I’d never joined a climbing gym. Yes, you could get a great workout there in a couple of hours, but that’s what it felt like—a workout. And grabbing plastic holds while rap music blared from the sound system seemed a poor substitute for caressing the quartz conglomerate knobs of the Shawangunks, with birdsong wafting from the pines.
But when Central Rock Gym in Watertown, MA, only 1.8 miles from my house, opened in May 2013, I headed over to check out the newest and largest indoor climbing compound in New England. Before the afternoon was out, I’d signed up for a year’s membership. CRG Watertown, I realized at once, embodied a whole new climbing game. To my surprise, it was enjoyable.
For the past 20 years, off and on (more off than on), during the dreary Boston months from November through April, I’d hauled myself to the Mount Auburn Club to serve my time on the treadmill, elliptical, and weight machines. There I was surrounded by graybeards and gray ladies, all locked in their hermetic bubbles, pounding out the miles as they read the Wall Street Journal or, earphones in place, stared at Judge Judy or Oprah on the overhead screen. Fun was not in the ether—only the endless, guilty campaign to stay in shape.
I never met an endorphin in the Mount Auburn Club. My encounters with those joyous neural gremlins have been mostly confined to the touch football field and the unclimbed walls of Alaskan mountains. But at CRG Watertown that afternoon in May, I was transfixed by the sight of 8-year-olds whooping with delight as they thrashed their way up their first 5.6 routes. (No kids ever cavorted at the Mount Auburn Club, since liability issues somehow decreed a minimum age of 16.) And when I tied in myself, I forgot about the mandate to exercise the various “muscle groups” equally, as I poured all my energy, just as I had for decades at the Gunks, into figuring out how to get from one shaky stance to the next higher one. “Take!” I chortled at the top of the wall, commanding my belayer to lower me gently to the cushioned floor from which I had set out four minutes earlier.