Not an Old Rag
If you read the pain blog you probably know that I had a fall this winter which resulted in a LONG, SLOW and PAINFUL recovery of my shoulder. If you would like to know the story you will have to ask my husband or my kids as I have stopped telling the story. Why did I stop? Because my body was listening closely everytime I told it and it gave back to me what I said. I had an accident, it was painful and it would be a long recovery, my body believed me and it did what I told it to do. When I look back to some of my darkest days, I have sympathy (which I hate) and empathy for myself. I had many sleepless nights and tried to medicate to get through the days, but some days the medication couldn’t touch the pain. I struggled to find joy in my day and to live some resemblance of my core values. As the days moved along I got better at focusing on what I could do and not what I couldn’t do. I began to search for a light at the end of the tunnel and decided to focus on hiking this summer. I am typically an avid tennis player which is often the focal point of the summer, so I decided that focusing on hiking was a more achievable option for me. I got my family on board by setting a goal of hiking the Middle Teton, a place that is near and dear to all of our hearts.
To prepare for the Middle Teton I started to hike in the woods of my neighborhood. Time in nature is one of my core values so I was filling my own cup and getting stronger each day. As my hikes got longer I knew I was going to have to leave the backyard to find some mileage and vertical feet. Old Rag Mountain in Etlan, VA was the perfect option, I picked a date, booked the hotel and invited my family to join me. I encouraged them as much as I could; offering to take their friends with us, I got a sitter for the 7 year old and crossed my fingers. As the days got closer my family began to bail out choosing friends, rest and work over the 9 mile hike up Old Rag. I reached out to my sister and some hiking friends, but no one could join me. The night before the hike I second guessed myself a few times until I said to my husband “I think I would be proud of myself If I just do it alone” He offered up his encouragement, giving me the final push I needed and I went to bed.
As an early riser, It was not hard for me to wake up naturally at 5:45. I grabbed my map, water, and power bar and headed out. I arrived at the trailhead at 8:30 and was so excited to get started I skipped paying the permit fee telling myself “I’ll pay it at the end.” Sorry national park, I owe you $7. I powered up the first 2.5 miles passing people along the way, but always making some kind of connection as I went. As I walked I was thinking that each person I passed was someone who had values similar to mine; they chose to be in nature on a Sunday morning and were willing to take care of their bodies in such a way that this 9 mile hike was possible for them. As I hiked I was focused on being present, using all of my tools to stay in the moment and not let my mind get ahead of me. I listened to the sounds, named them as I heard them, named the sights I saw, and focused on what I could feel in my body. About 1 mile in I began to feel a deep sense of gratitude for my body and how far it has come. I remembered the painful nights and dark days and was so grateful to my body for healing. I wrote a verbal letter to myself and my body. I thanked myself for being patient, for acknowledging the impermanence of the pain I was in and for knowing that the body can heal itself. I was grateful for not being in pain at that moment and accepted that the pain may come back. I accepted where I was in my recovery and that it was not over. If I could only get half way up the mountain that would be enough for me. That was a huge deal in itself, I am a finisher at all costs, so accepting the moment and not needing to reach the top was huge for me. As I said these encouraging and positive words aloud (possibly looking like a crazy person) my body and every cell inside of me was listening and responding to what it heard, I felt like superwoman as I hiked. Our bodies are listening to our thoughts and our spoken words, so use them wisely. This is true for all injuries, not just physical.
Near the top of Old Rag there is a boulder field that is about a mile long. I was excited about getting there to see what I could do with one arm. I very quickly hit a boulder pile that stopped me in my tracks. I tried a few times to navigate myself through it but found myself stuck in-between 2 boulders for some unnerving moments before I used my legs and back to scooch myself out. I was ready to accept defeat but was willing to wait to see if I could follow someone through the field to see if there was an option I didn’t see. I figured the next person to arrive would be someone I had passed along my way but instead Harrison arrived. I started by asking him if he had done this hike before and if he would mind if I walked behind him to see if I could make my way through the first challenge. Harrison found another option that I could handle especially with his assistance. Once through the 5 foot drop in-between the boulders we introduced ourselves and I asked him if he would be my chaperone for a while. I am not sure why I was so comfortable asking a total stranger to walk with me, literally putting my hand in his and allowing him to pull me up and lower me down 1 mile of boulder obstacles but I did. Was it my willingness to ask for help? Vulnerability? Acceptance? Drive for connection? Maybe a little bit of each? And what was it about Harrison that he said yes? His interest in connection? Desire to help others?
Four boulders in we ran into 2 other friends who would benefit from Harrison and his strength. Kristen, Elise, Harrison and I pushed, pulled, leaned into and scooched through the remaining 1 mile boulder field chatting, connecting and grunting. The time passed so quickly for me, a reminder that connection is deep in me. I was hopeful that I would make it to the top with my new team. I don’t think Harrison would have left me even if I had asked, we worked together and as you may have guessed we made it to the top. Stopping at the tippy top for a water break and a power bar we soaked in our accomplishment.
The girls joined us for our celebration and we took a photo for Instagram. I offered up a spare power bar to the girls who turned to me and said “are you a mom?” This had me rolling as I am very much a mom and what a nice reminder that I can be seen as something besides that on occasion. We said goodbye and Harrison and I left them to enjoy a well earned beer as we headed out on the 6 mile descent down. The story ends here, I had an amazing day that served to remind me that:
We are resilient.
Our bodies can heal.
Humanity is awesome.
Other people matter.
Your body is listening to every thought and word you say.