Tuesday, November 9, 2010 arrived with a clear early morning that promised to become a chilly, sunny, and typically autumn day. I zipped my coat, buckled my helmet strap, unlocked my bike, and headed off to work. A few minutes later, a garbage truck crossed a bike lane to make a right turn. I was in that bike lane. The tires of the truck crushed my left leg and caused other internal injuries. An amazing team of trauma surgeons saved my life, but they had to amputate my leg to do so.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Confucius.

In July 2011, I set off to walk a thousand miles as an above-knee amputee in my new prosthesis. The journey has held more twists, turns, and detours than I ever imagined.

I reached Mile 1000 on March 30, 2013.

But of course, that wasn't the end.

I'll keep walking!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Halfway There

Mile Marker 2035:

Mark wants to hike Camel's Hump.

I can think of a million reasons not to go.  My socket's rubbing a red patch on my inner thigh.  My liner comes loose every time I get in the car.  I'm hungry, and we haven't eaten lunch yet.  Plus it's already 80 degrees, downright steamy by Vermont standards.

My brother Mark counters each problem with a simple solution.  "So you'll fix your socket," he says.  "So you'll put your liner back on again.  So we'll stop for a sandwich.  Plus it's shadier in the woods."

In the tailgate of the car, 4-legged, one-eyed Jack sits waiting  -- and wagging.  He's always up for a hike.

There's a part of me that truly WANTS to go.  I love hiking.   I love being outside.  I just don't like to FAIL.  And today, it is almost a sure thing.

I take it off to avoid further damage!
Eventually I run out of arguments and climb into the car.  Which of course makes my leg loose.

"How far is this place?"  I grumble as we get on I-89.

"Not that far," Mark says.  By Vermont standards, 50 miles is practically walking distance.

We drive.  And drive.  And drive.  As the minutes pass, my reservations increase.  I think about how hard it'll be to fix my leg on the trail.  I think about how long my strength will last.  I think about how disappointing it will be if we can't make it to the summit.

Finally the mountain -- Camel's Hump -- rises before us.  We pull onto a gravel road that takes us to the trail head.

Trekking poles in hand, I follow Mark and Jack to the beginning of the trail.  We sign our names in the trail book.  A wooden marker tells us it's 2.4 miles to the summit.

"That's it?" I say.  "I can do 2.4 miles."

"See?" Mark says.  Cleverly, he omits the counter-argument:  that we will also have to come down the mountain.

We begin hiking.  Or more accurately, Mark and Jack begin hiking.   I begin hiking MY HIP over the rocks and branches scattered along the trail.

Predictably, after a tenth of a mile, my liner leaks air.  The whole socket loses suspension.  Turns out, climbing a mountain is roughly the same as climbing a supermarket shelf.  Sound familiar?

I try to ignore it and keep walking.  But without suspension, my prosthesis swings heavy like a steel pendulum.  My foot skims the edges of rocks.  My steps get sloppier and sloppier.  Several times, I launch into a full-fledged stumble.

When we spot a flat boulder, I plop down on it, pulling the towel and alcohol spray from my backpack.  Quickly I peel each layer -- outer socket, inner socket, sheath, and liner -- off my sweaty leg.  Mark puts out his hand to collect pins and valves as I unhook them.  Jack looks on, confused.

I try to keep everything clean, but it's just not possible.  My liner collects soil like static cling.   The towel gets muddy with moss.  Finally, I give up.  I focus on just one thing -- getting it all back on again.

For the thousandth time, I tell Mark I don't think this is going to work.  But he's used to me by now.  For almost 4 years, he has helped me navigate some of the toughest paths.  And he's not about to give up today.

"Don't THINK," he says.  "DO."

I tell him he sounds like Yoda.

We begin climbing once again.  Other hikers pass us.  "Great day for a hike!"  they call out.  "It's worth the trip!"

I grit my teeth, which sort of looks like I'm smiling back.

We come upon a large boulder blocking the trail.  Mark climbs up on it and offers his hand, just as another hiker steps past us.  In a shuffle to get out of the way, my Genium's foot catches the edge of the rock.  Psst!!  That's it.  Air leaks into the liner and the whole system releases.  Again.

"My leg's off," I say.

"Never heard that one before!" says the passing hiker.

We find a different rock to rest on, and I repeat the whole costume change step by step.   Mark and Jack wait patiently.

When I re-don everything, I add a thicker sock-ply, hoping it'll tighten up the suspension.  We continue our uphill climb.  The socket loosens again but doesn't completely lose suction.  I discover a middle ground, not-quite-on and not-quite-off but decent enough to keep going.

a heart-shaped leaf...
As we walk, we discover little treasures.  The way the sun soaks through the trees...
...a Zen-like trail marker.





I even start to enjoy myself.

When we come to a challenging cluster of tree roots, I plant my trekking poles, set my eyes on the ground, and inch my way through it.

"Think how easy this would be if my leg actually fit right!"  I tell Mark.

"Don't THINK," he says. "DO."

Before I can tell him to shut-up, there's a voice from behind.

"Does that thing have a knee function?"

We turn around.  It's the hiker behind us.  "You know, it might be easier if you bend the knee more," she advises.  Then she races by us.

Mark and I look at each other.  Thanks so much!  Cause we just found this "thing" sitting in the parking lot, and we were wondering how to use it....  

It becomes our joke of the day.

Two hours later, we come upon a winding path of boulders.  They're steep and daunting.  I hesitate at the bottom, wondering if this is even possible.

"Don't THINK --" Mark starts.

I interrupt him.  "I know...DO."

The phrase reminds me of something Prosthetist Tim says -- "Analysis Paralysis."   If you think too much, it keeps you from any movement at all.

I stop thinking about it and start to climb.  It's hard, but not impossible.  My quads and glutes fire like crazy.  Astoundingly, my socket stays put.  And Mark shoots this cool hyperlapse video while helping me up!

video

(Cake-walk, right?)

At the end of the boulders, we haven't reached the summit.   In fact, we're not even close.  I'm disappointed to learn we're only halfway there --  still a good mile from the top.

It's getting late, so we decide to turn around.  All day long, I've been begging to stop, but now I wish we could keep going.

The decent is remarkably easier.  Everything goes smoothly until a huge white poodle charges us from behind.  (Yes, a poodle!  Even Jack is surprised!)

"Yetti!  Yetti!  Come!"   We hear hikers yelling from behind us.

What a perfect name for a large, reckless poodle!  I think.

Then the dog brushes by me, knocking into my prosthesis as it goes.  I am mid-step.  The shove releases my socket.

Well, at least we're on the downside...

Mark and Jack pause with me one more time.  We are getting to be experts at trail-side socket changes.


When I remove my liner this time, a gentle breeze rustles the trees.   The tickle of air feels funny and unfamiliar.  It dawns on me that since the amputation, my little leg has never been exposed to outside weather.  It's always encased in multiple-layers of silicone and carbon fiber.  For one quiet moment, I pause and take it all in.   I stop rushing to fix things and instead enjoy the short spell of freedom.

As we finish the hike, I finally stop THINKING and start DOING.   I even stumble onto a new trick with my Genium.   Its stair-decent function helps me step down over tree roots!

We're almost back at the trail head when one last hiker bounces up from behind.

"Isn't this trail challenging enough?" he jokes.

"I'm taking it to the next level!"  I say, kicking out my Genium.  "Wanna try?"

"Thanks!  But I don't even know if I'll make it down with my own legs!"  he replies.

He does.  And we do too.

When all is said and done, we've hiked 2 miles in nearly 5 hours.  As we walk back to the car, I apologize to Mark for slowing him down.  "If I wasn't along, you could have made it to the summit," I tell him.

"Don't think so much," he says.

Late afternoon sunlight streams through the trees.  The fields around us are bathed in yellow and gold.

As you might have guessed, not reaching the summit is not really my thing.  I like to finish what I start.  And I THINK before I DO anything.  But maybe there's value in taking in each moment as it comes... without looking so far ahead.

For me, it takes a trusted brother (and his trusty dog) to hit the point home.

It's ok to go halfway.

Don't THINK... DO.

Even a short journey is worth the trip.  Can't say I'm fully converted, but maybe I'm halfway there.

It sure beats not going at all.

2 comments:

  1. I enjoyed your account, and what you did was plenty impressive!

    I have been over Camel's Hump many times, definitely a a very nice place to be. I have also ascended several 4000-footers in North Carolina and New England with an amputee. The best hikes where the collective affairs where two or three of us were available for assistance, carrying stuff (extra water and crutch tips) , companionship, for any eventuality.

    If you are ever looking for a nice mountain hike in central New England with a surprisingly good view, try Mount Cardigan in Canaan, New Hampshire. It's much shorter and easier, and the fall view is terrific. It's not far from the Hanover / Lebanon area.

    May your next climb be soon and may it be prosthetically easier.

    -Gray

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  2. I like Mark's mantra, Don't Think...Do! Sometimes as Virgo's we think too much :) Glad you were able to make it half way and enjoy the day.

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