Yesterday, like millions of others around the world, I was sat, glued to the tv watching Felix Baumgartner make his recording breaking skydive from 128,100 feet. The pictures from the capsule, just as he was about to jump, were awe-inspiring. I wondered what he was thinking at that moment and I was reminded of the grainy black and white images of Neil Armstrong descending the ladder on the Lunar Module and pausing just before stepping onto the surface of the moon back in 1969 (ok, im not that old, I have seen the footage on the tv many times over the years).
All it takes is "one small step....." (and some balls!) But surely it's the same for anyone starting a new journey? Yesterday my eldest son started his Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award by undergoing expedition training near to where we live. Ok, not on the same scale as setting foot on the Moon, you might say, but it's all new to him. Equally, a good friend of mine is about to set off for South America and Antarctica, having never been very far away from her family and friends before, and is venturing out on her own. I'm sure it's a similar experience for anyone going rock climbing for the first time..the excitement, the doubt, the apprehension and fear of the unknown. Many scoff and deride such activities as crazy, or a waste of time, money and resources, but if we didn't do these things, I doubt whether we, as a species, would have been around very long. Each time we do something that is "outside our comfort zone", we learn something and gain much from that experience (if we survive it, of course). For instance, another friend of mine recently decided to try and lead their first rock climb. Despite my advice to take things easy, being full of enthusiasm, they set off up their chosen climb, only to fall off from about 15 feet and land heavily on their bum. Fortunately they escaped with a fractured coccyx and severe bruising (I would have posted the picture, but it's not a pretty sight, believe me!). "What did you learn from that?" I inquired. "place better protection" they said, "oh, and hitting the ground hurts, so I don't intend to do that again. Can you teach me how to place protection properly?" Of course I said I would, and so far there hasn't been any more mishaps. Training and experience does help you to cope with the unexpected, just look at Baumgartner's jump and how he stopped himself from spinning. Armstrong also used his training to avert disaster just before the Lunar Module touched down on the Moon, by taking manual control, coolly and calmly.
I posted this next picture on my personal Facebook page. It caused quite a stir amongst my non-climbing friends.....
To the uninitiated, it looks quite foolhardy and scary. There I am, about 100ft up, above the sea, climbing without safety ropes or equipment. Yes, if I had fallen off, I wouldn't be writing this blog now. BUT, I have been climbing a long time. I have lots of experience of doing this sort of thing, the climb is well within my capability, the rock is solid and the weather is good. I weighed up all the pros and cons, based on my experience, and gave it a go. Baumgartner could have aborted his jump yesterday when he had problems with his visor heater, which meant that his visor misted up and he couldn't see properly, but his experience told him that he would be able to cope with this minor problem. Both of us stepped into the unknown. Surfers have a saying, which is "If you don't go, you'll never know", so why not take that small step that we all face in life? What ever you are deliberating over, do a bit of research, ask advice, go on a 'taster session'/training course and step into the unknown. Life would be so boring if you didn't.
***Just in case you are wondering, I wouldn't advocate that everyone should start climbing solo. I know and accept the risks involved and have in excess of 25 years climbing experience. It was also done in my own time and I don't do this sort of thing while working professionally. Let me draw you to the British Mountaineering Council Participation Statement: "The BMC recognises that climbing, hill walking and mountaineering are activities with a danger of personal injury or death. Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions and involvement." ***