Monday, May 12, 2014

The Fine Line Between “F” and “F-YEAH” Revisited

This is a rewritten version of a "Weekend That Was" post from May 20th, 2007 - the rewrite took place on May 12th, 2014 two days after repeating Pacific Ocean Wall (5.11d) and regaining that previous high point after nearly seven years in the doldrums of adulthood. Now that the past has been equaled, the future must be improvement. The rewrite is a sanitized and hopefully more mature version of the original - I updated the description of the beta as well.

If you read my post from last weekend; you probably came away with the impression that I was particularly excited for this weekend. With last weekend’s major theme being defeat, I was prepared to put it all on the line in order to come out victorious this weekend. Friday afternoon found me in the usual state of staring at the clock and waiting for work to be over. Obviously this is counter-productive since it seems to make time pass more slowly. Time did however (as it inevitably does) pass, and I found myself making the familiar drive from Chicago, to the Lake.

Chasing the sunset West across the Illinois plain on a Friday night has become something of a metaphor to me. These days when I see the sunset, I am filled with the twin feelings of freedom and joy. These feelings have developed in me over the course of several years of driving West, out of the city, and towards the Lake, the setting sun, and the freedom and joy I experience on my weekend escapes. The metaphor is made more palpable during my return journey to the East, when I see the setting sun in my rear-view mirror and along with it, waning thoughts of the Lake and its enduring status as one of the places in the world where I feel most happy and free.

Today, Sunday, I am sitting in my camper, writing this report while watching tiny raindrops accumulate on, and then evaporate from the camper window - anything to postpone the inevitable return to the city and the trapped feeling that goes hand-in-hand with that return. Today has been a lazy day for me, some reading, some eating, some mild camper maintenance, and now this writing.

Saturday morning dawned happily, and brought with it blissful sun, mild temperatures, and a gentle breeze; all together this yielded hopeful expectations for the climbing day to come. It would have been impossible to design a day more suited to climbing. The morning routine passed easily - the weather radio called for the idyllic conditions to last, the teapot whistled to a boil, the rack was sorted and the packs were packed. Coach stopped by, Jamie and Randy text-messaged - everyone agreed Old Sandstone was the perfect place on such a perfect day. Coach headed straight there, and Jamie and Randy agreed to meet us there without stopping by the campground first. Ron and I waited for Chuck and when he arrived at Wheeler's the three of us headed to the crag together.

The parking lot below Old Sandstone was nearly full, but we knew three of the six cars were “friendlies,” so we parked the car and started up the trail. Arriving at the base of the cliff, we found a relatively crowded scene, but our group was certainly the dominant force, and we had most of classics setup already. I skipped the requisite socializing at the base and hurried to the top, so that I could setup Pacific Ocean Wall (5.11d) - I was, after-all, a man on a mission. The process of setting up the top rope anchor went quickly, since over the last several months, in the process of working on the route I have become well-acquainted with the process.

My climbing day began with a quick warm-up on the 5.9 variation of Gargantua (5.10b). Gargantua went well, and I felt fairly strong, so I immediately dove into a burn on Pacific Ocean Wall. That first burn went as I expected; I carefully picked my way up the thin climbing leading to the first crux and promptly fell while trying to remember the foot sequence I had worked out earlier in the season. With plenty of day left, and my new shoes digging painfully into my feet I decided not to be too concerned and lowered off without much ado.

My second burn went nearly the same, although I did feel that I should have been smoother on the lower, easier section of the route. Again, I made it to the first crux, struggled with the footwork for too long, and by the time I was finally situated; I had run out of gas. Since I had my older, more-comfortable, shoes on, I decided to spend a little extra time working on the footwork. I struggled to unlock the sequence I had been using on past attempts. Soon I started to feel tired and weak, so I lowered off without having made much progress, and with the knowledge that further progress would have to wait. As my feet touched the ground I felt the familiar pang of defeat creep into my mind.

I rested a while, and socialized with my friends for a bit, and then started my third burn. I climbed smoothly up to the lower crux. Then, despite nailing the footwork, I fell off while trying to turn the lip that comprises the route's lower crux. I had my new shoes on again and my feet were hurting, undaunted, I pulled up the rope in order to practice the upper crux moves, and once there found nothing but further demoralization. Apparently I had not only forgotten the lower crux, but the upper crux as well. I was beginning to feel as if I might never achieve my goal. Disgusted, I lowered back to the ground, untied from the rope, and removed my shoes.

After more rest and more socializing, I found myself belaying Terry on Tarantula (5.10b). Tarantula, it just so happens, is a close neighbor of Pacific Ocean Wall. Most of our group was losing steam and I belayed while staring up at Pacific Ocean Wall trying to decide whether or not I had another legitimate attempt left in me. Terry quickly and smoothly made it to the top of Tarantula. While I lowered him, Terry inquired, with a tone of suggestion, about my plans for the rest of the day. I responded to Terry's nudge by agreeing to tie for one last attempt - thinking that, at a minimum, another attempt would make me stronger for the following weekend.

And so begins my fourth burn - a less-than-fully-motivated attempt. I tie in, fasten the Velcro straps of my older, more-comfortable climbing shoes and start up the route. Familiar moves lead to the base of the wave-like scoop from which the route infers its name. At the beginning of the difficulties I match hands on the thin, slightly-in-cut rail. Then I move my left foot to the sloping hold around the corner and stand up. After moving both feet to good holds, I lean in to get full-value from a no-hands rest. As I shakeout and chalk my hands; I contemplate the difficult and unrelenting moves ahead. Leaving the rest, both hands move to low, sharp crimps; my left foot finds a shallow sloping hold, and my right foot bumps to a crescent-shaped patina. I start to stand up...slowly. My left hand catches the good side-pull on the lip, and my right hand moves up to the good crimp level with side-pull – I chalk left, chalk right, and breathe.

Now for the first crux, I move my left foot up to the good edge, and my right foot straight down to the lower edge. My right hand bumps up to a decent side-pull and I work my left foot to the smear around the lip. I move my right foot up slowly and catch the good edge that the left foot was just on and bump my left hand to another decent side-pull.  Leg-pressing with my left leg I stand up on the smear and reach very high – to a slot in the horizontal near the base of second crux and bring my right foot to a decent hold. Then my right hand hits a good crimp out and my left foot smears locking me into a decent stance. As I catch my breath and chalk both hands, it vaguely dawns on me that I have just pulled through the bottom crux, but the pump-timer started when I left the no-hands rest at the base of the scoop and I press on into the second crux.

My right hand hits the Gaston at eye-level, I bring my right foot up to replace my left foot on the smear in the corner and move my left foot up to the point on the corner. Then my left hand palms the corner of the hanging arete, groping for the slight dish as I stand up on the sloping left foothold. Moving my body the Gaston my right hand is on loses value, and, crossing it over my left hand I throw for the sloping handhold atop the hanging arete, barely catching it with my slowly-numbing hand. The right hand starts to slip, but I am fully committed to it - if it goes, I go...

In this moment, all the foregone calories, the daily weigh-ins, the literal tons of iron moved in the weight room, the miles running, biking and swimming – the months of dedication and discipline – at this instant is where those things all add up to success or failure. Here is where the fine line is crossed or not. From deep within I summon that little extra, that previously unknown quantity that resides in each of us and bear down. I match my left hand with my right, set my feet and move up to the jug that represents the end of the true difficulties. I finagle a rest in the pod near the top, manage few non-trivial moves to the lip, match hands on it and signal Terry to take my weight.

It must have been a strange cocktail of endorphins and emotions, but I felt light lowering back to the ground, or maybe it was that months of work and sacrifice had finally paid off, and I no longer had to carry the question. It felt good, but completing a project route always brings a bittersweet satisfaction. After committing so much to a route and growing so much with it; it feels almost cheap to simply be done with it, just another notch on the bed post of my scorecard - but maybe I will come back to visit...someday.

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