Last year I did a lot of hiking in the Columbia Gorge. I was healthy, active and in my best shape since my 1999 MS diagnosis. Starting out small, I climbed the Angel’s Rest trail; it’s considered a moderate hike: 4.8 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 1,450 feet. That first time out was great and so I pushed for more: more elevation, more weight in my backpack, more gear, and more distance. In June, I successfully climbed Mount Rainier!
Like it always does, my MS reared its ugly head again just a week after climbing Rainier. It was issues with my balance…again. I fell and broke my leg, severely enough to require surgery to insert a titanium rod into my tibia. Recovery was going to take a while, but thankfully I was well on my way towards healing by the end of the summer. I even was able to take a short hike with my daughter on my back! I thought, “That wasn’t too bad”. Then my MS flared up and my body disagreed with my medications over the next four months resulting in three different MS drug therapies, one leg infection, one bout of anaphylactic shock and two more nights in the hospital. I revised my thought to “That Sucked”!
So now it’s February and (I think) I am healthy again. My leg is healed and my new medication therapy seems to be going well: time to test out my new titanium leg and my revised realities of balance. Where else to do this but on the trail I started with just a year ago: Angel’s Rest.
Long story short…everything went well. One hour and fifty minutes round trip, with nothing but my focus and the sound of deep, quick breathing to interrupt nature on that cold rainy trail.
Short story long…Angel’s Rest proved once again to confirm the challenges, struggles, benefits and satisfaction of my struggles with MS.
I went through my pre-hike checklist in my head, making sure I had everything that I would need. My routine for preparing my clothes, food, water, and accessories was a bit rusty. 6 trips to the car to remember that ‘one last thing I forgot’ and I was on my way. It’s about a thirty minute drive from home to the Angel’s Rest trailhead, where I will start my hike. During that time every possible scenario and worry passes through my head.
· Will my leg hold up to the hike?
· How bad is my conditioning? Will I even be able to make it to the top? How long will it take?
· Will I have trouble with my balance along the steep trail?
My conditioning was good. I wasn’t wearing last year’s 50 pound pack but I felt strong. My legs still showed that desire to NEVER STOP…NEVER QUIT…, even after the breaks, surgeries and infections the peppered the last 8 months.
I was excited and determined. With the first step onto the trailhead, my concerns faded. The rest of the climb was nothing but the moment and the future. As I hike, I watch every step my feet take and every spot I plant my trusty trekking poles. With each step, I am planning ahead on where the next 2, 3, 4 and more are going to go. This routine starts to go on autopilot, and then my mind starts to wander on what I will conquer next. Dreams and visions of hiking and biking this year run rampant and I start to formulate a plan to bring it to reality. This is going to be a great year!
My balance was OK; I’ve realized “that’s just the new me”. Until a cure for MS arrives, I will spend a lot of time focusing on my balance being a constant reminder of my disability. Everything I do has to consider that limitation, while at the same time everything I do will need to push, strengthen, train and condition my body to overcome my disability. I stumbled a few times but am proud to say that I only fell twice on the trail.
My balance may continue to get worse, but not without one hell of a fight from me!
Good luck on this fight, MS. You’ll need it!
It will never stop…nor will we
It will never quit…nor will we
This is why we
Kevin Byrne - Portland, OR