Somewhere in the middle of the tunnel

This morning I was talking to a friend of mine at work—a climber and dear friend who has known me longer than my boyfriend.  “How was the gym?” she asks, and I shrugged.

“Fine, but frustrating.” I tell her about a conversation I had with my boyfriend… I wasn’t feeling strong and I was trying to do the drills that Audrey put together for me—climbing mildly overhung easier routes with first one leg, then the other, then hovering over each hold before making contact.

“So… what exactly is this supposed to be doing?” he asked. I was crushed. I don’t think he meant anything by it, but it sounded so dismissive and I’m already so uncertain about training immediately all of the reasons Audrey gave me flew out of my head.

Later, I walked back to the weight room. Even half a dozen people makes the space feel crowded, and everyone seemed to have their timers going. There was one other woman, stretching, but she left fairly quickly. The rings were well above my reach, two guys were setting up lat pulls, there was a guy on the rowing machine, and a few guys were using the free weights. My boyfriend and his friend were doing core work and pull ups.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a woman in the weight room doing anything besides the bike. I can’t remember a single time I’ve been back there and the women outnumbered the men. My boyfriend asked “how much longer do you have?” and I shrugged. “I don’t know, I’m not doing my routine…” I gestured around the gym. “There isn’t room.”

The guy on the rings offered to let me cycle in—but I didn’t want to throw off his rest cycles and I would need to readjust everything and it just felt impossible. I took long enough stretching out that the gym slowly cleared and I got everything in, but that isn’t really the point. (When the guy on the rings left, he lowered everything for me… because everyone really is very nice, but that isn’t what this is about.)

I know I shouldn’t be crushed so easily, I know that I belong in the weight room just as much as any of the dudes (and have I mentioned that they are ALL always SO NICE? Not in a creepy way either, just genuinely helpful and kind). I know that I should have the will power to train on my own. I know that it will make me stronger and when I am stronger I will be happier… except, really? Will I be happier? I watch strong climbers still get frustrated when they can’t send a V6… while they dance up my project to get to the crux of their own project.

I used to find joy and grace in climbing. It used to be a safe place for me, where my friends congregated, what we did on weekends. It used to be something that was emotionally easy, not fraught. I don’t entirely know what shifted, and I keep trying to regain some of that ease that I had. One of my oldest climbing friends finally finished school and she and I have been meeting up again—that’s a good thing. And I’ve slowly starting to lead again, and it feels good. I’m scared though. I’m scared that I’m going to get injured and have to take months off again. I’m scared that the months off I had to take this year have knocked me so far back and out of habit that I’m starting over. I’m scared that helping run She Rocks has made it nearly impossible to do my own climbing—that I’ve helped start a community by failing myself. I’m scared that to focus on my own climbing means abandoning the community that means a lot to me, but I don’t have the partners to climb with if I don’t have the community.

I know nothing is as drastic as it feels. I know that anything goes in waves and I’m just in that transition, coming off of tendonitis, transitioning from weight training back in to climbing, transitioning from my own schedule to trying to match schedules with partners. I just wish it felt easier sometimes, and that I could feel as strong as I did that summer when I was working on leading 11’s at the gym, when I climbed through three partners in one night. Before I fractured my wrist, before I gave myself tendonitis, before friends moved away and lives changed and grew apart.

If there’s light at the middle of the tunnel, it’s knowing that I’ll be headed to Laos to see one of the first women I climbed with – we’re climbing, sure, but we’re also just having an adventure. And after that there’s the Flash Foxy festival down in Bishop. I want to be strong for both of these things, to work and learn from women, to laugh at the base of a climb and try something I think is above my ability and to do it anyway. And the only way to get there is to figure out a way to train and block out the voice that crushes me—in the weight room, in the bouldering area, on lead… because it’s just me, shutting myself down. But goddamn, it’s hard sometimes.

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