"You have the key, right?", she asked as I fretted about possibly having blown any chance I once had of sending.
"What key?", I asked, suprised at her choice of words. How did she know? Did she know? Or were things simply aligning to revive my chances?
Rewind a couple of weeks, and I'm lowering off of "Ultraperm" (13d), having fallen off the final hard move for the 5th time in a row, and 3rd that day. Normally I wouldn't be frustrated so quickly, but my first push at 13d the season before had ended much the same, falling off the last hard move many, many times.
I untied, sure I was finished for the day, and dug into my pack in search of food. While in there I checked my phone. 5 missed calls and 8 text messages? Everyone worth talking to knows where I am, and knows I'm not going to answer the phone. My grandmother, my brother, and my girlfriend had called. Not a good sign. All the texts were the same, "Please call us", with the exception of the last: "Kris, Papaw passed away. We need you here."
Kaitlynn, Mamaw, and Papaw.
My grandfather had been one of the few constants in my life, and the closest thing I had to a father. His health had deteriorated over the past few years, but he hung in there, always quick with a joke and a toothy grin. He was there as my life fell apart at 18, silently picking up the pieces for when I would someday need them. Advice was never really offered, he just let me take my lumps and learn my own lessons. I eventually pulled it together and reassembled those pieces, adding a few new ones, a daughter and a girlfriend that he never ceased to dote upon.
The following days were a whirlwind of activity between searching for documents and helping with whatever needed to be done around the house. Needless to say, climbing and training took a distant back seat. Sorting through and cleaning out the various sheds and outbuildings, we collected over 50 bags of trash, nearly 30 old tires, and too many ancient pieces of furniture to mention. Something about a family member passing causes neighbors to deliver fried chicken to your door, and with so much work to do, opening a soda became easier than getting ice water. 6 days of that routine left my body languid and drained of spirit.
My next trip to the Red was, like so many others this spring, soggy and dreary. Where I was once able to motivate through the gloom, I now succumbed to it. An attempt on "Ultraperm" ended far below my previous highpoint, and worse yet, just never felt right. No confidence, no motivation, no desire. I just didn't want it. What I wanted was to not have to try so damned hard.
Back home, I retreated to my grandfather's work shed, where I had spent so many days as a boy, in awe of the tools and know-how that Papaw had. The shed had become a catch-all over the years, but we had stripped away the bulk of the junk. I got down to the business of sorting through memories.
Beneath the pile of ancient tools I found a tiny skeleton key. It didn't hold any specific memory for me. I'm not sure I'd ever seen it. In light of all the hundreds of things I'd come across in the last week, most of which I had no idea existed, this little key held a certain simplicity. I didn't wonder what it was for, or where it came from. I just wanted to keep it. That night I attached it to my harness, so that I could carry it with me when I was at my best, at my most focused. I told no one.
Packing for the Red a few days later, my girlfriend asked what my plans were, and if "Ultraperm" was in them. "I'm not so sure," I answered, "I've basically let it go. It'll be there next season, and I'll come back stronger. I'm just not sure that I can do it right now."
"You have the key, right?"
"The key to the route. You know what you need to do. Do it."
Motivation was high as I laced up under "Ultraperm". My neck was so stiff from working that I couldn't see my own knot, and had to have my partners check it, but it didn't matter. Hanging on a rope near me was Dave Scott, who had recently sent his nemesis of 5 seasons, falling countless times at the same move. I stood at the stance below the unrelenting steep pockets and focused. I reached back and touched the key, remembered those lessons in patience that I had been given, and set off. It never felt hard. Every movement was confident, and I got to "the move" with plenty in the tank. Now it was mental. Here's where I fall. This time, that didn't enter my head. Instead, I saw Eddie Avallone, who I had watched own this move, yelling "BOOM!" as he hit the hold, after falling here many times and overcoming his own mental battle. I thought of how strong my daughter had been when I told her Papaw was gone. And I did the move. Easily.