Why I Love The Tribe

Last night I went to the climbing gym. This has become my regimen. Three times a week, I ride the tram across the river, slip on and strap down a pair of rubberized ballerina shoes, and submit my fingers and forearms to two hours of torturous hell. We call this bouldering. I’m preparing for the spring climbing season — which is just preparation for things I want to accomplish this summer — in the hopes that I won’t repeat my embarrassment of last season, when injury left me sidelined for seven or eight months.

I wasn’t mad that I wasn’t “sending hard” or “crushing it”. I was mad that I wasn’t climbing at all. I missed being part of the tribe. People were climbing all around me and I couldn’t join in.

Last night at the gym, I was trying a few moves, but I just couldn’t stick it. I was standing there staring at the wall, examining the sequence of moves to see if I was missing anything. This cute blond girl rolls up and starts speaking rapidly at me in Czech and laughing, then she looked at me like, “Why aren’t you laughing?” So I looked at her and said in poorly accented Czech, “I don’t speak Czech, do you speak English?” To which she replied yes, because nearly everyone speaks English. And then, two perfect strangers exchanged beta for the route in question, joked about how weak we felt, and she explained some things about how the gym worked. I never even caught her name. It doesn’t even really matter that much, we were two climbers and instantly friends.

Then, about an hour later, I was fighting through the first few moves of a tricky, technical boulder problem. I fell. I fell again. And then one or two more times. A few guys I was sitting next to were trying a different problem on the same section of wall. Once again, someone started speaking to me rapidly in Czech and I asked if he spoke English. He did, and so did his friends. They gave me some tips and I succeeded. They smiled with me when I did. And I watched them struggle and fail and then succeed. All as they conversed with each other rapidly in Czech. And I didn’t have to speak Czech to know what was going on or be a part of it. It’s funny to watch a guy have to use his free hand to physically place his foot where he needs it to go because he isn’t flexible enough to put it there on its own, all as he tries not to pop a blood vessel. So I laughed with them when it was funny; I held my breath with them when a guy did a massive dyno; I clapped with them when he stuck it.

We’re climbers. This is what we do. We speak the same language no matter where we are. We just get it. It’s nice to be at home, even if its just for a six hours a week.

If you can’t conceptualize why I love climbing, then watch this trailer for an upcoming climbing film release:

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