The Fragility of Plans

It’s been a long time since my last post. Why? Read on.

Just over seven weeks ago, I was celebrating my first overnight backpacking trip. I spent a Saturday hiking a local state park with twenty-five pounds on my back. It was a short hike—about six miles—but it wasn’t about the miles; it was about the experience. What does it feel like to carry a fully loaded pack? How would I manage, setting up my own campsite? Is being solo something I can handle?

It was the first of many planned training hikes to prepare for my July 10th backpacking trip—Section K of the PCT (California), to be exact. This is an area near Lake Tahoe and goes through the Desolation Wilderness. I had my permits, my maps, and my gear. All I needed to do was continue my training.

I came home from my experimental trip with some new-found knowledge. First, my secondhand tent leaks in the rain. Second, carrying a twenty-five-pound pack isn’t easy, but it’s do-able. Lastly, and most importantly, I discovered a sense of confidence I wasn’t sure I had.

I could do this trip! I will do this trip.

But all plans are vulnerable, fragile. Mine were taken away from me in a matter of seconds when a truck coming the opposite direction swerved into my lane to avoid rearending the car in front of him. This happened on our way to school/work the Monday after my short solo backpacking trip. One day I was feeling accomplished and excited for the summer, the next, I was just thankful to be alive and that, other than a few bruises from his seatbelt and a yanked back, my son was uninjured.

Me? I ended up with a broken right ankle and a fractured left wrist. I took my first-ever ambulance ride to the hospital, where the doctors reset my ankle and told me I would be having surgery on it the next day. I ended up spending three nights there.

When I left the hospital, it was with a monster-sized leg cast and a walker I could barely use because of my broken wrist. The only mobility I was allowed for two weeks was to hop my way to the bathroom, using my clunky walker to keep me from falling on my face.

Two weeks after the accident, the orthopedic surgeon switched out my post-surgery monster cast for a normal-sized fiberglass cast. I chose a beautiful purple-colored cast, in case you’re wondering.  I also switched to a wheelchair to get around. Turns out I’m pretty good on wheels.

Four weeks after the accident, the surgeon removed my staples and I got to choose a new cast color. This time, I picked red in honor of the upcoming 4th of July and Canada Day holidays. I was still wheelchair bound and would be for the next two weeks.

Now, seven weeks post accident, I am about a week into wearing a “walking boot.” My doctor wanted me to switch back to the walker, but since my wrist is still healing, that proved to be as awkward as it was the first time I tried. Instead, I decided to try using crutches with the reasoning that either way, my wrist was going to suffer. It actually feels better with the crutches than using the special “platform” attachment on my walker meant to keep my weight on my forearm instead of my wrist.

I’m getting around pretty well with the crutches and putting weight on my ankle. My doctor likes the way I’m healing and is impressed with the relatively little swelling my ankle has. His outlook is positive. My son’s bruises have disappeared, although he is visiting the chiropractor twice a week to ensure his back, which got a bit tweaked in the accident, goes back to its pre-accident level of untweakedness.

Truly, I have a lot to be thankful for. I tell myself everyday it could have been worse, that because of the nature of the accident, it could have been fatal… but it wasn’t. I could have lost my son… but I didn’t. My children could be motherless… but they aren’t. These reminders are a life preserver in a sea of disappointment. I cling to them when the negative thoughts crash into me and threaten to pull me under.

I’ll save the non-physical impact—both good and bad—the accident has had for another post. There are always lessons to learn and new ways to grow in every circumstance, and this has been no exception.

Meanwhile, here are some photos of my car, my cast changes, and my Frankensteinish post-surgery ankle. And, in case you’re wondering, the driver of the truck, who was at fault and had obviously been distracted at the time of the accident, is fine.

Mine is the car in the shallow ditch.
RIP, little Mazda.
In the hospital. My surgeon is a fan of padding.
It was so pretty!
Happy Independence Day and happy Canada Day!

This next photo is the final one, and if you’re squeamish, I’d skip it. Just a warning.

Two weeks post-surgery. Both sides of my ankle looked like this.



Itching to Begin

It’s been almost a week since I made it my goal to hike a total of 500 miles. So far, I’ve done a whoppin’ zero miles. Boooo!

I’m trying to not be too hard on myself, though.

About three weeks ago, I came down with some sort of cold, which decided to move into my chest. This turned into bronchitis. I was on antibiotics for two weeks, but my chest continued to hurt when breathing (so pretty much all the time) and when I lay down.

On my third trip to urgent care, we finally figured out I have pleurisy. If you don’t know what pleurisy is—I didn’t—it’s the inflammation of the lining of the lungs. It isn’t a serious condition, but it is painful and has zapped all my energy. I’m using Alleve and turmeric supplements to ease the inflammation, and it seems to be helping.

Now that I’ve committed myself to this hiking goal, I want to start! I’m forcing myself to wait until I can breathe without hurting. Breathing is difficult enough for me when I’m hiking up hills. Why make it worse?

Meanwhile, I’m trying to be patient and planning which trails I will hit once I’m ready… hopefully this weekend.

I’ll keep you posted!

Why Hiking?

About ten years ago, I permanently injured my left foot during a love affair with long-distance running. The day my podiatrist showed me the x-ray of my fallen arch, I knew he would tell me the news I had dreaded hearing for months… that I needed to stop running. In a non-sympathetic manner, he informed me that I had the foot of a seventy-year-old and unless I wanted to be disabled in my fifties, I needed to give it up.

I felt like I lost my best friend that day.

Still grieving the news, I spent the next year trying to prove him wrong. My foot would feel better, and I would hit the road and trails, only to feel that familiar twinge of pain creeping back into my left foot. I repeated this cycle multiple times, but I never pushed it too far—I had no desire to return to living with constant pain.

The need to challenge myself led me to cycling and mountain biking, but I couldn’t fall in love with it. I like to be in control of my movement, and relying on two skinny circles attached to a metallic frame doesn’t appeal to me the way running did. I participated in a couple road cycling events with my husband—one in Palm Springs and one in San Diego—but after too many near misses with cars whose drivers weren’t paying attention, I was done with “sharing the road.”

Recently, I reconnected with my first love, hiking. Like a loyal family member, hiking has been waiting in the wings while I sought new challenges to test me physically. I never forgot hiking; I have always loved being in nature, using my legs to move through the miracle of it. I just never considered it a replacement for the challenge of running a marathon.

Then a day-hike led me to a small section of the Pacific Crest Trail.

I had heard of it and remembered someone saying it stretches from the Mexican border to the border of Canada. A section of the PCT has been in my backyard all my life, and I didn’t realize it. As I studied the iconic blue-and-white trail marker, I remember thinking, “Do people hike the whole thing?”

People do!

The tiny sign that gave me a fresh perspective on hiking.

While the PCT is what planted the seed to embrace hiking as a way to challenge myself, I have no plans to hike to Canada… not yet, anyway. The trail and its amazing travelers are my inspiration to take on hiking as a way to challenge myself with tangible, reachable goals.

Hiking is my new running. It is a return to my childhood. It is where I feel closest to my Creator. Hiking brings back the best memories of my dad—the man who helped me fall in love with the outdoors almost fifties eyes ago.

Hiking is good.

Here Comes Half a Century

This the first day of March, which means in less than thirty days, I will turn forty-nine. One year from fifty. Three hundred sixty-six days from half a century. That’s half of 100!

Maybe it’s normal to do some self-reflection when faced with a milestone birthday.

But turning forty wasn’t a big deal to me. Forty actually sounded sexy… old enough to no longer be considered a “youth,” but still looking pretty good. If I turned inward, assessing the first forty years of my life and wondering how many quality years I had left to live, I don’t remember. I trained for and ran a marathon when I was thirty-nine, but that had nothing to do with stepping into a new decade—unless the motive was subconscious.

Fifty? Well, that sounds old, even to my soon-to-be-forty-nine mind. Fifty is grey hair. Fifty accounts for the wrinkles around my mouth and the loosening skin on my neck. If I had started my family a few years sooner, I could be a GRANDMA by now!

Is fifty old? I still have a year to go, but I don’t feel old. When I look in the mirror, I see a few more wrinkles than I did five years ago, but I don’t think I look old.

Or maybe I do and just don’t realize it.

The passage of time comes with certain changes that can’t be stopped. They can be covered up by plastic surgery and a visit to the hair salon, but time will always win the war when it comes to appearance. No skin-care regime will make my face look like it did when I was in my twenties… not even in my thirties and forties.

In three hundred sixty-six days, when fifty comes around that corner to embrace me, I want to be ready for it. I want to look fifty in the face and say, “All right, Big Five-Oh, here’s the deal: You can have your wrinkles and age spots, but you are NOT the boss of me. You might have some say in how I look, but you don’t get to dictate WHO I am.”

I’m going to greet fifty with courage and strength, with the confidence one can only get by taking on a monumental challenge and standing, victorious, in the aftermath. Fifty is going to have to get used to me, not the other way around.

All this is a prelude—yes, it is a long one—to explain the purpose of this blog and why the title’s tagline is “five hundred miles by fifty.” I have decided to challenge myself to hike a total of 500 miles by the time I turn fifty. I won’t be doing this all in one shot, though I wish that were the case.

If I had the time, resources, and freedom, I would take on the challenge of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. But like most people, taking six months out of my life to hike from the border of Mexico to Canada is not in the budget, nor would I want to leave my family for that long.

I bounced around the idea of taking a month during next summer and hiking a part of the PCT. On my way to work this morning, I was trying to figure out the logistics of hiking four weeks in the PCT by myself, and I was struck with how impractical that would be at this stage in my life. No, it’s not an excuse; it’s just reality.

The more tangible and immediate goal of hiking a certain number of miles seems like a good option. Besides, maybe I will take a few weeks next summer and hike a portion of the PCT. Getting 500 miles logged in before attempting such a feat will do nothing but help.

Why 500 miles? Well, besides “five” being the perfect alliterative word for “fifty,” 500 miles seems both difficult and achievable. Five hundred miles in about twelve months comes out to about ten miles per week. This is do-able, but there will likely be some weeks when I can’t get out and hike ten miles, which means a twenty-mile hike the following week.

I can do this. It will take commitment and work, but I can do it.

Ideally, some of these miles will include two- and three-day hikes, complete with tent, sleeping bag, food, and practicing the age-old art of pooping in the woods. I want to experience solo hiking for longer than two miles around a lake. I want to know how to pitch a tent, carry a pack, and be brave when I think I’m being followed by a mountain lion.

This blog will be my journal, and you may read it… if you want to. I will use it to describe my hikes, the changes I see in my body and in myself, share photos, and maybe even “meet” some other hikers.

If you’ve stuck around for this entire post, thank you! I welcome your comments and would love to follow your blog if it relates to hiking, nature, outside adventures, goals, and/or fitness.