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Climbing the Walls [Tall Drink of Nerd]

Groupon had me climbing the walls yesterday. Every morning I wade through email offers from Groupon, Living Social, Amazon Local, Daily Candy and tons of other trickle down copy-cat sites. Today alone, I tossed 14 offers into the trash including: 60% off eye lash extensions, a reduced rate on a body-fat scale and discounted limo service. Lots of stuff I didn’t want, need or even look at.

Back in November, however, one day after I had an extensive conversation about how rock climbing could boost my strength and temper my anxiety, a deal popped up for an indoor rock climbing gym. It seemed like one of those glorious, coincidental timing things. So this girl, who is usually only swayed by discounted massages, bought a climbing session.

I printed the voucher, but the Groupon languished, magnetized to the fridge. Every time I reached for a snack, I was reminded that I was a total slacker who needed to climb. With only a week remaining before my deal expired, I called and made the appointment to do just that.

Rockreation Wall

Rockreation is tucked into a nondescript office strip mall in West Los Angeles. Walking in the door, I was struck that this is climbing practice nirvana, which happens to also smell a little bit like feet. Every wall is covered with hand holds and cliffs, some have overhangs that jut out at various angles, just like a real cliff. Climbing ropes were already hung on about 50% of the walls. In order to climb here, I needed to first fill in a waiver stating I wouldn’t sue Rockreation no matter how I managed to injure or kill myself at their facility. That pumped my anxiety a little, but I figured climbing nirvana was as good a place as any to meet my maker, so I signed and initialed all the forms, my first step up the wall.

After slipping on my rental climbing shoes (the source of the foot smell near the front desk) and stepping into a rental harness, I needed learn how to securely attach myself to a rope and how to anchor the rope for my climbing partner (the anchor person on the ground is called a belayer. Knowledge is power!) This is where Dennis comes into my life. A fit, slightly aging hippie, he teaches a thorough, yet entertaining, 2 hour class called “Fight Gravity 1″ for beginning climbers. After a little over an hour of instruction on knots (choke and poke the alien to make a figure 8) and attaching the belay equipment to your belt, the class of 11 students grouped into 3 pods. I paired off with my husband and two other, very nice, guys and prepared to climb. Lucky me. I got to go first. By this point I completely forgot we were there to climb.

Facing the wall, I barked the commands we were taught: “Belay on?” to which the response from your anchor should be “Belay on.” Then I gulped down my fear of heights, my worry that the vertigo would return to over take me and loudly proclaimed “CLIMBING!” My belayer said “Climb on…Dude.”

I climbed on. The first trip, I made it about 3/4 of the way up the 45 foot wall. Anxiety overtook reason, handholds blurred, my skin turned icy and electric. Then my breath left me. So I sat back in my harness, stuck my butt into the wind and walked down to Mother Earth. I can tell you that a big butt, mixed with a climbing harness pulled tight to keep you secure as you descend, is not a flattering look. But vanity be damned. I wanted to try again. I needed to make it to the top.

After my three pod mates climbed to the top, and I discovered I was a very good belayer, I gave the climbing wall my best blue-steel gaze and again yelled “CLIMBING!”

Sure enough, I was about 3/4 of the way to the top of that wall when I felt my breath go shallow, no hand hold seemed secure, my feet started to sway. But I would not be bested by a bumpy wall again. This time I relaxed. Stopping for a moment, I refocused, shifted from one foot hold to another and viola! within moments I was at the top. This time the rush I felt was exhilaration, not fear. My hand smacked the ceiling above me and I said “LOWER!” stepping one foot under the other until I was back to terra firma.

Today, in addition to a sense of accomplishment, I have sore arms, legs and abs. I see more rock climbing in my future, indoor and out, with ropes or just boulder hopping. All that came from opening an email and buying a Groupon. What a deal.

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featured image credit: spikeyhelen
lady rock climber credit: The Opus