“What do you mean you’re not a climber?” Over the last 3 months my life had seen a major overhaul. With one of my worst fears coming true I was questioning everything and readjusting to this new world. To the extent where even climbing, my anchor and my identity for a decade, had gotten chucked out the window. It had been more than a little surreal to wake up and not want to go climbing.
Me, the girl who could not stand to miss a single day of climbing, who was frothing at the mouth so badly for any time on rock that she would even go belay herself on New Year’s day while everyone else was quietly nursing hangovers. Yep, I’d had it bad from the get go. For 10 solid years I had barely thought of anything else, cursing any friends’ events or family functions that might get in the way.
There is nothing wrong about being passionate about something, but clearly my passion was unbalanced. And so, with this wake-up call I was seeking a new equilibrium. And for a few months I tried cycling, running, squash, paddling, SUP, spending way more time with friends and family, painting, crocheting, volunteer work, anything different, anything new. And while I have found new kinds of fulfilment and am grateful for every moment I have spent reconnecting with the people I care about, today I woke up and wanted to be a climber again.
There were times over the last few months when I wished that I wanted to be a climber. It had enormously simplified my life. It had given me joy, fitness, fulfilment, friendships, determination, goals and an endless stream of good times all in a neat little package. It had been my therapy and my stress relief. I had climbed happy or sad, through new relationships and break ups, through major moves and funerals, rain or shine, a dislocated shoulder, torn tendons, sprained ankles, strained muscles and head wounds. There was no reason I didn’t want to be out there. But suddenly, with my recent loss, it had lost meaning. Gone were the days where I knew what I wanted to do. Suddenly I would get to a weekend and have to make complicated plans to fill my days. Yes, there were days I would go climbing but I was no longer a climber. The thirst wasn’t there. I was merely someone who was climbing. In my world those two people were chasms apart.
One day I was hanging out at the place I did my SUP lesson. The people there were keen to get me hooked. They spoke passionately about their sport with a light that stirred the longing. But I couldn’t understand what drove them. How could a repetitive motion compare to the mental and physical intricacy of climbing? And from that moment the hunger started to renew. I wanted to conquer the rock, I wanted to feel strong and in control again. I wanted to feel driven to achieve. I wanted to clip those chains.
So I joined Roger at Umgeni and that first thrill of touching rock was every bit as intoxicating as it had been before. Thankfully I wasn’t so out of shape that I couldn’t aim for a bit of a challenge. So on to Thunderstrike I went. I had to fight the pump and nearly came off making a long reach for a crimp but the lead outs didn’t bother me and my focus was crisp. In my sabbatical I had learned to experience every moment more fully, to live the present to it’s fullest. I was soaking up this experience in a whole new light. My body remembered how to move, my brain remembered how to stay focused, my emotions remembered how to stay calm. I loved the unity of body and mind, both strong and honed, feeling like they could take on the world. Bring the Thunder! I clipped the chains of my first hardish route in months and I felt like me again.
The hard won lessons from the last few months won’t be forgotten. The new equilibrium will stay. The joy of sharing in people’s lives and being a better friend/sister/aunt/daughter/person is too important. But I’ve learnt that climbing will always be part of my life. It is reminiscent of the Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I knew my treasure was at my feet all along but I also knew I had to go on the journey to find it.