Tuesday, October 27, 2009


(Photo: Steph and Caitlin discuss matters of social importance)

Until recently, I've been a lone soul. Though I hold my own in large social groups, deep down, I've never preferred that chaos to the one-on-one visits with friends. Climbing has brought more people in my life than I can count, and the sense of community has been both immediate and refreshing. My academic life has been somewhat isolating, and over the years I've spent a fair amount of cash making exodus-style road trips to Boulder to visit friends there. Between those visits, however, have been long stretches of lonely hours, shoulders bent, nose stuck in books.

(Photo: The bench fills up on Climbing Club nights)

This evening, I attended my first "climbing club" night, a two-hour climbing social with a trip to our favorite pizza and beer bar afterward. I "red pointed" for the first time, climbing clean and without beta, that "Flip-Flop Climb" route I didn't quite finish on Sunday. Having laid waste to the 5.6 routes, I'll be taking on a 5.7 corner route on Thursday. Our club refers to a "red point" climb for both lead and non-lead climbs, so don't be too impressed. I wasn't lead climbing (today).

(Photo: Ryann gets her nerd on while Papa Al eats pizza)

I also used my new harness and loved getting home without the usual bruises across my thighs the Rec's harnesses have given me. I'm discovering it's the little things, like decent padding and a good fit, that matter. Yesterday, to celebrate my Sunday success, I bought myself a charming medium chalk bag - a welcome replacement for the too-deep "I.V. bag" style that came with my harness package. Just a six weeks into this experiment and I'm becoming a "gear ho" - spending far too much time cruising the Internet for steals and deals. I've just broken in my pair of La Sportiva Nago shoes, and I'm already checking out the end of season bargains, like the Evolve closeouts. A host of hikers and climbers are on sale, even the aggressive Talons are on sale for $49, a significant bargain considering the shoes retailed for $125 earlier this year.

(Photo: Doug and Steph listen to climbing tales)

I'm not buying, though. Not this time around. When I start hookin' my heels, though, I might find just the right incentive for another expenditure (who needs groceries anyway?). Just this week I've had to replace my climbing pants. The old ones, both a pair of yoga stretch capri leggings and a pair of "boyfriend" jeans I dearly loved are now too big. I've lost a full dress size in just the last three weeks, something I didn't anticipate. In fact, when I walked into the store and found myself purchasing a regular size large instead of a plus size, I was rather shocked (however pleased). I haven't bought clothing from the regular women's department in more than ten years.

(Photo: Caitlin and Steven anchor the table)

I'd tout my weight loss numbers, but that's a violation of the Project Up goal. Ultimately, this project is about relearning body image and respect through activity and nutrition. It's not a diet or even a weight loss-centered effort. P'UP is an attempt to consider an new lifestyle and attitude. Whatever weight loss I have is a byproduct, not the focus, of this fun. So I don't bother to step on the scale. I figure the fit of my clothes will tell me everything I need to know.

Thanks to my climbing partner, Ryann, I was able to develop fingerboard skills my climbing daughter didn't know about. So on top of "smokin'" her boyfriend on the wall, I got to show her that her old mother had a few tricks up her sleeve. I think it's important to keep your teenagers on their toes.

"How in the hell did you learn about this when I didn't even know about it?" she demanded, hanging from the top of the fingerboard.

"What can I say?" I said, "When I couldn't get up, I learned to hang. I bouldered. Whatever I could do, I did."



Ah, our mother-and-child bond is a loving one.

I then showed her how to do a hanging ab workout, and earned her (begrudging) respect. She couldn't say so, of course. The surest way to gage your impact on a teenage daughter: If you do something and she goes silent, you know you've rocked her world. After her boyfriend reclaimed his dignity by doing 15 pull ups from the fingerboard, they left and I shambled after the Climbing Club gang for a slice of pizza and a couple of pints.

(Photo: The gang unwinds with pizza and beer at Yia-Yia's)

Steph and I celebrated my red point route with a Guinness, talked shop, and shared stories. Jamie, an experienced climber I admire, tore up her hands on a 5.8. She showed me the blisters and open wounds, grinning. Pain is a funny thing among this group - we seem to celebrate our owies. It reminds me of my years as a competitive softball player, when bruises and scrapes were proof I had delivered. Now, as I wince holding my morning cup of coffee or slip into nirvana when holding a glass of ice water, I feel connected to all my climbing friends through the common bond of tender callouses.

And those stiff shoulders in the morning? The stiff forearms and aching wrists? Braggin' rights, baby.

Watching the club gang at Yia-Yia's, I realized how fortunate I was to fall into such a fine group of people. They're positive, affirming souls, the kind who help you celebrate both your small and big victories. They offer encouragement and advice, support and reminders that we're all learning to do this thing we call climbing. Never in my life have I met so many good people at once. Meeting such beautiful people has been an unexpected gift, and I doubt I'll ever feel the way I did last week. My biggest lesson this week, it turns out, was a focused examination of Self and Community. And all I had to do to make this progress was to shed my perspective, the limiting lens, and reach out to others.

I don't even know why it had once been so difficult. I only know that I am happier now than I've been in a long, long time.

Some of the women discussed a winter tour of indoor climbing gyms, a four-day weekend trip that would take us from Iowa to Missouri, then to Kansas City, and back to Lincoln. We're planning an "All Ladies" climbing night in November, and doing all we can to help our favorite femme fatale, Steph, keep her mind off of her pending vet school applications. This sense of community investment in each others' lives wasn't something I expected when I started this project. What I thought was a personal inquiry is fast becoming a community experience. This is pretty magical to me, and I'm grateful for this time with these people.


  1. Erica, I'm so glad that climbing is bringing so much to your life including great people!

  2. I'm having a great time, actually, though today's blisters suck.


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