Once more, he crept upward. A bit of rock broke away from his hand; dust and shards fell across his right cheek but he did not even feel it. Every bit of his awareness concentrated on the groping hand, the balance of his feet on the tiniest of protrusions. He was a mote, a particle which defied gravity… a fingerhold here, a toehold there, clinging to the rock surface at times by the sheer power of his will.
–Frank Herbert, God Emperor of Dune
You may have noticed that I keep bigging up indoor climbing in this blog; no, I’m not going to stop droning on about it, because it’s the one sport I’ve ever done in my life (with the possible exception of rounders using a tennis ball and a cricket bat) that I’ve genuinely enjoyed and, perhaps even more importantly, been halfway decent at. It’s also been therapeutic and made me feel better overall — by risking my life, have I in fact been saving my life?
It all began in June when, as a birthday treat, my mother went climbing at a place in Shoreham and took me along to try it out as well. We both enjoyed it, and I proved to have such an innate skill for it that my beloved mother started calling me “scuttly boy”; I then took some proper classes at a place in Manor House called The Castle (because it’s, er, an actual castle). Finally I started doing it on a regular basis at The Castle, once or twice a week, and whenever I visit my folks on the south coast, I go climbing with my mother at that same place in Shoreham we went to before. It’s part of her fitness regime as well (she’s made amazing improvements over the past year), and though she can climb with a friend, she prefers going with me.
So what’s so great about it? Oh, let me count the ways:
- It’s building my upper body strength (yes, I know it should be more about the legs, with arms just helping balance, but still), and generally helping improve my health — to the point where I don’t seem to be getting colds every other week any more!
- It’s helping me overcome my natural timidity and anxiety, and while I haven’t been able to get to the top of a 12m. wall yet (I’m still flaking out a bit when I get higher than around 9m.), it’s something to aim for. Sorry, for which to aim, says the Grammar Nazi.
- It gets me out of the house and among real people — I’m getting to know the staff at The Castle (since I generally go for “The Session”, where an instructor can act as your partner if an odd number of people turn up), and I’ve made at least one new friend there!
- It’s the one thing I’ve ever been able to do as well as or better than my ex-housemate (the “good one” I’ve mentioned before) that he actually likes himself — I know, I’d get more respect if I beat him at Super Mario Kart, but what the hell.
- The exercise and social aspect seem to perk me up, as even on that dreadful weekend in October when I sank into depression again (as detailed here), I still enjoyed going climbing and was able to forget my problems, if only for a short time.
- I look up and see a handhold that looks well out of reach, but then I realise that if I reposition my feet and take even a small step up, it’s well within my grasp — it’s like a metaphor for life, or something! And indeed a metaphor for climbing itself: gradually I’m getting better at it, and while I may never be like Duncan Idaho (the guy in the quote above), one day I’ll be able to attempt a 6a…
- Attractive young women in sports bras. Giggity.
Having said all that, The Castle is a bit of a trek away from home (down the Northern Line and up the Piccadilly Line from King’s Cross), and “The Session” starts at 7pm and finishes at 9pm, so not only does it cost money on my Oyster card, it tends to consume an entire evening at a time unless I go with a partner (such as the new friend, but he’s gone home to Ireland for Christmas), and also means I get home late, and have to eat a semblance of dinner even later. If only they’d extend the Piccadilly Line to Finchley… come on TfL, you owe it to me after all the mornings you lied to me — do the words “good service” ring a bell?!
I won’t be able to go climbing over Christmas because my mother will be convalescing after surgery, but I have a pull-up bar that I can install in a doorway in our Worthing home and thus keep myself reasonably fit over the break. Unless I over-indulge and it bends under my weight, of course… mmm, chocolate!