Plastic Friends

There’s something restorative about plastic.

Ice climbing has been difficult in recent weeks — first temperatures rocketed to near 60, then they swung 70 degrees in the other direction. I get a few pitches in each weekend, but weekday sessions have either been unavailable or unsafe. Soloing moderate ice before work had been a grounding ritual in recent months, but my practice has been forced to the wayside by the weather. Enter plastic.

For the last three weeks I’ve skirted south after work for indoor sessions at the Maine Rock Gym. The MRG is the first place I went climbing 14 years ago. It’s where I learned to belay, where I climbed my first 5.9, then 5.10, back when I believed gym routes corresponded with climbing outside. It’s where I built fitness during college before ice season, where I trained cravasse techniques before Rainier and prepared for trips to Yosemite and the Southeast. It’s where I stopped off for a workout when my dad had cancer and I was driving back and forth to see him twice a week. It’s where I met and first became captivated by my wife (Josh — you were there). To call it a special place would be underselling it — home is a more apt description. It isn’t fancy — there is no lead wall and the whole place is coated in chalk — but it’s comfortable as an old tee shirt. I can’t walk in without facing a wall of smiles and shaking hands with a dozen people — Chuck, Dennis, Joe, Rebecca, Michael, Rajiv, Jamie, Nick, Dave, Hasan, Eli, PC, Brian, Ben, Dominic, Hazel, Jim, Ran, Brian, Chuck, Jody, Andrew and more. And every visit makes me smile. Every session is hanging out with old friends, even when (like last week) I’ve just met them. Even when I’m there all alone. I don’t care if I’m falling off everything or crushing, the atmosphere doesn’t change. It’s always warm, always welcoming.

I was describing my fondness for the MRG to some friends the other day, and I compared it to most people’s college outing club wall. My friend Janet’s eyes lit up. “That’s the Dover Rock Gym for me,” she said, a warm smile spreading across her face. It was clear she knew the feeling I felt every time I turn onto Marginal Way and throw on my blinker.

I don’t really have more to say than that, I mostly just want to thank the people I run into there day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year. Thank you for being the people they are. As much as my past experiences at the MRG make it feel like home, so do you. Thank you.

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