(PHOTO: Urban Climber Magazine)
My first trip to the BRC was a rough one. That was two years ago, on a trip I had taken to help my daughter after some intense and unjust drama. My second visit to the BRC was on the day I had my first car accident after I learned one of my favorite professors had killed himself. I can't say that trip was a good one. I was in bad shape, mentally and physically. While my friends and daughter climbed, I sat in an alcove, tucked into a hard plastic chair, feeling as if I were out of place, out of sorts, and out of hope.
I remember crying in that chair, just sitting there and watching climbers, feeling as if life had violently passed me by like an 18 wheeler hauling hogs across I-80. I felt small, flattened out by tons of trucking life that had rolled me over and left me for dead among the debris of an unconscious culture. Feeling crucified to a barbwire fence like a paper bag pushed roadside by unrelenting wind, dying among the fast food trash and repulsed by my own malodorous stench of mental decay, I wept.
My tears weren't caused by self-pity or profound sadness. They were simply evidence that I had somehow, in the years between my misspent youth and my present, completely lost sight and sense of who I was, or who I could be. Looking back across my journals, I know that Project Up was born then, in the back room of my cerebral house, as I sat at the BRC.
Watching lithe figures scale the wall, listening to laughter and camaraderie, a tiny voice almost unrecognizable as my inner wisdom, cried out, "I want that."
I looked down at my writing hands and my corpulence, the excess weight I've carried like a cross in supreme maternal martyrdom, and made a promise to myself. "Someday," I whispered. "Someday."
In the year and a half between that moment and the formal beginning of P'UP, I made small steps - literally. I started walking to work, walking from work, walking at the gym, and walking on the weekends. I went through two pairs of sneakers in that year. Then I started riding my bike everywhere - no matter the weather. My car collected dust on its finish. It was as unused as my potential, I think, and became an icon of my success. Looking down at it from the balcony of my apartment, seeing the grit and the neglect, I was deeply satisfied.
By the time this project began in a formal sense, I had already shed a few pounds (and complexes). So when I returned to the BRC this month, armed with my harness and shoes, I already felt I had accomplished something. As I passed that plastic chair and made my way to my first route I thought about my first and second visits and smiled.
They say, "the third time's a charm." This was certainly true for me. The BRC staff welcomed me, gave me a belay test, and unlike the staff at Boulders Gym in Madison, WI, treated me like a climber. I shambled off, tied in, and did my best. The first day, I didn't complete a route. And I didn't care. When I had finished top-rope experimentation, I headed to the bouldering cave and spent a good hour working out my unease, my fear of re-injuring my foot, and in the process realized that I had reached a someday.
That night, spent and sleeping a contented sleep, every muscle in my arms and chest cramped. I woke face down, clinging to a pillow and sheets as if I were hanging onto a granite face for dear life. Despite the pain, I laughed. I marveled my cramped hands in the blue light, waiting for my muscles to relax, and wondered if climbing would ever stop making me feel as if I were finally living a real life.
Before leaving my dearest friends in Boulder, we returned to climb at the BRC. I topped two 5.7 routes, bailed on two others, and spent the night loving my friends in ways I hadn't before. I was really with them, enjoying their climbing as much as my own, and finding it impossible to separate my love of climbing from my love for them. I wasn't stuck upstairs in the kiddie room. I wasn't sitting in a bucket chair, thinking about someday. I was standing among them, listening and loving, tingling with electric joy.
My foot eventually began to ache, a deep in the bone discomfort that ended my climbing. So I sat, I watched. I thought about our upcoming trip to Shelf Road and wondered what else my friends would teach me about life, climbing, and love. There was a pot of beef stew waiting for us at the house, just another of my love offerings I give them because they have been so good to me. I looked forward to our feast, our laughter, even as I sat in silence.
As they climbed, I eventually returned to that plastic chair. I sat there, thinking of the last two years and all I had managed to accomplish. I sat, wishing my professor had experienced this joy just once before he gave up and exited our life with such startling finality I still haven't caught my breath. I rubbed my foot, smiling. I thought about the future, smiling. I thought about how much I love my Boulder friends, how much they mean to me, smiling.
And at the end of the night, I stood and walked out proudly with the ache of small things in my heart, knowing without the little things, and without my friends, I would never have had the courage or the need to get UP. Without their faith in me, I would never have become a believer. Without their encouragement, I would never have encouraged myself. How can one ever repay such debt? How can one ever express this kind of love, this kind of appreciation? How do you thank someone for giving you a reason to reclaim your life?
I have no idea, but I hope to spend the rest of my life trying.