That’s right – vertical.
I remember as a kid, I could climb nearly anything. I’d scramble myself up the big pine tree in front of our house in Pennsylvania with complete disregard for my safety. Then something happened. I hit my mid-20s and suddenly the thought of heights would make me completely queasy and dizzy. The same happened with spin-y rides (oh, teacups, I miss you so). The funny thing about myself is that when I think I can’t do something, I’ll keep doing it. It’s as if the more I force my body to accept what’s happening to it, the more likely it won’t react the way it has the past 5 years.
So – when a friend posted on facebook the other day that she wanted to do an indoor rock climbing night, it seemed only natural that I raise my hand and boldly step towards my fear.
“Are you here yet? I’m too nervous to go inside with out a wingman.”
Texting from our cars, we found our way inside to a warehouse cavern of vertical drops covered in what looked like malformed Skittles and M&Ms left in the sun to melt. Wall-to-wall svelte bodies of all gender persuasions with lean muscle were hanging from each sculpted crevice.
I leaned back to take a long look at my competition – 100 feet of rock wall, straight up. I signed on a few dotted lines, releasing our teacher and the gym from any liability should we fall to what was a likely demise. Sure, I could handle this.
Coming to rock climb wasn’t an easy choice. There’s the actual athleticism required, which I was super stoked to give a go. But the thought of having a harness so snug around my bootie that you could see my nooks and crannies as I dangle on a skinny rope simply seemed ludicrous. Why would I invite the torture of the stories I’d tell myself about the other people looking and judging – which they certainly were NOT, as they were holding onto their hand and foot holds for dear life just like I was about to.
The greatest part of this experience was my company – another adventurous, beautiful and strong fat woman. Armed with our amazing senses of humor, and our new knowledge of how to rope ourselves in and belay (aka, be safety rope anchor for your co-climber), we snuggled on into the gear and set out to tackle a wall.
I swaggered like James Bond towards the first wall. I’ve been a “fake it ‘til you make it” sort of girl the past year and this was a time to fake it. I could totally Spiderman myself up that wall, I’d tell myself. Just think of yourself as Batman with your Robin. You have all these groovy tools, all you have to do is don that cape and haul ass. I lost the swagger the moment we had to rope in and remind yourself that this little rope, 2 knots, a harness and a person with what looks like a cowbell (ATC is the actual word for the thing that feeds the belayer’s rope) is going to save you from doom. Did I mention there are no helmets in this sport?
When you rope in, you assume the hardest thing would be to haul your 227-pound body up the 5.4 wall you chose.* I was completely wrong. Hauling myself up the wall was simple compared to the great trick of learning to trust my partner would be able to belay me – aka, hold my body in the air should I fall. Snaking the rope through my crotch and into the loops by your waist, I suddenly remembered I was fat. Fumbling around my bits to find ropes and tie knots made me less confident.
“Climbing.” Handover hand, I scrambled up the wall. I read in another fat blog, that if you kept your body close the wall it was easier.
What if people knew I had no idea what I was doing? My palms began to sweat as I remembered I should be breathing.
What if I was just that fat girl failing at climbing? Deep breath, my foot missed its next Skittle.
What if I was the fat girl falling?Oh god. Falling. What if I fell?
I looked down and queasy just took me. Shit. “I’m coming down!”
Easing yourself off the wall and into the trusting embrace of the harness while your partner lowers you to the ground is not an easy task. I trusted my compadre in life, but trusting the system was different. Most of my life I’ve had a hang up about letting people pick me up. I’ve always been the “strong one” who carries other people when they’re tired, drunk or wearing inappropriate shoes for a 2 mile urban hike. Never have I allowed another person to hold my entire weight – it simply wasn’t safe. Adding a pulley system, really? I felt like I was in a free falling dumbwaiter. I clung onto the hang holds like they would save me.
“Let go, Vickie. Fall back, I got you.”
And when I did let go, I swung out in what I decided was a graceful arch as my belay partner eased me to the ground.
Let go. I got you. These were the things that inched my fingers loose from their white knuckled grasp. These were the words that encouraged me to try another wall. And another. And another. We actually went back on a Friday at 6am when the gym was empty (woo!) to try even more – and we reached the top each and every time until our arms and fingers grew weak. Having someone you develop a trust with around you body opens so many new doors – and for me, it’s opened up the world of rock climbing. I realized that, for this one great adventure, she’s the Batman, and I’m completely content to be Robin.
*As a note, climbing walls are set in a scale of 5.1 – 5.11, 5.1 being easiest, 5.11 being, well, impossible unless you’re David Copperfield and have magic to spare.