Monday, January 11, 2010

It's all about the climb, Baby.

So, I climbed to the top of a grain silo yesterday.

My kids and I spent the day at Upper Limits, a rock climbing gym in Bloomington.

Although the boys were beside themselves with excitement and itching to climb, they were not down with the whole two-hour safety class that they had to endure. For me, it was prolonging the inevitable, where I pictured being what seemed like thousands of feet off the ground, losing my footing, and smashing to the cushioned but pretty worthless floor below.

The class was invaluable, not only for my own personal safety and that of my treasures, but to learn the host of knots, safety checks and climbing commands that we would be using as we put our lives in each others' hands.

Our instructor was patient, especially with me, as the mom fear kicked in and I insisted on practicing my knots several dozen times, looking at him for approval like an eager puppy. When I was finally ready for my belay check, it was my oldest son on the other end. At one point, he was to perform two surprise "takes", where he would "fall" off the wall to see if I could stop him from plummeting to the ground.

This was not cool. But I did it. And I'll never let him forget it.

Then it was my turn. It took me a good 10 minutes to remember my commands: "On belay." "Climbing." Real tough, right? But not words I use in my everyday life.

Actually, the climbing part was the least stressful, and the most enjoyable. I found that I do have strength in my legs, buried underneath those layers of wintry, pasty fat. And it is all about the legs. My chicken arms managed to hoist myself up a bit, but it was my legs that did all the work. Which is good, because halfway up I felt as if my forearms were going to burn right off my body.

Oh, and here's a tip - don't look down. At one point, I was told my rope was in the wrong place. Uh, thanks. So as I'm struggling not to a) choke myself with said rope and b) perform a surprise "take", I looked down momentarily and noticed that the people below looked remarkably like ants. "Don't think," I said. "Just climb."

I made it to the top, slapped the ceiling, then prayed that I could get down without incident. Luckily, my belayer was experienced, and provided me with a smooth ride, with only a few random bumps against the silo wall.

I made it to the top twice. It was exhilarating. But what I found was that it wasn't so much the challenge of slapping that ceiling with my calloused hand, but the strength and strategy of getting up there at all. And I thought to myself (because I had the time), this is kind of what life's all about. It's not being at the top, because you're only there momentarily. It's learning how to climb, then doing it to the best of your ability.

And if you're like me, you find that you are stronger than you thought.

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