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.


  1. I'm so amazed at how far you have come. So many people would have just let it keep them from what they loved to do. You are fighting your way back. I'm glad you remember that you aren't supposed to be at 100% yet. I know you get frustrated, but you really have come a long, LONG way! *hugs*

    1. Thanks, Julie! It means a lot to me. I'm trying to stay positive through all of this, but it's been extremely hard... especially as of late. I've just gotta keep fighting to get my life back...

  2. Tiff, you are such an inspiration. I sit here reading this and I can't help but laugh a little at the idea that you broke your back and went through everything you've been through, and you're still off hiking further and more frequently than anyone else I know! It's just incredible. Broke my back? meh - I love hiking so I will damn well go hiking. Brilliant. You're great. Super fabulous and great!

    I'm glad that Dave's shoulders are there to soak up some of the tears and I can barely begin to imagine how frustrating it must be waiting for nerve growth and having itchy feet. (You recall how badly I deal with itching - right? If not, this pic will remind you.. !)

    I know there's little I can do to help the physical recovery, but I'm here if you ever need someone new to vent at, or if you fancy a break from the sunshine and gorgeous hiking trails of California, London is pretty sunny at the moment. Heh. :) You keep up the good fight. You're amazing. xxx