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by Gayle Haarr

Last month my roommate, Maureen, and I, after hearing a million and one radio advertisements, decided that we were going to try indoor rock climbing. I called and set up the day and time for our lesson. Everything was all set. It just came down to dropping of the payment in order to ensure a spot and to ensure we had an instructor. We initially had a group of about 5 people, all who wanted to try this with us. Well, one by one, each of our friends started to bail out on us. Maureen was starting to get wishy-washy on me too. Maybe everybody knew something about this rock climbing stuff that I didn't.

I am deathly afraid of heights. I vowed to myself that I was going to try this in hopes of overcoming my fear. After a slight bit of persuasion, Maureen stuck by me. Before she could change her mind, I grabbed her and her wallet, tossed them in my car and we were off. There would be no going back from then on. We noticed the building as we pulled up to the place. It was a small, low-to-the-ground building, or at least it appeared to be from the outside. That boosted our confidence. We thought, "We could do this. Piece of cake. Heck, who even needs a lesson." Well, one swing of the door and our outlook changed drastically. We decided that we were either both insane or just plain ol' dumb for doing this.

We both ran to the counter without looking too close. We were really ready to bolt. We threw our money at the woman behind the counter and ran out the door. We had one day to think about the adventure we just signed up and paid for. Maureen didn't really think about it for the next 24 hours but it was all I could think about. My fear of heights had taken over and my feet hadn't even left the ground.

The next morning we were off to climb. I had huge butterflies in my stomach. I kept thinking how stupid we were. I tried to think positive. "This will be fun. We'll have a good time. I'll walk away with a whole new outlook on heights." Who was I kidding. I was petrified.

When we got there, we were given three forms to read and sign. They stated, more or less, that if we died, it was our fault and no one else's. Thanks for coming. Well, we laughed hysterically as we read and signed the documents. The guy behind the counter must have thought we were on some drug or still drunk form the night before. Once we signed our lives away, literally, we were on our way.

They gave us some goofy shoes to wear and a harness that looked like an oversized diaper. Let me tell you, that was the most uncomfortable thing I've ever worn. Oh, don't let me forget, a helmet too. Great!!!! Fashion queens we were not.

The lesson began. We were in a class with a pushy father and his petrified daughter, three little boys on a boy scout outing, and three disgustingly cute couples. Oh boy, this was going to be an adventure. We spent close to an hour learning to tie knots (knots that would keep us from falling and dying), learning to attach ourselves to the ground properly (so we wouldn't end up flying while trying to be the belayer), and lastly, how not to drop your partner on their face if they slipped and began falling.

The moment had arrived. It was time for one of us to actually leave the ground. Maureen and I were very gracious to one another, each offering the other the opportunity to climb first. Unfortunately, Maureen was somehow a little more gracious and I ended up going first. As soon as my feet left the floor, I realized that those little ittty-bitty things that they have sticking out of the wall were all that I had to hold on to. I began to freak. I was probably about three feet off the ground at the time. I climbed about 9 feet up before I really panicked and had to come down. Then it was Maureen's turn to have fun. She went about 10 feet on her first try and then she panicked and needed to come down.

I am proud to say that on my second attempt up the wall, I made it all the way to the top to ring the bell. I couldn't have done this without oodles of encouragement from Maureen, my faithful belayer. However, once up there I was not able to relax enough to sit back and descend. I was absolutely frozen and shaking like a leaf. Maureen kept assuring me that she had me and that it was safe to lean back and come down. But, every time I would lean back I would feel that initial little slack in the rope and panic. I clutched desperately back onto the wall. Maureen called the instructor over to help encourage me to let go and come down. He slowly convinced me to let go, hand, foot, hand, and then foot. Once, I realized they really had hold of me, coming down was no problem. Maureen made it to the top on her second attempt too. From there we were off on our own to conquer other walls.

All in all, we did pretty good. I made it to the top of all but two of the walls that I attempted that day. We stayed and climbed for about 3-4 hours in all. It got so much easier after I slipped and lost my grip the first time. At that exact moment, you have no choice but to trust the ropes and your belayer to catch you. Once I realized that I wasn't going to die, I risked moving another hand or foot a little bit higher and it slowly got easier and easier.

We haven't had a chance to go back yet, but we do plan to. The only bad thing about rock climbing as a sport, is that you need a partner. You can go alone and hope to run into a partner. But however, in my case, he/she would need to be a very encouraging and enthusiastic individual. Eventually, you could become good enough to climb on your own. I just don't see that happening to me anytime in the near future.

Well, neither one of us left overcoming our fear of heights, but I felt better knowing that at least I could do it. I'm still not ready to climb the Grand Canyon (unless maybe if my sister is willing to tie a long rope to the bumper of the 4-Runner). Well, if you're out that way in March, you'll know it's me when you see that someone walking down the canyon paths wearing a huge harness, a bunch of ropes, and a truck. See Ya.

Ed Note -- Rock climbing isn't the only thing Gayle has experimented with. She's also using new words. I had to look up "belayer." It means "a person who secures the rope when climbing a mountain." Now I don't know about you, but I can just imagine Gayle falling and Maureen rising, and both dangling in the air. Good thing there is supervision.

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