Elevated State of Mind

My dad always told me I could do anything. He obviously never tried to climb the wall at Tennessee Bouldering Authority.

The first track on the beginners course at Chattanooga’s original indoor climbing gym was pretty easy, even for a girl who was always picked last in gym class, could never manage more than two pull-ups — and that’s with legs flailing like a fish that’s just been dropped on a sun-drenched dock — and had never been rock climbing before. Like TBA instructor Kasia Pietras says, it was basically like climbing a ladder, albeit in almost painfully toe-scrunching shoes. But as a shoe lover I’ve dealt with that before.

The second track wasn't as straightforward. I still managed to do it on the second try, after realizing I needed to plot a course beforehand, but my non-pull up-strengthened arms were already getting tired and my office worker hands a little sore. By the third track – which I never did quite best, even after at least a half-dozen tries – my arms were basically useless, my legs visibly quivering and my hands were on fire. And that was after taking a break for a short interview in which I couldn’t even grasp the pen hard enough to manage anything but the scribble of a child young enough to still know the torment of being picked last in gym class.

“Anything is hard when you first start out,” says TBA owner and 20-something-year climbing veteran Luis Rodriguez, as what look to be several 12-year-old boys race up the walls around me with speed as well as apparent ease. “Ballroom dancing is hard when you first start out; you’re going to be stepping all over each other’s feet. At first climbing is going to feel real awkward, then before you know it, it clicks. Then it becomes addictive.

“A lot of people when they first try think ‘These guys are super strong, this is too hard.’ If we took that approach to every challenge we really wouldn’t be doing that much.”

Now that sounds like something my dad would say. And maybe that’s really what he meant when he told me I could do anything. Now that I think about it he never said I could easily do anything.

“Rock climbing is not finding a cure to cancer, but if you take it and apply it to the rest of your life you realize you can do a lot more than you thought,” Rodriguez says. “It teaches you perspective. The answers are all there within reach, it’s just figuring out how to make it work.” Like even us office workers, climbers call the challenges they encounter on a cliff with seemingly nothing to grasp onto nor footholds in sight “problems,” although their setting is real instead of metaphorical.

I might give climbing another go — just ask my dad, I can find appeal in many challenges. But first I have to regain the full use of my forearms, which are still so weak a day after my attempts that it’s a good thing the typewriter was invented.

CLIMBING FOOTHOLDS

Chattanooga is an internationally recognized destination for those looking to strengthen their core — mind and body — on the side of a rock. “Inside is basically just used for training,” says TBA’s Kasia Petrias. “You’re not going to get glorified by doing a yellow [intermediate track] in here.” But indoor climbing gyms are a good place to start and provide a place where an experienced climber can lay down the basics for you before you go vertical.

Tennessee Bouldering Authority:

3804 St. Elmo Ave., 423-822-6800, tbagym.com

Urban Rocks

1007 Appling St., 423-475-6578, urbanrocksgym.com

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