How do we move forward?

My road came to an unexpected halt on November 9, 2010.

That morning, I was bicycling to work when a garbage truck turned across a city bike lane. I was in that bike lane.

I was critically injured in the accident. A team of trauma surgeons saved my life, but they had to amputate my left leg. I had a long road ahead of me, physically and emotionally, yet I was grateful to be alive.

An ending can be a beginning too. I started over.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

Gradually I learned to walk again. So I began counting steps. Then miles.

Over time, that journey turned a corner. It became less about my own recovery and more about resilience -- the connection we all share.

Ten years later, I still take one step at a time. Yes, there are bumps in the road, but each step means rising to new challenges, adapting to change, and moving forward with hope.

Are you on your own journey?


Sunday, October 17, 2021

What's In Your Backpack?

At Mile Marker 9,950...

I carry a backpack.  Always.

The hike to Hawksbill Summit is no different.

Jasmine, me, and Mary lined up on the hiking trail.

As an amputee, I learned early on that backpacks were the way to go.  

Carrying anything while walking was a challenge.  I could do more, handle more, be more when I shouldered the weight squarely on my back.  

With a backpack, I returned to work.  Walked around the city on my own.

Mom and I in the basement doing laundry.
Lugged laundry down the basement stairs.

I believed that if I could just CARRY everything, I'd be able to balance whatever life handed me.  

It's like I always carried HOPE in the front pocket of the bag.

But there's something else about backpacks too...

The opening of a backpack filled to the top with climbing gear.
For better or worse,
they can always fit just ONE more thing.

What's in your backpack these days?  

It's been a heavy year and a half -- to say the least.

I keep thinking of that scene from Jaws.

You know the one -- where the sheriff is in the back of the boat, and he first sets sight on the shark.  He's overwhelmed by its immensity.  

So he runs to his crew and delivers that famous line:

A photo from the movie Jaws, with the boat captain looking shocked and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
"We're gonna need a bigger... backpack."

(You saw that coming, right?)

2020, 2021... fate just keeps handing us things.  

They come fast and furious.  

We struggle under the weight of each one.  But eventually we grasp hold of it and tuck it inside our backpack. 

Some things fall so far to the bottom, we forget they existed at all.

A lab tray with 3 murder hornets on it.
Hey, remember murder hornets? 

At Mile 9,950, my friends and I take a weekend trip to Shenandoah National Park.

I plod along the trail -- alternating feet and trekking poles -- through the forest.  

Mary and I hiking along a tree-lined trail.  I am using trekking poles.
This hike is listed as "easy,"
but you know how that goes.

With Jasmine in front of me and Mary behind me, we make our way up the park's highest peak, Hawksbill Mountain.

I inhale the autumn air.  Watch the sun burst through the trees.

Sunshine streaming through the branches of tall trees.

We point out the smallest things...

Curly, rust-colored fungus growing on tree bark.

The call and response of crickets.
Fungus on tree bark.
A heart-shaped leaf.

Sure, I think about COVID, and my prosthesis, and if I'm about to have stomach pain.  I think about avoiding tree roots and rocks, and whether I brought enough water.  I think about the uphill climb.  And, of course, I think about everything going on at home. 

But I try -- just for this mile -- to focus on one peaceful moment in our turbulent world.

I started this post more than 80 miles ago.  

Long before fall foliage.
Long before this hike.

It drifted into my mind through the open car windows, as I drove to see someone I love.  

Someone who's dealing with a difficult illness. 

And I was thinking how unfair it all is -- that the weight of suffering falls on someone who is always there for the rest of us.

And how powerless we are to take it off their shoulders.  Even for a few steps.  

We can't carry it for them, no matter how much we love them.

More miles passed.  

Then someone else I love -- many "someones" actually -- were dealt a trauma that put their backpacks on overload.

These "someones" cared for me, and carried me, when my own backpack threatened to take me down.

The bridge of Jefferson Hospital which reads, "Alone we are strong. Together we are stronger."
I thought their backpacks could hold anything.

"Come on," I want to shout.  "Aren't our backpacks full enough?!"

Spoiler alert:  I don't quite make it to the summit.

It seems like I will...

A sign post in the woods which reads, "Hawksbill Summit 50 yards."

Then, just past this sign, there's a hill of granite boulders stacked like a jagged stairway to the sky. 

I'm ready.  
I'm game.  
I take that first step.

And though I'm supposedly a world-class paraclimber, at that exact moment, I feel the hiss of air seep into my prosthetic socket.  It only takes a split-second.

My leg comes unsealed.  Right there on the mountainside.

It's okay.  The view is good enough from here.

A photo of me and Mary on a rock ledge, taken from above by Jasmine.
(Jasmine races up the boulders to snap this pic.)

Honestly I'm so busy keeping my leg on, I hardly look around at all.

After a few minutes, we hike down to find a handy shelter.

Me, standing inside a stone shelter with a picnic table.  I am holding up my leg supplies.
Just right for leg adjustments!

And miraculously (or not), when I unzip my backpack, everything I need is waiting inside.

This mile goes out to all those "someones" I love.  

(And if your backpack is too heavy, then it's for you too.) 

A lone, bare hemlock tree standing in the foreground of a mountain range.
We're in this together.

If your backpack gets so full that the zipper tears, I'll remind you of its strength.

If it weighs so much that the bottom gives out, I'll be there to pick up the pieces.

If HOPE falls to the bottom of the bag, I'll help you find it again.

What you've given to me, I'll give back to you a thousand times.

I wish I could carry that backpack for you.
But when I can't, I'll walk with you anyway.

A sunset over a forested mountain, taken from an overlook at Shenandoah.
(You can even use my trekking poles.)

Every step. Every mile.


  1. Beautiful, as always. Thank you for sharing your journey, especially when it's not easy. I hope that knowing you have all of us along with you makes it easier to carry that heavy backpack.

    1. Thank you so much, Debbie! Carrying our backpacks is totally a team effort these days! I hope knowing we're doing it together, even virtually, distributes the weight for all of us. xo

  2. The best end of our street is struggling these days but we know you have the strength to always make it better. Thanks for this post card. You made my aching leg feel better……you are always there for inspiration.

    1. Thanks Becca! Right back at ya! We could never have gotten through these past few months without our best next-door neighbors. We are definitely stronger together, and we're so lucky to have each other! xo

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  4. such beautiful thoughts and a wonderful metaphor. I shed a tear (quite a few actually) at the end. missing friends and appreciating trekking poles <3
    --Sarah J

    1. Thank you so much, Sarah! Miss you too, and look forward to walking (and talking) next time you're on the east coast. xoxo

  5. Sometimes we need to clean out that backpack and get rid of the old that's dragging us down. Start fresh and keep walking.

    1. So true... I'm feeling like a "clean out" is needed these days (or at least a reshuffling!). Thank you for always being there -- through light times and heavy ones. xoxo