Friday, June 11, 2010

Day 202: Can Somebody Please Belay Me?

I was out celebrating my successful story time with my friend Philip when I randomly ran into my other friends Maribeth and Brandon in Little Five Points. They had been eating dinner nearby and said they were leaving the bar soon because they were getting up early to drive to Chattanooga, Tennessee.

"I want to go!," I said. "Can I come?"

They said, "Sure."

Philip was listening to the conversation. He furrowed his brow and gave me a look like, "Are you crazy?" Less because I was agreeing to rock climb, more so because who makes a decision to tag along on an out of state rock climb at 12:30am?
Answer: people drinking Stellas attempting to do 365 things they've never done before.

I ignored Philip, and told Maribeth that I was serious. I really wanted to go.

When I woke up at 7am on Saturday morning, however, I did not want to go. In fact, I laid in bed for 20 minutes and went back and forth, with myself, about whether or not I should just blow the whole thing off.
The internal dialogue went something like this:

"Get up, loser! When else are you going to have an opportunity to rock climb?"
"Ughhhhhh...sleeeeeeep...I have a headache. I need sleeeeeeeeep."

"Stephanie, you can sleep on the way to Tennessee. These are serious rock climbers who know what they are doing. Just get up!"

"This bed is sooooo comfortable. I want to sleeeeeeeeeeeeep."

I texted Maribeth, "I don't think I'm going to make it. You guys have fun!"

And then after beating myself up about being so lame, I forced myself to get up and texted her again, "Nevermind. I'm coming. Don't leave without me."

The ride to Tennessee was, for me, painful. Thankfully Brandon was in the driver's seat and Maribeth was riding shotgun, so I stretched out in the backseat and slept, waking only when we went to a gas station to pick up breakfast (McDonald's) and lunch (Subway). This was, as I mentioned on the start of vegetarian week, the first time I'd ever bought breakfast and lunch at the same time.

Pardon the pun, but buying two meals at the same time felt like rock bottom.

When we arrived at Sunset Rock on Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, I was surprised that we go there by way of a very nice, seemingly exclusive neighborhood at the top of the mountain. The houses we were passing were gorgeous, and likely boasted some of the greatest views in the city. We met up with our friends Jeremy, Megan and Dustin, and parked our car in a gravel lot next to the nice houses.

The hike down the mountain to where we would climb reminded me a lot of hike I did with California Kevin and Mountain Man in Yosemite right down to me wearing my super radical, super outdoorsy Marmot fanny pack. Lots of greenery, lots of scenic views.

Only this time we had dogs. Now, I love dogs. I do not love them, however, when they are wandering close to the edge of cliffs. I was already worried that I would soon plummet to my death. Now I was worrying about the pooches doing the same.

We made it to the rock that we were going to climb and I was a bit confused because while I didn't expect to see thousands of bolts screwed into the rock for us to climb, I thought that I would at least see crevices in the rock for us to put our hands and feet while climbing.

There were but a few.

Jeremy and his friend Dustin stayed behind while we hiked to set up the ropes that we would be using to climb. Once they made it down to where we were, there was still some more setting up that needed to be done. I marveled at how much gear is needed to rock climb.

Maribeth, Brandon and I stayed out of their way, enjoying the mountain air.
At one point Maribeth stood up and started rooting through her bag, pulling out a harness and her own rock climbing shoes. Maribeth and I are pretty close. I know and/or participate in nearly all of the hobbies that she does, so to say I was surprised is an understatement.

"Since when are you a rock climber?," I said.

She laughed and kind of took a step back from her gear, almost in a, "What? This old stuff?" kind of way.

"Haven't you ever heard about my awful experience at Atlanta Rocks?" Atlanta Rocks is an indoor rock climbing gym.

"No," I said.

"Oh yeah," she went on, "I decided when I moved back from Jacksonville that I wanted to learn how to rock climb so I bought all of this equipment. And then I went to the gym and left in tears when I realized I didn't have anyone to belay me."

She burst out laughing remembering this experience, and therefore, so did I.

Her move back to Atlanta was tough enough; the thought of her standing at the base of the manufactured rock with all of her equipment in her hands with no one to help her was both sad and hilarious all at the same time. Extra sad that her plan, I presumed, was to go to Atlanta Rocks to possibly meet someone, a cute someone who would've been more than happy to belay her.

"Certainly," I insisted, "There were dudes there that could've helped you out."

"Nope," she said, still laughing. "Everyone there was with someone!"

Ouch. Add rock climbing to the long list of things singles can't do, I guess.

Dustin and Jeremy went first and made it look easy. They hit a handful of difficult climbs along the way, and I got to see how rock climbing is as much of a mental challenge as it is a physical one. Brandon, also a beginner, but fresh from a tour of duty in Afghanistan showed his strength as well. He may not have been as smooth, but he got to the top impressively.

I decided, after all of the boys took a turn, that I would go first for the girls. Not because I was so excited to take on the challenge, but because my nerves were getting the best of me, and I wanted to get it over with. No question, since I’m constantly trying new things, I’m nervous a lot. But at this point, I hadn't eaten meat in five days, I had jumped out of a plane just a week prior, and faced 20 kindergarteners the day before. This week was emotionally and physically exhausting.

Maribeth offered me her shoes. She wears a half-size smaller than me, but insisted I'd be able to wear them. I started putting them on and it felt like I was stuffing a 15 pound load into a 12 pound bag. They were entirely too small.

"They're supposed to be tight," Maribeth assured me.

Well, then, mission accomplished. They were definitely tight.

Now I am already self-conscious of my legs and of the fact that I have, thanks to my mother, cankles, the kind of leg where the calf more or less becomes the foot with little to no ankle definition whatsoever. My friend Amanda at work insists that I do not have cankles, and she has gone to great lengths to point out others who do have them so that we can compare mine to theirs.

Well, in Maribeth's rock climbing shoes, there was no question; even Amanda would have to agree. I had cankles. Serious ones.

The tightness of the shoes made any and all extra skin and fat on my feet squeeze out to my ankle. Thank God I was wearing long pants because it was embarrassing. And disgusting.

Plus, the shoes really hurt my feet and it was hard to get used to how tight they were.

I climbed up onto the first rock/platform where I would begin the climb. Megan assisted me in putting on my harness, which was quite similar to the harness that I wore skydiving the week before. As if my cankles weren’t unattractive enough, I now had more ropes squeezing the top part of thighs and stomach.

She asked her husband, Jeremy, if she could belay me.

Megan looked at me and said, "Is that okay with you?"

Belaying is crucial in rock climbing. The belayer is the person attached to the climber who stays standing and weights the climber, like an anchor. If the climber should fall, their attachment to a belayer would ensure they wouldn’t fall very far.

Obviously I didn't care who belayed me and most everyone except me (and Maribeth) seemed capable of doing so. I was concerned, however, about the difference in Megan's weight and mine. If I fell, there was a great chance that I would cause her to fly wildly in the air or tip over completely.

"Are you sure that's a good idea?," I asked.

She and Jeremy assured me it would be fine, and I believed them, so I went with it.

The nerves I was feeling here were similar to the nerves I felt when I went skiing with Elizabeth and company in Tahoe. The “I have no idea what I’m doing, but I don’t want to make a fool of myself in front of all these people who do,” kind of nerves. That’s, I think, why skiing and rock climbing seemed much scarier to me than skydiving—all activities are scary, but adding the fear of being embarrassed on top of it makes some challenges extra terrifying.

After everything was clipped and secure, it was time to go for it.

“Stick your hand in Jeremy's chalk bag,” Megan said, seconds before I turned around to start the climb.

The phrase sounded dirty and I laughed out loud when she said it.

“Wow, Megan,” I joked, “Way to just offer me an opportunity to touch your husband's chalk bag. It's kinky. And I like it.”

The chalk was for my hands, to keep them from slipping. I happily did as I was told, knowing full well that I was going to need a lot more than the chalk in Jeremy's bag to make this experience successful. I wished Jeremy had an "athletic ability" bag or a "miracle" bag.

After I was appropriately chalked, I turned around and stared at the wall. There were no obvious grooves or shelves that I could see to put my feet or hands on. Just straight, smooth rock.

I heard Dustin ask Jeremy quietly, "Has she really never done this before?"



My feelings exactly, Dustin. Actually, my feelings were more of the four-letter variety, but "wow" was appropriate too.

I turned around and sort of whiningly said, "I mean, I don't even know where to start."

Immediately, everyone jumped in and started giving me suggestions on how to start, where to put my hands and feet.

Rock climbing requires you to rely so much on the people with you to guide you to places you can't see, places that can get you to the next level. I liked this. There was an instant feeling of community and camaraderie.

"Put your hand in that crack," someone shouted to me, “And pull yourself up.”

Again, with the dirty talk. Another reason to love rock climbing.

With their help, I was able to achieve far more climbing than I ever could've imagined, which really wasn't that much. The shoes, while squeezing my feet past the point of recognition, were extremely helpful in allowing me to literally climb up the flat rock. I don’t know how, but I’m sure it must’ve been the shoes that allowed me to pull that off. I didn’t make it very far, and grew frustrated several times when my friends were saying, “Just grab that,” or “Just a little bit farther.” There was nothing about rock climbing that was “just” anything. There were some great achievements on my brief time on the rock, but I soon reached a point and physically had no strength to pull and no mental capacity to figure out how to move on. I was tired and when I turned around to see everyone staring at me, I started to feel sick, so I asked to come down.

Repelling was my favorite part because you just let go of the rock, lean back and let the belayer ease you back down to the ground. Everyone was really supportive and said they were impressed by my performance, particularly because I hadn’t ever done it before. They also informed me, after I was safely on the ground, that this climb was not for beginners. Thanks for telling me now.

After my piss-poor performance, it was Megan's turn. I had asked earlier what kind of body type makes a good rock climber and everyone agreed that long limbs make the difficult reaches easier to accomplish. Megan proved that those without long limbs can still dominate, and her petite frame leapt to the top like a spider monkey. I was super impressed.

Maribeth’s was unable to overcome her experience at Atlanta Rocks, and made it to the same spot on the rock that I did. She seemed frustrated. I couldn't blame her.

I'd be frustrated too if I'd come out there with my own harness.

1 comment:

  1. tight rock climbing shoes seem easier than only one birkenstock and an empty bottle of wine...:)