But the trail map doesn't really tell us what's ahead.
|More stairs than|
I can count!
The only thing between me and the rushing water below is a 14-inch piece of titanium. (And no, it's not waterproof!)
It is November 9th.
Here's the TOP 10 List:
|No railing alert!|
Unstable ground alert!
10.BORROW STRENGTH: Just minutes into the hike, I face the first downhill stone staircase.
“Um, I don’t think I should be doing this...” I say aloud. It's the understatement of the century.
But my team kicks into action. “You can do it!” they insist.
|Mark and Jack|
on the trail ahead.
“So can I push off the floor?” I asked.
“Sure,” she said. “The floor’s always available!”
Now, I search the trail around me for something to grab onto. To my left is a steep drop-off into rushing whitewater. To my right is the rocky wall of a cliff. I choose the cliff.
Dig my gloved fingers into any crevice I can find. Grip it for leverage and balance as I take each step. It's no railing, but hey, it's available!
8. WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, ADAPT: Three years ago in the hospital, Nurse Lucy taught me to get out of bed by pivoting on one foot. Sure, I’ve come a long way since then, but ADAPTING is still a key mode of transportation.
On this hike, some descents are just too large to step down. What to do? I hand off my trekking poles to Susan. Lower my whole body onto the ground. Scoot down those huge boulders on my butt!
|Damp jeans are a fair trade for safety!|
7. IF YOU CAN LOOK UP, YOU CAN GET UP: When the trail narrows, we come face to face with another group of hikers. Crowd in single-file so they can pass. I line up both my feet, parallel, on a downhill mess of tree roots. It overwhelms my Genium and my balance. In a matter of seconds, I hit the ground -- this time, not gracefully or purpose!
Everyone offers their hands to help. But a few months ago, rehab buddies Robert and Binal taught me a catchy rule: IF YOU CAN LOOK UP, YOU CAN GET UP.
I look up. Get up. It turns out to be a theme of the day!
“What time does the sun set?” Jen asks.
"Are you kidding?" I say. "What time do they send in the helicopter rescue?!”
Every bone in my body is exhausted. Yet through the trees, I can see the next mile -- an uphill climb -- as steep and difficult as the one we've just come down. So I pull out a phrase that goes back to my earliest days with Prosthetist Tim: REST IS RUST. I gulp Mark’s orange Gatorade. Force myself to start walking again.
When we reach the first uphill stretch, my right quad muscle is already quivering. I climb anyway. There's no time to rest -- or rust -- at the bottom of this waterfall!
5. NORMALIZE: My mom used to ask me each morning, "How's your leg?" Most days, especially in the beginning, the answer wasn't good. Finally, we agreed she should just stop asking. My job each day was to accept this new normal -- bad or good -- socket fit, phantom pain, and all.
So as much as the uphill climb overwhelms me, I try to accept it. (A helicopter could never get down here anyway!)
While my eyes stay focused on the ground below, Mark NORMALIZES what's ahead. “Just your average stone steps,” he says matter-of-factly. “You know... steep, uneven, muddy, leaf-covered…."
He says it sarcastically, but really it's a survival strategy. With a few simple words, Mark cuts those steps down to size.
4. HAM IT UP: Way back in the rehab hospital, when I was first learning how to get dressed on one leg, I looked down at my 5 remaining toes. “Do you think I could get a pedicure for half-price now?” I said to Nurse Tama. She cracked up. Later, she made me repeat it at the nurses' station. Sometimes laughter is the best medicine!
On this trail, the farther we get, the GIDDIER we get. I sing chorus after chorus of the country song, "If You’re Going Through Hell, Keep on Going."
When we stop for a photo, Rocco strips his shirt off. Susan and I join him... well, sort of!
|Faking a flash :)|
3. DO LOOK BACK: Each time we finish a rough stretch of trail, I pause for a second. Catch my breath. Find a stable place to plant my feet. Then I turn my gaze down -- or up -- the hillside. Wow! I did that?? People always say don't look back, but a well-placed LOOK BACK can be powerful.
Still, as we near the end of the uphill climb, fatigue overwhelms me. If I had a choice, I'd lie down and burst into tears.
"I'm not doing so well," I mumble.
“Just think where you were three years ago!” Susan chimes in. And she's right. At this exact time three years ago, I was nearing my 9th hour of surgery, with many more to go. Sometimes a look back can put it all in perspective!
|Best lunch view ever!!!|
2. KEEP COUNT: For more than 2 years, I've been counting miles. Today, we count waterfalls.
"Number 14!" Rocco and Mark announce as we ascend yet another strenuous set of stone steps. Then magically, a sign for a shortcut appears. We need to finish before sunset, but if we take the shortcut, we'll miss the 15th waterfall.
Wait a minute! If you count my fall (see #7 above), that makes 15 falls all together! We realize we've done it! We've seen 15 FALLS -- including mine!
|If that's not a good excuse for a shortcut,|
I don't know what is!
For the first time, I notice colored markings: green for easy, red for more difficult, black for most difficult. Our trail is black. I point it out to everyone.
"Didn't you see that before we left?" Jen asks.
I'm glad I didn't. If I knew how hard this would be, I never would have started.
Kind of like the past 3 years.
Which brings me to the NUMBER ONE survival strategy...
1. ONE STEP AT A TIME: I’d love to tell you how beautiful it was to be among the majestic waterfalls. But for the largest part of this 4 ½ hour hike, I really just watched my FEET. Every edge of rock. Every bumpy tree root. Every inch of incline.
On a journey like this, you have to step over, around, and through obstacles as they come. Activate every resource you can find. Be thankful for the people, skills, and titanium that guide you along the way.
I'm learning that there isn't always a trail map. (And if there is, it might not tell you what you need!) The only way to go is ONE STEP AT A TIME.