I don’t think it’s come up before in any posts but Spoonbill and I both like to climb. That’s a gross understatement. We love it. We love it like we love banana bread. Actually if we had to choose between banana bread and climbing for the rest of our lives, we would easily choose climbing. And that’s not because GF bread is gross. GF banana bread is actually unfathomably deliciously. So you know my love for climbing must run deep.
Spoonbill has been climbing on the regular for a few years longer than me and so her strength and technique is many times greater than my own, but I think I have her beat in number of intro courses taken. Just so we’re clear, this isn’t actually something to be proud of. Basically it took three intro to climbing courses, spread out over five years, before I finally started climbing on a regular basis. A lot of that had to do with not having another beginner to go climbing with, being too shy to go alone and too intimidated to go with someone more experienced. When I finally got hooked for real, I was only bouldering. I was never totally sure that I was properly tying the figure 8 knot and I felt shy about admitting it. And I didn’t feel like I had found the rhythm of belaying so the idea of being responsible for another person’s safety on the wall was more than my shaky confidence could support. But it was ok because bouldering was more than enough for me anyways. Once I found a regular climbing buddy (ahem, David), I got totally obsessed. I started going a couple times a week and this became a very regular part of my routine for a few months before leaving Edmonton. I read online that Wageningen had a climbing wall on campus and I took it for granted that if I brought my climbing shoes with me, I could continue my bouldering habit. And I thought, fantastic! Bouldering will be my springboard to meeting people and making friends in my new home. Easy peasy japanesey!
My bubble really burst when I got to Wageningen and realized their bouldering wall is a sad little sliver of wall and the main focus is on top-roping. In fact I think the bouldering wall only exists in the first place as a training exercise for top-ropers. The nearest legit bouldering walls are in the neighbouring towns, and word on the street is that the focus is still on top-roping. Since getting here, climbing has fallen off the list of priorities in favour of things like: open a Dutch bank account, convince my lazy Canadian bank to send money to the Dutch bank account, find a place to live, be a student again, try to stay awake through four-hour long lectures, figure out how to bike everywhere, figure out which supermarket in town carries coconuts, and so on. And it just didn’t feel like there was room for climbing in this confusing stage of getting settled. And yet, my climbing shoes called to me. All my hard-earned callouses had healed. And for several weeks I had been able to fully flex my hand backwards without experiencing any searing pain in my forearm. A sad state of affairs. What’s a bouldering addict to do?
To fit in with the climbing scene here, I resolved to get over my top-roping insecurities and once again CLIMB ALL THE THINGS. Turns out I had another intro to climbing course in my future after all. Recap, that makes a total of four intro courses. A new record! Today I attended session one of four in this Intro to Toproping course. Here’s the good news. It took me a few tries to get started on the figure 8 knot again but then I was like, oh snap I know how to do this! And after a quick belaying demo I was like, oh snap the sequel! I know how to do this too! Here’s the bad news. This was not real climbing. This was listen to people talk, practice tying knots and then do a short little climb so your partner can practice belaying. A necessary step in getting over my top-roping insecurities, but it just barely starting to scratch my climbing itch. So before leaving I accosted another class participant that looked like he had climbed before (read: he and I were the only ones that brought our own shoes) and asked him if he wanted to navigate to one of the nearby towns with gyms and boulder this week, even if the bouldering wall was sad and pathetic. Numbers were exchanged. Climbing is back on the priority list. Le bang le bang.
I started writing this post with the idea of a love letter to climbing. Because after even the briefest of reunions with the climbing wall, I’m full of all the feelings and I think climbing deserves to know how I really feel about her. Without further ado.
I think it’s rare to find a sport that really understands you in life. I have always shied away from anything that involves hitting a sphere with another object. There were always so many rules, things had to move so quickly, and someone was always keeping score. I thought sports would never be for me and so I resigned myself to a lonely life of reading books and writing blog posts. And then you came into my life.
I don’t remember ever feeling awkward with you, Climbing. Even when I first met you. Recently my cousin told me that I have natural technique and it meant a lot to me. Spoonbill is quick to remind me that all this means is that I’m light and I have spindly arms, so I naturally rely on my legs instead of trying to muscle my way up the wall. But I really think it’s more than that. I’m not being arrogant, dear Climbing. You could have easily looked me over, like so many sports before you. But when I approached you with my shy hands and my spindly arms, you waited patiently for me to get to know you. You didn’t come flying at my face and you never tested me with any rapid back and forth exchanges. You waited, solid and reliable, while I tried out a few holds and shifted my weight from my hands to feet, and from my right foot to my left foot. And then you supported me while I explored and figured it out. I found my balance right away with you. And it felt right in a way that other sports never did before. My personality, as well as my spindly physique, make me feel like I was born to love you, Climbing. I like to think that this is what my cousin meant by natural technique. And I appreciate that even after all the time we’ve spent together you’re still patient with me while I figure out the new challenges you put before me.
I love the people I meet when I’m with you, Climbing. It seems that all the people that love you are just as patient and supportive as you. Perfect strangers will shout encouragement to me when I’m with you, Climbing. And when I fall, they never judge. They are more likely to remind me that I was really close to success, that I achieved something great even by moving one hold further, or they will just smile in understanding because they have fallen too.
I love the language we use to communicate, Climbing. I love that it is built on mutual trust. When I say I’m climbing, I will always wait until you’re ready for me, and you say “climb on.” When I say I need a take, I know you will assure me that you’ve got me before I let go. When something seems out of reach, you’re going to express your empathy and tell me “it’s a big move.” And when something seems impossible, we can always project it. My cousin has even told me that she thinks you have changed the way she communicates with her husband. I always think of that because it reinforces for me that climbing means trust. Trust in your partner and trust in yourself.
Climbing, what I think I love most about you is the way you make me feel about myself. After I have been with you, I feel strong. I feel outgoing and I feel confidant. I feel excited to see you again. And I feel proud of what I accomplished with you. That changes my outlook on everything else in life too. You make me want to work harder, eat healthier and be kinder to other people.
I know that what we have is a forever kind of love, Climbing. I am utterly devoted to you.