Aaron Sorkin of ‘West Wing’ and ‘The Newsroom’ fame is notorious for titling multiple episodes of his different shows “What Kind of Day Has it Been,” a quote which he attributed to a movie producer who used the question as a kicking off point for review of the day.
Last night as I drove home from a wonderful Town Hall talk by famed climber Reinhold Messner, the “week” version of those words ran through my head over and over, some 20-plus hours into what proved to be anything but an ordinary Monday…
But before I get ahead of myself –
Earlier last week, on Sunday, the 25th, we Denali Girls embarked on a first daytime conditioner, and I was.so.pumped. to be getting out there together. You could have fairly called me hyper.
Our training hikes mostly take place at night, in the dark, but back in November or December we sat around a table with our calendars out, and planned an extended run of weekend-long or long single day weekend outings to work on specific skill sets (which we then outlined in a shared document). We were very organized about it, as we have been in most aspects of the climb planning, and I was so stoked that we were finally getting outside together to keep making things happen!
Carolyn planned the outing for us, and did a great job. Her aim was for us to get out on an accessible but long day-hike, carrying most of the Denali-specific gear we have to-date, and get a long-ass, vigorous conditioner in: 6+ hours of continuous movement, as she put it.
As I drove out to meet the Girls in the wee hours, I ran through the order of operations for once I arrived at the trailhead (moving efficiently to get from car to hiking is not my strongest suit), and then switched to thinking about all the cool blog posts we could write – this was going to be such a great day!
And it was a great day. We got out and got moving, it was a beautiful, ridiculously warm morning, and we were chatting and comparing notes on gear, trip ideas, conversations we’d had about the climb – a perfect outing for a great group of friends.
After gaining some elevation we came upon a stream (Denny Creek), with a prominently placed sign highlighting that the only somewhat-deep water can occasionally rise abruptly, and a log crossing that was clearly washed out. We considered hopping across anyway, but since we were at the beginning of our hike, didn’t really want to risk slipping into the water (or having Jenn slip into the water, since as our most petite member, she has the smallest stride), and so we opted to go poke around the hillside above us, to see if there was an easier way across.
A half hour or so of some hillside exploration later we decided there really wasn’t a better way, that we still didn’t want wet feet all day (we thought we heard another party slip and splash in after we left the crossing area), and decided to head back to the trailhead and switch over to nearby Granite Peak for a drier training hike, as it was still early. We headed back to the area next to the river crossing, paused to consider whether we were being wimps about it, and then as we turned on the ice-filled path to head down and out and over to Granite, I completely wiped out.
In the process of pivoting and turning to head off on my left foot I somehow managed to pull one heckuva banana peel slip and slide, and arc’ed up through the air, and down hard onto the ice, landing with my full body weight on my right ankle, effectively spraining it, although that wouldn’t be confirmed until the next day.
A sprained ankle is a major drag for a climber (any kind of ankle or knee injury is a major drag for a climber), mostly because we are so very dependent on those very joints to enable us to walk uphill. It is a major drag for this climber for two reasons: one, because I already was feeling a bit behind the others on conditioning after a minor back issue and a nasty cold compelled me to miss a couple of our training hikes earlier in the month, and two, because I sprained the exact same ankle this time last year, and re-sprains take longer to heal, and increase the likelihood of re-injury in the future.
And then there’s the mandatory break from our group climb conditioning, as the sharp pain in my ankle and resulting swelling clearly weren’t going to allow me to trek rapidly uphill anytime soon.
Admittedly, my little skate across the ice really threw me for a spiral last Sunday. We were finally getting out! I was feeling strong and fit! It was a beautiful day! The Girls are awesome!
And so when I left the girls (as they headed off to continue their hike and I drove myself home to ice), I was stewing. I bought a pizza and a beer and sat in the sunshine in West Seattle and hated everyone who walked by smiling, which was everyone, because it was sunny out, and then I hated on them some more. And I hated my body for being weak and I hated myself for not pushing through the back pain and the cold the previous weeks and conditioning anyway, and I was just – so pissed. I headed home to ice and elevate (or RICE: Rest-Ice-Compression-Elevation) and proceeded to RICE my ass off for the next twenty-four hours, like clockwork – if this was really happening I was going to do everything right – no, perfectly – and I was going to heal as fast as humanly possible and get back out there. I went from livid with outrage at my own clumsiness to furiously determined to catch up to the other girls and not lose my conditioning, and my resolve only grew from there.
The next morning a quick trip to the doctor confirmed our fears, and I was instructed to take 3-4 weeks to let things heal before again carrying weight.
3-4 weeks is a long time when you only have four months left! I wanted to punch holes in things. I wanted to punch holes in things a lot. But instead my ever so thoughtful athlete-doctor helped me shift to focus on reorganizing my training, and figuring out how to keep my cardio up and on the increase, while meeting the requirement of staying off the ankle at the same time. She considered all the options, then gave me her recommendation: lap swimming, and lap swimming only, for one to two weeks, followed by one-two weeks of biking and rowing, while slowly adding walking, and then a StairMaster with a pack, and then real honest-to-god hiking conditioning back in over those last two weeks, – all assuming my ankle didn’t hurt.
Lap Swimming. Really? I haven’t swum laps since…visions of my hometown public swimming pool filled my mind. Since I was a scrawny sixteen year-old trying to pass the lifeguard exam because I just liked being certified in things, really. Because I just wanted to see if I could pass it.
So, lap swimming.
One of my favorite life lessons that climbing has taught me, is that every goal can be reached, if you are willing to focus, double-down, and really work for it (ask Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, if you don’t believe me!) You just have to really bust your ass and earn it. I had planned on applying that experience to Denali, in the 3-4 weeks and moreover, 3-4 months to come, but instead, I began to refocus. I would bring the same approach to healing, and recast my training over these coming weeks as a “micro-training” period. I would be serious about not using my ankle, serious about not weighting it, serious about doing the PT exercises my wonderful friend and PT Sarah showed me, serious about eating right, reducing (note: not eliminating – sorry!) alcohol consumption, and serious about god-damned lap swimming. I was about to become a lap swimmer, and I would do it every day, for a month. Period.
By Tuesday of last week I had suspended my Crossfit subscription for the month (my doctor said no Crossfit), found the nearest YMCA, figured out what it is that one needs to equip oneself with to become a lap swimmer with the help of some amazing friends and a long Facebook post, met with my physical therapist, consulted with a naturopath on diet, and added all the public lap swimming hours at the Y to my Google calendar. Shit was getting real.
By Thursday I had a swimsuit, goggles, and a swim cap (I didn’t know exactly why I had a swim cap yet, but whatever, I bought one), and on Saturday morning I timidly but determinedly became a card-carrying member of the West Seattle YMCA, donned my swimsuit (too tight), peeled the protective covers off my goggles (hello, raccoon eyes!), left the swim cap in the packaging and in my locker, and limped my bum ankle slowly down the old lady ramp and into the pool to get my freaking swim on.
And that about brings us up to speed on where I was at when the Girls left for their first overning training outing to Mt Rainier National Park on Saturday…