We’re back in Kentucky now. Home, I guess you could say, but it doesn’t quite feel like it yet. I still feel the effects of the dry desert air on my skin and in my sinuses. Only my frizzy hair has instantly adjusted to being back in the rain forest. Even at the tail end of winter, the vegetation here is alien saturated shades of green.
St. George escaped Old Man Winter altogether until the week we left. Close to perfect conditions were shattered, first by rain, then a snowstorm that left temperatures in the low 40’s in its wake. It might be early for the Red, but with our main goal accomplished, we could see no reason to stay and suffer.
That goal was a first for us. There are several past projects that we’ve both sent, but never by working the same one at the same time. Historically, Charlie has redpointed routes and then I do them seasons (or years) later. We did this one together, although our individual experiences were far from similar. Our hope of doing it on the same day didn’t materialize; our journeys paralleled for some time and then abruptly diverged. And I am enamored with the route, while Charlie has merely tolerated it.
We both made steady progress for a while. The advantage of my previously invested time on the route dissipated as Charlie’s beta began to build. He worked it down to one fall two weeks before I did. It seemed like we were on a trajectory to clip the chains, and then things started to go strangely awry, for both of us. The consistency I had finally attained in the first crux disappeared, sending me flailing into uncertainty and a lack of confidence. I took a step back to analyze what I was doing wrong. Body position, a precise angle of the foot. And I began making progress again, until I finally fell two moves from the anchor. In the meantime, Charlie was battling his head. He was more than strong enough, but he was literally, physically, letting go. If something didn’t feel quite right, didn’t feel perfect, he would allow his grip to relax, and take the ride. He was having trouble getting his fingers into the oddly shaped, sharp two finger pocket in the second crux the optimal way. He would get there feeling strong, but then fall or take after fidgeting with the fingers far too long. He was conditioning failure in his body, unable to remedy it with his mind. This was not the Chuck Odette I know.
This was the hardest part for both of us. I knew that whatever had to be done to get him back on track, he had to it do himself. There was nothing I could say, no appropriate response. All I could do was listen to him, while concentrating my energies toward my own pilgrimage. To see the person who helped teach me how to overcome negative thoughts in my climbing enter into this downward spiral was intimidating. I felt first helpless, then an overwhelming need to protect myself. Force field engaged: breathe deeply, speak little, and take advantage of opportunities to wander off and be alone for a few minutes before my attempts. Not checking out, but checking in. Recognizing that if it can happen to him, surely it can happen to me. And in the reverse scenario, he won’t be able to help me. He’ll need to put up his own force field.
This symbiosis is at the heart of our relationship. This mutual understanding that if we are to continue to love one another, we must each take care of ourselves. Six years ago, our 5-minute wedding ceremony consisted of this, from Rainer Maria Rilke:
“The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”
I fell at the anchor a total of five times, finally sending the route on a day Charlie decided to rest. It was a relatively quiet, warm afternoon, and it was one of the ugliest redpoints of my entire climbing career: sluggish, messy, desperate. My relief was palpable, the success surprisingly anticlimactic.
Charlie shifted his focus from redpointing back to problem solving, strategically attacking the route with low-point burns and visualization. The outcome was there, looming on the horizon, but rather than fighting to swim out to it, he allowed the current to gently draw it toward him. His send a couple weeks later was the quintessential perfect performance: zero mistakes, solid to the core, almost graceful. Lowering him from the anchors, I could see that same tangible sense of relief, could almost feel the brush of air displaced by the soft closing of a door. He won the mental war, and that’s a send to celebrate.
People ask me if it was awkward that I redpointed before Charlie did. It wasn’t awkward, but it did feel foreign. It’s not the norm. People have joked that Charlie must have been upset about it, or that after I sent he “had” to, but the reality is that he was proud of me. His sends have always motivated and inspired me. If one of us sends, it’s empowering for both of us.
We’re not sure what’s next. We have ideas for climbs to project, but we haven’t sampled and made our decision yet. There’s a good chance our solitudes will stay together for a while…on routes, and in life.
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