Fortitude and the fiery forge |

Fortitude and the fiery forge

Blood oozed from my throbbing shin. I cursed and gripped my leg with both hands, swinging in space from the end of a rope that had just caught my fall off the overhanging rock in Rifle Mountain Park.

It was mid-April and there was still a chill to the air. My fingers were numb and wet from snowmelt that dripped out of the little cracks in the limestone. I was trying a route I had never done before, which is aptly named “Lung Biscuit.” I’d been warned of the bloody consequences of not staying balanced on a slippery foothold at the route’s crux, but I was compelled to try it anyway.

Dangling from the rope, a red stain seeping down my pant leg, I almost gave up. The route would take me multiple tries to climb it without falling, and I had already suffered a scarring wound on my first try.

“Screw this,” I said.

I started situating gear so that I could lower back to the ground and walk away from the horrid challenge forever, as many others had done. Then I saw some small hand holds I hadn’t noticed. I paused. The trick to the move became apparent, like a Magic Eye painting in which a hidden image is revealed once you look at it a certain way.

“There’s a way to do this,” I said to myself.

Earlier this year I encountered an important question: Do I know what it’s like to try hard — truly try hard? I’m talking about reaching a point in which my brain is absolutely convinced I can’t take any more pain and then pushing past that point anyway.

Pain is relative. So is trying hard. I’m learning that I’ve had it easy in many aspects of my life. In terms of my career, athletics and more, I’m realizing that I have a tendency to take the easiest path.

I think that’s human nature. If we are comfortable enough where we are, we avoid pain and struggle that seems unnecessary. By doing so, however, we do not realize our true capabilities. History has shown us how far the human limits can be stretched when we have no option but to overcome.

At this time in my life, when money is getting tighter and my career is sputtering, I’m learning about fortitude. That’s why “Lung Biscuit” took on a special meaning for me that cold, throbbing afternoon.

“There’s a way to do it, and I’m going to do it,” I thought.

Three weeks went by as I tried the route two or three times each weekend. Even though I learned the subtle body position to avoid nailing my shin at the crux, sometimes my foot still slipped off and sent pain shooting up my leg all over again.

On the Sunday of the third week, I dangled from the rope once more, gripping the goose egg on my shin. More blood trickled from the old scab.

“I’m done!” I yelled, lowering to the ground.

But I wasn’t done. I took a short break and a little voice in my head urged me to try once more. I reflected on what caused the last fall — my hips were turned slightly wrong.

Still, I didn’t have any real hope when I returned to the base of the climb. I was only doing it to get back on the horse, as they say.

Already exhausted when I stepped off the ground, I was too tired to even imagine what it would feel like to hang on past the crux. I poured all my energy into just reaching whatever the next handhold was.

Suddenly I was through the bloody move! Then I started to fall — at which point I usually give up — but I never took my eye off the target hold. I lunged for it as gravity pulled me away — and stuck it!

Even then, I had doubted that outcome so much I almost let go of the hold when I had it in my hand.

The climbing accomplishment is not important, but it reminds me to hang on when I’m at the end of my rope.

Breaking personal barriers is a painful, fiery process. It is only through constant effort — trying — that a person can be forged into something better.

“Adversity makes men and prosperity makes monsters.”

— Victor Hugo

— “Open Space” appears on the second and fourth Friday of the month. Derek Franz writes for the Eagle Valley Enterprise and lives in Carbondale. He can be reached at

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