41 First Dates

I meant to write this one up a while ago.  I mean to do a lot of things that don’t actually get done.  I suppose you could say that my life is quite meaningful.

First off, let me just say that this date was terrifying

-ly awesome.

This was one of few first dates that I didn’t have to plan.  At all.  This date sent me a google calendar invite.  This date sent me a packing list.  This date provided a Facebook countdown starting about ten days out.  My phone sent me a reminder about the calendar event.  It was almost too easy.

This is one of the few first dates for which I have pictorial evidence of its occurrence.  The rest of these, I might actually be making up stories and people, and you would never even know.  Oh my goodness!  That’s brilliant!  Why have I not thought of doing that before today?  I could get to 50 like that <snaps fingers>!  Although the energy drain of actually planning and executing imaginary dates is probably just as immense as the current energy drain of going on actual dates, and would also defeat the purpose of this exercise, which (I think if I remember correctly) is to meet people and have new experiences.

My ninth first date.  Rock climbing.  Seneca Rocks, WV.

Seneca Rocks, WV
Seneca Rocks, WV

I have never been rock climbing in my life.  Never.  Ever.  Not in a rock climbing gym.  Not on actual rocks.  Unless you count this:

My pathetic attempt to scale a wall in heeled boots in Istanbul (incidentally, on a spectacularly fun first date)
My pathetic attempt to scale a wall in Istanbul (incidentally, on a spectacularly fun first date)

Neither those boots nor that wall (and probably not even me) were made for climbing.

I’ve known this first date for several years now.  We’ve had lots of adventures together.  Like that time we toured Alexander the Great’s Fortress.

Best $5 bribe I've ever paid.
Best $5 bribe I’ve ever paid.

And the time he came to Florida to go bouldering and we missed the ferry and he wound up climbing an outbuilding while I climbed a tree.

Random building
Random Outbuilding Consolation Prize
Tree climbing is kind of my forte
Tree climbing is kind of my forte

But for all our adventuring; we’ve never gone on an actual date.  Until this one.

He has the distinction of being the first person to ask me on a first date when I first announced this endeavor (that’s a lot of firsts in the first sentence of this paragraph – totally threw that last one in there). It just took us three months to coordinate schedules because he is massively popular and also quite busy.

I flew to Washington-Dulles, where he picked me up and promptly transported me across state lines into West Virginia, while making me listen to this:

Which remained stuck in my head for the duration of our trip and continues to plague me regularly.  <SMH> Canadians; there’s no accounting for them.

Time out!  I am going running with my sister.

Time back in.

We stopped at the climbing shop where I discovered that my date is somewhat of a local celebrity.  Everyone knew him.  And they all wanted to chat.  They were perfectly happy to lend gear to him (for me to use), and didn’t require the typical credit card or ID deposit for the equipment he rented.

The Gendarme Climbing Shop
The Gendarme Climbing Shop

We set up camp (in probably the nicest campground I’ve ever seen), and he set about introducing me to the world’s most confusing equipment.  Nuts, big nuts, small nuts, medium nuts, nut tools, cams, other cams, more different cams, slightly offset cams, bigger cams, smaller cams, and probably a half a dozen other things I’d never seen or heard of before.  He set up a course throughout the campground and taught me how to belay and rappel.  We also tied about six hundred knots.  Well, the same knot about six hundred times.  I needed the practice.

We went to a place called Hellbender’s for massive burritos for dinner, and then went back to the campsite to sleep.

We woke up at about 0300 to find the giant air mattress we were using almost completely deflated, so I hopped out and attached the pump to refill it.  Around 0500, I was rudely awaken by the most obnoxious sound:  birds.  Lots of them.  Making all kinds of noise.  I finally understood why you’d want to kill two birds with a single stone.  In Afghanistan, the birds don’t chirp like that in the early morning (probably because there aren’t any… they’re likely all dead except for the few hundred living in a single tree at Bagram).

Mornings are typically not when you’ll find me at my best.

My date woke up and checked his phone a little bit later.  “0600,” he said.  I waited, holding my breath, praying he wouldn’t follow that up with “we’d better get moving.”  He didn’t.  He went back to sleep.  Awesome.

We finally got moving around 0730 (which I’ve lately discovered is apparently the perfect time to wake up since I wake up at that time every day regardless of the time zone I’m in or how much/little sleep I’ve had). We went back to the climbing shop for breakfast and autograph signing and then we headed for the rocks.

We top-roped the first route (apparently that means something to climbing people).  It went pretty well, although I struggled to remove one of the nuts, and almost fell once, but I caught myself with a death grip.  I immediately regretted not trimming my nails shorter before the trip.  My date recommended not gripping so hard.  Right.

The view from the bottom looking up
The view from the bottom looking up
And from the top
And from the top
Everybody Look Left
Everybody Look Left
Everybody Look Right
Everybody Look Right

We moved on to another route and began our ascent to the summit.  I did fine, as long as I never looked down or out.  But on our second pitch of a multi-pitch ascent, I met my giant mental rock wall.  As my date led the route, he’d shouted back that I was going to have to do some special maneuvering in a certain spot, but he was confident I could handle the challenge.  I was, too… until I got there. [Actually, you know what?  That’s not even true, I only believed I could because I trusted his experience, but confident?  Not even close.]

Check out the reflection in my sunglasses.  Yikes.
Check out the reflection in my sunglasses. Yikes.

I fell.  Twice.  In the same spot.  And then I clung madly to the rocks for what felt like six or seven years while thinking of all the possible outcomes.  1.  Down climbing.  Ha!  B.  Falling to my death.  Unlikely, considering the equipment and my date all did what they were supposed to and each of my “falls” consisted of about two inches of lost vertical distance, and about 34 years of pride.  3.  Shouting up to my date for assistance hoisting me over that section.  Nope.  Not happening.  Okay, maybe I didn’t lose quite as much pride as I’d thought.  D.  Cling to the rock for the rest of my life.  Combat was never this scary.

Admittedly, “D” seemed like the most sensible choice, as I clung to the rocks, paralyzed by the thoughts in my head.  But then I reminded myself that I was hungry, and the quickest way to food was to get to the top of the rock formation.  I looked out.  And down.  And adrenaline pumped through my body in unearthly amounts.  I think I used a full metric ton of chalk that day.  I typically like adrenaline-fueled activities.  But at that moment, I thought to myself, “I’m glad I had the opportunity to try this.  I don’t think it’s for me, though, and I never need to do it again.”

I adjusted my position on the rocks and rather than fail a third time, I opted to try a completely different maneuver.  I think it’s the one my date recommended, but I can’t remember; I seem to have blocked that portion of the climb from my memory.  That’s unfortunate… because it worked, whatever I did, and probably could have built my confidence moving forward.

The rest of the pitch was fine.  I had to laugh at myself because I had no problem using both hands to remove a piece of gear while balancing on footholds, but as soon as the gear was secure, both of my hands were back on the rocks as though they were powered by giant magnets, and I worried about my stability.

Shaky hands, shaky legs… somehow I completed that pitch.  And met my date at the anchor point.  He casually asked, “Did you fall?”  I said, “Yup.”  “Twice?”  “Uh huh.”  “I thought so.  I can always tell when people fall.”

After a short break, my date started to prep for the next pitch.  He pointed out some kind of rock formation behind us, but I couldn’t see it from where I sat clinging like a wet t-shirt to the rock face.  He said, “You can step out a bit and see it.”  I replied, “No, really I can’t.*  I’m good.”  I think he started to wonder then if I was going to make it.  I started to wonder what would happen if he suddenly lost his balance and fell over the edge.  And then I wondered if anyone had ever pushed a climbing partner to their death, and then I started imagining what that might look like.  And then I started to wonder what in the world is wrong with me that I think about things like this.

This is why it's generally not a good idea for me to look down… not much there to break a fall.  This was taken from the safety of "the ledge"
This is why it’s generally not a good idea for me to look down… not much there to break a fall. This was taken from well within the safety of the ledge

*I did eventually move out to the edge to look back and see the pillar/column thing he was talking about, but that was after he’d reached the next anchor point so he totally missed my awesome display of courage.

Truth be told, the rest of the ascent was uneventful and pretty easy.  There was one portion where we had to move around a corner of some sort, but even that wasn’t too bad.  There were plenty of footholds.

The placement of gear was kind of a blessing and a curse.  Some of the time, I was irritated, other times I was relieved.  I hate removing nuts.  Stupid freaking things don’t want to come out most of the time.  I suppose that’s kind of the point… you know, if you fall.  Which I did.  Twice.  [see above] Actually, I’m glad I fell.  It took the mystery out of it, and the fear.  Well, the fear was probably still there since I did seriously contemplate clinging to a rock face for the rest of my life, but it made it much easier to face the fear and try again.

We finally made it to the summit.  The view was spectacular.  I swear Seneca Rocks look like if you were to apply just the right amount of pressure in the right place, you could knock them right over.  And that’s probably true.  If your name is God.  Or if you are one of his mountain movers.

We signed the log book and took pictures.  I got a trophy.

Thanks, thanks.
Thanks, thanks.
Someone left an Air Supply cassette in the ammo can at the summit; I felt an instant and eternal bond with them
Someone left an Air Supply cassette in the ammo can at the summit; I felt an instant and eternal bond with them
Selfie at the Summit
Selfie at the Summit

We down climbed a little bit (way more challenging than climbing) and then made our way to one of the rappel routes on the face.  I like rappelling.  Although, I totally would have killed myself more than once if my date hadn’t been there to make sure I had everything hooked in and set up right.  I also would have missed at least one set of anchor bolts because of my inability to spot giant, lone pine trees growing out of the rocks.

Looking Down.  Again.
Looking Down. Again.
I got this.
I got this.

We reached solid ground, changed shoes, and went back to retrieve the rest of our gear.  We went back to the “town”, but avoided the climbing shop because in my date’s words, “We’ll never get out of there.”  I had no doubt he was correct.  Of course, we nearly never made it out of the parking lot because we met other people who wanted to chat him up.  I was beginning to think I’d never get to see the chocolate milk I was craving.  By the time we made it back to camp, we were both ready to sleep.  But first, we had to build a fire, prep food, cook food, eat food, wash dishes, and shower.

Admittedly, eating is my motivation to do a lot of things.
Admittedly, eating is my motivation to do a lot of things.

Showers.  This campsite had showers.  With hot water.  Hot.  I discovered, during my hot shower, that no matter how much soap you use, or how hard you scrub, you are NEVER going to be able to scrub away a bruise.  Because apparently they are not made of dirt.

There was never a shortage of good conversation.  I certainly enjoy it when I spend time with people who are smarter than I am.  We talked until we were both less than coherent and then fell asleep.  Until the air mattress started behaving more like a waterbed again, and I was compelled to get up and attach the air pump.

The next morning, we packed up the campsite and decided to forego making breakfast (mostly because I’d eaten everything that was going to be used for breakfast the night before, except the eggs) and drive to town to eat instead.  We were delayed at the climbing shop, and by the time we arrived, the restaurant was no longer serving breakfast.  We ordered dessert (cobbler and pie) since lunch didn’t sound good, due to its not being breakfast and all, and decided to drive to an all-day breakfast place he knew that was on the way back to the city.

On the way back, I started researching a climb I wanted to try back in Salt Lake City some time.  Yeah, apparently that brief moment on the rocks where I promised myself I would not be climbing again didn’t last beyond the first rappel.

My date was kind enough to take me on a short, but emotionally charged detour to Arlington National Cemetery, so I could finally pay my respects to CPT Joe.  Mister Spacely, with whose family I’d be staying that night, had invited my date and I to dinner.  After dinner, dessert, and a short tour of the office headquarters, we parted ways.


Nine down.  41 to go.






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4 Responses to 41 First Dates

  1. Walter says:

    First off, wow. Secondly WOW! Thirdly, if you ever make it back to Istanbul, that wall doesn’t stand a chance.

    “Selfie at the summit”, is it really a selfie if you didn’t take it? Wouldn’t it be a hisie ot a theyie?

  2. Papa Bob says:

    I think you really did this! Fun to read along.

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