The first time I bouldered I had the climbing gym to myself. I traversed around the whole wall because I was not in anyone’s way, and because I figured the colored tape was decorative. While that was fun, I realized I needed a climbing friend. I needed a climbing friend because I didn’t know what an arrete was, a little competition helps me to bring my A game, and beta is always more helpful coming from someone at the same level. At this point in my love affair with the wall, I did not need advice like, “Gaston with those two yellows and then dyno to the pinch.” I needed advice like, “Try matching on it.” After all, in every great love story there are peripheral friends advising the protagonists on how to proceed. In my love story, those friends did not always wind up being so peripheral.
Enter Johanna, a mischievous flaxen haired Finnish exchange student with a knack for crimps. We spent hours giggling and working projects (or “daily fails” as we called them) and oggling topless boy climbers. Alas, as they say, all good things must eventually go back to Finland.
My second climbing buddy was a gentleman, and a hindrance. Let’s call him Lorenzo. He provided me with companionship but no real beta. He pretty much just watched me climb. We had a ritual where every Friday he would ask me to accompany him to the latest horror flick and I would say I had to study. After several weeks of this, to shake things up, I nixed the studying excuse and just said, “…noo…”. We stopped calling one another, and I never did run into him at the gym again, but months later I once saw him holding hands with a girl. So then I didn’t feel badly about it anymore.
Third I encountered sly redhead Allyce Lamon. Truthfully we spent more time socializing than we did climbing, and we eventually fell so in love that we moved in together and adopted a rescue dog. When it comes down to it though, climbing is really more my mistress than it is her scene. She favors bicycles.
So I craftily invited two uber competitive guy friends, we shall call them Hensleigh and Deuce, to join me in the gym. I figured they were in such stellar shape and so motivated to best one another that they would latch on quickly. Soon they would be at my level, propelling me to heights of greatness. Initially, my plot went swimmingly and they could not get enough of the wall. Anytime I would call Hensleigh to climb he would say, “This is great, I’m really getting a leg up on Deuce,” and Deuce, when invited to climb would say the exact same thing about gaining an advantage over Hensleigh. I lost Hensleigh to a well-earned case of tendonitis. ‘Twas his ambition that did him in. Then I accidentally slept with Deuce. It was all rather unfortunate.
For a brief time, there was Rhiannon. It was brief because I am not big into top roping and she was not big into bouldering. But she did drag me to West Virginia to climb once, and I fell in love for the second time in the story. And with West Virginia I fell in love so deep I had to apply for jobs and move there.
So I needed climbing companions more than ever. I had no crash pad when I moved 7 minutes away from Cooper’s Rock and I had never bouldered outside before. Thankfully, as I was traipsing amongst those boulders for the first time, I found some new friends in the woods! Erin and Tom were a climbing couple. She was earning her master’s online while he occasionally transcribed radiographical diagnoses (ostensibly). They had organized their lives around climbing, and though I had no such liberty I still learned a great deal, and I still keep in touch with them.
My job was only temporary though, and I needed to relocate. Just before moving to Wheeling, West Virginia I spotted broad-shouldered and blue-eyed chemist Noel Ellis at Earthtreks in DC. He was working a V5 that was way out of my league. My desire to impress an attractive human being motivated me to make a few moves on that route, and we made plans to climb together despite my imminent relocation. Soon, fueled by lust or competition, not all of those V5s were unobtainable.
Aforementioned relocation occurred about five months ago and spirited me an hour away from Cooper’s or any gyms. When I get frustrated by the resultant atrophy of my climbing skills, Noel reassures me that I am the better boulderer of the two of us. I tell him I will still love him and have sex with him even if he stops lying to bolster my ego. Noel marks the third time in the story that I fell in love. And Allyce has moved back in with me in Wheeling and is back to being my climber friend slash hetero life mate. You would think this would conclude my climbing friend search. However, with Noel being 6’27 or something, his beta is frequently worthless to me, and (as previously noted) the wall does not beckon to Allie’s soul as it does mine.
So I convinced a new friend Catherine, also a recent Wheeling immigrant, to come out to Cooper’s and play. In hindsight it was ill-advised to start her ouldering career outside, for fear quickly paralyzed her at the top of a V1 that Noel invented for her. After a good bit of encouragement, muscle tremors, and a near break down she finally released the boulder from her grasp. When she looked up to where she had been stuck, she doubled over with relieved laughter and said, “I confess, I thought you were both crazy for telling me to jump because I thought I was about 30 feet high. And that’s how high I will be when I retell this story.” I worried that I had frightened her off of climbing forever, but to her credit and to my amazement, she bought shoes the next week. So again, the adventure begins.
Bouldering and I are star-cross’d lovers just now, and it’s been awhile since I shocked myself by triumphantly flashing a V5. Maybe I never will again. But my quest to the tops of the problems led me to my deeply fulfilling job, my beloved, and my best friend. And they keep me from traversing around in circles.
-Erica Eads, boulderer since 2009