I have a new favorite thing. Okay, maybe not ultimately favorite, because things like snowboarding and rowing and hiking and swimming and especially climbing are right up there too, but this new thing is definitely a great addition to my life.
A few weeks ago, I bought the first bike I’ve had in several years. The August triathlon I found out about a month ago and decided to train for was my inspiration for the purchase. I figured I’d probably need a bike in order to do a triathlon…
I bought a Giant Avail 5 road bike from Sunshine Cycles in Athens. Fortunately, it was easy to take the front tire off to fit it in my back seat to drive it home, so I didn’t look like too much of a klutz in the bike store parking lot.
I did make a fool of myself on my very first bike ride, though. It was the first time I’d ever used pedal clips, and after I spent a half hour with the bike in my house, clipping in and falling over onto my bed, I figured I was comfortable enough to brave the road. My optimistic conclusion that the ominous dark gray rain cloud looming above would not dump rain on me within 60 seconds proved false, and I began my first bike ride in a relentless downpour.
Round trip, it was a solid, say, 200-yard ride. I made it to the corner, which is usually a quiet, carless intersection, but was naturally filled with traffic at the very moment I arrived. I slowed down to let a car pass, and debated whether or not I need to stop…I’m not really sure what happened there. The downpour proved a distraction as well. Anyways, I didn’t unclip my feet in time and had my first topple-over, in the middle of the intersection, in the pouring rain. And the guy who was in the process of turning at the intersection when I fell rolled down his window and yelled out “Are you okay?!” and I yelled back “Yeah!” and he probably thought I was crazy because I couldn’t stop laughing and smiling. I thought it was the best thing ever. Like I’d been indoctrinated into the sport of cycling. Like I’ve earned it now. I’m disappointed I only have a little scratch on my arm and a few scratches on my leg to show for it. After the spill, though, I decided a first bike ride in a downpour wasn’t my best idea ever, so I turned around and came home.
I’ve ridden my bike just about every day since I’ve had it and I can’t get enough of it. Training for this triathlon has become a good new mission for me. It shakes up the repetitiveness of the gym workouts, and most of my activity these days revolves around climbing and triathlon training.
I did a triathlon once but it was many, many years ago, so I definitely appreciate any triathlon training tips!
Commencement of what? My to-be perpetual affinity for REAL climbing. This past weekend marked my first ever real climbing trip. And so it begins…
I went to Sand Rock, Alabama with two fellow climbers from Active Climbing, Honza and Luani. This was also Luani’s first trip, but Honza’s been climbing probably since dinosaurs wandered the earth, so he taught us everything we needed to know and supplied all the gear we didn’t have (which was everything except shoes and chalk).
We made it to Sand Rock on Friday evening and had to set up camp in the dark. I won the bet that we’d be setting up camp in the dark, and even though I drove the three of us there in my car, I didn’t try to win that bet…despite our impeccable navigating, the very last turn of the trip became something of an Easter Egg Hunt. Once we’d set up camp, we hiked up some rocks to a beautiful view of the valley below us. We chatted with some other climbers there who had the same idea, and watched a beautiful lightning storm pass far in the distance before us. It was breathtaking.
The thunderstorm eventually worked its way toward us overnight, and the lingering rain in the morning forced us into a late start on our climbing on Saturday, since climbing on wet rocks didn’t sound like that great of an idea. Neither Luani nor I had done any lead climbing in the gym yet, so Honza lead each route, or climbed around each cliff, to set up a top rope for us on each route. We were so grateful for all he did to let us climb! He’s very safety conscious and I felt very safe climbing under his tutelage. I tried to lead one route, but it was a tough route (I don’t know what it was rated) and I just wasn’t comfortable enough clipping in without having done it in the gym yet. So, I stuck to top roping for the rest of the trip, but I was able to finish every route I tried.
Climbing there was so REAL. It felt like how it’s supposed to be. Maybe holds disappear through erosion or countless climbers using them over several decades, but otherwise, cliff faces don’t change. You create a brand new route by climbing a cliff face a different way. There are no predetermined holds; you make it up as you go. Kind of like life. It’s like it’s already all laid out for us, and we just decide how to venture through it. We’ve got no idea what’s coming up…we just take it as it comes, trust God, and challenge ourselves with tougher circumstances (or, routes) to make ourselves better each time. Life.
“Does anyone come here and not have fun?”
It was like music to my ears.
Those were the words of my friend Hannah as we were leaving Active Climbing yesterday after she experienced climbing for the first time. I got her all set up with some borrowed climbing shoes, a harness, and a Grigri, and showed her all about top roping and bouldering. She loved it and wants to come back again next week.
A few weeks ago, my great climbing buddy, Kristie, moved on to bigger and better things far away from Athens. She’s now following her dreams with the National Forest Service in Wyoming. She loves her new home and new job, and I am most certainly thankful to have my climbing buddies, Matt and Fred, still here with me, but Kristie will most certainly be missed.
So, since Kristie’s departure, I’ve been recruiting potential climbers any way I can. To Hannah, climbing immediately became what it’s become to me: a challenge that serves as an analogy for life. About a year ago, doctors found a benign tumor the size of a softball sitting on top of the femoral artery in Hannah’s side. It was diagnosed as aggressive fibromatosis. She’d had plans the Friday after she was diagnosed, but ended up having surgery that night instead to remove the tumor. The time between her diagnosis and surgery was agonizing, and that’s when she decided that no challenge was too great for her. She’s always been an active girl, swimming and playing tennis as often as she can. Hannah has spent the past year recovering from the surgery, physically and emotionally, and has just recently returned to her pre-surgery level of physical activity.
So, although I didn’t know it, it was serendipitous that I asked if she wanted to try climbing. It’s something she can look at and think, as I have so often, “That’s impossible. But I’ve been through impossible before, so I can do this too.”
I’ve never met anyone so passionate about anything as Rick. The ocean was truly a part of him. He didn’t find the ocean; it found him, off the shores of Guam, and it became a component of his soul. His love for outrigger canoe paddling embraced the majesty of the ocean. The ocean was not to be taken for granted; it was to be respected and honored. To Rick, the ocean was spiritual, vicious, threatening, calming, challenging, insightful, humbling.
Like climbing, paddling became my passion, too. Rick is the reason for my genuine appreciation for the ocean and paddling. As a shipdriver, I had a healthy affinity for the ocean, but as my paddling coach for the two years I spent on Guam, Rick built that into something more authentic. Listen to the ocean and you’ll receive answers. Embrace its beauty and release to its serenity. Respect the ocean and it will respect you.
He taught me not only this respect for the ocean, but a respect for fellow paddlers. Outrigger canoe paddling embodies a culture of true sportsmanship: we all try our best, and we all respect each others’ best. Second place is an opportunity to try harder.
Our paddling team was recreational. It ebbed and flowed just like the ocean; there were times attendance at practices was sporadic, and there were times we had a solid team that competed and won races. A few of us became infected with the excitement of racing and pursued it on a more competitive team, but Rick was always there to come back to. Our team name was “Imua,” which means “strong,” “onward,” or “forward” in Hawai’ian. Very appropriate.
Rick passed yesterday. I don’t know the circumstances surrounding his death, but I know he was pulled from the water at Gun Beach, a beautiful spot where we used to stop in our canoes during our Sunday morning practices to sit with our feet in the water and chat, or look for turtles and dolphins and manta rays to breach the surface, or close our eyes and be silent as the sun rose over the cliffs. When I heard the news of his death, my first thought was of mornings doing just this. So, it makes me feel better that his soul left this earth immersed in what he loves.
Every once in a while, we’d get an e-mail from Rick, at work in the middle of the day, with a link to a video, or an insightful thought about paddling and the ocean. Here’s one of his favorite videos, a popular one from www.ocpaddler.com, called “On The Water.” (I had trouble getting the link to work, so if it doesn’t, it’s well worth going to the website and clicking “videos;” it’s the first one on the list.)
I had an onset of nostalgia this morning reading through the old e-mails I have from him, and I found this from one of the messages he sent us in the middle of one of those mundane workdays:
“People come and go, but the core philosophy of ‘outrigger’ stays forever; be careful, it is addictive, though. The ocean is wonderful, challenging and ultimately humbling to everyone…outrigger gives us a chance to challenge ourselves, grow stronger, work together, absorb ourselves in something way larger and more powerful than our little selves”
He’d always sign his e-mails, “Mahalo, Rick.” “Mahalo” means “Thank you” in Hawai’ian. I won’t ever receive another e-mail from him that says “Mahalo, Rick,” so now, it comes from us. Mahalo, Rick. For everything.
Honza, because I know you’ll be reading this post, you should know it was inspired by you.
The other day, Honza was giving me tips on how not to waste so much energy while I’m climbing.
“You’re doing really good but you’re still wasting so much energy! Don’t hold your body out like that. Let your legs take your weight and you can hang. You won’t need to use your arms so much.”
I always appreciate climbing tips, and Honza’s advice definitely helped. As I climbed for the next hour or so until I left the gym, I thought about how not to waste so much energy.
But the advice got me thinking about how much energy I could be wasting elsewhere in my life. Worrying immediately comes to mind, which I sometimes consider my specialty. I can only imagine how much energy I lose worrying about things I can’t control, considering the amount of lost sleep, the wasted rapid heartbeats and shallow breathing, and the degree of lost sanity I could never measure. So, my climbing-slash-life lesson for today is this: stop trying to hold myself up, and just succumb to what I can’t control. Find a source of serenity. It’s incredible how much longer you can endure when your energy is properly guided.
I guess I have a little confession to make. By the time I started this blog, I had wanted to start keeping one for a while, but the reason I started this blog when I did was because it was an assignment for a class. I’ve never done a good job at keeping up with the newest social media, but I taught myself about WordPress and online networking and blog etiquette and I learned a lot. I’ve connected with lots of other incredible climbers and fantastic people and have really been inspired by them…they motivate me to keep operating just on the brink of “I can’t do this” so that I keep growing. But most of what I’ve gotten out of writing over the past few months is the concrete evidence of how I’ve changed in just a few months from a painfully obvious beginner climber to a “I-kinda-almost-fit-in-with-the-other-climbers-in-the-gym” climber, and that’s what’s continuously important: growing and changing. And more than that, it’s let me project my life on my climbing, and my climbing on my life.
For me, it’s important that a blog is not a public diary. I wouldn’t want everyone on the internet to know everything that goes through my head. But this blog has let me articulate what drives me in ways I hadn’t been able to before, and my hope in these reflections is that it’s given insight to someone else looking for motivation. Climbing is where I landed; climbing found me, and its timing was perfect in my life. But it won’t be climbing for everyone. Even for me, something different has been my “climbing” at different times in my life. When I was growing up, it was gymnastics. In college, it was rowing. Living on Guam, it was paddling and hiking. Now, it’s climbing. And it doesn’t have to be a physical activity; a relationship or an insightful book or sewing lessons or cooking classes or writing poems may do the same thing. Whatever fits you; whatever makes you see that you CAN do what you didn’t think you could. I’ve learned that I’m not just a climber. It’s okay if I’m not stellar at it, or at anything I do. I do all of it because it makes ME a stronger and better person, and because it brings joy to my life. So, find whatever that thing is for you.
I have good intentions of continuing to post in this blog because I know I’ll have many future climbing adventures, and I’d like to continue to reflect on their parallels in my life, and hope they influence someone else, too.
For me, climbing mixes, into an overwhelming concoction of emotion, each of the feelings I get individually from all of my life experiences. As I write this, I’m realizing that so many of those feelings can’t even be described; they can only be experienced. Here’s my best effort at painting the picture of what climbing is to me…
It’s a rush, like cliff diving…being 60 feet above the ground attached vertically to a wall and thinking, just like the moment you jump off the cliff into the water, “Welp, can’t turn back now.” (Fortunately for climbers, the toprope‘s a great safety net!)
It’s accomplishment, like teaching someone something new and watching it make sense to them. It’s rewarding to see success.
It’s defeat, like letting something just out of our reach beat you, like when you’ve given all you have but surrendered to the wall for the day. (But, you know that not meeting the goal is not failure, because striving for what’s out of our reach is the only way we grow.)
It’s relentless determination…which, fortunately, is stronger than defeat.
It’s anticipation, like a first kiss…breathtaking when it’s happened.
It’s a healthy bit of insanity fueled by conviction…even though the skin is peeling off your hands and you can’t feel your fingertips, you keep going back for more. (Scroll past the next two pictures if you don’t want a visual of this.)
It’s that feeling you get at the end of a paddling (or rowing or running or any kind of) race you’ve just put all you have into and won that I can’t even explain…It’s climbing back onto the wall each time you fall, no matter how exhausted and how torn up your hands are, until you’ve finally reached the very last hold.
It’s disbelief…that you finished a route you’d once looked at thinking, “I’ll never finish that route.” And when that route starts to become easy.
It’s satisfaction, like watching a sunset. Whether or not all you’d hoped was accomplished, there is closure at the end of the day that all that could be was poured out to make the most of the day. There is knowledge of and hope in the gains of the next day.