Never would I have ever dreamt of becoming a rock climber. I categorized it an extreme sport for the brash and the reckless; for a certain set of uniquely skilled adventurers. Yet somehow, I found myself (alone) one weekend on a four hour bus ride for the sole purpose of checking out the 40,000 square feet Brooklyn Boulders in Boston.
It started this past summer when I visited Brooklyn Boulders on a whim, dragged along by my REI card-carrying friends. I rented shoes, a chalk bag, and approached the walls with confidence, as a former gymnast. It was a lot harder than I expected; the lowest “grade” in difficulty (V0) proved to be a challenge that repeatedly humbled me to the ground. My pride was suffering as much as the underused muscles in my hands were.
I tried the wall again and flailed a foot around when I heard a voice behind me, “you’ve got a hold by your knee, bring your hip in and foot up onto it,”. I followed the disembodied instructions and managed to climb a bit higher. There I discovered the unique sense of community, of camaraderie, in rock climbing gyms. It’s a comforting feeling, that we’re all trying to get from point A to point B, by overcoming personal challenges. It’s the encouragement and support from others who’ve already traversed the routes you’re on that guides you along the way.
When I arrived to the enormous gym in Boston, I climbed the fifty-foot auto-belay, placing my life and safety into the motor of a machine. At the pinnacle was a window with a promised view. I was shaking about thirty-five feet up, in part due to nerves, and in part due to exhausted muscles, and stopped. Earlier, an eight-year old boy had struck up a conversation with me about rock climbing. I asked him what his mindset was when on the walls, and he replied that one has to be “calm, not too sweaty, and you have to leave the real world outside of the gym,”. I smiled thinking about that innocent, zen-like approach, and proceeded to reach the top where I was rewarded with a beautiful view of the Boston skyline.
Hours of climbing later, I sat in the wood sauna of the locker room and realized that rock climbing is more than a sport; it’s a metaphor for life. Confidence is key, as is physical and mental strength, as most endeavors in life require. Belaying involves a certain amount of trust, required of any relationship in life. Bouldering involves nothing but you and the walls that emerge from nature and are replicated in gyms.
It’s about not giving up, even when things seem hard, to get where you want to go.