I suppose I could say it started with a story. It probably started with Chaz Villette, Daphne Worth, and Elizabeth Bear, all three of whom were friends of mine on LJ. (Two out of those three were fictional characters, but that hardly matters for this context.) All three were climbers, two starting out fairly new to the sport.
From the comfort of the internet, I watched as Elizabeth and Daphne pushed themselves and became better climbers. I watched as the bonds of friendship were strengthened over the shared activity, the trust, and the adrenaline. Saw the problem solving and determination honed on the rocks come into play when grappling with life. And I thought, gee, that looks like fun. Too bad I'm scared of heights.
That thought simmered from the summer of 2008 until the fall of 2011, when I decided that I wasn't going to let my brain push me around, recruited a friend, and headed to the local climbing gym on "newbies get in for half off" day.
It. Was. Terrifying. Sweaty palms, dizzy head, why-am-I-doing-this terrifying. But I got to the top of the first easy wall and then the second. I wasn't following any routes. Simply making it to the ceiling of the warehouse in which the gym lived was a feat. And I was hooked. Hooked enough to give myself tendonitis in my elbow during my first month of climbing, because I didn't know when to say when.
The tendonitis put me on a forced rest from Christmas to June. It was hard, and I kicked myself for being so stupid in my enthusiasm. I read up on stretches, visited a PT, and vowed to pay attention to my body in the future.
When my arm was ready, I slowly and cautiously headed back to the gym. It was nice. There was still the feeling of "I hate this? Why am I doing this?!" partway up the first wall. There was still the several minutes at the top when I forced myself to relax, let go of the wall, lean back, and let my climbing partner lower me. And I still climbed the "rainbow route."
Part of that changed when I took a late summer climbing class. Once we were belaying with our partners, the instructors encouraged us to start trying the routes. I stuck to the 5.6s and the occasional rainbow. It worked for me.
Lately I've been climbing a lot at a tiny gym with four ropes on an autobelay. I can stop in on my way home from work, do a quick climb, and continue on towards supper. The autobelay means you don't require a partner, but it also means that it will start to drop you as soon as you put your weight on it. The size of the gym pushed me to start doing routes just to give myself a challenge. The autobelay pushed me to get comfortable letting go and dropping without coaxing and hesitation.
In the past couple of months, I went from 5.6 routes to 5.7 and recently to 5.8. Each time went in fits and starts. Climbing makes me push my own boundaries, but it is also an area in which I give myself permission to quit. I listen to my arms and know when to say, "not this, not today." I don't beat myself up for giving up halfway up if my arms weren't up for it anymore, because I know that the problem I am trying to solve will likely still be there next time. At the same time, having permission to fail and to quit can also prompt me to go just a bit higher and farther, because why not?
Lately, I've been inching my way up a 5.8. Even just a month ago, I couldn't even get started on this route. Each time I've tried it, I've gotten a little higher and farther before I dropped. Each day I added at least one new handhold to my list. The last time I was at it, I was within one handhold of sending the route when I tried to push up and pushed back instead, yet I'd almost given up entirely a little earlier. I'd made it past a particularly thorny bit and had thought, "well, my arms are jelly, time to go back down," when part of rebelled. "No," I thought, "push on to the next one. So what if you go for it and fall? That's what the rope is for."
So I tried for that next, distant handhold, and soon found myself pushing for the next and the next. I made it about three more moves before the accidental drop. I saw my limit and I pushed past it this time. I stood up on it. It was then that I realized how much I want to make it to a 5.10 and beyond someday. It also made me realized that there were other areas in my life where I need to stand up on it and muscle past my limits. Maybe I'll fall, but my life is not without ropes to catch me. The important part is to go for the next thing.
Stand up on it.