Updated: Jul 25, 2019
'How are you with heights?' she asked?
'I'm good until I get past 5 foot, 6 inches' I said.
Was expecting this day to be an adrenaline-rush. Sadly, Fierce Fanny broke down a mere one mile away from her destination. Being towed home with a 4m tow rope by my white van driving friend was more of an adrenaline rush than I had anticipated for a Sunday. Fierce Fanny is now off to the gynaecologists.
Sadventure will now take place in July.
And after several more failed attempts to get to my original climbing destination, I ultimately decided that a change of venue was the only way forward.
Oxford Brookes University also has a climbing wall - an indoor one, so it would be daft to book a climb on the hottest day of the year. Still, I managed to.
I hadn't really thought about doing this until I pulled up and realised I was. I don't even know if I'm scared of heights. Mind you, just wanting to get in to the centre, through the doors, I assumed to be automatically opening ones, and weren't, had me befuddled enough. And the man on the other side of the door, wanting out was equally as embarrassed.
I was given a size 6.5 pair of shoes after I'd asked for 5.5. I was horrified to discover I could just about squidge my feet into them. Either my feet have swollen in the 37 degree weather, or I have serious oedema and I'm about to die.
"Oh, they are supposed to do that. Your toes are supposed to be curled up inside the shoe." The receptionist told me as I hobbled to the climbing centre to be met by Des, my instructor.
"What do you want to achieve today?" he asked.
"I want to climb a wall," I said. "The tallest one you have."
"Have you ever climbed a wall before?"
"No." I said. "Well, not literally."
"It's easy," he assured me. "Like climbing the stairs - you use your legs to push up, and your hands to just guide you, like with a banister. I figured now is not a good time to tell him I've fallen down more stairs than I can remember. Although the lack of cats in this vicinity would make it less likely I'd fall down here.
"Well, it doesn't matter if you fall as I'll be your belay," he said. I hoped 'belay' was French for cushion. It turns out he's the rope holder. I decide to be extra nice to him.
"Try to keep your arms straight at all times," he said, "that way the skeleton does the work, and not your arms." Looking around at some of the other people in the climbing centre, their arms are definitely done some gym work. But I am pleased to see that there are all ages here and enough women to make it comfortable. I do so hate being the only woman in a place.
"Try to stay on tippy-toes as much as possible" and "look at where you're placing each foot in turn, then look at where you're placing each hand," he added.
And then it was time. Time to put the harness on. The one that gives chronic VPL, making bulges bulgier and provides a feeling of instant regret for any cake ever eaten. "Make sure it's over your hip bones." Hip bones? I haven't found mine in years.
And then I was off. It was, surprisingly easy, especially as I chose the easiest route, and didn't colour co-ordinate my colours. Nothing new there. Before I knew it, I was at the top having forgotten every single instruction Des had given me.
My swift arrival at the top is because it was the baby climbing wall. Until I had to pose for the photo, I didn't even have to look down at all. It simply didn't cross my mind that I was getting higher. My arms burned as I hung on for dear life, and then it was lean back, let go of the lumpy bits, and walk oneself horizontally and backwards down the wall. That was the fun bit.
"Do you want to try the medium-height wall next?" I wasn't sure that my arms and legs would sustain three wall climbs so I opted to just go for the biggest one instead: 11 metres or so, no one was really sure. It did look high.
"Don't worry about falling," he said as we approached, "I'll still be able to hold you."
"How many more cheeseburgers could I eat before it became a problem?" I asked.
"Well, after twenty stone or so, I usually make use of the floor carabinas too." Des said. I'm still glad I don't eat that many cheeseburgers.
And then I was off. Not quite as rapid as my first climb - with fewer pink and orange holds (the easy ones), and them being spaced further apart, I found I had to concentrate a lot more.
"Just let me know when you want to have a rest," he said. I did. I hung like a bat for a while, then cracked on again. "You're about two-thirds of the way there," he yelled. It's always doing the middle bit that's hardest. I'm much more aware this time of the height because as I get higher, the noise abates and I feel much more alone. And also because every time he spoke, I looked down. I'm also aware of my toes cramping, and my biceps throbbing. Still, there was time for a photo before I laid back and hopped down to the ground. It took ages to get up, and seconds to get down.
The climbing centre has both climbing walls, and boulder climbs, which are done without ropes. There's also a funky wall harness so you don't necessarily need a belaying partner. There's all sorts of challenges, and the centre was definitely busy. As I say, lots of ages, and both genders, and not everyone looks like they were raised in a gym.
Mindful - definitely. It's hard to worry about Aunty Agnes' fruit flies when you're learning how to be Spider Woman. The best bit is the feel-good factor after. There's a lovely adrenaline rush once you land on your feet following a controlled descent. I felt safe throughout - the heights thing is purely psychological, the chances of injuring oneself in an indoor centre, while held by ropes are remote. Would I do it again? Yes. The hardest part was when I had to pose for the photos - even though I was firmly clipped in, your 'belaying' partner holding the camera and not a rope does confound the mind. I was left with a 'woo-hoo' feeling inside for hours after.