(Make sure to read part 1 of this post, “How a low blood sugar forced me to face my fear” before you read about the best day ever!)

As Rob and I spent the remainder of Day 1 hiking around Red Rock canyon and scouting possible climbs for the next two days I remarked to him that this occasion we shared was probably my proudest–and yet my most esoteric achievement ever. At the crossroads of a difficult diabetes moment and a committing climbing moment lies an instance of victory that only a handful of people in the world will fully understand. The result of it all–which I think many more people will understand–is empowerment. Feeling like I can. I can bring my diabetes there (wherever that is).

I’m not trying to plug the Keto diet but I can tell you that I’ve never felt this kind of freedom and possibility before eating this way–even across my 8 or so years of climbing and my 17+ years of diabetes and many experimental diets. The lows still happen (see part 1 of this post!) but with much less insulin on board they are much less disruptive.

As we returned to our trailer (parked at a friend’s place where Rob was staying with us) the wind that had chased us off the climb earlier in the day delivered its payload of rain onto the park. Wet sandstone means no climbing for 24 hours at least, because the porous rock absorbs the water and can break if you climb on it, so we had to change plans for the following day.

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Day 2: We spent the afternoon hiking in the park, about 6 miles total distance with a heavy pack. This was enough strenuous activity to remove the need for rapid insulin–and I cut back my basal insulin by an additional 2 units. I felt excited about climbing the next day–not scared or negative. This was where it really hit me–how much I had come to feel negatively about climbing. It had stopped being fun and exciting because I had reached my limits. Not my true limits but those which I had started to accept in relationship my diabetes and my climbing. It was an unhealthy relationship that I couldn’t bring myself to leave.

I can’t explain how amazing it felt to reconnect with climbing as I smashed through that plateau and found suddenly that this was no longer a relationship that I wanted to escape from.

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Day 3: We decided to link up Cat in the Hat and Birdland, two moderate routes for about 1,000 feet or so of climbing. These are both busy routes and so we had to be on point technically–moving quickly up and down with an emphasis on efficiency. I maintained my lower basal dose and still took no rapid insulin with my standard breakfast. This time my numbers were on point. There was enough of a drop in my blood sugar for me to eat my low carb wrap with almond butter and espresso beans at the start of the climb, but it was gentle enough to balance out without any lows or highs as Rob and I climbed.

best day ever climbing in red rock canyon nevada
The upper pitches of Birdland

By mid morning we were finished with Cat in the Hat and back on the ground (I forgot to bring my camera because we were going so quickly at the start of the route!). We headed over to Birdland and I led the first three pitches, which I can only describe as pure joy. The climbing was straightforward but the protection was sparse (I took a variation to the first pitch) which made it that much more fun. We had logged about 800 feet that day when we looked at the amount of other parties on the route–above us and below and saw an impending traffic jam forming for our descent. Birdland is one of the most popular routes in Red Rock Canyon when multiple parties converge on anchors it can turn into a real clusterf#@k. That’s actually a technical term.

There were three parties above us and one party below–going up would mean hours of hanging at crowded anchors with moments of climbing interspersed. We quickly decided to see how quickly we could rappel back down to the ground and used the opportunity to practice simul-rappelling. Less than 15 minutes later we had descended 300 feet and were reflecting on our oddly satisfying change of plans. Nothing that we set out to do went particularly smoothly or got fully completed–but diabetes was no longer clouding my joy in the problem solving process.

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As Rob and I discussed how this newfound freedom could open up new climbing objectives for us to pursue together, another fast moving party descended and their names were Mark and Lizzie. We started talking with them and as is my way, I wound up telling them a slightly abridged version of my entire life story. The diabetes, the climbing, leaving my job, living on the road with my family–and the culmination of my most recent breakthrough.

It turned out that one of the climbers we were talking to, Mark Hudon, was (is) pretty well known. I’d heard of him before and bumped into him on climbing forums but never met him in person–his climbing achievements in Yosemite over the years are the stuff of legend but he spoke quietly and was very friendly. He smiled and told us how he had always tried to impress on his own daughter the value of making each day “the best day ever” because someday you won’t get any more days.

“Prepare for the future but don’t use it as an excuse to wait or to stay unhappy in the present. Every day should be your best day ever–that way when you die, people will be like, ‘I saw him just the other day and he was having the best day ever!’ 

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Mark Hudon
best day ever climbing in red rock canyon nevada
Lizzie Scully

After a short while, Rob and I said goodbye to Mark and his friend Lizzie. We hiked back to the car and I felt quite accomplished despite the setbacks we had encountered over our three days climbing together. We passed a group of tourists who noticed our packs and the ropes and asked us how our day had gone. Before I could get a word out Rob said “Great! Best day ever!” I smiled and nodded and we kept on hiking.

The best day ever isn’t “out there” somewhere. It’s right here, right now.

Ok. So here’s where I’d like to hear from you. Can we have our best days ever on a fairly regular basis–despite diabetes or am I high on ketones? Drop a comment and let’s chat!

Or if you’d rather discuss in private: steve@livingvertical.org