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I was ready … well, in theory. I'd spent weeks preparing for this in the climbing gym, learning how to tie knots, executing basic moves, and building strength. I was ready for my first real outdoor climb.
I craned my neck back, looking for the top of the rock face towering in front of me. My breath stuck in my throat.
“You all right?” one of the guys asked.
“It's just … so big.”
He chuckled and handed me a pair of climbing shoes.
“Let's get you up this thing.”
I nodded dumbly and sat down on a nearby rock, cramming my toes into the shoes and tightening the harness around my waist. My heart stuttered as I tied myself to the rope. I wasn't afraid of heights or falling, but the sheer magnitude of this rock intimidated me.
I tried to remember what I'd learned in the gym. Keep your hips close to the rock. Stand up on your feet. Legs are more important than arms. Gravity is your friend if you angle your body correctly.
But that was the gym, a concrete indoor wall. This was a rock – a piece of the earth. A living thing. It didn't seem like anything I'd learned in the gym applied here. This was a different monster.
I looked back at my friend on the other end of the rope, and he nodded encouragement. I wedged my hand into a crack in the rock, feeling its damp chill. Locating a nearby foothold, I lifted myself off the ground and held my body close to the rock.
Hand, foot, hand, foot. I made my way up the rock face. Sometimes I held the rock and sometimes it held me. I rose higher, maneuvering around large protrusions and using any crack in the rock, as the cold surface gradually drained the heat and feeling from my fingers.
Hand, foot, hand, foot, hand …
“Shoot!” My frigid fingers slipped, and I swung back on the rope into the open air behind me.
I laughed in exhilaration. I was high – high in the air and in spirit. As I swung, trying to regain contact with the rock face, I saw over the tops of trees, past the trailer park at the bottom of the hill, and out toward the river. Every pine needle, stone, and cloud stood out with perfect clarity. Breathtaking.
My hands were still shaking when I regained a hold on the rock – not from fear, but from excitement. And although I had worked every muscle in my body to the point of utter exhaustion, I wasn't tired, only more alive.