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Afraid of an Awkward Reach
The key to overcoming the fear of fear itself.
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For what feels like the millionth time, I work my way up the slab — cupping my hands around green sloper holds and keeping my body weight squarely over my feet.
I’ve climbed the beginning of this problem so many times, I’m positive I could do it with my eyes closed, sleepwalking, and maybe even with one hand tied behind my back.
Yet I’ve never made it to the top.
The crux lies in the final three moves, and I’m starting to dread them.
Too quickly, I’ve returned to this awkward position: My right leg dangles below me, with nothing to rest it on. My left is pressed firmly against a nubby foothold. I lean on my right wrist and push upward with my triceps. I bring my left hand upward slowly, reaching for the next hold high above my head.
With only two points of contact on the wall, my leg begins to shake. The slightest movement causes my whole body to wobble.
My fingertips close on the next hold. It’s enough to stabilize my body, but not to pull myself up.
“You’ve got this!” Someone calls up from the gym floor, about ten feet below. “Just get your right foot up!”
My useless, dangling right foot needs to be up on the handhold I was just using for my left arm. I’ve seen a half-dozen other people solve the problem, and they all used this move.
This is the way.
Of course, doing so puts my body in a completely horizontal position. If I fall like that, I’m going down in a tangle of limbs, likely ending in a rough landing.
I start to raise my leg…
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“No, nope. Not today,” I say.
I push myself away from the wall with both hands, spin 180 degrees, and land gracefully on the crash pad.
Afraid to Advance
Days after my trip to the gym, I’m still kicking myself for not at least trying that move. To my long-time readers, this story probably sounds a bit familiar. Back in the summer of 20221, I wrote about one of the first problems to ever stump me.
You can check it out here, if you missed it:
My point then was how fear and anxiety prevent us from gaining the skills we need to succeed or advance.
But this new problem feels different.
I already know how to solve it; and I’ve actually done this move before on other climbs. I’m afraid of feeling exposed, and of committing myself completely.
To press on, I need to take off the training wheels and give up the ability to effectively chicken out.
And I think that scares me more than falling itself.
To commit to something fully is terrifying, and a bit of well-placed caution is wise — whether training in the gym, climbing the crag, or out on a hike. But without a little risk once in a while, we’ll never see the summit.