By Allison Snyder
“You are a planner,” he said as if that was just about the worst thing in the world.
I’m not sure what story I had shared that elicited the observation, but it didn’t matter. What mattered was that this man smelled the planner on me even though I’d spent the last four months living in a car and exploring the American West with no itinerary.
And I didn’t want to be a planner.
I’d planned for years. Planned my life around a man. Planned my life around a career. Planned my life around what I thought other’s expected of me.
Years of spreadsheets saturated the path I’d traveled. Budgets. Task trackers. Rows of a client’s sliced up mortgage-backed securities.
There was a spreadsheet for everything. But I forgot to look up from the spreadsheets. I forgot to look at the roads that intersected the one I marched on. And I was sitting on a bench at a climbing crag in Wyoming instead of on a swivel chair in Manhattan, because I wanted to look up.
When I’d quit my job five months earlier, I wanted to see what would grow if I left the soil untended. And hadn’t I been doing just that since I arrived at this crag?
On day one, I led my first climb. That wasn’t planned. It happened because a climber who believed in me a smidge more than I believed in myself handed me the rope.
“You’re turn,” he said.
“Really?” I took the rope and gazed at the whitewashed limestone cliff. When I said I wanted to lead a climb, I hadn’t meant at that particular moment.
“Yep. You’re ready.”
How did he know I was ready? I’d bought my first pair of climbing shoes less than a year ago. And I’d worn them about fifteen times. Now this man who I’d met hours ago was telling me I was ready to lead. I wanted to believe him. So I clipped his draws to my harness and stepped up to the wall.
My memory of what happened next, of how I got to the top is hazy.
The rock demanded full attention. The can-I-do-this questions made way for questions of the how-can-I-do-this variety. What about that pocket? Will my finger fit? Will that protrusion hold my foot? That’s not to say there wasn’t fear. There was plenty of it. It was just that the rock pushed me to set it aside and focus on the present.
When I landed back on the ground, my hands trembled, my heart pounded and I couldn’t wait to do it again.
For the next three days, that’s what I did. Urged by the other climbers, I stayed at the crag for a few more days. I hadn’t planned that.
On the fourth day, I got my first flapper. I hadn’t planned that either.
I’d romanticized flapping since childhood when I swung my legs in the living room to the music of Thoroughly Modern Millie. But this was not that kind of flapper. This was the kind of flapper that rips off the outer layer of skin and leaves it dangling in the wind. A pendulum like swing gifted me my first flapper. When I fell, I grasped the sharp limestone. I didn’t trust that the rope would catch me.
“If you don’t fall, you aren’t trying hard enough,” a climber said as I wrapped my finger in tape.
That may have been true. But in that moment, I felt as though the curtain had just opened to my naked self. My hair was styled in a bob and all I wore was a dangling strand of pearls. I did the Charleston. The audience looked away in embarrassment.
I wanted to offer up all this evidence of my spontaneity to the man across the campfire. But the conversation had long ago moved on. And, I knew that he was right.
I was still planning, still holding on.
I held on because I feared losing the disciplined, ambitious, achieving part of me.
Without a plan, would I lose my purpose? Or, was planning a distraction from that purpose? And would letting go open me to it?
There was only one way to find out. But a lifelong habit of predicting what’s around the next bend wasn’t easy to relinquish.
The next day began like the rest.
I drank coffee and waited for the stir of other climbers.
“Gonna join us?” the man who’d dubbed me a planner asked.
“Sweet.” He looked at my notebook and laughed. “You writing about us? A couple of chiseled gentlemen?”
He was more sinewy than chiseled, but the adjective fit his friend just fine.
I’m not sure if it was a desire to shake the planner out of me, or to impress his chiseled friend, but I volunteered to lead a route that was harder than any I’d lead yet.
By the time I reached the fourth bolt, the how-do-I-do-this questions were not loud enough to drown out the, am-I-too-tired-to-do-this questions. As I placed my hand into the next rut, my foot slipped, and as my hand grasped for another hold, I swung.
As I dangled in space, I looked at the blood slithering down my right hand—my second flapper.
“Yeah.” I looked down, trying to hide my scarlet doused appendage from the chiseled man at the other end of the rope.
“Your blood is everywhere. Let’s tape that up.”
He lowered me to the ground and I opened my hand like it held some sort of murderous confession. He pulled tape from his bag and grabbed my wrist.
As he wrapped my blood-sopped finger, he looked at me. “You can’t hold on like that. You’ve gotta let go Allison. You gotta let go.”
AUTHOR: Allison Snyder
In 2016, Allison traded Prada heels, a Manhattan high-rise, and a decade-long pursuit of law firm partnership for running shoes, a used car, and an adventure in the American West. During her travels, she fell in love with Colorado's San Juan Mountains, where she now writes, runs and explores.