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Category: Climb On!

Letting Go & Holding On

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I still remember the look on my doctor’s face as I asked her if I could continue climbing during our second check up. That frown she gave me somehow felt a little judgmental and was not exactly the answer I was looking for. Fakhrul quickly reached for Rock & Ice magazine just to show her how climbing harness is worn and then she asked whether we were showing the picture upside down. The situation became somehow awkward because we know that people will never understand how climbing works until they experience it themselves. I know climbing, when done correctly, is safe and I feel safe doing it. A lot of people who assumed I must be hanging by an unsecured flimsy rope 40 feet in the air had never been climbing and didn’t know the safety precautions that we take before we even start.

“If anything happens because of these activities, you will blame yourself..” she said. If anything happens, its because it is meant to be, because Allah wills it so, I thought silently to myself. And you, my preferred doctor (that I will keep coming back to anyway), is a typical situation of “ignorance breeding fear”. The feeling was horrible. It felt like I was a child again and Mama told me I can’t go out and play.

Al-hamdu lillahi rabbil ‘alamin. The bump just turned 28 weeks 2 days ago which means I am embarking my final trimester of this adventure-by-itself journey that is pregnancy. And here’s a little shocker my doctor wouldn’t want to hear: I continued climbing and just had my last climb 3 days ago. And she was right, something did happen which was I’ve fallen twice – stumbled on the last step on the stairs at home and another was tripping at my Aunty’s house, not realizing there was a small drop at her second gate we seldom use. Thankfully both falls were landed on my knees and funny enough, happened when I was at my most graceful self. But never on the walls, not when I’m under careful watch and belay of le husband and definitely not whilst climbing on top rope.

Top roping is when the rope is connected to the climber, goes through a device at the top of the climb and down to the belayer at the bottom. If the climber does fall, the fall is only as far as the stretch of the rope, which is extremely minimal. I could hit my stomach if I fell and swung, but I was careful to never do a climb where I would swing and stayed on easy routes.

Honestly, it’s not that I’m trying to prove anything to anybody. Not looking for any bad-assery during pregnancy. I am neither a professional climber, nor consider myself to be an athlete. Not even particularly a good climber too or even close for that matter. Climbing has just been dominating my life in recent years and it’s hard to give up that “hardman” attitude that we climbers strive and aspire to embody. That hard-headedness is what gets us up climbs we never thought we could achieve, and attain the summits of our dreams. I was also simply pursuing a happy and less emotional pregnancy because I have to be honest, without sounding ungrateful, pregnancy is really not for me. I seriously don’t understand how some women can actually miss being pregnant. Of course, having a baby is a joy, blessing and miracle all by itself but how do you miss the overwhelming feeling seeing your body changes, waddling around like a stuffed penguin on flat ground? The inability to hold your pee and occasionally wetting yourself everytime you sneeze? Even rolling on the bed is such a chore and don’t get me started on the terror of seeing a bone sticking out from your protruding belly. It reminds me of what I will have to push out when the time comes!

*cringe*

It has been an emotional ride because being pregnant here in your own ground with your own usually-paranoid people can be really hard. I can see the dirty condescending look on people’s face as they watched me tie my double figure eight knot, adjusting my old bigger harness and double checking my belay partner as I was getting ready to climb. The stare to my bump as I breathe heavily on the steps of Bukit Gasing for weekend morning hikes. I don’t blame them and often gave the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t know.. that since you’re used to the sport, your body is acclimated to its physical demands. So long you listen to your body and you’re not suffering from any pre-existing health conditions or in a high risk pregnancy, insyAllah, it is perfectly OK to continue on.

*sigh*

On happier notes, I did manage to maintain my routine as much as I could since recovering from horrid fatigue of the first trimester. The first trimester was pretty bad unlike when I was with Daisy I’m amazed that I managed to go through Lombok at all. And I feel so thankful I took up hiking before I got knocked up because without it, I won’t be able to maintain my sanity and go outdoors. I have only been climbing in the safety and controlled environment of the gym, and I am already counting the days to chalk up and touch granite again. Climbing pregnant has changed my outlook on how to approach climbing as not being too strength oriented. And even though I’ve been climbing for almost 3 years, its just like learning how to climb again this time around. Funny, because the routes I used for warm-ups before has transformed into my project (hard) routes nowadays. But I realized if there’s anytime not to push through something, it’s while pregnant. Before, I’ve always said that I climb for the fun of it, when truthfully deep down inside I always strive for harder routes so I don’t stuck climbing the same thing everytime. Now, I honestly am just climbing for fun of the movement and enjoying the sport for a different reason – to sweat off a little and avoid the patheticalness of feeling disabled to do anything as most people would prefer me to, as if pregnancy is a sickness that women just need sit down and do the old fashioned pigging out day and night.

However, I know though, my days on the walls are numbered. Very soon enough I will have to hang my rock shoes and harness until the time is right to return. I thought the process of letting go will be easy when the maternal side of me outshine every other aspect that I believe make me who I am. Letting go the only thing that makes me feel strong and capable, the love of using my muscle and mind on tall cliffs and the love of exhaustion at the end of a long climbing day won’t truly be easy. But now that I’m pretty slow after 6 kilo gained, I know my body soon will give in. Pregnancy for one is truly a humbling experience, that no matter how tough you think you are, you can’t deny the fragility of life that’s growing inside of you. I can only pray that Allah prolongs my health and energy to keep on going with things that give me so much pleasure, and protect me when I am on it.

And although I will feel an overbearing reluctancy to let it all go, right now, I am just overwhelmed with appreciation and emotion and a sense that life and love are the most powerful things in the world, which I never want to take for granted. As I’m writing this, I’m feeling the tiniest kicks in my belly. As much as I’m excited to resume life and more adventures after delivery, I am just as stoked to actually do that with the little guy that is inside of me.

The Pursuit of Happyness

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The Pursuit of Healthyness

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A few years back around this time during weekends, my husband and I would argue about where or how we should spend our days off. Where to eat, what else are we going to buy at the mall to satisfy our temporary materialistic need, whether we should attend that invitation abiding our social obligations that seems so far off in distance or just plainly stay at home, do a bit of gardening and lazying off with that flower girl. At the end of the day, whatever we did at the comfort of everything we possessed at that time, whether we ate at an slightly-expensive place or bought something new, eventually did not matter to me. Its not what you think, I love my life during the weekdays. The work’s great and an adventure itself but was quite thwarted with the weekends. Until we started climbing.

I’ve been contemplating whether I should or not write about this life changing journey, because yeah, its such a mainstream thing to work out and talk about it. Everybody’s been talking about my recent obvious weight loss, it was a big subject I couldn’t escape from during Raya season. As much as I’m happy about it, there were times when I felt really embarrassed when people kept mentioning it, as if I was one of the girls who starve my way into size 8. The thing is, I barely lost any kilo even after a year of climbing. Until out of the blue I just realized I could not be eating the way I did anymore, my metabolism isn’t the same as it was 6-7 years ago when I could spray a whip cream into my mouth and not gain an ounce. So I decided to educate myself with the food; limiting my daily intake but still maintaining all types of food I’ve been having – rice, cakes, lauk-pauk, kuih and what not. I figured that if I want to lose them kilos, its not going to be a dependence on a product or a short cut people normally take, but rather a habitual shift.

The thing is, I was totally contented with my figure before all of this losses episode. My BMI didn’t state that I was overweight and I fit most of the stuff I had before I was pregnant. But looking back, I think it was all denial. Denial, comparing myself with worse, ignorance, lustful, you name it – I was all that. I also don’t exactly have a skinny gene, suffice to say most of my family members are obese or nearing that. And the fact that I was back from “starvation” after 5 years in England didn’t help either. Most of the time I ate as if I have a flight back to the land of sandwiches or fish & chips the next day. It was bad. So I decided to try and diet for the first time in my life. Diet. A foreign word to me it might as well be German. The process was surprisingly a breeze, you just need a will power to choose iced barley over iced milo occasionally, learn that 2 karipaps is almost equal as a small pack of nasi lemak, that sometimes when you’re hungry you’re probably just thirsty and stop snacking unhealthily. The general rules are pretty well known. All it takes is you.

We were at Jesselton Park in Penang yesterday, a newly bolted climbing area and the drive from Sungai Petani was obviously close. Some of the senior climbers  who drove up from KL just for this rock trip were so welcoming. We just knew them from one or two hangouts in Batu Cave but it is as if we’d known them for awhile. Few encounters with them and the next thing we knew we were either invited to a rock trip, to enter a competition or just plain dinner as if we’ve been part of the gang for ages. The climbers are usually very friendly, positive and motivating, I’d never encounter any real competition amongst them which is very unlikely in other sports. Anyway, getting to the climbing spot needed a little hike. Daisy was so natural when we hiked in Yangshuo and stayed put when we were climbing so I brought her along. Pretty magical, I would describe the place. The granite was wet from the rain so it shined when the light hits. The wall was sheltered from the trees above and those surrounded, there was a little stream just next to the sitting area so Daisy was happy to be occupied dipping her feet in the shallow water. As a hangout spot, it was perfection. Except that the routes there are slightly above the grade of my beginner standard. But I managed to climb one, the hardest I’ve ever tried on rock before we rushed back to our cars when the rain poured heavily after few hours there. Its days like that makes me feel so psyched!

I have a lot to thank Allah. One of it was for that fated day we accidentally started climbing. Its a cliché heard around the rock, climbing saved my life, but it can. It gave me a better understanding about my body, my physical limits and mental abilities. Taught me how to stay motivated, get out of my comfort zone to progress and just enjoy the journey. Have fun a little, life’s too short to be serious all the time, I’d hear my own voice at the back of my head. In some ways it also made my marriage a happier one; saved me from all the insecurities bullshit I had and fought about a lot previously, bringing back “something in common” in us as a couple and we just couldn’t be happier spending our weekends together covered in sweat, dirt, chalk and occasionally comparing calluses. All that whilst our child keeping it real with the nature and learn a thing or two being outside. It has led to all great things and liberated me from life’s artificial needs – well, that needs are still there and visit once in a while, but it transformed from Prada and Marc Jacobs into err,.. maybe just The North Face. Or Patagonia, Prana, Arc’teryx or La Sportiva. (Eh banyak pulak.) But yeah, I don’t fuss about the latest fashion as I used to anymore. Back then when Fakhrul would describe me as a “slightly heavier spoiled brat” who needed to have some trendy must-haves in her wardrobe, I just now buy 5 plain comfy tops of the same kind in different colors to wear everyday and am OK with that.

All I care now is about that route I failed to send and how much I can’t wait to repeat again.

When in Yangshuo

Oh what is it with being 30 something and this yearn to get out of this routine and do something amazing?

I wished that when I was younger and the world was still better, my parents would’ve taken me hiking. Would’ve exposed me to the real things instead of the artificial needs from the malls or those travels through a typical tourist’s eyes. Would’ve taught me that life lessons are not just merely what we learn in schools or what an individual called teacher said, but everything you can experience outside of it. My parents – the typical urban parents who now don’t understand why I wouldn’t do the same to my child.

Also, how do you recover from an amazing trip? How do you go back to work or sleep on your bed or do same old thing? Because even after months have passed, I’m still clinging to the photos and the memories in Yangshuo that almost did not happen. There was something magical about that trip and I figured that it was mostly because we were cut off from the social networks; the Facebook, Twitter and whatnot were all blocked in China. To add salt to the injuries, all the chargers to our iPhones, Mac Book and iPad did not work either. The only thing that worked was Elly’s power bank which charged our iPhones very slowly and there were three on constant que, so we only saved it all for photos during the day. Imagine those nights tired of cycling, hiking, bamboo rafting or climbing – we were left with nothing to do but talking to each other, lying on the bed and doing what all family should be doing on a holiday – connecting.

I think this was the only trip that I really couldn’t be bothered to carry around my camera. As beautiful as the place is, I just wanted to enjoy the experience. I didn’t want to be caught up with the pressure of getting great shots but rather kept it all in. And actually, the iPhone sufficed. Plus, I quite enjoyed being in the pictures lately. Uhuh!

After all those months of working without a break, an episode of nasty food poisoning 3 days before the trip and climbing on the same old rocks, Yangshuo needed to happen to me. Its totally amazing and surprising at the same time how a perfect trip actually could be so effortless and cheap. If UberFacts is believable, it says that studies show the key to happiness is spending your money on experiences rather than possessions. And that was exactly what Yangshuo was to us. Especially that it was a great one.

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Le Soul Sport

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Fakhrul had been seriously, like serious-shitly talking about building  a bouldering wall in our not-so-soon to be renovated home. That guy – once he’s into something, he’ll dive deep into it. He started watching videos or read on how to DIY a boulder wall, surveying prices for the holds, trying to convince me with all his pretty sketches because he knows they turn me on. I get prickling sensations when he draws. Hiks. We’ve been pretty much crazed with climbing ever since we started lead climbing few months back. We started talking grades, moving on from 5c to 6a (or in his more advanced case, 6b+), convincing each other to try different routes, vandalizing the monkey bar at home, subscribing Rock and Ice and tell each other interesting climbing stories we came across either from another climber we met or from somewhere we read. And climbers always say something cool like “Psyched!” or have an interesting outlook in life of something like this:

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I was standing in front of a 6a route the other day. The sight of the most-accomplished and favorited route by climbers in that gym, that Fakhrul just finished ascending so effortlessly did very little to calm me. I looked up, the wall is tilted towards me a bit and for the last three clips that were screwed about 25 meters from the ground, I’ll come across an overhang that always, always scare the shit out of me. Fakhrul tapped my back, reminded me don’t forget to breathe and like some Nike ad, told me just to do it. My knee started raising to the first hold, my hands looking for jugs, mini-jugs or any of those I can hang on to comfortably. But nothing is ever comfortable when you’re holding your body weight with the tips of your toes and your non-muscly arms. But then, just like that, it was me against gravity. Towards the end, I started to freak out as I was nearing the scary overhang,  nearly paralyzed by an internal voice whisper-screaming, “This was a terrible fugging idea!”. I drew breath with slow intention to slow my runaway heart rate. A cold sweat prickled my scalp and soaked my T-shirt. I did what climbers do when we get nervous – we chalk up. I chalked and re-chalked my hands with rhythmic compulsion. I held this pose and waited for something to change inside of me.

Suddenly, there’s a shift. Without my brain’s consent, my body moved. A quick few step up onto that little holds I’d only realized their existence and I reached the anchor. Still shaken by fear of falling, I pulled up the rope and finished the job. “Tiiiiiiiiiiiigggggggghhtt!!!!” I yelled down. Its a code word to the belayer to “please pull the bloody rope tight goddammit and bring me down to the flat ground where I belong. NOW!”. Well, only when you yell it like I did it actually means that. Between the anchor and the yelling, there was this glorious moment of happiness having accomplished something you initially thought impossible. Some guys would hit the wall panels loud overjoyed when they topped out,  having sent a route clean (no mix colours, no tight-resting) and can call themselves a 6b or 6b+ or whatever-grade climber. At that moment, I was just happy to overcome my ridiculous fear of heights.

That few minutes of ascending a route is almost like life journey in a literal form. Like life, you first put your trust in someone (a belayer); be it is someone you’re close with or a stranger offering a belay after a quick chat. You started climbing and realize some hard movements along the way.. your face shrinking at the thought of “my God, this is hard”, like some circumstances in life you tend to encounter. You would think the impossibles when actually you just have to figure out your way up to reach the upper hold. When hesitation hits, you’d hear a cheer from below telling you not to let go or hold on. And sometimes you slip by surprise and you’d fall few meters down with your entire life flashes in front of your eyes as if you were gonna drop dead, only to realize somebody catches you. You’d feel great that you’re OK even if you suffer a bloody scratch from it. You’d try again, pulling yourself up with the rope til the spot where you slipped and figure out a different way to get to the top. Some days you might give up, you went down and come back another day and repeat the same thing. Until you nail the last anchor, you’d feel liberated knowing you just surprised yourself. And you will return to get that feeling again.

Some days I thought of that day when I first went to that gym and started climbing. About how much that one accidental occasion had changed everything, my relationship with Fakhrul, my weekly routine, my life perspective and my health all for the betterment. And of course, that’s just in the gym with the plastic holds. I’m sure it will be a greater story when we get to the actual rocks.

That’ll be the next pursuit.

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