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by Jacob Lane · April 30, 2014


“Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.” -Jim Morrison



I had the opportunity to face fear on Sunday, in the sort of environment where nature was completely in control.

As my group made the half mile walk through the Monticello wilderness winds swept through the trees, replacing sight and sound with the static silence of wind assaulting our persons. Like walking through a portal into a another world, when we made it through the wind we were surrounded by the unknown, a place we had never been before. Our urban lives had been swept away. With no phone signals we were beautifully and truly alone.

There were five of us out there as the wind continued to howl around us. Along with myself I was joined by fellow climbers Sarah and Bruno. Also, my brother-in-law George and the famous Zach were along for the stroll. We are, during our day to day lives, normal folk. In construction, behind a meat counter, going to school, working at the paper, we put our 9-5 in every week. Then Sunday, April 26, rolled around and we were suddenly nothing, hiking through rough trails like shadows under the massive trees.

The journey to get to our final destination probably took half an hour; I wouldn't know for sure, I didn't have any way to keep time. But we found ourselves at the base of a rock face, a creek rushing by us only twenty feet away. The sun was breaking through the trees and clouds in pieces, touching our faces and dancing around the ground. We passed several groups of students from the U of I to get where we were going. The difference between us and them, they stopped but we kept going. We kept going until we found something new, something magnificent, a rock face we had never climbed before. It was fifty feet in height, a marvel of earthly technology, a testament to our Creator.

"Hey, Jake, do you want to lead?" asked Bruno.

"Sure," I said without thinking.

The funny thing about climbing, the more you think about it, the less likely it is you'll actually do it. It's all mental, as Bruno says, a competition between the brain and the body. Sure, the first five feet are a breeze, but about 10 feet up you start realizing that gravity is one of the few laws we can't break. I've done it before, usually accompanied by Bruno and Sarah, but it’s a brand-new experience each time. The brain is always quick to tell you no, you can't do it. Bruno, on the other hand, is even quicker on the draw.

"You can do it, man, just get the first two anchors hooked up and then I'll get the next two."

For those who may not be familiar with rock climbing, there are usually several predetermined climbing spots that have been prepared. We had managed to find a spot way out in Monticello, one that few may even know about. Like a secret fishing spot, it was all ours. There are several bolts that run up the side of the ledge, separated by five to six feet. These individual bolts, known as anchors, are metal "circles" that have been driven deep into the rock wall. The lead climber gets the privilege of running a rope through the anchors, he or she hooks a carabiner clip to the anchor, and then runs a rope through it. This keeps the climber from falling, hooked into the side of the rock edge. Climbers are tied in on one side of the rope, while another person, the belayer, is tied to the other side and keeps the climber anchored in.

It can be a bit confusing really. What's not confusing is the fear. As the lead climber it was my job to hook into the anchors; however, the journey to the first one up the wall provides protection. After putting on my shoes, harness and chalking up I laid my hands against the wall and said, "Climbing."

"Climb on," said Bruno, my partner on the other side of the rope.

The first few feet were easy. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? Grabbing pieces of the rock I hoisted myself up inch by inch, find hand holes and foot holes. The whole time I was thinking, but only about progress. The fear was there, surpassed by my mind. As I made my way towards the first anchor I reached down for a carabiner clip from my waist. I was a good seven feet off the ground. That's when I began to shake.

My hands shook, my feet shook, my inner being shook from a mixture of fear and excitement. The wind rumbled in the background, Bruno egged me on from below. I thought my left hand was firmly planted in the hold, but the shaking made it begin to break loose. My right arm reached for the anchor, attempting to make a connection. It wasn't happening.

"Come on, Jacob, you can do it," yelled Sarah.

Ok, ok. I took a second to calm my mind. If I freeze up now, I'll fall. My grip to this rock can only last so long before it slips. I needed to get the clip in. So, with a last mighty thrust I grasped at it with my right hand, met with a comforting click of the clip hooking into the anchor. I drew up extra rope quickly, biting down on the excess to keep it in place. Quickly I ran it through the clip. With a sigh of relief I was safe.

I repeated this process five or six more times, getting further and further up from the ground, much further than the two anchors I had planned for. At about forty feet I took a second to look out on the wilderness. It was beautiful to see the creek trickling by as tree tops swiveled back an forth in the wind. I was eye level with nature. A serene moment out there in the wild, nothing is more fulfilling than a successful climb. One more anchor later I yelled down to Bruno to take me down. He loosened his grip on the rope and I slowly descended from the sky.

Like a true pro he was next up the rock face, finishing up the rest of the lead climb and successfully hooking the rope to the top of the route. One by one the other climbers took advantage of our hard work and safely climbed the rock face. They faced their own fears in their own ways, overcoming demons with power and authority. Sarah cleaned the route.

Then we went home, back to our lives, back to the day-to-day drive. I don't know about the others, but facing fear builds me up, puts me on top of my game. Maybe I'm an adrenaline junkie, but I like to think that overcoming an obstacle makes anyone a better person. When it comes down to it, we all have power over fear. It pops up from time to time, but it has as much hold on you as you allow it to have. Taking control of the fear is freedom, and freedom is what we're all about as human beings.

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