Tuesday, September 4, 2012

First Descents: Graduation Day Part I: The Lead Up

A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.
 - Antoine de Saint-Exupery
I opened my eyes to a blur of tan fuzz, a little grey furry face next to mine, warm toes, and chatter. It was too early. It was dark. There were cups clinking. I pulled the beige blanket from over my head revealing the monkey doll tucked under my chin and sat up in the recliner chair in front of the fireplace on the main level of the ranch. I tried to sleep in the sofa bed in the loft, but I just couldn't sleep for more than 10 minutes at a time. I thought that perhaps the World's Most Comfortable Piece of Furniture could help me sleep better. If sleeping 30 minutes at a time was an improvement, then G-d Bless. The hot tub had me feeling relaxed, even if my REM quota was severely lacking.

I head up to the loft to grab my towel, toiletries and my clothes and shower up downstairs. The crust tightening my skin from the hot tub the night before washes off down the drain, and I try and relax my muscles. I don't know what I'm going up against. All I know is that I keep hearing the words, "epic," "challenge," "ridiculous," and did I mention, "epic?" being used to describe the event today. These are words best used to describe mountain stages of the Tour de France and the Giro d'Italia, not a rock climb. In my simple mind, that's like taking me, simple bike commuter, on my pink hybrid and putting me on the Alpe d'Huez. I rinse the thought from my mind as I rinse the conditioner from my hair and I get out of the shower, get dressed, and head into the dining room.

I layer my bowl as I do at the office - nuts, raisins and a dash of sweetener first, a scoop of oatmeal, another layer of nuts, raisins, fruit and sweetener, more oatmeal, and a topping of fruit, nuts and sweetener. While getting my coffee, I let the oatmeal sit and steam cook the fruit, making the raisins blossom and mel the sweetener into a river running through the layers in the bowl.

I pull out my laptop for two reasons: 1) I have to see what this Castle Rock hoopla is all about and 2) I make a last ditched effort for some green/yellow courage - a plea for some donations to my LIVESTRONG account, so I have some accountability preventing me from quitting. Little Bits comes over and sits next to me. I can see as I tell him that I'm looking for photos of Castle Rock to get an idea of what I'm going up against that he's debating whether or not to help me confirm which photos are accurate. He's gotten to know me well enough to know that surprises don't suit me well, and that I need time to let my head wrap around the challenge, absorb it, and start to break it down. We look at some of the photos, and, of course, I first see a photo of some spider-like human defying gravity by climbing upside down under a ledge. I raise an eyebrow, look at Little Bits and do nothing but point at the screen before he turns it back to me and says, "You won't be climbing that side of the Castle." I nod and keep looking. Apparently, there weren't too many photos of the exact course that the team I would be on would be climbing. Little Bits reassures me that he and the others are also going to use some "aided climbing" techniques and tools vs. the free climbing we'd been doing. He had some mesh netting/ladder type items, some ropes that we can hoist ourselves up with and some other tricks. I roll my eyes and regret all those times Mr. Festo at Bi-Cultural Day School tried to get me to push harder climbing up the ropes during the stupid President's Physical Fitness Challenges during the Reagan years and shrugging them off to move onto shooting baskets.

I post a harried blog with some photos of what Bits confirms we'll be working on, I close the computer, and eat my breakfast. I'm going to need to fuel up.

We have a good hour-long drive ahead of us, so I pack up my copy of The Shining that I'd picked up from The Stanley Hotel (much slower read than the Hunger Games books), my iPod, which I've decided will be my secret weapon, a simple lunch and my 3 water bottles. We head out to the vans and I try and get myself pumped. I listen to my "Riding" mix - complete with Eminem, Metallica, Kelly Clarkson, Gaga, Madonna, etc. When I find that my little Nano cannot compete with the satellite radio that McStillin & Hot Pink have playing, I yield to what they are playing (everything from Elvis to Top 40 to Hip Hop to Willy Nelson) and try reading The Shining.

Looka dat face! What a shayna punim!
In the meantime, Spare Parts, that stoic, icy, strongman who bears an unnerving resemblance in physique, attitude and humor to that old friend who first told me to trust my feet, is not doing well. He's sitting next to me, in the middle aisle of the mini-van, looking somewhat squeamish. He explains that he gets car sick. Part of me cannot help but laugh a little - here's a guy that I could envision hiking Kilamanjaro in a pair of Birkenstocks, a parka, a pair of jeans and a single Clif Bar because he's such a badass, and he's getting nauseous in the minivan. I smile and offer him some mint gum, which I hoped would ease his stomach. I then joke with him, letting him know that no matter where he is on the rock, again, if something goes wrong, I will blame him. It will all be his fault. I will curse his name. He laughs, with those deep, sun-bronzed dimples turning his chiseled, taught tanned cheeks into ravines of chuckles, his white teeth shining with what I swear was that superhero twinkle on the front tooth, making his eyes bug out a little more than usual. The smug son-of-a-bitch can turn from cold and too-cool-for-school to all-American-boy in a second. Ya gotta love the guy. I guess my gesture towards a truce breaks him down a little more, and he passes me a slip of paper. I cannot understand what the hell all these cryptic scribbles mean until I realize he's showing me his team list - he and Little Bits have me on their team along with Hot Pink, Lilac, High Five, Ranier, McStillin and Mermaid. The preview was well-received - what a cool crew to be with!

Some backseat driving and smacktalk later, and we're making a quick pit stop in Nederland, Spare Parts' former stomping ground. We wait in line to use the bathroom when I notice this gas station offers more water pipes than any head shop I'd ever seen in Manhattan. Impressive, but not terribly surprising. We do what the guides advised us to do all day yesterday and this morning - try and evacuate everything you can - once we were on the rock, there really wasn't anyplace to go.

We reclaim our seats in the van and take off. In a flash, we are pulling into a dirt road and on one side of us, there is a river, on the other a rock. And another rock. And another rock.


The Castle.
The phrease "Holy Sh*t Balls" comes to mind. 
Prepping to climb, realizing this other group (upper left) claimed what was originally supposed to be one of our climbs.
Stupid tourists....

The guides making sure they didn't forget anything. I sure hope Spare Parts can count...

Part II coming....

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