Get Me Out of Here
This is the one I’ve been waiting for.
Not waiting in the way I wait for the weekend or Christmas, but waiting in the way I wait for death. It was a passive, begrudging kind of waiting. I waited for it because I knew it was true—because it didn’t appear that I’d be able to come up with a way out. To cope, I pushed it from my mind and thought instead of other things I’d have to deal with first, but it was always there, hovering and wailing and laughing maniacally.
And it was so nearby, too. I knew I’d be climbing indoors because I live in Minnesota and it is November, but I did not realize that the place I’d be doing it in was (rather insidiously, I thought) stationed a mere five blocks from my apartment, for who knows how long. If it seems a stretch to say that Vertical Endeavors’ mere physical proximity to my apartment felt like a threat, then you have not been reading this column closely.
It’s not the scariest thing I could do, and I know that. But among activities I’m actually willing to do, rock climbing is perhaps the most literally oppositional to my twin greatest fears: ascending heights and later coming down from them. From my understanding, falling from the walls is actually going to be required of me. I will be climbing directly upwards, in the exact opposite direction from the one I’m led to believe humans were designed to traverse, I will come to a stop a few dozen feet above the ground, and then, finally, I will be made to simply let go and assume that my fall won’t kill me. You can’t make this shit up.
IT’S JUST SO PERFECT too that they’re playing “Welcome to the Jungle” as Rylee and I walk in—so deceptively menacing, the way it becomes clear soon enough that “fun and games” doesn’t really mean nice fun and games. We approach the young climbers (or, I suppose, climbing fans) working behind the desk and are told to fill out in-case-your-fall-is-a-bad-one waivers at the bank of computers along the back wall. I’ve never seen these forms handled electronically, and it feels weird to sign away my legal rights on the same type of machine I swipe my credit card through when I buy groceries. Poor organization and a lack of instruction make me nervous, but conversely, so too does the slick, near over-preparedness of this place. I’m not always entirely convinced that the things that make me start worrying actually make sense.
While we wait for the next available orientation time slot, Rylee and I walk back through the climbing area, taking note of the hippie-ish, well-muscled climbers already clamoring up and across walls slanted outward from the floor like spider people. The highest of the walls are much higher than I could have imagined. Per their website, the Minneapolis Vertical Endeavors has some of the largest and tallest climbing walls in the country. I’m sure the tallest of these are over 200 feet high but am later told they are 60. Still, when I tell you I climbed certain heights, I don’t want you to take this initial miscalculation to mean that I really climbed only about three-tenths the height I say I did. I’ve got things pretty well figured out up to 30 feet or so. After that, who knows.
We walk back to the lobby to await our orientation, and a three-year-old sits in the armchair next to me. “I’m three,” she says, holding up the appropriate number of fingers. “Haha, acgh,” I say, which is a non-word I had intended to be either “cool” or “okay” or something, only I’m never quite sure what to say to babies who start talking to me for no reason. Least of all this one, who I notice is wearing a climbing harness like the one I’ve put on, only significantly smaller. “Is she climbing?” I ask the girl’s mother, sitting nearby. “Yes,” she says, “She loves it.” I think, that is because she is too young to have developed an understanding of her own mortality, but I say, “That’s great.” It is great. I’m not thrilled that little kids have started following me around on my fear-conquering missions, making a mockery of my pathetic efforts, but it is great. For her.
THE WOMAN WHO GIVES us our orientation starts it this way: “I just want to remind you that climbing is dangerous.” I hear everything else she says, but only as a modified echo of that first statement. “These ropes are checked twice a day,” she says, “but climbing is very dangerous.” “To descend you simply lean back and let go, and the belay will lower you, but climbing is very dangerous.” She asks for a volunteer on whom she can demonstrate the auto belays (which we’ve chosen today both to save training time and because, though I love her, I do not trust Rylee to hold my life in her hands by a piece of string), and I raise my hand. The instructor shows me how to clip myself in, and it isn’t so bad. I could clip things onto my harness all day, no problem.