Chekhov catcalled me. Then went rock climbing with me.
He sure did. This past summer. I was just skimming some of his books at the library. I needed inspiration and then something hit me. This line: “All of life and human relations have become so incomprehensibly complex that, when you think about it, it becomes terrifying and your heart stands still.”
This was just the starting point to my summer 2016. While many difficult personal events happened this past year, climbing made this year worth it.
What I decided to do was search for what being human meant. Epiphany much? Yes I know and yes, this might take me and you a lifetime to figure out, but I started diving into what the hell I’m all about, who you are, why are we in each other’s lives etc. Perspectives, experiences, to hell with it all why should we care? I decided to find my answers through my climbing passion that started last fall and that I summarized this past summer.
I am going to start with my climbing partner Chris Fedorczak. I met Chris on a particular day at the gym when I was feeling pretty heavy-hearted, tired, and sleepy. I was just going on the auto belays (The auto belay takes up the slack as a climber ascends and safely controls the descent when the climber lets go or falls), working out alone and focusing on movement control, trying desperately to not think. Chris ended up using the same auto belays until he finally said, “Hey, you know what, why don’t we just climb together?” I was a bit surprised being a fairly new climber and I could already tell he had a few years of experience. Not really knowing how it would go, I agreed. Days passed and we continued climbing top rope. On one particular route I was really struggling on, I decided to commit to my first dyno (An all out leap during which the whole body is airborne and you, very briefly, have no points of contact). Chris was there to see me successfully pull it off. I was thrilled when I reached the ground, I mean I felt like a damn superhero. I jumped on him and hugged him with all my might like I lost someone close to me and found them again.
This is what the climbing community has done for me. It has made me study human form of expression. It has tried to fill the voids in my life and helping me come up with metaphoric meanings. We all have these empty spaces and we always look for ways to fill them up. Travel, drugs, alcohol, sex, going somewhere fast, moving. It’s ok too… as long as we eventually just keep moving forward. HOWEVER, I wanted the maximum form of adrenaline that could provide me with constant attention and goal seeking thrill. I wanted to scare the life out of myself. Climbing has done that for me. I’m an intermediate who still has MUCH to learn.
I eventually got into lead climbing ( a lead climber does not have an anchor point above them while climbing, only the body of the climber is used to progress upward) with the support of Chris and the rest of guys I climbed with. Yes, so far I have only climbed with guys, and despite the climber stories from other women, I have never felt inferior but had the most support I have ever had. (Thank you) I didn’t take a class. I decided to watch people climb and read books on how to lead. Then one day, I just did it. I flew.
I’m on an overhang, relying only on my abs to balance my body, I can feel the pounding of my heart in my ears because I’m 50 feet up. I’m alone. I tell myself to calm down, stop overthinking because all I have is my body as protection. I’ve used all my limbs to move forward, but I’m tired with no zen zone. Now I’m learning that you have to keep practicing on your fears. Ask a simple question of: did your mind make you fall or your body? When I fall it feels slow, like shit, is this going to stop? Where am I going? And then the rope catches me. I’m ok. Chris has understood my movements, gives me enough slack and we’ve learned to communicate with just a rope. I thought about how amazing that is. One human is tied to another and you feel the person’s whole weight on you when they fall. This is why climbing to me, is better than any drug or going really fast to forget reality or for an adrenaline rush. Climbing lasts longer because it involves progression.
Belaying is kind of an art on lead. It really gets my heart pounding when I see Chris doing a difficult move high on the wall, anticipating his every move and watching his feet move for any holds he might need to balance on for resting points. I know I will catch him no matter what. It’s more than just the fact that your friend’s life is on a rope tied to your waist… It’s about this climbing morse code of movement and I’m not going to break the code! And I’m super happy when I witness Chris complete a really beasty route.
Climbing has shown me that friendship, to be a solid one, should show us the path of respect and distance. Ever since I started climbing, I saw less of my non-climbing friends, but when I do see them, I feel an even deeper respect for them because of their constant support, of having grown up with them as teenagers and realizing we are getting older together after all.
The reason I have loved the central theme of all of Dostoevsky’s novels is because he points out a morality of responsibility. We are morally responsible for ourselves and others. However, can one single person be responsible for everyone? For me, climbing has answered sadly, no. And yet I keep forgetting sometimes. We need community.
When I’m working on some bouldering problems during my morning workout, there are usually a fair amount of kids. I’ve never felt a real connection with kids. I usually don’t know if they are going to start screaming or crying any second hmm… like a constant never ending flight on an airplane. I would watch them climb and then I would chip in some advice and by my very eyes, they could nail a difficult move in under 10 min while it would take me a couple days to accomplish! I respect their minds immensely. I respect the fact that they don’t know what bravery really is but yet they do amazing climbing moves and they work hard at it. I feel a calling to mentor young kids in climbing because I want them to be better than I am. I feel very happy when I see them complete a problem. It’s a pretty beautiful thing to see because kids are just getting the hang of movement and discipline of pure concentration, what’s in front of them and nothing else. We are most fearless when we are young and this is a happy reminder when I see them.
The brain that they have, the brain that you and I have, is the work of six billion years of development. The brain was designed to lead us somewhere and when we don’t follow a path of mastery, I think it’s just disrespectful to nature, to any other human that has left us some form of resonance.
I’m reading as much about climbing as I possibly can. Explorers learned by trial and error. Living your life means making mistakes and forging new paths constantly if you truly want to get somewhere. Climbing has taught me that you can love another human just by being human like you without EXPECTATIONS, it’s just being human together and sharing good laughs, good beer, and a good climbing session. I can search for brutal simplicity and I can have it in my mind after I come back from climbing. Thanks to this whole experience, I have found a bit more meaning in humankind, I have found confidence. Hubris is essential to climbing, but it helped me adapt that to my personal and professional life too.