After my mission I did a lot of fun stuff all at once. I started running a lot and I was in good enough shape that I could bust out 8 miles or so just for fun. The most I ever ran was about 15 miles up the Bonneville Shoreline Trail below Mount Ogden. I took mountain biking seriously and found all sorts of trails around me. I snowboarded for the first time and really liked it. When I ran out of money for lift tickets, I strapped on my snowshoes, threw my board on my back, hiked right up Mount Ogden, and slid down it (not as graceful as I’d hoped, but it was fun). I continued to backpack in the Uinta and Wind River Ranges but that wasn’t anything new. Then I discovered rock climbing, the most thrilling adventure sport yet.
I can remember the first time going to a rock climbing gym and feeling my forearms pumped full of blood and utterly fatigued after only a few laps up the wall. I loved it. I knew this would be a source of challenge and adventure for a long time. I immediately bought equipment and made plans. I got good real quick too. A middle weight body type, a decent mental tenacity and a love for pushing the edge made me a good fit for this sport. I’ve never felt the same level of fear and accomplishment as I have while leading a sport route for the first time. The problem with rock climbing is it has great risk. You learn to feel safe with a good belayer but there is always risk. Equipment can fail, you or your partner can lose focus and eventually, you will fall. The question is how far did you fall and how hard did you land?
One day I fell. I took my brother and some friends to a new and challenging route. We made it up to the approach and looked at the route deemed “No Nuts” with a little trepidation. No one really wanted to lead the route because it was a vertical route with a few roofs (i.e. overhangs) that put it just beyond what all of the group had experienced at that point. I decided to step up and make an adventure out of it. It was tricky as I climbed up and clipped into the bolts in the wall. I stopped and rested to figure out how to get to the next one. I finally got to the first roof. My feet were a few feet above the last bolt I was secured to and I pulled lots of slack out of the line to reach for the next bolt. I got my quick draw in and tried to get the rope into the carabiner that would then secure me and allow me to rest a bit while I figure out the rest of the climb. I don’t know if my fingers fatigued while by body weight pulled on them or if it was the sweat and slick chunk of gneiss that worked together to help me lose my grip, but I went down. It was probably 15-20 feet before my free fall ended as my feet whipped into the wall. My belayer did a great job in keeping me from falling to the ground and potentially suffering an injury to my head or spine. Unfortunately that fall was too much for my ankle and I can now say I’ve experienced a pilon fracture.
My talus went up through the bottom few inches of my tibia and fibula, crushing and shattering those bones and also destroying a good portion of the cartilage in my ankle. I had 3 plates and 16 screws installed to put me back together and a few years later those bits of titanium were removed along with some bone spurs that developed in the area. I recovered okay for a while but the injury set me on a course of rapid decline in ankle health and performance. To this day I have a limp. My boss knows when I am coming down that hall by listening to my gait. I can’t run more than a few yards without experiencing pain. Stop and go sports like basketball or racquetball are impossible. Even hiking that I had loved all of my life is incredibly painful. I can do one hike a summer if I need to and with the caveat of loading up on ibuprofen ahead of time. I have learned that there are things that I just can’t do now. I have an ankle in early retirement. Documentaries like mile, mile and ½ leave me depressed rather than inspired because I just can’t cut it anymore. That which was once the most soothing and fulfilling part of my life, causes me great pain.
It all isn’t lost. I’ve found a few modes of exercise that I can do. Some have proven to be as mentally and physically challenging as rock climbing but they are very different. We can talk about the virtues of powerlifting another time, but for now I realize there are things I can’t do and things I can. I exercise differently than I did before.
This physical experience seems to have been a precursor for my spiritual injury that would come years later. During grad school, I learned to be self critical. I also learned to accept criticism from others because it would only help me become more correct in my research and help me see the flaws. I learned quite a bit on source material and how to evaluate a claim’s validity. This disposition left me open to criticisms about my faith. One day I found myself amongst a pile of information that challenged the narrative of my inherited faith in serious ways. The realization hit home when I found that the challenges were well-documented and I could no longer hold onto the story as I always had.
It hurt really bad; an intense crushing in my head and heart but without morphine to dull the pain. I felt alone and lost for a long time. I confided the general sense of what I was going through with some old church leaders and current friends and family. They were empathetic and that helped for sure. I still feel like I speak another language and am never quite understood. I’ve changed my faith a great deal but I haven’t lost it. It is different than before and some things I simply can’t do anymore. It is just the way it is and I can’t change that. Just like I love and appreciate those that can still climb rocks without fear, run for miles without pain, or cut and jump on the court without ibuprofen I still love those who can say “I know”, or “I believe” or “I am certain.” Please just don’t leave me, stop talking to me, or stop listening to me if I can’t say the same.
 Leading a route has the greatest risk. Once the rope has been set by the lead climber nearly all of the risk of falling has been removed except for the rare event of equipment failure.
*The featured image at the top of the post was taken from http://climberclimbing.tumblr.com/ on 1 Sept 2014.