Going Up

My friend Jared and I went rock climbing. It made sense that we would go together, because the last time I climbed was in 1992, and the last time he climbed, he fell and knocked himself unconscious.

Since Jared is a theater student, hitting his head did not do any serious damage. Still, there was a general outpouring of concern and a strong feeling among many of his friends that he should not go rock climbing again. They wanted him to take up something safer, like knitting.

In particular, since the doctor had told him not to drive for a while — seems he’d had a bit of a seizure just after the bonking, though never again after — it made sense that he not climb any rocks, either.

To me, it was apples and oranges. Specifically, I had some apple pie and a glass of orange juice at lunch today. My point? It was delicious.

My other point? It was an unsound comparison. The reason he wasn’t supposed to drive was that if by some freak of nature he should have another seizure, he would wreck the car and everyone in the world would die. If he had a seizure while rock climbing, though, whoever was on the other end of the rope would belay him, and nothing would happen.

So that’s why Jared hadn’t been climbing for a few weeks. For me, it had been several years, and my reason had less to do with head injuries and more to do with laziness and a general distrust of nature. After all, nature is where the bears are.

Also, I’ve never been a particularly athletic person. My forays into sports have brought nothing but shame to myself and others. Even before I knew I was no good, though, I had little interest in sports; being berated by teammates when I screwed up didn’t help any. (That’s the fun thing about being a boy. You get abused if you don’t like sports, and then, if you break down and play anyway, you get abused for playing badly. It’s a good thing life is free, because you could never charge for this crap.)

I went rock climbing a few times in high school and I was OK at it. Not good enough to go pro or anything, but decent. I wasn’t falling and cracking my head open, anyway, which is more than I can say for some people.

High school was a long time ago, though, and I’ve had plenty of new reasons to doubt my physical prowess since then. Whatever skill at rock climbing I’d had, I’d long since forgotten it and replaced it with the same awkwardness I felt for other sports. But Jared wanted to go climbing again, and I’m a good friend who wanted an excuse to leave work early.

Jared had actually tried climbing once since the accident, with his girlfriend, bless her heart, who had been with him when it happened. But going together re-created the accident scenario, and it was psychologically difficult for everyone involved, including the rocks, and the attempt was aborted.

So I offered to go with him. Maybe a different climbing partner and a different attitude — one of “Let’s go climbing!” instead of “YOU’RE GOING TO DIE!!!!!!” — would help things.

We went to Rock Canyon, which is a very appropriate name, as it actually is a canyon. We climbed using the “top rope” method, which is where you first find an easy way to the top of the rock, secure a line, then go back down and — this is the crazy part — climb up again the hard way. The top rope prevents you from plunging to your death if you fall, and under the circumstances (i.e., not wanting to plunge to our deaths if we fell), we figured it best to use it.

I quickly remembered one good reason why I hadn’t climbed in a while: The rocks are inconveniently located. None of them are in town, like maybe at the mall or somewhere. They’re all out in the canyon, where you have to walk to them.

So by the time we actually reached our first rock, I was tired. By the time we climbed up the back way to the top of it, I was planning to fling myself off. By the time we got home three hours later, I had been dead for two years.

After securing the top rope, we went down and started climbing up again. (This still does not make sense to me.) With Jared belaying the rope from the ground, I began my slow ascent up the rock. Though I’m 20 pounds overweight and literally have no muscles in my body — seriously, where my muscles should be, there are French fries instead — I managed to climb. I stood on the tiniest of ledges and clung to the smallest of crevices. Soon I was the sweatiest of rock climbers. But I was also making steady progress, climbing higher and higher with no serious difficulties. Jared hollered encouragement from down below, which was more helpful than I would have thought. (“Eric, would hollering be of any use to you?” “No,” I’d probably say, “I can’t imagine it would be.”)

When I reached the top, I looked out over the Utah Valley and marveled at the majestic beauty of my eyeglasses, which were plummeting to the earth because they had slipped off my face.

After I rappelled down so I could belay him, Jared started his climb. He made it up the rock faster than I had — you know, like he was an experienced climber or something, which he was. Neither of us fell. Neither of us freaked out. Neither of us even dropped our glasses, except me.

I hate to be philosophical, but you have to face your fears in life. One bad experience climbing, or a million bad experiences with sports in general, doesn’t mean you have to quit trying. Like the old saying goes, when you fall off the rock, you have to get back on and keep riding. Or something. At any rate, we conquered a little corner of Rock Canyon, and next I’m going to try catching a fly ball.

This column is enormously long, a fact for which I make no apologies. I could have squoze all the important jokes into a normal-length article, but I would have had to omit the backstories that I think make it a slightly more weighty piece of work. Now it's not just a bunch of jokes about rock climbing; it's a column about facing one's fears and dropping one's glasses.

Jared and I met when we were both in BYU's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in 1999. He had a non-speaking part, and I might as well have. We were both only in three scenes, and it was the same three scenes, so we had all our boring backstage time together, too. As with the rest of the cast of that show, we spent most of our time trying to make each other laugh. In particular, I recall the first scene in the play, in which I stood near the front of the stage while Jared stood several paces behind me. I would stand with my hands behind my back, and flip him off so that only he could see. And at the end of the play, when the entire cast was frozen while Puck pranced around and said weird things to the audience, we would make fart noises quiet enough so the audience couldn't hear, but loud enough for the other cast members to hear. By the end of the show's run, most of us had begun freezing in positions that had us facing away from the audience, so they wouldn't see us breaking up.

Jared, by the way, came up with knitting as a safe alternative to rock climbing. He mentioned it to me in an e-mail, and I sto-- er, borrowed it here.

An interesting postscript to the rock climbing story: The glasses survived the fall unscathed. A week later, as I was taking off my shirt, my wrist bumped my glasses off my face and they broke in half before they even hit the floor.

While we were climbing, we found a rock with a huge crack up the center. I used this to get to the top, and thereafter it was known as Eric's Crack. So along with my condo being called Eric's Unit, you can now add Eric's Crack to the list.

Jared brought his camera along and we took several lovely pictures. Alas, ShopKo declared the roll had no pictures on it whatsoever. (It took them two weeks to declare this, by the way, instead of the customary 24 hours. You'd think it would take less time, not more, to return a blank roll.) We tried to go climbing again so I could run a photo with this column -- our first trip was a full three weeks before the column ran -- but could never find a time.

I deliberated for a long time over how many pounds overweight I should say I was. I actually didn't know at the time. There wasn't a scale in my house, and I hadn't been to the gym in who knows how long. I knew I used to be 10 pounds over, and I'd grown steadily fatter since then, so 20 seemed like a good guess.

I enjoy the absurdly exaggerated claims in this column, such as the idea that Jared wrecking his car would cause everyone in the world to die, and that when we got home three hours later, I'd been dead for two years. I would like to include more surrealism in my columns, if only because it distinguishes me from people like Dave Barry, who tends to be very literal.