Late July of this year Kaleigh left for the Coast Guard Academy and Ella and I took to the trails. We hiked mountains in New Hampshire, Vermont, NY and Maine finding mild joy at the summits and filling the ache in our hearts with coffee and cookies after our adventures. A few weeks in to my new-found solo-life, Alexandra Roberts invited me to join on a “Wednesday Sendsday” - "a chill day of rock climbing" she described it. I made up a half dozen excuses to why I didn’t want to, or couldn’t go climbing. I had a handful of bad memories of the last time I climbed outside - a tumultuous summer in Colorado. A debilitating fear of heights. A lack of strength. No gear. Minimal expertise. “It’s all good Gretch" Alex said, I’ve got you”. Driving up the Kancamangus the first Wednesday I joined the crew I had nervous energy coursing through my veins. I had Ella, snacks, and my knitting packed in my backpack - I’m outgoing, I’ve been lifting this summer, I’ll be fine. Fuq.
I hugged Alex for only the second time since we met on a hut to hut ski trip last winter (we didn’t really get along that well at first) and she handed me a harness, shoes and a helmet. We hiked up through a rocky approach to the base of the cliff (what I learned to be called the crag). I felt like I was visiting a foreign country as I didn’t understand half of the terms coming out of everyone’s mouths. I found a comfortable rock and settled in with the hat I was knitting while the more experienced climbers set up routes for us to top-rope and it wasn’t long before I was on my first climb. I can’t even remember it now, but I recall my fear of heights gripping me so tightly my hands sweat through my borrowed chalk as I carefully climbed up the wall. Hours later as the sun dipped towards the horizon I gave Incisor Crack a try. A 5.10c (ooph) I’d seen Alex suffer up it, and Z made a go of it and I thought why can't I give it a try. What's the worst that's going to happen? I taped up my knuckles and thanks to a hefty belay from Brent I made it to the top.
I drove home that night in the dark and the events of the day and the smiles of the faces of these new adventure buddies were clear in my mind. I needed to do this again. Three weeks later I returned to the crag with a brand new pair of shoes, harness, helmet and my very own chalk bag. Strangers became friends. I learned the ins and outs of climbing cracks and slab and how flake is really fun and you can, in fact climb up wet rock and climbing in the dark by headlamp light is exhilarating. What has stuck out to me about this crew of entrepreneurs and small business owners, creatives and adventurers who are lucky enough to take to the cliffs on Wednesdays is that their hearts are huge, their zeal is impenetrable and their kindness knows no bounds. As a bonus it turns out that Ella is the best crag dog ever. Entertaining herself with squirrels all day and intermittently swinging back by the group for pets, treats and snuggles. My mom even came one day! We shared victories big and small, fist bumps and fierce hugs, pirates booty and pumpkin muffins, hot tea and beers.
Two days ago (two months later), I took to incisor crack again. This time on a real belay. Each time I peeled off the rock I fell back to where I started and I sobbed into the crack hitting my bloodied hands against the rock. I had blood on my sweater. I came back down and added tape to my hands covering the raw skin that had peeled off. Thinking of all of the routes I’d climbed in the past two months I couldn’t understand why I was struggling so much. I had my first lead climb, I suffered up wet, cold 5.9’s and 5.10’s but this crack was giving me hell and I wouldn’t back down. Alex and her effervescent sparkle urged me to get back after it and I fell and fell again but eventually by nothing but pure grit and stubbornness I made it.
It was dark and we trekked out slipping on the snowy leaves and sharing headlamp light. When we got back to the parking lot there were still 5 cars there. In the last however long it took me to finish the route my friends had stuck around to support me on my last sendsday before heading to Alaska. They saw me bloodied, bawling and broken and their support didn't waver. That is what Sendsday is all about. Every Wednesday you show up you make your own adventure. Put as much heart into it as you can or want to. We grew together this fall, everyone getting better at something - whether a climbing skill, a friendship, or believing in themselves a little more.
The real magic happens when we vulnerably show the deepest parts of the cracks in our selves and are loved and supported regardless. No matter what profanities we yell, how many tablespoons of tears we collect, it’s never about the route. It’s the sum of life’s messes. The dumpster fire ignites up the hardest climbs and the ash settles as you are lowered off of the rock, snotty, bleary eyed and scrapes and bruised and the world is a little more clear. The problems less significant and the power of love that much stronger.
To my sendsday friends, a toast,
“May the distance between our hearts never grow wider than a hand - crack, and the power of sending it on a Wednesday never lose its luster. Cheers!”
With Love, Gretchen