Monday, December 30, 2013

A Look Back at 2013

Whenever the new year rolls around, I'm usually not one to reflect on the year that was. This past year was a little different than most. This past year my life changed in a way I wasn't planning on, in a way I didn't want it to. I never wanted to become bionic. I never wanted to have to adapt to the "new normal". I don't remember much of how life was before I became bionic, but I miss it. I remember the days leading up to "the fall" in detail, but beyond that, I knew that we skied almost every weekend and worked a lot. I knew that we had a vacation to Mammoth coming up the next week and AT ski setups to buy. I knew that we had a lot of backpacking adventures planned for the upcoming summer. On February 23rd, I knew none of that was going to happen...

I don't really want to talk about what happened - I relive it enough when I close my eyes some days. If you live under a rock and forgot, here you go: Weekends Are Made For Skiing


I know that I was very lucky given what happened. Falling 15-20 feet. Landing on 'concrete snow/ice'. I could feel and move my arms and legs (somewhat). I could feel the pain in my back. As much as it hurt, I could FEEL and somewhat MOVE everything. Mike reminds me from time to time that he's seen people die falling from shorter distances. My neurosurgeon reminds me all the time that they weren't sure I'd ever walk again... and that he refers to me as his "star" patient now. Things could have turned out a lot different, but I'm grateful they did not. Even on the roughest days, I am still grateful that I'm alive and walking again. People ask me how I can have such a positive outlook on things given how much my life changed. It's not easy, but I know how much different things could have been. I was dealt some shitty cards, but I'm making the best of it. I could have just sat on a couch all day and been "woe is me", but that's not who I am. As hard as it was being in the hospital and dealing with using a wheelchair and a walker for weeks, I was determined to fight. There were rough days, but I always dug deep and pushed through. I couldn't give up on fighting because that would be giving up on getting my life back. Never giving up and settling for what was dealt my way on that February day has me where I am now - back to hiking, back to skiing, back to my adventurous life. 

Highlights of the Bionic Year

A lot of people mention "the biggest moment of 20XX" when they do a year in review. I think far and away, the biggest moment for me was being able to take two tiny steps the morning after my first surgery. They weren't pretty, nor were they easy by any means, but I took two steps. A lot of people weren't sure I'd be able to walk again and there I was, struggling to hold myself up with a walker, taking my first steps less than 24 hours after surgery. I was in tears because of how hard it was to move my legs and not really being able to control my feet, but I was taking steps. I will never forget that moment. 

One thing I've embraced from this whole thing, is how sexy scars are. They tell a story, and mine certainly do. Oh the memories of the hospital... and the drain in my back.

These will be sexy.

Just over 3 months after surgery, and two weeks after ditching the cane, I made it to the top of Moro Rock in SEKI under my own power. No cane, no hand holding, I made it up all 400 evil granite stairs on my own... and I even passed a person or two! The view of the Great Western Divide was extra sweet that day. 

No cane. No assistance. The smile says it all.

On the 6 month mark, which also happened to be Dave's birthday, we decided to hike to Piute Pass and beyond. We'd been hiking most weekends during the summer, alternating between short hikes (less than five miles) and longer hikes (10+ miles total). Some trips went well, some did not. Sometimes it was my back/legs not being happy. Sometimes it was AMS bothering Dave. Sometimes it was the weather. Regardless, we were out in nature and I was loving it. Any time in nature beats being inside any day. The hike to Piute Pass was my first time over the Sierra Crest since becoming bionic, and was my longest hike to date - 12+ miles. I was so happy. To think that I was told by my doctor at Health South that I wouldn't be walking unassisted until the 6 month mark or so... and to turn around and be hiking 12+ miles by that time. I think it proved just how much all of my hard work and having a positive attitude paid off. Major props to Chris and the entire Tehachapi PT office for getting me back to my adventurous self!

Soaking in the views over Piute Pass.

With all the positive that happened with my hiking progress, we did learn that I wasn't quite ready for backpacking yet. There are many factors that could have lead to that - taking a few weeks off from hiking, returning to work which has taken a toll on my body, just having an off week, etc. Regardless of what the reason was, I can at least say that I tried it this year. That's more than most were thinking I'd get. All I can do is try again, and I plan on doing that. I can't stay out of the backcountry for too long... EVO is calling!

My major goal for this year, which some weren't a huge fan of, was returning to skis. Once the snow started falling, my body started itching to get back on the slopes. It finally happened December 7th, less than 10 months after my last time skis. As mentioned in the last post, The Return to Skiing, it wasn't under the best conditions and might not have gone as well as I had hoped for, but I was back on skis. I still have a lot of work to do to get my body back in shape for it and to get my skills and confidence back, but it's a step in the right direction. Some would have given up on skiing after what happened to me, but one thing I've learned through all of this, you have to "DO WHAT YOU LOVE". For me, that's being in nature - hiking, backpacking, and yes, skiing. 

The smile says it all.

The Adventure Continues...

With as crazy as 2013 ended up being, I'm looking forward to 2014. I can't say that 2013 was horrible, it was definitely a very trying year for me (and others), but I definitely learned a lot about myself. Do I wish February 23rd never happened? Of course! At the same time, even through all of the battles I had to deal with and new ones I am dealing with, I don't think I'd be as strong as I am today without the events of that day. I've learned to appreciate the small things more. I've learned to never give up. I've learned that it's okay to ask for help (many thanks to those that have helped me learn this over the past 10+ months - you know who you are). I've learned to look at nature in new ways now. I could go on and on, but I think it's become clear through this blogging adventure just how much this whole situation has changed my life and made me stronger. 

Here's to many more adventures in 2014... Cheers!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Return to Skiing

Cleared to Ski!

I think saying that I've been itching to get back on skis is an understatement... maybe the understatement of the decade. I told Dave that we have to wait until I see Dr Levy and get X-rays to make sure everything is solid. When we were up in Mammoth before Thanksgiving, I was threatening to hijack the car, drive up the mountain (we were only in the Village), and go skiing. I was pretty serious, but knew I'd never overpower Dave for control of the Darth-mobile. 

The next 1.5 weeks couldn't go fast enough. I was nervous about getting X-rays. What if something had moved (I had an achy back for several weeks). What if I wouldn't be cleared for skiing. What if, what if, what if... WHAT IF?! Needless to say, I pretty much worried for nothing... the X-rays were amazing. Dr Levy said he was happy with how everything looked - especially given how active I had become since I saw him in June. He told me I was his "star patient" and I guess that's a good thing. We'll really see how things are when I get a CT scan in January.

Who's stabbing me with screws?!
The crazy spine!

After seeing the X-rays, the next big question was "am I allowed to ski again?" I had a little sinking feeling that maybe he'd say no, but he technically did clear me for doing whatever I felt up to back in June. I was very happy when he cleared me to "cautiously" ski (I'm sure all of my critics felt a disturbance in The Force). I was very happy and relieved to hear him say that. We talked a little about things to watch out for, but they were everyday warnings too - like don't twist a lot/do straight-line stuff, etc. Overall, I was very happy hearing the news and the weekend couldn't get here fast enough.

T-2 days and counting...!

I thought the weeks leading up to skiing again were long, try the two days between the appointment and leaving for Mammoth. Eternity. With the amount of snow predicted for the weekend, I was stoked. I couldn't wait to get there. I was excited... and very nervous. I was very nervous... and excited. I was nervously excited. Practically everyone knew I was going skiing and how excited I was about it. I got the standard responses - some thought I was crazy, some were excited for me, etc. Most were excited for me, but told me to be careful. I got the "with all the progress you've made, I'd hate to see you get hurt and not be able to walk again." I'm not going to lie, that is something that scares me about getting back on skis again. What if I fell and hurt my back again? What if I tweaked it while on the skis? There are a lot of "what ifs", but what if I never tried?! How would I feel if I never tried?! One thing this whole adventure has taught me is to "do what you love" and I plan on doing just that.

Time To Drop In

The day had finally come. After 9.5 painfully long months of rehab and being banned from skiing, we were heading to Mammoth! We decided to head up on Friday so we could go to the premiere of Drop In at Canyon Lodge. When I first saw the trailer for it, I knew we had to go to it. I'd been in contact with Jeremy and Alan about coming to see the premiere and wanting to meet. I was actually excited because they actually wanted to ski with me the next day - on my return to skis! If you have not seen the trailer for Drop In, I highly recommend it. If you have the opportunity to see the film, GO! It's inspiring. It will change your perspective on what is possible. It will remind you to DO WHAT YOU LOVE no matter what is thrown your way. With all that I have been through - the fact that I'm extremely lucky to be alive AND walking, the ridiculously incredible recovery, etc - this movie inspires me. It reminds me to DO WHAT I LOVE no matter what critics have to say. 

9.5 Months Later, It Is Time... Mammoth or Bust!

We woke up on Saturday to crazy wind, single digit temps, and 10+ inches of fresh powder! It was a sign. We were initially going to just rent gear at Mammoth, but with all the fresh pow, we stopped at Mammoth Mountaineering. I was finally going to get to demo the Dynafit AT setup that I was itching to get for months. The day was getting even better. We had our Manaslus and TLT6s and headed up the mountain. On the drive up, I could tell the day was going to be interesting. When we got to the Lodge, we got the bad news - most of the mountain was without power due to the wind (constant 30mph with 50+mph gusts). They had one lift open - Chair 11. I was in luck because that was the lift for two green runs, which is what I was planning on spending most of the day on. Trust me, as much as I wanted to jump on the Blues, I knew that I needed to get use to the feel of skis again and see how my body would handle skiing. As Dave was in line getting lift tickets, I was starting to get a little nervous.

When we stepped outside, I was very grateful to have so many layers on. The conditions were brutal - the wind was blowing me around. As I stepped into the Dynafit bindings, the oh-so-glorious Radial ST bindings, I was getting nervously excited. It felt good to have skis on my feet again, but it also felt really foreign at the same time. I was just really hoping that my legs were strong enough after all the nerve damage to still be able to control the skis like I use to... or at least a little bit. Before I would figure that out, I had to get on the lift...

Being brutally honest, I was freaking out a bit about getting on the lift. I kept telling Dave how nervous I was, but I'm pretty sure he didn't hear me because of how much the wind was howling. I was getting on a lift only 9.5 months after breaking my back falling from one, in the absolute worst conditions. It was reassuring that the lift operators were actually cleaning off the seats and doing their jobs, and that there was a safety bar on this one. I was on the lift, the bar was down, we were off. The wind was about 5x worse on the lift and I had to hide my face in my jacket because it was very sub-zero feeling, but I was on a lift! The flashback of falling started as we approached the top of the lift. I was taking a lot of deep breaths for the last few seconds on the lift. We got to the top, I got off, and I made it. I got back on a lift and did it in the most brutal conditions! 

What Goes Up, Must Come Down

Now that I had made it up, it was time to see how my body would handle skiing after a 9+ month break involving a lot of titanium in my spine, significant damage to the nerves in my legs, and weaker muscles. I think I was actually more nervous about the skiing than actually getting on the lift. I knew I'd survive the lift, but I wasn't sure how my legs would handle the skis... or how my back would handle a fall on the slopes. As excited as I have been about getting back on skis, I was nervous about the bionic back.

As I started down the slope, it felt a little weird to have huge planks on my feet, but at the same time it felt great. The winds were at least a little calmer on the run, but it was still almost a whiteout. At least there was fresh powder! I could tell that my leg muscles were significantly weaker than the last time I was on skis, which is because the nerves still aren't fully back yet, so I was having a few minor issues with controlling the skis. I think part of it was that I was just nervous about falling too. I took a sliding fall, and it wasn't too bad. I got back up, with the help of Dave's hand, and continued on. I was doing okay with the turns, but then I had a little issue with controlling my right ski on a turn and took a tumble that involved releasing the binding. I'm not surprised that it was the right ski because I tend to have more issues with the muscles in that foot (can't lift the big toe, but can lift the rest fine). I could tell I tweaked my ankle in the fall (not sure how), but my back still felt great. I got up, got back in the binding, and skied on. It didn't really go how I wanted, with the falling and all, but I did my first run back on skis! Dave even said I was looking pretty good too! We escaped the conditions for awhile trying to warm up and see how I was feeling. Dave went out for another run, and decided that the conditions on the lift made it not worth it. Shortly after that, the lift was shut down because of the weather. 

While most would think that the day was a bust due to the conditions, only one lift running and having it be shut down before lunch, I think it was a success. I got back on skis again... and a lift. That in itself is huge for me! We also ran into friends that were at Mammoth for the weekend and spent the rest of the day hanging out with them. Also, major props to Mammoth Mountain for giving us vouchers for another visit due to the situation on the mountain.

The smile says it all!

My Thoughts On Bionic Skiing 

I broke my back on a ski lift. In order to get back on skis, I would need to ride a lift again. 9+ months is a long time to wait to get back on skis for someone who fell in love with the sport last season. I knew that getting back on skis was going to be an adventure, but the past 9+ months has been an adventure for me. It might not have gone exactly how I wanted it to, but I did it! It's going to take some time to get use to being on skis again and getting my skiing legs back, but just as with the recovery process, it's going to be a journey. I know I'm going to have to be cautious and it's probably never going to feel the same as it did, but I'm back on skis again! I'm sure I'm always going to be a little worried about falling and possibly doing something to my back, but I'm back on skis! I'm back on skis again!!! One thing I've learned from this whole situation is to do what you love... that's what's most important. Others might not understand or feel the same way, but all that matters is doing what is important to you. I'm back on skis again, maybe skiing a little too cautiously, but I'm skiing!! 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Addressing the Skiing Critics

Ski season is quickly approaching in the Sierra Nevada. Mammoth Mountain opened this past week and I've been itching to get back on skis again because of it. To be honest, I've been itching to get back on skis again since last season was obviously cut short. For those of you wondering, I will NOT be going back to Badger Pass for a plethora of reasons (some addressed in the first post of this blog). Well, it appears that when ski season gets closer, my critics seem to come out of the woodwork. I thought I'd take some time to not only address them, but also share my thoughts on skiing again.

"You want to ski again? That's STUPID!"

I knew at some point there was going to be in influx of criticism about wanting to get back on skis. I could feel it in the air, maybe it was just the change in weather, but it was coming. It started with Mr Grumpy Pants at work. Before the accident he was always rude and grumpy toward me, but since returning to work, he's been relatively nice (asking how the back was, showing concern, etc.). Well, when he mentioned skiing last week, and I said I couldn't wait to get back on skis again, he called me stupid. Yep, I knew that being nice to me wasn't going to last long for him. It bothered me a bit, but that was his personality. That was just the beginning of it that day it seems. 

Later that morning, when two of my absolute favorite people and biggest supporters were at Bux (M&K), I got it again. No hesitation in it, just a huge "It is stupid!" when it came up. I tried to just brush it off, but this one hurt. Yes, people are entitled to have and express their opinions, but sometimes they are best left unsaid. This was one of those times. I've talked about my desire to ski again with K several times, including recently, and the only things I got were a change of subject or "would so-and-so want you to be doing that yet?" (It is well known that my neurosurgeon has cleared me for doing whatever my back feels up to.) I know that K hasn't been a big fan of the fact that I'm hiking again or wanting to backpack again, so this really shouldn't have been much of a surprise. It still really bugged me... and probably because she's been like family to me through all of this. 

While at the PT office later that morning, I finally sent K a message letting her know how I felt. I was sick of people criticizing me for wanting to get back on skis, etc. After I was done working out, I went over to K's office to clear the air on the subject. She didn't mean to upset me with the comment, but couldn't imagine what it'd be like for me if I fell, got injured, or wound up in the hospital again. I understand where she is coming from, but it was still tough to swallow. K has seen me come so far in my recovery, that it's probably hard for her not to feel protective (I would assume). It wasn't a long conversation and I didn't really say much. I knew what I wanted to say probably wouldn't be heard and would be best saved for a different time. Plus, I didn't want to say something off the cuff that I would probably end up regretting later. We hugged, I left, and sat with my feelings most of the afternoon at the engine shop. I decided it would probably be best for me to just not share anything relating to living outside of a glass box with K anymore.

I Don't Want To Live In A Glass Box

It's been 8+ months since I broke my back. I am very aware of the seriousness of the injury and damage that my body is recovering from. I still have awhile before the nerves in my legs and feet are healed, and there is the possibility they might not come back fully. I know that I need to be careful because of the titanium in my spine. I am aware of the risks of my new bionic body. I am very aware that I am very lucky to be alive. I am also very aware that my recovery has been above and beyond what anyone predicted it would be. I still can't believe how crazy my recovery has been - and it's happening to me! I know that I am very lucky that I had an amazing surgeon while in the hospital. I've had an awesome recovery team over the past several months (Thanks Tehachapi PT!). I've had an amazing support system since the accident happened. I've busted my ass during this whole recovery process - on the good days and the bad, through the awesome times and the times I just wanted it all to be over - I've given it my all. As a result, I'm walking again, working again, hiking again, ... and soon to be skiing again!

I fell in love with skiing last season. To me, it's only natural that I want to ski again. If I wasn't meant to ski again, I don't think my recovery would be going so well. I don't think I'd be alive right now if I wasn't meant to ski again. When I broke my collarbone in a car accident, I wasn't criticized for wanting to drive again! People hurt themselves doing ordinary things all the time, and they don't get criticized for returning to doing those ordinary things. The same should apply here. One thing that this whole situation has taught me, is to live life to its fullest. Do what you are passionate about and don't give up. I've worked my ass off over the past 8+ months and it's paying off. Hiking in the Sierra brings tears of joy to my eyes every single time. I know that I need to be cautious and listen to my body more than ever now, but I'm going to follow my passions. I'm not going to live in a glass box for the rest of my life! I don't want to be miserable for the rest of my life, and I know that's what I'd be if I just sat around wondering what it would be like to ski or backpack again. I want to spend my days enjoying my life and celebrating that I'm alive. I will not let my life be controlled by a glass box.

My Thoughts On The Return To Skis

If you know me or follow me on social media, you know I'm beyond ready to be back on skis again. I fell in love with skiing earlier this year and my time on them got cut too short. I didn't get on the black diamonds runs - I was planning to the day of the fall. I didn't get to do any backcountry ski touring. I didn't get the Dynafit setup I wanted. I didn't get to spend anywhere near the amount of time I wanted to on skis last season. I'm bitter about it. That bitterness has motivated me to push myself to get ready to be back on skis again. Well, that time is almost here.

Every time it has snowed in the Sierra recently, my excitement has grown... as has my nervousness. I have my neurosurgeon's blessing to do whatever my back feels up to (I'm going for a checkup/x-rays before skiing - just to make sure everything is stable). I've been strengthening my core, along with everything else, to make sure my body is as ready for it as it can be. I know that I can walk in ski boots again - I've done plenty of laps around Mammoth Mountaineering in the new Dynafit TLT6's. I've been telling myself that we need to wait for good, soft snow at Mammoth for my first time back. I've told myself, and Dave, that the first time back is going to be a lot of green runs so I can get use to the feeling of skiing again and see what's going to be an issue, etc. I've told Dave that the first several times on the lifts are going to be nerve-wracking for me. Oh shit, the lifts...

I'm not sure what makes me more nervous - how my back is going to handle skiing, what if I take a bad fall while skiing (which will happen), or having to get on a lift again. I have some legit concerns about falling while skiing, probably the same ones that K does, but it's something that will happen. Even the best skiers take tumbles, so it's just something that I'll have to adapt to and try and do "safely". Yes, I could hurt my back again while skiing, but I could hurt my back while driving, while walking, while coughing... it could happen with anything. 

I can't lie. I'm scared to get back on a lift. Our goal is to spend most of our skiing time in the backcountry, but I'm going to need to get back on lifts again to get ready for that. As the return to skis gets closer, the nightmares of seeing the fall from the lift have returned... with a vengeance. When I close my eyes, I can see it happening all over again. It's not pleasant. I wake up in tears some nights. It's something I have to deal with now. I'm not going to let the nightmare put a stop to my desire to ski again. If I did, the glass box would win. It's going to be hard, but it's a fear I have to face. 

All of this being said, I am nervously excited for ski season. I was nervous about my first hike, and it went much better than expected. We'll see what the first time back on skis holds for me. One thing that I do know, I'm going to keep on living my life to its fullest. I'm always going to have my critics, but that's a natural thing in life. I'm going to make the most of what I've been given - even if I have to be a bit more cautious. There is a very good reason my recovery has been ridiculously amazing... and it's not to live in a glass box.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Lessons in Patience: Backpacking Edition

Backpacking. It's been calling my name all spring, summer and fall. For obvious reasons, it hasn't happened yet. In the last post, I mentioned how I've come to terms with the possibility of not backpacking this year. It was difficult to get to that point, given how passionate I am about spending as much time as possible in the Sierra, but due to roadblocks piling on, it was looking like a reality. Well, fast-forward three weeks...

Dave and I were sitting in Moo Creamery on Friday, trying to figure out what weekend adventure we wanted to have. Dave suggested Sawtooth Pass/Peak. I suggested Alta Peak or something in Yosemite. Dave suggested backpacking to Pear Lake. I had a funny little feeling in the pit of my stomach. It was a combination of wanting to backpack, not knowing if my body was ready for it, saying 'no' because I had already given up on the thought of backpacking this year, etc. I was torn. By the time we got home from Bakersfield, the decision had been made. My first bionic backpacking trip was on tap - to Pear Lake. 

Bionic Backpacking, v1.1

I was excited to try backpacking. Okay, that's an understatement. I was stoked to finally be doing what I've been waiting all year to do. It had been over a year since our last backpacking trip - Precipice Lake last October. It was finally happening. After visiting with a friend (@YosemiteSteve) for a bit, we were off to the trailhead. 

The weather was perfect. The trailhead had only a handful of cars at it. My back felt okay. The pack went on and it wasn't too bad. It had felt better the night before when it was only 11.5 pounds (I currently have a 15 pound backpacking limit). Adding the camera and gear to it, might have put the comfort level a little over the edge, but I really wasn't sure. I knew that I wasn't going to know what felt normal and not with the new back. I can't really compare backpacking the last two years to doing it now. My body isn't the same as it use to be. Well, maybe my quads are still crazy workhorses.

The hike started off okay. For the first mile on the trail, I was moving at a decent pace. It felt a little weird having a full backpack on and my hips carrying extra weight for the first time in a year. Well, shortly after that, things started to not feel so great. My back wasn't happy with me. I started feeling a bit sluggish. We took a break and snacked to see if that would help. I kept plugging on for a bit, but it didn't seem to get better. Something just wasn't happy. We made a little over 2 miles into the hike, and after a lot of beating myself up mentally, we decided to call it. Well, with how I was feeling at just over 2 miles, having to go another 4.5 miles feeling like that would have been miserable. I was pissed off at myself. All I wanted to do was backpack and make it to Pear Lake. I was in tears... sick of having to deal with my body not cooperating, sick of not being able to do everything I use to do, sick of failing. I was not happy. 

Dave actually took the camera/gear out of my pack to see it if would help as we hiked back to the car. It did, but I couldn't really tell how much at the time. I was disappointed. I could tell that Dave was a little disappointed, all he wants to do is backpack, but he wanted to make sure that I didn't potential push myself too much and do any damage to my back. It was a long hike back to the car, but there was a bright spot. A hiker that was on his way up to the Alta Peak asked how the hike was. I told him that we didn't really make it to our destination. He said something to the affect of "that happens sometimes", and Dave made some comment about my broken back. Well, the hiker did a double take. I think it blew his mind that I was even trying backpacking after breaking my back less than 8 months ago. We talked for a bit, and then we went on our separate ways. The conversation with that hiker reminded me just how crazy my recovery has been. 

Moro Rock aka The Sierra Stairmaster. It's one of those things that makes it easy to see how much progress I've made. In late April, I only made it 1/3 of the way up or so... and with a cane. In June, I made it all the way up with no cane. It wasn't very speedy, but I did manage to pass some people and was shocked with how it went. Well, I hadn't done it since then - on our last trip to Sequoia, Moro Rock was covered in clouds. This time around, the weather was perfect, but I had just hiked 4.5 miles with a backpack on, so I wasn't sure how it would go. Well, really well was how it went. I went up in less than half the time of the previous trip... and without breaks! I was thrilled - especially given how much activity I'd already done earlier in the day (on other trips, it was the first thing we did). The views were amazing and made me feel a little better after the backpacking 'fail'. It was a rough day, but at least it ended on a positive note!

The view from Moro Rock. Alta Peak to Sawtooth Peak.

Mistakes Made... errr, I Mean Lessons Learned

Lesson #1: Don't count your chickens before they're hatched.
I thought I learned this lesson back when we tried to hike to Shadow Lake on my second time out. Apparently not. With that hike, I set too lofty of a goal given how well my first hike since breaking my back went. I got so excited about actually doing my first hike, that I thought nothing would stop me from going farther and faster. I was wrong. The same thing happened this past weekend - only this time, I hadn't even had a successful backpacking trip under my belt. I was excited about the prospect of backpacking again and thinking that it was go perfectly, that I didn't even consider that it might not go as planned. I clearly need to remember to keep an open mind with how things may or may not go. Getting a reality check during a hike is never fun. Hopefully I've learned this lesson now, but we'll see come ski season...

Lesson #2: Don't try something new after taking weeks off from hiking.
It had been over four weeks since we'd done any serious hiking when we attempted backpacking. No, the scrambling adventure on Lookout Peak doesn't count. Our last "major" hike was the 12 mile leg stretch up to Bishop Pass and back. Between then and now, we scrambled up Lookout Peak, strolled around Lake Tahoe, and had two weekends of travel (vacation). That's not very good training for backpacking. Sure, I'd been working out a lot at the PT office, but it's still not hiking. So, needless to say, my body clearly wasn't ready for the backpacking adventure.

Lesson #3: An extra 10 pounds is a lot.
Every time we've hiked lately, I've been carrying my Arc'teryx Quintic with my camera and my Beta AR jacket. That's maybe 5 pounds total on my back. Well, adding 10 pounds to that might not seem like a lot, but it is if you have a bionic back that isn't in backpacking shape. It wasn't the pack that was giving me problems once I got everything adjusted on the new one, I love my Arc'teryx Altra(s), it was a lot of my body trying to adapt to a new center of gravity, new feelings associated with carrying an actual backpack, my body using muscles it hasn't used in awhile, etc. I just really think I wasn't ready for backpacking and tried to push myself too much. I know, this is not shocking news. 

Patience, Patience, Patience

I've learned a lot over the past several months about patience. Sometimes I feel like I've learned it all and I don't need reminders, but there are times I need them. This past weekend was one of those times. Even if I'm feeling A-Okay, I might not be A-Okay for backpacking. It's different than hiking with a daypack. Last year, I wouldn't have said it was much different - I was a backpacking beast last year. This year is just different. I have a "new" spine, nerves and muscles that are still damaged and healing, etc. There are things that are just going to take time, and backpacking might be one of them. Until our next attempt, I'm going to wear my backpack at home so I can get use to having it on again. My old Altra fit like a charm and it made carrying weight feel like no big deal. Well, with adapting to all the new feelings associated with my healing body, I'm going to have to practice with my new Altra so I can get back to that point. My hips aren't as fluid as they use to be, my sense of balance isn't 100%, it's just going to be all about adapting. That's the story of my life these days. 

Even with all of the rough patches I've had in the recovery process, I still know that the progress I've made has been beyond amazing. I say it all the time, but it still blows my mind that I'm hiking again. I guess it's a testament to all of my hard work, dedication and the support from others... and my desire to get back to doing everything I love! What happened to me and all that I've gone through is something I would never wish on anyone - even my worst enemies (if I had any). It's been excruciatingly painful at times, but it's never stopped me from fighting to get my life back. Like I keep reminding myself, backpacking will happen when it happens. Until then, I've just gotta keep pushing on... 

Note: My review of the new Arc'teryx Altra 62 will be coming in the near future. It's been interesting comparing it to my old and much loved Altra 62. It's also been interesting using it with a pretty fresh bionic back. It's an amazing pack and I highly recommend it (bionic back or not).

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Six Months: A Reflection

This past weekend marked six months since my life changed forever. It's been one hell of a ride, and I'm sure it's going to continue to be. Saturday, as we hiked to Humphreys Basin to celebrate Dave's birthday, I had a lot of time to reflect about the past six months. I thought sharing some of my thoughts would be good...

The Bitter Aftertaste

If you ask Dave what has been one of the driving forces in my recovery, he'd probably say something relating to how bitter I am. Actually, if you ask most anyone who knows me well, they'd probably tell you the same. Sure, being bitter can have negative connotations, but at the same time, it can really motivate you. 

Things were really starting to look up for me on so many fronts before the accident - financially things were getting better and more stable, job interviews (!!) in the aerospace industry, an upcoming vacation that involved skiing and buying a sweet Dynafit setup, several cross-country hiking trips planned for the summer, and I could go on and on. Well, it's obvious where all of that stands right now. Trying to make ends meet, with all of my bionic back and other bills, while not working is entertaining to say the very least. You should really ask Dave how many time I've been in tears on his shoulder over this whole mess. Needless to say, we didn't go on a ski vacation and we don't have sweet Dynafit setups yet. We haven't done any cross-country hiking trips either, although I hear EVO calling my name very soon. If you really want to know about bitter, ask me what it's like to get a call from a NASA contractor (that I've interviewed with before) about a specific position opening a few weeks after getting out of the hospital. I was months from being cleared to work and drive at that point. Just imagine how I felt. Just try imagining... 

It's been very hard to deal with feeling like everything was ripped away from you in a split second. The past six months, I've been trying to stay strong and fight through it, but it's been painfully difficult. Some days the only thing I can do is smile and pretend like everything is okay. In reality, I'm being torn apart inside. All I can really do these days is hope that it will all work out. I mean, I'm still alive for a reason, right?! 

The way I've come to see things over the past several months is that there are three different outcomes that could have happened - 1) I could be dead, 2) I could be paralyzed and bitter or 3) I could be walking again and bitter. I am thankful, and I'm sure many others are too, that Option 1 didn't happen. It's been pointed out to me several times that people have fallen from shorter distances and died. I fell from 15+ feet, landed on "concrete" snow/ice, and SURVIVED. That still blows my mind. I don't like option 2 either. My surgeon reminded me at the three month follow-up that they weren't sure I'd walk again before surgery. My doctor and physical therapist remind me that I am very lucky I had such an awesome surgeon. It's absolutely crazy to think about how close I was to being paralyzed and having to live with that for the rest of my life. Talk about a reason to be bitter. Struggling through learning how to use my legs again was a small price to pay for being able to walk again. Option 3 is what I was dealt and I'm learning to adapt to it. Even on the most frustrating and upsetting days, I am still alive AND I can walk again. Mind. Blown.

Making Bitterness Taste Good

I remember telling Dave that I was bitter as we looked out at the Great Western Divide the weekend that I made it to the top of Moro Rock unassisted. He asked if I was just bitter. I quickly responded, "I am so fucking bitter." He could tell, as I was staring at the mountains I love, that it was killing my soul not to be exploring them. It was that moment, staring at the Great Western Divide, that I was going to use the bitterness I was feeling as a driving force to get me back in the Sierra. I wanted to get my soul back.

As we hiked to Piute Pass on Saturday, I thought a lot about the progress I've made and just life in general. I remember when I first started hiking again, I was devastated about not making the goal I set of getting to Shadow Lake on my second hike since breaking my back. A month ago, when we didn't make my goal of Lamarck Col (due to weather and Dave's AMS symptoms), I was okay with it. I've learned over the past several months, that life is all about adapting. It hasn't always been easy to do, but I'm learning and evolving as days go by. As we were heading up the final slope to Piute Pass, I was shedding tears of joy. This was the first time we'd hiked to the west side of the Sierra Crest since I became bionic. As I sat in Humphreys Basin and soaked in the views, I still couldn't believe I was there. I did my longest hike to date on Saturday, 12 miles, and remembered how grateful I was to be hiking again.

Soaking in the view of Mt Humphreys

I'm not going to rehash a lot of what I've said in other posts about the strides I've made and how hard I've been fighting to get back to doing what I love. If you look at the progress I've made over the past few months, making it to the Great Western Divide actually has the potential to happen this year. It's still a stretch, but I think this is a lesson that nothing is impossible, not matter how impossible it seems or what obstacles get in your way. 

The Big Picture

There have been several lessons that I have learned over the past several months. Some big, some small. I've learned what really matters and what does not. I've learned that I can't please everyone. There are going to be those that aren't thrilled with the fact that I'm hiking again, or that I'm "graduating" PT already. I'm going to have my critics and I'm just going to have to deal with it. I have to do what's best for me... which is getting back to the Sierra.

Another lesson that I've learned, that really hit home late last week, is to live life to the fullest every single day and never take anything for granted. It could all change in a split second. I learned that the hard way in February. You never know what nature will throw at you, especially in the mountains, so cherish every second that you have and live every day like it's your last. Do what you love and are passionate about. That's what really matters. 

Humphreys Basin

Saturday, August 10, 2013

We Interrupt This Program... v2.0

Disclaimer: This isn't going to be a post with exciting hiking progress like the last few have been. The first "We Interrupt This Program" wasn't at all easy for me to write because I'm not exactly one who likes to open up to others (just ask Kim). I think version 2.0 might be more difficult. There was no ass-kicking from Kim this time. You could say Mike kicked my ass, but it was more like nudging me back on course. I think he'd rather leave the ass-kickings to Kim... or to me kicking my own ass.

If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn't lead anywhere. :: F.A. Clark

One of the most difficult things for me is opening up about how I'm feeling. Recently it's been getting easier to do with Dave, Mike, and Kim, but it didn't start off that way. Even after months of being more open, at times it is still a struggle. When the accident first happened, especially when I was in the hospital, I had my game face on the majority of the time. Yes, I had moments of many tears being shed, but it was when others weren't around (the exception was in the first aid hut when I was in shock and just wanting to sit up). I knew everything was going to be different, but somehow I stayed fairly positive while in the hospital for weeks. 

As mentioned in previous posts, recovery has been up and down, both physically and emotionally. Lately, I've gotten a big dose of both. I've talked about the physical aspect of things a lot before, so I'm not going to touch on that much. I've been dealing with a lot more aches, pains, irritated muscles and nerves over the past few weeks and it has made life rough (more than it already was). At times it scares me to death because I don't know if what I'm feeling is normal in the recovery process or not. I know that things aren't going to feel the same ever again, but what is the "new normal" suppose to feel like? Will I ever be able to stop worrying about my back again?! The most important question to some people, and a sore subject for me, is will I ever get back to a healthy weight again? The joys of dealing with a healing body...

Mind Games

I really don't like dealing with emotions. I don't like talking about them even more. Talking about them with Dave has been getting easier. I'm pretty good at avoiding it with Kim if I want to, but then I kick myself in the ass for not doing it and talk to her about it anyway. It's a lot harder to do it on the blog. You'd think it would be easier since it's not a face-to-face talk, but it's hard opening up when you don't know how it will be received or you can't fully explain yourself. Well, sometimes you have to do things you don't like, and this is one of those times. 

I'm going to preface what I'm about to dive into by saying that I am very, very grateful to be alive. I am ecstatic to be doing so well in the recovery process because I know for a fact that things could have been so much worse. The past several weeks have been extremely rough for me. Most people wouldn't know because I've become pretty good at putting on my 'everything is peachy keen' face in public. I'm usually pretty quiet, so unless you know me well, it's hard to tell when something is wrong. Well, it's getting harder and harder to keep that peachy keen face on. The past week or so I've broken down so many times because of everything that I've been burying inside of me. I'm being ripped apart emotionally. I'm angry, bitter, pissed off, frustrated, etc. Dealing with the "new normal" while wanting to still live the old life is taking its toll on me. At times I honestly feel like I don't deserve to be alive or even doing so well because of how I'm feeling. Yes, there are times when I think I don't deserve to be alive because of my attitude some days. I know, I put it out there. Judge me if you want, but I'm just being honest. I don't feel this way all the time, but I have my days. I know that I am progressing fantastically, and get reminded of it all the time, but sometimes the negative shit happens. As Mike told me yesterday, the mind likes to play games with us. Well, my mind really likes to play games right now. I'm trying to keep the fight I had up, but some days it's just not there. Lately it has all been overwhelming and felt impossible to deal with. I know that it's not, it's just the mind playing games again. All I know is that I really need to get my fight back... it's been gone for too long.

If you're going through hell, keep going. :: W. Churchill

Mike told me in the hospital to "be strong and don't be shy about wanting to talk to Kim and I". Even with the vast amount of love and support I get from them, and the fact that they are like family, some days it's really hard to talk. They've seen me at lows and at highs, but some days I just can't do it. When I do though, even if only a little, it helps. They each have their own way of being supportive - Kim likes to kick my ass (I really do think she enjoys it), Mike likes to nudge me in the right direction and threaten slap therapy (it will hopefully never come to that). Dave is a good balance between them because he tends to like to listen and be supportive in that way. All of the love, support, and patience from them has kept me grounded and on track during this long road to recovery. Even on the painfully difficult days, I am grateful for having an amazing support system (including all those that aren't named Dave, Kim or Mike).

Bitter Anyone?!

The theme of my summer is bitterness. Depending on who you ask, it can be a good thing or a bad thing. For me, I think it's both. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't bitter about losing half of a ski season, just when I was falling in love with it (I was going to get on my first BD the day the fall happened). I'd be really lying if I said I wasn't bitter about losing all of the epic backpacking trips Dave and I had planned for the summer. I'm not sure if I can say that I'm more bitter about one than the other, but the backpacking one is hitting hard. Our annual trip to Precipice Lake, the Cloud Canyon-Deadman Canyon loop we had planned, exploring areas we hadn't been yet, all down the drain. The real knife-twisting stab in the heart for me was no week+ long adventure exploring and climbing the peaks in EVO. That was the soul crusher for me. I've been waiting to get back to EVO since we did the John Muir Trail last summer, and now it's going to have to wait even longer. I am ridiculously happy and grateful to be hiking again, but it's not really the same right now. My quads are still beasts, something that doesn't thrill Dave when it comes to tackling elevation gain, but having to be cautious and paying constant attention to my body takes something out of hiking it seems. I know that I'll be back to backpacking soon, and that the mountains will be there next year, but damn it's destroying my soul. Bitterness has it's downside...

Bitterness is a driving force in my recovery. It's pushing me to fight to get my life back to where it was before (or as close as I can get now that I'm bionic). I push myself in PT to go harder on the bike, to do more reps on the sled (gotta keep those quads strong), to just keep going and giving it my all. I push myself when we go "hiking" to get as far as I can, hopefully making it to the destination. I push myself because I want to get back to the way things were so badly. It hurts not being able to backpack, to work, to do all the the things I use to do, so I just keep pushing. Sometimes I push myself too hard. I hate not making it to our destination when hiking, so I keep pushing myself, even when I know I'm not listening to what my body is telling me. I push myself to move forward in recovery, burying the nasty emotional stuff that I need to deal with. Some days I push myself too much. Some days others push me too much. I've got to find a healthy balance, because that's the only way that I'm going to make it through this madness.

One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today. :: Dale Carnegie

Sometimes it's really hard to see what you have and appreciate it, especially when things are rough. This whole experience has been life-changing for me, in more than just the bionic sense. It still isn't easy, even with all that I have learned about myself in the past 5+ months, but I'm learning to appreciate every single day because I know that things could have turned out drastically different. They didn't for a reason, and I am very grateful for that, even if I don't always show it. I am learning that every day is an adventure and I am so grateful to those that are a part of my life... you know who you are. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Journey To Lamarck Col

Evolution (/ˌevəˈlo͞oSHən/): 1) the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form, 2) a stunning basin in the Sierra Nevada Range of California, 3) the story of my life since February 23, 2013.

Revenge of the Body... and Mind

Close your eyes for a second. What do you see? I'll tell you what I see. I see myself sliding off an icy ski lift chair, unable to stop. I see myself laying in the snow, unable to move. I see it over and over again. My mind likes to remind me of it all the time. I want it to stop, but it won't go away. It might for a few days or a week, but then it's back. It's a nightmare that I'm stuck with. I only hope that it will go away as I continue to heal and work through this mess that is my new life.

Since my last post, things continue to be up and down. The CA disability office is still a clusterf*ck and I can't do anything about it. The disability stuff through work is becoming a clusterf*ck as well. <rant> It's really funny when you're told that your healing/recovery has gone well past the maximum expected time. How the f*ck do you even put a maximum on recovering from a broken back and severe nerve damage?! HOW?! I'd really like to put these people in my shoes and see how they feel about a maximum on recovery. It hurts to reach, I don't lift more than a half gallon of milk at a time, my balance is messed up, my feet feel like they are constantly being stabbed... it's not easy. Try it. </rant> All I can do is my part to keep my ducks in a row and keep my fingers crossed that things will work themselves out. It's really hard and ridiculously frustrating, but I'm trying. 

One thing that I have definitely learned over the past several weeks and months, is to listen to my body. The day before we were going to hike to Duck Pass near Mammoth Lakes, PT was interesting. I jumped for the first time in months. It was the most foreign and bizarre feeling thing ever. It didn't hurt, I was scared that it would, but it was just odd and I was shocked I could do it. Well, little did I know how much jumping would affect hiking the next day. Our goal for the day was to get to Duck Pass. By normal standards, it wasn't a difficult hike. Well, by my bionic-day-after-jumping-in-PT body standards, it was not fun. When we got to Skelton Lake, not even 2.5 miles into the hike, I knew I wasn't going to make it any farther. My knees and back weren't all that happy. Dave tried bribing me with Ben & Jerry's to get me to go farther, but I just didn't want to push myself. I learned the last time I was in Mammoth that if I'm not feeling it, I need to stop. The same applied here. As a result, we've decided that we are making sure I have rest days after PT. Most days I feel okay after, but just to be safe, rest is good. It's all about adapting.

The Battle of Lamarck Col

After a week of my body cooperating and feeling pretty good (for someone with fresh titanium in their back), I felt it was time to try *the* goal hike to Lamarck Col. I'd done the first half of the hike, to near Upper Lamarck Lake, and survived it without too much trouble (it's all about being cautious). The week after that hike, I'd shockingly done 10 miles - I don't know where that came from, but it happened. The next step was to combine the length with the quad burning use trail that leads to Lamarck Col. I figured that it wouldn't hurt to try it and if I needed to stop, we would. 

Lamarck Col: 6 miles one way, +3500 ft elevation gain. Ready? GO!

I felt petty good as we drove to the North Lake trailhead outside Bishop. I slept well the night before (We got a hotel! Yes, Dave knew how big of a deal this hike was, that he wanted to make sure I slept well!), but I had a few butterflies in my stomach about the hike. I knew that I could do it, but what if I didn't make it or something happened on the trail?! Even with that, I was still stoked because I was sure I'd be seeing EVO in several hours! 

The skies were blue and there were no signs of the storms that had been plaguing the Sierra the past week. The trail was damp which made the switchbacks a lot easier for my feet on the way up. I was feeling good and were making great time (by my recovery standards). The rough parts of the trail for me started when we hit the water crossings. With all the rain over the past week, the water was higher at all the crossings. One of the logs at the Lower Lamarck outlet was wet, so I had to balance on the smaller one. I made it, but shifting my weight between the logs made me hold my breath a little. I'm not even going to discuss the higher crossing because it frustrated me that I just couldn't jump it like I use to. I was very thankful to have Dave grab my hand, because I couldn't push off the rock with my leg to get across (damn muscles!). The final crossing ended up being a piece of cake once I started it - plenty of large, stable rocks spanning the 20 foot wide crossing. Now the real adventure was about to begin. 

The switchbacks to gain the canyon to Lamarck Col weren't the friendliest to us. My quads loved them, but I got a little freaked out when I started to feel myself falling backwards when I stepped up on one of the 'stairs'. I didn't fall, but that feeling of moving backwards made my heart jump into my throat. Thank goodness Dave was behind me. Poor Dave was starting to not feel so good as we gained altitude. He said he was fine and that he'd need to take little breaks more often, but that he could keep going. On we went. Switchbacks were done. The "exposed" section was done. Time for the vast expanse of granite and ridges. 

Lamarckian desolation. Lamarck Col is finally in sight.

Gentle incline. Switchbacks. Gentle incline. Switchbacks. I was sensing a theme as we hiked toward Lamarck Col. The environment was stunning. It was like a moonscape - magnificent desolation. Seeing the area that is behind Upper Lamarck Lake from a different perspective was amazing. It was almost like I could touch it, it felt so close. I was feeling really good. Dave was not. We stopped for lunch and so he could rest and see if that helped him. From where we stopped, you could start to see Lamarck Col peeking out from behind the next ridge. I was excited. We were so close and I was feeling strong (I was shocked with how good I was feeing). As time passed, it started to sink in that Dave was starting to show signs of AMS. This was not good. He offered to let me go on and make the Col, but I didn't want to do it without him. What if something happened to either of us as we were separated? Luckily for him, the weather was starting to turn grim, so we didn't have to even think about this option once it started turning dark over the Col. The last thing either of us wanted to do was risk being stuck in a bad storm as we approached 13,000 feet. I was bummed that I wouldn't make my goal, but this was the right choice.

As we headed back down the use trail, I was upset, but at the same time I was okay with it. As I heard thunder crackling behind us and drops of rain plopped on my head, I knew it was the right decision. Yes, I had "failed" at my goal of Lamarck Col, but dammit, it's a tough hike and I'm recovering from a broken back. Seriously, a broken back and nerve damage and I was hiking to Lamarck Col. I was thrilled that I made it 5 miles and +3000 feet of elevation gain. That in itself is freaking amazing all things considered. The trek down the switchbacks was a little rough at times, but I made it. The water crossings were still not my friends, in fact, they were downright evil. I actually cringed in pain at the middle crossing (the one Dave had to grab my had for on the way up) because the amount of pressure on the ball of my foot as I crossed was horrifying (the joys of nerve regeneration). As we filled up our water at Lower Lamarck, it started pouring. We saw patches of blue sky, but it was also very dark over Mt Lamarck. Yep, we had made the right decision. The hike down from Lower Lamarck was long and wet. At one point I slipped on a rock and almost fell, but my body caught itself before I went back too far. After catching my breath, the trek back to the car continued. My feet weren't happy and my left knee was a little tight, but the rest of my body felt fairly good considering how intense the trail is. The irony of the whole situation, was as we approached the car, the sky over Mt Lamarck was blue again. Damn summer thunderstorms. 

Lamarck Col is a place not to be at the moment.

While I wanted to reach Lamarck Col on the first attempt, I knew it would be there for me next time. Dave kept encouraging me that I would have made it had it not been for the storms and his signs of AMS. I knew that I would have, we were less than a mile away (that's right, less than a mile!!), but I didn't want to do it without him and didn't want to do it under dangerous conditions. One thing that I've learned over the past several weeks and months is that it will happen when it's time. It's all about being patient and waiting for that moment. This was another one of those lessons and I'm okay with that. 

It's All About Evolution!

After our adventure last weekend, I decided that it might be time to modify my goal. Some could take it to mean that I'm giving up, but I think of it more as  evolving my goal to fit my recovery. (See? It's all about evolution!) While I still would love to do Lamarck Col as a dayhike, it's a beast for me to try and tackle right now. As I mentioned, it's not the uphill part that is hard for me, it's the beating that my body takes on the way down. I know that I could do it right now, but I'm trying to be more in tune with my body and its needs. Why risk possibly spending days recovering from the hike, when I could savor the views when we start backpacking again?! Having said that, my modified goal is to backpack into Darwin Canyon/EVO via Lamarck Col.

My recovery has been up and down on so many levels, but one thing that has been noticeable throughout is how quickly my recovery is progressing along (physically... emotionally is a whole different story). They said it'd be six months before I was walking unassisted; it was three. They said it'd be a long time before I was hiking again; it was 3.5 months. I've been tearing up steep trails and my quads haven't complained one bit. I've had to be more aware of and pay attention to my body than ever before, but I was in nature again! If you ask Dave, he can tell you that I've been extra cautious about all aspect of hiking. Water crossings scare me because of the balance issues and I still struggle with other aspects of hiking too, but Dave is always right beside me helping and encouraging me through it all. The one area of hiking that I'm still missing though is backpacking.

I've decided to stop putting importance on meeting a goal by a certain date. Sure it would have been awesome to have done Lamarck Col on the five month ouchiversary, but why push myself to get there on a certain date rather than do it when I can enjoy it more? That's one reason why I decided to modify *the* goal hike a bit. Backpacking into EVO via Lamarck Col would allow me to not only savor the Evolution Basin more, but I'd be doing it the way we were planning to before the accident happened - by backpacking. As much as I want to do this ASAP, especially since we were planning on spending a week in EVO this summer, I want to do it when my body is ready for it. 

EVO is calling my name. It's been too long... and I want another piece of my life back. Evolution. It's almost time to go back.

The Darwin-Mendel Massif from Sapphire Lake

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly...

It's been a few weeks since I've posted and it was on my 'to do' list this past week, but I've been avoiding it. It's not because I don't have anything to say, in fact there is a lot I want to write about, but things have just been overwhelming the past week and it's been hard to make myself sit down and write. Well, I'm not going to avoid it any longer, because holding it in doesn't do me any good...

You don't get to pick what your passion is. It finds you.

Hiking. Backpacking. Sierra. Hiking. Backpacking. Evolution. Hiking. Backpacking. Sierra. All I seem to think about is how much I want to be back to spending every weekend deep in the Sierra Nevada. Okay, there are other things on my mind too - like paying attention to my body, figuring out where to even begin with the bills, the frustration of dealing with the CA EDD office, trying not to get an ass kicking from Kim again - just to name a few. I'll get to all of that, but the Sierra is where my mind prefers to be (along with my body). 

It's been amazing for my mental and physical health to be out in nature again. It's destroying me not to be backpacking in the Sierra backcountry every weekend, and I'm still very bitter about that, but at least I have something. I have to be extra careful when on trails, including using hiking poles because my balance isn't all that great on uneven terrain, but I'm adapting. The nerves in my feet and legs drive me up the wall when hiking, but at least I can feel my legs. While I'm bitter about what happened and how it's affected my life, I'm still very grateful to be alive and walking again. 

I found a nap rock at Robinson Lake.
After learning a lesson about patience on the Shadow Lake hike, I decided to tone down my goals and be a little more reasonable. I did break my back after all. On the 4 month ouchiversary, we decided to try the Robinson Lake trail. It was about 1.5 miles to the lake with about 1400' of elevation gain. If there is one thing that didn't change, it was that my legs prefer elevation gain to gentle terrain any day. I've always been weird like that - give me mad elevation gain any day. It was a very slow and steady trip up to the lake, but I made it. It was rough in spots because I was very unsure of my footing due to the balance issues, and this would become very apparent on the way down. After enjoying a nap rock before ants attacked, we began the journey back to the car. It was harder for me going down than up and it took longer too. Not only was I unsure about my footing on some of the surfaces, I was also worried about falling. The thought of slipping and falling freaks me out a little because of what it could do to my back. Needless to say, I was very happy to make it back to the car safely. Who would have thought that I'd be slowly and cautiously hiking steep trails by this time?!

Enjoying the hike to Gaylor and Granite Lakes.
The next weekend was going to be an epic test for me - attempting camping for the first time. Granted it was just car camping, but who knows how my body was going to handle it. So, we loaded up the Subie with all of my pillows, all of our sleeping pads, and all the other essentials we'd need for the trip and headed up to Tuolumne to meet Terri, her husband, Teri and Josh. We decided to hike to Gaylor and Granite Lakes before heading to the campground. The beginning of the trail was lots of up which made my quads happy, but the going down to the lake part was slow and cautious. The view of Middle Gaylor and the Cathedral Range behind it was amazing. We headed up to Upper Gaylor and then did a little XC hiking to Granite Lakes. My legs were tired, but damn did it feel good to do a little XC hiking. Dave even got a little video of the adventure. The hike back up and over the ridge to the car was slow, but even with my tired legs, I noticed progress. 

Camping wasn't quite as successful, but I wasn't totally expecting it to be. Getting in and out of the tent was a little tricky because my legs and back didn't want to cooperate all the time, but I founds ways to do it. The hardest part was trying to get comfortable at night. Even with two sleeping pads under me and pillows, it was still very hard to relax. I was worried about how my back would do with sleeping in the tent. Part of the problem was the issue I have with the nerves in my feet too. Since the accident, they are very sensitive and it bothers me to have anything touch them. I can do socks for a few hours at a time now, but having sheets and such touch the ankles and feet is really bothersome. (I really hope this goes away at some point!) All in all, it was a learning experience for us. I was happy on Sunday morning to only be sleep deprived and not sore from hiking. Overall, it was a fun trip and I was so glad to see our friends again! Plus, when else do you have an excuse to eat an It's-It at 10:30am with Terri?! :)

Soaking in the view at Upper Lamarck Lake.
Last weekend was going to be a test for me. I'd been dying to see the Lamarck Lakes again and it would be a test to see how I was really progressing (by my standards). Given that I'd been doing 3-3.5 miles the previous trips, I figured it'd be a good time to try 5.5 miles. Well, I forgot about the 0.75 mile hike from the parking lot to the trailhead. 7 miles. Ready? Go! 

I'd remembered the trail being a little rough for me last year, so I was expecting it to be really difficult this time around. My legs were liking the trail this time and it must have been because of all the bike riding and all the quad work I do in PT. We'd made it to Lower Lamarck lake with not too many problems - paying attention to my legs and back the whole time. Little did I know the hardest parts for me were coming up - the lake outlet and stream crossings. The rocks and logs were rock solid, but my legs and sense of balance were not. It was hard and I almost wanted to turn around because of it, but I kept going. Dave was great at helping me a lot at each crossing. It was also very tricky for me walking on the rocks when we got to Upper Lamarck, but I found a good spot and tried to relax (it's hard when you're being cautious about the back and legs). It felt amazing to just sit there and soak in the views. The hike back down the trail was uneventful and my legs felt like jello for the last mile or so back to the car. I was a little in shock that I made it 7 miles and was actually halfway to *the* goal hike! *squee*

Tiffaroo and Princess Buttercup on the trail.
This weekend was what I would call a 'successful failure' to quote Apollo 13. It was successful because I went farther than I did the previous weekend (10 miles) and I was really paying attention to my body. It was a 'failure' in the sense that we didn't make it to our goal and actually came within less than a mile of the Hilton Lakes. I wasn't happy about not making it, but was happy that I listened to my body and knew that it would be bad news to go farther. I hadn't really taken into account the sandiness of the trail and that really wore me out quickly. The last few miles of the trail were really rough for me, but when you live a little you learn a little too. Plus, I got to finally cross paths with Princess Buttercup (aka Laura) on the trail. We have a date with EVO this fall.

The emotional damage... and healing.

Now for the tough stuff, the non-hiking status. The past few weeks have been really rough on many levels. Even with all the positive hiking progress, there's still the emotional side of recovery to deal with among other things. Yippee... /sarcasm.

For the first few months after the accident, I struggled with reliving the accident whenever I'd close my eyes. Seeing myself start to slide, trying to stop myself, laying there in the snow in pain... it was really, really hard to deal with. For a few weeks, the nightmare of the accident seemed to disappear. Well, it didn't last for long. The nightmares of the fall have returned recently - not the full event, but bits and pieces of it. I thought it was over. I was hoping it was over. It was wishful thinking. I have a feeling I'm going to be haunted by the fall for a very, very long time...

The daily struggle of adapting to the 'new normal' has been emotionally rough lately. With the progress I've been making on the trails, it's still been rough dealing with everyday things. My balance is still off, standing is exhausting, driving is tricky and I just get worn out really quickly (to name a few things). I've been trying to stay positive about it, but it's hard. I miss being active. I miss working. I'm sick of dealing with the CA EDD office and all the extra stress that it's adding to my life. I'm already in the red from this whole situation, why do they have to add extra frustration to my life?! Don't even get me started on the whole bill situation. I'm barely making the essential ends meet on my disability pay, and I have to deal with hospital bills and such on top of it. I know it will all somehow work out, but it should never have happened in the first place. What the hell did I do to deserve this? I'm mad. I'm bitter. I just wish it would all go away. I'm trying to deal with it, but it's hard. I'm trying to stay positive, but it's not easy. Dave has dealt with me venting and crying on his shoulder a lot lately. Kim has too. I'm very grateful that they, and many others, have been so supportive though all of this. 

From the physical side of things, things are healing as they should, but it's still a long road ahead for me. The hardware in my back gets irritated quite a bit and I just want to rip it out some days (don't worry, I won't do it). I find myself running my hand along my spine quite frequently to see if things are still in place. I know I can't really tell by doing it, but it puts my mind a little at ease. My left side, where the entry point for the first surgery was, is still extremely sensitive. I've cringed quite a few times when the area is touched or rubbed up against. It's most likely a nerve and muscle thing, and it's minor in comparison to the fact that I have titanium in my back, but it's hard to deal with because of the pain. 

The slightly unexpected part that has been extremely rough, is the healing and regeneration of nerves in my legs and feet. There are many days that I think the nerve/spinal cord damage is worse than the bionic back issues. The feet seem to be healing slowly, but it's still a very long road with the nerve regeneration. I've been told it could be up to two years before they are healed. My left and right feet don't act or really respond the same. To be very, very honest, it's extremely frustrating and I'm in tears at times because of it (among other things). On top of them not acting the same, they are extremely itchy, tingly and sensitive. I'm surprised I haven't itched through all the skin yet - it's that bad. A washcloth has become my new best friend with my feet so that the itching/scratching isn't so harsh on them. It's a temporary fix, but it helps a little. 

I could go on and on, but I don't really need to. The past 20 weeks have been a rough journey on so many levels. There has been lots of progress and many setbacks, lots of ass kickings from Kim and teasing from Mike, lots of tears on Dave's shoulders and cheers of success. I remind myself every day that it could have been so much worse and that I'm lucky to be alive. I hate the annoying nerve sensations in my legs, but I'm happy that I have feeling in my legs. As rough as this all is on both the emotional and physical levels, I am grateful to be alive and have so much support from friends. I know the road ahead is long and bumpy, but I'll get there... one step at a time.