Gearing up

It’s time for a new challenge.  And a new adventure. Goals with numbers land me in the hospital. How many plates can I put on the barbell and still lift it=spinal surgery. How many pull-ups can I do=rhabdo. And any goal related to a number on the scale is the last thing I want. (Hi, I’m Dana and I haven’t stepped on a scale in 7 months since the great and horrible six-pack experiment.)

So I’m gearing up to join a team with my husband and race through the high desert of Colorado on a multi-sport adventure. The Adventure TEAM Challenge this September will put me to a whole new kind of test as I climb, raft, mountain bike and hike at a mile elevation, part of a five-person team that will include two people with disabilities — one in a wheelchair.

If anything will knock me on the head and make me stop feeling sorry for myself for all the things I can’t do because of my assorted and sundry injuries it will be this race.

World TEAM Sports provides opportunities for people with disabilities to compete in sporting events. Not only does this chance help the competing athletes overcome challenges they can feel amazing about, it inspires spectators. I know, because I watched their documentary Vietnam, Long Time Coming, last year and cried repeatedly watching veterans overcome huge physical and emotional challenges to bike from Hanoi to Saigon. And I know if they can accomplish such a mammoth undertaking, then this utterly non cardio-conditioned wanna-be racer can get ready for a two-day challenge.

I’ve experienced personally how much competitive sport has transformed my life, and injuries notwithstanding, the confidence I’ve gained has made a whole new world possible for me. If I have a soapbox it’s that more people — especially women, and especially people who may not think they have what it takes — experience this change.

So I’m going to raise money – lots of it, more on that later – to join this race, and I’m going to train for two days of high-altitude sports that I am a complete beginner in now.  With maybe a dozen climbs under my belt, a few days of rafting, and a brand new mountain bike I broke in with an immediate crash, I’m gearing up for a summer of training for this blissfully number-free goal: to complete the race and not let my teammates down.

It takes some creativity: I can’t run or do lunges because of a janky toe. I can’t load my lumbar spine. And with newly re-knit muscles in my biceps, shoulders and lats (they ripped away from the tendons just a few months ago) I can’t lift to failure. My new friend is the TRX in my garage gym.  With the bad foot in the strap I can do lunges that are even harder than the garden variety. I can do hamstring curls that will strengthen my underdeveloped hamstrings. And since I’m still feeling sketchy about pull-up I can do rows on the TRX to work my upper back. I’m also loving push-ups with my feet elevated in the straps.

But mostly I’ll be on my new bike, planning climbing getaways in Red River Gorge, and hopefully finding somewhere to raft. I can’t think of a better way to spend the summer than gearing up.

 

 

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Rock the CatBa

Since falling in love with climbing this summer I’ve thought and talked ceaselessly about climbing in Vietnam. The fairytale HaLong Bay, home to some 2,000 (or 3,000 depending who you ask) islands in the Gulf of Tonkin, is a neverland dream for climbers. Even newbies like me. Look at this place!

I started writing the folks at Asia Outdoors months ago, freakishly excited to get in on one of their climbing tours.  When the day finally came to get to Cat Ba Island, naturally everything that could go wrong did, but though a trip I thought would take an hour took seven, we got to their office just before they closed their doors to sign up for the next day’s trip. I was going climbing again! Even amidst the chaos and beauty and craziness that is Vietnam, and suffering from food poisoning, I was consumed with excitement to take on these mysterious rocks.

We boarded a little boat and set out from Cat Ba to cruise through a floating village on our way to a stop for lunch. I restlessly picked at rice while I enviously watched climbers on a nearby island. Could we CLIMB already? Though I was more than a little hesitant that the two guides had only one year of climbing experience between them, and put together were barely as old as me, I couldn’t wait to start.

At last we set out for Moody Beach, an impossibly perfect little island featuring some beautiful — and imposing — walls. Tom and Than, our trusty guides, set up the first climb and asked our little band of travelers who wanted to go first. You can probably guess who leaped up first.

The first route was an easy one they said, meant just to give us some confidence and serve as a refresher for those of us who hadn’t climbed in a while. Though in fact it wasn’t difficult, even an easy climb is still an adrenaline rush, and my heart was racing when I landed back on the beach after the first climb. Each of the next three were more exciting than the last — all 5.8s, the same grade I’d climbed in the Gorge this summer. A 5.9 remained as the light began to wane and the clock ticked toward time to leave. Tom turned to me with a grin. He knew what my background was. “Do you want to try the 5.9?” he asked. He needn’t have even asked.  “It’s not about finishing the route, it’s about making the moves,” he said. And it was a long climb – the tallest of any that day. Two independent climbers had failed to ascend.  But I wanted to get as far as I could.

I harnessed up, and went straight at it. THe difference I could immediately see in the easier climbs and this was that it was pretty much non-stop hard all the way up. Never mind the red ants and the rock that crumbles in your hand – the holds were few and far between and I’d hardly call any of them good. It was a long, long climb – the further I went, the further away the top anchor appeared. I was afraid I’d run out of time, but I didn’t want to rush. I talked to myself the entire way up — I like the pep talks — and just kept going. Shaky arms meant I had to take one rest up high, but I was pleased to not fall. It seemed to take ages, but I just kept climbing and climbing. “You’re going to get it!” called my husband when I got near the top. “I know,” I thought. “I never planned not to.” And I did, hitting the anchor with a grin that stayed on my face all the way down.

I wish I could have taken on a 5.10 but it was time to go. It’ll have to wait now till spring and the Gorge. But now I know I’m ready!


For fun I strapped the GoPro to my helmet on one of the climbs. For some heavy breathing and maybe a few swear words, check it out!