There are certain things that all children look forward to each year: birthdays, Christmas, winter break and summer vacation, candy on Halloween, and turkey on Thanksgiving. Like regular children, climber children also anticipate these joyous, momentous occasions. However, there is one more date that eludes the lists of the regular children:
Dominion Riverrock! Truthfully, Riverrock is much more exciting than birthdays and Christmas. There is nothing in the climbing world even remotely close to these walls. Likewise, the vibes and energy are truly one-of-a-kind, without the pressures that accompany most professional events. After competing in my first Riverrock last year, I knew I would be back this year and every year after that (travel plans 2015: Finish school Wednesday, fly to Richmond Thursday, compete Friday and Saturday, fly to Colorado Springs Sunday, graduate Monday, fly home Tuesday).
Though nothing compared to 2015, this year was still fairly complicated as I would be returning to Colorado less than two weeks after Riverrock to work on an African Sleeping Sickness drug synthesis for 10 weeks. On top of that, my sister Mar and our friend Anna would not be joining us for the road trip, as Mar had an important opening night to attend. Which really bummed me out, because we'd get two weeks tops to hang out at the end of summer, as I would be in Colorado the rest of the time. This also marked the first time we’d be spending our birthdays apart. We were growing up, I guess.
|Reunited after a whole summer! (Post ice bucket challenge photo: Masha Parfenov)|
I flew into Dulles International Airport Thursday night, after turning in yet another much-too-decent essay for my pass/fail US history class. From there, we drove 15 minutes to our friends' house in Sterling. The delicious homestyle dinner and quality bonding time with their 4-month-old kitten made the long day of travel, as well as the one to come, just about bearable.
I don’t recall ever being nervous. More so a state of anticipation and adrenaline-fueled preparedness. Brent, the architect behind the masterful volumes, had recently retired from the Riverrock industry, so the walls would be new for rookies and veterans alike. Still, I felt I knew these climbs, knew these walls. A perfect yin-yang existed between the short, powerful left wall and endurancy right wall. This year, the girls would start on the right side, on, as we found out during group preview, a grossly slopey concoction made possible by the generous people at Teknik Handholds. Literally, worst-case scenario on a wall—so much for topping a qualifier. But I supposed it could only go up from here, if, for some odd reason, I were to fail epically and entirely.
|But so many slopers (Photo: Alexandra Parfenov)|
I had trouble right off the mat. The first move was an awkward, dab-inducing jump from the starting platform to the first volume. I dabbed pretty badly (slammed full force into the pad) on my flash attempt. I didn’t get called off, but decided to play it safe and hop off anyways. Second attempt went much better, at least where dabbing was concerned. Though the opening moves were bouldery and powerful, they were not particularly difficult thanks to a couple key matches. I was surprised how easily I managed to control the orange orbs, crimping my way through most open-hand positions. After about two minutes, I found myself at what I had initially singled out as the crux. In true Galina fashion, I made the route about two grades harder by completely messing up the beta, matching and shaking out on the crux hold, and reversing just about every hand position (1:47). However, this also led me to discover a pretty ingenious leg wrap rest (2:10) that, at least according to my parents, no one else utilized. After that struggle bus, I was left stranded on the Hulk sloper (2:37), my forearms a withering rose on a frosty January morning.
|Hulk (Photo: Teknik Handholds)|
Holds had never felt as good as the top-out jugs felt that night. There was no fear, no lingering doubts, no hesitation. Everything just sort-of fell into place as I hit the last bucket, saluted the crowd, and hopped atop the final volume. In a moment of pure ecstasy, I turned around, raised my arms to the crowd, and took it all in. At last, I was on top.
I knew I was in trouble as soon as the adrenaline rush subsided. My forearms were dead, lifeless, lying on a crust of icy snow. The following hours at the hotel were devoted to Operation Restore Galina’s Forearms. An hour in the hot tub followed by intense massage therapy (courtesy of Mrs. Parfenov) and various stretches concluded the night. I went to bed knowing I’d done everything in my power. No regrets even if, in the end, qualifiers were rather meaningless, as everyone made it through to Semis.
As predicted, the second qualifier took place on the shorter left wall. Perhaps it was the daylight and lack of a roaring crowd. Maybe it was the awkward greasy holds, big moves, and general lack of feet. Or knowing I was only one of five girls to top last night and that the second qualifier generally didn’t get topped. Whatever it was, I was not particularly motivated or inspired to try hard on the climb, as you can tell from the video. Two attempts left me satisfied with my personal highpoint on the route and the competition thus far.
|Going big on #2. Unfortunately, I had no idea what to do afterwards (Photo: Bram-Sowers)|
I sat on the curb by the row of turquoise porta-Johns, waiting to find out my running order for Finals. Despite falling earlier than many girls due to overlooking a key screw-on on the bubble-wrap feature, I felt comfortable with my position. I had surely beaten at least five competitors to qualify me for the Top 10. At last, a lady wearing a “Volunteer” tee plastered a freshly-printed excel sheet to the entrance of the staff tent. I was the first one over, scrambling to find my name in the Top 10. There I was, in the golden ninth position, two places below the cut-off line. They were taking seven, not 10.
I plopped back down on the balmy asphalt, fighting back tears. All the heart and effort put into yesterday’s Qualifier, all the weeks of hard work, all the fucking circuits and campus ladders, and what did I have to show for it? Ninth place. What a joke. Every comp, every fucking time. I just had to sabotage myself; I was my own worst enemy. So focused on deciphering the opening dyno that I completely disregarded the rest of the climb. Including the damn screw on. I didn’t fall because I was pumped, or because the move was too difficult. I fell because I was an idiot, because I missed a hold by a mere centimeter (1:34). I was finally strong enough, finally good enough to compete on par with these incredible climbers, yet I had to go and throw it all away. Maybe I deserved it. Deserved to be a loser, always the bridesmaid, never the bride. I guess I just wasn’t cut out for comps.
|Ironically, I stuck the dyno first go|
I don’t know how long I sat there. At one point, Meagan came over to give me an empathetic pat on the back. Then, my parents were there, asking me what time I’d be climbing, knowing the answer as soon as our eyes locked. My mom sat down next to me and wrapped her arm around my shoulders, giving me the reassuring mom squeeze. I couldn’t hold it back anymore. Like a kindergartener, against all personal beliefs regarding competition conduct and ethics, I pressed my cheek into her collar bone and cried.
Before long, how I did in Finals would grow irrelevant. A year from now— even a month down the road—Riverrock would be a back page story, lost among other more pressing headlines. At the end of the day, I wasn’t strong enough to win the big cash anyways. Still, I was one of five to stand atop these walls. I did what I set out to do: I finished a route and pushed past the endurance wall, past my own mental demons. When I was on top, I was on par with the pros, the outcome a matter of mere fate and circumstance, not lack of technical merit, endurance, or strength. At the end of the day, there will always be next year. You live and you learn. All you can do is take things as they are. Truth be told, Riverrock is still my favorite comp, and all the tears in this world are worth the opportunity to climb these walls.