Well…here goes something, I guess

This is the sound of my brain while cruxing:

Fear: I can’t do that.
Reason: Of course you can, that’d be no sweat on top rope!
Fear: But…what if I fall?
Reason: What if you fall? Your gear is good. The fall is clean. Your rope and harness are strong.
Fear: No. I don’t want to do it.
Reason: It’s really not that bad! Remember that other time you fell? It was actually kind of fun!
Fear: Okay…uh, just let me chalk up first.
Reason: Yeah, come on, you can do it! Right foot smeared high, left foot pasted in the crack, up to the rail with your right hand, stand up, left hand in the finger lock. You got it.
Fear: Okay [wimper wimper]…let me look at it again.
Reason: You got it!
Fear: But I’m afraid of falling! [wimper wimper]
Reason: Jenny, the gear is at your waist. You’re fine.
Fear: Okay, I’ll try…here…I…go.
Reason: Yeah!
Fear: [after making a half-hearted attempt and taking on my gear] I can’t do that.

Ugh. It’s a terrible debate. It takes place all too often. And fear usually wins, and I pull on gear, or hang my way up a climb, or lower off a route and get someone to clean up after me. And then I wallow in self-pity at the base, frustrated with myself, Reason screaming, “You should have gone for it! It was so safe!!!”

What I need is to learn how to be more like this:


I love this video, because I’m TOTALLY this girl (minus the part where she actually overcomes her fear). That dialogue is the exact same one that goes on in my head. “I’ll be fine, I’ll do it. [wimper wimper] Well…here goes something, I guess. [wimper wimper] You can do this. I’m gonna, I’m gonna jump…I got it. [wimper wimper] Okay, here…I…GO.” And what I really love is her absolute ELATION when she lets go, trusts, and realizes that everything is okay. More than okay, it’s awesome.

There was a time, not so long ago, when I swore I would never lead a trad route. Fear. Then I started leading and I thought I’d keep it around easy 5.10 and under. Fear. But somewhere during the last year of my life, the sky has become the limit. I’m not restricted anymore, not by anyone but myself.  Fear. And I don’t think it’s necessarily so much about overcoming the feeling of fear as much as it is about managing the feeling. Not letting it overcome me. About learning to say “here…I…GO” when I stand on top of the ski jump amidst the cacophonous sounds of Fear wimpering and shouting NO!

Back in the fall my friend Chris had a story published in the Alpinist, a story that left a huge mark on my climbing life and my personal life. I certainly can’t do it justice, and you should definitely just read it. He writes,

Pursue what you dream most deeply. Try hard, and don’t be afraid to fail. Failing is just falling. Falling is part of flying. Act spontaneously, and deal with the consequences when they come. Don’t be afraid to miss; don’t be afraid to fall…Get all cumbersome and off balance. Start to waiver. And right when you feel as if you’re already falling, as if everything is lost, reach out. Stick it. And hope that it holds.

Like so much else in climbing, it’s not really about climbing at all, is it? It’s about life, love, relationships, pursuing that for which you hope and long.  It’s about being motivated by passion and desire rather than the predicability and stability of fear. Whether it’s pulling a hard move above gear, or trusting your heart instead of your brain, or falling in love, or having that conversation, or starting the hard road towards healing, or taking the big step to pursue what you really want to do, it’s all the same.  In order to send, you have to be willing to fall. In order to succeed, you have to be willing to fail. And then, more often than not, you send. You succeed. When you accept the realities of failure, you give yourself the space to try hard and win. Gosh, climbing’s life metaphors continue to enthrall me.

Lately, I’ve been learning to stop overactuating (if you haven’t read Chris’ piece yet, stop and read it, it’s so, so good), to not be so in need of certainty before moving forward. To say “no” when fear tells me to avoid relationships, remain paralyzed by decisions, stay on the fringes of communities, pinhole myself into pursuing what I’m “supposed” to instead of what I want to, back off the climb once again. I’ve been learning to trust my instincts and the goodness of life, to trust the gear and my rope. I’m letting go, moving up to the crux, past the realm of safety, into the dangerous and the unknown. Maybe I’ll “get all cumbersome and off balance [and] start to waiver.” And then, more than likely, I’ll stick it.

12 thoughts on “Well…here goes something, I guess

      1. I’ve got nothing too deep or philosophical here. The picture of you on that stunning climb at Smith at the top of your post… if you put your feet where your right hand is, that climb is totally casual 😉

    1. I could get deep and philosophical… How about this:

      Every life is a route that nobody can give us perfect beta for. We climb our hardest and hope our partners catch us when we fall. Sometimes we drop our partners and they deck. Sometimes they drop us and we deck. Usually we catch each other and continue on knowing that we’re each just doing our part to help each other finish the route and we don’t make a big deal about it.

      Climbing is a Modern Luxurious Metaphor. Our ancestors struggled and battled and when they “sent a route”, it meant they lived to pass on their genes. Our own lives are so simple and sanitary and bereft of threat that a select group of young people will search out thrills and adventures just to get a taste of what our species did to survive.

      So while most young folks worry about what’s on TV or what the current musical artist is presenting, the young folks in my social circle are scaring the shit out of themselves and getting in touch with what REALLY makes us human. It gives me hope for humanity.

      Belay On Jenn-A

  1. Jenny this is awesome. I love the video of the girl taking the jump, fantastic. I remember my first time climbing in a gym and watching someone climb a V0 and thought it was the hardest thing in the world (to me at the time, it was). I never thought I would be able to do it. I too, remember when leading trad was a ridiculous concept reserved only for the insane and old hands. Consistently breaking through the barriers I have created for myself has proven that every time I come up against one, I may as well just ignore it and try anyway because it creates so much less grief and stress for myself! Psyched to share this experience with you, and psyched you’re pushing yourself beyond your self imposed limits. You have a beautiful way of dancing with your words. Have a phenomenal season, you owe it to yourself.

    1. “Every time I come up against one, I may as well just ignore it and try anyway because it creates so much less grief and stress for myself” – I love that! Thanks for reading Andrew!!

  2. I really enjoyed reading this piece. I think using climbing metaphorically to help understand our shortcomings in the more meaningful aspects of life – such as our relationships with family, friends, and loved ones – is not only helpful, but important for validating all the time, energy, and risk we put into climbing.

    That said, it is important to extend the metaphor to its ultimate conclusion: failing (to fail, to fall, to fly… to improve… to get better… to do better… to extend the metaphor to its ultimate conclusion) … failing in all of these things is part of the fun of it. It is part of why we do it, otherwise we’d just walk to the top on the hiker’s trail 😉

    But don’t take my word for it, take Mary Oliver’s. Hers is better advice than anything my article has to offer:

    You do not have to be good.
    You do not have to walk on your knees
    For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
    You only have to let the soft animal of your body
    love what it loves.
    Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
    Meanwhile the world goes on.
    Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
    are moving across the landscapes,
    over the prairies and the deep trees,
    the mountains and the rivers.
    Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
    are heading home again.
    Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
    the world offers itself to your imagination,
    calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
    over and over announcing your place
    in the family of things.

    1. Chris! YES – that’s my all time favorite poem! I appreciate your perspective and comment and I wholeheartedly agree…it’s the fight that makes it all worthwhile in the end.

  3. Wow. Great writing, Jenny! I’m also glad that I am not the only one who feels this fear (even on top rope when I get too high I get fearful). I think this is something climbers need to talk about more often – the struggle.

  4. Jenny! So fun to read. The little skier reminds me of the kids I taught when I was an instructor… so cool to be reminded of the feeling of glee an accomplishment they have when they achieve a goal! And I’m inspired to go out and lead some more trad routes this weekend. : )

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