Pushed Up By the Butt: Lessons Learned from Climbing

When I was nine, my family and I were at our church’s annual summer festival. We made our way through the throng of people, past booth after booth wafting strong fumes of delicious fried foods. I can almost see the hand and arm shaped steam pulling people in by their noses. A nice woman with her face painted offering to paint yours, a money tree, and finally, the rock wall arising mountainous in the middle of the parking lot.

There were people swaying at the top. I had to shield my eyes and crane my neck just to see them slap the red button that emitted a piercing sound announcing their victory for the entire festival to take note of. They were up high, and it looked fun.

I asked my parents if I could do it. My dad handed over some tickets and I was soon in a harness being debriefed on what the man down below would be doing with the other end of the rope. I barely listened, didn’t care about falling so much as ascending, and when the man said go, I ran at the wall and landed on the first four sets of holds all at once.

Now what?

I looked up, confused about where to go and why I was getting tired. I then saw it, high above me, the next hold. I tried to reach it, but fell. Back on the ground, slightly ashamed, I asked if I could try again. Obligingly, I was given another shot, and ran once more at the wall.

I knew where I was going this time, and with all the strength that my 4 ft frame, 4o lbs body possessed, I flung myself awkwardly upward, swinging wildly with my scrawny arms to latch onto anything that would keep me from falling back down.

Scraping and kicking, I slowly came back down to the ground where I had started.

This time, my dad hoisted me up with one hand supporting my butt, and I made it up to the next set of holds.

I think from there, I had a bit more luck. In hindsight, the festival worker was probably yanking my rope so hard from below that he was essentially pulling me up the wall, but I remember the sense of accomplishment well, despite his help and the lift from my dad. It didn’t matter. Maybe I didn’t get to slap the red button either, but I had made it higher up than where I had started.

***

When I was in France, I met some pretty awesome people through the climbing community. Among those folk with whom I was able to climb, I spent a lot of time with a guy named Sergio. He was from Mexico doing his Masters Degree in France in urban planning. Fluent in English and Spanish, his native language, he hardly spoke any French. I found this last bit to be so fitting to his personality. He’s the type of person who isn’t be deterred by much. Everything is an opportunity for something fun to do, and he would say it like that:

“Ah come on man! It’s gonna be fun!”

To give you a better idea of his energy, he always texts me and writes all of his emails with exclamation points, always, after every and any sentence.

“What are you doing tonight?! I broke my collar bone! Let’s go have a drink or something!!!”

16 years of experience and the same height as myself, he taught me a lot on how to use my body the most effectively to get up the wall. It was incredible watching him move. He would just keep going and would rarely come to a spot in which he would pause, always moving his feet up, chalking up his hands, putting the rope between his teeth to feed to the next carabiner.

What I like most about him is that despite being a great climber, he never paid any attention to the route difficulty connoted by a number. It just didn’t matter to him. He would look at a route and determined whether or not it was worth trying based on, yes, you guessed it, how fun! it looked to him. It’s a cliche that I first learned when I was 5, but what is anything really worth doing unless you’re having fun?

Sure, bills are not fun; having your teeth drilled into is definitely not how I would spend every afternoon given the choice, but when it comes down to the non-essentials and what we have more say in, like who we choose spend our time with or what we’re going to do after work, whether or not it’s fun may be the most important thing to consider. Even for the more essential things, like cooking, cleaning a house, doing homework, going to work, can you make it a good time?

 ***

After patiently waiting 3 months in Fargo, ND, finishing up school, and closing my eyes to the climbing shoes that hung on my wall every night, I now find myself in the Twin Cities with access to Vertical Endeavors climbing facility.

It’s been a while since the church festival and climbing with my friend Sergio, but it feels as if things have come full circle in a strange, eventful sort of way, as if the other day at VE was somehow a weird marking point in my life. 17 years of education, including kindergarten, and now no school. Hmm.

You’ll have your falls and slips, but hopefully you’ve got someone below you to catch you and even yank you back up to where you last lost touch with whatever it is you were holding onto, focusing on. and clenching with exhausted fingers because you wanted it so bad. Maybe there’s even someone kind enough to cup your butt with their hand and push you up, non-figuratively speaking of course, unless you’re close to them. Then that’d probably be a sweet thing to have happen.

And when you’re back on the wall, move your feet, chalk up your hands, stay focused, and keep going until you slap the red buzzer and hear it ring out. Then, descend victoriously and take note of the route you took. Once you get back to the bottom, maybe belay a friend, rest up, and then pick a new fun route to climb.

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