Friday, August 28, 2015

The Evolution of Adventure

I decided that maybe it was time to start blogging again, or at least temporarily have it come out of hibernation. I haven't really felt too wordy lately, so I'll probably just start doing shorter posts. We'll see how things pan out...

The Summer of Adventure?!

After the amazing ski season I had, I was thinking maybe this would be the summer of adventure. In addition to our typical hiking and backpacking, I was thinking of crazier backpacking trips, climbing mountains, SUP (suggested to me by Maggie Moo - a great suggestion too!), etc., ... you know, adventure! Well, there was some adventure in there, but not like I had envisioned. As it would turn out, I had more adventure doing our normal summer hiking and backpacking than I anticipated. Who knew?!

It started out like last summer, mixing weekends up between hiking and backpacking. No big deal. We went to Young Lakes and Minaret Lake early in the season - both with a lot of illegal camping and morons (note: we were not the morons or the ones camping illegally). We had fun dealing with hail at Moonlight Lake, but loved seeing the clouds move all around the Evolution peaks (stunning)! We had to cancel our Bear Lakes Basin trip due to major storms over the July 4th holiday weekend, but what we did instead was just as much fun! Swimming in Upper (burrr) and Lower Lamarck Lakes with Moosie, riding an adaptive bike in the parade with DSES, pre-celebrating an engagement with Carlynn and Grady. Not too shabby. While it feels like there hasn't been as much backpacking as last summer, there has been more hiking mixed with other adventures (like SUP, Blues-a-palooza, etc). Adventure!

Enjoying the views on the way to the summit of Mt Dana!

Moonlight Lake between rounds of hail.
Seeing Darwin again for the first time in years brought tears to my eyes.

The Return to Evolution

Evolution. It has eluded me since the summer before breaking my back. It's the one place that I've been yearning to return to since the accident, even more than Precipice Lake. It's haunted me for the past two and a half years. I set goals the past two summers about returning to Evolution - or at least setting eyes on it again. I failed at reaching those goals. With the lack of backpacking we'd done this summer, I was starting to wonder if Evolution would elude me for yet another summer. We were about to find out...

I knew what was coming on this trip. I knew what was going to happen in Evolution Basin. That 'pressure' made this trip even more important. I needed to make it to Evolution this year - for myself most importantly, but also for what Dave had in store. I knew there was a ring - we gave it to Maggie Moo and Jim to keep safe for us while in the backcountry. I knew there was an adventure ahead of us, and I was ready to embrace it (version 1.4 or so of our original plans). 

Note: I'm going to let the photos do the story telling. I'm taking a different spin on this post since words can't explain what it meant to me to be back in Evolution again. Yes, I shed tears at the sight of Darwin and Mendel from Lamarck Col. Yes, I shed even more tears of joy as I set my eyes on Evolution Lake, Sapphire Lake, and all of Evolution Basin again. Did I mention that Evolution has always held a special place in my heart? It's extra special now...

Darwin and Mendel from Lamarck Col. Tears of joy were shed.

Hmmm. Apparently we failed to pay attention to the potential for smoke. Smoke from the Rough Fire would be with every day on this trip. Not ideal, but I WAS BACK IN EVOLUTION! 

Darwin Canyon is absolutely stunning. The lakes are beautiful shades of blue that even the smoke couldn't mask. At least the smoke was clearing a bit.

Home, sweet home. Darwin Bench is amazingly green and lush. A great place to end the day - 8+ miles, lots of elevation gain/loss, miles of smiles.

Evolution Lake. It'd been 3+ years since I'd been here. I still can't find the words to adequately express what it meant to return to this amazing place after the ups and downs of the past 2.5 years of being bionic.

Sapphire Lake. I could sit here for weeks and just soak it all in. Hands down my favorite lake in all of the Sierra. Sorry, Precipice... #sorrynotsorry

The smoke started to drift in as we approached Wanda Lake. Black Giant, Muir Pass and the Goddard Divide are still stunning, even when smoke dances around them. Goddard would wait for another trip...

Muir Hut and the moonscape that is Evolution Basin. It was getting much smokier by this point and it was quite trippy not being able too see the views that were etched in our minds from three years ago. McGee was just cloaked in smoke... such a unique perspective on things.
Proof that we made it to Muir Hut. It was so good to be back here. So many memories.

What a difference a few hours makes. Heading back down toward Evolution Lake from Muir Pass. The smoke made it seem like we were in a whole different world. Mind blowing how quickly it changed...

Sapphire Lake is still stunning, regardless of the conditions. There's something about this lake and Mt Huxley that I just absolutely love. Stunning.

So... this happened at Evolution Lake. I said yes, obviously. Totally caught me off guard because after we ruled out Goddard, I thought it would happen at Sapphire Lake or Muir Hut. It didn't happen at either place. All of a sudden, I hear "Moon River" playing and then it happened. Note the lack of Mt Huxley in the background due to the smoke. Many thanks to Maggie for the hilarious ring she let Dave use in the backcountry. That as a surprise and I still owe her a good ass-kicking for that. 

Smokey sunset at Evolution Lake. An amazing day on so many levels. 15+ miles, lots of memories.

A bluebird morning at Evolution Lake. No complaints.

One of the iconic views of Evolution from McClure Meadow. Three years ago I was too focused on miles on the JMT, that I forgot to enjoy all of the views... and forgot to get this one. I didn't forget this trip. It was so nice... until three annoying kids decided to talk in the loudest voices possible. At least I had 10 minutes of peace and quiet!

Well, we knew the smoke would be back. At least it waited until we were out of Evolution Valley. This was the view before we started the switchbacks down to the junction with Goddard Canyon. A lot of elevation loss in a short distance!

Smokey sunset colors as we finally reached Hutchinson Meadow. We apparently were on a roll while hiking and so we kept going, rather than setting up camp at a popular junction at 2pm in the smoke. The map make the last 5+ miles to the meadow look mellow. Instead there was some sadistic up and down and up and down at the beginning. Oh well, adventure! It was also ridiculously smokey at this point - Pilot Knob was in front of us and we couldn't see it! Yikes! 19+ miles, a lot of elevation loss, gain and smoke!

Bluebird morning on our last day of our trip (cut it short due to the unhealthy inhaling of smoke). When we got to Piute Pass, we could see the smoke starting to rise. 12 miles of mellow hiking - except for my knee that was about to die from the day before. 

Maggie and I recreating the Evolution Lake photo with the real ring. She delivered the pretty blue box to Dave and he proposed again in front of friends and complete strangers. Oh, and he turned bright red too. Such fun! 
More photos here: The Evolution of a Proposal

Adventure is in the eye of the beholder...

At times I still feel like this was the summer of non-adventure, but at the same time, it was a huge adventure in its own special way. Yeah, I might not have been backpacking as much as I had last summer by this time, but I made my return to Evolution. I spent more time hanging out with friends - jumping in Upper Lamarck Lake with Laura, hanging out with Carlynn, Grady, Carolyn, etc., at Blues-a-palooza, SUP with Maggie and Jim - and loved it. Oh, and I'm still wrapping my head around the fact that Dave and I are engaged. As Maggie Moo pointed out to me today, "getting engaged is pretty darn adventurous!" She had a really good point. I might have had one view of adventure at the beginning of this summer, but it evolved as the summer progressed. It's all about evolution! 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

My Ski Season: The Best Thing Since... Sliced Bread?!

This ski season has proven to be better than anything I could ever imagine it would be. Yes, people have been whining about the lack of snow in the Sierra this year... but have those people really been out to even enjoy the snow we did get?! I'll admit, the lack of snow sucked, but what we did get made for some awesome skiing, and Mammoth Mountain did a great job making sure of that. As I write this post, I already have 33 days of skiing under the belt of my ski pants. 33 DAYS!!! That's a pretty respectable number of days for anyone, especially in a good snow year. Oh, and did I mention that's 33 days for someone who broke their back?!? Maybe all those whiners just need to shut the eff up and ski!! Just sayin'... if I can do it, there's no excuse!

Progress Beyond What I Could Ever Imagine

In my last post, it was very clear that I was thrilled with meeting my goal on the two-year mark of the accident. Well, as thrilled as I was to meet that goal, I also knew that I still had a lot of work to do. If you really know me, you know how hard I am on myself. Skiing is no exception. Yes, I was stoked to meet my goal, but I could see there was still a long way to go (I knew it, and it was reaffirmed in video and a list of things to work on). Maybe I should restate this just in case you missed it: I AM REALLY HARD ON MYSELF. 

I'm trying to remember when things clicked, but I can't really put my finger on it. It was a week or two after I met my goal, that's all I really remember... and that I could feel it. I actually felt more comfortable while skiing and wasn't really afraid to "point 'em down." It was crazy and awesome all at the same time! From that moment, the progress I was making just seemed to take off. I mean, I had made a lot of progress up until then, but this felt different. I was really starting to incorporate more flexion and extension, I was standing taller and not "back-seating it" as much, my upper body had quieted down, etc. Oh, and did I mention I started skiing Chair 3 at Mammoth (the easiest ways down are Blue-Black runs) and LOVED it?! I think Jaclyn knows the look of fear I had the first time we got on the lift, but that quickly disappeared, and we lapped Saddle Bowl many times.

The following weekend was looking like it was going to be my last weekend on the slopes for the season: there was no new snow in the forecast, and the temperatures were on the rise. I was determined to make the most of it. Friday was definitely not a stellar day for me - I was in my head too much and just couldn't stop thinking. You know it's bad when your instructor says they can tell you are thinking too much just by looking at your face. I think that day was just more of a warm-up for the rest of the weekend. Saturday and Sunday proved to be my best days on the slopes yet. I skied with Carolyn both days, and she is the one person who has consistently been able to get me out of my head while skiing. It's amazing the difference getting out of my head can make - and I'm not the only one who noticed it. Maggie had joined us for a few runs on Sunday, and she even commented that I'm skiing much more athletically and with great rhythm. Carolyn and I skied well past the end of the lesson, with permission of course, and the way I skied and how I felt meant more to me than meeting my goal on the two-year mark. It was phenomenal... and I wasn't ready for it to be over! 

Skiing with Maggie and Carolyn on my "last day" of the season.

I learned a lesson the first week in April: if I think ski season is over and I throw all of my hiking stuff in the washer, it will PUKE two feet of snow at Mammoth. It happened. 

Miraculously, my ski season didn't end when I thought it did. Two feet of fresh snow did wonders for Mammoth and for my skiing. Carolyn and I were skiing together again, so that automatically meant I'd be out of my head, right?! Not so fast. The first run had me really worried - I apparently forgot how to ski after taking one weekend off. Once I got out of my head, I was back on track and feeling really comfortable again. We spent the morning lapping Chair 12, which had re-opened, and Chair 3. It was such fun! I even skied the Face of Three for the first time which really had me stoked - and apparently everyone at DSES when they heard I did it too! I was really nervous at the top of it - it's steep and much more of a black diamond that Patrolmen's - and Carolyn can attest to this. My face said it all - a look of fear. Well, that look quickly went away after a few turns, and I thought it was a blast! We were having so much fun that we spent the afternoon free skiing together, too. Carolyn informed me that I ski much better outside of a lesson too - because I put way too much pressure on myself. It's true. I could feel how much better I was skiing. Sunday was more of the same. We spent a lot of time lapping Broadway and Saddle Bowl, and it was the most comfortable I'd ever been on both of them; apparently I was skiing a lot faster, too! Carlynn joined us for some free skiing after lunch, and it was awesome. We lapped Face of Three AND Fascination! I was lapping Black Diamonds!!! IT WAS AWESOME!!! 

The Demons Within...

While my skiing has progressed like crazy since the two-year mark, the one thing that's been extra hard to deal with is the accident itself. I thought that I had processed how my life changed in a split second on February 23rd, 2013, which now seems like a long time ago. I thought that all the writing I was doing on this blog really helped me process it and put it all behind me. One thing that I learned from after the two-year re-birthday is that wasn't true. Looking back at the one-year mark, it didn't really seem to impact me much. I mean, I remembered what happened and all that jazz, but it wasn't too out of the ordinary. Well, life since the two-year mark is anything but ordinary and I think a lot of that is because of the fact that I'm facing my demons and skiing again. 

I was flying high after skiing Patrolmen's on February 23rd, but later that week, I crashed. I don't know what it was, but I just felt really unsettled. I've chatted about what happened quite a bit over the past two years, but I've never really talked about or processed what happened. It was becoming quite clear... to me and to Maggie. I'm really not going to go into details, but she and I have talked quite a bit over the past few weeks and it's been helping little by little. I wasn't thinking that returning to skiing would dig up the demons again, I thought I had dealt with them already, but I'm so grateful to Maggie for taking the time to chat so often. 

The Season of Thanks...

Now that ski season is winding down again, or so it seems right now, I'm still blown away by the progress I've made in one season. I went from skiing the easiest run at Mammoth (it's so flat you have to push yourself with your poles sometimes) to lapping legit Black Diamond runs... and LOVING them!! It blows my mind! I never thought I'd enjoy the steep runs or be skiing as often as I am, but I'm doing it! There are so many people that have been so supportive along the way - friends, family, everyone at DSES, coworkers, complete strangers. It's been crazy. Looking back on this ski season, I can honestly say that working with Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra has been the best thing that has happened to me since breaking my back. I can't thank everyone there enough for everything and helping me get that piece of my life back that was missing. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Two Years... and a Lofty Goal Met!

I honestly don't even know where to start with this post. It's pretty clear by now how much it means to me to be skiing again and working with DSES. It's also pretty well-known how grateful I am for everything that I can do, because I know I shouldn't be able to do any of it. At the same time, I still have nightmares about being on chair lifts - sometimes keeping me up all night. I can't do anything to change what happened, but I can keep pushing forward to get my life back. That's what I've been committed to for the past two years...

The Weekend of Preparation

Saturday morning brought a lot of excitement, and a tiny bit of nervousness as Dave dropped me off at DSES. I was excited to be back with DSES for the weekend and the forecast of fresh snow, but a little nervous about Monday. I had a blast skiing with Jaclyn in the morning (it's always a great time), even with initial tense moments for me on Whitebark Ridge (very firm and fast), and fun in the choppy snow near McCoy. The afternoon was spent working on technique with Aaron and Carlynn - trying to fix my skiing technique when I use my poles (my poles and I aren't always friends... sometimes we're flat out enemies). We even skied down and looked at Patrolmen's - I was tempted to just go for it then, but resisted. Maggie and I had been talking about it for so long that I wanted to wait to ski it with her...and Dave and Moosie. It was a fun day for sure! 

Sunday brought more of the same, but with chilly temps and a winter wonderland (it snowed all day). I finally got to ski with Carolyn again (we hadn't skied together since my first weekend with DSES) and Neal. Heck, Dave even followed us around - it was the first time I've skied with him all season! Sometime during the morning, things just kinda clicked and fell into place. I still had a few issues, but the feeling was just amazing! I even skied Broadway for the first time - it was crowded, but not as much as it normally is. Things carried over to the afternoon as I skied with Aaron and Kelly. It was cold and snowing still, but it was a blast! I could tell that progress was made, and I was feeling really positive for skiing on Monday!

The Re-Birthday

I practically didn't sleep on Sunday night - the lift nightmares wouldn't let me. I was more nervous about being on a lift on the two-year mark than I was for potentially skiing a black diamond. I'd been on lifts for several weekends prior, some even more stomach flip-flop inducing than the one I fell from (have you ever dealt with the swinging and oscillating of Chair 12?!), and yet lifts were scaring me more than a black diamond. Even lifts with bars were making me queasy. I'd mentally gone into the day thinking I'd just ride the gondola to McCoy Station all day, just to avoid the situation. 

As we were driving up to Main Lodge, all the fresh powder had me stoked on the potential for skiing Patrolmen's. It was still going to depend on whether Maggie thought I was ready, but at least it seemed pretty much guaranteed that the conditions would be perfect. After a quick breakfast with Dave and Moosie at Main Lodge, I headed over to DSES to try and relax and get mentally ready before going out on the snow. I don't know if any relaxing really happened because the butterflies in my stomach came out in full force - more so than my first lessons of the season. Maggie let me know that Mark was checking out the conditions on Patrolmen's for her, and that we'd head out in a bit. When everyone came in from clinic, I heard that the conditions on the run were good, and the snow was awesome! I knew that constraint of my goal was met. One down, one to go...

Maggie and I sat down for a bit before heading out, just to see where my head was. I admitted that the lifts were making me queasy, mostly because of the memories of two years ago. Right around this time, I got a message from Moosie that Dave took a tumble and was waiting for Ski Patrol. Then I got a message from Dave. Let's just say my mental state was a mess before going out on the snow...not what I wanted it to be. Thankfully, Maggie was great about keeping my focus off the lift and the unknown situation with Dave as we warmed up on Sesame Street, St. Moritz/Lower Mambo, and Stump Alley. Don't get me wrong, I was worried about him, but I also knew that I needed to focus on my goal and having fun with Maggie on the slopes. 

As we got off Chair 2, Maggie asked me if I was feeling adventurous. I hesitantly said yes, and off we went. As we started skiing down Upper Mambo, I was wondering how this was adventurous because she knows I ski that run a lot. Well, then Maggie started heading down the shortcut to St. Moritz and Patrolmen's. We crossed the merge with St. Moritz, and Maggie kept skiing down, not turning to ski St. Moritz, but heading down the initial part of Patrolmen's. Holy crap, we going for my goal right then!! I guess I'd met the other constraint for skiing Patrolmen's! Maggie was great about coaching me down it - and I was thankful she was doing so! About halfway down, I took a little break to soak everything in and catch my breath. I still couldn't believe how awesome the snow was, and that I was actually skiing Patrolmen's. As I was about to start skiing down to the bottom, I saw Moosie heading down. She skied to the bottom to capture the moment. As I started skiing down to the bottom of the run, I couldn't believe that I actually skied Patrolmen's and met my goal for the two-year mark! There were many hugs and tears of joy shared with Moosie and Maggie. After soaking in the moment, I totally wanted to ski it again - and I did!! 

More than halfway down Patrolmen's and all smiles. PC: Maggie P.

I was still somewhat in shock that I skied Patrolmen's as we headed into the DSES office. There were hugs, smiles and congrats all around after I let everyone know I skied it! I was so overwhelmed - in a good way. I'd actually met my lofty goal for the two-year re-birthday!! Two years ago, I was suppose to ski my first black diamond. On the two-year mark, I finally got to ski my first black diamond!! The rest of the day just felt amazing as I spent the afternoon skiing with Carlynn and Moosie. I was a bit tired after the awesome morning, but I was on Cloud Nine!!! 

Victory dance on Round 2 of Patrolmen's.
PC: Maggie P.
All smiles after lots of hugs. PC: Moosie

There are so many people I need to thank for all of their support through all of this - not only in meeting my skiing goal, but also since day one of the bionic life. So many friends and family members - too many people to name, but you all know who you are. Major thanks go out to Dave, Moosie and Natcho for being amazingly supportive through everything - especially when it came to skiing again! Major thanks also goes out to everyone at DSES - they have just been absolutely amazing since Day One. All of my instructors this past weekend made it extra special - Jaclyn, Aaron, Carlynn, Carolyn, Neal, Kelly, and Maggie. Extra thanks to Maggie for really taking the time to work with me and plan this goal - and not letting me give up on it!  

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

All smiles on the two-year ouchiversary. It appears Moosie and Maggie
didn't get the memo about it being a good day to wear blue. PC: Andy G.

Side Note: Dave fractured his fibula in two places - just above the ankle (which apparently happened the previous weekend) and just below the knee. He's in a cast for a few weeks, but otherwise okay. He was bummed to miss skiing Patrolmen's with me, but I'm just happy he's doing okay. He also let me know that if I missed skiing Patrolmen's just to check on him, he'd have a few words for me!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Skiing Toward A Lofty Goal

It's a well known fact, I set lofty goals. I mean, who else sets a goal to hike to Lamarck Col only a few months after breaking her back and learning to walk again?! This girl. Did I meet that goal? Nope, but I sure made a hell of a lot more progress than anyone ever thought I would. The next summer, I set some backpacking goals, even before I successfully went backpacking again. Did I meet those goals? Nope, but I backpacked more than I ever did in a season before breaking my back! That right there is saying something. Was I disappointed about not meeting my lofty goals? Of course! I also realized that sometimes you have to be flexible and go with the flow. There was a lot that derailed some of our backpacking plans this past summer, weather played a major factor the summer before... stuff happens. Sometimes it's just about the journey life takes you on.


I think my last post sums up what it means to me to be skiing again. I honestly can't say enough awesome things about my experience working with Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra over the past several weekends. Everyone who I've worked with has been so encouraging, supportive and patient. Mark, Maggie, Carolyn, Carlynn, Jaclyn, Andy, Tom, so many others... all amazing. Most importantly, they've made skiing fun again for me - even when I have looks of panic on my face or am super frustrated with myself (I think Carlynn and Jaclyn know all about this). I might still have issues with wanting to backseat it, but I can see and feel all the progress every week. Honestly, I think in many ways I'm skiing better than I did before I broke my back. I can say for sure that I'm having way more fun and enjoying every second of it. Between working with DSES, the support of so many friends, and not giving up on getting my life back, I can't even find the words to express how grateful I am.

Carlynn, Woolly, Jaclyn and I on a bluebird at Mammoth!

Skiing Toward A Goal

I've been debating for a few weeks if I wanted to do a blog post on my goal, or if I just wanted to keep it to myself. This one is a little more personal than all my other recovery goals because it's related to the day my life changed in a split second. That day, I was going to ski my first black diamond runs. Dave and I felt it was time to give them a try, given how quickly I had progressed in a short amount of time. Well, I never got the chance to ski a black diamond run that day. My life changed before I even finished warming up. 

After two successful weekends of skiing with DSES, I started to think more and more about skiing a black diamond again. I was nowhere near being able to actually do it, but I really was starting to think that maybe it could happen this season. Well, what better day for which to aim than the day that I was going to ski one for the first time?! I like to set lofty goals, so why not? Dave, Moosie and Natcho thought it was a good goal. I brought it up in an email convo with Maggie, to give her a little background and see what her thoughts were on it. She said she had a run in mind, but it depends on a) how my skiing progresses, and b) if we get more snow. I was thrilled to get a supportive response to such a crazy goal and to hear that we should keep working toward it.

Through a series of events (i.e., talking with Carlynn and Jaclyn about my black diamond goal during lessons), I figured out the run Maggie had in mind was Patrolman's. That being said, my goal is to ski Patrolman's on my two year 're-birthday'. February 23rd is full of bad memories for me, so I plan on spending the day making awesome memories on skis - whether it means I ski Patrolman's or not! 

Standing at the top of Patrolman's on the way down St. Moritz. 

Now, what if I don't meet this goal? I'll admit, I'll probably be disappointed and it'll probably hurt a little more than not meeting the hiking goals. At the same time, this is a lofty goal, and I know it. I "set" this goal a little over a month before the two year mark, before I was even close to moving off Chair 11 at Mammoth. Plus, there are two huge variables in play that I have absolutely NO control over - the conditions of Patrolman's, and if Maggie thinks I'm ready for it. I have a feeling the latter will be the more challenging of the two - twisting her arm and bribing her with extra dark chocolate won't work. Trust me, I've tried the dark chocolate thing. If things don't fall into place on the two year mark, I'll just adapt and make it my skiing goal for the season. Goals are all about adapting to what's thrown your way. If I don't ski a black diamond on the two year mark, it doesn't mean that I failed at my goal, it just means it wasn't meant to happen that day. Why the hell not keep pushing for the goal though?! GAME ON! 

Celebrating the fresh snow at Mammoth with Maggie.
The conditions for Patrolman's should be improving with incoming
 storms, now I need to keep progressing so she knows I'm ready...