Cucumber Aspirations: Tears and fears and finally starting to calm the heck down

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Guess who’s done with college!

(I am.)

Having finally wrapped up finals and graduation shenanigans, I intended to write about my last few trips to Little River Canyon (I tried my first 5.12 on lead! And took tiny lead falls and didn’t cry!). But it’s been so long and I’ve slept so little that I won’t attempt to get all the days and walls and routes straight.

But the gist is this: I am finally seeing some progress in my mental game.

I mean, it needs a lot of work. As I go up, I get scared, and then I get stupid. I stink at reading routes and regress in skill according to my altitude. The tiny lead falls I took were surprises; I still can’t “just go for it” above a bolt. And I probably “should” climb a much higher sport grade than I do — The Fear, I think, holds me back just as much as my non-endurance.

Still, I have to celebrate the small stuff, like two falls I took the other day. Sure, I should have flashed the route but didn’t thanks to my terrible lead head. I wigged out near the top, slapped some nothing-hold in pump-driven desperation, and came down. Twice. But even though I felt silly after finally grabbing a chalked-up bucket three inches right of the nothingness, I was pleased with myself for reacting to the fall with an “Oh!” instead of tears and trembling.

I definitely want to reach the point where lead-tears are not even on my radar. I realize that people climb routes all the time without even considering the possibility that they might cry. It’s something that a lot of climbers just don’t do. But tears are how my body reacts to stress, and falling on lead feels extremely stressful.

I hate crying on-route; it’s embarrassing and bad for my climbing. So I find myself stressing about the possibility that I might cry before we even get to the crag, which is also terrible for my mental game. All of it is pretty exhausting.

So I am stoked that I’ve now taken like, four lead falls without tearing up even a little bit. But I am struck by the absolute chillness of some climbers when it comes to falling. They see it as just a part of climbing, not as something to obsess over, dread, and avoid at all costs.

Last week, Evan was working on this overhung 5.13 at the Canyon. He was almost to a bolt but hadn’t clipped in yet when he decided, I guess, that he needed to be closer to the ground. Or whatever. So he said, “Comin’ down!” all calm-like to his belayer and then let go of the rock. He just let go! And dropped like, 12 feet or whatever without a sound. No big deal, just gonna float through the air like a big ole’ climbing fairy. Gonna float rapidly downward through the air. NOT A BIG DEAL, Y’ALL.

#Goals. I will one day be on that mental level.

Sometimes I feel silly for putting myself through all this stress for an activity I spend precious time and money to do. No one is making me scurry up a rock face. I could be running, right on the ground in equally beautiful country, and have a lovely, no-fear time.

But I love climbing, as most climbers probably do, because it’s a beast. It tests your strength, stamina, confidence, and courage — and it makes them better. The Fear is a constructed obstacle taking up space in my own mind. Now it’s keeping me from doing something, or at least from doing my best at something. Why wouldn’t I want to conquer it?

I may never be completely fearless, and that’s probably a good thing. But when I finally look down, might fall, and just go for it anyway, the satisfaction of taking a risk — whether I stick the move or not — will feel so much better than keeping my feet on the ground.

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I know I’m not the only girl (guy, person) who’s trying to get from ~*terrified child in sobs*~ to ~*cool climbing cucumber*~ on the rock. As someone in the midst of that transformation, I have a few tips that have helped me get from inarticulate toddler status to, maybe, that of a lukewarm pickle.

When you are scared…

1. Sing. It’s a great distraction when you’re climbing something flash-able but are still a little nervous. You don’t have to belt Broadway hits at your belayer, but a calm, quiet song with a little rhythm can do wonders for your psyche. (Recently I’ve been whisper-singing the catchy theme from the 1988 Chilean National Plebiscite “No” campaign. Random, but my brain really latches onto it.)

2. Grunt! I talked about this in my last post. It’s a momentary distraction that clears my mind for just a moment when I need to make a move that is totally doable but still sketches me out a little.

3. Focus on what you can control. Think about your body. Think about the beta. Don’t think about falling.

4. Breathe. Slowly and deeply. Again, this is something you can control — do it well for your body and mind.

Anybody else deal with Crag Tears? Lead fear in general? How do you calm yourself when you’re scared? I’m interested — maybe it’ll help me too!

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