So now what?

It has been close to two weeks with almost no pain. It seems so unbelievable that I can write these words so shortly after going through months and months of really intense pain, bad enough that I recently discovered that I had lost something like 25 pounds during that period. I now fit into a pair of jeans I could barely fit into when I purchased them six or seven years ago. Luckily my appetite has slowly been returning in the last couple of weeks.

I do not want to make the mistake of assuming that this will just continue, but I am very hopeful. I have been hopeful before, and seemed to have some success with other supplements and therapies, only to find after a few months that the original effectiveness has worn off. None of those other treatments could compare with the effectiveness I am experiencing with Tramadol, however, so that alone gives me greater reason for optimism.

I have been getting a lot done around the house in the last week, including cleaning nearly the entire house and doing every single dirty dish and almost all the laundry too. I seem to be so much more focused than I was before, so that seems to be an added benefit, although whether it is simply a side-effect of the drug or just the removal of pain that is allowing this I am not certain. I know my partner Brook is really happy to see such a clean home!

We have been having really bad car problems over the last week, so I have had to miss a bunch of school and also haven’t had the opportunity to take what feels like a brand new body out for a test drive. The weather has been pretty Oregon-esque lately — lots of rain, so there has been no opportunity for climbing at all, but I could be out there hiking and I would, but Brook has been needing me to watch the kids while she is in town. We should be getting our car back today, which will bring everything back to some semblance of normal.

When the car is fixed and we can start going into town on a daily basis, I am really ready to get to the gym and start taking advantage of this pain-free opportunity, getting myself into top shape during a time when normally I have historically been more sedentary due to pain. But, hey, I have no more excuses now, and by getting into great shape my pain will actually reduce further, so it is a win-win situation all the way around. I feel like some huge shackles have been taken off of me and I am free for the first time in many, many years – Free. I almost don’t know what to do with it.

But no, I do. Work hard, get in shape, start climbing and keep climbing, remember the opportunity I now have and don’t forget all that I have gone through and all that I have been held back from doing. Use this. I am forty one years old so I don’t have all the time in the world to get to the mountains I want to get to, I have to climb with an urgency and focus to get to where I want to be.

And where is that? Where do I want to be? What are my overall goals? What is the ultimate goal?

Perhaps surprisingly, I am not as enamored about going to Everest as I am to make am attempt on peaks like Denali (or as it less poetically known – Mt. McKinley, highest mountain in North America), Huascaran, Chimborazo, Aconcagua, Mont Blanc, The Dom or any number of mountains equally as big as Everest but without the extremes of altitude and time required. In the time it requires to climb most Himalayan peaks (months), one could climb several of these peaks, if not more. No, I do not dream of Everest as much as I dream of going to places like the Cirque of the Towers in the Wind River range of Wyoming. Two weeks there with the right partner could result in ten or more high quality summits. No oxygen masks, no struggles just to take a step, just saner altitude issues to deal with, a lot more continuous movement and a heck of a lot more fun.

Don’t get me wrong. Part of me does want to go to Everest, just to test myself more than for the overall mountaineering experience, which has largely been ruined by the hordes and the chaos that goes along with it. If I had the opportunity to go I would but it would never become the goal of my life to climb in the Himalaya more than once or twice. I couldn’t be apart from my family for that long.

There are literally thousands of peaks in the continental U.S. alone, start adding in Canada and South America, and there are more peaks than a person could ever see, much less ever climb. I would rather climb hundreds of smaller peaks in this country than climb a handful of snobby high altitude mountains.  Besides, since most mortals can only reach the summit by the easiest route, and I now tend to favor technical routes over snow-plods, so lower-elevation mountains are really the only option for me.

Logistically too, the more ‘local’ mountains are much easier to access. It takes no more than a couple of days for climbers (in the western U.S. anyway) to reach just about any other mountain or range in the lower 48. I think it takes at least a week to walk to Everest Base Camp. By comparison, Mt. Gannet, the highest mountain in Wyoming, and one of the most remote mountains in the lower states, takes 3-4 days at most to reach its base.

And while it may seem that this is a classic case of quantity being more important than quality, but I believe that the best climbs, the most enjoyable ones, are the ones well below the death zone (26,000 ft approx.). So for me I am getting both quantity and quality with this tactic.

Going back to my original topic of feeling better, now that I am, I can feel the ambition in me, long suppressed, starting to arise with every day I feel good. Winter climbs, Endurance struggle-fests, Mixed climbs, all arenas I have not been able to participate in are now starting to creak open those rusty doors. Hmm. I have always wanted to really pursue this with everything I had, yet because of my body’s limitations it wasn’t even a consideration. The possibility of really pushing myself without worrying about the agony in my shoulders sounds awesome.

Now if only the weather would clear up for a time…

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