Sorting out a tangle

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable”

–Helen Keller–via Rob Schwarzmann

The last several days have been a bit of a blur. First there was attempt 1 on Moonlight Buttress a week ago and we all know how that ended–and in the inclement weather days that followed, a lot of anticipation built up and on Wednesday, day 92, in about 11 hours, Rob and I sent Moonlight Buttress–a classic big wall climbing route up 1200 feet of vertical to slightly overhanging sandstone–slightly taller than the Chrysler Building to put it in perspective– in a solid one day effort.

So what does that really mean?

I have a lot of emotions that I am dealing with right now and I am not sure how to explain it all. Certainly there is an athletic achievement there on a personal level because it is a larger and more committing climb than I have been on yet. 1200 feet is a long way to climb and it seems longer when you are measuring your survival in every passing increment. There is a very personal component in the fact that climbing a wall with a partner is a melange of physical suffering, emotional duress, comical anecdotes, exasperation and brotherhood. It was (and continues to be) a very rich experience that will not simply yield to a single blog’s effort–and this experience will likely be a key that opens up worlds beyond that I can only anticipate in the most vague terms at this point.

The past several days marked not only the passage of the first 25% of Project 365 but also a shift in my mindset in terms of what I believe is possible for myself as a person of average athletic talent. Do you know what it’s like when you can feel something is changing and you know it’s big, but it’s so big that you can’t really wrap your head around it? I think that’s where I am right now and while it is exciting, it is somewhat disorienting too.

Climbing is more than a sport. It is not a game where you can step off of the pitch when you twist your ankle. Having a bad day is a luxury that you simply don’t get, and I am learning about both the ass end of this concept (suffering, forsaking comfort, pain, dehydration, isolation) and the worlds of possibility that are opening up as I push myself farther than I thought I could go.

I spent a few of the inclement weather days leading up to this weeks effort on the internet reading some Facebook status “flaps” where people were complaining about having diabetes and how hard their lives are and chiding other people who don’t see it as an excuse or who don’t see it as being a “big deal”. There was the usual discontent over the fact that there still isn’t a cure mixed with outright self pity at how unfair life is…

Having diabetes is hard. Yup. So?  What, you want a low carb cookie? There isn’t a cure, just effective treatments that can enable you to live an amazing life if you’re willing to step away from the computer, quit complaining and go get after it. Life is suffering, hardship. Accept this and you can deal with life. Embrace it and you can create something beautiful. Few things provoke my ire like hearing people complain about having this condition as though it is the end of life itself, or a curse. No one gets out of here alive. Death and suffering are not optional. What you do with your time and what you make out of your hardships are choices that you get to make again and again and that is a huge privilege–a gift.

I guess some of that online nonsense inspired me in a way. I occasionally feel like I am a missing out on some greater truth or understanding of the diabetic universe since I am not sorry that I have diabetes and I am not preoccupied with discussing it apart from the aspects of my life that are my greatest motivations (nutrition, exercise, climbing, sustainable living etc).

On Wednesday, I pushed myself–hard. I broke through a wall–a mental one. For the first time I had roller-coaster blood sugars on the biggest and most committing climb I have done in my life (Moonlight Buttress). Dangling hundreds of feet off the deck didn’t really phase me. Knowing that I had failed to control my sugar starting the night before and that even from the beginning of the climb my sugar was sky high left me in a situation where I had to deal with it and take insulin far out of my comfort zone. I sat on a belay ledge, 700 or so feet off the ground, and stared out into the vastness of Zion Canyon and realized that the time for running away from this scenario was over. I had to face this specter of my condition or else…well there was no other option.

I knew that this type of thing could happen when I stepped off the ground and I knew that a small part of me had been hoping for this show down for a while. I couldn’t and wouldn’t purposely have a blood sugar crisis in the middle of a climb but I knew that the fear of this happening was holding me back and it would eventually have to be dealt with. This fear has been coming to a head since the start of our time here in Zion and I had felt the anticipation building like a humid afternoon that gives birth to a tumultuous evening thunderstorm.

This fear is the voice that whispers in my ear when I tie into the rope and it hangs off the back of my harness, cluttering my headspace when I am climbing above my protection or facing a 30 foot whipper.

“You don’t belong here. You’re a diabetic. You know that sooner or later you’re just going to get f*cked up and make yourself look like an (insert pejorative here) and possibly die in the process. You should accept society’s view of people like you and get a normal life and job and live within 5 minutes of a hospital–because you are defective and you can’t cheat reality forever.”

It may sound excessive to some of you, but thats a snippet of whats in my head when I climb. What changed on Wednesday is that for the first time, I had an opportunity to confront this “adversary” who has lived unchallenged in my imagination –as a fear of “what if”–until we faced off on the steep upper pitches of Moonlight Buttress. It was more committing than anything I had done, ever, and I pushed my body far beyond the point at which my mind begged me to just give up and quit.

In the process I learned a lot about what I want to do differently the next time I am on a route of this length and I am looking to repeat this route next week, to really try and improve on Wednesday’s performance. Knowing that I am able to deal with highs and lows on a route is a powerful step forward for me. I have never really had to do that while ON a climb before.

However, every victory is only savored for a short moment–because it must then give rise to some new progress or else what is the point? I don’t know what will happen next or that it will be a day and night type of paradigm shift but I feel like a new realm of possibility just opened up to me and to everyone who chooses to live their life in spite of the conditions that get in the way.


Comments ( 10 )

          • Carmela Lauria says:

            I have to tell you that after I read this I could feel your emotion that you poured into this blog. It was a mixed bag of emotions. As a mother of 2 type 1's I have always told my children don't ever let diabetes stop them from doing anything and I'm happy to say that they both do everything they want and don't let their Diabetes stop them. It's not so easy at times, but there is always some way of accomplishing something if you truly want it. Overcome the obstacles, tackle the situation and achieve what you have set out to achieve. I think your amazing and what you are doing is incredible! I know you wont give up cause you have the utmost strength and ambition to not give up! Isn't it a shame that most people with Diabetes waste their lives rather than liven it! Stay well and Be Safe( and I'm sorry I wrote all this).

          • Steve says:

            Thank you for leaving this comment–I appreciate hearing your experience of what I wrote and that is very welcome, at any time!

          • Manny D Suriel says:

            Steve A famous person once said that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot.
            Climb on…


          • Steve says:

            True! Find the limits and push…it’s not a glamorous process, but it’s real.

          • Anne Marie Hospod says:

            Great post Steve. I couldn't agree with you more on several fronts – first, life, in and of itself, is difficult. However, it's all about the right attitude. I think that diabetes can be a challenge, if we allow it to be. Unfortunately many organizations in today's culture portray a 'woe is me' mentality for people with diabetes, and I think that it can easily become engrained in our mind as how we, Type 1s, should be. 'People like us', as you say, are doing amazing things, and I think that JDRF and the ADA/CDA for example need to start shifting their way of engaging the public and asking for support. The whole 'I have diabetes and I can't live a normal life until there's a cure' is outdated and frustrating to hear in the media. Examples of what Team Type 1, Insulindependence, CIM, I Challenge Diabetes, and other organizations are promoting is far more beneficial: Accept responsibility, create important goals, and live your dream life! Keep up the project – you're helping spread the right message. Anything is possible, so long as you believe it.

          • Steve Richert says:

            I really appreciate hearing that from you–I sometimes worry that I am crazy when I can't stop myself from saying it/writing it, etc because I feel like it's not being said enough. I really appreciate your affirmation…I guess I'll just keep saying it like I see it and hopefully we can make a difference. I know I came to these conclusions in virtual isolation–I had no diabetic friends or contacts really until I was out of college and even then, no one that I talked with frequently about how their life was affected by the condition. I guess the ideas are all out there, we just have to connect the dots!

          • Richard Vaughn says:

            Hi Steve, I'm sure you have read about Will Cross. Have you met him? He has climbed some of the highest mountains in the world, all alone, and without anything but his hands and feet. You are a very brave young man. I have been a T1D for 66 years, and am very healthy, but I have never had the guts to something like that!

          • Steve says:

            Thank you for taking the time to check out the blog Richard! I have heard of Will Cross but not in much detail. I have been inspired by your durability in the face of T1D and others who have been getting after it for much longer than I have. I have found that you can accept wildly radical things in your life by incrementally introducing them. Fear is a big part of the dynamics of climbing but it is only a part–and if you take your time, you begin to see beyond the fear to the beauty and peace that lives in high places.

          • Cathegrrine Wills says:

            I am the Grandmother of a type 1 little girl. Also I am a type 2 on meds only. Reading your experiences has been a comforting influence to me. It has allayed a lot of fears. My Granddaughter has an older sister who doesn’t have diabetes at all and I just adore them both but I found it hard not to pour extra affectiom on the younger one. I don’t see them much any more but distance doesn’t lessen the love I feel. Thank you so much for your story. It has meant a great deal to me.

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