Sunday, August 12, 2012

Lessons I learned while falling

I’ll never forget taking a leader fall.  The feeling of the rock slipping from my hand, watching the rope lifelessly coil overtop of itself, and the swelling in my ankle after smacking a ledge.  Even now the memory makes my gut wrench.  But I’m here, I’m ok, and I have some knowledge to drop.

So let me tell you something.  All those inspiring Nike commercials and Hollywood movies that glamorize an athlete who gets hurt and tries to make a comeback…  that’s complete crap.  There is no glory in pain, nothing romantic about it. No one is playing ‘eye of the tiger’ as you hobble 3 blocks on crutches to your friends wedding, arriving suit drenched in sweat, and have to wipe down with paper towels in the bathroom as other guests watch and wonder… “is that guy a hobo”?  There is no pride in receiving a plane ticket with the phrase: “Preboard on the basis of disability” written on it. 
Everyone is a little bit nicer to the man in crutches

Falling sucks.  Hurting yourself sucks even more.  And while I could simply tell you ‘my hand slipped,’ I’ve spent too many sleepless nights, replaying the moment in my head countless times to fool myself.  Here’s what I did wrong, and hopefully you won’t.

When your friends climb hard, and you feel like you have to as well, stop, drop and roll and cool that fire in your ego.  But if you really want to push your grade (which is cool) pick a climb at a crag that protects well and has clean falls.  And if that one is taken, try another.  And if that one is taken also, wait in line.  Don’t push your grade on a lower quality climb just because it’s available.

You will also want to stitch that route up tighter than an Armani suit.  Don’t leave half your rack behind because you want to save weight, or aren’t sure what you’ll need.  If you can’t manage a few extra pounds on a 40m climb, you either need to get in shape, chose an easier route, or stop climbing.  Also, don’t stop climbing.

If you’ve exposed yourself to a ledge fall, are having trouble placing gear, and your arms are getting pumped, don’t yell to your belayer “fuck it, I’m going for it,” and subsequently ‘go for it.’  Instead, and this is important, down climb.  And if you can’t down climb, mentally kick yourself for not placing a piece earlier, and hope there isn’t a sudden stop at the bottom of your fall.

We all make bad decisions.  Mine ended with a 20ft fall and a swollen ankle, and this qualifies me to give you some advice.  The more risk you take, the more extreme the consequences will be (see graph).  Every successive decision needs to be assessed based on the previous decisions.  And that was my biggest mistake.  Any single one of my decisions was not a horrible one, but bad decision after bad decision compounded, and well, now I have a swollen ankle.  

If you didn't pass differential equations, you might not
understand what I'm trying to tell you here

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