Introducing The First Diaries, a weekly column in which one Coloradan documents her misadventures, trials, and triumphs in the outdoors as she tries a new activity or adventure each week. With humor, practical advice, and some serious real talk, our goal is to make the outdoor space a little less intimidating and a little more fun for all of us.

Alright, guys, a few weeks ago I told you about taking the plunge to join a climbing gym. It was nerve-wracking to put myself in such a vulnerable position—both in terms of climbing up walls that one might fall off of, and in assuming the role of newbie amongst a crowd of seasoned enthusiasts.

But joining the gym is just the (very big) first step. Next, you have to actually climb, which I’ll have you know, I am doing. I’m not sending 5.12s (read: I don’t climb difficult routes quickly—er, at all) but I have made some real improvement (and so will you, should you decide to try, as well). Progress, that’s what I want to talk about today.

On my most momentous day at the gym yet, after sending many a beginner-friendly route (self-deprecating sarcasm intended), I was feeling good, nay, fantastic. Any pitch I looked at, I got up, quickly. Granted, I had chosen to avoid eye contact with anything even remotely advanced. That is, until I set my sights on a medium-rated climb. It was time to take it to the next level.

This particular route started on one side of an amorphous structure and came up and around a corner and over the top. At one point, it demanded what felt like an impossible reach from wall no. 1 to wall no. 2.

On my first try, I got to that tricky spot, swung myself at the distant hold—and missed. I did that again, and then again, and again. Each time I dropped from the wall and started again from the beginning. My shoulders clenched, arms tightened, my palms lit up. But the real fatigue was mental. My brain was imploding.

“How does any human make this happen?” I wondered.

A few more seasoned gym members were beginning to notice me. Two even said something along the lines of “Don’t give up, you got it!” So the pressure to get it was on. My stubbornness was becoming a spectacle, which was causing my cheeks to turn red and chest to tighten very unpleasantly. So to put a stop to it all, on my next go, I got to that tricky reach and just leapt.

I mean, I literally jumped off the wall like a spider monkey, feet and hands and all in the air, grunted comically loud, and the next thing I knew, I was hanging by one arm on the other side of the lengthy reach.

It was dramatic.

Adrenaline pumping, stomach in knots, and upper-body strength close to failing, I climbed the rest of way up, back down, and then took a moment to examine the problem I had just conquered. I tried to sort out what had just happened, calculating the distance between hold 1 and hold 2. Really, I started to think, it’s not that far.

So, did I even need to jump?

Well apparently yes, yes I very much did. But I decided to try the climb once more to test something out. This time, I bent my knees, gripped the wall with my opposite hand, and slowly—calmly—reached for the distant hold—and just, well, grabbed it. No leap required, definitely no loud grunt needed, either.

I laughed, out loud, at myself, right there on the wall. Yikes.

Here are my takeaways for you: One, remember to laugh at yourself. It makes any amount of otherwise embarrassing naïveté, or fearfulness, or what have you, into mere fodder for a good story.

And two—here’s where I get serious—the next level is as far away as you think it is. The battle is deciding that it’s within reach.

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