Onward and Upward

The following was written about two years ago. It isn’t my best work but it seems to fit the theme I’ve tried to establish here and I’m going to be away from here for a few days while traveling. Enjoy.

Every muscle in my body tenses and screams to not lean back.

Hovering above adults who appear as small as children, I tell myself, “deep breath, you can do this.”

An eternity passes by then the rope tightens as I lean back, my instincts pleading with my hands to not let go.

“Put some more weight on the rope and lean back,” the belayer yells up to me.

She has to be joking. There is a nuisance present called gravity and it will exact revenge on me for defying its laws. Finally, after defeating all the safety mechanisms built into my brain, I lean back, let go of the ledge, sit in my harness and let gravity pull me down 40 feet of climbing wall I so easily climbed up.

The place I climbed was not a giant mountain or cliff face; rather it was a climbing tower at the 92 acre Horn Field Campus, just 1 mile south of Macomb, IL. The wall, which has been in place since 2000, offers three different levels of intensity; beginning, intermediate, and advanced as well as a rappelling wall.

Before climbing, I had to learn the verbal commands; belay on, on belay, climbing, climb on, belay off, off belay and the all-time favorite, I can’t go any farther so I’d like to come down.

The belayer served as an anchor in case I lost my grip and fell off of the wall. In order to climbing, and more importantly, in order to get down, you must put all trust in the belayer.

It is much easier to trust someone you feel comfortable with, and the belayers at HFC did an excellent job of being personable. With a genuine smile and a brief introduction they sent me to the wall to show Issac Newton his theory on gravity was bunk.

“We use it for a lot for group processing and to help build self-confidence and trust,” said Mindy Harpman, Horn Field Campus program director.

While the experience helps create trust in others, there are other benefits. Some come to hone their climbing skills for the real thing.  Others do it for the exercise while others just enjoy being outside on a beautiful day.

After summiting several times, I found myself entertained by another attraction of the HFC, the belayers themselves. I found myself in a half hour conversation with one belayer ranging from different places to climb, the bike trails at Macomb’s Spring Lake and fishing.

However, the climbing tower is not the only place to scale around McDonough County, and this would not be the last time Fear and I would face-off. Five miles southwest of Macomb resides Argyle Lake State Park. Located around Argyle Lake, the park features several single and hiking trails.

The real treasure of the park, though, is the jagged outcroppings of slate. While it is against park rules to climb them, and I am not suggesting breaking any rules, some people, including me, have done so.

What makes these climbs especially heart poundings is the fact that the slate shifts and moves, so when picking a line and holds, severe caution is needed. Also, the rocks are usually damp and feel like grabbing a slime-covered reptile. This could also be driving reason behind the climbing band.

After selecting a 10-foot wall, my friend Dave and I decided to test our new found climbing skills acquired at HFC. He went first and picked a relatively strait path and made it no problem. I followed after he came back down to spot me and I had little problem making it to the top.

We did this several times and decided to move on. After bouldering a few other outcroppings of about the same size, I spotted a small cliff that cried out to me “please climb here.”

When an inanimate object talks to me, I obey. Once again, Dave went first, picking a solid line that ended with a small leap to a tree for the final pull up. There was no way for him to come down in a timely fashion so I decided to go anyway.

I made it up about 12 feet of the climb with my right hand on a piece of slate which was roughly 150 pounds and my left gripping the tree which held the key to the top. As I was about to make a move for the top, pulling up with my right hand, the 150-pound boulder gave way, and fell towards my face.

In that instant, thousands of years of evolution took over my brain. Synapses fired, triggering an unconscious move of jumping out of the way, grabbing the tree with both hands and watching what could have been the end of me fall 10 feet to the ground.

“That was some life threatening stuff,” said Dave with a nervous laugh once I made it over the top.

“Try life affirming,” I responded with smile on my face that only comes when someone has face death, or at least serious injury in the face and came out unscaved.

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