Hitting the Wall

What did you fear growing up? Was there anything that terrified you so much that you’ve never tried it since? I’m not talking about phobias here: I’m talking about real, [almost] rational and legitimate fears.Edale stream

I had several, most of which stemmed from school trips. Between the impressionable and personality defining ages of about 9 and 13, school trips involved adventure holidays at Welshpool in Wales and Edale in the Peak District. These beautiful, parentless locations were the backdrop to our attempts at a variety of challenging and often exhilarating activities – most of which I’ve virtually forgotten.

Rock ClimbingIn fact, I barely remember my achievements, but I vividly remember the scary parts. I remember that I dreaded rock climbing most of all. The idea of putting my life in the hands of another pre-pubescent child was terrifying, as was being responsible for another’s life when I had to hold their safety-line in return.

I remember how small and baby-faced the boy responsible for my line looked: He was a full 5 inches shorter than me, the youngest and smallest in the class; I remember him looking up at me, nearly as frightened as I was, with his pale wide eyes and pudgy freckled ginger features.

I somehow managed to get to the top of the cliff despite fear oozing out through every pore. I loved climbing trees but standing before a rock face I became weak and scared of heights. I was always relieved when the climb was over. I eventually reached the top once at each location but that was it: Once was more than enough.

The only part of the climbing experience I enjoyed was the abseiling. I felt proud when the tutors commended me on my natural ability… It was more fluke than skill but I didn’t admit that at the time.

The terror I associated with rock climbing prevented me from trying it again as an adult. I’ve was never tempted, until I wrote my Day Zero List.

URBANATHLON

I didn’t just pluck this particular challenge out of the air: I ran in the Manchester Urbanathlon to raise money for Forever Manchester, which rekindled my thoughts about Urbanathlonclimbing.

Yes, I know I’ve mentioned it before, twice, possibly even three times, and yes I probably will mention it again: The Urbanathlon is “a silly yet challenging urban obstacle course where competitors run, wade, scramble, slip, slide and dangle to the finish line in sweaty, soaking, mud-splattered splendour.”

Amongst other challenges the Urbanathlon forced me to face my climbing fears at least twice during the 5km race. 

About 4km into the race Blondie and I were suddenly presented with a seven foot vertical wall to scramble over. It might as well have been a twelve foot wall for the likelihood of me getting over it. My upper body strength is virtually nonexistent.

Blondie and I turned to the race marshal and asked in disbelief whether people were actually getting over it unaided. With a nod and a smile she replied “Yes off course”, just as three competitors caught up with us and hopped over without hesitation.

HITTING THE WALL

We looked at each other. We looked at the wall. It looked impossibly tall. Blondie backed up several paces and took a running jump. She managed to get her elbows over whilst her legs flailed about beneath her. Several failed attempts and four grazed knees later the marshal conceded that we were allowed to take a short detour around the wall and go through the gate to rejoin the race on the inside.

Detour? That sounded like cheating. Blondie and I looked at each other and shook our heads. One way or another we were both getting OVER that wall.  

PLAN B…

Plan B: Blondie gave me a leg up. After the other obstacles we were both a little jelly-like so she manhandled me to the top in the least elegant way imaginable. Once I was safely seated on the wall Blondie took another running jump whilst I tried to pull her up from above. This clearly wasn’t going to work either so we embarked on Plan C: I dropped down the other side of the wall, followed the wall back around through the park and out through the exit, back to Blondie’s location to manhandle her over the wall. It wasn’t graceful but it worked.

Haystack wallCLIMBING WALL PHOBIA

After scrambling over a wall of haystacks and other random obstacles, prior to the two parked cars whose hoods we slid over Dukes of Hazzard style, we were suddenly faced with a climbing wall. My stomach clenched. My feet slowed.  

Ellie Howard on 40 degree board at Gorton Climbing CentreIt seems silly that I should be afraid of a climbing wall. The brightly coloured hand and foot holds are supposed to make it look easy and inviting but to me they look menacing.

With adrenalin pumping I barely had time to flinch: We both ran at the wall and were over it in seconds. I had no idea it could be that easy! All those years I’d wasted being afraid of climbing walls!  
 
I didn’t give the wall a second thought after that, until I came to write my Day Zero List. (The Day Zero Project is to complete 101 challenges in 1001 days). I added “Have a go at rock climbing / indoor wall climbing” to the list. I thought if I could climb a wall at the end of a 5 km obstacle course I could manage a nice easy session at a climbing club. I was wrong.
 
MANCHESTER CLIMBING CENTRES
 
Gorton Climbing CentreWe have fantastic indoor and outdoor climbing facilities in and around Manchester. The Manchester Climbing Centre in Gorton looks spectacular with its climbing walls against the backdrop of stained glass windows and gothic architecture.
 
In the city centre you’ll find Rock Over Climbing just a few hundred yards from Victoria Rail Station.
 
There’s also a climbing wall inside the Chill Factore, should you feel a sudden urge to hone your climbing skills between skiing, snowboarding and tobogganing.
 
You can even try a moving climbing wall in the Trafford Centre at Laser Quest’s ‘The Rock’ if you get bored of shopping or have time to kill before your film starts in the cinema.
 
101/1001 CHALLENGE
 
I completed my climbing wall challenge. It wasn’t easy and I don’t plan to return any time soon. Blondie ran up the wall like Spiderwoman but I got stuck. Repeatedly. My torso ached for days. I couldn’t lift my arms above my head without wincing in pain for the best part of a week.
 
It was fun at first but once the muscle fatigue set in I didn’t stand a chance. I made the mistake of trying too long on one particular obstacle which sapped all my energy and strengh. I would have been better off climbing back down and starting again. I suppose I know for next time, if there is one.
 
I should probably work on my coordination and strength before I try another hour session. It’s possible to book 5 minute taster sessions to help build experience and confidence – A great idea for people like me – as long as you don’t need to go out of your way to get there. (Who in all honesty is going to travel all the way to the Chill Factore just for a 5 minute climbing session? It’s a nice idea even if it isn’t practical).
 
LARGE OUTDOORS
 
I had considered joining Manchester’s new climbing club with Large Outdoors. (Started in October 2011). They run a weekly club in association with the Manchester Climbing Centre. It’s open to both experienced climbers and those wanting to learn. Although I was tempted I think I’ll stick to hiking instead.

What did you fear growing up? Have you faced any childhood fears? Have you ever run in an Urbanathlon? Do you share my fear of climbing walls?

All comments are welcome 🙂

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Accidental Activist

Monkey and a Shrub

Monkey and a Shrub: Guerrilla Gardeners in a Manchester Protest in 2007. Photo borrowed from the BBC News Website.

Last week I wrote about my intention to create a secret garden somewhere in Manchester city centre. Guerrilla Gardening certainly isn’t new but I’m a newbie at it. In my blog I mentioned NQG: Northern Quarter Greening group who have been guerrilla gardening throughout the city centre all year. They are true Guerrilla Gardeners: Many mornings I woke up to find an empty patch of land was suddenly filled with bedding plants to liven up my walk to work. I intend to join them, if they’ll have me.

I published the article on Saturday. Two days later I received an email that should have thrilled me: BBC Radio Manchester had been in touch to invite me to be interviewed on air about taking part in International Tulip Guerrilla Gardening Day.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ll know I’m a wallflower. I like to stay in the background and never take centre stage. If you read this piece you’ll know how painfully shy I was growing up and how it took years to crawl out of my shell. They say everyone gets 15 minutes of fame. I don’t want it.

ABJECT TERROR

The few people I told about the interview were ecstatic. They went beyond enthusiasm and excitement; they were bouncing off the walls with delight. I on the other hand felt abject terror. The more people delighted in telling me what a fantastic opportunity it was the more I felt myself withdrawing into my shell. I felt sick. I was shaking. The idea of speaking on the radio absolutely petrified me. I have never ever wanted to speak on the radio. I knew it was a privilege to be asked, but as for actually doing it – Not in this lifetime.

DECISION TIME

The fear lingered for hours. My colleagues wouldn’t let the subject drop. Whenever I managed to put it out of my mind for a while someone would bring it up again. I kept telling them “No chance. I’m not doing it. Nothing you can say will talk me into it” and then I thought about my Day Zero List.

Number 83: Agree to do something I really don’t want to do. Being interviewed live on the radio is something I really, really, REALLY did not want to do.

So I agreed to do it.

Beswick at BreakfastI tentatively emailed the producer. My hands were probably shaking as I typed. I enquired what they expected from the interview and whether it would be live or [fingers crossed] recorded so if I screwed it up we could start again.

The next day I received an email giving me a get out of jail free card; the producer told me it would be live (Sorry!) and that their reporter Kevin would take good care of me. Or, if I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t have to.

WAITING

Sometimes the anticipation is the worst part. Every day this week I have had an internal debate over whether to go through with it or whether to pull out. I could feel panic rising within me whenever I thought about it. I had already agreed and didn’t want to let anyone down so I knew I wouldn’t pull out, but knowing that I could and life would go on was comforting.

I needed this week. If on Monday they had asked could we interview on Tuesday I couldn’t have done it. I needed this week to calm my nerves and convince myself it would be OK. It didn’t help that I felt like a fraud: The NQG group have worked hard all year and here I was, a newbie, coming in and stealing their thunder.

ILLEGAL

It didn’t help that guerrilla gardening is illegal either. Was I really going to publicly announce my plan to engage in an illegal activity? It’s hard to imagine being prosecuted for having civic pride and wanting to improve the look and feel of your neighbourhood but it could happen.

THE DAY BEFORE

Yesterday I still didn’t know whether it was on or not. I had suggested a time and a place for the interview but there had been no solid confirmation. Was I relieved that I might not have to do it? Hmm, I was unsure. For days I had been brainwashing myself into thinking I could do it. Did I feel cheated at loosing the opportunity? Yes, relieved but cheated.

My challenge was to ‘agree to do’ something I really didn’t want to do. I had ‘agreed’ to do it. Would the fact I didn’t actually do it mean that it wouldn’t count? It’s hard to imagine another such opportunity which would make me recoil in fear, as per the challenge, short of a TV interview that is.

At about 2 pm my phone rang. It was Kevin, a BBC journalist, my interviewer. Challenge 83 was back on track.

THE NIGHT BEFORE

Last night I met Lou’s book group in Matt and Phreds. It was my first visit since the smoking ban was introduced. It was much brighter than I remember, but as I discovered Thursday night is salsa lesson night, so the lights were on. I’d been expecting darkness and jazz.

Before I arrived Dave informed the group of my impending live humiliation. I struggled to drink just 2 bottles of beer or to eat the delicious pizzas. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but was the deal: Buy 2 bottles of beer get 2 bottles of beer plus 2 pizzas free? What a bargain! I’ll go there again!) What I really needed was an alcohol free early night.

SHOWTIME!

I was woken up at 2.30 am and again at 5 am, after which I couldn’t get back to sleep. Feeling groggy and sick with nerves I found I had developed a cough in the night. It was as though my body was fighting me every step of the way telling me to pull out; cancel; abort.

Kevin from BBC Radio Manchester

Kevin from BBC Radio Manchester

At 8.30 am I met Kevin at a secret location. We chatted about a lot of things on the run up to the live slot – mainly to calm my nerves. We talked about Manchester Meanders and about being shortlisted for the Manchester Blog Awards. (Thank you to everyone who voted for me. I really appreciate it!) We talked about Manchester’s events and the Day Zero Project. We talked a lot about Guerrilla Gardening, after all that’s why we were there.

We ran through the procedure of the interview: Kevin told me how he planned to introduce the piece and the type of questions he was going to ask. We had 3 or 4 ‘dress rehearsals’ so I wouldn’t be frozen with terror and revert to nodding silently when it was time to speak on air.

Nerves came in waves. Whenever Kevin needed to adjust the microphone or test the equipment, or when he listened to voices in his headphones, I felt the butterflies taking flight. I hopped from one leg to the other and took slow deep breaths.

When Kevin started his introduction for the final time (It’s going out live!) I had to make a conscience effort to ignore the microphone and look at Kevin: Look at Kevin; Talk to Kevin; Ignore everything else. Just as it started a man walked past less than a metre from us. [Ignore him Sammy! Ignore him!]

At 8:59 am it was all over. I wasn’t traumatised. My voice didn’t shake ludicrously as I expected it would. I didn’t make a complete idiot of myself, I don’t think.

We didn’t cover the ground we’d planned to cover. In fact, I’m not entirely sure we talked about International Tulip Guerrilla Gardening Day (this Sunday) which was the whole point of the interview. I think I mentioned NQG and The Secret Garden but I’m not sure.

From the initial email we expected the interview to last 10 minutes but during our ‘rehearsals’ the slot was pushed back by 5 minutes, cutting the interview time in half. Kevin expected it to last 3 minutes. The studio overran slightly and as they had to play a jingle at a specific time exactly the final interview probably only lasted about 2 minutes. We might even have been cut off at the end. I have no idea what I did or didn’t say in that time.

The interview is available online but I haven’t listened to it.

I’m not sure if I want to.

I’m going to give you the link now but you have to promise to be kind. OK?

The interview was on Beswick at Breakfast on 07/10/2011. Our interview was right at the end of the show.

As I accidentally became an activist for guerrilla gardening please show your support by planting tulips this Sunday for International Tulip Guerrilla Gardening Day!

Challenge 83: TICK!

All comments are welcome. 🙂