“Holy Mary, Mother of…” my mind screams at me. I’m not Catholic, but I’m willing to try whatever prayer might help. I looked up at the sheer rock face. I lean back against another rock face that forms the second part of what is not-comfortingly called a “chimney climb”. I glance up. 80 feet. 80 wet, slippery feet of granite on the coast (literally) of Maine. It has recently rained. And I’m standing in a pool of water where, at high tide, I would likely drown. I take deep breaths. I tell myself to get hauling before the tide comes in. My knees buckle and I call up to the total stranger belaying me, “Um, Nick? Yah, I’m not actually sure I want to do this now. Is there a way to get back to the top by walking around this point?”
Nick uses the “mother soothing a child back to sleep” voice. “You’re going to make it up. I promise. You’re going to do great.”
So, because I seek approval from outside sources, I start climbing.
Now, have you ever been to a rock wall? You know how they have brightly colored protrusions, and lots of them? This ain’t nuthin’ like that. This has small cracks the size of dimes, bumps the size of peas, none of it conveniently placed, and did I mention that all of it is wet because, in my brilliance, I’ve decided that I should be able to watch the lobster boats while climbing? Repelling down hadn’t scared me. But now that I’ve got to climb up? Crap.
I inch my way up. It’s amazing what rubber-soled climbing shoes can grip. “I am a mountain goat,” I chant to myself. In my head, of course, because my mouth is all screwed up tight so I don’t let out a sob. “I am a spider on my silken cord.”
And then there are no more bumps, no more cracks. Smooth as, well, granite. “Nick? What do I do?” I ask, thinking that he could just haul me up the rest of the way.
“See the ledge behind you? Sit on it.”
So I throw my butt backwards, landing on a ledge about long and with plenty of space for me to sleep. Which seems way more appealing than venturing out into the chasm again.
Nick doesn’t feel like taking up residence, though.
“Now, you’re going to stand up.”
“Yes. Good. Now, reach forward and place your hands on the wall in front of you.”
“You mean that wall? I’ll never reach it.”
“I promise you’ll reach it.”
“No, it’s like 10 feet away and I’m not that tall.”
“You’ll reach it. Your arms will go all the way there, I promise.”
And like a dunce, I reach out and miraculously (see the above prayer) reach the other side. So now I’m standing with my arms on one side of a chasm that ends in a rocky death and my feet on a narrow ledge on the other side of the chasm. Can’t be good. Nick has a solution.
“Now, you’re going to lean your back against the wall your feet are on and kick your legs to the front.”
“But I’ll have to let go with my hands!”
“That’s right. You’ll put your hands down by your waist to help scoot you up.”
“Oh. What’s the other way of getting to the top?”
“This is the only way. You’ll do great.”
I pressed my back against the wall, kicked my feet in front of me and put my hands down by my bottom to help scootch me along. Actually, the first time I climbed the chimney, I used my elbows to push my body up the face. Bad idea. Elbows were not made to push a body up a rock wall. Guess that’s why, the second time I climbed up that chimney, Nick showed me how to use my feet to “walk” up, which basically involves trusting the flimsy piece of man-made rubber on the shoes to grip the wall, since nothing else is. Ever seen Spiderman? That’s me, baby. The second time, I only needed one “reminder” on how to climb up. And, since Hal had successfully commandeered Nick’s attention, I had to yell, loud, to get that reminder. I tell ya, you’d think that since my life was on the line, the guy could give me a little glance now and then!
Having conquered that rational fear, I moved to a different part of the wall to climb. This one sat right on water, no rock wall behind me, and I had a lovely view of the seagulls chasing crabs. Or, I would have, if I had been crazy enough to look, which I was not, thank you very much. Coming up, I felt like a pro. Nick enthused several times over my clever maneuvering, or maybe he just felt happy that he didn’t have to baby me through the climb.
As a souvenir I have a bruise across the small of my back where I got up-close-and-personal with Maine’s shore line and which, if anyone at the gym asks, I will say Hal gave to me. And I have a new attitude—I’m feeling enthused by life, capable of leaping buildings in a single bound. Or, at least, in a lot of steps if I have really good shoes and a rope. To quote Hal after he finished a day of kayaking, hiking and a 6-mile run, “I’m a bad ass!”