When you hear the words “rock climbing” you might not be equating it to “awesome first date experience!” I certainly wasn’t, but when ZOZI presented the opportunity to hit the world’s tallest indoor climbing silos in Dallas, Texas, I wasn’t about to object. Giant silos plus my fear of heights and a stranger? Whether or not I wanted to go, I knew Megan wouldn’t want to miss filming the likes of this.
Jason, my Dallas date, was not who one imagines when they picture a born, bred and educated-in Dallasite. Read: he’s not a strapping, white male in a cowboy hat, strutting his stuff in spurs. Rather, he’s a well built, glasses wearing East Indian male who had wisely chosen to wear workout clothes. We shook hands, then busied ourselves with the task of putting on climbing shoes (which feel like toe-shoes for ballet if you ask me) while playing with the North Texas Outdoor Pursuit’s unofficial mascot, a gray cat named Thursday.
The cat gave Jason and I an instant subject of conversation (which cats love, I’m sure) and we both nervously chatted away, ignoring the giant pink elephant in the room which was that we, two strangers, were about to have to trust each other a lot. Like, a lot a lot. Almost Alot Monster a lot. See, when you go rock climbing, the first thing you learn is the belay system: this is that contraption that you’ve likely seen, where one person stands at the bottom of a climbing area and it looks like they have lassoed ropes to the person climbing the wall. It’s a simple system that is rather effective (and it is almost impossible to screw up) but its simplicity makes the whole endeavor look completely bananas and wrong. Anyway, the nerves come in when you realize that a complete stranger belaying you means they are RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR LIFE.
Jokes were made about having our lives in each other’s hands, and what the news reports would look like if one of us managed to kill the other on our first date. Then, our patient instructor who had listened to our jokes, showed us the ropes (literally! Haha!), watched us practice, insisted we’d be fine, and then told us to enjoy ourselves.
North Texas Outdoor Pursuit’s climbing gym is indoors. In old grain silos. Giant, echoey, old grain silos. Which means you have to whisper when you talk because the noise echoes up, and if you’re trying to talk to someone on the wall, they can’t really hear you.* With Thursday running at our feet and playing with the extra belay rope, Jason took to a rather low, easy climb. Rather low is relative here – the darn thing was probably thirty feet high which is ungodly terrifying. He climbed. He succeeded. He came down gratefully. And then it was my turn.
I’m not super psyched about heights. I don’t necessarily hate them, but when they don’t come built in with a false sense of security, I’m not gung-ho about their being all high up and tall. As I started to climb I thought to myself, “I really hope my date knows what the hell he’s doing.” Which indeed he did. Then Megan took to the wall in order to stick a GoPro higher up than we were climbing (she used a different route) and how she juggled climbing and carrying a camera is still beyond me.
Once we’d built our confidence on the lower silos we decided to get wild and go to the 110 foot silo. Yes, the one-hundred-ten foot silo (you read that right). Around here is where Jason admitted that his general discomfort of heights might be a fear, and I realized that my general discomfort might indeed be the same. 110 feet is tall. Bigger than you imagine Godzilla tall. That tall.
I hit the wall and didn’t make it very far before calling it quits. Jason hit the wall and made it almost halfway up before saying he was ready to come down. And then, I thought about how Jason had a fear of heights and hadn’t complained – he’d tackled that wall with gusto. When he was back on the ground, we started talking about the fight or flight response, and where we fell on the continuum. I very casually mentioned that I tended to fight until I could no longer be brave, and then I would fly like hell. A strange mix of both, where I think my initial response would be to fly but my brain says “NO. STAY. FIGHT. I’m not saying it’s easy; I’m saying it’s worth it.”
With all that in mind, I asked Jason if he’d belay me again for the 110 foot climb. We strapped in, and up I went. I tried to move methodically, carefully, and without looking down. Just a constant stream of forward motion, eyes on the prize, not worrying about what comes after getting what I wanted. Two thirds of the way up I stopped being able to hear hisses of encouragement, and it was only my inner monologue ringing in my ears. I tried to shut down the soft voice telling me to be afraid, that I wouldn’t make it, that I might kill myself for no good reason other than for an adventure.
About ten feet from the top, I paused for a breath and to select my next move. As I turned my head, I caught sight of the ground lingering very far below me, almost out of sight entirely. And I thought, “I want my mom. Now.” Images of my family swam into my head, the idea of what their expressions would be if I came back not in one piece. My heart pounded so hard I was certain it was reverberating throughout the silo.
“I want to come down,” I whispered.
Megan and Jason encouraged me to finish. “You’re so close,” I heard them reply. “You’ve got this.” But even if I had it, I didn’t want it anymore. It wasn’t worth the visceral ideas slamming into my brain. Having a vivid imagination might seem like a blessing but really, it can often be a curse.
I rappelled down, took a moment to myself to pet Thursday, then belayed for Megan. She scrambled up the silo in record time, making the journey to the top look like child’s play. The best part was her grin when she came down. She was flushed with accomplishment, and it was impossible not to be impressed by her and proud of her.
As Jason and I dismantled our climbing attire, we talked about the logistics of first dates. He didn’t believe he would be able to learn about someone on such an active date…and maybe he’s right-ish. I didn’t learn about his childhood or if he had any siblings. But I did come to know he’s able to learn fast, he’s willing to face fears, he’s capable of being adventurous, he’s able to laugh at the indignities of life. Oh, and that the fact that I sweated through my shirt and was sort of a “I’ve been working out” mess didn’t phase him.
Once on our way, Megs and had just begun her “So, what did you think?” line of questioning when Jason popped up in our window (we were at a stoplight). He handed us a bottle of locally made spirits and we looked at each other very…hm, what’s the best word. Intimately? Not quite. But with understanding and appreciation. He texted later that evening to say he wished he’d kissed me, that he’d felt a connection despite having been skeptical at the beginning of both the experience of rock climbing and the premise of 50/50, and that he enjoyed our date immensely.
*This meant any encouragement or cheering had to be done in a whisper. Imagine saying “You can do it!” and not sounding creepy at that level.