Inside my head: Several monologues took place in my brain as I climbed. The key was to hold on to the positive ones so they could fuel me through my challenge.
Some months back while out climbing, I got on a challenging route that spurred enough curiosity in me to want to finish it without falling or hanging on the protective gear. If you’ve never sport climbed before, a route is a set way to scale up a rock face. Climbing routes range from easy to difficult, and the route that caught my attention was on the difficult end of the spectrum—at least for my fitness level.
Last Sunday I went back to the aforementioned route, ready to send it (to climb it from bottom to top without falling or hanging on the gear). On my first go, I hung on every other bolt (protection piece) while reviewing sequences of moves. I was on this route only three days before, but remembering key foot and handholds was challenging, to say the least. My husband patiently belayed (managed the rope) and reminded me of pertinent sequences that would help make me conserve my strength, thus climb more efficiently.
The impending accomplishment of the route hung in my head, causing me to put undue pressure on myself. It had been a while since I climbed anything this hard since my shoulder injury, and part of me wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of doing something difficult again. I fumbled with foot work, causing me to over grip some hand holds, which in turn made my forearms balloon with lactic acid. “I don’t know how I can do this,” I said in a tone mixed with fear and exhaustion. And yet this small voice in my brain argued with me and whispered “of course you can do it.”
After what seemed like forever, I eventually figured the moves to the top, feeling semi-confident enough that I could do it without hanging or falling on the next go. I got down, took a break, belayed my husband on his project, and about 45 minutes later, it was time to revisit my route. “Do you remember all the moves?” asked my husband. “Yes, pretty much,” I replied as I tied in to the rope, slipped on my climbing shoes, and dusted my hands with chalk.
And so began the ascent. I was nervous—but not the headless chicken, breathless kind of nervous; rather the alert, excited kind. By the third bolt however, I stepped on an unfamiliar part of the rock, sending my footwork off. It triggered an alarm in my head that I wasn’t following my original plan. If I were an actor in a play, I was going off script, and my eyes were scrolling through all my lines, wondering which parts I forgot. If I was an actor in a play, by now I was improvising.
Thankfully my brain told my body—now on fight or flight mode—to stay calm. It reassured me that there was a solution. My brain also told me to fight, but not the kind where you struggle, wrestle, kick, and scream. Rather, the kind where you face your fears and stare them down. “Breathe,” said my brain. And so I did. And when I did, any thoughts of panic dissipated. I found alternate ways to get up, I wasn’t afraid of falling, and pushed myself to a spot where I could rest. I found my version of Child’s Pose on the rock, and it allowed me to reset everything. Before long I was back on track. I clipped my rope to the anchors up top, signalling it was over—I had finished the route.
This kind of ascent taught me that sometimes, even if you plan things down to the letter, they don’t always turn out the way you expect them to. And that’s okay. You’ll make mistakes, you’ll veer off from your target, but if you stay focused, you can still end up where you want to. It’s useless to focus on the “should haves.” Had I done that, I would have wasted time and effort, freaked out and fallen off. Instead I shifted to plan B (I think even a plan C, at one point), realizing “hey, this works, too. Let’s move on.”
Looking back, if I had fallen, I think I would have been okay with that too. At least there’s always the chance of starting all over again. But let’s save that for another blog entry.