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Two months ago, I scrambled to learn enough genetics to let me scrape by on the final, cram my dorm room into four cardboard boxes, move all the cardboard boxes out of the room, and tie up all the loose ends associated with finishing up one’s first year of college. The next day, I scrambled to gather all my clothes and climbing gear, hitch a ride to Denver International Airport, and get through not one, but two thorough security checks and an extremely bitchy security guy (generally what happens when you put a weight vest in your carry-on luggage). Yet through all the chaos, I wasn’t even flying home. I was flying in to Newark Airport in New Jersey, where we’d spend a night at our friend Anna’s house, then make the three-hour drive (which ended up being a six-hour drive due to traffic) to Richmond, Virginia, for the one and only RIVERROCK FESTIVAL and Boulder Bash comp! Which just so happens to be one of if not the most innovative and mainstream comp around.
Not to mention the badass walls.
Badass walls that require a lot of endurance. I mean, you are roof-climbing continuously for 30 (left wall) and 40 feet (right wall) . Being a boulderer, I never actually had endurance. Sure, I was able to lead somewhat difficult routes, but that was only because I was able to climb them fast enough where I didn’t have time to get tired. So signing up for an event like Riverrock was not something I took lightly. This was not just another competition, where I could bullshit my way through to Finals. If I was going to do this, I was going to do it the right way. By that, of course, I mean two solid months of progressive endurance training. Circuits (see A Year in Training), laps, pyramids, and more circuits. Circuits on the systems board and circuits on the wave wall. Laps on 5.11s and 5.12s. By the end of it all, I went through an entire roll of tape in a week, due to having to constantly tape each finger to keep my skin in check for the comp. Miserable? Yes; this was probably the first time in my life I did not enjoy training. Worth it? Absolutely. I learned so much in those two months, both about pushing my limits and doing highly specific workouts. And, despite my poor performance in Finals, Riverrock was an experience I will never forget.
Day 1. First Qualifier. Despite spending the past six hours in the car, I could feel the psyche pulsing through my veins. Maybe it was because my sister and Anna were there. Or because the festival was so incredible to begin with. Or perhaps it happened after I saw the magnificent walls and massive crowd. I was also nervous as fuck. That was definitely because of my competitors, many of whom happened to be professional climbers. I guess I’m still not used to the idea of competing alongside the climbers who were my role models when I was just starting out (and still are!)
The main thing I remember from that first day (and I don’t remember much, as my brain has since been jam-packed with reaction mechanisms) is the heat. I was wearing shorts and a tank, but there was definitely a constant trickle of sweat running down my back the entire time (Moon sports bras, anyone?). Especially in isolation, which consisted of a tent crammed with a couple dozen climbers, along with judges and setters. Which, when you think about it, is still better than freezing your fingers off! From isolation, I could hear a steady roar from the crowd (though nonexistent compared to the Finals crowd). Absolute intensity overload. But, unlike ABS, I didn’t feel as that bad kind of pressure. Sure, I had dedicated too much time and energy into this to make it go to waste. However, I was also excited to see the familiar faces in the crowd, to feed off that amazing energy, to climb some routes! To give purpose to two months of circuits!
The first climb wasn’t meant to be hard. Its purpose was probably more so to calm our nerves than to separate the field. White ribbed pinches, white ribbed slopers, some jugs to spice it up. That being said, I didn’t finish the climb. It was on the “deeper” of the two walls, so, realistically, unless you fell at the very beginning, you had one shot to get to the top. Surprisingly, endurance was not the reason I fell. Going into the round, I was shaky and not very confident. Consequently, I was not going for moves as hard as I normally do, so when it came to the first real throw of the climb (shown in the picture), I undershot and fell. I scrambled through the beginning on my second attempt, but, like I said, on this route, you only had one chance. Needless to say, it was quite disappointing to not top the first climb (which was likely going to be the easiest climb of the competition). However, the competition wasn’t over just yet. I wasn’t ready to throw the towel in until I showed the crowd and showed myself my very best.
Unfortunately, Qualifier #2 (which took place the following morning) did not allow me that opportunity. Because I was at the beginning of the running order for Qualifier #1, I was placed towards the end for Qualifier #2. The weather had cooled off significantly from the previous day, and I was slowly getting my confidence back. I even managed to do a couple difficult campus moves in isolation (admittedly, showing-off/attempting to intimidate my competitors). The stupidity of doing such moves only occurred to me the following day, when I woke up with a terrible tweaky sensation in my right shoulder (which, by the way, lasted two weeks). Why I put myself in these situations, I don’t know. Regardless, all of the women but the last three (including myself) had gone when it started raining. And not just raining, but pouring, like those massive soak barrels you see in Six Flags water-parks. Angie, who had just left Iso was about to climb, but decided against it. The guy who was climbing alongside her, however, proceeded to climb through the ideal sending conditions. The rest of us were forced to wait. Interestingly enough, the real issue was not the holds but the pads, which had developed several puddles and streams, literally minutes after the soak barrel was tipped. Meaning that if you fell, your shoes would be completely ruined for your next attempt–something that was especially problematic for the girls, who were now located on the shallower wall.
The wait was frustrating to say the least. For one, we didn’t know exactly when (or if) we would be climbing. We had already warmed up and psyched ourselves up to climb, and it would be difficult to revert back to that state. On top of that, it was way past lunchtime and all we had were bananas, Nature Valley granola bars, and Red Bull to keep us going (oh and the Chick-Fill-A sandwich someone made the unfortunate mistake of leaving out on the table, which we tore apart and ravaged as soon as its rightful, naive owner turned his back). Our only alternative was to take a 0 for the round–something we unanimously refused to settle for. Fortunately, the rain did cease, and we did get the opportunity to climb. Unfortunately, the volumes were wet from the previous competitors’ shoes and the pads full of puddles. Props to Angie for somehow managing the do the necessary smears of the volumes–something the rest of us could not do whatsoever. Honestly, I have never gotten as mad and frustrated as I did during that round, especially after falling into a puddle, and having to waste time wiping down my shoes. You call this redemption? Hah.
By Semi-Finals I was depleted. I sucked on Qualifier #1. I sucked on Qualifier #2. The only reason I made it to Semis was because everyone made it to Semis. All hope was gone. Especially after we previewed the Semi, which was ALL pinches. Every goddamn hold. On top of that, there was a bicycle and some crazy unreadable sequence about 2/3 of the way through (I didn’t even bother trying to figure it out, since the chances of me getting that far were slim to none). Fuck me.
My first go wasn’t bad, except for a foot slip just before the halfway mark. Which pissed me off, because I basically wasted the little energy I had left. This was it though, my last chance. I didn’t even give myself a chance to shake out because time was running out, the crowd was waiting, and I was frustrated (once again). Yet, somehow, it worked. My foot stayed on, I got through the crazy unreadable sequence, and would have topped had time not run out. Definitely one of my prouder comp moments. Oh, and I qualified for Finals in 5th place!
And then there were Finals. To clarify, Qualifier #2, Semi-Finals, and Finals were all held on the same day. Due to the rain, we weren’t even sure there was going to be a Final, but luckily (or unluckily, since my placement in Semi-Finals was so much better than in Finals) the rain ceased just long enough. Although, regardless of my placement, I’m grateful I got to climb those walls one last time (until next year anyways!)
The Finals route, which was on the shallower wall, was intimidating. Mainly because of the opening move to these two jug handles, which we were concerned was going to be a dyno (guess I’m not the only one who hates/sucks at dynoing!) However, the setters had some pity on the ladies and made it a throw instead of a dyno (a very cool throw at that, if I do say so myself). Unfortunately, by this point I was so worn down (possibly because I had barely eaten all day, because I don’t like to stuff myself before comps) that there was no way I was getting to the top. Which sucks because the problem had a campus rose move in the middle, which I know I would’ve normally crushed. But I got stuck at a shouldery move very early on, and did not even get to the rose move I was dying to try. Never mind rankings, I just wanted to try the move! Regardless, here’s the footage of what was yet another Finals Fail.
Through all the highs (Semi-Finals, surprisingly good vegetarian pitas after a steady diet of granola and bananas, road tripping with the extended family, watching the dog jumping competition and BMX showcase, classy Subaru head wraps, custom omlettes at our hotel, autographing a young climber’s chalk bag) and lows (Qualifier #2, Finals and finishing 8th, nasty breakfast smoothie samples, forgetting my bathing suit, forgetting my cute shorts for Qualifiers, starting O-Chem summer classes the very next day) Riverrock was absolutely amazing. I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to meet and climb with all these incredible climbers, to travel with my family, and to climb routes which can only be described as art. Thank you so much to my parents for giving me this opportunity and driving through nasty traffic jams, to my sister and Anna (who were my loudest supporters, as you can probably tell in the video) for giving climbing comps another chance, to everyone in the crowd for that extra bit of psyche, to the setters for the amazing routes, to Kris for teaching me his endurance tricks, and to everyone who listened to me blab about “the sickest comp ever,” both before and after the matter. Big plans for the near future, stay tuned for a conflagration of blog entries, now that O-Chem is DONE!