Saturday, December 20, 2014

The REAL Return To Skiing

Disclaimer: I know I posted about "the return to skiing" last year, but looking back, it didn't feel like I really returned to skis. I mean, I got on a lift in absolutely brutal conditions and somehow got down the trail, but I didn't enjoy it. Baby step in the right direction? Of course. Returning to skiing? Not really. Returning to skiing means enjoying those turns and having a blast!

The Butterflies...

Last March, I started talking to Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra (DSES) about taking lessons. I just knew after talking with them that they were the ones that were going to really get me to love skiing again. Unfortunately, or fortunately, my back decided to flare up bad shortly after talking to them. I was bummed, but at the same time, maybe it was a sign to wait until next ski season. After a remarkable summer of hiking and backpacking (!!), I knew it was a good sign that I waited. I was stronger this summer and more in-tune with the bionic back and annoying nerves. I went on more backpacking trips this summer than I had any summer before breaking my back. I had a good feeling going into ski season... 

I reached out to DSES in November, and Andy put my in touch with Maggie. After talking on the phone and via email a few times, Dave and I stopped in before the Thanksgiving holiday to talk to her in person. I had a really great feeling about this ski season after talking with her and several others at DSES. Lessons were set up for December, and I knew it was finally going to happen. I was excited... and nervous. 

It all started about a week before my lessons. The events of February 23rd, 2013 were on repeat as I tried to fall asleep. The nightmares had returned. Only this time they weren't just nightmares, they were "daymares", too. Don't get me wrong, I was ridiculously excited about getting back on skis again (and skiing with DSES), but the chairlift memories were ruining it. It seemed that resort skiing had been ruined for me. I was basically dealing with so much excitement about skiing again, a fresh snow dump before my lessons, and the lift anxiety, all at once.

The excitement hit as we left at 4am for Mammoth. I still couldn't believe this was happening. Well, that excitement started mixing with the butterflies not long after we hijacked Moosie. As we drove up to the Main Lodge, I felt like I was going to hurl my guts out. I was still excited about skiing, but there was also a lot of anxiety. I'd been on a lift since I broke my back and on skis, but the anxiety was still paralyzing. Well, it was time to face that anxiety and fear head on...

Twin Plank Lessons: Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra Edition

From the second I first stepped into the DSES office at Mammoth, I had a feeling that the weekend was going to be a special one. As queasy as I felt from the anxiety that was building in my gut, I also felt at ease because I knew I was in good hands. That doesn't mean that some tears weren't shed in the bathroom at one point, but that was bound to happen. As it turns out, it only happened once. 

Mark could probably tell, from the moment he introduced himself as my instructor for the day, that I was nervous. My face always gives everything away. The lesson started with talking about the game plan, what my goals are (short and long term) with skiing, my concerns, etc. It helped get my mind off the building anxiety of the lift. We headed outside and spent a little time on the basics of getting use to my skis again, something with which I was very okay. Then it was time to face my biggest fear... the lift.

It was weird. As soon as I got on the lift, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I mean, I wasn't completely at ease, but I wasn't freaking out (even when the lift would stop mid-ride). We did a few laps on the "Marathon Mile", a super tame trail, to help me get use to the snow, my skis, and deal with some of the anxiety I was feeling about being on skis. After the second time, I think there was a perma-smile on my face. Heck, we even got a huge rainbow on a bluebird day while waiting in line at Discovery Chair! We moved on to the slightly steeper Sesame Street West, gradually adding things to work on, but mostly focusing on my balance on the skis. The guidance, support and encouragement from Mark (and the volunteers) really helped me feel more at ease - even when I was panicking at times. By lunchtime, I had made more progress that I thought I would - six runs, no falls, and a perma-smile!

The afternoon session started off where the morning left off - with a perma-smile and an open mind. More progress was made, including a much needed sliding fall mid-run, but I could also tell that I was finally starting to get fatigued. After the second or third run, my right leg was getting hard to control. It just wanted to do its own thing. It was the most bizarre and terrifying feeling, not being able to really control what was going on. We took a break, which included riding the gondola, and decided it was good to call it a day and start fresh in the morning. 

Celebrating a day full of progress at the top of Mammoth!

I spent pretty much the entire afternoon/evening in perma-smile mode. Hearing the progress I had made in a short amount of time, and seeing it myself, was amazing. It was encouraging to hear that the only issue I might have with skiing is getting fatigued more easily. I'm pretty sure that when I met Dave and Moosie in the Lodge after my lessons, they could see my smile from hundreds of feet away. They were excited about the progress. I was excited about the progress. I felt amazing. That night was all about celebrating... with some tasty MBC beer. 

The next morning started off with a little anxiety, but nothing like the day before. When Dave dropped me off at DSES, Maggie greeted me. She was thrilled to hear how the prior day went and let me know that I'd be skiing with Carolyn and Carlynn (Maggie was fighting a bug, and we were both bummed to have to wait to ski together). The lesson started off similar to yesterday, and I had a blast talking to Carolyn and Carlynn. Mark had filled them in on the progress of yesterday, and we knew to really focus on my balance today while continuing progress in other areas (I seem to like the backseat... but I'm getting better about catching and fixing it). After getting use to freshly waxed skis and warming up, the perma-smile returned. I was tense at times, and Carolyn had to remind me to breathe a few times, but I was having a blast. I felt great after the previous day - including the back! On our last run of the morning, we decided to do a new trail... and I loved it! I was a little tense, but I remembered to breathe the entire way down and got to practice a lot of difference skills! It was a great way to cap off a great weekend! 

You can't ski at Mammoth without saying hi to Woolly!

Skiing Is Fun Again!

I cannot say enough good things about this past weekend. I've had amazing support from so many friends, near and far, throughout my entire recovery journey. It was evident from all of the positive messages I was getting leading up to, during, and after the "return to skiing" weekend. I can't thank everyone enough. Dave and Moosie were there the entire weekend, experiencing the perma-smile firsthand. DSES has almost left me speechless. They've been so welcoming, supportive, encouraging, patient, and just plain awesome. I honestly didn't think that getting back on skis would be so much fun, but it has been thanks to the awesome people at DSES. They've made the skiing 'itch' hit hard, and I can't wait to go back up after the holidays and continue working with them. I know it's not always going to go as smoothly and I'll get frustrated with myself, but that's what this entire recovery journey has been about - overcoming and moving on. They've reignited my passion for skiing and made it fun again. I cannot thank DSES enough for that!

I know that I am lucky to be where I am today with my recovery - things could have been so much worse. I'm thankful every single day that I'm walking again, because I know that I shouldn't be. I've learned to live every day to it's fullest and never take anything for granted because it all could change in split second... and it did for me. Time in the mountains means so much more to me these days. It was amazing to feel the peace that being alone in the backcountry brings again. Now it's amazing to feel that pure joy of skiing again and it means the world to me. I've had my critics, but I'm not going to live in a glass box and just give up on getting my life back. Life is all about living and being in the moment. Do I wish that February 23rd never happened? Of course! I can't change what happened, but I can celebrate every day. Life is all about living... and celebrating every moment with those around you. Many thanks to Dave, Moosie, and everyone at DSES for making my return to skiing so special. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Season of Change

After this past weekend, it's safe to say that summer backpacking season is over. There is still time for fall backpacking, but before that happens, it's time for a long overdue post. Last time I posted, it was all about the amazing GoFundMe support and my return to backpacking after becoming bionic. Needless to say, a lot has happened since then. Did I meet my goals I had set for myself? Nope. I could make excuses about why I didn't, which I'm tempted to do at times, but that's not helpful in the long run. Instead, I've learned that it's good to be flexible with goals and to just enjoy every opportunity as it presents itself. EVO and Precipice will be there next summer... and I hear that Mt Goddard is someplace that Dave really wants to visit. I might not have met my goals, or even had a real chance to go for them, but I had more backpacking time in the Sierra this summer than I ever thought I would! 

This post is going to highlight some of my summer adventures... the good stuff, not the bad (trust me, you really don't want to know how temperamental my back is). I like to focus on the positive! Probably the biggest highlight of the summer was the transition from The Mermaid chapter of my life to THE Meatball. Yes, THE Meatball. Back to backpacking, below are some of the significant trips of the summer. Several are not included to keep the length of the post down, one of which is introducing a friend to backpacking! Needless to say, she's hooked now! If you want the full photo scoop of my summer adventures, go to flickr.

A Granite Park Holiday

After two fairly successful backpacking trips, we decided to use the July 4th holiday weekend to attempt my first multi-day backpacking adventure. Our first trailhead choice was gone, so I decided to pick the hottest slog of a trail for this trip. It should be pretty clear by now that I never choose the easy way to do things. Pine Creek it was! We made Honeymoon Lake our basecamp for the long weekend and spent the off day taking the use trail to explore Granite Park. It wasn't easy due to the heat and the awkwardly giant rock hopping across the 'river' to Honeymoon, but the views were worth it. It was almost like a moonscape up there. Needless to say, I can't wait to return and explore more - Bear Lakes Basin is calling my name! 

The view on the way to Italy Pass. A moonscape.

Adventures in Dusy Basin

After having to take a few weekends off from backpacking due to Davemobile issues, Labor Day weekend meant getting back to backcountry. It was off to Dusy Basin for us. We got a late start and it was hot out, but at least there was a breeze and I could finally use my new lightweight pack. We had planned to setup basecamp at Lake 11393 in Dusy Basin, but when we got to Bishop Pass, my back decided to stiffen up. It wasn't hike ending, but we decided not to cross country it and stuck to the trail, camping at the popular lake in Dusy. It wasn't too bad as it was a Friday, and the stunning scenery made up for the "crowd". My back felt better in the morning, so we moved camp to Lake 11393 and I'm glad we did - we were the only ones there! We spent the day exploring the peninsulas of the lake, Dusy Basin itself, and just soaking in the views. Alpenglow on the Palisades that night was amazing. The next morning we did a little cross country hiking back to Bishop Pass (boulder fields are not my friend) and then back to the trailhead. I'm fairly certain the last three miles to the trailhead felt longer than the other 17 miles we hiked combined. Aside from the back flareups and the destroyed toenail, it was a pretty awesome trip! 

Perfect Reflection in Dusy Basin

Exploring Dusy Basin

All HAIL Pear Lake!

It had been probably three years since Steve (@yosemitesteve) told us about Moose Lake. We still hadn't been, but this was the weekend we were going to try for it via the Pear Lake/Alta Meadow loop. Well, what we were suppose to do and what actually happened were two separate things. We made it to Pear Lake in pretty good time (Dave commented on my blistering pace), but as we were getting water and eating a late lunch, the building clouds and cold downdrafts just couldn't be ignored. I was feeling pretty darn good, but we decided to just set up camp due to the unknown. This turned out to be a very good decision. As we were finishing dinner, it started raining. As we got in the tent, that rain turned to hail... and then the intensity and size of the hail increased. The hail eventually put two holes in our tent (it was golf ball size hail) and it covered the ground completely. It was eerie, slightly frightening and cool all at the same time. We realized we were very lucky not to be at Moose Lake as it is much more exposed up there. After the storm, we were treated to an amazing sunset and a double rainbow. The next morning we hiked out and got to enjoy the leftover hail and thankfully less dusty trail. 

Post-Hail Storm at Pear Lake

Double Rainbow!

The Next Season...

This past weekend, we decided to try Moose Lake again, this time just via Alta Meadow. We were prepared for foul weather as there was a storm moving in. I secretly wanted a little thunder snow. Aside from it being chilly outside, I was feeling pretty good as we started the hike. We ran into Ranger Liz on the trail (she issued us our permit to Moose the previous weekend and made for one of the best experiences we've ever had with a ranger) and chatted for a bit. As we ascended the ridge to Panther Gap, the temperature dropped quite a bit... so did the visibility. From here, it was about 7 miles to Moose Lake, and all of it would be in the fog/clouds. Knowing the weather was only going to get worse over the day and night, we decided then just to call it. It sucked, but at the same time, we didn't want to hike in a cloud for 7 miles (the plunging temps threw my back into a little shock too). We just decided it was more backpacking practice for our next attempt at Moose Lake (soon!). About a 1/2 mile from the trailhead, we had our first bear sighting of the year. It was gorgeous and pretty much made up for the crap weather. Am I still a little bummed we didn't make it to Moose? Of course, but we also know when to turn around and that Moose Lake will be there for the next time. 

The Great Western Divide is over there!

Now what happens over the next several weeks and months is up in the air. I'm hoping for a lot more fall hiking and backpacking. Maybe I could meet my goals during this time, but who knows. Maybe I'll make it to Moose, or maybe it will have to wait for spring. It's all about adapting to whatever is thrown your way, and that's what I plan on doing...

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Unreal Support

Before I even dive into my first backpacking adventure, I wanted to touch on a different topic first. As many of you now know, I decided to set up a GoFundMe campaign to help with the bionic back bills. If you didn't know, here's the link: Tiff's GoFundMe. I explain a bit of the background on why and my personal struggle with asking for help on the page itself, so I'm not going to go into details here. I honestly wasn't expecting much to come of it. Well, I should have known better! My mind has been absolutely blown with the amount of support that I have received so far. After the first weekend (started on a Friday evening), I was over $3k. That next day, I was over $6.5k thanks to a jaw-dropping donation. The amount of support has been unreal, and I'm speechless. As I type this, I'm closing in on my goal and I cannot believe it - less than two weeks! I honestly cannot thank everyone enough who has donated - it means the world to me. I know there are a lot who cannot donate, and I completely understand. But the amount of support I've received though this, along with all of the encouragement and support I've received throughout this entire recovery process, has meant the world to me. People are amazing. 

The Return to Backpacking

20 months. It had been 20 months since I backpacked to Precipice Lake in October 2012. 20 months feels like eternity when you use to spend practically every weekend backpacking. Well, the backpacking hiatus ended this past weekend. I went backpacking for the first time since breaking my back and it was AWESOME! 

After a several weekends off from hiking, partially due to my crazy bionic back and Dave being gone on his ski touring adventure, I finally started doing some serious day hiking again. I hadn't done anything close to 10 miles since I started back at work last September. Well, that was changing. It started out with a little 9 mile leg stretch to Mist Falls in Kings Canyon. The following weekend, we decided to do a little backpacking practice - long day hike, minimalist car camping, day hike. I was honestly surprised how well that went. We hiked up the Sphinx Creek trail in Kings Canyon and followed it up with the Park Ridge Trial (tame in comparison to the Sphinx Creek switchbacks). We had planned to backpack the next weekend, but put that off and decided to day hike up to Kearsarge Pass instead. It was a little exhausting for me because it was my first hike at altitude in a long time, but it was good. I was thrilled with how it went. I was honestly amazed to have three weekends of "longer" day hikes in a row with a back that was behaving. Dave and I knew what the next step was... backpacking!

I was nervous leading up to backpacking. What if it ended like the failed attempt we had last fall? What if something happened to my back? But...what if I was able to actually do it? I spent Friday afternoon packing my "new" Arc'teryx Altra - a sleeping back, sleeping pad, clothes, my camera, a silly little bear. When I was done, the pack weighted in at 14 pounds. I was hoping it was less, but I was not complaining. I tried it on. It felt a little weird - a backpack with a suspension system is going to feel different than my Quintic ski pack - but felt much better than when I tried to carry it last fall. Maybe this was a good sign? I hoped so. I felt ready.

Saturday, we left for Sequoia. Our destination was Little Lakes, which is situated right below Mt Silliman. Our friend, Steve (@YosemiteSteve), had told us about it last fall. Once we had our permit for the Twin Lakes trail, we were off. It was weird carrying the pack. It just felt different in so many ways, but it didn't feel bad. The one nice thing about my backpack is that the weight is all on my hips, not my new back. Plus, the pack doesn't even touch my back where the hardware is (occasionally my other pack bothers me because it lays perfectly on my back), so there was no irritation. It was hot out, but the first 2+ miles felt easy peasy to me. Maybe this was a good sign?! Once we got to the Silliman Creek crossing, we took the use trail that leads toward Mt Silliman. When we reached the meadow with an amazing view of the endless slabs leading up to Silliman Lake, we started looking for the best way to get to Little Lakes. After some bushwhacking and figuring out what we wanted to do, I decided that maybe we should just camp in the great little spot I had seen not too long ago. I really wanted camp at Little Lakes, but I didn't want to spend too much more time looking for the best way to get there. Plus, I wanted to just relax and not push myself too much on my first backpacking trip. Dave was okay with it. We were in nature, what did the destination really matter? We set up camp, did some exploring and just soaked it all in. It finally started to sink in that I was backpacking again.

Endless Slabs to Silliman Lakes

Sunday morning, I woke up with a slightly stiff back, but that always happens when I camp - especially now. Once I started moving around, the stiffness went away. We had breakfast, packed up camp, and started heading down the trail. Carrying a backpack started to feel natural. It threw off my balance from time to time (I still have some balance issues, and the pack does have a swivel hip belt), but nothing too bad. Dave was pretty surprised that I was able to keep up with him most of the way down. I tend to go up faster than coming down, so this is a little sign of progress, I think. As we approached the trailhead, it really hit me that had just completed my first backpacking trip since the accident. I was so happy, I was almost in tears. I celebrated with an It's-It at 10am, because that's just how I roll.

This is what you call a #happytiffyface


I've had a hard time expressing just what backpacking means to me. I was ecstatic last summer when I was able to hike again and spend more time in nature. The Sierra feels like home to me, so being able to hike again was like going home in a way. A lot of people know how much skiing again meant to me, but anyone who really knows me knows that backpacking is what means the most to me. There is something magical about sleeping under the stars with nobody around. It's almost therapeutic, soaking in the amazing vistas that surround you when in the wilderness. I can't find the words to describe it completely, but it's different than day hiking. It's magical. I think this backpacking trip made me realize just how much I missed that feeling, but it's back now. I feel like another piece of me, a big piece, is back after my life was shattered in a split second. This piece might have been the piece I needed the most. 

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares drop off like autumn leaves." - John Muir

Monday, May 5, 2014

Goals, Goals, Goals

Goals are one of those things that can either be good or bad. They can either motivate you to keep pushing on, or they can get you down when you aren't able to meet them. Last summer, I had a dose of both ends of the spectrum. 

Little was known about how my recovery would go last year. The one thing that was well-known though was how determined I was to get my life back. I had my ups and downs, but that was to be expected. I set a goal to make it up Moro Rock under my own power on June 1. I did it, unassisted, and passed a few people along the way. I set a very lofty goal to see the EVO again via Lamarck Col. I didn't meet that goal, but I made one hell of an attempt. [I can't control the weather, thunderstorms rolled in where we were, and I can't control when Dave gets AMS.] Was I disappointed I didn't meet that goal? Of course! At the same time, look at all the progress I made last spring and summer. How could I honestly be disappointed? Well, it's time to set some summer goals again...

Summer Goals: The Backpacking Edition

It is well-known that all I want to do this summer is spend time in the Sierra backpacking. I haven't actually backpacked since we went to Precipice Lake in October of 2012. We tried a little trip to Pear Lake last October, but between time off from hiking and other things, it wasn't successful. At least I tried though - that's all that really matters. Well, with the low snow year we had in the Sierra, it's time to start getting ready for backpacking season. That starts with setting my goals...

Goal 1: EVO or Bust!
After not making it to Evolution Valley last summer, or even getting a glimpse of it from Lamarck Col, it's time to go back this summer. I touched on how much the Evolution Valley means to me in my goals post last year, so I'm not going to expand on that in this post. Dave and I are probably going to attempt several trips to the area this summer (it's a gateway to the Ionian Basin and also Mt Goddard), but I'm going to focus on the first trip there. The plan is to cross Lamarck Col and set up a base camp in Darwin Canyon on the first night, possibly near Darwin Bench. The second day will be spent hiking in EVO - exploring all of my favorite lakes and possibly going to the Muir Hut depending on now I am feeling. The last day of the trip will be packing up our base camp in Darwin Canyon and hiking out to North Lake. Is this ambitious? Of course it is! This will definitely not be an easy trip like I would have considered it to be, prior to the events of last year, but I'm looking forward to the challenge. Plus, I'd meet last summers goal in the process too. Bonus! 

Sapphire Lake. The Darwin-Mendel Massif is in the distance.

Goal 2: Precipice Lake, not via the High Sierra Trail
The last backpacking trip I made was to Precipice Lake. Aside from the Evolution Valley, it is probably my favorite spot in the Sierra. I blame Ansel Adams for that. Well, as Dave knows quite well, I'm not a fan of the first 11 or so miles of the usual route to get there. This time we plan to go about it another way - by starting in Mineral King. The route is more challenging than the standard route, but I always love a challenge. I'm also looking forward to the change of scenery on the way to Precipice. Along the way, we get to revisit the Nine Lakes Basin, to which I am looking forward. We haven't been in this area since we did the High Sierra Trail in 2011. All in all, it's another lofty goal, but setting lofty goals is what I do. I have a date with Ansel Adams this summer... 

Precipice Lake - October 2012

Actually, I don't even know if I need a silly disclaimer. I know that I haven't backpacked yet. I know there is the unknown of whether I'll really be able to do it or not, therefore possibly making these goals unreachable this summer. I don't know how my body will handle longer trips and carrying a bit more weight. There are a lot of unknowns. I don't care. I'm going to try. I'm going to prepare and train like it will happen, all while listening and paying close attention to my body. Listening to my body potentially means making major life changes before this summer gets into full swing. These days, doing what is best for my body is what matters the most to me. Regardless of what I do, the backpacking transition might not be easy or go as quickly as I would like it to, but that's been the story of my recovery. When you love something as much as I love being in the Sierra, you give it everything you have and fight for it. I plan on doing that. Bring on backpacking season!

"The mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are cathedrals where I practice my religion." :: Anatoli Boukreev

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Lessons In Patience: Twin Planks Edition

The past year has taught me many lessons. A few of the lessons were easy, but the vast majority were not-so-easy. I mean, nothing can really be easy when you go from being ridiculously active and always on the go, to having a broken back with an incomplete spinal cord injury. Physically, emotionally, not the lessons that I could have ever imagined dealing with... at any age. This past month, I've had an extra dose of the not-so-easy lessons. While I know the bionic life is going to be full of lessons of all shapes and sizes, the month of March sure was a doozie. 

There's Always Next Season...

To be honest, it's been coming for awhile. I waited 9.5 months to get back on skis for the first time since breaking my back, only to deal with the most brutal conditions and spraining my gimpy, nerve-damaged ankle. The bright side of that whole ordeal was that I got on a lift (it had a safety bar AND the lift operator was doing their job) and got in a few turns. That in itself was huge. Since that weekend in early December, I hadn't been on skis again until Dave and I went tame ski touring a few times in the Mammoth Lakes Basin around mid-February (see previous post). The tame skinning adventures were baby steps in the right direction. Well, sometimes when you're taking baby steps, you have to do-si-do around those steps.

Breaking trail on the way to Little Lakes Valley

While my body is adapting to having skis on my feet again and getting use to the feeling of having a free heel, sometimes you need to know when to call it and save locking the heel for next season. In early March, my back started flaring up. It was similar to previous flare ups, but at the same time was different and more intense. It felt like a very tight, sharp pain running down my lower spine, near the hardware. Unlike previous times when it was the upper hardware that was irritated, it was the lower region of the hardware, around the L2 area. I tried my go-to tricks that helped with previous problems - heat, ibuprofen, rest, etc - but nothing seemed to really work. I had a few extra tame weekends. I took some unpaid time off work to rest it to see if it would help (not good for someone who has massive bills to pay, but I've gotta listen to the body). Finally after about three weeks of a very grumpy back, it seemed to calm down a little. Chris, my PT, seems to think that it's most likely stress on the joint below the fusion. It makes complete sense and so we're focusing on exercises and such to help. While I can't pinpoint the cause of the flare up and it's most likely a combination of things, I'm just going to have to accept that it will happen from time to time. Welcome to the "new normal"... again. 

It's no secret that the Sierra is having a crappy snow year. That, along with the bionic back still adapting to things, made it a relatively easy decision to just spend the rest of the ski season skinning around rather than hitting the slopes. I'd still be able to get a great workout and strengthen muscles that need it, but I'd also get skis on the feet time. It's been just over a year since both surgeries and I'm still healing. With all the progress I've been making, too much could go wrong on the slopes and I don't want to take that chance. Backpacking season is quickly approaching and I don't want to risk anything happening before then. I didn't get to backpack last year and I don't want to have another year of that. So, the decision was simple... there is always next winter! Needless to say, I thought I'd be perfectly fine with that. The truth is, I'm still bitter about not being on the slopes again this year. The bitterness is very much alive and kicking. It's not bad when I'm skinning around, but when I read reports of fresh powder it hits hard. When we are around Mammoth and I see people skiing, it hits really hard. I know that I made the best decision for me. Sometimes the best decisions are the toughest ones. I'm going to keep doing tame ski tours while I can, but the major focus is on getting myself ready for skeeter season in the Sierra... err, I mean hiking season!

I always smile when I see snow-covered mountains.

Learning To Listen

Not only was the past month all about learning to listen to my body, but it was also about learning to listen to what really matters. Listening to what makes me happy, listening to those that matter to me,... and tuning out the negative. The past few weeks, the financial stress from the bionic back situation has hit really hard. The fact that I needed to take time off for my back didn't help the situation. I've been pretty down lately as a result. It's been hard to focus on the positive instead of all the negative, when that's what's looming in your face. I know that somehow it will all work itself out, it has to, but it's not easy to deal with. It also hasn't been easy to let go of those in your life that aren't really who they appeared to be. After months of hanging onto friendships that I thought were genuine, it's time to let go and move on (I don't like fake people). Luckily I have some really great friends and coworkers that are always encouraging me and are so supportive. Dave has been an amazing strength through this too. The past year hasn't been easy for either of us, and he's been like a rock for me through all of the ups and downs. 

I'm learning to listen to my body. I'm learning to tune out the negative. Now it's time to listen to and focus on what makes me happy and really matters. Friends. Family. Nature. Hiking in the Sierra. Spending my days with Dave. Lunch dates with Sandy. Having Laura yell "don't look at the trees!" Being bionic buddies for life with Summer. Talking about EVO with Karen. Planning a return trip to Precipice Lake with Terri. Getting harassed at the PT office by Chris and Laura. The list goes on and on. I know that there are still going to be many rough days ahead for me, but I just need to remember to listen to what matters. What really matters is that I'm alive and walking again. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Bionic Life: Year One

As I write this, I can't believe that it has already been a year. One year ago, my life changed forever. In a split second, I went from getting ready to ski my first black diamond run to not being sure if I'd be able to ski again. I went from sitting on a ski lift to being sprawled out on the icy snow in pain. One year ago, I became bionic. 

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

This past week has been interesting. Over the past year, I'd become use to the extremely vivid flashbacks of the fall. Well, I mean as use to it as one can get, because let's be real, you can't ever get use to something that frightening. It happened a year ago and I still have nightmares about it. Those flashbacks I was anticipating. What I wasn't anticipating were the flashbacks to significant memories from the days leading up to the fall. I remember the significant snowfall that Wednesday morning and how happy it made me (my new Subaru finally got to some snow to play in). I remember Mike sending me a comic about skiing black diamonds while he was in Seattle. I remember opening up to Kim on Friday afternoon and her giving me a "homework assignment" (which is almost a year overdue now). I remember Dave and I doing our traditional Friday night In-N-Out dinner and drive to Oakhurst (for skiing on Saturday at Badger Pass). Why I remember these specific memories, I don't know. Maybe because they are my last significant memories of what the "old normal" life was like for me?! Maybe it's just my mind wishing things were back to the way they were before being bionic?! I really don't know, but they've made this past week emotionally draining. I'm just happy that I'm able to have memories, good or bad, these days. 

Extremely Lucky 

One reminder I've never needed over the past year is just how lucky I am to be alive AND walking. I remember laying in the snow and making sure I could feel and move my legs and arms. I remember how frustrating it was the day after the first surgery to only be able to do two baby steps with a walker, BUT I remember how amazing it was that I could take any steps. It really hit home when I went back and looked at my pre-surgery CT scan recently. I'll just include one frame from the scan... it says all that needs to be said. 

See that fragment in the spinal column? I should not be walking.

I was lucky to have a great surgeon. I was lucky to have a great PT team. I was lucky to be such an active person before the accident. Most of all, I was lucky to have such amazing support from so many people. Dave was by my side through all of this. I can't even find the words to describe the level of support and love he has provided through all of this. The same applies for Mike and Kim. They went above and beyond the call of duty once they found out what happened and they treated me like family. Sandy would always come and visit me after work, bringing me baked goodies and keeping me company on days when I needed it the most. I'm pretty sure she was secretly trying to get me to gain a little weight back, but I wasn't complaining with all of the noms she made! I can't even put into words how awesome Natacha's support and encouragement has been. Jenn was always checking in on me and great at making me delicious Pad Thai! There are so many others I could name - coworkers, family, friends from all over the social media world, etc. - I am very lucky to have had so much amazing support. Actually, lucky might not be the right word... fortunate seems more appropriate. I am very fortunate and grateful for all of the love and support from so many over the past year. 

Moving Forward... 

I don't know what the future in the "new normal" holds for me, but I do know that I'm not going to stop pushing myself to get back to doing what I love. There are some things that are just going to take time to heal, and there are some things that might not heal any more. I don't remember what my legs and feet use to feel like before I broke my back, but I do know that I miss it. I don't like the "new normal" of itchy/tingly sensations in them all the time, but I'm just happy I can feel something! I don't know if I'm ever going to be the crazy backpacker like I use to be, but I do know that I'm going to try. I mean, who would have ever thought I'd be doing strenuous 10+ mile hikes this past summer?! I was hoping I would be able to, but I didn't think that it would happen as quickly and as successfully as it did. The progress I have made, and continue to make, still blows my mind...

The biggest question mark for me has been skiing. In "The Return to Skiing", I discussed a lot of the challenges I faced my first time back on skis. After two or so months off the twin planks, the past two weekends we decided to do a very tame ski tour around the Mammoth Lakes Basin. It had been suggested that I try cross country skiing a few times before hitting the slopes again as a way to get use to the feel of skis on my feet again. Well, Dave and I decided that we should just skip the skinny skis and go straight for the AT setups. I mean, why not? I can get use to skis on my feet again and be demoing the gear that we eventually want to buy. All in all, it went pretty well. It was fun touring around the basin and just being on skis again. I could definitely tell that I was physically stronger than I was back in December when I first demoed the same Dynafit setup (although I am now being reminded about muscles I forgot I had). The mind games kicked in when we started going downhill, even with how ridiculously tame it was. The same issues arose as in December - nervous about falling, not being able to control the skis too well - but there were small improvements. I might have looked silly being nervous about going down such a tame incline, but I really don't care. I know it will get better as I am on skis more. I mean, I can see a noticeable improvement from last weekend to this. Will I be carving up the groomers again anytime soon?! I don't know, but I'm just happy to be back on skis and taking baby steps in the right direction!

I'm stoked to be on skis again... even if it's tame skiing.

... and Moving On

How do I even begin to really move on from what happened? If I could, I'd love to snap my fingers and have life be back to the way it was, but I can't. For the most part, it's been getting a little easier to deal with the "new normal", but there are times when it's hard. My body is getting stronger every day, but it's a mental and physical struggle to deal with the things that I can't do anymore or that don't come as easily. I wish my brain would adapt to the aches and pains faster, and that the nerves would hurry up and heal, but it takes time. After a CT scan of my back last month, I found out that my hardware and spine were solid. SOLID. This comes after taking a tumble or two skiing the previous month. This comes after all the hiking I did this past summer. I still have to be extremely careful about what I do and making sure to avoid twisting as much as possible, but the voicemail from my neurosurgeon saying that it was SOLID was a huge relief for me. That news helped me "move on" a little so I can start to focus more on doing what I love to do rather than constantly wondering how my back is doing. 

The mental side of moving on is proving to be difficult. A huge part of me still wants my old life back, even though I'm well aware of the fact that I can never have that back. There are many times when I start tearing up because of how much I miss the way things were. No amount of tears or wishing is going to bring back the old me. There is no instant fix for this. I'm always going to have rough patches, but that's part of life - bionic or not. I just have to keep reminding myself of how far I've come in such a short amount of time, and how fortunate I am to be alive and walking.

The support and love from friends has definitely been a huge help in the moving on process. The outpouring of support on rough days has been amazing and uplifting. It's not always an instant fix, but it has helped in ways I cannot describe. I honestly don't think I'd be progressing this fantastically without all of the love and support from so many people. I've seen relationships grow from all of this - Dave and I are closer than ever and other friendships have strengthened. I've also seen how the dynamics of some relationships can be in a constant state of flux after I started hiking and skiing again. That one I have really struggled with over the past several months and in a way has added another layer of complexity to the healing process. That being said, if moving on were easy, I'd have already done it. It's all about baby steps...

A friend recently suggested that I should get myself something tangible at the one year mark as a reminder to myself of how much progress I've made in the past year. I wasn't really sure what would meet that need until yesterday when Dave and I went skiing at Mammoth. Why not get myself that sweet Dynafit AT ski setup that I was going to get 50 weeks ago on that vacation we had planned on taking... until I broke my back?! To me, it was the perfect thing to remind myself just how far I've come since that fateful day one year ago!

I finally got them... 50 weeks later!

One year ago my life changed forever. It wasn't by choice, but it was what I was dealt on February 23, 2013. Do I wish it never happened? Of course, but it did happen. It's time to stop looking backwards. It's time to start looking ahead and making the most of the journey. How do I plan on marking the one year anniversary? I had a date with skis...