Rifle is a strange place. The truth is, it intimidates me. I feel like I'm a decent climber (I can climb the Diamond after all), but then I go there, to the land of the ripped and the free, and I'm reduced to a sniveling weeny. "Oh gawd," I am close to tears as I look up at 50-foot caves covered with chalk and shiny, ultra-polished holds. I cry on 5.10s, and knowing that just down the road 100 yards super-honed people are grunting and screaming their way up the dozens of 5.12s and 5.13s makes my weeniness even worse (at least to me--no one down the road cares).
Last time I climbed there, 10 or so years ago, I swore I'd never go back. I remembered nothing but greasy, super-polished holds, a crowded gym-like scene that, while not unpleasant, is difficult for me to deal with without having anxiety. So, this past weekend, when Madaleine asked me to go with her, I groaned, expecting to have the same experience.
And, oh shit, the climbs were steep and hard. It's the hardest place I've ever climbed. I couldn't actually get of the ground on the first climb I tried to do (it looked easy). The second climb, a polished 10a, reduced me to tears. After a mini emotional breakdown (embarrassment that I could not climb 10a, that my girlfriend had to lead me up everything, that I knew a few dozen people there and they would all know that I cried over a 10a, etc, etc), I holed myself up in Mad's Sprinter Van and moped for an hour about my sad state of affairs.
"Poor me, poor me, why oh why had I returned to Rifle?" I whined to myself and then swore, "I hate this place ... never coming back!"
But, being the hyperactive person that I am, and having not climbed or exercised in three days, I eventually emerged, humbled and red-eyed, ready to try again. I donned a pair of dark sunglasses and sought out my girlfriend, who had just sent a pumpy 12c and was ready for a break. Sucking it up, I asked her to lead up a 10b for me, and then another route. After those warm ups, I proceeded to actually have a good time, including leading an easy 10 and and one of the canyon's classic warmup 11bs.
I can't say right now if I'm actually going to go back to Rifle again (I've eaten enough humble pie for a while), but I did experience a change of perspective. I still think Rifle is a chossy, dusty, polished, crowded beta/sausage (male & female) fest, but it's also got mostly really nice people who frequent its cliffs, an overall positive energy, and, some interesting, challenging climbing.
I also realized that my self-proclaimed sport-climbing weenieness was really just my insecurities manifesting in the face of the excellence surrounding me on the cliffs. Realizing those insecurities helped me to both celebrate that excellence around me and also to have a lot of fun. And. really, that's what climbing is all about.