Climbing Portland, Sportland and Shitting It!

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Why do we climb? Why is there a whole sport dedicated to scaling difficult to scale walls, only to be lowered down again as if you never got to the top at all? I think climbing is one of those sports that is pure in its challenge, in it’s trying to be better than you were yesterday and in feeling a pure sense of accomplishment over an outwardly and seemingly pointless activity. There is so much more to climbing than just scaling walls, there’s the self-mastery of your fear, the people you meet and enjoy the company of, there are the adventures and trips that make you feel so glad to be alive. What could be a better way to spend your time than connecting with others, connecting with yourself and connecting with nature: and here is perhaps a core feature that makes climbing such a gripping sport.

At the weekend I experienced outdoor lead climbing for the first time. This means clipping in your quickdraws as you go to bolts attached to the wall. Between carabiners, the last point of protection can sometimes be below you, which makes falling so SO much scarier. On top rope, falling is no bother. On lead, it really ought to be no bother but it’s pretty terrifying when you’re last anchored to the wall below yourself because you have twice as far to fall, even if you’re only 4 inches above the last quickdraw – it can take a lot of deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth to let yourself fall. You know you will be caught. You know you won’t get hurt. You trust your belayer, otherwise you wouldn’t have started the climb, and still, you shit it.

This kind of climbing is known as sport climbing, and I think it’s probably the most popular type of outdoor climbing. There’s something very different about sport climbing outside compared to the climbing gym. As with all outdoor climbing, the route can be less obvious, the heights are a bit more, and the scenery is second to none. We went to Portland in Dorset, which is an area of some of the best coastal climbing in the UK. On one side you are faced with dramatic wall faces that command a beauty of their own, and on the other, the vastness of the sea: so vast and so beautiful yet in the same breath, so dangerous with no fucks given about swallowing you up in its gentle gargantuan currents, just like that. Mother nature never ceases to fascinate me. Below is a list of observations from popping my outdoor sport climbing virginity:

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Funnily Enough, The Ropes Work!
  1. Limestone is sharp and hurts your fingertips.
  2. Being above the last quickdraw makes me very nervy. I need to fall more and get OK with falling!
  3. That falling on the rope is still fine, even though it’s scary – I did fall unexpectedly and funnily enough, the system worked. I live to tell the very uneventful tale.
  4. Climbing on the sun-trap side of rockface is confusing for my sense of time; it really felt like a beautiful spring day!
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    A Perfect Sun Set to End a Perfect Day

     

  5. Grades outside are much harder than their numerical counterparts in gyms – hello vanity grading! (I don’t even know if this is a thing, but I imagine so!)
  6. Deep breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth is your friend when you’re internally screwing and freaking.
  7. The frustration of not making a route you thought you’d flash is incredibly humbling as it is frustrating.
  8. Good company is an essential component of a great trip – this is something that Black Lizard Climbing and Mountaineering Club nail! Link if you want to come and join or try us out.
  9. I need to climb more – goals, goals, goals!
  10. Climbing is an emotional sport, much more than I ever gave it credit for when I started. I remember saying to a climbing friend years ago, that climbing was great because there no emotion involved, it was just methodical and logical. She disagreed and thought it was an incredibly emotional sport. I’m more inclined to agree with her… 4 years later!
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Mona and Rebecca from Black Lizard Climbing Club

 

Cycling London to Brighton

Sticking to individual training plans has never been something I am good at. I could spend some time thinking about why this is, I could even spend some time making elaborate excuses that are as convincing as they are imaginative. Another thing I could do is focus on what I have managed to do, how I’ve managed to do it and take the decision to do more of that because that works, whatever “that” may be.

On the 4th August it is The Prudential Ride 100. I was lucky enough to get a ballot place and eager enough to say yes straight away. Getting excited and carried away with thinking it’ll all be amazing and committing financially to paying the fee is the easy bit. It’s the next step that I haven’t mastered, i.e. training.

To start with in my training as with any big looming challenge in my life, I became too anxious to get on my bike. I didn’t want to train on stationary bikes in the gym (so boring!), and I had finally got my bike serviced after months of meaning to and never quite getting around to it. I still didn’t go on training rides until a particularly bad mood struck and I said “Fuck it!”, the grail more holy than Nike’s “Just Do It” mantra. I enjoyed myself. I felt better. I peddled out my frustrations and upset. I sped down hills as fast as I could, cackling with adrenaline on my way. I pushed myself to push up hills I would’ve thought I couldn’t and it was great. What a result? I couldn’t have asked for anything more perfect at that moment in time.

Having done a longish lap I decided the next step would be to cycle to Brighton. It’s a challenge I’ve wanted to do for a few years now as an event, and instead of paying cray prices to enter an event I decided to solo it. I found a route online (Here)Β at Cycle.Travel and tapped it into DwMap so my Garmin could act as a sat nav (Best IQ Store app for Garmin by far!). I chilled in the morning and proceeded to tell everyone of my plans. I went for coffee with my mate, I told her of my plans, saw someone from climbing I’ve met once, and told them too. Behind them in the coffee shop queue I saw someone from where I live and I told them as well. The woman sat on the table next to where I was standing couldn’t help but hear of my amazing plans, so I projected my voice a little louder for her to hear my them as well. I may have even told the pharmacist, and the day before I had told my therapist. Midday arrived on the day of my plans and I had not yet set off. #Procrastination #FuckIt #LetsGo and eventually, in the heat of the day, I set off on a 60 mile bike ride with absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. Ignorance is bliss!

With many pit stops to accompany a major underestimation of difficulty, length and energy requirements I had to stop for supplies along the way. It is in instances like this that the sugar tax pisses me off; the lack of sugar filled drinks that have been replaced with 0 sugar versions – super unhelpful in this instance. I needed energy, I needed sugar for that energy and there I was reading labels already half exhausted and some what overheated. Some might have assumed I was reading labels to choose a “healthy option” *sigh, eye-roll, sigh*, instead I was seeing which drinks had enough energy in it to fuel my adventure. Happy with my choices I scoffed and cycled, scoffed and cycled, scoffed and cycled my way to Brighton.

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Highlights include seeing more nature than I usually do beyond the usual squirrels and rats of London: wild rabbits, a pony, a horse and her foal, some goats and baby goats, I’m going to say I even saw a fish. I’m not sure if I did but I feel like I did. I saw ducklings and miniature fluff balls bobbing along a lake. I sang to myself, had in depth conversations with myself, laughed with myself and gave myself many pep talks along the way. (Heads up, if youre cycling Ride 100 and end up near a woman talking and singing to herself on a blue hybrid bike, it’s probably me).

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The free feeling of hurtling down a long windy road is something that will never get old. The adrenaline and excitement that rises through my belly as I hurtle beyond the constraints of being in control is super fun. Those hills and breaking my speed record is definitely the best part of the day.

The worst part? There is a fuck off huge hill at the end of the route which I have heard as if it were an urban legend. I can confirm, it was fuck off huge and there was no way I was going to cycle it. Some people cycled past me, clad in lycra, slim, with some negative percent body fat mass and bulging calves to intimidate anyone thinks a slight shape of in and then out equals a defined calf – i.e. me. These muscles were next level, the bikes were probably the kind that float just above the ground they are so light, and the fiends riding them are probably cycling mad. I’m not one of those people so I pushed, pulling over for the build up of traffic behind me to pass from time to time. I was like a miniature tractor on a country lane, holding everyone up and pulling over to allow everyone to pass. The biggest shocker of all though? Drivers waved a ‘thank you” signal at me from the outskirts of London to Brighton when I gave way. Car drivers were unexpectedly not mad at me for even existing and daring to be on the road with my bike. It was here that I learned that lane cycling is much better than city cycling despite the different speed limits. The air is fresh, the drivers are friendly, the roads are clearer and it’s more freeing an experience.

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The view from the top of Fuck Off Hill

Previously I had thought I preferred city cycling – oh how i was so SO wrong! The difference in hatred directed towards me for even being a cyclist using a road was not experienced once I got further out of London. From this experience I have one message from one road rage prone person to the others in London, calm the fuck down; we can use the road together without hating each other. Politeness and patience don’t cost the earth, and in fact it may make it a more pleasant place for all of us to be together – unless you are a gang of seagulls eating my chips whilst I get ketchup. Then we are definitely not friends and we never will be, and no, I don’t forgive you Mr. Seagull & Co.

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I day dreamed about this moment for hours!! It was magical.

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