Thursday, January 7, 2010
love, fear, & barney boots
“...that can't-eat, can't-sleep, reach-for-the-stars, over-the-fence, world-series kind of stuff...” -It Takes Two, 1995
I'm in love. I mean, I've known it for a while now, so it's really no surprise. It's the kind of love that invades your dreams and makes you seem like a flake when it comes to social functions. It's the kind of love that changes what you talk about and what you do, and you find yourself daydreaming about it all hours of the day. It aches, and it hurts, and it makes your tummy fluttery.
I'm in love with climbing. And lead climbing...well, that's like a really good first kiss. Fireworks, sweaty palms, shaky hands--the whole thing. At least in my experience.
My first lead climb was January 5, and in anticipation, I was quite literally in a can't-eat-can't-sleep state of being. I climbed (er, got) in bed two hours earlier than usual the night before, and slept fitfully all night, dreaming about climbing and tossing and turning until morning. Like usual, my best sleep didn't come until the last hour before my alarm went off, but at least I didn't oversleep. I had carefully chosen my attire (a worn out & hole-y but warm Smartwool and my North Face khakis, if you must know) the night before, and actually slept in my baselayer in order to emphasize the anticipation.
Despite my preparations, I was still 15 minutes late to the meetup at the climbing gym before heading up the hill, but no one seemed to mind. We made one stop just past the fog line, for gas and snacks, before pulling off the road into a familiar clearing to hike the approach. As soon as we had set down our packs and stripped our completely unnecessary down jackets and long sleeves, we organized gear and harnessed up. I was raring to go, ready to get on the wall. I had mentally prepared myself for this--my first sport lead.
I counted bolts, threw on a couple extra quickdraws--just in case--and roped up. I was confident in Ray's belay, and after checking each other, I started gingerly up the easy slab. I wasn't deliberate with my feet, and my palms were sweating like mad. First clip. Deep breath. I moved slowly up the face, self-talking my way through each hesitation. Anchor set and clipped. “Take!” yelled down. “First lead!” I said, just loudly enough so Ray could hear it. “Good job!” Mike yelled up. Ray lowered me off and pulled the rope so he could do HIS first lead. We switched spots, and I watched as he hesitated up the glassy start, slipping only twice--after he had clipped, thank goodness.
Jenny and Ryan both did the route, and then I reviewed with Mike how to set the rappel to clean it. I ended up toproping since I had already led, and upon reaching the anchor, mentally reviewed the procedure for the rappel. Setting a rappel holds the same allure for me as packing my parachute--it's methodical and measured--and once I understood it, I was confident in doing it.
We set another climb, leaving the draws set, and I insisted on going last so I could set the rappel. This time, I was a little more confident on lead. However, upon lowering myself to the ledge from which we were belaying, I was distinctly aware that I was near a personal threshold. The complete process of leading, cleaning, and rapping had taken a lot of nerves for a person who in all actuality is kind of a scaredy cat.
Now, no one really believes me when I say that, because the girl who climbs rocks and skydives can't possibly be scared. In truth, she is. She chooses to do those things anyways, though, because being scared and doing it anyway tends to have better results than being scared and standing still. It's a lot like that first kiss...
Anyways, back to the climbing. By this time, it was about lunchtime and absolutely gorgeous weather. We had been watching the fog roll in and out of the valley below us all morning, enjoying tank top weather from our vantage point. You can't ASK for better climbing weather. Sunny and warm--but not hot--and green, instead of the dead brown of midsummer here. After the second lead, I was a little fried. I hesitated to do more, instead belaying over and over, taking photos of the scenery, and generally trying to look a lot less scared than I felt. Our belay ledge suddenly didn't seem so spacious, and I got shaky just thinking about more climbing. Mike gently talked me into one last pitch, but without making me feel like I had to do it. Softening his sometimes-gruff manner, he confessed that he had felt the same things he was seeing on my face when he had started climbing. I trusted that, and I trusted him, so I took the lead.
This one took a lot of self-talk and deep breaths, but the higher I got, the better I felt. I felt confident enough at that point to clip in to the anchor, traverse to a rogue quickdraw, and traverse back before lowering. At that point, Ryan and I decided to hike up the approach while the other three climbed out, as the walk off was a little more than either of us wanted to do at that point. Ryan is pretty freaked out by heights, and I was happy enough to have a buddy for the scramble out. The two of us ended up waiting a while at the top, talking about his time in the Navy, art, climbing, and life in general.
At some point, we had decided to go see Avatar upon arriving back in town, so as soon as we were in range we looked up movie times and agreed on a 7 o'clock show. That left us a couple of hours to spare, which we filled with burritos and a trip to Target for footie pajamas. The Target detour proved only moderately successful, and I became the new owner of a pair of glow-in-the-dark pajamas, covered in skulls, which I proudly wore to the movie theater along with my down jacket and bright purple Uggs.
Looking our climbing best, we commandeered the end of a row so as not to disturb the other patrons with our aroma, and settled in for what would be my second viewing of the movie. I think I will not want to see it again in the theater--though it's a beautiful movie, it's bordering on a little too much for my over-sensory, can't-sit-still self to see it more than once or twice. That, and you can't help but leave the theater a little wrought after seeing it.
Just short of three hours later, we shivered out to the cars, where we were stopped by a man collecting money for his ministry. Now, I'm really not all that keen on being approached in a parking lot EVER, but felt a little more comfortable with the guys there with us, and this fellow turned out to be pretty good-natured. He even commented on my “Barney shoes”. I didn't get strange vibes from him...the five of us laughed and chatted for a few minutes and then headed for our respective vehicles. I think the boys gave him a couple dollars.
I drove home without the radio, reveling in the good energy of a great day. The next day I was a little out of sorts, as I always am after an amazing trip or triumph. It just makes it a little hard to type when my fingers get all twitchy and achy thinking about climbing...