The waiver was intimidating. Maybe I shouldn’t have read it. Perhaps I should’ve just added my digital signature and gone about my business, like most people do when they sign standard waivers.
Of course, I decided to be a responsible adult and read every line, which was probably horrible for my anxiety.
I’m also aware it’s the reason I volunteered to go first at Vertical Hold. When I’m intimidated or nervous about something, it’s best to jump in and coast forward on natural adrenaline. It’s an opportunity to prove to myself that I can do something, even if it scares me.
After a lesson in tying knots, securing carabiners, and safely belaying a partner, I stepped up to the indoor rock wall and looked skyward. Little yellow protrusions told me where to put my hands and feet, but the rest would be up to me and my beating heart.
As I navigated my way up the façade, raw excitement beat against my veins. As I climbed, I was transported back to my childhood when I was a gangly half-tomboy who took to trees in dress-up high heels. Just as I did then, I smiled as I climbed higher, aware that the ground was pulling further and further away from me as I did.
At the top of the wall, I touched the rigging point, and accomplishment whooshed through me. I looked over my shoulder at my fiancé and friends, smiling. I yelled, “Take,” and our instructor lowered me down, the tips of my toes tickling the façade as I leaned back in my harness, parallel to the ground.
Over the next couple hours, I watched Bryan scale walls like Spider-Man, and I had to belay at hyper speed to keep him steady. Our friends, Steve and Christina, also first-timers, defied gravity, took pictures, and cheered us on. We all agreed that belaying requires trust, communication, and some guts. Funny enough, rock climbing is perfect pre-marital counseling or a good indicator of the strength of a romantic relationship.
We watched as experienced climbers battled a boulder in the middle of the warehouse space. None of them wore harnesses. They grappled and swung and tried out different holds. Some of them made it to the top while other plummeted to the extra squishy mats below. I suddenly understood the waivers. They weren’t really for us. They were for regular climbers who were there to test their limits and push their bodies, their daring smiles challenging their mortality.
Toward the end of our session, my hands grew fatigued and my muscles started shaking during my climbs. I started to suspect rock climbers have all kinds of callus to help them hold on for dear life, along with wiry muscles that keep them balanced. I also suspect they’ve got happy endorphins soaring through them when they climb. And practiced calm in moments of turmoil. And mad trust in their bodies. And, most importantly, a zeal for fun and life.
I got a taste of rock climbing life and loved it. Bryan and I are considering rock gym memberships, because it was such a fun experience.
But more than that, getting vertical was a great reminder to tap into the fearlessness and strength of youth. To play. To challenge yourself. To look skyward and climb, climb, climb.
As Robert Frost so aptly said in one of my favorite poems of all time: “One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.”