Not a rock star

More than once last year, I chided myself for being more observer than participant when it comes to thrill-seeking activities.

I attributed it to my cautious nature and lack of attraction to things involving potential physical injury. After all these years without a concussion or broken bone, why tempt fate?

I even blogged about it – on my own Rough and Rede blog (“Facing a fear”) and again for my friend Patty Chang Anker’s Some Nerve book/blog project.

Well, leave it to my wife to take matters into her own hands. On my birthday late last year, she presented me with a gift certificate to the Portland Rock Gym, an indoor climbing facility about a mile from our home.

Last weekend, I had an opening in my schedule and so I signed up for the introductory class. Showed up in shorts and a long-sleeved T-shirt, with a good attitude and a healthy curiosity about how it would go.

In a word: Meh.


I was in a class of six beginners, three men and three women, and of course I was the oldest one. That wasn’t an issue.

The instructor was a young dude who was knowledgeable, agile and patient – and who could have passed as a “Portlandia” extra. Guy with a wool hat pulled down to his eyebrows. Big, bushy beard. Took swigs from a large energy drink (Rockstar brand, of course) and made liberal use of the words “cool” and “dude.”  Again, not an issue.

At least half of the 3-hour class was devoted to learning how to put on the gear and tie knots; another hour or so was spent actually climbing. When we were done, I have to say I wasn’t “feeling it.”

I had hoped this might be a thing that excited and energized me, making me eager to return and get back up on that wall. But, no. I left with a blister on my right heel (the front desk people said climbing shoes should be snug) and a little bit of missing skin on my right hand (mild case of rope burn while belaying).

More important, I left with a sense that: 1) If knot-tying is the key to even getting started, that’s not my forte. 2) If climbing 60 feet up and getting a foothold on a faux rock 2 inches wide and 4 inches long is supposed to bring a sense of stability, well, let’s just say I’d like a little more surface than that. I’m not as nimble as I used to be.

Even if I were hooked, I know this new sport would require spending money to buy the gear and shoes and an ongoing membership to use the facility. Not sure I want to make room in my budget for that.

For much of the weekend, I second-guessed myself. Was I being a wimp? (Hold your comments, folks.) Was there something about me – not the activity – that was the issue? Should I go back and give it another try?

Thankfully, Lori let me off the hook. If it isn’t your thing, don’t worry about it, she said. At least you tried it.

Yes, that’s true and I thanked her for it. And now, tomorrow night, it’s back to cornhole – the beanbag toss game you can play between sips of beer. Bring it on.


8 thoughts on “Not a rock star

  1. Apparently you and Scott Bernard Nelson will not be hanging out together much. At least, not from rock walls, real or faux. I on your side.

  2. Ha! Hardly. I’m terrified half the time when I’m climbing. (Which does raise the question of why we keep going back…)

    But as I told George, I’ve never really felt welcome at PRG. There’s nothing in particular about the place; just a general sense of not fitting in. Outdoors, I love all the gear and going high up on rock walls. But if I’m indoors, I much prefer bouldering at The Circuit. It’s cheaper, it’s low key and people are for the most part friendlier than at PRG. And for beginners, it’s a lot less intimidating. No ropes, no knots, no harnesses. Just show up and give it a try. All you need is a pair of climbing shoes — which, by the way, don’t have any reason to be that tight when you’re just learning the sport.

    That said, climbing tends to be something people either really like or really don’t like. So if you’re interested, George, give it a go some time at The Circuit. (In fact, I’ll join you if you want to arrange a time.) But if it’s still not your thing, cool. You went outside your comfort zone and gave it a try, and that’s more than most people ever do. Dude, now where’s my Rockstar?

    • Not that I am going to give it a go, Scott, but the Circuit definitely sounds more welcoming to newcomers. Throwing a lot of the detail — the knots, say — at someone at the start doesn’t sound like a good way to help people into something new. I admire your many physically challenging exploits, Scott, and always wonder where you get the energy, but perhaps that is in fact how you get the energy, by doing it.

  3. Grrr,
    “Cool, dude!”
    I love that you are trying new stuff! While I loved the few times I rock climbed, my mountain climbing days, and even the cycling I’ve spent a lot of time doing, I am so not a gear head. I hate that part of most of my outdoor activities, and I totally get your no. 1 objection (knots).
    BTW: this blog entry’s headline rocks!
    D.E. Hovde

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