There have been times when I’ve had to type my column carefully, because of damaged fingers, cuts with bulky Band-Aids on them, sprains and such. I’ve even had to type with one hand a few times, because the other was incapacitated due to one adventure or another. But this is the first column I’ve ever had to type by banging my forehead on the keyboard.
My arms don’t work. They’re still there, hanging at my sides, looking more or less useful, they just don’t function at present. This malady is directly traceable to my son, Paden, who is currently a student at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. Don’t ever let anyone tell you raising kids is easy.
My wife and I went to Searcy last weekend to visit our two kids there, and on Sunday afternoon Paden wanted to go rock climbing. His friend, Ethan Hudson, made the trip with the Mrs. and me, and Paden wanted to do something fun with him. I don’t exactly relate rock climbing and fun, but apparently Paden does.
So we loaded up to drive to Zion Indoor and Outdoor Rock Climbing in Searcy, where Paden had been once before, so he vaguely knew where it was. But Paden’s idea of giving directions to a driver is to wait until a desired street is directly to one side, and then say, “Turn here!” The trip across part of town was more eventful than the entire 11-hour drive from Central Texas to central Arkansas.
Paden finally directed me to park in a parking lot that was surrounded by buildings that looked like they’d been abandoned for years. I asked him where the rock-climbing place was, and he pointed across the street at a building that appeared to have needed remodeling during the Carter administration. I would not have been surprised if there’d been yellow tape across the doors.
A hand-lettered sign by the entrance said ‘Zion Indoor and Outdoor Rock Climbing.’ So I figured we must be in the right place. Inside was a large room with mostly open space, although in a couple of places there were islands of living room furniture that must have been salvaged from the local recycling center. Nothing matched, and most of the couches and chairs actually looked hazardous.
There was one young man in the place, and he looked at us as if he were somewhat offended we had chosen to interrupt his afternoon. He said, and I quote, “Wanna climb?” Ethan, Paden, and I all acknowledged we were there to do some rock climbing, although the only other thing there was to do there was to sit on the derelict couches. I have no idea why he asked the question. I started to say, “I wanna run,” but I didn’t. He looked like he’d probably be able to catch me, anyway.
The guy gave us each a liability waiver to fill out, rented us some climbing shoes, and went back to his busy itinerary of holding down one of the couches. We wandered into the back room, where Paden said there were walls we could climb. If they hadn’t yet fallen down.
The back room had ceilings 18 feet tall, and the walls were all made of stucco-covered plywood, with rock climbing holds scattered all over. Each hold had a piece or two or several of colored tape beside it. Some of the walls were vertical, some leaned outward, and some leaned inward. Some of the holds were mounted on the ceiling. The floor was covered with what looked like wood chips, so the entire place had the ambience of a huge entertainment area for housecats.
Paden explained that the idea was to sit on the floor and start climbing the walls, using only the holds with the same color tape beside them. The whole thing would have been hard enough using any hold available. The color-code rule made it pretty much an exercise in sado-masochism. It was like playing vertical Twister.
Every time I tried to climb a wall, Paden would stand behind me and offer helpful tips, such as, “You’re not supposed to use that hold your foot is on,” and “You’re not supposed to fall off the wall,” and “You’re not supposed to scream ‘Call 911’ so loud.” Paden evidently labored under the false impression that I cared, even a tiny bit, about following any of the rules.
Ethan did a little better than me, but Paden wasn’t satisfied with his rule following, either. I finally managed to climb all the way to the ceiling using only the yellow-taped rocks, and then was berated for using a pink rock on the trip down. Some days you just can’t win.
But 51-year-old arms are not designed to carry their owners up sheer faces, and now I’m paying for my sins with pain. I’m hoping I’ll be somewhat healed by the time Paden gets home from college next month. I’d better be – he wants to go to Zion National Park and do some canyoneering.
I wonder if we should drive out to Utah in an ambulance . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who generally uses a ladder to climb rocks. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org