We were standing at the top of Seneca Rock when it occurred to me that maybe this whole outdoor climbing thing wasn’t for me, after all.
“Repelling doesn’t usually make me feel any kind of way,” Johnny said, and I nodded along like that was true for me, too, even though it most certainly was not. “But this route makes me feel something.”
Oh, fuck, I thought, very sincerely.
I am not afraid of heights. And I’m definitely not afraid of going up. But coming down has always been an issue for me. When I was a kid, I climbed up the dead tree in our back yard–shimmied right on up the ivy–and onto the roof of our house. I stayed there for two hours, too terrified to come down. Well, I remember thinking, this is my life now. I should probably train a squirrel to bring me food. A neighbor finally rescued me.
At Seneca, there was no one to rescue me.
The funny thing is, I know this about myself. I know that repelling terrifies me. I also know that if I’m climbing outdoors, repelling is going to happen. But I conveniently forget all about it until I’m once again teetering on a rock and a ridiculously thin rope is the only thing keeping me from a gut-splattering death.
It’s the first step that terrifies me. There are a lot of things a friend will do for you, but pushing you off a cliff isn’t one of them. You have to take that first step all on your own.
I check the gear, the knots, the rope, my harness. I check it again. Then one last time. It’s all fine. I know it’s fine.
I also know it might not be. I know that people smarter, braver, more experienced than me sometimes have accidents. I know that anytime we go high, we might not be all in one piece when we come down.
There is a moment where I make the decision. I have to accept both possibilities–that everything is fine and also it might not be–or I will never get off this damn rock. I step backward off the edge. That moment seems like an eternity to me. I am exhilaratingly alive, and also kind of dead.
And then that moment comes to a crashing halt, because it turns out that repelling isn’t a free fall, unless you really are going to die. Somehow, I forget that, too. If I remembered, I probably wouldn’t be so scared. I’m a fairly small person, which means I literally have to force myself down the rope until I’m at least halfway down.
The first step will probably always be scary as hell for me. And then, you know what? It’s totally fine. It might be hard. You have to keep your head, make sure you don’t go too fast and burn your hands, but that just gives you more time to enjoy the view. Just get past that first step and the whole world opens up.
Yeah, life is kind of like that.