The alarm I had set on my phone played its usual crass yet rousing tune, ushering in yet another day at the coal face. My eye lids struggled to understand the concept of opening on both a physical and theoretical level; with a little encouragement, revision and close tutoring they eventually peeled back and my pupils surveyed the day. The scene framed by my bedroom window was close to perfect, egg shell blue sky, a slight breeze lazily playing with the trees and evidence of frost at the edges of the glazing. It was on. The hours of pouring over Google maps, pictures and online topos the previous night would be worth it. I was heading for the first fully sunlit after work session of the year and my heart was filled with joy.
I headed to work buoyed by an unfamiliar feeling, instead of the usual dread; I was excited at what to come after the final throws of the working day. I felt untouchable, the master of my world. The usual stream of work related negativity shot at me simply rolled off the Teflon coat I know wore, woven from the slippery strands of hope and expectation created from pure psyche. Tasks were completed, wrongs were righted and the day passed in a blur.
This was not going to be the usual relaxed climbing session, the sun was due to set at 18.05, this meant that I would have to get to the crag of choice no later than 16.00 to make sure a worthwhile session would be had. This session could not be left to evolve; it needed to be structured, military in its execution. If all of these elements fell into place then it would be a fine two hours of climbing in the early spring evening. Passions were running high.
I flew out of work at 15.00, my destination on the western edge of the Penines less than an hour away. Liverpool, St Helens, Windes, Warrington gone in the wink of an eye. These industrial towns marooned in Merseyside, land locked by the un interesting flatness of the Cheshire plains held no interest for me now, I was headed to loftier places. I started the climb up to the moors. The light, like the landscape softened; glowed almost. Grasses ravaged by a wet winter swayed in the gentle breeze. Time seemed to elongate as the expectations of perfect conditions and dry rock created its own reality and serenity in the car. Yes this was a mad mission, yes the climbing would need to be frenetic, but the soft evening light that flowed through the deep Pennine valleys, skipped across it rounded hills and caressed the water of its reservoirs made it all worth it. As I drove along ever uphill it almost felt like I was ascending from the work based nightmare of public service into my own mini Nirvana of movement and freedom……Perfection if you will.
It was at this precise moment of serenity that I hit the jam. Not any jam, no. This was the mother of all traffic jams, a jam so intense it tested every fiber of my being. I was less than ten miles from my destination, caught between motorway junctions with no means of escape. I could see my chosen crag between the hills, dry and accommodating, it was so near I could almost touch it. There was hope. It was 15.45; I started to watch the clock. There was no movement amongst the sea of steel, rubber and chrome that spread before me. I no longer measured my journey in terms of landscapes, rather the perpetual passing of seconds; seconds that would force me into a decision. 16.00 my expected time of arrival came and went, but I still felt I could salvage something from the evening, I was so close. 16.30 approached and disappeared into that bottomless immeasurable pit that we call the past, I started to worry. 17.00 arrived and I had to make a decision. For an hour and a quarter hope and fate had battled over my future, for an hour and a quarter I had nailed my colours to the flag held aloft by hope. For an hour and a quarter hope had blinded me, allowing me to believe that a future moving across rock bathed in sunlight could be a possibility. Fate won out. I would not climb on rock tonight.
I was forced to make a decision, I would, at the first opportunity, turn round and head home; back to Liverpool, back to the wall. I was consumed by rage, a rage that was shared by the thousands of souls around me cast adrift on a motorway of misery. At that moment of realisation, the moment that my dream evaporated in the beautiful evening light, I could have killed; I could have run from the car, ripped out the hearts of innocent woodland creatures and used their blood to paint profanities in the sky. I wanted to strip to the waist, douse myself with petrol and set myself alight, ready to run between the cars; a physical manifestation of my frustration that might restore some natural balance to the world which had suddenly gone very wrong. It took me another half an hour to reach a junction and turn around, half an hour of fading light and impending natural darkness; a darkness eclipsed by the darkness of my mood.
It took for ever to get back to Liverpool. I had to battle more busy motorways, rush hour and my own wounded self. I eventually arrived at The Hanger at 19.00 - four hours after I had set out on my adventure after work. Four hours to complete what is normally a twenty minute journey from work to the wall. I arrived in poor humour, but coffee, camaraderie and a little perspective helped me to get over myself. Let’s face it no animals were hurt (but it felt close). One thing I can say though is, that night, my session was definitely worse than yours.