it isn't uncommon for me to visit a place one time and then become completely enthralled with it. i go into these places as a foreigner, but leave as a friend. they burrow little dents in my heart that can only be filled back up by spending more time there. i often find myself getting in these bizarre moods where i'm longing to feel the air of that place again. i crave the sounds and the smells and the views. i pull out pictures and listen to songs i heard there, but it never quite fills the hole. alaska, israel and hawaii did this to me, which i expected, but did new york city and detroit and half moon bay left their own dents too.
a split second decision landed me in the red river gorge of kentucky for fall break. and a split second was all it took for kentucky to leave its mark on my heart. 4 days was enough to get me hooked on the gorge. it was gigantic and beautiful and full of life and excitement. the culture was new to me but the way it felt being there was familiar. i was at home amongst the changing leaves and showerless climbers.
i'd been climbing in gyms before, and that was something i enjoyed, but natural climbing was a whole new beast to conquer. the crags aren't always flat and can't be sized up from the ground. sometimes you can't see your holds until you're grasping for them. the rock can be cold and wet. for someone like me, who plans their whole route while planted firmly on the ground, all the unknowns brought with them a lot of anxiety.
i'm, unfortunately, a naturally anxious person, so going in to the weekend, i was nervous. i was nervous about camping and climbing and hiking and spending almost 96 straight hours with a group of people, most of whom i didn't know. but i packed my bag and i pushed my nerves down into the box i always keep them, and i got in a van with 11 new friends and i went to kentucky.
my anxiety only sprung back in full force one time on the trip. this wouldn't have been a big deal, but i happened to be hanging from a rope, halfway up a 60 ft route. it was the second day and i had climbed other routes, but for some reason this route unnerved me. honestly, i'm surprised i was able to finish. my favorite part of climbing is rappelling down at the end, yet, when i finished the route, not one fiber of my being wanted to let go. i was petrified, and it was horrible. with much coercing from my roommate, i reluctantly agreed to come down. as our trip leader untied me i could feel the tears coming and my face getting hot. i stepped away, trying to hide the tears now sliding down my cheeks. but i failed. i hyperventilated. my hands clamped up as they lost oxygen, and i spent the next 30 minutes sitting on a boulder in front of this crag i had just climbed, calming myself down. some people call it a panic attack, i call it embarrassing.
i swore off climbing from that moment on, and i resigned to sit in a hammock eating goldfish and cheering people on. "this just isn't my jam" i would say over and over. but that only lasted a day, and the next morning i found myself itching to get back in a harness. i lead climbed a route. which is a little bit of a big deal. it was a really easy route, but it was a milestone for me, regardless.
despite the panic attack on saturday, i'm hooked on climbing. and camping isn't so bad either. i have a place, a very big place, in my heart for nice hotels, but sleeping in a hammock under a canopy of trees and a sprinkling of stars is an experience you can't compare to the hilton. i was afraid of bears, sure, but i was warm and with friends and there were always nice boys within a few yards of my hammock should trouble arise.
climbing is my jam, i guess. and camping is my jam, i guess. and spending 96 hours with precious people who have precious hearts is my jam, but i guess i already knew that.
|hey look, its me on a crag.|
the last day held the biggest treasure. it wasn't expected and it wasn't planned, but boy was it big and man was it beautiful. we took the long way back to the vans because my friends, who had mostly only known me for 3 days, knew i would love this place. that gesture alone made me want to cry. they were new friends, but they knew me so well already and they were willing to go out of the way to show me this surprise.
i asked, "is this it?" at least 10 times on the way there. and every time they assured me it was bigger and better than whatever we were currently looking at, and it would be worth the walk. they were so right. we walked into this giant overhang, and suddenly i felt small and speechless. i'm rarely speechless, so that in itself should tell you how beautiful this place was. i wish i had a panoramic picture to show you, but it wouldn't do it justice, and honestly i was too stunned to move or take any pictures. i stood at the edge of this humongous cave for as long as they would let me, and i tried to take it all in. i could have stood there for 39 years and never soaked it all in. two weeks later, i can still think of nothing more beautiful. as big as it was, it still brought me to the realization that i was only standing in a tiny piece of the earth. this massive corner of the gorge was just a speck on the globe. it put me in my place. it made me feel small. but it made Him feel big and fully of beauty and full of glory.
and one day, i'll have a picnic there. i can hardly wait.