Tender Loving Care

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I got our car stuck in the snow. My girlfriend, Jess, our Boston Terrier, Oliver, and I had just finished a short sunset hike through the snow in Colorado’s Eldorado Canyon. It had been a fun stop on our winter road trip through the four corner states. Oliver didn’t mind the snow too much, especially after he figured out that he could eat it. Infact, he ate so much snow that he threw up over and over on the hike. He wouldn’t even break stride.

We were pretty hungry and planned on stopping in Boulder for some dinner before crashing at our friend’s house in Erie. Darkness fell as I drove my girlfriend’s Subaru Forester out on the narrow road. Another car was driving up the road and without really thinking, I politely steered to give them more room. The snow masked a small drainage dish on the cliffside of the road and the Foreseter slid into it. Crap.

I tried backing out, rolling forward and out, everytime we just slid back in. Stuck. I jumped out on my hands and knees and started digging out powder. The driver of the car coming up the road ran up and offered some assistance, he had an avalanche shovel in his truck. Good on you, Colorado. Now with a proper digging tool I got as much snow as I could out from the tires.

Back in the driver’s seat, panting, and sweating with wet gloves, I gave it another go. No dice, slid right back in. We dug some more, talked and decided to try backing out, following the path that I slid in. Now with three people pushing on the hood of the subie, I gunned the engine in reverse. For a split second it seemed like we might make it, but gravity and snow slid me back into the ditch. After a couple more back and forth goes at it, I was still stuck. Did we need a truck with a winch? We have all wheel drive, what’s wrong?

Then out of night stepped a man at least twenty years senior on everyone. We were huffing and puffing from the strain of digging, pushing, and slipping. He calming introduced himself and said, “What you’re doing will probably work eventually. But, let’s try something different.”

We all nodded. He continued: “Your car is facing downslope. Let’s use that. Get in the driver’s seat and point the tires almost straight, just barely turning left. Let the car roll downhill. Gently give it some gas. The rest of us will push from the side.”

With everyone in our places I started the car downhill. A gentle push from everyone on the side and the car climbed out of the ditch like it had never been stuck.

I thanked everyone profusely. Sure I was embarrassed that I’d gotten our car stuck, but I was so happy people were there to help.

Before leaving the man turned to us and said, “Sometimes tender loving care is all it takes. Also, next time. Stay on the fucking road.”

That was the first time I’d gotten a car stuck, but it immediately hit me that I’d forgotten and neglected my favorite lesson from learning to trad climb in Squamish just a few months before. It turns out that when you’re learning the ropes of trad climbing, you place a lot of trad gear. You also clean a lot of trad gear. Inevitably, a stubborn cam or nut will get stuck. Our little group of climbers developed a mantra for dealing with stuck gear. TLC. Tender. Loving. Care.

Somewhere a couple pitches up Angel’s Crest, Ryan and I caught up to two climbers ahead of us. As the follower climbed and cleaned the route he got stuck at a nut that liked the rock a bit too much. He yanked, pulled, twisted, hammered, and swore with his nut tool, but it would not budge. With a curse he unclipped from the nut and climbed on. We shouted that we would try to get it for him.

It was my pitch to lead and Ryan told me he would grab the nut when he followed. Yeah okay, but I wanted it. Something about recovering abandoned gear just feels awesome.

So I led up the pitch and found myself at that tiny, stuck nut. I looked at the crack it was in, and with a tender touch it released itself from the crack. Tender Loving Care, baby. Then I looked down to my last piece of pro and thought, “Man, I should really place a piece.” I looked back to the crack where I had just freed the nut, laughed to myself, and  placed my own tiny nut in the exact spot that I had just removed the stuck nut. I whispered a little prayer for it to not get stuck.

When I set the anchor, the other climbers where having lunch in a little forested spot. I cheerfully handed the nut back with the words, “Tender Loving Care”.

Sometimes things get stuck. Like tires in the snow. Or a cam that walked itself into a crack. Hammering, blasting, pounding, torquing, gunning, and slamming harder works… sometimes. But, I think it’s good to step back from the situation. Think about the physics of the matter because maybe all it takes is a little TLC.

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