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2016-01-01 / Go Pink Boots

Climbing the Walls

Jill Gleeson

I’ve been known upon occasion to regard myself and my abilities with the proverbial pink spectacles, although it doesn’t happen very often. By necessity, I generally live life ultra-aware of my utter cluelessness at various endeavors, particularly my Go Pink Boots types of adventures. When you are as straight-up grace­less as me, when your daily existence looks like clips from a Jerry Lewis movie, to remain blind to your essential nature could prove not just unwise but hazardous.

But every once in a while, through a combination of vigorous enthu­siasm, dedicated optimism and ill- timed arrogance, I convince myself I’m far more capable than I actually am. I do something well and think, “Eureka! I’ve found it! This is that thing I was meant to do all along!” I’d entertained those fantasies about climbing for a couple years, ever since I’d scaled Phoenix’s Camel­back Mountain. It was my first-ever climbing attempt and I’d scurried up that rock face like I was Spiderman on Red Bull and steroids. I’d imme­diately concluded, therefore, that I’d finally discovered my athletic call­ing. I was a climber.

So it was with no small expecta­tion of triumph that I arrived at High Point Climbing and Fitness, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, for my long-awaited second foray into the sport. High Point boasts 30,000 feet of climbing space, including 55-foot-tall outdoor walls climbers ascend high over the downtown streets. I was looking forward to that – I pictured myself waving mu­nificently, Queen Elizabeth-like, to the admiring townsfolk below – so after checking in at the front desk my boyfriend Wayne and I headed outside.

There was a single lane open. On one side of it, a father was climb­ing with his young son. On the other, three uber-fit, shirtless guys were taking turns scampering skyward. I grinned at them and clipped my harness into the safety ropes, placing my foot on one of the little bumps protruding from the wall. Reaching up, I grabbed the closest handhold, pulling myself higher as I sought the next spot for my foot. Then I did it again. And again.

Slowly, I inched in fits and starts, like a drunken snail, up the wall. After what seemed hours, days, eons, I stopped. I hung there limply for a while, considering the situation. I was about 20 feet up. To my left, the little kid stuck out his tongue as he scuttled past. To my right, one of the shirtless guys extolled “Git ya some!!” as he scooted higher.

Finally, Wayne called up to me.

“What’s going on, baby girl?”

“Oh, nothing,” I yelled down, ca­sually.

“Nothing? Why’d you stop?”

“I…um.” I cleared my throat. “I think my fingers are stuck.”

“What do you mean your fingers are stuck?”

“They’re STUCK . They’ve cramped up or something and I can’t unclench them.” I peered down at him. He was smiling encouragingly. A little too encouragingly. “Stop laughing. It’s not funny. Also, my legs seem to have gone wobbly.”

One of the shirtless guys wandered over to him and they stood together, whispering.

“What are you two talking about?” I hollered down.

“Well, Chet says you can get fin­ger cramps if you haven’t climbed in a while,” Wayne responded. “You better come down!”

“My hands are killing me! There’s no way I can climb back down!”

Chet, sweat glistening off his lithe torso, chimed in. “Just rappel down. You’ll be fine.”

After a bit of convincing, I did. The bad news is, I landed flat on my back. The good news is, I didn’t land on Chet. Wayne pulled me to my feet while Chet advised me not to take it to heart, telling me I just needed to take things more slowly, try some less difficult climbs.

I thanked him gratefully, already planning ahead to the next wall I’d tackle, once my hands had relaxed from their claw-like spasms. I’d put those pink spectacles back on, but then I suppose a little optimism nev­er hurt anyone. At least not when there are safety ropes involved. •SCM

Jill Gleeson dares to venture outside of her comfort zone and learns a lesson every time. Follow her adventures on Twitter @gopinkboots.

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