3.28.2012

The Old is New Again

If the apparent optimism of the title seems incongruous with the general tone of my blog, fear not and read on. Part of what I'm referring to is a familiar injury that seems to haunt my climbing like a shadow, waiting patiently for each tweaky move and each incidence of overuse to make its move. Ligament sprains have become de rigeur for me these past four years and now I find myself being force fed another installment of this hackneyed story. Oddly enough, this time it is not the finger on my left hand that I badly hurt years ago that required at least eight months before I could really climb again. Rather, it is the same finger on my right hand. Weird.

The set up was a classic case of too much too fast. After a couple of months training in the gym this winter I started to feel the old fitness coming back. A friend of mine provided an unexpected chance to go on the road for a month and I took it. First stop: Red Rocks, where I had really only spent a couple of quick days in the past picking off one great longer route (Cloud Tower; highly recommend) as well as some rather uninspiring sport climbs at the Gallery. Upon arriving here this time I cast away my prejudices against this place and was extremely excited. The 30-60 foot sandstone sport routes looked really fun and the whole environment seemed great: beautiful scenery in the Red Rocks loop, interesting sandstone climbing features and the existence of hundreds of routes and plenty of variety amongst them. On day one, 95% recovered from a ghastly stomach flu, I got excited. Ultimately I fixated on one harder route and decided to attempt it. A twenty foot V7 runout to the first bolt necessitated a stick clip: we fashioned one from two sticks lashed together with bandannas and I stood on a teetering four foot pile of sandstone blocks whilst being spotted in case they fell. Problem solved. Subsequently, I nailed the route on what was essentially my first try. Full of heedless joy, I decided I needed one more challenge for the day and went to check out another 5.13-type thing elsewhere. I didn't really think about my multiple attempts to figure out a tweaky finger jam/pocket move until the next day, when I woke up with a sore finger that, over the course of a further half dozen routes, swelled up and became a much more convincing problem.

This is what a 5.13 route looks like at Red Rocks. I sat in the hueco in the middle for ten minutes, which invalidates my ascent.

Fast forward almost ten days. I am injured. It took me at least three days to stop denying it. I brooded, sulked and fumed against myself for allowing this to happen again. I was quite pleasant company for those unfortunate enough to be around me (really just one lucky person). I willed time to roll itself back to an appropriate moment before the injury. Predictably, it did not comply. I wandered through the desert in full breakdown crisis mode, watching as all my excitement and potential climbing plans for the spring became locked within a single tiny ligament tear. Memories of my past experiences with this injury flooded unbidden into the forefront of my consciousness. I remembered the intense frustration and lack of acceptance, the use of copious amounts of beer as an attempted distraction and cure, the unconvincing OT visits and the annoying finger brace that seemed a dubious solution at best. I wanted to end the trip ASAP and fly back to Seattle immediately to do...nothing.

Because there isn't anything to do. This lesson is a branding iron that has repeatedly seared a stubborn, leathered hide that feels nothing and learns nothing from the mark. Climbing, the positive force, the force for change, the amazing thing that I have excelled at so much in the last twelve years, has become my identity. The temporary loss of climbing is akin to losing myself and therefore I have been lost. For days. Then at some point I realized that I can't keep doing the same damn thing and expecting different results, the gold standard for irrationality and insanity. I have been chastened numerous times for my endorsement of rock climbing as a validation for my life. I've been told succinctly that I'm essentially full of shit (although I admit is was slightly more tactful than that) for holding to this belief. I've subsequently heaped the same shaky basket full of eggs and dropped the damn thing again, at least two or three times. My whole game is still inextricably entwined with climbing as though my very existence depended on it.

This time, however, the ineluctable terror at being denied this ever-important thing has begun to wake the rational in me. The wound torn by this current personal maelstrom is much larger and far less easily obfuscated than ever before. Maybe it's because I've realized I can no longer constantly rely on the future to bring reason to my path: it doesn't exist yet and if the present follows suit, there is only the spilt milk and egg yolks on the ground to follow breadcrumb-like back to the house in the woods. Ahem. Anyway, today I swam laps with old people in a YMCA pool and tried repeatedly to throw a ball through a hoop like people do when they play that one popular game everyone watches. I was so winded from even my best imitations of swimming that the lifeguard came over to check on me. It was fun. It wasn't rock climbing.

Now I'm on vacation. I'm trying to allow the laser focus of the erstwhile climbing trip to blur into an actual view of the world. Some of the things coming to light are not pretty, but the most honest forms of introspection rarely are. Paradoxically, egoism and self-effacement twine together. The meticulously poured foundations of self-confidence are revealed to rest on sand. Meaning is transubstantiated into base approximations with sinister consequences. I've always loved the desert because everything seems stripped away, raw and real. These Ozymandias-like obelisks of personal failure are naught but sand in the wind out here. I recall numerous instances over the years of myself standing in the wind, temporarily scoured clean. Sandstone hills might loom on the horizon, bewildering in their kaleidoscopic impermanence. Or it might be snow-covered plains, bleak but astoundingly beautiful in their starkness. It might be the granite and Joshua Trees of the Mojave, a veritable Dr. Seussian ode to joy in landscape form. I am here or there in snippets of memories and my eyes are always open. Old injuries are yet new chances for insight, at least for this old hand. To actually be at a point to be able to say that speaks volumes around and through my sarcasm and bilious ranting. And climbing? It will be there when I get back.

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