I remember once babbling on to my dad about how incredibly buff professional rock climbers Alex Puccio and Lisa Rands were and how I wanted to be strong like them. My dad looked at me, “you are buff!" He proceeded to tell me all the other changes he had noticed as of late: an explosion of confidence, an unbridled passion for the outdoors, a profound joy in playing in the dirt (no matter how bruised I got), and the fact that I carried myself taller with my head held higher. The benefits of getting outside, in any way, are not just physically transformative-- getting outside makes us all around better versions of ourselves.
Getting out of my comfort zone has been a theme for me this year-- from a Colorado ice climbing trip to my Spring Break predicament of crack climbing. I waited till I was able to produce and trust a solid hand jam (creating a wedge shape with your hand by crossing the thumb over your palm) before I began to badger my boyfriend into going to Indian Creek, Utah, for Spring Break. Indian Creek has gorgeous parallel cracks that go well above 100 feet and is one of the best places for crack climbing. Indian Creek is also notorious for having a very steep learning curve. I was both daunted and excited by the challenge of relying solely on hand jams without the reprieve of face holds, for an entire week.
I have spent much of my life, climbing and otherwise, happily sitting well inside my comfort zone, and only every once in awhile I’ll step out. I’ve practiced lead falls inside, but once I felt comfortable, switched to bouldering so I wouldn’t have to go outside and risk falling anymore. I’ve sat in my harness hanging off a cliff face with hundreds of feet below me and still managed to climb to the top, but not until after feeling utterly terrified and questioning whether multi-pitch climbing was even for me. I once wandered around by myself in Montreal, a place where I knew no one and had never been, but only for a day.
As 2016 rolled around I began to push that comfort zone. The voice that told me I could only lead 5.7 and should stick to projecting V0s (and don’t even get me started about ice climbing), needed to be shut down. Pushing through my comfort zone on a regular basis means trying hard climbs often, especially when it means pushing through pain or trying the same heart-breaking move only to fail again, provides you with a multitude of useful skills. This mindset creates a well of determination that helped me push through both physically and in life, as it forced me to problem solve, inspired me with confidence, and all the while humbled me.
While in Indian Creek, I attempted my first 5.12, the hardest route grade I had ever tried indoors or outdoors. Anunnaki is a consistently overhanging crack that started with big hands and moved to a zig-zagging crack system that held a variety of hand sizes. I "took" every few feet, grunted often, and used poor technique. While I definitely don't consider it my most graceful climb, it was one of my most proud moments of personal growth, mentally and physically. I had pushed my comfort zone. I had tried hard on something utterly foreign to me. I had slapped the chains.
I came back from the trip bruised all over my body, sorer than I had ever been, and smiling more than my face would allow. If you’re wondering if you should try the next harder grade in climbing or add a few miles to your running, do it. Should you go backpacking through the mountains just because you’ve never done it before or take up surfing because it’s hot everywhere and you need a little more psych in your life? Go for it. You might fall. You might get bruised. You might have to confront your ego. But push through your comfort zone and you’ll come out of the experience better for it. You’ll have a whole new facet to yourself that you didn’t know was there before and there’s nothing more beautiful than that.