A Changed Relationship

As my fog of injury and jet lag continues to lift, I still feel like something’s changed in me and my relationship with climbing. I think it’s a change for the better in me, honestly.

My left hand continues to remind me that while my nerve impingement isn’t severely impacting my quality of life or climbing anymore, it’s still not completely normal, not yet. A vague sense of numbness persists in the web between my thumb and pointer finger, a background reminder to be vigilant when I’m walking not to fall down and put my hand out – I must not shock the nerve again; I don’t want any paralysis to return. Having this threat lurking behind me like a shadow helps me remember every day I climb just how lucky I am to be back and able to climb at all now, and to be clipping quickdraws with both hands, too.

I feel like I’ve finally plugged into something crucial to fully enjoying every single of my 26,320 days of life on this planet (thanks for that number, SCARPA!), minus the roughly half of those that I’ve already plowed through. During my next half-life, I don’t want to spend even one iota of energy being upset about rock climbing or emotionally attached to performance outcomes as a predictor of any day’s success or failure overall as a “day in the life of me.” While I’ve known logically for years that getting too emotionally attached to performance in climbing on any given day is a recipe for disappointment as often as not, I’ve struggled to consistently plug my emotional being into this mindset. I just couldn’t seem to flip the switch, and so I’d find myself being sad or frustrated by climbing at least as regularly as I was delighted and lifted by it.

After yesterday, I feel even more confident that this critical life lesson in enjoying every day of climbing regardless of outcomes is here to stay. I feel so incredibly open-minded and curious and like all I want to do is learn. I did that five-move wonder route I talked about the other day. I did it on my second try, botching the big move on my first attempt. I then studied the sequence and tried out all possible methods I could think of, coming up with a much smarter and higher-percentage method that shortened the big move a bunch. Next go, it went down. Sure, it’s “only 12c” (that’s the grade we agreed on), but whatever – I’ve also realized and embraced the fact consciously and fully that for now, and maybe for always, this climbing area (and climbs of this style in general), which is characterized by insanely steep and thuggy climbs with limited holds that stress big-pull power and dynamic climbing ability will not be the place where I turn in impressive sends by the numbers. I still have a lot of makeup work to do in this department, a lot of technical skills AND strength/power that I need to develop in order to lift my ability up closer to climbing at the same level as I can when I climb to my strengths.

What I also get now, though, is that I really like climbing to my weaknesses – or at least to this weakness in particular – more than I like climbing to my strengths (I don’t, however, envision myself similarly embracing friction slabs or fist cracks!). I don’t care if the grades I send aren’t sexy, because sending steep stuff that challenges me is so satisfying to me, grades aside (and isn’t that the point of climbing – personal challenge?). Honestly, even just discovering that I’m stronger than I was before and learning new techniques to coincide with those strength gains delights me. Yesterday continued in this vein – after sending that route, I got on Baby-Faced Assassin (13a) and found out that for the first time ever, I could climb the crux the way taller folks do, because I’m finally strong enough to take the holds down farther. I came really close to doing the route, high-pointing it/one-hanging it, but numbing out on the smaller crimps twice in a row.

Then it was on to Li’l Evil (13a), which is the first half of Joe Daddy (13d), one of my ultimate cave-climbing goals. I figure I need to be able to just crush Li’l Evil every time without a thought so I can sit in the hole rest and be ready to go on up Joe Daddy – falling off the opening “easy” climbing can’t happen. So I need to dial Li’l Evil. Only problem is, it’s a b#*$& of a hard boulder problem for me on a horizontal roof, and I’d never managed to do the moves (about seven of them) together as a sequence before. Until yesterday, when I calmly sorted out what to do, and then proceeded to actually do the entire sequence for the first time ever – and it felt awesome, lots of slapping and slopers and heel hooks and yelling, too. Neat!

Lastly, I got on the route that had been unclimbably wet the other day, and found out that the seepage had diminished to only two holds again. Even though I’d thought I’d feel terrible on this pitch, I actually felt okay, though I numbed out again (all day in the shade I numbed out, but whatever). And it didn’t feel as bad as I thought it would for pitch eight – definitely not jet lagged anymore.

Weirdly, I walked away from the crag again convinced that somehow, in more ways than one apparently, my injury and time in Spain served me well, despite my sense while I was there that I wasn’t climbing much or hard or enough. Perhaps I needed the weeks off and the gradual build back, and the perspective that came with being partially paralyzed. Maybe all the climbing on the steeper routes there got me stronger than I realized, and as my medical-student friend pointed out, I was using my left hand and pushing it the whole time, so I probably wasn’t getting weaker, even though the hand and arm felt weaker to me.

What I do know is that somehow, I’m stronger now – I can do moves that I couldn’t do even in January, only two months ago. Even better, though, is that I’m relaxed now, more open to the idea that I’m just a beginner on steep stuff like this, still – I’m in the “big learning curve” part of the process that happens to nearly every beginner climber. It’s characterized by a relatively rapid run through grades as the person assimilates the information and techniques required to rock climb while also building climbing-specific strength and endurance. By not doing this for steep climbing ever before, I’m realizing that while I may have made this process somewhat painful to my ego for a while, at this point, I’ve let go of my ego and I’m just enjoying the sh#$ out of what I now see as my lucky break. It’s wonderful and amazing be able to re-experience this part of climbing again; it’s an incredible gift for someone who’s been climbing for so long, and it’s doubly mind-blowing to have it happen after the scariest injury of my entire life.

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