A bright summer morning at the border with Germany. The bus pulled into the parking lot of the village train station. The trees whistled in the breeze as everyone threw their weekend bags into the undercarriage. I traveled on my own, and by the looks of it, so did everyone else, all of us signed up for a weekend rock climbing camp. I kept to myself, too nervous to extend a friendly hand to any stranger.
The joy of working for a millennial startup was the four-day workweek. My company incentivized personal growth experiences, and weekend getaways. I thought I’d try something thrilling. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
We drove along potato fields and pasture and I found this country beautiful for once. The sun washed over me. The big blue sky opened and we were swallowed whole. I didn’t listen to the gabbing passengers, the multitude of tongues mixing together, everyone else making quick friends. I held out hope I wouldn’t be the youngest. I prayed for someone hot to flirt with once we got to camp.
We turned onto a winding gravel road that ran through a thick wood, traveling deeper and deeper into nowhere. The cheap to-go coffee I drank on the train bubbled in my stomach, a small price for getting up at the crack of dawn and leaving without an appetite. I wondered if we’d ever arrive.
The bus halted at the entrance of a village filled with log cabins and linen tents. At the very center of the settlement, a wooden cathedral rose high into the sky, KLIMSTAD was spelled out in bold red letters on the front.
“The Big House!” a couple behind me said in unison, awe in their voices as if this was a pilgrimage they’ve waited a lifetime to make.
I was the last one off the bus. Everyone else bounced with joy, although their enthusiasm wasn’t infectious. I signed up for a weekend full of diehard climbers, but there had to be other people here for the experience, a weekend out of the city.
At a greeting table, a blond man with boyish charm stared at me, his eyes sharply blue, sophisticatedly confident. His gaze was intimidating as if he intended to make me feel uncomfortable, like he was sniffing out the imposters. I’d never be a real climber like him.
“Zach?” he asked, my nametag the last on his table.
“That’s me,” I said with a raised hand, approaching like I was being judged, his obviously rock hard body hidden underneath an oversized hoodie, his hair feathered and overgrown, peeking out of the hood that framed his face, his cheeks and jaw line flowing into a fit gaunt like he dedicated his entire life to training.
“You’re in the beginners’ course, right?” he asked, his stare more penetrating, his voice low and flat.
“I guess?” I said giggling, my cheeks flushing, the cutest boy at camp talking to me. “I’ve never done this before.”
At a flip of his hair, a smile unraveled, his large white teeth nearly stuck out of his mouth and dominated his face. I found my summer camp crush.
“I’m Thijn,” he said, his eyes still sharp and focused, his confidence unwavering. “I’ll be your instructor.”
His handshake was everything: firm, powerful, his fingers muscled, his grip tight, his wrists as thick as slabs of cement. He filled me with this assurance like I’d end up conquering a fear I never realized I had.
Behind the central climbing hall, a myriad of wooden walls spread out in an open field. One hundred other people already arrived, twenty instructors yelling out roll call. I joined another group of strangers, all waiting for Thijn to begin the lesson. I was immediately drawn to a gay couple, one with grey hair, another bald and both holding hands. I stood next to them, but I kept my distance, not saying a word, wishing somewhere deep inside I had someone to experience this weekend with, but I was used to being alone.
“Climbing is my passion,” Thijn said once he arrived, a pile of gear in his arms, a wingspan that could encompass my body and hold me tight.
He dropped everything and ripped off his hoodie, pulling his shirt in the process, showing off a lean hairless torso and abdominal lines that lead the eye to his tight pair of jeans hugging his package, his defined thighs and calves. His feet were extra-long in a pair of Chuck Taylors.
The straps of his tank top rolled over his sturdy shoulders and expose…