Hello, World. I haven’t really felt like writing much this past year, mainly because it feels like there hasn’t been much to write about, so this post is kind of about nothing. We don’t have any great successes to celebrate, no big milestones or events. So it’s about nothing, which means it’s actually about everything, because nothing and everything are equal parts of the whole. As always, it’s a simple matter of perspective.
Summer is usually “our season”, but the summer of 2021 just sort of slid out from under us. The goals with which we arrived at the Octagon had to be amended when Charlie took a weird fall that resulted in torn intercostal muscles and a hernia that required surgery to repair. It was hard to justify making the slightly-mega-hike just for Charlie to belay me on a route that, although I loved climbing on it, wasn’t in the Life Goal category. We abandoned our projects in the Octagon and used the opportunity to check out a few crags in Ten Sleep Canyon proper. Cue a major style shift, a brushing off of dusty technical vert and slab skills.
By late September, Charlie was recovering well and we were back in the cave. While he focused on recovery and regaining fitness, I finally sent my “mini-proj,” acutely aware that it took a very long time. With that minor success, it felt like time to move on, and we both had the same thought: we are in dire need of power; we need to boulder. Joe’s Valley is a place we’d visited before that was on our list for a longer stay. So that’s where we went, and it was great, until it started raining and threatened to snow for an entire week. Under normal circumstances, we’d be projecting routes and sit out bad conditions with the long view in mind, but, since we categorize bouldering as training, we did something uncharacteristic. We moved. We migrated south, from Joe’s to Moe’s, where we spent the next 3 weeks.
At the start of November, we were on the road again, this time traversing the arid Southwest via wavy two-lane highway across the Continental Divide, from the craggy-peaked, deep-canyoned desert of Utah toward the flat-scrubbed desert of Texas. Toward the oasis that is Hueco Tanks.
In Joe’s and Moe’s, we were both able to climb problems in the V5-V7 range. When we got to Hueco, V4 was a challenge. To paraphrase Nina Williams’s comparison of the two areas, “Joe’s will be fun, but Hueco will make you strong.” We quickly learned that what she meant is that in Hueco you have to pull. There aren’t a lot of problems that can be “tech-ed” into submission. In addition, the grades are, well…if you’ve been there, you know.
Bouldering is a different game. Our route projecting approach is only slightly applicable. Hammering the same move over and over in a single session takes me very quickly past the point of diminishing returns. It seems to be more beneficial to give quality tries until the first sign of waning power, then move on and come back another day. There’s an integration process that occurs during the time away, and pretty reliably, the next day back on the problem reveals gains earned during the previous session.
As a side note, in the latter half of November we made a 3400-mile round trip to Pennsylvania to pick up a new trailer, increasing our living space by 21 square feet. When Alexander SuperScamp was totaled in an accident on the Silver City Highway in New Mexico as we left Hueco on our way to Bishop three years ago, we replaced him with a new 2019 13-ft Scamp. After more than seven years of living in fiberglass “eggs,” we now have a “regular” camper with a bathroom, a kitchen counter, and a bed that’s 10″ wider than the old one (meaning fewer elbows to the face for me- yay!). I’m calling it The Mansion.
Fast forward to the last Wednesday in January, when we started our day at Moonshine Roof on East Mountain. The classic V4 on the boulder has turned out to be a nemesis for me, one of those problems that has a move that just doesn’t “fit,” where my body proportions and the position of the holds just don’t seem to have any synergy. I finally stuck the move on this day, only to hear the dreaded “pop” in the same instant that I felt the kinetic mojo. Ruptured A4 pulley, right ring finger. Ugh.
The speed of healing is hard to come to terms with. It seems like it should be faster, even though it’s not slow. Just few weeks ago, I had to be happy that I was able to repeat a V3 with juggy holds and no surprises, and remind myself that I couldn’t have done that a week before. Since then I’ve been able to climb a few new problems, but nothing harder than V4, and there are easier problems that I’ve had to write off because of holds that put direct pressure on the compromised pulley.
In contrast to the pain the injury is causing in my finger, the frustration resulting from it isn’t localized. Half of my love for climbing is rooted in my love for movement, and the other half in trying my hardest. So, I’m currently rolling at 50%. The downward spiral of negative thinking is tugging at me, and I’m doing my damnedest not to be drawn into it. The reality is that my performance has suffered. We came to Hueco to get stronger, and I’m leaving in no better condition than when we arrived. My job now is to keep living my best life every way I can. I’ve climbed my way back into shape on projects before, and I’m hoping I’m able to do that again. Charlie is looking as strong as I’ve ever seen him. And if it turns out I can’t climb my very hardest when the time comes, I’ll be there with 5.14 support and belays.
And so here we are in March, driving past the Diaz Produce Stand on the Silver City Highway, past the site of the accident that left us houseless three years ago, but now we’re towing The Mansion. Back up and over the Continental divide, heading toward southern Utah, this time not to seek shelter while we find a new home on wheels, but to begin our transition from bouldering back to sport climbing. Figuratively speaking, we’re going home.
All photos 📸: Maggie or Chuck Odette
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