Wednesday, August 29, 2012

First Descents Days 1

If anyone is wondering why I'm not online much, nor answering my cell phone, it's because I'm in Colorado climbing the Rocky Mountains. No, you didn't misread, I'm climbing the Rocky Mountains. I'm participating in an adventure trip for fellow cancer survivors called "First Descents." My friend, Tal, kept raving about this organization, and I think he would have boiled my kitty if I didn't ultimately go. (He's not a demanding kind of guy, but this he was pretty stern about.)

Saturday morning I boarded the flight and landed in Colorado a few hours later (during which I completed the entire first book of The Hunger Games and started Catching Fire once I got to Dallas). When I arrived in Denver, I followed the directions towards Baggage Claim where I was supposed to meet the First Descents crew. Instead, I wandered around in circles, eyes enlarged, completely lost. I had no idea where to go. An unfamiliar number called my cell, but I ignored it - I didn't have a clue. All of a sudden, I hear people calling and I look up - there is the First Descents sign. I head up to where they were bunked out, but I soon had to "Hit & Run" (which became my camp nickname - we don't go by first names - not yet), and catch up with my friend & fellow LIVESTRONG Leader, Erik Pearson, and his wife, Lynne. Erik was at the US Pro Challenge, so I didn't get a chance to see him right away (and I was quite jealous, as he was hanging with Chris Horner, possibly the chillest pro cyclist I know!). His wife picked me up, and we went to her dad's home, into which she & Erik are moving, and headed out to lunch with her sister, brother-in-law and waited for Erik and his son to join us.

Once we were all in one place, and we were regaled with tales of the US Pro Challenge, we piled into the car and headed out to Estes Park. Our destination was, first, to hit the Stanley Hotel, the most haunted hotel in the country and the inspiration for The Shining, and the remake with Steven Weber (the Nicholson/Kubrick original movie was actually filmed in Oregon). I got a couple of fantastic souvenirs (will reveal later - can't spoil the surprise!), had gelato, and took some obligatory photos. Then, we were off to Narrow Trail Ranch, our home for the next week.

Wow - what a place! This is a stunning 5-bedroom log cabin, with plenty of extra space for more beds to be set up to accomodate all of us "campers" and staffers. The kitchen is a tremendous chef's kitchen, an amazing set of decks, including one that has a hot tub, a fireplace, etc. One of my fellow campers and I share the loft - I'm sofa-couching it, but I'm happy! This place is palatial. We had a meet & greet over "Happy Hour" and then a splendid dinner of tacos - fillings included all kinds of vegetables, bison, homemade guacamole, and this incredible green rice. After dinner, we chilled out, we all got to know each other and then got to bed.

The next morning, I got up very early (as, apparently, many East Coasters do), and I helped Antelope Jamboree & Chamomile, our cooks/camp mom, make stuffed french toast. The group filled up on breakfast and headed to Mary's Lake for our first climbing outing.

The night before, the 13 of us shared that most everyone, but me, had climbing experience. I really had none. I'd gone bouldering locally years ago, but that was about it. So when I saw what was being set up for us to climb, the fear built up. The "easy" climb had a large, round piece of rock jutting out of the side. I'm sorry, but I thought that sheer, flat rock was going to be tough, let alone rocks that were convex! I started to climb, but it was not happening. The panic of climbing set in. I was way over my head. Everyone else seemed to be flying up these rocks with very little struggle. I couldn't get higher than 4 feet in the ground.

Defeated, I went to as quiet, removed part of where we were as possible, pulled out Catching Fire, determined to finish reading it, which I did. Our camp dad, Two Dogs, came over to chit chat. While talking, I explained my hesitation. Not only was I afraid of heights, but I'd been out of commission, physically, for too long. I was stressed over the expectation of being affiliated with LIVESTRONG as a leader to be the one cancer survivor in the group who excelled in athletics despite teh disease and treatment, and that I felt lost because I couldn't meet those expectations. And the fact that I hate quitting, but it was too much.

I honestly felt that I was going to miserable all week - that I'd be sitting for hours on the ground watching everyone else, just as I had on Monday. I just wished that a guide had set up a real beginner rock to work on. I started to cry, once alone, as I saw that there was such demand iun the group that the guides set up additional climbs to keep up with everyone's pace while I sat, watching, without the ability to climb anything but in and out of the minivans.

Then, Little Bits came up and told me that he'd set up a climb just for me. It was on the same rock as the most advanced climb, plus, it had a tree. I was a bit intimidated, but he assured me it was easy. I harnessed up and I started climbing. And climbing, but he assured me it was easy. I harnessed up and I started climbing. And climbing. And climbing. I hear people shouting, "You go, Hit & Run!" "Kick that rock's ass, Hit & Run!" Little Bits told me to look down, and I did. I was high up in the air. Not a little, but a lot. And I was inches away from touching the caribiner in victory. When I reached up to that metal hook upon which my life-line was hooked, I couldn't believe it. I had climbed this rock. My confidence was up.

I came down and saw that everyone was charging back to the "beginner" rock. I followed suit and discovered that Spare Parts had set up some rappelling. I decided that I would go for it.

I go on belay again, and start my descent. I'm doing fine until I get to a roof. I cannot see anything below this rock. I cannot see where to set my foot. Panic sets in. Spare Parts keeps reassuring me that he has me. He tells me to just do it. At this point, all eyes are on me. And the hysteria sets in. I'm cursing at Spare Parts, screaming, crying, snot bubbles blowing out my nose because I realize that I'm trapped. I can't go up, I can't go down. My legs won't move. I'm shaking, I'm terrified, and I'm paralyzed with fear. I can't see where my feet should go. I don't trust the equipment. This guy who weighs as much as my thigh is literally holding my life in his hands, and I've got a big drop to go.

"Trust your feet" starts echoing through my head, the mantra my old friend, a climber, taught me when we were sixteen - that same friend who got me into cycling and that hasn't spoken to me for 2 years and won't because he can't get over his anger. This makes things worse - now, not only am I hanging over a precipice, but now I'm flooded with grief and longing for a friendship that is overdue for repair that I miss terribly. So now, I'm friend-sick, terrified of the drop, feeling out of control, weighing way too much than I should, with the harness digging into me leaving what I'm sure will be wicked welts. I'm low enough to the ground and far enough from the top that I really only have one choice - GO DOWN. I'm trapped. With all eyes on me, cheering me on. "GO HIT & RUN! You can do it!" I can't type out what I said because I'm too much of a lady, but let's just say that I threw curses at the man handing the rope keeping me from falling - probably not the wisest move - and throwing profanities that would shock Robin Williams.

Then, there's a scramble at the top. Two of my caribiners clack together and there's a shift. I feel a small rock fall on me. I start panicking even more, but Spare Parts explains it was just the rope adjusting, nothing was falling, it was ok. He was cool as a cucumber (earning him the second nickname "Ice Man"). Another guide, Little Bits, rushes over with another rope and some gear. I just close my eyes, now shaking because my arms are so tired and my hands are burned from holding the rope in a death grip. Next thing I know, Little Bits is next to me, with his leg below mine guiding me below the roof. All of a sudden I feel rock beneath my toes. Slowly, we go down together and I make it to the ground.

I have no other reaction but to laugh hysterically. And I start cracking jokes.

I did it. I was done for the day.

After that, we went back to dinner and our campfire. I was floored that so many folks brought up my breakdown as their favorite moment - not because of entertainment value - though it must have been quite spectacular - but because I conquered my fear.

I don't know how much of that was me conquering a fear, but just doing what I had to do. If it helps someone else, though, that's awesome.

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