On the eve of my three-year anniversary in Colorado, I watched Pete rappel into the Black Canyon. Behind him, its marbled rock walls rose 2,000 feet from the Gunnison River. He held the rope with both hands and asked me if I was okay. "Yep." I nodded, and Pete disappeared out of sight.
I moved toward the anchor, one hand on the rock wall beside me as if that would keep me from tumbling after him. Waited for the rope to go slack. Waited for my turn to feed the thick, fixed rope into my belay device.
I have rappelled many times, but always after the climb. Back down to solid ground and familiarity. Butterflies vaulted through my stomach as I prepared to lower myself backward over the edge of a cliff whose bottom I couldn't see.
The rope was worn, and I wondered how long it had sat exposed to the elements---how many days worth of Colorado sunshine and rainstorms it had endured. And then I decided not to think about it anymore.
"Okay," I said. "Okay, okay, okay."
I leaned back into my harness, its pressure around my waist familiar and comforting. I smiled. I was descending into the Black, and I almost hadn't come here.
Three months earlier, maybe four, I asked Pete what he would think if I stopped climbing. We were pedaling our Townie bikes home from somewhere in town, and he paused before he answered.
"I'd be disappointed," he said. "But I'd also be relieved."
I knew what he meant. He'd belayed me through enough climbs filled with swearing and fits of rage and even once had to "rescue" me from a climb when I decided I couldn't go higher. I'd be relieved, too.
I told my friends I was giving myself the space to dislike climbing. I set out with my mountain bike and rejoiced in the freedom that comes from tires rolling down hills, and then I took a tumble over my handlebars. I couldn't ride, climb, or run. The "power fingers" on my left hand had lost their grip thanks to a bruise that spread from the top of my hand all the way to my palm, and my ribs hurt every time I inhaled.
I watched Pete go off to climb with our friends and I didn't mind. He still made time to hike with me (as healing allowed), and I wrote at home. But as the black and blue of the bruise faded to yellow, I started to miss climbing. So much that I gave it a go before my hand completely healed. I climbed until it got tired, then waited for the next weekend and the next sunny day.
I was climbing "off the couch"---so out of shape that I'd failed a strength test at the local hospital (a long story). And yet I climbed better than I'd done before. I didn't swear. I didn't get scared. My mind didn't race with thoughts like, "I'm going to fall." If anything, my mind was empty. Focused. Strong.
I climbed so well that Pete came home one Friday night with "an idea". Two days later I was rappelling into the Black before the sun had hit its walls.
The butterflies in my stomach disappeared as soon as felt the rope in my hand, and they stayed away the entire day.
I climbed focused. I climbed strong. I climbed with a new determination---to keep climbing. To get stronger. To rappel deeper into the canyon and climb longer, harder climbs.
Best of all I remembered that it's never too late. Even when you think you've given up, dreams and goals will wait.
True for writing, too, don't you think?