through the fear and just said fuck it, as I tend to do with everything I’m irrationally afraid of. I’m getting into a rhythm with the climbing, thoroughly surprising myself. I was not aware I had that much upper body strength as I pulled myself up a few times as I missed a couple footholds. I’m feeling pretty good halfway into it, stumbling a bit and pausing to plan my next move. Another 45 seconds later I felt my arms getting slightly toasty. Fine, I can push through, whatever. But then I have the bright idea, during a brief rest, to look down.
Now, I’ve never experienced vertigo or a flood of adrenaline like that before. I felt like I just did a line of coke and I immediately snapped back to focusing on the wall, but the damage was already done. My fight-or-flight instinct was stronger than a really fat man at a free buffet at this point. Convinced I was certainly going to die this time, I audibly said “Yo, I’m fucking done. That’s it.” But I didn’t move. I had to have been at least 50 feet off the ground so while my mind knew SP had me belayed, my body was like “Don’t you dare let go you piece of shit.”
Eventually I was absolved, again, to my death. But as I let go, I was fine and didn’t go splat. The only death was the immense pressure on my anatomy as that rope was way to fucking taut. Definitely didn’t think I’d have a pair of balls after that one.
Finally on the sweet, sweet stable ground, everyone said I did pretty good for my first time and I came to find out I was about 80% of the way to the top. Fuckin’ a.
I was still high on adrenaline so I was trying real hard not to do anything rash. I try climbing again later, but my arms are so thrashed I just stuck to playing the tambourine like Chris Rock said and just belayed for the rest of the night, which I actually didn’t mind. Fortunately nobody weighed more than I did so it was fairly easy. I can’t imagine hoisting some 300lb person. If they were to ever fall, they’d just have to make peace with whoever they pray to before they hit the ground. Sorry fam.
After that session, I went back on Monday this week with RCA since she was going anyway. Might as well use my free session that I paid for with the first-time lesson. This time, I actually made it to the top of a slightly easier one, but I almost didn’t. I felt super accomplished and also felt my arms were probably gonna go on strike the next day. Jesus.
The real takeaway is that I now know that if I end up hanging off of a cliff – because that’s just the life I live apparently – I have a pretty good chance of pulling myself up. Or I sneeze and die. I’ll take that 50/50.