Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Route finding in tie land

By Rod Smith

I can see the woman in red stretching for a crimp on the slabby surface of the speckled granite.

She is metres above her last piece of protection and her belayer has that happy-and-clueless look that is typical of leaders and the led.

There is no sound and no wind. Despite this silence, I can’t hear the woman breathing, as I know she must be on this steep and demanding line.

Nor can I hear the jingling of the hardware that she has racked around her harness.
In fact, despite the precariousness of her position, she is controlled, still.

I notice the brilliance of the reflecting rock and the way the woman's face is in dark shadow, but from where I'm seated there is little chance that I'll be burnt by the sun’s glow.

About the only glow I’m receiving is a low radiation pulse from my computer screen as I pause in the middle of the working day to look at the woman on the climbing calendar pinned next to my work station.

This is how my weekdays are spent, gazing at this image, its predecessor or sequel, month after month.

This is the promise of the weekend to come. Not that I will ever be as good as her, but that like her I will be outdoors on rock, lost in a moment, on the sharp end of a rope.

It’s the same reason that I sometimes, self-consciously, take a small length of powercord to work and ferverishly practise my knots. Hidden away from my co-workers, fearing their jibes, I onanistically tie bowlines, figures-of eight – on a bight and rethreaded – clove hitches, water, overhand and fishermen’s knots.

Once, during a time when I hadn’t touched rock, or even gym-rock, for two weeks, I smuggled a carabiner into work and practised munter and one-handed clove hitches until my eyes bugged.

For the desk-bound climber there are other ways to dull the ache of not being tied to the end of a rope: there are over-priced US climbing magazines.

Even the punishing exchange rate won’t deter my hunger and I’ll grab and within minutes visually devour the likes of Climbing and Rock & Ice, sometimes simultaneously. Despite caterwauling about their almost $20-per-issue price-tags, like an addict I crave them. I need my fix and somehow I find the money.

But all of this is just window-dressing for the main event. All of these placebos do nothing to replace the sweat, adrenalin, laughter, fear, challenge and technicality of that one or two stolen days a week when we touch real stone. When time stops or passes by unnoticed and unremarked and the all-consuming art takes over.

Still, when I sit at my desk, gazing at the two-dimensional rock on my wall, the tie around my neck and the stiff shirt on my back feel a little less bearable.

My breathing slows and I’m sure my pupils dilate as my mind absorbs the visual reminder, the weekend's promise, of what’s outside the square box and harsh light of the workplace.

At these times the only thing I fear is December, when the last page of the calendar will flip and leave me with nothing.