Tupper's 2 Cents

Feet on the path and eyes wide open...

Tag: Managing pain

Copper Ridge Loop — Final Day

Egg Lake to Hannegan Pass parking lot  (8.6 miles) — 9/14/17

Egg Lake, morning view

Morning at Egg Lake was crisp and magnificent! Stiff breezes the night before blew out the few remaining clouds, and cool gusts still swirled around my campsite.  I put on all my layers, including down hat and gloves with hand warmers, ready to embrace my last morning of the five day Copper Ridge loop. When I backpack, my fear of cold usually causes me to bring too many clothes. But on this morning, it felt great to be all bundled up against the cold but clear morning of what was sure to be a fantastic bluebird day ahead.

I sat suspended in time as I watched the first rays of sun come up. Mornings are my favorite time of day, regardless of where I am. But my ‘outside’ morning routine of 3 cups of steaming hot coffee, oatmeal with an abundance of toppings, writing, and meditatively gazing at the trees, mountains, and lakes, felt especially significant.  I knew it might be the last morning I’d wake up and immediately commune with mother nature for awhile, at least in the belly of the North Cascades. Fall was just around the corner, and I wanted to fully embrace the exquisiteness that surrounded me.  It reminded me of the last morning of my solo hike of the John Muir Trail in the summer of 2016. The reality of a time of solitude in wilderness coming to an end, the strong pull and desire to capture the peace and integrate it into my very core, my deep reluctance to return to ‘real’ life.

But eventually, I had to get moving.  The day held 8.6 miles of hiking, and I had an evening commitment that I had to be home for.  Reluctantly, I performed the mundane duties of breaking down camp, stalling often to feel the sun on my face as it streamed it’s way into my campsite. For this I was grateful. Warm sun on a cold morning makes the actions of camp break-down ever so much more pleasant.

I headed out at 9:30. The couple from Virginia was gone, I noticed as I passed through their empty site. After climbing out of Egg Lake basin, the 4.6 miles to Hannegan Pass continued it’s ups and downs. I was tired from the previous days elevation gain,  and struggled each time the trail went up. Thankfully, there were enough views to keep me entertained, and I worked myself into a satisfactory hiking rhythm.

Left to Right, Icy Peak, Ruth Mountain, Mt. Shuksan

Mt. Baker (r) and Mt. Shuksan (l) paying last respects

I reached Hannegan Pass at 11:30, and decided on an early lunch. Why carry food in my pack when I could consume it and use it for fuel? At the pass, I encountered the same two folks I’d seen coming down Whatcom Pass, who’d camped at Middle Lakes, when I was heading up. They introduced themselves now as Walt and Haley. Haley was Walt’s niece from New York, who’d come out to hike with her uncle for a week. I thought that was pretty cool! Walt and I had a great time sharing stories of our respective trips, while Haley chatted with another woman, resting with her elderly dog at the base of Hannegan Peak, while her partner ran up the peak with their younger and more ambitious canine. The sun was out, the day was warm, and it was hard to leave the comfortable social scene.

But I had a schedule to keep, and I took leave just after noon. It was 4 miles to the car, and I wanted to be there by 2:00. I picked up the pace, now that the trail was flat or down hill. There were a TON of people coming up the pass, especially for a mid-September weekday. Albeit a sunny one. I only had one incidence of drama on the way out, while observing three middle-aged women with backpacks by the side of the trail.  Clearly, they were headed in for some female backpacking bonding, something which I have a desire to do, but never have. As I watched them with interest,  I tripped and fell, again, landing hard on my butt, practically in the lap of one of the women!  My legs were too tired and my knees too sore to catch the fall. And I couldn’t get up for the same reasons. One of the women asked if I needed help. “Yes please!” I said, relieved. A brief discussion of the knee replacement followed, and all three were impressed that I was backpacking alone with the knee issues. I didn’t tell them about all the foot and ankle surgeries. 🙂

After that, the remaining miles flew by, even with my trail hyper-vigilance. I arrived back at the car by 1:50 — ahead of schedule for once! I was supremely glad to dump my pack, this time for good. I counted 39 cars in the parking lot as I drove off. It was amazing how few people I’d seen on the whole loop hike, then to see so many on the last four miles of this last day. Inevitable reintroduction to society, I suppose.

Highlights of the Trip

There were so many positives about this trip, it’s hard to choose. But here are some highlights that come to mind:

  1. Getting out on a good backpack for the year. I’d just done the one overnight earlier in August, and I wanted to get in at least one long backpack trip for the year. The broken finger and subsequent time off provided a perfect opportunity to take a longer trip to a place that’s been on my list to revisit for years.
  2. The variety of terrain and campsites. Peak climbs, dense forest walks, river crossings, miles of ridge walking, a mountain pass, mountain lakes, a lookout tower with splendiferous views — what more could anyone want? Two campsites in forest, two with expansive views, few people at any site.  It made me appreciate that this place is so tightly permitted, as the trail was never busy, and the most company I had in any camping area was just two other people.
  3. People showing up at the right times. With the exception of having to do the cable car crossing by myself, I was struck by how well things worked out with this. Steve keeping me company on Whatcom Pass, Brian and Sarah at the dual river crossings, Walt and Haley going up Whatcom pass and again at Hannegan Pass. As any of you who followed my JMT trip know, I crave a combination of solitude and being with others when I backpack. This trip had a perfect balance of both.
  4. Knowing I still got it, and getting affirmation for that.  Yeah, it felt good to have atta-girls out there on the trail. I forget that many people don’t hike or backpack at all,  let alone solo, or with as many physical ailments as I have.  Don’t get me wrong — I KNOW there are those out there doing it under FAR more challenging circumstances! Or facing something different all together. We all have our own adversities to confront and obstacles to overcome. But this was my first real backpack post knee replacement, and I was grateful it went well. My favorite way to stay sane and happy involves immersing myself in an outdoor environment that brings huge reward, and sometimes has risk associated with it too. I will go there for as long as I can, ever mindful of the risk/benefit analysis. On the whole, this trip went as well or better than expected. Although, I could have done without the falls. Which leads to my last introspective thoughts…

Reflections on Falling

My sum total of falls, counting the broken finger before the trip and the four on the trail, could have stayed at five. But apparently things DO come in threes, or multiples there of…

A couple weeks after  my return, I fell in the bathroom, slipping on the wet floor while trying to steer clear of one of my cats who loves to race me to the bathroom. I hit my left rib cage on the corner of the bathroom counter, and fractured  the sixth rib. My sixth, most painful, and hopefully last fall for a good long while.

Another three weeks off of work, and a whole lot of reflection about why all the falls, why now, and what’s the learning here? Space, time and patience of readership all prevent me from getting too deeply into this, but here are a few reflections and explanations I have come up with:

  1. I am no spring chicken and must adjust my ambitions (and pack weight) accordingly!   Let’s face it, getting older makes it harder to act young.  At age 53, I can’t get away with carrying as much weight as I could when I was 33. When I did this loop 20 years ago, I carried over 70 pounds and it did not phase me. This trip, my pack weighed around 50 pounds, and that was, apparently, too much.  Simply put, when I tripped or fell, I couldn’t pull it together to implement the correct musculature to catch the fall, and instead, landed quite spectacularly. Four times! Two face plants, two on my rear. Something to pay attention to. What brought me a sense of accomplishment 20 years ago,  the success of carrying of a heavy pack, must now be replaced by the satisfaction of staying on my own two feet! There is an undeniable link with packing lighter and staying upright that I can’t ignore anymore.
  2. Balance is affected as we age. Duh. We all know this. BUT to hear it and live it are two different things. Everyone, including me, says “Work on balance as you age.” Great advice, but what does that look like from a person to person perspective? Standing on one foot? Doing yoga? Walking on a balance beam? Crossing log bridges? Working on balance is HARD, and, admittedly,  I don’t like it. After surgeries, I will work on balance for awhile to strengthen my feet and ankles. But it’s a discipline I am not drawn to, and too soon, I assume I’m fine to jump back in, full steam ahead.  Next thing I know, I’m doing a crazy thing like carrying a heavy pack through brush on soft ground that I can’t see. With balance already compromised, a small trip turns quickly epic when I can’t catch the fall. Time for some more balance work.
  3. The brain has to catch up to the body.  In the aftermath of all these falls, I spoke with several other people who also experienced excessive falling in their early 50’s. Then it stopped by the time they reached 55, and the falling prevalence did not return, even into their 60’s. What’s up with that? My theory is that it takes awhile for the brain to accept what the body is already saying. As we age, we develop compensatory patterns to deal with whatever life throws us. Those compensation patterns can be quite complex, and effective. But it takes time for the mind to integrate the changes in status of the aging body. IF we are going to pursue the activities of a 30 year old at 50 and beyond,  we must adopt an attitude of vigilance about what are bodies are telling us. Or risk continual face plants.
  4. Slow down, take it easy, life isn’t a race!  Is there any better way to get someone’s attention than by tripping them up on the fast road of life? Generally I move quickly, on trails and through life, and, for whatever reason, universal forces decided to throw me a powerful lesson, or two, or six, about slowing down. And breathing. That’s hard to do with a broken rib, but talk about an opportunity to practice mindfulness of movement and breath! I’ll take it, learn from it, and share my takes on Falling as Great Teacher about Life.

We all have similar, powerful examples from life.  What are yours? I would LOVE to hear your stories of getting slammed down only to pick yourself back up with new perspective. PLEASE DO SHARE! 

Last shot of Mt. Baker

 

 

 

Snacking on Humble Pie

I originally intended to call this post “Eating Humble Pie”. If I am fully honest with myself and my readers, however,  I realize I am not ready for a whole pie or even a whole piece. But I know I can handle a few bites. Let me explain…

The Humbling Situation

I’ve had complications from recent surgeries, as many of you know. Some of this I’ve said before, but in this recounting, I am being honest as to my responsibility in pushing too much too soon, the part that is hardest for me to admit — to myself and to others.

Right knee replacement, 11/14/16.

The aftermath of this has been pretty good, although I still have significant pain at times. Never having had a joint replaced, I don’t know how much of this pain is “normal” and when I should be concerned. I also have a distinct “clunking” noise and feeling in my knee each and every time I move it in a particular way. Part of the plan, or something awry?  I don’t know. I have been assured and reassured that my knee replacement is solid, and that I can’t hurt anything. Those are dangerous words for someone like me, who can and will put up with a lot of pain to do what I love. I was out on trails and walking as early as 3 weeks after this surgery. The  complexity of  the knee replacement was furthered when, at just 5.5 weeks post op, I had foot/ankle surgery on the left side.  I was on crutches in various capacities for 5 weeks after that surgery, using the right leg for full weight bearing. That was, simply put, hard on the new knee. Now, 3.5 months post-op, I am still with pain and uncertainty about the status of my knee.

Left foot/ankle surgery, 12/22/16.

This recovery started out fantastically, the best yet of all eight foot/ankle surgeries. I was walking without crutches early, and taking long hikes in the post-op boot —  feeling on top of the world and certainly my recovery. Then, a fall in the snow over three weeks ago caused an initial setback, from which I recovered quickly after five more days in the boot.  I took myself out of the boot and started walking again, believing I was ready. On each of my first five days post-boot round two, I walked. The mall on day one, Lake Padden on day 2 (2.6 miles),  the interurban trail on day 3 (4 miles), adding slightly more miles each day. Each day I noticed a bit of pain in my forefoot, but told myself it was nothing. On day 4, I walked Lake Padden before work, worked all day, then walked it again after. A very normal activity for me, usually.  But by the second walk, I could barely do it and hobbled all the way around. I knew something was up. Again, I told myself it was just muscles in my foot getting used to working again after being on vacation for 7 weeks…but deep down, I recognized that the pain was different. Stubborn as I am, on day 5, I took a scheduled walk with a friend, but I was limping so badly I could barely walk. I am embarrassed to say I walked five miles like that, each step a painful reminder that I shouldn’t keep going.

It was all I could do to keep a shoe on after that walk. My foot was swollen and very tender. But I  went about the rest of my day, which involved an outcall massage, all the while trying as hard as I could not to limp. It was almost impossible, but I am good at compartmentalizing pain and discomfort, physical and emotional, and did what I needed to do. The massage finished and back home, I took my shoe off to rest my poor foot. It was inflamed and exquisitely alive with pain, the kind where you don’t even want to touch the affected part. I hoped and prayed it would recover overnight. That wasn’t completely out of line, as many times on long hikes or after intensely physical days, I go to bed with significant aches and pains that DO almost magically go away overnight….or at least move again to a manageable level.

But this was not a normal ache or pain, I could tell. Tuesday morning, day 6 out of the boot, I still couldn’t walk without a significant limp. The pain was intense with every single step. Fortunately, I had my six week post-op check that morning. (I was actually almost eight weeks post-op: for various reasons, all related to weather, either the office or I had to cancel two previous appointments). The reason I mention this is because I had to, or chose to, make decisions during this two week time frame about how and what I would do. I even went so far as to email the PA and tell him after the first appointment cancellation that I was taking myself out of the boot, and I hoped that was ok. To his credit and my discredit, he replied that he could not medically authorize that without seeing me and getting x-rays first. I chose to be rogue and go AMA (against medical advice), and I paid the price  — twice. First with the fall on my first day in round one without the boot, then with the whole episode of progressively worsening pain in round two walking in shoes. THIS was my first inkling that there was pie to be eaten…

The current reality…

I hobbled to my visit with the PA, on day six of round two AMA. I told him the whole story, and confessed all my transgressions. I’ve seen the same PA for most of my post-op visits, and he has been involved in at least two of my four foot/ankle surgeries with my foot surgeon, Dr. T.  Both Dr. T and the PA know my feet, ankles, and psychology well! Including my desire and need to get back out on the trails as soon as possible after surgery. To a degree, they both endorse this, as long as it doesn’t jeopardize their surgical work and my recovery in any way. This time, though, the X-rays showed a new stress fracture in my foot, and that really put me in my place. The surgical sites and structures were well healed, but this new problem had crept up quickly. In short, my walking too much too soon once out of the boot led to the development of a stress fracture in the third Metatarsal bone.  Perhaps the bones were softer from not being used, and apparently I went at the walking too aggressively, relieved as I was to finally be out of the boot. I have had a stress fracture before, and the pain and symptoms certainly fit with his diagnosis. The way I left it with the PA is that I would rest the foot for four more weeks, then return for further X-rays. And no more walking of any distance without the boot. I left the office humbled and depressed.

The aftermath…and a few words about my psychology.

End of the Lake Whatcom Trail…this is why I walk.

I lasted three full days without a walk. During that time, I sunk deeper into depression. Here is where things get interesting.  I write this believing that some of you can relate to my struggle for balance. Sharing and being honest and forthcoming about this part of my psychology is both an attempt to explain WHY I continually push the limits of what my body will allow physically, and an exploration into the whole question of “how much is enough, and how much is too much?”  I am not ignorant or unaware of the risks or trying to put my recovery in jeopardy. I do these things because, deep down, my NEED for some type of physical movement and especially contact with the outdoors is deep seated and real, such that I will go to extremes to make it happen. THIS particular struggle and balancing act, how much I can do following injury, surgery, or some other medical issue, has been a constant companion in my life for over 30 years. My stories about getting out too soon following something run round in my head like a broken reel tape. Why, then, don’t I stop pushing so hard? Why not just sit around and do nothing for days or weeks on end, letting my body heal and trust that things will take their course? To my credit, I can and do usually do that for at least a week following surgery. Then, my restless nature gets to me and I start scheming ways to get out and about.

It’s always the same, the struggle to know how much is enough and what is too much. I tend to err on the side of the latter, yet my ongoing quest is to find the former. Exercise and endorphins are addictive, yes, but I don’t need that so much. What I need is to be outside. Some part of me dies when I can’t be. For me, walking trails and being in nature feeds my soul to an immense degree. Hence the name of this blog, and my whole pursuit of walking, hiking, and backpacking. I am driven to go and to be there, in whatever capacity I can, and as soon as I can. So, after three days of no walks, being inside and sinking further into depression, I decided to go back into the boot for walks and hikes outside. The boot was and is trashed and duct taped almost beyond repair, and had to be retrieved out of the garbage.  But I made a decision on that Friday, three days after my visit and diagnosis, to go back into the boot and hike for the remaining weeks until I return to the PA for x rays. I had to restore balance.

The next steps…

Lake Padden with recent snow…

It’s been two weeks and a handful of days, and the hiking in the boot strategy is working! My foot is much better, and I have stayed 100% true to my pledge and promise not to hike in a shoe. I have taken hikes to places and in conditions that I would have missed had I not gone back to the boot. I am working and doing daily life in street shoes, a compromise the PA and I agreed upon. I can say with conviction that healing is taking place, and I am happy about that. And I know I will stick with the protocol. My knee, always troublesome, is another story. In the spirit of non-denial,  I made an appointment this week to see the knee surgeon, to determine if the pain and clunking is normal or something to be concerned about. I will take his advice to heart, and that’s a promise too.

But here is what I know. I know this “enough/too much” battle will continue. I am not out of the woods yet, I may never be completely. I get humbled by these experiences, and I do learn my lessons. I do take bites of that humble pie, and I think about what it would take for me to eat the whole thing.  But even as I do so, I know my tendency will always be too get out just as soon as I can, and sometimes that will be sooner than ideal. SO many people in my life have told me to be careful, to slow down, to not be so driven, to cut back. For all of those, I take a bite.  I am aware I “use” exercise and movement as tools to keep myself sane, no question about it. I am reliant on that, and it is hands down may best coping mechanism for dealing with stress. Sometimes it’s too much and too soon.  What I want to say is that I AM listening, and that I am getting the message!

It’s a work in progress, and a repetitive theme of my life — not just with exercise, but in all areas. As I work on writing my memoir, I am exploring this theme of how much is enough and what is too much, in depth. I have settled into my exploration, with full awareness of my tendencies, and full commitment to discern for myself my own boundaries in this area. I will continue to share on this topic, and would welcome your thoughts. EVERYONE has an area of life in which they must ask themselves these same hard questions.  I believe that by getting open and honest about our deepest areas of struggle we can make headway into dealing with them.

My hope is that, by writing this post and laying it out there,  you may be inspired to ask yourself the same hard questions. Where in life do you push too hard and pay a price? Work? Over commitment? Lack of sleep? Poor nutrition? Substance use? Care-taking others over yourself?  Too much electronic escape? When is it all enough, when is it too much?  Unquestionably, life is a long , sometimes arduous, complicated journey filled with ups and downs. Sometimes, it’s only about surviving and making it through one day at a time. We all have our fallbacks and coping mechanisms that we use to get through these times. Some are clearly more destructive than others. I am the first to admit I have dabbled and jumped head on into far more dangerous territory than reliance on exercise in my past.  I have conquered significant mountains of overcoming, the specifics of which I am currently reliving as I write my memoir. On the whole I feel quite satisfied with where I am in my ongoing quest to find balance in life. Right now the exercise vs. rest is my biggest challenge.

What is yours?

 

My Own Private Half Marathon

Fragrance Lake Half Marathon Route…in the Boot!

Origins of the idea

The inspiration to do this 13.1 mile hike came to me with the force of other ideas I have not been able to ignore — like hiking the John Muir Trail solo last summer, for instance. I was out on a hike on Chuckanut Ridge with my friend Michael on January 23, 2017.  I had been walking and then hiking in a post-op boot for two weeks following December 22nd’s  foot and ankle surgery. Gradually increasing both mileage and difficulty of terrain, I felt ready for the challenge of Chuckanut Ridge Trail (near Bellingham, where I live). Using poles and moving carefully,  I found I was able to successfully negotiate the steep, rocky, heavily rooted Ridge Trail, even in the boot, AND do all that for 3 hours. That got me wondering just how much I COULD do in a boot, and my curiosity and goal orientation took over.

“Michael”, I said.  “I have an idea…”

“Oh no”, he said, knowing full well that is a dangerous statement coming from me. “What is it?”

“Are you free next Monday? January 31st? I want to do the entire Fragrance Lake 1/2 Marathon course while I am still in the boot.” The actual event, I knew,  was Saturday February 11th, a day I have to work. “You’ll love the route — Two Dollar trail, Fragrance Lake, the Rock Trail, and the Chuckanut Ridge Trail. The hardest parts of it are the Rock trail and this Ridge trail. But I think I can do it.”

Two Dollar Trail

Michael, I know, is always up for an adventure and is slowly pushing his own limits of what’s possible hiking-wise, in this case distance. He laughed.  “I know that once it’s in your head, Kathie, you won’t let it go. So sure, let’s plan on it.”

It’s important to note that I have done the whole Fragrance Lake 1/2  marathon course three times before, so I know the route well.  Only once did I actually do the event itself, and that was three years ago on 2/15/14. THAT particular time I had serious demons to confront and unravel before, during, and after the course.

The Fragrance Lake Half of 2014

Inspiration for that Event

I signed up for 2014’s event rather spontaneously with my then boyfriend of three years. We were out on a hike in the Chuckanuts (a term locals use to describe both Chuckanut and adjoining Blanchard Mountain’s complex array of trail systems) in November of 2013 when, unexpectedly, multitudes of runners started passing us. We quickly discovered they were doing a marathon and half marathon on the trails we were hiking on. We continued our hike, keeping out of their way, and watching as they cruised by us in a steady stream.  As we watched the runners, some fast and some almost walking themselves, what struck us most was the variety of body types and running styles.  While many were thin, wiry, efficient running types, there were also heavier, less svelte almost awkward types too. Even though neither of us was running at the time, we were inspired by the diversity of runners, and started talking about the idea of run/walking a trail half marathon ourselves. Back at his house later that evening, we perused upcoming half’s and came upon the Fragrance Lake Half Marathon, scheduled for mid- February of the upcoming year. Motivated by the day’s events, we both signed up, with just three months to prepare.

Unexpected Challenges

Unfortunately and very unexpectedly, things in the relationship soon took a turn for the worse. In early December, my boyfriend/life partner/one who I thought was IT, started becoming increasingly distant. I didn’t understand this abrupt change, his lack of response to texts, not wanting to get together,  etc., and it drove me crazy for two weeks. Finally, in mid-December, we talked. He came to my house and said he needed time alone to work on personal issues. He did his best to explain and I did my best to listen and be compassionate and understanding. It was a painful and emotional conversation, out of which came his request for time away, and my willingness to give it to him. It wasn’t termed a break-up, at least I didn’t hear it that way. Because of my tendency to be the dominant one in relationships, he asked that let him contact me when he was ready to re-engage. I agreed, not realizing at the time what all I was leaving hanging out there in the zone of uncertainty.

I made it through the first few weeks of this with a lot of support from friends and family. I got through Christmas, the anniversary of my Dad’s death on 12/27 (an event that my partner and I shared, and was as impactful and emotional for him as it was for me), New Year’s Eve, and January 2 when we had concert tickets together. And still no word from him. As January continued along, my initial patience with his process started to turn to frustration.  I upped my exercise routine, doing long walks out on the trails and trying to sort out my feelings for and about him, without access to him to do so. I didn’t know what else to do, frankly. So I walked and hiked, even experimented with running a bit, and eventually did the whole half-marathon route, just to see if I could. It was challenging to say the least, and for unknown reasons I ended up getting extremely sick (vomiting, headache) after doing the course that first time.  I wrote a story about it…and sent it via email to my boyfriend (thinking that was an acceptable form of contact), and hoping it might open the door to communication — or at least give me an idea of whether or not he was still planning on doing the Half with me.

He did respond, but only vaguely.  He said nothing about his intentions with the half marathon. I emailed him back directly, saying that if he wasn’t going to do it, my daughter Shannon would sign up and do it with me. Shannon, then 23, and I were living together at the time, and she felt badly for me that he left so abruptly. As much as anyone, Shannon was aware of the complexity of our relationship. When no response came to the second email, I told her she was on. She signed up. Shannon’s birthday is on 2/16, the race was on 2/15, so we decided to turn it into a birthday race – celebration of me trying to run again – anti-Valentine’s Day – screw it, we don’t need men in our lives anyway event!

A Brief History of my Running Past….

A brief word here about my history of running. I started running at the age of 19, after a year of not exercising and weight gain. I ran sporadically through college and through the seven years of my first marriage and two children. Running was always there, like a comfortable and predictable old friend, but never a focus. When I divorced and remarried, I suddenly had time to run as I didn’t have to work with husband #2. We lived in Bellingham, and I ran as much as I could on the trails and roads in and around our home. I started training for a marathon, a goal I’d held in the back of my mind since college, but never really expected to achieve.  LONG story short, I trained for four marathons between 1995 and 1999, and ran zero. I got injured each and every time I would increase my mileage beyond 15 miles or so. My last marathon attempt was an Anchorage Marathon in June, 1999, with Team in Training, a fundraiser for Leukemia. I raised all the money, did the training, but ended up bailing — again — and having back surgery for a herniated disc a week before the marathon. It was a very sad day and a sad time of my life. Six months after surgery, I left my second husband for reasons far too complex to explain here. Suddenly I was on my own with two kids, chronic pain, and no ability to exercise to combat stress.

The next twelve years was an on again, off again struggle — in life and with running. During that time I had knee surgery for chronic ACL problems, a back fusion, and a neck fusion. Between recoveries, I would sometimes be able to get back into running a little bit,  but mostly I became a committed road biker, hiker, and eventually backpacker — not a runner. I totally and completely kept the runner mind-set and desire, I just didn’t have the cooperation of my body to pull it off. I accepted this, but still and always, wanted to run. So with the half-marathon coming up, and Shannon now doing it with me, I decided to give it another go. In early February, I did the course again, this time running where I could and walking the rest, and it took me 4 hours 30 minutes. The cut-off for the race itself was 4:30, and I was determined that if we did it, we would do it to count.

Race Day 2014

By race day, then, I had done the whole course twice, and had a good sense of it. Shannon (who was running some at the time, but not a lot either), agreed to let me decide when we would run and when we would walk. Some of the route is just not runnable (in my view anyway — of course, many die-hards DO run all of it), and I was experiencing calf-cramping every time I ran up hill. With 3300 feet of elevation gain and lots of uneven terrain, that would mean a lot of walking. Somehow, on race day, we arrived late to the starting line. We were running even before the race started! I was exhausted after the first flat mile and a half, and still trying to catch my breath. After that, the hills began in earnest. We evolved into a routine, running the flats and easy downhills, and walking the uphills and the challenging terrain parts of the race. We started at the back of the pack and basically never caught up.

The Rock Trail comes just before the half-way point in the race. It covers only 1.1 miles, through beautiful, fern-adorned boulders and huge rock slabs, with Bellingham Bay peeking out from the trees. But it’s steep, and has many sections of stairs, eventually topping out at the Cyrus Gates Overlook, the high point of the race. At one point on the Rock Trail, Shannon, then a grad student at Western Washington University in Environmental Science,  decided to give me a lesson in the types of trees on the trail. She pointed out Alder, Cedar, Hemlock, Maple, and various evergreen trees. Then she wanted to quiz me as we went along. I was appreciative of her efforts of distraction, but barely hanging in there. I said, with as much patience as I could muster, “Shannon, I will tell you right now, it’s all I can do to  put one foot in front of the other. I am so sorry, but I am not going to be able to recall the names of trees right now. I just have to get through this!” She laughed good-naturedly, and we completed the Rock Trail in companionable silence.

Thankfully, the one refueling stop on the route was at Cyrus Gates overlook.  Volunteers were still there in the wind and drizzle, with food and cheering, though runners had all but passed through. I’d never been last in a race before, and it was hugely encouraging when they cheered us on like we were the first! We allowed ourselves a full stop, chomping  M & M’s and whatever else we could consume quickly. Weather was coming, and we still had the Chuckanut Ridge section to go.

The ridge section, something over two miles, is up and down, rocks and roots, obstacles and uneven ground. Our goal remained to complete the race under 4:30, but uninjured. Both of us are balance challenged and prone to ankle twists, so we took the ridge slowly and carefully. It was tedious and trying. We both tried to cheer each other on, and keep frustration at bay. Neither of us liked the section and it seemed to go on forever.  There were no views, and drizzle had turned to rain.

Shannon and Kathie wet and happy at 2014 finish line

After the ridge, we still had almost five miles to go, mostly downhill. There is one last uphill section on road, then it’s all downhill on trail for the last 3.5 miles. At that point, patience tried by the stopping and starting again to run, Shannon told me she was not going to stop running until the finish line. And that if I wanted to finish with her, I would have to run too. So we did. We pulled off a somewhat convincing last few miles, finishing the race in 4 hours and 2 minutes.  We were 141st  and 142nd out of 149 finishers. The fastest time was 1 hour, 48 minutes– less than half our time. But it felt like a huge victory, and I was on a runner’s high and typically reflective as we feasted on still warm soup and other goodies. Doing the half was in win in so many ways — a statement of independence and OK-ness with being alone, an opportunity to hang with my daughter, and, yes, a mini-comeback with running. As we headed back to the car, soaked but with our bodies replenished,  I joked with Shannon that we could make this an annual event to celebrate her birthday. She said point blank “I don’t think so, Mom. Never again. You are on your own with this one if you want to do it again.”

Back to the Present

Fortunately for Shannon but unfortunately for me, I was on crutches or in a post-op boot recovering from surgery for each of the next two Fragrance Lake Half-Marathons. It wasn’t even on the radar for this year, being similarly in a boot and recovering from both full knee replacement (right) on November 14, and foot and ankle surgery (left) on December 22. It had been a challenging initial recovery phase, using the recently replaced knee to weight bear 100% following foot and ankle surgery.

But after these surgeries healing was happening very quickly, and I started getting out on the trails in the boot earlier this round than previous ones (with the doctor’s approval, of course!)

Plus, three years later, many of the demons I was fighting with in 2014 had been successfully resolved, and it seemed a good time to do the half under different circumstances and with a different set of goals.

My goals for the event were straightforward: 1. See what was possible for me post-operatively — both in a boot, and 2.5 months after knee replacement. I had done as much appropriate preparation and lead up to this adventure as possible, but it would still be a significant jump from what I’d been up to; 2. Do the half route again — under different circumstances, and with so many of the stressors of the previous time now a thing of the past (the old boyfriend and I,  after a long period of total separation and angst, have gone through a process of relationship repair that has turned into close friendship); 3. Get out on trails I love in the middle of the winter in Bellingham, despite challenges — an overcoming of obstacles to do something I love and that feeds my soul like nothing else. Period.

The 2017 Half Marathon Event!

Michael and I were at the Lost Lake Trailhead and ready to go right at 10:00 am. We are both prepared hikers, and between us we had more than enough of everything — food, water, caffeine, extra clothes, rain gear, a map, and basic first aid. Michael kindly brought a portable stool for me to elevate my foot if necessary, or if not, for one of us to sit on. The day was cool and cloudy, but with no threat of rain. We both had poles, not necessary on the first flat part of the course, but essential on the tricky parts. I have learned that poles, particularly in a stiff boot, make challenging upward mobility doable. They also provide an extra balance point on any sort of uneven ground, and are a good braking mechanism when going downhill. The only “rules” we had for our hike were: 1. Take it slow — no time schedule here, except to finish before dark; 2. Take frequent breaks — to elevate the foot for me, and to rest for both of us; 3. Get through it without injury or incident; and 4. Have fun!!

First Break at Fragrance Lake

Everything on this day went pretty much as planned. We more or less cruised the first four miles, despite the steady uphill climb on Two Dollar trail to Fragrance Lake. Here we took our first break. It was cool, and sitting chilled us right off, so we moved again quickly. As anticipated, the route got more challenging once we hit the South Lost Lake trail, a mostly uphill traverse along a ridge overlooking Bellingham Bay. Views were obscured, unfortunately, by low clouds and, the higher up we went, by mist. Eventually the trail curves around and heads the other way, in forest, to the Rock Trail. As mentioned, the Rock Trail is challenging for normal hikers, and was much harder in the boot. The stairs were particularly tough, made more so by the still recovering knee replacement on the other side.  It was slow going, one step at a time. I have never counted the stairs on Rock Trail, but there are plenty and they are steep. The coolest part of the rock trail was the mist. As we looked up, the trees were blanketed in a surreal mist, making the whole stretch, already very fairy-like with it’s ferns and mosses sprouting off rocks and trees, even more magical.

Rock Trail

Stairs on Rock Trail

Top of the hike

By Cyrus Gates, we were full on in the mist. We had no views whatsoever, except of the two picnic tables, one of which we chose for lunch. We encountered a few other hikers and one mountain biker there, also out on this cool last day of January. One gal, hiking with her tiny dog, was also a patient of  my current foot doctor and a previous knee doc, and we had a great time swapping stories of surgeries and recoveries as we ate. It was relaxing and fun, but we still had half way to go, starting off with the Chuckanut Ridge section, so we couldn’t get too lackadaisical.

Lunch Break — Michael, Kathie, the pooch, and fog!

Having just done a portion of this section in the boot, and knowing the ridge is challenging no matter what, I didn’t expect anything different. And it was really tough. Particularly difficult was navigating both the awkward left foot and the still recovering right knee, which doesn’t bend much beyond 90 degrees without pain. When doing a trail with obstacles and roots and rock slabs, it’s far preferable to have two fully functioning appendages — well four, actually if you count arms and poles. I had two — the upper two, but the lower two were definitely compromised. So it was slow progress, and we were already at the four hour mark on our journey with over half of the ridge section left to go.  We knew were setting no speed record!

I was relieved when we made it through the ridge without incident. Again, like when Shannon and I did it, the skies were cloudy, and only the vaguest view of a mountain top might appear between clouds and fog as we labored along. But, unlike 2014, we had no rain, for which I was totally grateful. And the trail was dry after a week or so of good weather leading up to our hike,  a blessing as well. I want to state for the record that I would NOT have undertaken this mission in rain or on a wet and muddy trail. It simply would have been too much.

Starting challenging section of Ridge Trail…

Navigating through…

And success!

And down to the finish!

After the ridge trail, it’s mostly downhill, and that is what is most painful about hiking in a boot. The muscles that hold your foot up are constantly working to stabilize in the boot. The boot can’t flex, but the ankle flexors can and do. The muscle fatigue was intense for the last five miles of the hike. It’s like my foot/ankle said “Ok, we got you through the tough stuff, now give us a break!!” It was easy going terrain wise, but really hard going with muscle fatigue and associated pain. We rested again just before the last 2.5 miles, down Fragrance Lake Trail and back to the car. But I was struggling with each step, and it was a mind over body experience. I knew I wasn’t hurting anything in the sense of surgical repair, but I was definitely hurting!

Last break before final descent

We made it back to the car by 5:00 pm, just as the daylight was fading for real. It took us seven hours total.  An event that put Shannon and I in nearly last place at just over 4 hours would definitely have landed Michael and I into the DNF (did not finish) category had we done the race for real. But we DID finish! And it was with a huge sense of accomplishment and relief that I took my boot off in Michael’s car, and celebrated freedom — for my foot, and from the past. Doing this route, on this day, was undoubtedly a celebration of overcoming. Similar to the last Fragrance Lake half with Shannon, it was taking a group of obstacles and a whole lot of reasons not to do something, and turning it around into an accomplishment and victory. I am proud of us for doing it! For Michael, it was his longest hike to date, and for me, it was one of the most challenging in it’s tedium.  But all of that just made the victory that much sweeter! Who needs chocolates on Valentine’s Day after that!

Boot’s a little worse for wear

 

NOTES: There is still time to sign up for the Fragrance Lake Half Marathon on 2/11/17. Click HERE for more information.

Also, for more information on hiking in the Chuckanut Mountains, click HERE.

 

 

 

 

Day 19 John Muir Trail

Arctic Lake Outlet to Mt. Whitney to Lone Pine Lake

Total JMT miles  —  12.1            Elevation Gain/Loss  —  +3035/-4495

First light on Guitar Lake

I wake up earlier than usual on this last full day of my trip. I will officially complete the JMT proper today, and hike most of the way out of the wilderness before spending one final night at Lone Pine Lake, just 3 miles from civilization. I am saddened by this reality but ready to take it on.  I am up and out of the tent even before first light. I want to get as early of a start as possible without feeling stressed. I am not in any real hurry, but I also don’t need to hang around for any reason. The summit of Whitney awaits!

As I prepare to depart, I can see a steady throng of people hike by just off in the distance, all headed towards the Whitney summit. At first it’s a constant stream of headlamps.  When first light emerges, the headlamps gradually disappear but the people keep coming. I eat breakfast, pack up, and get ready to join the masses. It’s a perfectly clear, crisp, morning and the sunrise colors are stupendous. It’s a perfect day to summit. I am completely ready by 6:45, my earliest departure time on the trip so far.

Looking down on Arctic Lake and peaks behind

Morning light reflected off Guitar Lake

Psychologically, I prepare myself for the people I will encounter on this day. The park service issues 150 permits to day hikers on Whitney, and then there are all the people who summit in conjunction with backpack trips (not only the JMT, but also other permitted trips in the area). Despite it’s daunting 14,505 foot summit, Mount Whitney in August is a busy place!  Surprisingly,  by the time I am headed up the switchbacks from Arctic Lake to Trail Crest, where people dump their backpacks to summit with less of a load, I don’t see any people. Not a one. Clearly, everyone is ahead of me. I climb that entire three mile section in utter solitude.  It’s quiet, eerie, peaceful and surreal.  But such is the nature of summit expeditions. Everyone wants to get up and at ’em, and I feel behind schedule already even though it’s barely 7:00 am!

Just before Trail Crest, I hear someone call to me. “Hey Kathie!” I don’t at first recognize the voice or face, as it’s all covered in hat, scarf, and other cold weather gear. “It’s Emily!” Now I can recognize solo hiker Emily, who I haven’t seen for two days. She slept right at Trail Crest (elevation 13,460), and has already been up to the summit to catch the sunrise from there. Now she is packed up and ready to head down. I am impressed at her organization and determination to make Whitney at sunrise and camp right out in the elements just below it. We chat for a moment, and I hear about her last couple of days and share details of mine. I am quite sure I won’t see her again, as she will be down long before me, and headed for hamburgers with her family.  I wish her well on the hike out and in her future, and tell her I am extremely glad to have met her and that I am impressed with her confidence and ability at the tender age of 21! She thanks me, wishes me well, and says I’m not too shabby either for a 50-something. She snaps two pictures of me, and we say our goodbyes.

Just below Trail Crest, where I found Emily

At Trail Crest, the trails from north and south merge. One comes up from Guitar Lake (where I have come), and one comes up from the Whitney Portal. Here, action definitely picks up. It’s two miles and just over 1000 feet elevation gain to the top from here. 30,000 hikers try for the summit each year; 10,000 make it. All 10,000 aren’t here today, but plenty are! I have an instant flashback to other wilderness experiences I’ve had in my life where it seems, from the environment and surroundings, that there simply should not be so many people present. The wild and extreme surroundings and the numbers of people simply don’t make sense together.  But alas, it is what it is, and I am determined to make the best of it. I dump my pack at Trail Crest. I plan to take only some food, water, my camera, an extra layer of clothes, and basic toiletries to the summit with me. I make sure to put all of the rest of the food in the bear canister to keep the marmots out. Marmots stand watch 24/7 here, and they keep a constant eye out for careless food security.

Similar to previous times both this year and last, once I am rid of my heavy backpack, I get into serious cruise mode. The final two miles to Whitney isn’t technical, but it is exposed, and people get cautious. It’s also relatively thin air, and that gets to people too.  I move past everybody, and no one passes me. I am not rushing to summit, it’s just what happens. I pass people in tennis shoes, sandals, and even one woman in flip flops! There are people in tank tops and some wearing enough clothing to tackle Everest! There is such a diverse array of clothing, levels of experience, and comfort vs. obvious discomfort with this last section of trail that it makes for great people watching.  But it’s difficult to navigate passing all those going up and those coming down. It’s simply a lot of people traveling up and down a narrow, rocky, and sometimes very exposed trail.

Hitchcock Lakes and Mt. Hitchcock from summit trail

Same view, slightly different lighting. Mt. Chamberlin in background

Since this is nearly the end of my journey, I want to make sure to enjoy every step. I feel conflicted as step by step I close in on the summit. I feel like I am reaching a pinnacle in more ways than one, and that life will never be quite the same once I have finished this trek, and I am not sure if I am ready for that.  I know there is nothing inherently life changing about the summit itself, since I reached it last year. But what it represents this time, at the end of this magnificent solo trek, feels momentous.

Summit Hut

But the heavy introspection soon gets tedious even to me, and I lighten up and finish it off. What greets me is the summit hut, the huge summit register, and throngs of people milling around the thankfully large area, toasting their success with miniature alcohol bottles and rampant photo and video taking. It’s predictable and yet totally spectacular, because the views really are circumferentially breathtaking!

I find Ginnie and her crew right away, and get in on some picture action. I have them take several of me, and offer to take group photos of them. It’s fun to feel a part of something — although I am not in their group photos, I still feel welcomed at the fringes. I am sure I could insert myself into a photo with them, but what would be the point? I have come this far alone, I will stick to my solo guns on the summit as well.

Photo time!

You can get a sense of the size of Whitney’s summit from this photo…

I try to take it all in before heading down: the fact that I have done it, the fact that I did it alone, and the fact that I did it without serious incident or accident or anything going wrong. It is a weird feeling, being up there like that, knowing how much went into the trip, all the planning and organization, and to have it all go off so well, but to be done. I keep thinking I should keep going. I know I don’t want it to end.

So while I do turn around and come down after an hour on top, I am grateful that I have only decided to go as far as Lone Pine Lake instead of all the way out. The first 100 plus switchbacks down from Trail Crest are tight, steep, and relentless. I am back with my backpack, and I remember how little I like this part of the trail. I move down a step at a time as quickly as I can, ignoring all pain in my arthritic knee and just getting it done. As soon as I am off of that section, I feel I can breathe again. I stop at what’s called Trail Camp, a large, crowded, popular campsite for hikers coming up from Lone Pine to summit in two days…or those doing the JMT South to North. There is only a small water source, and the sanitation of the place scares me. Too many people camp here, and it just feels dirty and over used. But I stay long enough to eat my lunch, write in my journal, and begin my trip reflections in earnest. I see Ginnie and her crew again, and consider hiking the last few miles with them, to pass the time. But I don’t seek that out, they start down ahead of me, and I start out alone.

Headed back down, just below Trail Camp

Just below Trail Camp, I catch up to one of Ginnie’s crew, Mike, a “trail parent” to her mixed up group. He starts up a conversation, explaining that he is slow because of a bum knee. I can relate, and I am in just the right mood to continue it, and we end up hiking out the last three miles together.  I have to say it makes that stretch of trail go very fast, and a part of me wonders why I didn’t hike with others more on the JMT. But I also know if I had done it the whole hike, it would have made me crazy. It’s a fitting way to spend the last miles of the last full day, and I happily say goodbye and part ways with Mike at the turn off to Lone Pine Lake. Alone again, I look for a campsite.

I had expected Lone Pine Lake to be busy with day hikers, as it is so close to the Whitney Trailhead. But there are only a handful of youngsters just getting out of the lake after a swim when I arrive. I walk past all the obvious campsites and go around to the far side of the lake. I believe there is camping there, and I don’t want to be in anyone’s obvious path. I am still seeking seclusion. I find a spot, which is large and open and just above the lake, where people have obviously camped before. It’s a bit more on the beaten path than I would like if someone actually walks around the lake, but I take it. By now, the typical afternoon clouds have come in, and I am less enthusiastic about the swim I was so looking forward to. I do it anyway, but it’s cool and windy and I am and out quick as a flash. Dressed and warmed up,  I set up camp, and wonder how to while away the hours until darkness. It’s only 3 o’clock when I arrive, and my quick dunk and setting up camp only takes a short time. I have almost finished my book, and I find my thoughts being overtaken again by some heavy introspection about the trip being almost done.

Afternoon clouds obscure my sun for swimming at Lone Pine Lake

I see just two more people all afternoon. One guy who comes through my site tries to tell me I can’t camp at the lake. I assure him that my JMT bible says I can! He looks at me skeptically, and I worry that I am doing something wrong. But I stand my ground and choose to stay. The next person is a female, heavily, accented, who inquires “Are you Kathie?” This totally and understandably surprises me! “Ginnie sent me.” She explains. “I am headed up Whitney, from the Portal, doing JMT South to North. I meet nice woman Ginnie on the trail, she tells me you are camped here and how nice you are! She says to come find you.”

I am impressed that this woman has come here to find me, but I am unsure what she needs. The site really won’t hold us both…it could, but I would rather not camp with a stranger on this last night. The reason I didn’t go all the way out was because I wanted one more night alone to sort out my thoughts, etc. All this is on my mind as I finally say, “Yes, Ginnie. She is sweet too! What can I do for you?” I don’t know how else to phrase the question, to try to figure out what she wants or needs from me. We chat for a bit, and eventually it comes out that she is also doing the JMT solo, and has some uneasiness about this. Some part of her wants to camp this first night with someone, or near someone, and she has settled on me! We also discuss options farther up for her, like Trail Camp, 3 more miles up trail, where I assure her there will be plenty of  people. She wonders if she can make Trail Camp before dark, and I tell her I am confident she can. I also tell her she is welcome to stay with me, and make sure I am in the correct headspace for this once I make the offer. I watch her waffle as she tries to figure out what to do.

Eventually, she re-shoulders her backpack, deciding she will go on. I am semi-relieved, but also touched that Ginnie, who I really don’t even know, thinks highly enough of me that she would send a solo female hiker my way for some reassurance or guidance or something. I hope I have offered it. I wish the woman, Anna, well, and off she goes.

Campsite at Lone Pine Lake

The lake now is utterly quiet, and I have the place completely to myself. It’s still early, way too early to call it a night, but I am restless and tired of writing and thinking. I simply don’t know how to make better sense of the end of this trip at this point than I have done in my journal writing so far.  I know more sense will come in the days, weeks, months, and even years to come. For now, on this last evening alone on my trip, I just sit and watch the sun dance in and out of the clouds and reflect off the nearby peaks, and try to embrace as much of the actual experience as is humanly possible. Everything about this trip thus far has been magical, and this last evening is no exception. I feel a sense of deep peace and complete appreciation for the entire adventure. I enjoy a final embrace from mother nature as she works her magic color schemes as the light fades around me. It’s truly a perfect ending to a perfect trip.

Highlights of the Day

Solo hike up to Trail Crest

Early morning sunlight on Mt. Hitchcock

Sometimes, I gear up for something that I think will be emotionally taxing for some reason, and then, when it doesn’t happen, it’s just such an unexpected relief. I fully expected people on that first 3 mile stretch, as the previous year Gregg and I had encountered a bunch. Starting off heavily clothed, that meant stopping to shed layers, and the people we’d pass would re-pass us, and we would then have to pass them again.  And getting rid of the morning coffee also proved difficult on the entire stretch of trail from Arctic lake to the summit of Whitney. That’s what I was expecting. To get that full three miles completely alone as the morning sun gleamed off all the surrounding peaks, it was simply beautiful, calming, and completely peaceful. A great way to start the day.

The summit of Whitney

Mts. Muir, Newcomb, Mallory, Le Conte, and Langley from Whitney summit…Just five of the multitude!

The time on the summit was precious. Last year, I was caught off guard by the numbers of people, and that people were drinking and celebrating at 9 or 10 am. This year, I didn’t expect otherwise, and so I wasn’t thrown off at all. The views were similar from year one to year two, as smoke had mostly cleared out in year one. But let me tell you, the views from a summit that high never disappoint, and to wander all around and look out from each direction is an experience that every human should have!

The last three miles of hiking…with someone!

I am not sure why I so enjoyed hiking with Mike for that last three miles, but it just really felt good to connect with a human on the level that we did. Partly it was because we were both of similar age, and both addled by a combined multitude of orthopedic injuries. It started out with him dumping his orthopedic woes on me, as I am a good listener and I definitely get it. But, as I felt brave enough to share some of mine with him,  it shifted to more even ground, and we were able to have a mutually uplifting and encouraging hike, as opposed to a suffer fest about all our ailments! I was able to talk with him about my probable upcoming knee replacement, and some of my thought processes in coming to that decision, which I hadn’t really talked to anyone about until that point.  It felt like a good and solid connection for that hour and some until we parted ways, and left me with a smile on my face.

Lone Pine Lake…alone

Parting shot of final campsite

I started the day alone and ended it alone. And it was very fitting to be camped at Lone Pine Lake! Again, like the start of my day, I had no expectation of solitude at the lake, and was unexpectedly blessed with such. I could not have asked for a more beautiful setting for my final night. I was close to civilization such that the morning’s hike would be a walk in the park. But clearly enough away that I got to experience one final night of just me and the mountains and chipmunks and whatever other wildlife joined me and my thoughts and introspections.

Lessons of the day

The recurrent theme and contrast of time alone vs. time with others

This day was similar to the whole trip which is similar to my whole life…the quest for balance between time alone and time with others. For whatever reason, on the trail and in life in general, I have a need for vast amounts of time alone. And yet, within that, I also am deeply drawn to people and conversations and connection and feeling a part of something much bigger than myself. This day had it all — time alone, and time with many, and the noticing of that and seeing how I can and do flit in and out of it all. The entire day just fit in so well with the big picture of  my life. I don’t have the balance mastered, and I still long at times for one when the other is missing, but I do understand how important both are for my well-being, happiness, and very survival.

It’s simply impossible to sum up something as big as the JMT in one final day

I stayed at Lone Pine Lake to try for closure or ease the challenge of re-adapting back to “real life” by one more night. But I realized that it can’t happen in a time-compressed fashion. Processing the trip, and getting all there is to get out of it, takes much longer than the end of the day on which it finishes. While it was a heavy thinking day, I was also able to eventually let the day be and just take it for what it was…the last day of a fantastic trip that will likely take years to finally settle into my life. And I found that thought reassuring, the knowing that I didn’t have to have it all figured out by the end of the last full day. There is much writing about and pulling together still to come!

4th of July Backpack Trip — Day 4 and Summary

Out from Lake Stuart and up Fourth of July Creek Trail

Before we retired Sunday, we discussed options for the last day of our trip, the actual 4th of July. I don’t like the hubbub of the fourth, and didn’t have any need or desire to get back to Bellingham early. Shannon and Kevin had options of parties to attend, and wanted to hike out and leave. Since we had two cars, we agreed that I would pack up and head out right after breakfast in pursuit of a local day hike, and they would vacate the campsite at their leisure.

Mt. Stuart at sunrise

Mt. Stuart at sunrise

I awoke early enough to capture the first morning light on Mt. Stuart from our campsite. It was a beautiful sight from a great campsite… and in some ways I was sad to leave. For my first backpack of the year, and the first ever with some of the new gear, I felt confident that I had figured some things out. My pack went together much easier for the return hike. I had eaten all of my food, which meant I could fill my bear canister with other things. The bear canister is obnoxious, but it’s required for my trip on the John Muir Trail, and I had brought it to resemble that upcoming trip as closely as possible. In preparing to leave Lake Stuart,  I took more time to pack my pack, and work with it’s numerous pockets and compartments. Because it is a new pack for me, it takes time to learn it’s nuances.  The pack I am using is an Osprey Ariel 75…which is plenty big for a multi-week trip, and I figure if I can’t get everything in it, I shouldn’t be going!

Shannon and Kevin were up before I left, and we said our goodbyes. I think we all felt good about what we had done, and that we had made the best of our four days. Even though we didn’t get to backpack the Enchantments, we made it there with a day-hike, got to experience Horseshoe Lake, and had good relational time. A winning weekend all around!

As I hiked out, I contemplated the trip and others to come.  I felt good about the miles I had put in, although my feet were clearly not happy.  I acutely felt each step in that 4.5 miles back to the car, and the discomfort was intense. I made the decision right then that the hiking boots were not going to make the cut. While I like the added protection and ankle support, my left foot was killing me…and that was  after just  three days and 40 miles, most of it day-hiking. I couldn’t imagine enduring that pain for 20 days and over 240 miles, almost all of it with a backpack. Last year I did the JMT in Altra Lone Peak trail running shoes…and it appears that I will be doing that again. For whatever reason, those shoes with my orthotics do not cause the same type of discomfort and pain, and the Enchantments trip really solidified that for me.

Fourth of July Creek Trail on the 4th of July!

Although I was tired and my feet hurt, I couldn’t shake the idea of doing one more day hike in the area before heading home. The hike I wanted to do was the Fourth of July Creek Trail. What better day to do it than on the Fourth of July! I left the decision to fate, surmising that if there was parking at the trailhead for the hike, I would do it. If not, I would head home. Since the Lake Stuart trailhead was absolutely packed when I got back to my car, and there were cars parked a long ways down the road, I reasoned I had about a 50/50 chance of hiking.

fourthofjulysignApparently, not everyone was drawn to the Fourth of July Creek Trail. There were only four cars in the parking lot when I arrived. There was a big group of mountain bikers that occupied two of the cars. I thought maybe something was wrong with the trail what with so few people. I asked the bikers about the conditions. They said it was in great shape, and had recently been cleared of all debris. I looked at the trail notifications, and all it cautioned was that rattlesnakes had been seen on the trail. I vaguely remembered doing this hike back in my early 20’s, and recalled that it was steep, open, through quite a bit of burn-out, and very hot. This day was still a bit chilly, and I didn’t think heat would be a problem. I checked the guidebook, and sure enough, it was 4600 feet of elevation gain in five miles. But the book promised great views well before the top, and I figured I would go for two hours then turn back.

I changed my shoes, relieved to done with the hiking boots. The trail runners felt much better, and, encouraged, I hit the trail and started up. After just 1/4 mile, the trail immediately crosses the Fourth of July Creek.  I was trying to avoid getting wet, and chose to cross on a log instead of over rocks. Somehow, I slipped and fell right into the creek! It surprised the heck out of me, and of course I got soaked. I scratched the back of my leg, and it was bleeding quite a lot. I thought maybe that was a sign from the universe that I was NOT supposed to go on the hike. I recovered enough to walk back to the car, pondering this. I felt discouraged, but decided not to give up.

I changed clothes and socks, and went at it again. By this time it was 11:15, and I told myself I would turn around at 1:15. For round two, I decided to take headphones and listen to an audio book I was almost done with. I must confess that sometimes I do listen to books when I hike…it’s a relatively new habit, and one I don’t plan to bring into my backpacking life. But sometimes when I hike I LIKE the distraction of listening to a good book…especially on a hike that promises to be as relentlessly steep as this one did.

Up and up I went. I passed some other hikers, and eventually the mountain bikers. They were literally pushing their bikes, as the trail was too steep to ride. They were headed up to the pass, then planned to zoom down a different and longer trail off of Icicle Creek Ridge. That’s a lot of work for some short thrills, but they were into it and excited. I continued on alone until about 1:00, then decided to eat lunch and turn around. The views were OK, although you could still see burned trees, which slightly bummed me out.

Lunch spot, where I planned to turn around...

Lunch spot, where I planned to turn around…

Just as I was preparing to leave, the mountain bikers caught back up to me, and I asked one to take a photo before heading down. He did, but also told me I was close to the top…only about half an hour more, he estimated. He said it was totally worth it, and encouraged me to keep going. I told him I would think about it. They moved on, and I thought, what the heck, I had come that far…and so I pressed on. The trail got full of flowers, and if I hadn’t been so hell-bent on just getting there, I would have taken some photos. The views continued to get more expansive, and I lost the burned trees. The chilly wind also picked up, as I was now close to 7000 feet. I started having a deja vu of Aasgard Pass the day before, and moved as quickly as my tired legs would allow to stay warm.

View from the ridge

Soon I could see the top and where I was headed. I could also see that the views were not going to get much better, and that the clouds were coming in. I was close, but enough was enough! I didn’t feel like going to the very top, and it felt great to be OK with that. I put on my shirt and coat, ate my last power bar, and took a photo as my audio book finished up. I made the hike down in stillness,  at a quick and steady pace.

Summary

I arrived back at the car at 3:45. I took stock of the physical body before driving home. My arthritic right knee was unquestionably sore, most likely from all the miles and the steep descents. I knew it would probably swell up and cause trouble for the next several days. My feet, however,  were much better than in the morning, since I had switched shoes. Overall, I felt pretty darn good after hiking 50 miles in four days.

The trip definitely increased my confidence for the upcoming John Muir trip. I will be doing similar daily distances, albeit with a backpack. I have a better sense of my gear, and how to make everything fit. I still need practice on this, but I have a month to figure out all the remaining details and work out the remaining kinks….

Next up: First solo backpack trip (this time for real!), scheduled for later this week. Stay tuned for that!

 

 

 

 

4th of July Backpack Trip — Day 3

Aasgard Pass take two — With Shannon, Kevin, …and wind!

As planned, the three of us got an early start in order to do Aasgard Pass and the Enchantments as a day hike. It was the second day in a row for me, the first time ever for Shannon and Kevin. Shannon had previously backpacked down Aasgard but never been up it, and Kevin had seen the Enchantments from the Snow Lakes entrance, but never set foot on the pass. I told them we should leave camp by 7:00…we hit the trail by 7:20 am.

I knew this day would be longer than my 11-hour endeavor of the previous day. Shannon and Kevin don’t hike as fast and don’t like to rush. I was mentally prepared for this, and thought it would be a good break for my tired body.  I felt generally OK after a night of rest, although still fatigued, and my feet were hurting. The left foot was re-taped with blister bandaids and felt secure, but it was simply unhappy in the hiking boot. I wished I had my trail runners for a day of reprieve…alas, they were in the car. I DID take my poles for this days adventure, as I had missed having them in round one.

Stuart, Colchuck, and up Aasgard Pass

Our pace was good leaving Lake Stuart.  It was a great warm-up, and the fastest part of the day for sure. The morning was much cooler than the previous, as a wind had come up overnight and persisted. We still managed to shed clothes on the way up to Colchuck Lake, but it was breezy. At the overlook we snapped photos and snacked.

Kathie and Shannon at Colchuck Lake

Kathie and Shannon at Colchuck Lake

We chatted with a ranger I had seen the previous day, and he was impressed that I was up doing Aasgard again. As we chatted, a couple with a dog came up to the rock, plain as day. Dogs are not allowed in the Enchantment region, and signs clearly state this. The woman feigned ignorance, or maybe she really didn’t know. The ranger was merciless, and wrote her a ticket and sent them back down. A bummer of an ending for that couple’s day hike. 🙁

We worked our way around Colchuck Lake, and reached the base of the pass. Shannon is a better picture taker than me, and likes to take photos. She captured me at the base of Aasgard, just as we were heading up.

Starting the ascent...

Starting the ascent…

Our journey up the pass was quite a bit slower than the previous day. In the beginning I welcomed that, as I was tired and the slow pace suited me well. I noticed that my body felt less taxed at that pace. I also noticed that I didn’t get us off route. Either I paid closer attention while I waited for Shannon and Kevin, or else I felt a greater sense of responsibility for finding a good route with my daughter mommaandbabyand her boyfriend following behind! Either way, the first part of the pass was relatively uneventful.

On the way up we saw a momma and baby goat resting on a rock right on the route. I wondered if the baby was sick, as they didn’t move at all even when we came right near them…

Shannon and Kevin making their way up...

Shannon and Kevin making their way up…

All was well through the traverse of the snowfield. By the time we had crossed, it was clear that the wind was really picking up and it was getting cold. Shannon and I stopped to put on layers. I had a long sleeve thermal shirt, down jacket, and gloves, and I put it all on. Warm-blooded Kevin stayed in his t-shirt, still sweating!

The rest of the ascent was very cold and windy, and I was tremendously distracted by the cold. This is where going slow is frustrating, because I will usually use increased speed to warm up when I get cold. But since I wasn’t going to go ahead, and we kept moving up at a pace that didn’t require much exertion, I got more and more chilled. At the top, it was super cold, and we barely took time time to snap photos. At this point, even hot-bodied Kevin put on his down jacket!

shannonandkevinattop

kathieontop

A quick lunch at the highest lake, then back down the pass

We dropped down to the first of the Enchantment lakes to eat our lunch, and try to get out of the wind and warm up. We ate, but didn’t warm up. The wind was cold and relentless, and I longed for the previous day when I was in shorts and a tank top and sweating! I got obsessed with being cold, and wanted to get moving. I don’t function well when I am cold, and it is hard for me to warm up once I am solidly there.

We scurried back up to the pass, and began our descent in the biting wind. It took most of the way down Aasgard Pass for me to finally warm up. At one point, I wore Kevin’s down jacket on top of everything else I had on in an effort to get warm.  I felt under prepared, and a little silly for not bringing more clothes. Mostly, I felt acutely aware of how much conditions can and do change in the mountains…from one day to the next, and sometimes from one hour to the next.

The way down Aasgard was tedious and at times frustrating. It took us about three hours to get all the way down. I kept having to remind myself to be patient, and to enjoy the surroundings and company. It was quite the day, overall, and I didn’t want to dampen it by getting impatient about anything. Instead, I focused again on how my body felt at the slower pace, and noted that it did feel better and less stressed. The physical exhaustion, then, was definitely less. The mental exhaustion, though, was greater, as we were simply out there and in the thick of it for longer. Perhaps I can learn to strike some sort of happy medium between the two…

The final descent and back to camp

Once we were back to the Colchuck Lake trail, Shannon could sense my impatience and frustration with the pace. Half way down, she suggested I go ahead, for which I was grateful. She knows me well, and recognized that it took a toll on me going that slowly for the day. I thanked, her, and took off. I made it back to camp as swiftly as I could. The two days of intensity had worn me down, and I was ready to be done.

I was working on dinner prep when Shannon and Kevin came in at 8:25 pm. It was a thirteen hour day for them, just slightly less for me. We had all done it, a feat that felt like a huge accomplishment. I was happy and relieved that we all made it down safely and were back at camp. We even finished dinner and got into bed before the last glimmer of light left our campsite. A sleeping bag in a tent never felt so good!

 

 

 

4 of July Backpack Trip — Day 2

Day 2 — Day hike to Enchantments via Aasgard Pass

I awoke early Saturday morning, as is my normal habit while backpacking. Almost always I am awake before first light, and lie in bed waiting, watching, and listening…for daylight to come and the first birds to sing. At times I wish I was one of those people who could sleep in when circumstances allow for that. But that’s not my pattern, and I have come to accept that I will always be awake early and ready to get into whatever adventures the day holds. This day was no exception.

Retracing Stuart and up to Colchuck

I hit the trail early, before Shannon and Kevin even stirred. I left them a note, wishing them well at Horseshoe Lake, and saying I’d be back late afternoon or early evening. I didn’t have a time check, as I had no watch or phone. I made a mental note to purchase a watch before my John Muir trip in August, as I will be in a similar boat with  no phone reception.  Instinct told me I left camp about 7:00, and I was accurate enough. When I encountered the first hiker on the trail coming into Stuart, I asked him the time. It was 7:30. I knew I would have time to do whatever amount of hiking my soul desired and my body allowed.

The morning was quiet and contemplative, and I felt pretty good. I had doctored my left foot with a blister bandaid and tape to hold it in place, and it felt OK.  The trail out of Stuart is a great warm-up for a long day. Slightly downhill and very straightforward, it’s mindless and easy.  I reminded myself to enjoy it, as it was the last of the easy hiking until I hit it again in return after whatever else took place that day.  I kept a good pace and the 2.2 miles passed quickly.

The trail to Colchuck is a different story. It’s only 1.6 miles to the lake, then .6 around the lake to the base of Aasgard. But it’s somewhat steep, and full of roots, rocks, and obstacles. There is little to distract, although a nice waterfall provided a good picture op.

Waterfall from Colchuck Lake trail

Waterfall from Colchuck Lake trail

Otherwise, I occupied my mind with memories of past trips. This was my 6th time up Colchuck and Aasgard Pass.  The first time was with  my first husband, back in the rock climbing days and before kids. We climbed Prusik Peak, which is a stellar multi-pitch rock climb in the heart of the Enchantments. The second time I day-hiked it from Stuart when I was pregnant with Shannon; the third was a backpack trip with friends and co-workers when my kids were very young, and I left them at home with their dad for the first time ever.  The fourth was another backpack trip in my 30’s with my second husband, whom I almost killed off when he fell on his face at the top of Aasgard Pass from exhaustion; and the fifth was the thru-hike of the Enchantments two years previous. Now, at age 52, I felt good and reflective about how much life has changed since those early days, and yet I am still up to and loving the same sorts of activities. I felt grateful and blessed that I can still do it, and reminded myself again to enjoy each step along the way….even the harder ones to come.

Colchuck Lake with Aasgard Pass (left of peak)

Colchuck Lake with Aasgard Pass (left of peak)

One of my favorite views occurs when you first break out at Colchuck Lake. The lake is a deep green color, apparently from all the algae it contains. You can also see Aasgard Pass, and it looks just as intimidating as it is.

After a pause here, I continued around the lake, right by multiple campsites occupied by numerous hikers, and finally through the boulder field that is notoriously challenging. Soon I was at the base of the pass, where I ate, drank, and refilled water for the upcoming endeavor.

Up Aasgard and into the Enchantments!

I vowed to take it slow and steady up the pass. It’s steep, advertised as “2000 feet in 3/4 of a mile”. That distance, I swear, is if you head straight up. The “trail”, for what it’s worth, does not do so. It winds up and around cliffs, waterfalls and other obstacles impossible to navigate. The elevation gain I believe…the distance seems much farther than 3/4 of a mile. But as with so many other things in life, it just  is what it is, and it must be tackled one step at a time.

I stayed with the “route”, as much as possible, which is loosely defined by “cairns”. Cairns, if you are unfamiliar, are rock piles that hikers place to mark an otherwise not so obvious route. The problem with Aasgard is that there are many different “routes”, and sometimes following “lesser cairns” is not helpful and can get you off the “main” route. This often happens to me, for whatever reason, and I end up somewhere other than the most travelled path. This trip was no exception. I was trying to avoid the steep snow traverse on Aasgard, as I didn’t bring my poles. I am not sure why I left them behind…sometimes, I don’t like to hike with poles, and I want my hands free for other things. This trip was probably one time I should have brought poles, to help with the challenges both uphill and certainly down. But I didn’t, and the snow traverse made me nervous without them. So instead I went up and around, and got into some precarious bouldering. It wasn’t really dangerous but definitely not something I would choose again as a fall would have been dicey.

Colchuck Lake from Aasgard Pass

Colchuck Lake from
Aasgard Pass

At the top of my route deviation, I came upon four young guys laughing and playing and having a grand old time. They reminded me of the mountain goats that you see in abundance in the Enchantments…cavorting around, as if not a care in the world. At first I looked at them like they were crazy, then said hello. Their carefree attitude reminded me not to take myself so seriously…at no point had I felt at risk for my life, even when off course,  and sometimes my own  seriousness gets to me. “Lighten up, Kathie!”  was my motto as I continued on. At this point, I was back on the established route, and the route was quite obvious for the remainder of the pass. I topped out at 7800 feet shortly thereafter.

The views from the top are magnificent. You can see down to Colchuck, out to the Upper Enchantment lakes, as well as multiple peaks and stellar rock formations all around. It’s simply other-worldly, as if you have entered a different universe entirely. I climbed to and sat on the very highest rock, and enjoyed it all. I felt on top of the world! The same four guys came up shortly after, still laughing, talking, and now taking photos. I asked them the time (11:15), and where they were from. They were Navy guys, stationed at Whidbey, out on a long weekend.

Sitting on top of the world!

Sitting on top of the world!

We chatted and they took some photos of me and I of them. They were through hikers, headed out via Snow Lakes with a car at that trailhead. They invited me to join them…I felt flattered, and wished I could. But I told them I would have a very worried daughter back at Stuart Lake if I didn’t return that evening.

The Enchantments are, well, enchanting. Words cannot do the magnificence proper justice; nor can pictures. The upper lakes on this day were mostly snow covered, with glimpses of them a deep aqua hue. Mountain goats are always plentiful in the area, and this early in the season, the babies were young, small, and adorable.

Momma and babies

Momma and babies

Mostly snow covered lakes

Mostly snow covered lakes

I dropped down over snowfield after snowfield, getting farther into the Upper and Middle Enchantments basin. I didn’t want to turn around, but I also didn’t want to linger too long as I still had to retrace my steps and do everything in reverse.  I went as far as the overlook to Prusik Peak, and had a hiker take a photo.

Prusik Peak

Prusik Peak

Prusik is beautiful, and seeing it made me nostalgic for the good old rock-climbing days. I felt satisfied enough at this point to turn back, and began the snow ascent back to the top of Aasgard Pass.

Down Aasgard — during a helicopter rescue!

I said a final goodbye to the goats and the lakes before heading back down. I had decided to go across the snowfield on the way down, as it seemed the best route even without poles. I stayed true to the course in the upper half of the descent. I crossed the snowfield using my uphill hand as a balance point, and took it slowly and carefully. The grade is steep enough that a fall would be bad, so I made sure to stay focussed.

Shortly after the snow traverse, I started hearing the distant noise of a helicopter. At first it didn’t really register, but soon it was obvious what it was as the noise drew ever closer. A helicopter in that area can only mean one thing: search and rescue. I was instantly on guard, and soon the helicopter was hovering right in front of me, just a bit down the pass. I watched with amazement as a rope was lowered, and just as quickly a stretcher was apparently tied on and airlifted up and out. It happened so fast, and I found myself wondering what had gone on. An accident of some sort, no doubt, but they swooped in and out with incredible speed. As I was trying to puzzle all of this out,  I discovered that I had gotten distracted and off route — again. This time, I was, perhaps subconsciously, headed towards the side of the pass where the rescue had taken place. I found myself in amongst steep trees with no cairns, and staring down a long and steep snow field to the left of me. I could see the rescue crew down below, and they were clearly not on any established route. It freaked me out, surmising just how such an accident could take place. Get a bit off the trail, think you can keep working your way down, take a fall and off you go!

I immediately turned around and headed back up. Soon I heard voices above me and knew I was almost back on the route. It shook me up, not because I felt I would actually fall and get hurt, but because I could see how it could happen. I paid close attention after that, and continued working my way down.  I felt grateful to be navigating with all body parts intact.

A short bit farther down, I caught up with the rescue crew (three men and two rangers). I asked them what had happened, and learned that a dead body had just been removed from the pass. Apparently, a hiker had slipped and glissaded over a waterfall four weeks previous, and his body had been buried too deeply in snow to evacuate at the time. The three men, all volunteers who did not know the hiker, had hiked in to dig out the body when enough snow had melted. The rangers helped facilitate the helicopter evacuation of said body. Again, this really impacted me, and I kept thinking about it as I finished the descent of the pass. I have hiked for so long without serious injury, and never think something like that will happen. But there was something about being right there that brought it all home, the realization that you can never be too careful in that type of environment.

Down Colchuck, back to Stuart, and straight into the lake!

After the events on the pass, I just wanted to be done with the day. I got my feet wet coming around the lake on the way back, and my tape job worked it’s way off. I had a mess of tape all balled up at the toe, and I stopped to re-tape before heading down from Colchuck. I didn’t use a blister bandaid, though, telling myself it was less than four miles total. My foot complained loudly at each step of those four miles, and the pain really started to get to me. So did my fatigue from the day, and I started to get cranky. There were also tons of people on the trail, which meant lots of starting and stopping to let others pass. I kept my wits about me, but had to work to keep myself from feeling frustrated.

Finally I was at the Stuart turn-off, and into the last 2.2 miles back to camp. At this point, I knew I would make it, and my thoughts turned to jumping right into the lake when I returned. The day had been warm, and I felt sweaty, sticky, and dirty. The image of the lake and jumping in kept me going at a good pace, and I made it back to camp by 6:00, before Shannon and Kevin even returned from their day at Horseshoe Lake. I was truly exhausted after the 15 + mile day, and I jumped in the cool water with all my clothes on. It was refreshing and healing for my tired body and very sore feet.

Dinner followed my swim and Shannon and Kevin’s return. We swapped stories of the day, and made plans for the next one. I told them as much as I could about the route, conditions, and degree of challenge we would all face should we decide to go up Aasgard the next day. Both Shannon and Kevin really wanted to go, and, since I had promised I would go another round, we made plans for an early start that next day. I went to bed with seriously aching feet, a great sense of accomplishment, a sobered sense of what it means to hike in the mountains…and more than a bit of trepidation about doing it all over again the next day.

 

 

 

 

 

Church Mountain: Testing the waters (and the feet!)

Memorial Day morning dawned sunny and beautiful. As I drove to meet a friend for an experimental hike up Church Mountain, I was feeling thoughtful and contemplative. The mountains are always a spiritual place for me, and what better way to explore spirituality than the physical challenges of a mountain called Church!

This wouldn’t be my first trip up Church, a nine-mile round-trip hike off the Mt. Baker Highway an hour from my house. But it would be significant for many reasons, and I had lots to ponder as we drove the winding mountain roads to the trailhead.

First, it would be my initial alpine adventure for 2016. There is always something momentous about my first foray into the mountains, leaving the lowland forest hikes behind to embark on an adventure above tree-line. Even after hiking trails near Mt. Baker for my entire 23 years in Bellingham, I never tire of the plethora of mountain views available so close to home.  Anticipating that setting brought a smile to my face as we drove.

Top of Church Mtn

At the top of the Church Mountain trail

Challenges

Second, Church Mountain’s steep trails and the presence of snow raised another issue for me to ponder as we drove. I was just 3.5 weeks post-op from the most recent surgery on my right foot and ankle, and just 5.5 months post-op from surgery on the left foot. In essence, that left me with no good foot to count on! Recent trail reports indicated the meadow was covered with snow, and the remainder of the hike would also be in snow should we choose to continue beyond. Normally, this would not be too daunting, as hiking in snow is something I have done a fair bit of. But with the recent round of foot and ankle surgeries I wasn’t at all sure what I could do. And I felt unusually cautious, not wanting to jeopardize the healing process for my feet.

So to help manage the fear and to set realistic expectations I made a deal with my hiking partner that we would go without expectation of reaching trail’s end.  And a deal with myself to make the goal simply to see how my feet would do, and to focus on enjoying the hike.

The path upwards

The first three miles were predictably tough. The trail is a beautiful walk through the forest, but it gains about 1000 feet a mile, which is continually up. I was hiking with poles, my new found friends following the foot, ankle and knee surgeries of recent years – I have learned to not be above getting help when I need it!

We finally broke out of the forest and into a gorgeous alpine meadow, where we stopped for lunch. My feet were in quite a lot of pain, and they were very grateful for the opportunity to rest. Memo to self: rest is like poles – don’t be too proud to use them.

After lunch we continued on, and now we were trekking through the snow. The foot pain was back.  I distracted myself from the pain and challenging conditions by telling my hiking partner about my new endeavor, the Tuppers2cents blog that you are currently reading. Sharing my excitement for this project kept me focused on something other than pain. While not ignoring my discomfort altogether, I found a balance of paying attention to it AND remaining conversationally engaged. We encountered many other hikers up to just what we were, continuing on towards the top. There is a camaraderie and joy among hikers out for an early season hike that is infectious beyond belief! I felt just like one of them, completely in my element, and it was easy to keep going, step by step.

To the top and back again

The mile and some following the meadow flew by, and soon we were very near the trail’s end. The last part is a rocky outcropping that gives a break from the snow, but is a bit exposed and tricky. Once we were at the base of that, I knew we would make it. It’s a safer kind of challenge for me, as I rock climbed extensively in my younger years. If I feel at all uneasy with terrain, I always implement the Three Points of Contact Rule I learned as a climber:  Keep three of four contact points (hands and feet) on the rock/path…when you feel solid, move only one and replace it with the fourth. That way, you will always have three points of contact secure on the path, and this increases stability and decreases the chance of a slip or fall. In this fashion, we ascended the top, and joined a handful of others enjoying the sun and circumferential views of all the surrounding peaks. The feeling of accomplishment was immense, and again I noticed that my feet liked the rest. After a round of pictures, we started our decent.

Church snow

Traversing the snow on the way down

The trip down is always more difficult and intimidating. I do not like traversing down snowfields, as the chances of slippage are greater. As we descended, I relied heavily on my poles, and felt at times like a grandma with my caution and slow pace. But what I know to be true, on hikes and in life, is that if I am steady, confident, and stable at each step, the chances are pretty darn good that I will be so in the following step as well. That is how we got down through the snow…one careful step at a time. It wasn’t the fastest hike down, and it was tedious. But I made it down without slip or incident, for which I was both grateful and relieved.

After the three mile forest trail, we arrived back at the car.

It’s about listening and trust

I felt an indescribable feeling of happiness and success…mixed with just a wee bit of concern.  I briefly worried, had I pushed too hard?  Would I pay a price for my ambitious adventure? Would I experience a setback of healing? Somehow, I knew intuitively none of that would happen. I trusted and listened to my body with each step and with every rest, and paid attention to the feedback I was getting. Plus there were just too many green lights from the universe along the way to believe harm would result.

At past times in my life, I have not always listened to my body so well. It is still something I struggle with, this desire to push the limits and jump back into things too quickly following injury or surgery. My desire and will to participate in life sometimes exceeds what my physical body is capable of. I am the first to admit I don’t have this delicate balance mastered, and each trek is an endeavor to refine the line between enough and too much.

But for this day on Church, the balance was there, and my desire and ability to keep going while still listening to the pain paid off. The hike was not only beautiful and rewarding…it gave me hope and inspiration for many more hikes to come as snow continues to melt and paths continue to clear.

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