Tag Archives: Wageningen

A Love Letter to Climbing

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.

Dear Climbing,

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.

Love, Ibis.

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Keuken Spatel

There’s nothing like jet lag to find yourself googling “where to buy keuken spatel in Wageningen” at 4am in a foreign country.

So I have successfully arrived in Wageningen and had a “productive” couple of first days in my new home. By “productive” I mean that the stuff I have managed to accomplish in the last 48 hours would have taken me 4 hours tops to cross off a to-do list in Edmonton, but progress is progress man. Let’s recap.

The Journey – I had a lovely farewell dinner on Friday night with my chère maman, cher papa, soeur and frère-in-law at Canteen on 124th Street. If you have not been, go there. And then ORDER THE BACON WRAPPED DATES. You’re welcome. On Saturday morning the journey officially began. Part one being comprised of the three hour drive to Calgary (I know, I know – stop the Calgary habit and all, but my new status as unemployed student can’t say no to $1000 in savings. Literally one thousand dollars). Since I arrived three hours early for my flight as per Air Transat’s directions, I’m going to call the three hour wait at the airport part two of my journey. I know this is standard for an international flight but my emotions were all over the map and these were some of the longest hours of my life. Part three was, of course, the nine hour flight to Amsterdam. It was an uneventful flight, although I was underwhelmed by Air Transat’s customer service. But again, for $1000 cheaper than any other commercial airline, what the hell do I care? They failed to serve me a gluten-free meal, although with all the chaos leading up to my departure I really can’t remember if I booked one in advance or not. Still, their solution was to offer me an apple. Well isn’t that just going the extra mile? A whole apple! Actually what I really could have used was a giant bar of chocolate. See: emotional turmoil above.

Upon arriving in Amsterdam, I took an hour train ride to Ede. This is where I met the first of two Dutch angels of mercy. My luggage consisted of a large wheeled suitcase, my hosteling backpack, and my small carry-on backpack. My travel game plan was to wear the hosteling backpack on my back, the small backpack on my front, and drag the wheeled suitcase behind me. I even put all this on at home and strutted around my apartment announcing loudly to my parents, “Haha piece of cake! I can go anywhere with this!” Oh Ibis, so stupid. See, I had envisioned that the floor of the train would be level with the platform and I would easily just roll my suitcase onto the train and take my seat. False. First you must lift your heavy-as suitcase up a couple steps, and then the options are to go further up several steps to the upper level, go down 3 steps to the lower level, or stand awkwardly by the door for an hour with your luggage, like a chump. Mama Ibis didn’t raise no chump, so I chose to drag my suitcase down the 3 steps. An hour later when we were nearing the Ede platform, a Dutch lady sitting next to me asked if I was going to be able to get my suitcase back up the stairs and off the train. I said yes but to be honest I was getting a little antsy about managing before the train left the platform again. My fears were probably unfounded but Dutch Angel of Mercy #1 took pity on me and took the whole suitcase off the train for me while I sheepishly followed behind with my double backpacks.

At the Ede train/bus station, I spent some time trying to figure out how the hell to buy my bus fare. The machines for the transit cards didn’t take my Visa and I could only find a slot for coins, not bills. Having no coins, I asked a women and her daughter at the machine next to me if they knew whether the bus driver would give me change for my 20 euros. They confessed to not knowing, because of course they just use their transit cards. And then the women revealed herself to be Dutch Angel of Mercy #2, and explained that since she was headed back to Wageningen, she would be happy to drop me at my new place. Just like that. I can’t tell you how often during my undergrad I stood at a cold, miserable bus stop in Edmonton in mid-February and watched all the cars drive by in the direction of campus, wishing one of them would just stop all of a sudden and say, “Hey we’re probably both on our way to class, can I give you a lift?” But alas, it never happened. And now, not even 24 hours after arriving in the Netherlands, this dream was finally coming true. And then not only did she drive me to my new house, she gave me a quick impromptu driving-tour of campus and the town. First impression of the Dutch: kindest people in the world.

I arrived at my new place at 2pm Dutch-time. Aka 6am Edmonton-time. Total journey time = 19 hours. Not bad.

What I have accomplished since arriving: buying groceries, unpacking, getting a Dutch SIM card for my phone, getting a bike, getting a bike lock, registering with the municipality.

My sleeping schedule: go to bed at 10pm, wake up at 2am, fall back asleep around 6am, wake up again at noon. I hate jet-lag. But at least I’m getting a solid 10 hours every day. Ha!

Things I meant to pack but forgot in Edmonton: my red travel spork that toured Europe with me two years ago, my blue polka dot shower cap. Is it crazy if I ask my mother to mail these to me? I already know the answer to this…

Things I want to buy ASAP: a new pillow (my head has been spoiled by a luxurious $100 pillow from Sleep Country for the past two years…there is no going back to the $5 special after that – unemployed student or no), a lemon squeezer (or citroenpers in Dutch. My morning ritual is half a lemon squeezed in water before breakfast), and finally a kitchen spatula (or keuken spatel in Dutch. I don’t understand how anyone can possibly prefer their eggs to be anything but over-easy). Hence my googling “where to buy a keuken spatel in Wageningen” in the middle of the night. I figure if I’m going to be jet-lagged, I might as well make the best of it.

It’s now 8am. Two hours past my go-back-to-sleep time. The responsible side of me says, “Get up and seize the day!” But another, much louder, side of me says, “Classes don’t start til Sept 2. At this point you’re not even an unemployed student, Ibis. You’re just unemployed.”

Nighty night!

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