A Game of Inches

There’s an exerpt from a famous Vince Lombardi speech that I still remember from my youthful days of playing team sports (football, baseball & swimming):

“Life’s a game of inches, and so’s football.  In either game, life or football, the margin for error is so small: I mean, a half a step too late, or too early, and you don’t quite make it; one step too slow or too fast, you don’t quite catch it… The inches we need are all around us.  They’re in every break of the game, every man we see. On this team, we fight for that inch.  On this team, we tear ourselves and everyone else around us apart for that inch. We claw for that inch.  Because we know, when we add up all those inches, that’s gonna make the f***ing difference between winning and losing… between living and dying.”

Lombardi’s rant came back to haunt me a couple days ago during my desperate (lucky?) redpoint of Inner Worlds (13d/14a), another proud hard line put up recently by Todd Perkins in the Hurricave. This rig is filled with fun, varied, powerful and somewhat strange-in-places movement like no other route I’ve ever experienced. It begins with five-bolts of easy climbing followed by a sit-down rest. I typically hate rests like this since it’s hard for me to gauge how long I should stay. From the rest, it’s game-on with a short, fun, pumpy traverse leading into a balls hard V7/8 crimpy/sloper boulder problem. A good shake in a crack brings short relief before a long horizontal roof section of 75-80′ with some of the most incredibly fun, hard and varied movement imaginable on rock. It’s void of any reasonable places to catch a rest. Desperate shakes are the best it has to offer. The pump builds as you confront the final crux which hits you smack in the face a mere 15′ from the anchors.

A few words about the final crux… when I first tried the route it was perhaps only V6. Two and a half weeks and two broken holds later, I managed to up the ante to a solid V8. The original 13d grade was set and confirmed via two strong ascents by Todd Perkins & Seth Cowley. My feeling is that it’s now closer to 14a or at least 13d/14a-ish. So, here’s where the “game of inches” comes into play… a week ago, I was on a solid redpoint go when I broke a key hold and took flight. A few attempts later, with new beta to bypass the missing hold, I blew off another key hold at the end of the crux. I was pulling hard on what appeared to be a solid side-pull pocket thingy that Seth, Todd and I had all used repeatedly, when it exploded, hitting me in the left eye. Even now, a week later, I’m still having minor issues with my vision. I was so discouraged with how much more difficult the route felt that I nearly gave up on it.

Discouraged and lacking confidence, I decided to continue working the new crux section for a couple more days. I managed to unlock a doable, albeit much harder, sequence. I was incredibly doubtful that I could muster the power endurance now necessary to pull through this section. The vicious pump obtained from the strenuous nature of the climbing leading into the crux felt overwhelmingly hard to me. Too add to my angst, the weather here in continually el Niño-laden southern Utah has been discouragingly uncooperative. What was originally inches from redpointing now seemed like yards to me. There wouldn’t be enough time before the summer like weather would arrive with its blistering hot temps making the Hurricave a very unfriendly place for anything but lizards, scorpions and cacti. I was consumed by doubt…

On April 29th, marking nearly a month on this route, we had yet another very wet, cold and humid Friday to contend with. Warm-ups numbed us out. My first go was powerful, but the newness of my final crux beta confused me. Movement was rigid. Breath control sporadic. Confidence waning. I fell. The next two attempts were far worse as I fell twice at the first crux. On the third missed attempt, I continued to the chains barely able to go bolt-to-bolt. Yards, which were once inches, now seemed like miles. I almost put the rope away, defeated again. I was ready to throw in the towel and turn my back totally on Inner Worlds which I started sarcastically calling “War of the Worlds”.

I brooded for a couple of hours, trying to stay positive while supporting Maggie and her incredibly strong efforts on Killer Bees despite the harsh conditions. I felt certain my day was done, and perhaps even my chances of doing this route at all. It was nearly 6pm (8 hours after our initial warm-ups) and well past a sane quitting time for the day. I reluctantly decided to give it one more high-point training run just for the hell of it. My only objective was to somehow push through the first crux so I could maybe go bolt-to-bolt to final crux one more time. As I reached the sit-down rest, the sun poked through the gray overcast and energized me a smidgen. I managed to eek my way through the first crux by mere inches as a result of solar influence. At this point, I felt spent, but pretended not to notice. I decided to push my body beyond failure, recalling hard efforts of my past. I moved slowly, too slowly…lethargically in fact. I nearly skated off easier sections of climbing, somehow arriving at the second crux. I was bewildered, so much so, that I had to remind myself that I was still on redpoint. I was fighting with a voice in the back of my hazy mind trying to tell me that I was tired and defeated. I briefly contemplated “taking” at this point to work the crux one more time. The fall is huge, since stopping to clip during this 12-foot horizontal section is out of the question. If I missed (again!) I was certain I wouldn’t be able to boink or walk my way back up to work it after falling and miss the chance to hardwire my ever changing beta.

Then something clicked. The “switch” flipped into the ON position. It would have been easier to give up, but I could do that anytime. The Lombardi speech flashed forward from my deep-seeded distant memory. I put myself on autopilot and let my body do what I had trained to do athletically throughout my life. I took my “mind” out of the equation and fought with every inch of my physical being. Somehow, the inches added up and I was able to clip the chains cleanly.

“Where passion is married to intelligence, you may find genius, neurosis, madness or rapture.” — Micheal Chabon

Inner Worlds gave me the chance to find all four of the above. Thanks a ton, Todd Perkins, for yet another amazing route creation. Your vision has helped fuel my continued passion to push personal limits. Greater thanks to Maggie, for putting up with my moments of doubt. You are a constant reminder of “mindful” athleticism!

Chuck

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Gathering gumption at the top of the approach to Inner Worlds.

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