– Non Fiction by Christie Munson Muller – February 3, 2019
My outdoorsy boyfriend lived for the feeling of shoving his feet into one-size- too-small rock climber shoes and dangling off the sides of cliffs.
“You’re not very adventurous are you,” he told me early on. Back when we were dating, I was a city girl who liked the outdoors. I’d done some hiking, but my feet always remained on the ground.
He paid for me to take a basic rock climbing course through the Arizona Mountaineering Club. On the first day, I showed up outfitted with all the gear minus the guts and grit needed to partake in this unforgiving sport. One wrong step, game over. I put on my brave face and smiled through my teeth.
Over the course of the next few weeks, our group learned the basics: ropes, knots, carabiners, self-rescue, gear safety checks and the life-saving technique of using friction on the rope, the belay. My feet were off the ground, but I couldn’t nail down the knots and I kept trying to muscle up the rock wall. I was out of my element and it showed.
A few weekends later, it was time to face the great outdoors. With our harnesses and helmets in hand, we trudged into the McDowell-Sonoran Preserve. The desert in March was bearable, but there was nowhere to hide from the sun in the desolate, dry climate. The mounds of grey granite, that sat waiting in the distance, grew larger as we got closer. As we did our approach to the training spot for the day, we joked about how rock climbing routes have clever, quirky names like “Ego Trip” and “I Sinkso.” The camaraderie and climber-speak calmed my nerves for a few minutes.
Over the course of the day, I learned the smooth granite rock face offers tiny rocky ridges to wedge in my climbing shoes, crimp with my fingers and propel upward. I also learned that slipping on the grainy stone was like taking a cheese grater to my knees. Surprisingly, I made it to the top of several of the easier climbs and was 90 feet above ground. The view took my breath away. My lack of oxygen up there may have actually been caused by my body’s natural reaction to what outdoorsy people call exposure.
On the last day, the final test was to rappel down from the top of one of the crags. A trainer was on the second level waiting to assist. At the top, another trainer hooked up my gear and walked me through the safety checks.
“All you need to do is turn around, lean back and slowly let out the slack of the rope through the belay device while you descend,” she said. I looked over the edge and froze. My acrophobia told my brain it might not be a good idea to turn my back on survival and lean into thin air. We checked the gear again and she waited.
“Maybe this just isn’t for you.” She knew I was out of my element. The truth had been revealed; I didn’t belong there. Or did I? I took a deep breath, stepped to the edge and turned around. I gripped the rope so tightly the nylon of my lifeline and the skin on my hands had become one. I inched down the rock face and prayed. Please God, make sure my line holds. Don’t let me die. Just get my feet flat on the earth. My survival hung on a rope and a prayer.
I’d passed the final test. I realized the weight that could hurl me over the edge, was the same weight I needed to lean on to rappel down. The city girl survived the vertical world. While I stepped down the giant slab of stone, my feet were flat on the earth. This earth just happened to be the side of a mountain.
About the Author – Christie Munson Muller
Christie Munson Muller is a nonprofit grant writer and a travel and hiking blogger. She’s an aspiring memoir writer, currently working on a travel essay about meeting her French husband in Paris on a girl’s trip. When not writing, she’s out exploring the Southwest or on Duolingo, trying to learn French. She lives in Phoenix, AZ with her hubby, Stéphane and fur baby, Morgan.
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