Recently, my friends Mike and Andrae and I went to Joshua Tree National Monument with our drama teacher, Craig “Duke” Duke, to engage in Male Bonding via rock climbing. Rock climbing can be a very enjoyable and invigorating activity, as long as you take special care not to die while doing it.
And we couldn’t have asked for a nicer place to go rock climbing than Joshua Tree. There are a lot of large rocks there, which as any experienced rock climber will tell you, play an important part in rock climbing. There are also a lot of Joshua trees there, which are important insofar as they provide no shade whatsoever, which forces the rock climbers to be extremely manly and brave the heat and eventually die of sunstroke in a very manly fashion.
Anyway, we were there to climb rocks, which of course is a very stupid thing to do. I mean, why would you want to climb up a rock? What would you do when you got to the top? Build a fort and shoot Injuns when they ride past? These questions did not occur to us, though, because we are Men and therefore think nothing of spending two days doing something absolutely useless. The only question that came to our minds was, “Which is more important: getting to the top safely, or looking cool while we do it?” I think you can guess which one we chose.
The way we climbed was this. Duke climbed to the top of the rock via the safe, intelligent route that is conveniently located at the back of every rock in the Monument, and then tossed one end of the rope down to me, Mike, and Andrae, so that we could attach it to ourselves, one at a time, and climb up the rock, using the extremely small fingerholds and ledges on the face of the rock. That way, if we slipped and fell, Duke was at the top, and we just had to hope that he had a firm hold on the other end of the rope and was not busy talking to Andrae.
This was an actual event. Mike was climbing up the rock, and Andrae and I were already up there. Duke was pulling up the slack on the rope as Mike climbed, chatting in a friendly manner with Andrae at the same time. Suddenly, Mike called out the official, internationally-recognized rock climbing signal: “AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!” Literally, this means, “I have lost my grip and am currently plummeting headlong toward the earth.” I immediately sensed that Mike was in some sort of predicament that would require Duke, the Slack Puller, to pull tightly and keep him from falling, but Duke was busy talking to Andrae. So after Mike yelled, this is what Duke said:
Fortunately, by the time the neurons in Duke’s head had fired and he was in the process of pulling the rope tightly, Mike had already regained his balance and had continued climbing. We all had a good laugh about it later, I’ll tell you.
But if you think climbing the rock in the first place is silly, wait till you hear how we got down. We rapelled, which simply means that we attached a rope to our harnesses and slid down. At least climbing up is a natural thing to do — people and animals alike have been climbing things for millions of years. But rapelling is not natural — it’s just controlled falling. Why would we purposely walk backwards over the edge of a 100-foot rock and just assume that a thin little rope was going to keep gravity from pulling us to our death?
I’ll tell you why. Because we’re Men.
Rock-climbing, and the rapelling associated with it, is one of my favorite physical activities, and one of the very few quasi-sports that I am any good at. Or at least I WAS good at it. I haven't done it in a while, and I'm only getting older, so maybe I'm no good anymore. Anyway, I went climbing/rapelling with the Boy Scouts several times, and two or three times with the group mentioned in this column. It made me feel like a Man, which I don't always feel like, especially when I spend most of my time wearing a sweater in an office in front of a computer.