Not the kind of uphill battle I’d envisioned

Last week there was a grey-haired guy at the climbing gym.

Most of the time, there aren’t a ton of people at there at all, which is how we like it. Thing is, I happen to be the self-appointed official climbing gym over-thirty spokesperson, thank you very much. It’s an official position I just made up and also one for which I’m looking for sponsors, in case you’re wondering.

The climbing thing feels good. Like accomplishing something. Anything. Even if all that means is new callouses and ruining my manicure on purpose. I know we’re supposed to be leaning into this pandemic with all kinds of commitment to wellness and self-care and whatever else, but this has been a weird year for maintaining any kind of fitness. Besides this, the only other thing I’ve accomplished in 2020 is gaining about fifteen pounds without trying.

I started out with good intentions, diligently plotting a twelve-month half marathon calendar in January. Now, at regular intervals I get Google reminders for events that would have happened if 2020 hadn’t imploded. Goody.

As it is, I can’t muster the enthusiasm to run more than two miles at a stretch these days anyway, and I haven’t replaced road running with anything else. I haven’t been to my regular gym since March, of course, which is about the time being indoors with other people lost appeal.

But the climbing gym has a people-counter on their website, which is handy. We’ve learned the times it’s likely to be just us there, along with the guy at the counter, and maybe one other dude who looks like the Hercules cartoon character from the eighties (I’m not exaggerating either, who knew you could recreate that haircut in real life?)

I know It’s weird time to pick up a new sport, but we have a kid whose favorite activity is now bouldering–which is climbing, only without a rope or harness and you don’t go as high–so once he was home again for good, pandemic or no, we were out screening local gyms for adherence to decent COVID protocols and the most nubbly wall space.

We’ve been there three or four times every week this fall, and yeah, I’m still on the lowest level, but I can see progress. I’m no longer hyperventilating when I’m only two feet off the ground.

This is me not panicking.

Grey-haired guy and I never made eye contact. He was focused on whatever his buddy was doing on the wall, but once I got over my self-appointed exclusive middle-aged-spokesperson designation, I kind of reveled in not being the oldest person in the room for once. I sent him occasional mental double finger guns with ‘chk-chk’ sounds and virtual high fives in solidarity from across the room.

He didn’t notice.

It’s not that I’m insecure about my age. At all. Long before I was actually fifty, I was claiming it. I was never forty-eight or forty-nine, I almost fifty. Fifty just feels like a good age to declare one is officially done giving any fucks, if any fucks, indeed, were ever given.

The only downside is the number of things I thought I’d have figured out by now. I’m not talking about why polls are wrong, or how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop, but simple stuff. Like I’d like to know why does my flattening iron have a regular and a turbo switch? Why does my oven have both a regular and a rapid preheat option?

Think about it. Why not just the turbo option? What is the advantage of taking extra time to heat your oven or curling iron?

I’m guessing the non-turbo option people are the ones who show up early for meetings. The ones who enjoy the satisfaction of not only doing so, but then talking with the other early people about how great it is to show up early, and then quoting Vince Lombardi.*

Bet me.

In any case that’s way more judgement than I need from household appliances, and an example of the kind of stuff I’m mulling over whilst hoisting my carcass up a wall.

Why aren’t there more people at the climbing gym over thirty? Why does grey-haired guy have to be such an anomaly?

Am I the anomaly? I mean, it is kind of ridiculous that I’m there at all, considering what a weeny I can be when it comes to (a) heights and (b) risking my manicure, and now there’s a (c) pandemic to deal with, so what makes now the best time to engage in a sport where I’m regularly called upon to hang by my very last phalangeal nubs six feet off the ground?

Whatever the reason, it could very likely be the death of me. Just the act of hoisting myself up off the couch after a forty-minute climbing session reinforces that notion. All so I can maybe one day have Popeye forearms. Yay.

But the bright spot amid all the suck that has been 2020 is having our younger kid home for good after his little year-long adventure away which involved doing all the sports and active things adolescents do as they get their heads on straight, which is how he came upon his love of climbing.

Here I am actually panicking, but you can’t see me

And yes, it’s frustrating and painful and kind of silly, this scampering around in too-small shoes leaving chalk fingerprints on everything. It’s also kind of exhilarating, reaching a handhold I couldn’t yesterday, and waking up a little stiff after a hard sleep only to head out to the car for another chilly drive to hit that nubbly wall again with my kid and Hercules and maybe one or two others. Progress comes slow, but it’s still progress.

I was wondering if grey-haired guy was a beginner too, when I noticed his street shoes and realized he was only there watch some younger dude––maybe his grandson.

Well, shoot, I hadn’t realized watching was an option.

But then again, watchers don’t get Popeye forearms and weird callouses.

* “If you’re five minutes early, you are already ten minutes late.”

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  1. Good on you. My son came home with a passion for rock climbing. Did I join him in any of his subsequent climbs? No. How wonderful that you have taken up bouldering. That’s fantastic. I’m not a slug however – am doing a local hike three times a week with a friend. It’s challenging, especially in the rain. I asked my son and his cousin to join me a few months back and both scrambled up like goats gamboling on the prairies. Ah, youth! Keep at it. I look forward to photos of your Popeye forearms …