Or…Lessons from the Climbing Wall.

This offseason has been great.  I mean really great.  I have been listening to the aches and pains and backing off. I have been resting and making a concerted effort to get as close to eight hours of sleep each night as possible.  And I have been doing strength workouts to start building for the 2017 training season.

I haven’t been on the water much.

It is cold here. Not as cold as some places, but cold enough that it is a real mental workout just to get ready to get ready to get on the water. I am trying not to complain about it as much, and to embrace this time of year and get what I can out of it.  So, I have returned to my first sport love, mountain biking, and I have gotten back on yoga mat (a blog post in an of itself) and I found my way back to the rock wall.

Who knew that I’d have my winter epiphany there.

Nothing is as far out of my comfort zone as trying to climb vertically up a 30 foot wall, with only weird little shapes to hang on to, then having to let go and trust someone else and gear you are not used to to let you back down.

And it’s not because I am afraid of heights.

No, this is NOT me.


I am afraid of falling.


I dabbled in trying to climb last year.  Our local rock gym, Triangle Rock Club, gives REI employees a great membership deal. So, I took a couple of classes, got belay certified (which means I am cleared to be able to catch someone when they fall off the rock, and to then lower them back down to terra firma when they are ready – which is almost as terrifying as climbing ’cause you are responsible for someone else!) and started trying to climb with some co-workers.

I just sucked.

I could not get up a wall without freaking.

It was definitely all in my head.  It was a mental thing.

So then I started using Chattajack training as an excuse to not climb.  I did not want to hurt myself. That was my story, I stuck to it.

Until after this year’s CJ.  I went with my sup co-instructor Brenda, who is also an amazing climbing instructor and Adam for an REI basic outdoor climbing class at Pilot Mountain State Park. Maybe being outside would help.

Except that this class was RIGHT AFTER the 2016 Chattajack.

I had to tape over my Chatta-blisters. Among other things.


Yeah. If saying yes to Dana’s suggestion that we paddle OC2 for this year’s CJ was the best decision I have ever made,  this was the polar opposite.

I couldn’t make up but about a fourth of the way up the rock face.


I set up my ENO hammock, got my friend Kira’s beagle to snuggle next to me and watched.


But, I got inspired. It was hard not too.  The setting was breathtaking. It was good to be on the mountain. So, a few weeks later I tried again.  After I was rested.  And after starting to read an amazing book by world class climber Arno Ilgner called The Rock Warrior’s Way, (which is lnot unlike Suzie Cooney’s Chapter Seven in her book) – all about the mental piece of climbing.  So much of what he says is applicable to ANY sport, including paddling. It’s all about how we approach things, especially when we are out of our comfort zone and are afraid.

  • Breathe.
  • Pay attention.
  • Do not compare.
  • Do not judge.
  • Accept that success means learning something.
  • Acknowledge the fear, be objective about it.
  • And most importantly, stop self-sabotaging yourself with all the negative self talk!


The next time we went to the crag, I started putting what I had learned into practice.  My whole feeling about the rockface and my ability to climb it was different. I made it almost all the way up to the top.  I tried another route on another rock. I had fun.

I immediately started sessions in the rock club after that.

I’m climbing the larger walls now. And Brenda, Angie, Casey, Mike, Jessi and my other REI Outdoor School instructors are helping me learn technique. I am making progress.  I feel stronger. And I’m not afraid. Well, not as much. I fall off on purpose now so I can get used to trusting the equipment.

In fact, last week, I was so focused on trying to make it over a particularly difficult spot on a route that had been giving me fits that I had no awareness that I was about to fall and didn’t realize I had until I felt my feet swinging.

And last night, when I figured out how to get passed a particularly tricky (for me) section on another route, there was a bit of a rush.

Not quit like catching that first wave and riding it all the way to the sand, but close.

Definitely close.


In this winter training journey – I have noticed some similarities between climbing and paddling that are worth noting:

  • Fear and fear of falling – the majority of my sup students are just as afraid of falling off their boards as I was falling off the wall. Then there is the fear of paddling in the ocean, or the inlet or…it’s all the same. And we can deal with it in the same way. And succeed!
  • Quiet Feet – just like quiet paddle.  With the same overall affect.
  • Straight arms and reach – good climbing technique is a lot like good paddle technique.
  • Finding the route – figuring out which foot and hand holds to take to reach the top is not unlike trying read waves and figure out which bumps to try to catch.
  • It’s all about the core and the legs – push with the legs. ‘Nough said.

And I have learned a lot about myself and about what can happen when I open up my mind to something different and come at it with an objective, observant and positive approach. Without judgement.

I have absolutely no doubt that these lessons from the wall and the rock are going to serve me well in the 2017 season. Had I not gotten encouragement from Brenda and my REI team, I might not have taken that first step back on the rock. And my paddling would suffer for it.


And I can’t wait to get back on the water and see.

Hmmm…maybe we should try that snowboarding thing over again, come to think of it.