My Journey through Breast Cancer

On October 11, 2013, I was diagnosed with Stage II Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) ... or as we like to call it, extreme measures for a nap (EMFN). For a while, this blog will be my cancer journal. Enter at your own risk.

05 September 2007

Trail Journal, Day Two

I haven't slept well ... at all. I tossed and turned most of the night. Laying flat on my back suits the sleeping bag well, but hurts my back. Same with laying on my stomach. So I'm relegated to sleeping on either side ... for only as long as it takes for my arm to fall asleep. Which means turning back and forth between my two sides every hour or so ... all night long.

Somehow, though, I've woken up ready to tackle the mountain. Its early, though I don't know how early. The sun is up, but hasn't come up over the hill behind us yet. It lights up the cliff on the other side of the lake, and the shadows are slowly disappearing. Soon it will be beating down on our backs, keeping us warm as we climb.

We get up and find the morning not to be quite as cold as we expected. I can't decide whether or not to put on my long sleeved shirt first, or second. If I put it on first I can't take it off all day. But if there were a layer underneath, I could. I decide to put it on second. And then while Caleb dishes out breakfast (strawberry pop tarts), I change my mind and switch my shirts around.

We've eaten and packed our daypack for the day. We have crackers and tuna for lunch, snacks, 3 bottles of water, the first aid kit (though I don't know how band-aids and Neosporin will help when the bear attacks), and cameras. Our boots are on, our jackets and gloves are safely stowed in the pockets, and we're off. Off on what will end up to be a 10-hour day of hiking.

We're on the New Army Pass trail, which heads up the mountain in a longer but safer direction around the south side of the mountain. The air is cool, the sun is warm, the trail isn't too steep yet. Its a great beginning. And then, as I look at Caleb in front of me, I notice his wedding ring is missing from his hand. "Did you decide to finally take it off?" I ask. His ring is too big, and when the weather is cold it falls off easily. He looks at his hand, looks at me, and immediately I know he didn't take it off. Its fallen off, somewhere. He had it on last night as we went to sleep, that I remember. Caleb's sure it probably came off in his sleep. And since there's nothing to be done about it at the moment, I pray a quick and pleading prayer, and then slowly turn the thought from my mind. Worrying about it now won't do anyone any good.

The trail slowly climbs up and up and up to High Lake, the last body of water we'll see before we come back down. We've already gone through one water bottle, so we take this opportunity to rest and refill. So far we haven't seen another soul on the trail. We've come up above the tree line, and the landscape is turning stark and rugged. As we rest by the lake, we're surrounded by stone cliffs, and I can't figure out for the life of me how we're supposed to get up to the top. I count on the trail to show the way.

We begin walking again, and the trail starts to reveal itself. We'll be climbing switchbacks up out of the north side of this little valley. Back and forth, back and forth. The sun alternately heating our backs, and then our faces ... now back to our backs. Its intense, and with the heat coming off the granite mountain I'm starting to regret putting the long sleeved shirt on first. But even as I contemplate how to get cooler, the clouds come in and rescue me. They're sporadic, but frequent enough to offer some shade from the sun. In fact, this cloud is staying a little too long, and I'm starting to get cold.

I'm still regretting forgetting my chapstick. The air is cold and dry, and my lips are getting chapped.

Marmot! Up ahead on the trail is a marmot cleaning itself. It doesn't seem to notice us. We've gotten close enough to get a picture. Marmots are scavengers and can create quite a mess when provoked, but they're so cute! It scurries off as we turn onto the next switchback.

I bought a new hat for this trip. Its a great hat, very comfortable. Which is hard for me. I have a big head. It has a wide brim all the way around, and I hope I look like Indiana Jones, or Crocodile Dundee, or at least Jessica from The Man From Snowy River, a tomboy of sorts, but still really cute in my rugged hat. However, for all my imagination, I have a fear that in reality I look a little ridiculous in my outdoorsy hat. I decide I don't care, its keeping my head and neck out of the sun.

I'm beginning to wonder when these monotonous switchbacks will end. Yet higher we climb the more we can see of the mountain ranges beyond. We can see lakes we didn't pass on our trail, and wonder which lakes they are. And then without any warning, we're here. We're at the top. We're going over the pass! Let's take a snack break.

The GPS reads 12,300 feet here at the pass. We've found a couple rocks to sit on and eat some trail mix. There's another marmot nearby hoping for a few crumbs. We're not sure which way the trail goes. And we can't find Mt. Langley. We've got to figure out which way is north. The mountain is north. The GPS confirms our suspicions, and we follow a light trail away from the pass ... and down. Why are we going down? Whatever ground we cover going DOWN we'll have to go back UP! I've already done the up work! This is ridiculous. And yet, apparently, the New Army Pass takes us over a mountain NEXT to Mt. Langley. We climb down into the little valley, losing at least 500 feet in elevation.

Where are those people coming from? Across the way we see people coming up over the side of the mountain. That must be the Old Army Pass. We thought it was closed. Let's head over and take a closer look. Yep, Old Army Pass. And there's people on it! And it doesn't climb any extra elevation. When we come back, let's go back this way. It'll cut out a few miles of hiking, and a LOT of unnecessary climbing. The decision is made, and we turn and follow the hikers up the Mt. Langley trail.

Now we're starting to climb. This first part isn't too bad, a gradual uphill on a soft shale trail. This goes on for a few miles. We appear to be making our way over to the actual slope of Mt. Langley. The weather is still nice, with sporadic clouds giving respite from the heat of the sun. We play leapfrog with a few other hikers, passing them as they rest, being passed as we rest. We stop frequently to drink, and sometimes to snack.

I'm looking at the side of the mountain, and once again I can't figure out for the life of me how we get up this thing. It appears to go straight up, and I can't see any switchbacks through the boulders. The trail must be there, I just can't see it from here.

I've had a Josh Groban song in my head all day. Its called "Lullaby." It seems incongruous with my outdoor adventure. I feel like I should have a Michael Martin Murphy or Kenny Rogers or Willie Nelson song in my head. But no, Josh won't be pushed aside. These things choose themselves.

Oh no. I think I know how we get up. And suddenly I'm afraid. I'm afraid of the mountain. That trail has no switchbacks. It climbs STRAIGHT UP! There's no way they can expect us to go up that. We practically need ropes! We're getting closer, and it is as I've feared: the trail goes straight up the side of the mountain. It winds through the boulders a little, but still, it may as well be a long staircase.

Only if it were a staircase at least every step I took would be a solid step forward. This shale is so loose that with every step forward I also take a short slide backward. I'm doing twice the work to get half the distance. Who decided this was a good idea for a trail!? Masochists. Sadists. My calves are going to be so sore tomorrow.

We're climbing, and the trail is steep. I have to stop every few minutes to let my legs rest, and to catch my breath. Oxygen is thinner at 13,000 feet. I'm still afraid of this mountain, but now I'm determined to conquer. It will not beat me! I'm so thankful Caleb is carrying the day pack.

I think I see the top. Its not that far. I can make it. I can. In fact, one final push and I'm there. But wait, this isn't the top. It was a false top! Ah, cruel trick Mountain. But you're still not going to beat me. My legs are tired, my lungs can't get full, I feel a headache coming on, but I'm almost there. I can see other hikers at the top. I want to be among them. I want to be one of the conquerers today. And so I'm pressing on, slowly but steadily, winding my way through the boulders to the top of one of California's 14,000 foot peaks.

Wow. I can't believe I'm finally here. Deep down I believed I would make it, but I can't believe what I just climbed. If I'd know what was required to get here, would I still have done it? Probably. I've had Hammer perseverance drilled into my since I was a small child. "No pain, no gain," I can hear my dad saying.

The view is nothing short of spectacular. I can see Mt. Whitney, and countless other mountains. I can see down into Kings Canyon and Sequoia. There's a fire in those mountains. I can see down to Lone Pine, where people are suffering in 100 degree heat. I can see countless alpine lakes and several mountain ranges beyond the Owens Valley. Its too much. Its impossible to take it all in. And yet I have to try.

Here at 14,042 feet I have to put my extra jacket on, and my fleece mittens. The wind up here is biting and cold. I don't know how long I can take it. But I know I'll take it for a little while. I worked too hard to get here not to stay and enjoy it. I can't stop taking pictures, even though I'm sure Caleb's taking better ones. There are a few other hikers up here. I'm the only woman. I like that distinction.

I can't take it any more, the wind is biting through my four layers and causing more discomfort than the climbing did. Its time to start back. Its going to be a long trek. We bid farewell to the other hikers, take one more look at the staggering views, and begin our descent. Finding the trail is tricky, as the climb up was sort of a "choose your own adventure" type trail. But there are trail markers to help guide our way, and eventually we pick up an actual trail.

The way back always seems to take longer than it should. I have theories about this. I think its because on the way up everything is new, so there's a lot to capture your interest. On the way back, not only have you seen it all once already, but you're anxious to be off your feet. At least the loose shale is more of a help on the way down. With every step I take, I also slide a little further, going twice the distance with half the work. I think its only fair, since the mountain made me work so hard on the way up.

We've reached Old Army Pass. I'm even MORE thankful now for this alternate route down. I don't think I could do any more climbing right now, and the other trail would have required it. We begin heading down the switchbacks. They're steep. And the trail is a bit unkempt. I'm forced to step over rocks and avoid loose gravel. My old knee problems are starting to flare up, making each step a bit painful. Maybe I'm glad we went up the other way. I don't like this trail.

We descend with Cottonwood Lakes #3, #4, and #5 in view. They're big lakes, and beautiful. The wind is causing them to dance, and the sunlight bounces off the tiny waves and sparkles. In moments of stillness they reflect the sky and the big thunderclouds. For a moment I remember again why I put my body through such arduous strain. You just can't drive to this kind of rugged beauty. It must be earned.

We're walking along the lakes now, the trail has leveled out and there is soft earth beneath our feet. No more boulder obstacles, no more loose shale, no more incline, the sun is dipping lower in the sky and the trees offer constant shade. There are a lot more tents and hikers set up here.

I've reached the point where I just want to get back to camp. My legs are shaky, my feet throb with every step, my arms swing listlessly by my side, fingers swollen to the size of Vienna sausages, and my face feels hot. I think despite my precautions, I've gotten sunburned. I'm ready to be done, to take my boots off, to lay in my uncomfortable sleeping bag and fall fast asleep from sheer exhaustion. But there's still a mile or two to go. I keep walking, barely taking in the scenery around me now. The only scenery I'm interested in is the scenery that includes our tent.

I see it. There it is! We just have to get through this meadow between the lakes, and we're home. HOME! Funny how in 24 hours a small tent on the ground can become home. The first thing we do is shed our boots for our sandals (my pink ones that match my toes). Ahhh, there's almost no better feeling in the world. We sit down on our rock, neither of us sure we'll ever stand up again.

And yet we smile. We did it. We reached the summit of Mt. Langley. We conquered the impossibly steep trail, the shale, the distance, the sun, the biting wind, the pounding feet and the aching head. Despite it all we got what we came for: breathtaking moments at the top of the world. Totally worth it. Even now, as my body begins to believe I won't punish it any more today, I can already say I'd do it again. (Although, probably not any time soon.)

Its only 6:00, but we're crawling into our sleeping bags. Our rock is too hard to sit on, we need something more comfortable. We're in for another uncomfortable stint in our tent, but we're hoping exhaustion will help us sleep, at least for a little while.

Tonight its warmer, and Caleb's taking the rain fly off the tent to let the breeze blow through. Our tent has large mesh windows and we can gaze into the night sky. I love the mountain sky, free of light pollution. I can see the Milky Way, and the stars are shining bright. I just saw a falling star! Coooool. This helps make the uncomfortable sleeping bag a bit more comfortable.

Eventually I fall back to sleep, and even though I toss and turn quite a bit, I sleep well. I sleep the contented sleep of a woman who's conquered something previously thought ominous and foreboding, whose body is gloriously achy and whose mind is filled with a sense of accomplishment. Its a good sleep after all.

Oh, and Caleb's ring was found, buried in his sleeping bag.

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