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Inspiration and Type 1 Diabetes: mix well, serve cold.

Inspiration and Type 1 Diabetes: mix well, serve cold.

Day 364: For our second day of climbing together, Jason and I decided to go back out to Calico Hills and do some bouldering. I would do only the bare minimum and rest myself for the last day’s effort. The weather was cold again (30s) but sunny enough that it wasn’t too bad. I felt pretty low energy, and unmotivated to do much climbing–and Jason really provided some much needed psych! I actually felt relieved that he had some motivation for some harder bouldering. I was dragging myself through the motions, encumbered with concerns about my project, but Jason was ready to get after it.

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I warmed up on an “easy boulder” while Jason checked his sugar. Nick suggested a short boulder problem that he assured me was “super easy” that he wanted to shoot us climbing on. I followed the group over to this area and set up some cameras to get video of Jason bouldering. Nick shot stills, Stefanie shot more video and Nick’s friend Bryce came along to climb with us. I tried this “easy problem” several times and failed to send.

 

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I didnt want to pull too hard, and my arm was starting to hurt. Bryce and Jason, however, were climbing strong.

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After I managed to put the moves together and we had all completed the problem, Jason said, “Ok, let’s do something harder!”

I was happy to do more filming than climbing at this point. My arm was still hurting and I was excited to see Jason get to work on a hard boulder problem and I wanted to support him. Our previous days outing was more of Jason supporting me so I was ready to pass the ball and let him push himself. I hadn’t seen him really climb at his limit so I was curious to see what he would do!

He got on a V3 and hiked it with minimal effort. I was impressed. He moved over to a V6 and began working the moves out with Bryce, who, it should be mentioned is a very strong kid. I was tempted to try their problem but I restrained myself. I felt the starting holds and as sharp and small as they were, I knew no good could come of it, so I stuck to capturing video!

After only several attempts Jason sent. This is my favorite shot because for a number of reasons, but I especially love the fact that you can see Jason’s pump, along for the ride.

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I was blown away! It was his hardest climb ever and he made it look pretty easy–and these holds were tiny! It wasn’t that I didn’t think he would get it–I was impressed with the fact that it seemed like he had no doubt that he could send–and that focus allowed him to unlock the moves. When you are climbing at your limit, maintaining poise and emotional control is so hard for me. Seeing this display of control and mastery from another type 1 climber– was super inspiring at a time when I was personally at low ebb.

For the remainder of the afternoon I helped out with spotting Jason and Bryce as they climbed together, intermittently taking breaks to help Stefanie shoot video. It was really enjoyable to be “off” and just to enjoy the camaraderie of climbing with friends! These two shots are of Bryce working a dynamic boulder problem called the Angel Dyno (V7).

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Bryce and Jason wound up working on some more problems (V4-V7) and it was really inspiring watching the process from the sidelines, seeing the effort and the adjustments and the failures and successes. It’s sometimes easier to take lessons from “the process” when you’re seeing someone else working through it!

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I haven’t sent harder than V5 myself so I was really happy to see Jason, a 20 year type 1 veteran put up a V6 like that in the cold. Jason is a man with a job and a family. I am a man with no job and no family. Between the two of us we agreed that we eliminated nearly all of the most commonly used excuses that people cite for not trying to push themselves!

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Not only was it good for the mentality of the group to see Jason’s success on a hard route, it really motivated me to match Jason’s level of intensity. I have never been competitive–so it’s not like I wanted to prove anything or do one better than him, but I truly felt like we were united in our climbing effort to raise the bar for the entire community of people living with diabetes. His effort made me want to try harder–he inspired me to push myself!

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Jason’s send got me out of my head for the day and changed my perspective. I was proud of him and just knowing that the true importance wasn’t about what grade routes I was sending (or falling off of!) but rather what we could do TOGETHER by motivating each other– and that was just what I needed. Jason’s support and intensity set Project 365 up perfectly for its culmination!

 

Diabetes and a Wedgie (part 2)

Diabetes and a Wedgie (part 2)

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.

 

Diabetes and a wedgie (part 1)

Diabetes and a wedgie (part 1)

I wanted the final 5 days of Project 365 to go off with a bang. I rolled into Las Vegas feeling like I had to deliver. Everyone I had been meeting kept asking me, “wow, have you gotten super strong after climbing that much?”.

Although I would always offer a feeble attempt at explaining that building strength hinges on adequate rest, something I was purposefully avoiding, I couldn’t just say “no” without feeling like an unworthy hack. Plus, I thought I had gotten a little stronger despite my schedule–so I had to set the bar high and hope that I could deliver in the end. I had Nick and Stefanie following me around with cameras, capturing my every move–which was comforting knowing that we would be tallying up good footage for the documentary, but it always drew inquiring glances from other people. When you climb with a crew shooting you, it’s tough to maintain a low profile.

Either you have to be super extroverted and tell everyone what you’re up to so they understand that despite the cameras, you’re not some stuck up jerk with an entourage, or just focus on taking care of business and risk being seen as some stuck up jerk with an entourage. I enjoy meeting people and talking about Project 365 but certain times are better for that than others–and when I am trying to send my project, I want to focus on not shattering my lower extremities rather than small talk–but at the same time I hate feeling like I am impinging on other people’s experience who are also out climbing! It usually works itself out naturally enough and nearby climbers turn out to be nice people who are psyched for our effort–but I worry about things. That’s what I do. It’s probably a good thing I don’t write stream-of-consciousness style.

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Day 360: Our arrival in Las Vegas coincided with bitterly cold weather that was slotted to continue right until the last day of the project, after which point it was supposed to warm up and be pleasant again. I had inadvertently signed up to do the hardest climbing of the project, with daytime highs in the 30s. As we went out for a light day of 3rd class scrambling and bouldering in Red Rock Canyon, it snowed as we left the parking lot and began hiking.

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I had been feeling dizzy all day. Stomach pain added to the building fear that I would wind up battling the flu, eaking out the last days of Project 365 with all the power and excitement usually associated with a wet sponge. Hitting up a climbing gym in between runs to the bathroom would be a pretty exciting way to finish, right?

Each time I would lean my head back to look up, my surroundings would spin. Nick asked me if I needed to turn back, but I felt that since my condition was miserable but not deteriorating, that I would press on. I found a boulder split by a hand crack and I was able to climb it by groping my way up and down the fissure, which was handy because if I had been climbing the face, having to look up for my holds, I probably would have wrecked myself in the process.

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It was cold. But as I kept moving, I felt considerably better. “What will Jason think when he arrives in two days?” I wondered to myself repeatedly as we climbed up to the top of a large sandstone fin that allowed us a sweeping panorama of a million rocks that could be climbed. As the cold wind cut through my frankly insufficient layers, I worried that Jason might be bummed to have flown all the way from New York to Vegas only for the desert to be colder than the east coast!

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Day 361: I woke up feeling considerably better. The dizziness and stomach pain were gone. I assumed that the flu couldn’t deal with listening to my worrying and anxiety and decided to find more hospitable quarters. My blood sugar was cooperative, so I kept my insulin routine the same as always. Split the Lantus into two half doses of 10 and 2-4 units of Humalog with meals. We would eat early enough that my bolus would peak and decline before starting the approach, so that helped keep lows at bay.

We decided to head out to work on my project, the hardest roped climb that I had attempted–ever–a gently overhanging, thin and sustained 5.12b called “Wedgie” of all things (hence the title of this post!). I began working on this route last February at the start of the project and while I had been close to sending, it had always eluded me. I had done all of the moves, but I had not been able to link them together without falling or hanging. I had been so close so many times that it began to feel like it was just not possible to be anything more than close. I spent so much effort working that route that it consumed me last winter and I had to step away from it, because it had started to get in my head and affect my confidence.

Here is some video of the process of shooting this climb last February…when it was a LOT warmer!

Red Rock Prime (behind the lenses) from Living Vertical on Vimeo.

 

This route faces south and on a cold day, it holds some of the best odds for finding any warmth in the canyon. As we hiked up to the base of the route, I tried to remember the sequences and moves from last year. I wondered if it would feel easier or harder. ‘Maybe I’ll get it on my first go. That will be sort of anti-climactic.’ I thought.

Last February when I attempted this route, my sugar had been running high and I thought that may have been contributing to my failure to send. Now, my sugar was good, hovering between 100-120…if only I could just get the sun to come out…

We got to the base of the route and all of the nearby warm-ups were occupied. It was overcast, so it felt like 30 degrees and the wind did little to help the situation. I was immediately distracted by the other people climbing. I felt frustrated that I had to perform with the pressure of other people watching. I had failed in my mind before I ever tied into the rope. In my haste and poor judgement, I decided to skip warming up on an easier route before I got on my project. I bouldered around and did some calisthenics hoping that it would be good enough. It was so cold and I could see snow blowing in from across the canyon. I decided to just give it a try and hope that I could climb through the crux fast enough to cross this troublesome route off my list.

I tied in and climbed up to the ledge below the first bolt where the hard climbing started. I clipped in and got about three moves further before I hesitated. Either I had gotten weaker or the route had gotten harder. Maybe both. It seemed so foreign and the only familiar bit was how infuriating the complete lack of footholds were. When I say there are no footholds down low on the route, that’s not an exaggeration. It’s smooth as a turtle shell down there. I pulled down on the starting hold, stabbing at footholds and found nothing. I stabbed at tiny rugosities with my feet, my flailing legs resembling those of a ventriloquists dummy.

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The holds were small. Not really handholds, more like fingerholds. I felt the sharp, thin crimps biting into as much of my fingertips as I could cram onto each hold–and it hurt. My fingers were so cold that I couldn’t fully feel anything except searing pain when bearing down hard on a tiny hold. All I could think was that if I made one move further and fell, I would hit the ledge below and break my foot. Stefanie broke her foot leading back in 2007 on a similarly protected route and I got to sit through her arduous and painful recovery. I couldn’t afford to take the chance of getting injured with 4 days remaining.

I felt humiliated. I felt like a coward as I desperately down-climbed to avoid falling and then sagged onto the rope. Why couldn’t I do it? I knew I had gotten stronger and I felt sure that this route was physically within my limits. Violently shaking my hands out, I willed the blood and feeling to return to my hands. I kept throwing myself at the opening moves and failing to get past that first bolt. The first 30 feet held the hardest concentration of moves–I had to get through that and still have energy to complete the upper half of the route. I had expected to cruise the hard part at the bottom and simply conserve enough energy to make it through the top half. Instead, it was back to square one. This was worse than last winter. Great. What a way to finish the project–public humiliation.

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I had gotten cut down to size. I hadn’t made it past the opening moves of the route and I had 4 days to make it happen. Everyone was watching the project now and another type 1 climber (Jason) would be flying in from across the country to climb with me. I had dragged Nick and Stefanie and all their camera gear out to shoot me flailing and hanging on the first bolt. As I felt completely unworthy of anyone’s attention having failed completely—it started pounding snow. That seemed a fitting end to the day and we packed up to go back to Nick’s place for the night. 

It was pretty quiet in the car on the drive back. I don’t think that my feelings were well concealed despite the absence of words. I can deal with failure–I can’t deal with self-defeat. If I go out and give my best effort and it is beyond me, then so be it. But I was held down not by a lack of physical strength but because of my mind’s weakness. I didnt let myself go all out because I was afraid. The holds were small, but I did not actually fall off–I had hung there dithering about trying to find an easier, more secure way to climb through the hard moves to safety only to down climb and let go.

Three hundred sixty one days of climbing and I was still myself. The same old, self defeating, self loathing–no matter what I did, I was still me. Climbing forces you to look at yourself honestly–in the best and worst light. At the end of the day, you cannot obfuscate the truth when you are taking stock of your own performance–and sometimes what you find is not what you want to see.

Back at Nick’s house that night I started watching the footage from last February to see what I had done differently. I got over the days failure and put my effort into visualizing my success on the crux sequence. Next time I went out, I would dial in the moves and just go for it.

Day 362: We slept in and tried to take an easy day of bouldering in order to recover.

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In the sun it was reasonably warm and it felt so good, but my mind was preoccupied with sending my project. I stayed on easy boulder problems as a result–which also helped me conserve my power for the following day–because Jason would be arriving from New York and I wanted to be as fresh as possible, not haggard and discouraged. I spent a lot of time reviewing video again that night, hoping that if I could fully visualize my success through the crux that I would simply go out the next day with Jason and send it.

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The Aftermath (sort of)

The Aftermath (sort of)

Since completing Project 365 last week I stepped away from climbing and blogging to relax a little bit–to take a bit of time to revel in the success of this venture. I found that relaxation was hard to come by–and that anxiety was plentiful. In order to stay occupied I have been spending my time editing photos and preparing to share my account of the final 5 days of Project 365 and the grand finale. “Processing” would probably be the appropriate term. I have only bouldered a little bit and that little bit has been very comforting. Good habits can die hard too.

For the last year I have been focusing on the minutia of the daily routine of climbing and traveling, to the exclusion of most everything else–without having much time to actually stop and digest what was happening. Many days I would just force myself to zone out everything other than getting through the days climbing because I couldn’t think about all of the unknown and risk beyond that without my mind imploding. Not having a home and living on the road forces you into a different headspace. Now, we have a small apartment, and the reintegration has begun. On January 16th, everything just sort of hit me–like I had come to a complete halt, a near reversal of all my momentum up til that point. To be honest, I feel very little completion. I don’t feel relieved on a grand scale. I don’t feel like the Project is truly finished.

I have felt a bit rudderless, like I am drifting without much direction. Sleep is hard to come by and I have been forcing myself to enjoy watching cartoons and I even started playing old Nintendo games on my computer in between editing and writing to try and keep my wheels from spinning out of control. It’s been a challenge–an adjustment. I wasn’t prepared for it–and I have heard from other friends who have taken on big projects that this type of comedown period is normal. It occurs to me that challenge IS change and there isn’t really an effective way to prepare for change other than accepting that you have to ride it out and let it get better.

I feel like drawing a connection between this point I am making and living with diabetes is too obvious for me to bother specifying, but I could be too deep in my head to recognize that such a point needs to be made. Sometimes (many times, in my experience) no matter what the challenge, you have to let it get better which only happens when you stop trying to make it better. So that’s what I am doing–surrendering to the process.

I can feel the adjustment happening a little bit at a time and I know that this is all for the best. I also have been sorting out ideas for the future–both personally and for LivingVertical as an organization. It’s been obvious to me for some time that Project 365 is a good start–a good way to demonstrate our mission and raise awareness, but my goal in the next steps are to DO more to engage others.

I have been getting a decent amount of questions on our facebook page and I am excited to start answering those questions in the coming blogs. The focus of LivingVertical now is fulfilling the perks for Project 365 contributors and creating the documentary about the Project to give back to the community. I am excited at this challenge–but we are producing this work in house (meaning Stefanie and I, working out of a dimly lit one bedroom apartment!) and we are learning as we go. Contrary to what Hollywood would have you believe, movies are not put together through the week in order to entertain people on the following weekend. My goal is for you to be watching our film in approximately 6 months. I am excited to share the play by play of that process with you all!

So yes, this blog is sort of an icebreaker to get the ball re-rolling as we look toward new horizons. I am interested in taking questions–so please leave comments here or on the LivingVertical Facebook page. This week, I will be telling you about the last several days of Project 365 and the hail-Mary finish–with a LOT of photos!

 

365 days later

365 days later

One year ago I started climbing in an attempt to share my vision of diabetes advocacy and empowerment. Today, on my 15th anniversary of my diagnosis with type 1 diabetes, I can’t really believe that it’s over. Maybe that’s because it’s not…

I have repeatedly gotten the question in the last few weeks: “What will you do once the project is finished? Will you stop climbing?”

In short my plans are as follows:

  • Take a week off to relax and establish a more permanent residence in Springdale Utah where Stefanie and I have decided to settle now that the project is complete.
  • Begin moving forward with creating a documentary out of the 2 terabytes of raw footage and photos that were captured over the course of this year.
  • Continue sharing the LivingVertical mission of empowering, inspiring and educating–naturally both on line and through in person presentations
  • Solidify my plans for the next LivingVertical climbing project, update the website and announce what I hope you all will find to be some exciting new goals as we refine our focus moving forward.

Regarding my personal climbing:

I have had a great opportunity to take on Project 365 and I learned a great deal about myself and developed as a climber. Having said that, Project 365 was not a focused athletic endeavor since so much of my effort was spent in travel, blogging, filming and establishing LivingVertical as an organization. I have been wearing literally every hat on the proverbial rack, and so while it may sound greedy, I have to admit that I have not “scratched the itch” in terms of my climbing. I look at the completion of Project 365 as the beginning of serious training and moving towards finding my limit in an athletic sense. The best is yet to come!

 

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Update from Red Rock

Update from Red Rock

Climbing with Jason has been awesome and I am looking forward to the remaining two days we have together.

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Today was our first day out together so we kept it pretty casual for the first bit then after a decent warm up we started working on my project together.

This route has been my nemesis since February 2012 and while I was able to do all of the moves, I was unable to link them all in a single push without falling. I tried Saturday to go for it and while I dusted off the cobwebs I was still unable to send.

I felt utterly defeated and got in my head. Fear of falling is a lot harder to block out when you’re using a rope because you’re constantly reminded that its a very real possibility.

This route is very personal to me. And climbing is a deeply personal. I know that even without sending this route I would have a great deal of support and love for completing 365 days consecutively.

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But I want this. I want it for me. I am not content to push only the limits that others have or perceive. I have to push MY limits or I am just acting.

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Fear is real. Fear is something I am dealing with a lot. I try to hide it sometimes and stack the deck in my favor so I can cheat around it. But unless I confront and overcome my “adversary” there can be no progress.

Climbing, diabetes, heights…these are just masks worn by our fear. We must be responsible to fight that fear or else we are living our lives in muted colors. The summit, the “send” are arbitrary things we compete for–the growth is in breaking through barriers.

So this route has tested me. It will test me more until I choose to break through. I came very close today while working the route with Jason. I panicked and doubted myself. I wanted to hang. My forearms were flamed and my head was rattled. I was about to give up and he yelled up to me “no, keep going”.

So I did. Not very far but I made it to the next bolt and a couple moves after. I didn’t obliterate the “wall” in my mind but I put a few big cracks in it. I pushed myself farther physically on a lead climb than I have yet.

I’m ready to take the next steps.

The final week of Project 365!

The final week of Project 365!

For the last several months I had been wringing my hands about where and how to complete Project 365. I had been getting the questions of “where?” a lot, and I had an internal battle raging as to this decision. One part of me was feeling like I havent done enough “bad-ass” stuff during this year and suggested that I really pull out the stops and try to summit some desert towers in Moab that I missed last spring, then finish the final day by doing a winter ascent of the Grand Teton.

After coming to grips with ice climbing over the last week and weighing the benefit of actually being able to enjoy the climbing as well as finishing off a project route that I have left sitting for the last 9 months…I have decided to pursue another direction. I will finish the project in Las Vegas (Red Rock, NV) where I will be able to devote priority to capturing footage with Nick Percell, our cameraman exraordinare, and where the last days will be a true culmination of the project, with my two main partners in this endeavor–Rob and my wife Stefanie.

To top it all off, I will finish the project climbing with a new partner, Jason Behrstock, a fellow type 1 climber from my home state of New York!

I met Jason through our Facebook page–he sent me a message while I was in New York and we tried to arrange a time to meet up and climb over the summer. The weather wasn’t favorable and rather than have Jason make the trip upstate from the city to get rained out, we opted to postpone climbing together.

Since that time, Jason has been an incredible support as we have navigated the ups and downs of this project. Knowing that there are others like me who have a similar vision of their diabetes combined with the love of challenge and climbing is in itself a huge encouragement! As the project has progressed, partnering with climbers like Jason and Martin and Jessica has made me realize that the idea of diabetes as an incentive to push limits rather than accept them is not just a figment of my own imagination but actually a legitimate (if understated) perspective!

You may also remember this route that I spent several days working this past spring–without success. It stuck in my craw a bit but I believe that I am ready to send at this point and I feel like sending this route with another type 1 climber while surrounded by Rob, Nick and Stefanie will be an awesome way to complete project 365–both from an athletic standpoint and from an idealistic one too!

Stay tuned for the play by play!

Risk management: the siren song

Risk management: the siren song

This weekend I have been enjoying some highball bouldering. I haven’t been on a rope most of this month so I have been trying to find ways to push myself by upping the ante, climbing things that you would really not want to fall off of. Granted, boldness is a relative term, but this is my take on it.

Day 353 highball from Living Vertical on Vimeo.

Climbing is something that starts in the heart. Its like an attraction that you have to a given route–like a relationship in its infancy. You know that if you really feel strongly that it could wind up hurting you in the long run. But when it’s gotten under your skin, no amount of rationalization can stop the snowball from gaining momentum. In my head, there is a certain tipping point, that when it’s crossed, I know that resistance is futile.

Friday, out of nowhere, I got the signal. I just woke up feeling like today was the day for a big boulder to get climbed. Part of me was hesitant, but that part was sitting in the passenger seat, not driving. I drove down to one such boulder and set up a couple of cameras to capture some shots. Putting on my shoes I thought to myself…’is this a good idea?’ I had been looking at this particular line for a long time (years?) and I knew that it was just a matter of time till I gave it a go.

I thought about it and once I got to the top I concluded that it wasn’t a terrible idea. Climbing back down the backside of the boulder however proved to be a spicy affair. At this point I reopened the debate with myself about the wisdom of my choice. It would be the height (no pun intended) of irony to get injured or humiliated (‘excuse me, would you mind driving into town and returning with the biggest ladder you can find–oh and don’t tell anyone please!’) less than five feet from the side of the road…

Eventually after climbing up and down a few possible exit routes, I was able to put the pieces together and I was safely back on the ground, no worse for the wear. I thought about what I learned from this experience–why I had done it. What could I carry forward?

I learned that it’s good mental training. I knew that the rock was solid. I knew that all the moves were there. The only variable in the equation was me–and my goal is to be able to control myself in order to negotiate the moves. Part of this process is also about being honest in my self-assessment and knowing when and where to draw lines–knowing when to follow my heart and when to engage the brain.

The following day I chose to explore another highball boulder that I had scoped out earlier. This boulder was the definition of the siren song of climbing. A beautiful rock, with a beautiful line, straight up the face–in a beautiful position. The afternoon light hit it perfectly and as I walked up to it, I almost was able to overlook the ferocious maw of the yucca plant growing directly at the base of the fall line…

In this picture, I am placing my crashpad over the Yucca plant. I use the word ‘placing’ interchangeably with the word ‘impaling’. It just stuck there, floating, gored by the sinewy spines. I tried not to think about it. I didn’t want to psych myself out.

‘Just don’t fall’ I thought.

I got about 3/4ths of the way up and before committing to the face (out left up the line of obvious holds) I tested a few of the holds that I considered integral to being able to do the final moves to actually reach the top–and several of them crumbled in my hand. I was disappointed but read the handwriting on the wall and cheated up and right to the top via an easier line.

You can see in this photo the line of holds that would lead me to my left (out over the Yucca!) and these were the holds that were coming off…so while I finished straight up from this position, avoiding the truest line, I felt closure. I didn’t complete the route I had come out to do. I acknowledged that it simply wasn’t safe and I decided that I would not come back to it. It felt strangely good to exercise reasonably cautious judgement and not feel hounded by the lack of completion. It felt good to walk away knowing that this one would be better left as is…

But I found another boulder problem to fill this momentary gap!

This line isn’t as tall (although I swear the fisheye lens distorts the reality of this thing–it’s taller than it looks!) as the other two but the likelihood of falling, right at the top where the hardest moves reside, is a lot greater since the moves are harder, the angle is steeper and the holds are smaller!

I spent about an hour working out these moves but ultimately got shut down by my fear. I know that I can do the moves and the landing (should I fall) is a LOT better than either of the other two routes. Also the rock quality is very good, so in a lot of ways I have found a beautiful line that combines good movement and good rock with a spicy-but-not-too-dangerous top out.

I am really excited about this line because it represents a good balance that I am learning to achieve in bouldering. Each time I push my limit and raise the stakes I feel like I am learning more about myself and about my motivations. Fear is a part of any challenge–like diabetes or climbing. Learning to accept that fear after interpreting it is both important and rewarding. Its an ongoing process, I think.

I have been learning to experience and accept both sides of fear. The rational fear that is a legitimate warning of what not to do and the irrational fear that always challenges every decision I make. Its interesting seeing this from a climbing perspective because this is something I have dealt with in diabetes, long before I ever started climbing. I had a bad hypo (severe low blood sugar) episode when I was still in college that made me experience panic attacks every time I would inject my insulin for almost two years after. Even now, when I feel like my sugar is dropping I will eat like the world is coming to an end–because I know that it’s theoretically possible that mine is. But more often than not I am able to listen to the fear sufficiently to treat my symptoms and overlook the irrational fear that tells me to keep eating even while I am waiting for the food I’ve already eaten to hit my bloodstream.

Its just part of life–managing risk. It’s something you are faced with every day, living with diabetes, like it or not. I am excited to take advantage of every opportunity for this condition to pay back dividends in other areas of my life.

Sure diabetes is an obnoxious roommate, always leaving dirty dishes in the sink and being overly affectionate with it’s neverending series of floozy girlfriends in the common living area. I hate the loud music waking me at all hours of the night and the loud chewing noises. But moments like this, when I get to collect the “rent”, I feel like I might just be able to tolerate this unseemly tenant.

 

Taking Diabetes to the next level

Taking Diabetes to the next level

My new years passed as did my Christmas–as somewhat of an afterthought, which nearly slipped past unnoticed. I returned from my 349th consecutive day of climbing, thankful to have survived the initial learning curve of ice climbing in the Wasatch Mountains in Northern Utah. Rob and I had just gotten down from the mountain just as a snow squall blew in. I was concentrating on feeling my fingers and toes while capturing the last minutes of the day in video and still images–while wearing massive, clumpy gloves. Im not sure which of us was the first to acknowledge the holiday–but we forgot again and remembered it several times over.

It just seemed very…distant.

My big achievements on New Years were less about my prowess climbing ice, but rather the fact that I had managed to keep my Dexcom CGM sensor in tact throughout countless layering sessions in the least hospitable weather conditions I have encountered during the project. I had long wondered what proper, technical ice climbing was like. Now, I know…unfortunately, it’s not easy to describe. It’s certainly cold–which slows everything down and makes all of your movements seem clunky and less precise. Layers upon layers take time to painstakingly arrange in order to balance your temperature–too cold and you are in trouble. Too warm and you start sweating and then as soon as you stop moving, BANG your’re freezing!

Its another balancing act–like diabetes! And like diabetes, I found workarounds to get the job done. I learned the value of stripping down to your skin in order to change base layers–20 degrees in a dry t-shirt feels much better than 20 degrees in a wet t-shirt with several layers on top of it! I found that powder on my feet keeps them from sweating–thus keeping them much warmer!

Managing blood sugar in this environment is a lot more cumbersome than in other scenarios I have encountered. The layers (two pair of gloves too), the fact that glucose meters are not rated for use at such cold temperatures, the fact that it takes seemingly forever to do anything are definite obstacles. You cant do much with double gloved hands, so first thing, the gloves must come off. Immediately the clock starts ticking. Don’t lose your gloves! Unzip one layer, unbuckle your harness. Pull up your shirt and fish out your insulin. By this point you’re getting a little bit numb but you have to prime the pen and shoot up, manipulating your needles and such with precision. Then once you’ve dosed, its a race to get everything covered up, tucked in and rewarmed while your hands are still functional. Oh, and make sure your insulin gets put back inside your jacket because it needs to stay warm enough that it doesn’t freeze.

Whew. All done. Now time for a snack. Try to open packaging with gloves on…AARRRRGGGH!

The physical act of ice climbing, aside from the challenging context of the cold, honestly felt very foreign. I thought that there would be more cross over from rock climbing to ice climbing. Turns out, I am a complete gumby and felt pretty demoralized, struggling on moderate terrain. Its very technique oriented–not nearly as force oriented as you would think, given all the kicking and axe swinging that it entails. Its really very balancey and delicate. You have to be forceful but smooth and precise–not struggling against the insecurity of your position. Again, lots of parallels with diabetes. Accept it, and rise above it or struggle and flail for all your efforts.

I initially wondered if the “feeble” circulation of a type 1 diabetic would be able to handle sustained exposure to cold let alone allow me to get after it and perform adequately. In ice climbing, there is a term called “the screaming barfies” which references the rewarming process of very cold hands that are also pumped out from the simultaneous strain of climbing. I encountered this phenomenon and survived it. Turns out, I stayed reasonably warm and diabetes lost another chance to lay me low in the mountains. I have room to improve and I am excited to make that happen.

The new year’s arrival reinforced how the end of the project has been looming over the holidays and the thought I have been left with (more of a question really): how do I take it to the next level? What comes next?

Certainly the project needs to be wrapped up and processed once it’s complete. We have to send out the perks to all the wonderful people who contributed to this journey. I will be creating a cogent (hopefully!) documentary out of the 2TB of footage that we have captured and will be giving that documentary back to the community to empower people with diabetes…

But that isn’t the end. I can’t yet see exactly what’s around the corner, but I know there is a lot more to do–this project has whetted my appetite, seeing what one person can inspire through taking on moderate challenges on a daily basis. I say moderate because most people of average athleticism could keep pace with me on any given day. The act of repetition and the psychological duress of being apart from my loved ones are really where the meat of the challenge occurred.

So…what variables are in play in order to go bigger? Bigger challenges–harder routes, longer, more austere objectives? More people engaging a given challenge? Yes. The next level is out there. I am ready and I know I am not alone in this.

The mountains are harsh. Scary. Unpredictable. There are plenty of limitations out there that I can’t overcome. Gravity, rock quality, difficulty of a given route, weather…But type 1 diabetes is not one of those limitations. I will not live quietly beneath the perceived limitations of this condition–and I know I am not alone in this.

 

 

 

 

Northbound: diabetes on ice

Northbound: diabetes on ice

Winter is more or less here…and even the warm refuges of the southwest are begrudgingly submitting to the influx of less comfortable temperatures.

But it’s not all bad-while climbing has been a grind due to the abundant moisture, it has allowed for some beautiful pictures and moments that capture a very different Zion from the one most people experience in the warmer months.

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So I figure if you can’t fight em’ the next best option is join em’! On that note I am heading north to try ice climbing with Rob who will be meeting me in Salt Lake City. I have wanted to try ice climbing for a long time since that is one arrow I really must have in my quiver if I am to be really capable in the big mountains.

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Ice climbing is scary. It’s not comfortable. It’s cold and wet and contains new hazards that I am not used to managing. And maybe that’s the point of going north for now rather than south–it’s time to push my limits again to keep the growth happening.

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So I got all packed up and I am hitting the road–with plenty of camera gear to chronicle my experience. This morning got off to a bumpy start with a series of over corrections to my blood sugar but I know with a little patience that will smooth out and not stop my progress.

I am still not 100% sure where the final days of project 365 will be, but stay tuned because I have a few ideas and I will be sharing them here once they are a little more certain!

Some days you eat the bear…

Some days you eat the bear…

It’s Christmas eve for the vast majority of the world, but for me its day 342. I can smell the finish line and everything else is falling by the wayside. I am aware of the holidays, but I am pretty detached at the same time. Currently I am in Springdale UT, outside of Zion National Park and the weather has been my second biggest adversary, checking in just behind the voices in my head.

Climbing has been good, but I have been dodging rain a bit more than I had expected to. It finally dried out enough to do some more intensive bouldering and since I am now alone for the next several weeks, it seemed to be the green light to really get after it, and work on some of the projects that I have in Moe’s Valley down in St George. Being alone is the biggest challenge for me with climbing–having a partner to keep me out of my own head is very  important.

Today my plan was to climb after breakfast. I shot a little video and cleaned up and organized my gear and prepared to head out. My sugar was not abnormally high, but it wasn’t low either. I was running around 150, so I figured that I would be good to go, especially once I began climbing. It had been hours since I’d eaten anything…

Driving down to St George my sugar started climbing. I was unbelievably un-psyched: feeling lethargic, blood sugar rising and heading down to boulder in the cold and muddy desert while alone in a new place for christmas–and this is another gripe that has lain dormant but in the presence of high blood sugar I felt obligated to fume about the irony that I would find myself dodging precipitation whilst in the desert!

I hate writing about hard days because I feel like it’s complaining and I hate bitching and moaning, even when it’s coming from me…but I definitely just went with the “fake it till you make it” approach and forced myself to go through the motions. I plodded out to the boulders and slipped in the mud–mercifully unobserved, but it was right on par with the rest of the day. I leveled out right around 195 and I found some “easy” boulder problems to warm up on.

Easy is a relative term…because while these routes felt super easy several days ago, today they felt like pulling teeth. Throw for the hold up and left. Fingers snag the hold but I can feel my bodyweight peeling me away from the rock. I land hard, and stumble into the mud near the dry area beneath the boulder. Repeat many many times.

As I kept trying, I began to stop caring about the fact that I was feeling weak. I just got lost in the movement, however desperate it was. Eventually, the pieces came together and I began to get closer to the “zone”. I wasnt feeling strong, but I was able to re-calibrate my goals for the day based on where my upper limit was showing itself to be.

In the end, it was still a real tough outing, but I kept after it. I worked on one V4 problem which I sent after some effort and it felt really good to sort out the moves and put it all together, feeling it get easier each time I tried it until I sent.

It was nearly dark by the time I walked back out to the car–my sugar was beginning to drop with the hiking out and I accepted the fact that some days you eat the bear and some days the bear eats you. But knowing that I made it over the mental/emotional hump, managing to psych myself up enough to get after it with high BGs, I felt a little bit of comfort knowing that while the bear certainly ate me, I’m pretty sure I gave him a fair bit of indigestion in return!

Quick update–our Facebook page has broken 1000 likes! This is a milestone along a path that has been paved with the love, support and care from so many of you. I cant thank everyone enough for your support. Days like these are where I am forced to really dig deep, I really appreciate the community of friends and family that have been here for me.

so…Merry Christmas! Go eat the bear, before he eats you!

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