Continued, Spectacular Recovery
This summer has been a whirlwind. I've been so excited to get my old life back – wait, scratch that. I've been so excited to start a new life, I haven't spent much time looking back since Mandi and I got married on the rim of the Black Canyon in June. That party capped a year of planning for it, in which time we also dealt with my unplanned open-heart surgery (October), a flood in our house (January), and Mandi's final year of grad school, which she completed in May while nursing me back to health and working full time as an elementary teacher.
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Starting A New Life
This summer has been a whirlwind. I've been so excited to get my old life back – wait, scratch that.
I've been so excited to start a new life, I haven't spent much time looking back since Mandi and I got married on the rim of the Black Canyon in June.
That party capped a year of planning for it, in which time we also dealt with my unplanned open-heart surgery (October), a flood in our house (January), and Mandi's final year of grad school, which she completed in May while nursing me back to health and working full time as an elementary teacher.
On The Way Up
Climbing with my buddies in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in the days before Mandi and I got married on the rim made for a memorable bachelor party.
My life has a renewed sense of vibrance and urgency.
Urgency to pack it all in and pursue some of my atheltic dreams while I still can. The surgery has been a wake-up call to go for the gusto and stop putting things off while another year slips by, so writing has taken a back seat lately. However, I am thrilled to bring you readers up to speed!
I might have experienced a sort of time warp lying in that hospital bed the first night in the ICU after the operation, because I swear I saw my future.
I floated there half naked, pumped up on drugs, incapacitated, and saw myself climbing hard again.
Not just saw, felt myself climbing hard, and not just hard, but harder than ever before.
The feeling was so much more than that, but the climbing is my most tangible memory of it. It felt like a whole new future was just a breath away even though I didn't dare delude myself with such grand thoughts, knowing all the challenges ahead. But somehow I sensed the truth in it – that I would climb 5.13+ again by autumn. I remember the feeling well, because I still feel it when I go to bed at night.
Worth It All
Life Outside Of The ICU
My heart flutters as though I'm on the verge of not just one, but all kinds of breakthroughs for which I've yearned my entire life and never felt closer.
I'm here. I'm doing it, I kept thinking in the ICU. My smile was probably invisible, but I felt it all the way through. I couldn't wait to dig in to the rest of my life.
The feeling disappeared for months as I struggled with all the painful, gross, frustrating and mundane aspects of healing. Then I had my first day out toproping on some of my old warm-up climbs in February, and that magical sensation stirred again as I stared at the ceiling from my pillow.
Kayaking the Numbers stretch of the Arkansas River for my first time in May 2015 after waiting 15 years to do it! Brian Wright, my good friend and fellow river rat, climber and writer, made that day possible. Brian's writing can be found here in The Nickel,ColoradoMountaineering.com and in The Mountain Gazette.
Now here I am at the end of July, climbing 5.13 again – no longer just repeating routes I already know, but learning and mastering new ones.
I've also been back in my kayak, paddling a couple Class IV runs in May as the rivers approached peak runoff (I did the Shoshone stretch of the Colorado River at 5,500 cfs and the Numbers on the Arkansas River at 1,350 cfs; the latter was my first time ever on that run.Click here to see my friend's GoPro video from that day).
Feeling the cold spray of whitewater on my face as my boat skimmed across the glassy surface of a wave sums up this incredible feeling of rejuvinated life so well!
The Road Home
On the way home from the hospital with a fresh scar, Nov. 3, 2014.
Getting Better And Better
I've said again and again that my recovery has gone better than I dared to hope, and it continues to be true.
Right before I went under the knife last fall, I had been coming close to redpointing a notoriously hard 5.13d called Simply Read.
The route became a benchmark for my physical ability, as it is perhaps the hardest sport climb I've ever laid my hands on, and it was this route that drifted through my mind in the hospital bed; a route that was impossibly far away, yet I could feel its texture and flow of movement in every fiber of my body.
The other week I was climbing at Rifle and was curious to see how doable (or impossible) Simply Read might feel.
It's been a rainy year in the canyon, and the limestone was still seeping water from some of the pockets. Why I thought I had the slightest chance to climb the overhanging wall that day, I don't know.
The route begins with a powerful crux just to get off the ground, and I knew the opening boulder problem would tell me a lot about my physical condition. I almost didn't tape on any kneepads for the moves up higher because I didn't really expect to get farther than the second bolt, which is 15 feet off the deck.
Elliott Bates climbs the steep rock of Simply Read at Rifle Mountain Park last fall.
Without so much as a false start, I pulled on and climbed solidly through the boulder problem up to a wet hold at the second bolt where I slipped off.
Holy fucking shit! Except for the wet hand hold, I could hardly believe how simple the moves felt. I pulled back on and climbed all the way to the top with four hangs.
I figure I have at least a solid month of conditioning before my endurance is to a point where I have a real chance of linking the whole route together for the redpoint. But, hot damn, it's happening!
This summer is coming together in so many ways even beyond climbing. Simply Read is just a nice way to prove to myself how far I've come, and how much my outlook has changed. This sounds crazy, but I continue to be grateful for the life experience I've gained through the whole ordeal of open-heart surgery. I can't wait to dig into what lies ahead.
Climbing a 5.13a on Independence Pass near Aspen, Colo., in June.
Photo by Chris Schulte.
Postscript: I know that in my last post here in The Open Heart Series I planned to get more political and comment more extensively on my experience with our country's health care system. However, I'm still trying to gain a more informed opinion about it.
I'm not even sure how my Obamacare plan is going to change now that I'm married. In fact, my insurance broker, who has been helping me navigate these decisions, is struggling to understand this rapidly changing system, as the policies and laws change as quickly as he is able to gain an understanding of them.
When I met with my broker in early May, he said to cancel my premium subsidy immediately to avoid getting stung with thousands in back taxes next April. When I called Connect for Health Colorado to do so, the operater there discouraged me from canceling my subsidy outright. She believed I may still qualify for a subsidy. As things are now, my wife and I are still trying to figure it out on top of everything else as we settle into our new life. I'll do my best to update readers on the health insurance and health care aspects in the future.
Thanks for staying tuned!