Monday, February 27, 2012

Insult of Injury Pt 1: The Fall

February 26 marked a year since my accident.

I work with Unmanned Airplanes (UAVs), and the job takes me all over the place for training, testing, and more training. Early last year I was in Arizona to get a new qualification, and I don't often get the chance to be around mountains. The area where I was training had some mountains, but they were small, remote, and the few climbable rock faces were very chossy (not a safe situation). So one weekend a friend/co-worker (Scott*) and I headed 4 hours away to Tucson, which held the promise of taller, cleaner, and more established routes. We woke up early, crammed our gear into the rental car, and drove to Tucson. We made a stop at a little climbing shop and bought the requisite guide book, Squeezing the Lemon II. We also picked up some good beta from the shop guy, who recommended starting at the lower end of the Mt Lemmon highway and working our way up.

It turned out the highway had an entrance fee, but there was a parking lot outside the ranger station, with a trailhead to the first climbing area. We parked the car and started walking. It was an intense hike- a 45-degree hill with a gravelly trail and lots of cactus. Plus the 4000-foot altitude was killing us. I'm a Colorado boy, but I've been away for a while. It took about 45 minutes to hike and scramble our way to the cliff with the good climbing, and man it was tiring. But we had an awesome view of Tucson and and whole valley, the sun was shining, the breeze was blowing, and there was awesome climbing to be done.

We picked an easy-ish 5.9 grade climb to warm up on. We had both been out of practice for about a year and a half, so it took a lot of hangdogging and thrutching just to get to the top and say we did it. Once we finished that route, we took a quick break and picked out our next climb: a 40-foot 5.10b-R with a slightly overhanging crux. The R rating came from the placement of the second bolt: about 10 feet off the ground, and the wall sloped inward, then back out for another 15 feet to the 3rd bolt. Translation: if I fell between the 2nd and 3rd bolts, it would be possible for me to fall further than my gear could protect me (a prospective ground fall situation). I got my climb on, with Scott on the belay. The first moves went well, and I got to the second bolt in just a few seconds, mostly because I was pretty freaked out at the prospect of cratering. Good motivation, no?

I got to the overhang, spent a few seconds looking over the rock, and continued on. Left foot up, tiny toe hold. Reach for a right hand crimp, balance with right foot, and stretch high for a left hand jug. I was pretty pumped by that point, and glad I made it to the 3rd bolt. I clipped in, took a deep breath, and kept going. After that 3rd bolt, just above the overhang, I seemingly ran out of either A) anything to grab with my hands or B) the creativity to find it. I got a sketchy hold with my right hand, stepped up, and ran out of anything to grab with my left. I yelled "TAKE" to get Scott to take the slack out of the rope and watch me fall. I swung out to my left like a barn door, and released my right hand. It was a completely natural movement for me- I knew to lean back and take the fall, keeping my feet out, knees slightly bent until I reached the end of the slack in the rope and swung back towards the wall. Entirely safe, and a relatively normal action in sport climbing.

I fell about a foot past the bolt I had just clipped into, and my weight was just hitting the rope, and I was bracing for impact with the wall. But then I heard the sound that would change everything and rip away all feeling of control: PINGGGGGGG. I yelled "UUNGHHHHH" as my stomach lept into my throat, and the brief feeling of weightlessness entered my conscious mind. In the space of a split second, I processed what must have happened: the bolt that was drilled 6 inches into the solid rock and glued for safety just a few weeks before must have somehow come loose. I didn't have much time to figure it out, because I could almost feel the ground behind me, coming up to meet me as I flailed in slow motion. The thought must have been too much to bear, because I don't remember anything after that- just blackness.

I came to in my harness, looking at the ground just two feet from my face. I was confused because I expected to be crumpled on the ground looking at the sky as everything faded away. It happened the opposite way though, and light and sound eventually came back as everything became more clear. I was upside down. That was confusing. I looked to my right, and I saw the bottom of Scott's shoes as he hung from the wall. That confused me too. But then the pain started coming in waves.

Scott had heard my yell to take the slack out of the rope, and cinched down on his belay device. He heard the "ping" too, and preemptively took out another 2 feet of slack in split seconds. The force of me falling to the point where the 2nd bolt caught me pulled him off his feet and yanked him straight to the wall.

I gingerly made my way to the ground, almost afraid to touch it for what could have happened. I felt an incredible pain my my ankle, but it wasn't much more than the feeling of hitting your knee hard against something and catching the nerve just right- I used to do it when pushing my brothers down a hill on a sled. I figured I just slammed the side of my ankle against the wall somehow, and the pain would leave after a few minutes. I sat there trembling, doing the "ssssssss... aaaaahhhh.... sssss..... aaaahhhh..... sssssss..... aaaahhhhh" thing for a few minutes. I tried to put weight on my ankle, but immediately felt a grinding sensation that both answered my question and confirmed my fears.

I was no longer invincible in my youth. I was no longer symmetric. I was no longer physically qualified to pursue my dreams and partake of my active hobbies. I pushed all of those thoughts out of my mind as I focused on just getting back to the car. Scott was able to find a sturdy branch from a low scrub brush, and we fashioned a splint to keep my ankle from moving.

It was rough going. Scott gathered our backpacks and gear, and would run 20-30 yards down the trail while I sat and watched. Occasionally, the trail was level enough for me to hop on one foot. Most of the time though, it was covered in granite pebbles that served as ball bearings. A slip would take me either down the hill or into the many clumps of cactus bordering the trail. I would have to gingerly slide down on my rear end with my bad foot sticking out in front of me, or stand on my good foot while leaning on Scott for support while we heaved a step at a time down the hill.

The trip took us about 2 hours, but it was the longest 2 hours I've ever had to endure.

Next stop: Doctors.

*not his real name, courtesy's sake.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Movie Review: Act of Valor

Let's get one thing straight before we get anywhere on this review: I'm a different breed than most. Every last drop of my blood is red, white, and blue. I'm proud to put on the uniform I wear that stands ready to protect my great nation. That being said, I lost all objectivity for reviewing this movie before the previews even started. Act of Valor was one of the most impactful movies I have seen in years. I left the theater with a weight on my chest and my head spinning with a slew of emotion and I'll recommend that any man should go see it.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Man's Burger Part I: The Frontiersman

Hamburgers. I'm rarely unhappy when I have one in my paws. From the greasy Five Guy's style through the fancy steakhouse offering, I'll gladly take it. But from the first time you realized as a child that the cafeteria burger you were eating had as much flavor as cardboard, you learned the truth that all burgers are not created equal. For me, the quest to find the ultimate burger has stretched across the globe- only to end in my backyard. Yes, I dare say I have found the pinnacle of them all: The Frontiersman.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Living a Man's Story

A PBS Masterpiece Theater show called "Downton Abbey" has been getting some publicity lately. Partly because it is a throw-back to the British "upstairs-downstairs" dramas of the past, and partly because it is a fresh take on the style, with more intricate and fast-moving plots. I used to watch Masterpiece Theater back in the day when I wasn't really allowed to watch anything on TV besides PBS. (anyone remember Marty Stouffer's Wild America?) I don't remember much besides the adults always looked mad or hot or gassy.

The show has had somewhat of a fresh following with the "Downton Abbey" series. I read an article from the New York Times this morning that explains, among other things, the inspiration for the plot: American TV shows like "Sex in the City" and "Glee." Julian Fellowes, the writer for the show, explains his reasoning behind writing a somewhat cruel take on a relationship between two of the characters: "These are two people who have not been given all that much in life, but what they have been given is a real love. I wouldn’t ever want to undermine that. But they’ve got to suffer a little. Nothing harder to dramatize than happiness."

They've got to suffer a little. Interesting.

Consider Romans 8:18- "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us."

I don't claim to have the answer to famine, war, miscarriages, divorce, or bad things happening to good people. I am exploring the story that I am a part of. God is the author of all things. And good authors know that hardship brings drama, which creates a good story.

I don't want my story to be boring. I want it to bring glory to God. I want it to be exciting. I'll be writing more on this topic in the coming months as it relates to my life and dreams and goals. But take some time to look at the plot twists God has written into your life, and see if you can't find the hand of a master author. And if you're up for a good story, get ready for more.

*if you want to read a lot more on the idea by a guy who is a lot better at writing about it, check out Donald Miller's blog, and his book, "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story."

Operation: Blue Wolf

It's that time of the year when we start looking out the windows waiting for spring to get here. Well quit sitting around and start plotting. I've got an idea that you and your buddies will be talking about for years to come, and if you start planning now you'll have enough time to pull it off this spring or summer. I'm talking about an extreme game of capture the flag that will be the gold standard by which all your subsequent guy outings will compare to.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Bible in a Year

Recently, our Sunday School class read through David Platt's book, Radical:Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. The book ends with a one-year challenge: to pray for the world, to give sacrificially, to read through the Bible, to spend time developing community, and to spend 2% of your year (1 week) in a "missions" type setting. I'll devote more time this year to articles about some of the other parts of the challenge, but I thought I'd pass along this neat tool that I'm using to read through the Scriptures this year.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

How to Shoot Like GI Joe

When it comes to pulling the trigger, no doubt the US armed forces are some of the best shooters in the world. Here's a look at how to shoot like a bona-fide GI Joe- not the Channing Tatum knock off. The principles of marksmanship are the same for shooting a Boy Scout .22 all the way through the Barrett .50 cal sniper rifle. It takes repetition and patience, but shooting a gun is a skill anyone can learn. Seriously: anyone.

What I Look For When I'm Hiring Someone

In my job as an engineering manager I've been part of the hiring of quite a few employees. Here's the insider information to get me to hire you.

Date Night Ideas

Don't stand there like a deer in the headlights when she asks where you're taking her to do for date night. Chances are dinner and a movie will be just as big of a hit as it was last time. And the time before that. It's fine every once and a while, but if it's become your go-to then you may want to keep this list as an ace up your sleeve.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

B Dubs Pulled Chicken Sandwich

Here's a an easy recipe for a variation on BBQ pulled chicken with a little Buffalo Wild Wings twist. Set it in the crock pot before you leave for work and come back to a tasty dinner.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Merits of Setting Down Roots

We live in a global society like none other before this age. Air travel, video conferencing, and social networking change the way we do business around the world. It’s becoming more and more rare that you’ll pick up that gold watch from your employer after 25 years of faithful service. No one bats an eye if you grew up, went to college, and had jobs in different states. Let me take a moment to challenge this mindset. Consider this: the community you’re a part of will be worse off if you move.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Planning the Perfect *Romantic Vacation

It can be one of the most fun vacations you'll ever take- just you and your woman. Here is a simple guide to planning the perfect *romantic vacation.

Bug Out Bags

If you search for Bug out Bags on the internet you’ll quickly realize there’s a cult-like following for these things. The designs cover the spectrum of woolly-faced mountain men and their wilderness survival gear to gadgetry for clandestine operatives on the run from agencies acting outside the bounds of foreign governments. (And then there are those obsessed with surviving a full scale land invasion of the undead, but I won’t even give a nod to that group as I am a grown man.) Chances are what you need is somewhere in the middle of what the Brawny man and Bourne would pack.