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Trying to Climb While out at Sea
Why returning to childhood challenges can be a great way to measure personal growth.
Climbing Away from Mountains
I grew up far away from any serious peaks — or hills1 for that matter — but even on an island you can find things to climb.
I spent my summers in a tiny cottage, on a coastal cove. Think homemade furniture on a screened-in porch, mismatched cutlery, and worn mint-green paint. One of the bedroom walls is a height chart. Its pen marks, dates, and names track how multiple generations of my family grew over the decades.
The air smells like honeysuckle and salt spray. On stormy days we watched lightning across the Long Island Sound, and played old board games by lamplight when the power went out.
Lately these cottages are giving way to beachside mansions, whose owners never set a toe on the sand. Now the whole place feels haunted. Hardly any boats on the water. Miles of deserted beach. Houses towering overhead. Unseen eyes watching from behind enormous windows.
Because of the natural shape of the cove, all these homes seem to gaze at the same point, out on the open water.
At that point stands Mile Rock.
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Standing Strong Against Waves and Time
I love the resolute nature of the mountains and crags. Most of these rocks have stood just the way they are for millennia, quite literally unmoved by humanity.
Mile Rock is different because it is alive.
When the tide is low, it rises from murky depths. Breaking waves continue their unceasing effort to split the rock down the middle. Jagged clams latch onto its surface. Seaweed sprouts from every crack and dimple.
Swimming out to climb the rock has always been a right of passage. As a child, I watched from the shore as neighbors — older kids and adults alike — made the long trip.
Clambering to the top is not difficult in the conventional sense. But the techniques used to climb mountains are useless here: there’s nothing to hold onto. Trying to throw yourself onto its surface — the beached whale technique, as my climbing friends would call it — is inadvisable. That’s because of the layer of sharp barnacles blanketing Mile Rock’s surface.
Coming Back for the Climb
Every summer I make a trip out to the cottage, and climb the rock. This was my most recent send2:
Over the years, both making the trip home, and climbing the rock have gotten harder.
I can’t swim as far as I used to. Now I make the trip out on a kayak or surfboard.
The callouses I developed over countless barefoot summers on the rocky beach are gone. Now each step on Mile Rock is brutal.
Gone are the days I could dive from the rock, eyes open, trying to swim to the rock’s bottom. Now, I need to keep my eyes closed or risk losing my contact lenses.
Has the Rock Changed, or Have I? (It’s me. I’ve Changed, Obviously)
Taking this into consideration, one might be tempted to write off Mile Rock as a younger man’s challenge; one I’ve overcome, outgrown, and moved on from. I reject this view for a few reasons.
In my 20’s, I’m unwilling to cede ground about what I can and cannot do physically
Jumping off the rock brings back a ton of happy childhood memories
Returning to previous challenges is a great way to measure personal growth
To that end, Mile Rock is my unconventional growth chart. Instead of measuring my height against an unchanging wall, I compare my changing physical strength and mental fortitude against an unyielding force of nature.
In that regard, I’ve grown a lot since my first shaky footsteps on that seaweed-covered monolith. And I think that’s pretty cool.
I Want to Hear from You
What is your personal growth chart? Do you have any traditional activities or challenges from your childhood you’ve returned to as an adult? What was the result? Leave a comment below!
The highest point on Long Island is Jane’s Hill, a measly 400 feet above sea level.
A “send” is when you complete a climb without falling, or leaning on any gear to rest. A “Flash” is when you send a climb on your first attempt, after watching someone else complete it. And an “Onsight” is sending a climb on your first attempt, without knowing the solution when you begin.