My mom called me as my boyfriend and I were just leaving the New River Gorge vicinity, heading back to Atlanta after a week that was somewhere between delightful and fun, and stressful and disgusting. My mom called me because a friend I had run into on my trip, who I hadn’t seen in almost six years, had died the night before her call. It wasn’t a climbing accident and he wasn’t terminally ill, he was biking home after his birthday. We weren’t particularly close, in fact I rarely talked to him in the six years since I had met him at a party in Maryland and shortly after moved to Atlanta. I didn’t even know he climbed till after I moved and he friended my mom on Facebook once they began working together. When I saw him though, three days before the accident, it was like seeing a long lost friend. We talked about climbing goals, I bragged about my v4 send in the bouldering room, he talked about missing out on an upcoming trip to the Red River Gorge. We joked about the advantages of having physical therapists as friends when dealing with injuries. We hugged.
Since Thursday, his Facebook page has been plastered with testimonies of him laughing after taking crazy long lead falls in the gym, dating escapades, and how he has brought joy to so many people by always trying to be a positive person. He was someone I wish I could go on a climbing trip with.
These moments are often followed by declarations of telling your loved ones that you love them, living in the moment, etc. These are all good and important things. After the phone call my boyfriend hugged me and we shared a conversation that has become routine since we met.
“Be careful, ok?”
“I always am!”
“You always say that.”
“You always say that.”
The conversation has preceded many of my boyfriend’s more exciting adventures or hobbies, occasionally being substituted for, “You have to come back with the majority of your parts.” We’ve exchanged these words before ice climbing trips, white water kayaking, and occasionally before mountain biking adventures. After spending our trip crying almost every other day I’m getting a little tired of my definition of “dangerous”. My boyfriend has been my personal climbing guide around some incredible places and has periodically talked me into guiding myself. He’s called me out on my inability to commit to moves and has helped me find some very cool boulders to scramble up. He often teases me for being scared of everything. After following him up High Exposure, a 5.7 in the Shawangunks, and crying, trying to pull the exposed to roof, I feel silly. It wasn’t scary. I was on top rope and even found a better hold than what my boyfriend claimed to use. After crying on top of the rock fin that is the summit of Seneca in West Virginia, and then being completely fine on a allegedly 5th class scramble back to the main trail, I’m ready to make a promise to the friend of mine I was never close too, but will forever miss the opportunity to change that.
I’m going to try and stop being so scared. It’s going to be hard, I cry easily and about a lot of things, but I’m going to try, dammit. I’m going to push myself harder to commit to the things that scare me, both in climbing and in real life. Does this mean I’m also going to love those around me a little harder and strive to really embrace life? You’re damn right I am, but I’m going to do it while having fewer expectations of myself, either good or bad. I want to stop assuming that I can’t do a move. I’m going to stop assuming that if I go multipitch climbing I’m going to definitely start bouncing, cartoon style, all the way down the mountain to my death. I want to be able to go forward and embrace the challenges climbing provides head on instead of wanting to hide inside my boyfriend’s puffy like a pet hamster. These changes in perspective won’t happen immediately, but every day I’m going to make a small effort towards achieving that- to being less scared of all the possibilities life has to offer.