Day 363: Jason and I planned to meet at the Dunkin’ Donuts outside of Red Rock. I professed a deep appreciation for their flavored coffees despite the potential effect on Jason’s first impression of me. When we finally met, I had no idea what to fully expect, but my first impression of Jason was, in a word: meticulous. This is always a promising quality to find in a new climbing partner.

He asked a lot of questions about my diabetes management and what our climbing would entail and he had seemingly prepared for each situation that could arise from any possible answer. We hiked into the climbing area and got to know each other better–and Jason shared that he was a PhD of Mathematics, a fact that made a lot of sense given his highly systematic approach to things. I feel like diabetes forces one to adopt a certain appreciation for the ability to calculate–and as an arithmephobe (scared of math!) I have struggled with the ability to demonstrate concrete, numerical strategies which relate to managing my diabetes. I can’t tell you how many times as a child, I would get poor grades on my math tests despite getting correct answers–all because I couldn’t show my work!

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We arrived at the crag and it was completely empty. The sun was shining and despite the 38 degree air temperature, in the light it felt comfortable to climb in only a light fleece jacket. We had our pick of all the easy routes to warm up on, and I was determined to improve on both my strategy and performance from my last attempt at my project. When Jason asked “What is the name of your project?” I sheepishly gave up that information while lamenting the fact that my project routes always have such silly names. I want to project a route called “Hammer of the gods” or “Great white behemoth” or something that conjures up images of mighty deeds and the gargantuan effort that it takes to actually send. Instead I have a penchant for selecting routes whose names invoke confusion at best (Diabetes and a Wedgie–I dont get it?!) or something out of an episode of the Simpsons.

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As we climbed together for about an hour to warm up, Jason and I went back and forth sharing the commonalities and differences in our methods for keeping our diabetes from negatively impacting our climbing. None of the routes at this point really tested either of us. We took turns leading several of the 5.8 routes near us–it felt good to get in a rhythm of climbing and develop our communication.

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After doing this for a while we agreed that it was time to take a run at Wedgie. We moved our gear over to the base of the route and I tried to psych myself up. I had spent a good while watching the video of previous attempts over the past days and I felt certain that I could at least make it through the crux section (the first 30 feet, the hardest moves). I couldn’t visualize the second half of the route though, which concerned me a bit. Getting through the hard moves because you have them memorized but falling on the easier moves above because you are less prepared for them can be really frustrating–and that was the point I had gotten to last spring at my best effort.

Again, I roped up at the base of the climb. Jason and I went over some technical details and began to climb. At the ledge where I had stood so many times, I clipped the first bolt, and looked up at the moves that had turned me back only two days ago. Today would be different though. The sun was shining. I was only cold this time, not freezing! This was it!

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I climbed past the first bolt, far enough reach a hold that I could hang onto with one hand, freeing the other to make the next clip. This was the hardest part mentally and physically– this was THE move that had plagued my imagination with visions of injurious failure. If I fumbled the next clip and fell, I couldnt catch myself with one hand–and I would almost certainly whip onto the ledge below me with the added rope out.

I may have been holding my breath. I can’t remember. But I know that I nailed the clip. My mental reaction to this initial success was both elation and confusion.

‘Now what?!’

I hadn’t thought much beyond getting to the relative security of the second bolt. Now I had gotten there and still there remained two more bolts to clip before I reached anything resembling a rest.’Great,’ I thought. ‘I’ve really ****ed myself here’. I looked up at the next series of moves and the unrelenting angle of the wall.

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I tried to remember which of the tiny holds I needed to use–and in what combination. My forearms burned. My fingers and hands were in searing pain. I couldn’t remember where to go and I couldn’t hang onto these tiny holds to think about it further. I was terrified of falling but frustrated at opacity the next move.

I hollered down to Jason, “sh*t dude, I’m gonna fall!” (actually I said a few more things that were even less polite, but you get the idea).

He yelled back up to me “No way man. You’ve got this. Don’t come down. Keep going to the next bolt!” His response interrupted the voices in my head just long enough.

“Ok, fine!” I muttered. Somehow I managed to climb to the next bolt and one move beyond that before I took a short fall which Jason caught with ease. I hung for a minute or two–everything below the my elbows felt like lumps of ground beef. I had been pumped out before, but this time I was so pumped that it hurt. Once I was able to open and close my hands without pain, I resumed climbing. I had missed sending the project. I let everyone down. I let myself down. Again.

But…

This time I learned something. I learned that I could climb even when it hurt, even when I was pumped. I managed to push through a lot further than I had before and that was progress, even though I ultimately paid for my excessive hesitation. That made me feel–less awful. I managed to climb the rest of the route with only one more hang.

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I worked out the moves on the upper half and lowered down.

Jason gave me some encouraging feedback when I got down, “You looked strong up there man, you got this, you just have to go for it.”

I appreciated his words but I thought to myself, ‘What is he talking about?!’ I felt like a bumbling lump of dung up there and I felt anything but strong.

I took a break from climbing to belay Jason on top rope as he took a run at route. The difference in our height and reach provided him with his own set of challenges. The moves and sequences that had worked for me, were useless for him–I am 6’3 and I have pretty a sizable reach, so he had to figure out the route in a completely different way than I did. Neither of us got to the top cleanly. I felt bad that my project was so height dependent. You can be amazingly strong but none of that matters if key holds are out of reach.

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Jason came down and we pulled the top rope down. I would try leading the route again–but the sun was dipping below the horizon and before I was able to tie in, it got COLD. It happened almost instantly. I added layers and blew on my hands. I felt like I had the moves nearly dialed mentally. Now it was just a matter of whether or not I had the power to execute them in the cold.

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That question was answered soon after I climbed back up and quickly clipped the second bolt which protected me from a ledge fall–and promptly flamed out  and fell. My power was just gone–I didn’t have enough juice left to send and that was that.

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I hung at my way to the top, anxious clean our gear off the route so we could go home and warm up. I took care to memorize the moves I was doing, because I knew I would have only one more chance to send; day 365. I would have to watch more video and take an easy day of bouldering, which Jason assured me he was fine with. More waiting, more anxiety. Wedgie was beginning to chafe at me and all I could do was wait for my last chance to send.