Have you ever been afraid to try something new, or been afraid to take action because of the fear of failure? We all have fears and yet some people learn to live with them and overcome them, while others are paralyzed in their presence. Personally, I am afraid almost everyday, yet I still get up and face these fears and even overcome them once in a while. Fear can lead one to action. Once on a rock climb I was getting tired beyond belief and was moments away from falling. There was a jagged ledge below and hitting it in a fall could have been deadly. But somehow, the fear lead me to a do or die action, and I carefully placed my foot on solid holds, breathed in a deep breath, cleared my head and made the move to safety. In that moment, fear led me forward and I used it to take appropriate action. I remember being afraid to leave Boulder, Colorado for my first teaching job in California. I was scared of moving across the country and failing at the job. But I knew the kids there needed me, and I knew I could help students there find their way. I was sad to leave the mountains, yet happy for newness. In life you must always try to grow and seek new pastures or else you will surely fade away with the setting sun. I remember being afraid to take up mountain bike racing again at age forty. I wanted to see if I could rise to the challenge, because it had been fifteen years since I raced in Colorado. I started training relentlessly and went to my first race in Danville, Virginia last October. I was scared beyond reason and my nerves leading up to the race were overwhelming me. I could not sleep for two days before the race and I kept catastrophizing bad situations that would happen during the race like getting a flat or crashing and getting hurt. It turns out that after five minutes of racing it started to rain like a monsoon in Thailand. It rained hard for an hour and the course was a slop fest. But halfway through the first lap, I said to myself, “race your own race, it is just for fun.” I finally calmed down and just started having fun. I remember there was a woman who had tunes blaring from her I-Phone and she was just singing along with the music and having a blast in the rain. I rode with her for a while and realized that really this endeavor was just for fun, and to try not to be so serious. I pushed through the fear and started to have the time of my life. Funny thing though on the second lap my front brake cable broke so I had only a back brake for nine miles in the mud soaked, slippery course. But I kept going and finished the race. I even took ninth place and still beat two people in my age class. Wow, how was that possible? Fear in that instance turned to action, and in the end I had fun and learned many lessons about living. When you can turn fear into a motivator, life begins to reward you. You realize that all things are possible and failure can happen, but it is all right. If you fail at something, that is just an opportunity to try it again in a new way. As Randy Pausch said in The Last Lecture, ”Brick walls are there for a reason…’they’ are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.” Do you climb over the wall, do you dig a hole and go under it, or do you take a brick out and go through it? Challenges are stepping-stones to action and trying new things in new ways. If we never tried new things and stepped out of our comfort zone, we would never grow. So think about whether fear is holding you back from realizing your true potential. It is all right to have fear, but try not to let it overwhelm you to the point of non-action. When you face life directly and go out there and live and not hide from life, life will truly reward you for your efforts. I have learned so many life lessons simply by action and failure. Get out there and try something new. Climb a mountain, write a story, ride your bike, communicate to a distant family member, ask a girl or guy out to the movies, dream big, travel, live life. Take your next step. In the end, only good things will come to you.
Rarely can you climb one route and feel completely satisfied. The curse of the addicted climber always rings true–just one more climb. Yesterday, one more climb was not necessary. My wife and I walked joyfully down the trail at dusk with not a tinge of regret at having done a mere two pitches on the cloudless and perfect, early spring Sunday afternoon. Arriving at the parking lot of the Southside of The Looking Glass at the crack of noon, we headed up to the familiar moderate area of classic flaring cracks and eyebrow face climbs. The Southside is a great place to get your bearings on the incredible granite of The Glass. The climbs are all fun classic cracks, like the quintessential finger-crack corner Rat’s Ass(5.8), the bomber jams of Bloody Crack(5.8), and the long slabby finger-crack The Zodiac(5.8+). On the way up the trail, my mind was undecided on what our prize should be today. My mental nemesis route called Windwalker(5.9), was the only route on the Southside we hadn’t done, so with a hesitant and loud sigh I agreed to have a look and possibly try it. I have looked at the route on numerous occasions, but the rumors sung in my head and created a surge of doubt and hesitation each time I thought of trying it. An old-school traditional climber once told me, “Yeah, it is pretty cerebral, but doable.” Famous last words I thought to myself. If this friend says its cerebral, what does that really mean? I climbed with him four times and never once saw an ounce of fear or hesitation from him, so what would I be in for on this journey? Run-outs between gear, sketchy protection, steep eyebrows, slabby crimping, balencey and technical moves–yes all of the above apply here. North Carolina standard fare. Old school 5.9, bold and brilliant. I should have known by the name Windwalker, that it would be good. The name conjures up images of a wise shaman who travels the desert with the shifting winds, always seeking answers, always moving and learning. This climb today calls on these same skills of mental and physical clarity of purpose.
Eyebrows are a curious horizontal crack feature in climbing and look like an eyebrow from a distance(see photos). It takes a few times to get use to climbing on them, but when you master the mantel, high-step, palm, crimp and balance routine, you have got it made. Eyebrows love to eat up small Metolius or Alien cams and Lowe Tri-cams are indispensable(these are names of particular climbing protection pieces). But eyebrow climbing is very heady and run-out between pieces of protection. A climber routinely has to make three or four moves to a promising eyebrow only to be denied protection. They are then forced to climb a few more feet to the next horizontal, which must have pro, you hope. Windwalker is the same game of hit and miss protection, but enough is there to make your heart and mind shout joys of thanks each time you click your rope to the carabiner. The clicking sound is one of relief and relaxation, where torments of anguish are temporarily eased, and the mind can focus again on the next few feet and the next few moves. To succeed on Windwalker, one must be like the shaman, seeking, searching, moving. From the opening moves out of a shallow corner onto the arete and face, the route starts dishing out the business. Rounded crimps and shallow eyebrows challenge the mind and yet to the faithful, yield the right of way and offer passage. A blend of fear, balancing acts on semi-stances, and faith brings one to the final bulge that has good horizontal crack jams and underclings. High step on the slab, and you are free again and then a perfect horizontal eyebrow belay calls out ten feet below the nice 5.5 corner of pitch two. This cerebral pitch was one of my favorites on the Southside. It has been a breakthrough pitch for me and helped me develop the tenacity to go with the moment and persevere. Afterall, climbing is a lot about keeping going and seeking adventure. As the late Derek Hersey said, “Having a look around the corner.” When we can go forward in the face of the unknown, seeking answers in our physical craft, answers that ease the wandering, restless spirit within, then we can find great joy and peace in these moments. We can know that life can sometimes bring one closer to truth and closer to finding ultimate realities. Not bad for an old-school 5.9 eyebrow climb, eh? Any questions?
(Written March 6, 2006)
Beautiful upward progress
Across faces and seams of rock.
Orange, yellow, red, brown, and gray
All mixed together with the blue clearness in the sky.
Many colors merging with the mind
Yet calm, pure Breathing.
Breathe it in deep.
What a gift
The rock gods have brought
A ledge for four,
300 feet off the deck.
Beckoning one to movement.
Merging dances with the rock.
Quietness and yet most alive you are now.
Always searching the wall
For the right path.
Chalk up the fingers
Always thinking upward and above.
What lies next,
Beyond that block?
A face or a perfect finger crack to the summit?
We know not,
So we climb to find out.
Overwhelmes and inspires us
And art unfolding in the unknown.
We are drawn onward
By secret, silent voices
And visions of beauty in form and action.
(Poem written in May, 1998)