I’m 40 feet in the air and clinging to the side of a rock climbing wall, with no tingling Spidey senses.
My friends are cheering me on. “You look great,” Sara B. says. “Let go!”
I look down. The fear rises in my belly like a rocket. I’m holding onto the bright green rocks and trying to push the anxiety down.
I’m at the top of one route among the 15,000 square feet of walls at RoKC climbing gym. They call each route a problem. They are rated from 5.6 to 5.13c. Be warned: The difference between a 5.6 and a 5.8 is like the difference between ninth grade and 11th grade. The higher the number, the harder the climb, and they each have funky names. My problem: Evil Eye (5.6). Because who doesn’t want to conquer that?
I look down at my harness. My climbing shoes grip the rocks. I hold tight to the rope. I can’t move.
One of the founders, Andrew Potter, walks over and shouts up to me.
“You made it to the top,” he says. “Now let go. You got this.”
Andrew believes climbing is a form of active meditation. Physical strength helps, but it’s a thought process, too. You have to choose the right path. You have to make quick decisions. And there’s self-esteem, too.
“Climbing can have mental barriers,” he says. “In so many ways it’s about trust, teamwork and self-confidence.”
He’s been climbing since he was a Boy Scout. As a student, he helped start the University of Central Missouri Climbing Club. The Army vet has climbed all over — from Arkansas to Germany.
“It’s different than any other sport I’ve ever done,” says Andrew, 29. “Being in the wild is a good place to experience adventure without the distraction of social media and technology.” He wanted to bring that sense of self-discovery and thrills to North Kansas City with his indoor climbing gym, which opened in April.
“I wanted to show people you don’t have to be a crazy athlete to enjoy this sport. If you can climb a ladder, you can climb in our gym. We want everyone to know they are welcome here. Indoor climbing is as much about community as it is about having fun.”
The playlist itself is a good time: Florence and the Machine, Rihanna and Beyonce. There are camps, classes, yoga, bouldering walls and stand-alone structures where kids and adults alike climb without ropes. And then there are the walls. Experienced climbers can use the traditional long climbing ropes.
It’s been a decade since I stepped inside of an indoor climbing gym. Back then, it was all about me trying to trust this guy I was on a date with to steady the rope and take up the slack.
This time, I’m using an auto belay to break my fall. It requires no partner. And that’s what I like about this path. So often, I’ve worried about putting my trust in others. Sometimes the hardest challenge is being a member of your own team.
Perhaps that’s why I’m still stuck to the wall at the top of the Evil Eye. The idea of letting go and just falling is making me sweat. So I start to climb down. Andrew walks over. “You’re cheating yourself,” he says.
I know his words are true. For a minute I am looking at him and considering letting go of the rope. I understand it will break my fall. But I keep wondering, what if I do it wrong? So I climb down a little farther. I hear Andrew and my friends again: “You can let go from here.”
I stop. I am trying very hard to hold on to the rocks, to control my fear, to control every little step. My core is so tight it hurts. “Trust me,” Andrew says.
That’s when I realize it’s not that I don’t trust him. I am doubting myself. People are always pointing out our faults, calling us names and tearing us down. Even when you’re at your bravest and your faith is strong, it wears on you. So here I am, letting the negativity in the world make me think negatively of myself.
Nah. I can’t allow that. I look at Andrew, Sara B. and Lexi. They have so much confidence in me. Even the gym dog, Shark, wags her tail at me. I can feel their positive energy soaring up the wall. I close my eyes. I remind myself that fear is not something to hold onto. Clinging to the bad is not the answer. I say a prayer. It’s time to let go. To take that leap of faith.
So I push my feet off the wall. I release the rope. Within seconds, I am on my feet, on the ground. I smile. And when I look up, my community of four is happy for me. Yeah. I got this.
RoKC climbing gym, 1501 Howell St. in North Kansas City, is open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. A day pass is $15. Harness rental is $3. Shoe rental is $5. For more information, visit ClimbKC.com.