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Climbing is Different

March 9th, 2022

For the past few weeks I have been climbing. First I used Henry's guest pass to try it for a day and liked it enough to get a membership. It wasn't cheap but it wasn't super expensive either and you get free equipment for like two months, which seems like a great deal.

I've noticed that climbing makes me feel super different. It's not like anything I've experienced before.

For years and years, running and hiking has been my only real athletic activity. I never really played on a sports team and never had to learn any real physical skills. I take a lot of pride in my running form, which is very low impact and quite efficient, but that's not really a technical skill. And in the same vein, my running is mentally more like a meditation than anything that hypes me up. It's slow and thoughtful and deliberate. For years that is the feeling I've associated with sports and exercise. I think along the way I just assumed that's what all sports and exercise felt like, but I was wrong. Boy was I wrong.

Climbing is kind of euphoric. It's been so long since I've been at the bottom of a learning curve for something like this, so feeling improvement each time I go climbing is insane. Two weeks ago I could only do a few of the lowest rated climbs, called V1's. Now I can do all but one of them in the gym, and I'm working on V2's now. It's insane to feel that accomplishment because improvement comes so quickly.

But I know that the curve plateaus, like it does with all things. There will come a day when it isn't clear that I'm any better than a week ago, maybe even a month. For now I'm just trying to appreciate being a beginner at something again, but I also know that when the initial rapid improvement wears off I'll still probably find climbing exhilarating.

To explain why, let's go to another climber who we all know, Amanda Wu. Hello, Amanda. (She might read this).

Amanda can be pretty silly and goofy. She laughs a lot—when she is amused, but also when she is stressed or annoyed. Sometimes she runs around like a maniac, or does little dances in the line for bagels when we're trying to just get breakfast and the locals of Lincoln New Hampshire are starting to stare. The point being, Amanda isn't what I'd call a serious person. She is full of life.

But when Amanda climbs you can see her lock in on the wall. All focus, no nonsense. She becomes precise and tactical and as soon as she's done, she's back to normal Amanda. It's really interesting to see in person. And I can understand why. The moment you step off the ground, your face is just a foot away from the wall. Your vision is this tiny span of grey wall and a few colored holds. For the half a minute you spend on the wall, nothing is in your head but your next move and willing your muscles to keep it together for just a little more. Tunnel vision. The stress of school or mock or people is gone because you're not thinking about any of it at all.

I mean, even the noise sounds weird. When people call encouragement to you it sounds muffled, like there's a bubble between you and everyone else. When I was sprinting back at the beginning of high school that was the way it sounded hearing people yelling during a race. Climbing is like that—it's not as physically draining as a race, but mentally just as locked in.

College is a stressful place with a ton of overstimulation that makes me feel super overwhelmed all the time. And I know this isn't just a me thing. But climbing feels like the antidote to that in a lot of ways. It resets the head, briefly shutting down everything but the immediate task at hand—like a reboot. And I wonder if that's why I look forward to it so much. That feeling is exactly what I need right now.