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).