I’ve got one thing to say when it comes to new workout experiences: YAY! Just kidding. I have that, and much more than that to say, about going bouldering at a local rock-climbing gym with my friend Chris. After much hemming and hawing over a suitable time for both Chris and I to meet up at Iron Works we settled on the morning of Black Friday. I have not attempted to scale walls like Spiderlady since my days at science camp circa 1990, so needless to say, my skills at grasping little bat-shaped grips are not exactly stellar.
First, a note about what bouldering is: it’s basically free-style rock-climbing. So, no ropes attaching you to someone on the ground, no safety net besides a gymnastics pad, and nothing that helps propel you up the wall besides yourself. Bouldering definitely reminded me of bowling in the sense that one should really not go at it alone. When you bowl or boulder solo, you don’t get a chance to rest in between “turns” and thus you wind up tiring yourself out quickly. Even one or two people rotating through climbing means you get a few minutes to relax and regroup before you’re up.
For any kind of rock-climbing, fancy shoes are required. They are rent-able at most rock-climbing gyms (ooo! Another bowling similarity), and to be worn without socks (um, not at all like bowling). The shoes have a flat toe on them that reminded me of ballet-style toe shoes, so I spent the first few minutes in my shoes dancing around doing “step of the cats” and attempting to turn triple pirouettes. To make matters even more fun, the floor of the bouldering area is bouncy, much like the floor gymnasts use in the floor routine, so I then pranced along that floor doing dance moves that don’t have fancy terms but could best be described as “reindeer trotting.”
Oh right. Bouldering. I’m sure Chris was feeling pretty good about having invited me based on my actions up until now.
I assumed that bouldering would be a sort of disorganized situation of knobs and grips and little fake rocks sticking out the wall, and it was going to be up to me skitter towards the ceiling. I assumed wrong. There are paths marked out on the wall with colored tape designating which “rocks” are to be used for climbs. You follow the colors! And, each path is given a difficulty rating (V0 being the easiest, v10 being extra-effing hard), so you can select a path that is appropriate for you. When you get to the top (which is about 10 or 12 feet off the ground) and touch the corresponding color, you’re done, and you get the joy of either jumping down onto a crash pad, or climbing down.
My first question was what color-blind people were supposed to do when climbing. Then, after I tried a few climbs, my second question was why they couldn’t write words on the pieces of tape that made sentences because darn it if following colored tape is incredibly challenging for me. Chris shrugged at both of these questions and laughed, then encouraged me to try another climb.
Climbing is tough. Not just physically, which seemed like a given, but mentally, too. Not only do you have to attempt to plan out how you’re going to get through the maze of rocks and in what order, but you have to have a “go for it” attitude (which Chris told me over and over). Basically, trying to get up the wall one step at a time is taxing on your body. The easiest way to move is to just to do it, traversing the wall in one fluid motion. Much easier once you have the right muscles, I’m hoping. Chris looked like he was lazily swinging through palm trees. I’m pretty sure I resembled a dolphin attempting use my fins to clutch onto things.
Part of my problem was that I wanted only to use the pads of my feet and my fingers to pull myself over the wall when really, sometimes making excellent use of a heel or the palm of a hand was the way to get more leverage and hoist myself around. Also, much like how I hate going downhill on my bicycle, I hated the act of getting down when I did actually finish a climb. I’d look below me and not trust my ability to land properly (bent knees) or to have enough muscle left to simply climb backwards.
However, I did have an incredible time climbing. People that were strong climbers, like Chris, looked almost like they were dancing with the wall. And there was something almost primal about the act of actually climbing; I felt like I was getting in touch with my instincts. Best of all, when I finished a climb that had taken me quite a few attempts to complete, the sense of accomplishment was fierce. I felt the way Ke$ha probably feels when she’s getting ready to go out, or the way I used to feel after completing a double-shift at the brew-pub I used to waitress at. Fist pumps, high-fives, and a feeling of BOOYAH crackled through my body.
It’s been almost three days since we climbed, and my arms, legs, and shoulders remain stiff and sore. Not bad. Not bad at all. Will I be doing this again? Hells to the yes. At least, as long as Chris will let me tag along.