Day +136, Friday

Photo of the Day: Standing atop Tennent Mountain (6,040′) on the Art Loeb Trail.

Yesterday after my blood draw, I deliberately carved out time for myself. Initially, I figured Bent Creek (Experimental Forest) would be my best bet, or doing an out-and-back hike somewhere along the MTS (Mountains to Sea) Trail. But my mug of tea was mostly full and the day was slightly overcast with a promise of mid-60s temps, so I decided to drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway – as far as I could – and consider my options. I was delighted to make it past the 5,722′ Mt Pisgah and its highly visible (even from downtown Asheville) TV towers; rather than turning into the parking area, I carried on, finally settling on a 5-mile loop in the area of Black Balsam Knob (6,214′).

Tennent mountain from Black Balsam Knob. The far, distinctive triangle peak in the background is Cold Mountain – yes, the very same that inspired author Charles Frazier to pen his novel of the same name in 1997.

The Art Loeb/Black Balsam Knob trail head was packed, but I lucked out a few hundred feet down the road, easing into a small spot in the lot near the end of Ivestor Gap Trail. Sorting through my gear was uneventful, and into my light daypack I stuffed an extra long-sleeved shirt, a warmer rain jacket, hat, gloves and a windbreaker. Typically I’m a baseball hat kinda-gal, but with 1) minimal hair and 2) very sensitive skin, I instead opted for the safe, but aesthetically unappealing, round floppy hat. At least I didn’t have to look at it. And then I started my hike.

It was hard.

Having lived in California for 7+ years (I still refer to interstates as “The 26” or “The 40”), my early Spring hikes at higher altitudes after the snow melted were always rough at first. I would joke with friend and hiking partner Christine, “I feel like there’s a bag of rocks in my pack.” Today was no different, except that I now lack the fitness that I had back then (where 20 miles with 5K gain was our standard Saturday morning hike). Oh, and I’ve had a recent Stem Cell Transplant.

I thought of those hikes fondly, and was gentle on myself. To bolster my spirits, I stopped to take photos and offered such words of encouragement as, you’re building more red blood cells! and, every step is making you stronger! It sounded better in my head, but that’s what happens when you’re gasping for air and your legs go all wobbly.

That being said, I enjoyed myself, gave so many thanks for the ability to be on this trail, and just listened to my body. I rested when I needed to rest, took shorter steps when the trail was steep, and navigated carefully around the many rocks and roots. To my encouragement mantra, I also added, your ankle and leg flexibility is becoming more nimble! It was comical, really – when faced with an obstacle, I would turn it into an opportunity (OK, that’s not comical) – but the accompanying dialogue was. I’ll spare you the rest.

The Trail
Crowded summit atop Tennent Peak

I stopped for a snack and water break atop Tennent Peak, and enjoyed chatting with a father-daughter duo who raved about Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack. I told them that I, too, was a fan and recently enjoyed their Chicken & Waffles. Hiking is wonderful, and it never ceases to amaze me the random connections I’ll make in the back country. They continued on while I enjoyed some solitary moments at the summit.

My loop hike back was uneventful, though I took time to enjoy some long range views and dodge more rocks. The Ivestor Gap Trail, an old railroad bed was gently graded but I still felt the strain on my legs and lungs during my final approach to the car. In the end, I was happy for being out, but I was also glad to be done and back safe.

Ivestor Gap Trail

My hour+ drive home wasn’t bad, and I enjoyed quick glances of the Blue Ridge while driving safely on the Parkway. I had a very helpful session with Jennifer, my NIH Social Worker – and a big point of discussion was fatigue. I was assured that yep – this is normal, and that all transplant folks go through this to some extent. Jennifer put it so well when she commented, “It’s a matter of Energy Conservation Strategy. Where do you want to spend your energy?

Descending Tennent Mountain, Art Loeb Trail

And she’s right – clearly, I don’t have a lot of energy (yet). It will return in time, just like my hair – and she reminded me that my body is still doing SO MUCH WORK on a daily basis…that there are tons of repairs and changes going on. Add in a lot of necessary medications, and it doesn’t make for the easiest time. But it’s temporary…that’s just what I need to keep reminding myself – feeling this way is not forever, and its doable.

Last night I was definitely tired, but happy to have been out where I was. My skin continues to be dry and last night in particular, my face skin was more sensitive when I applied my normal NIH-approved lotion (Cerave pm). This will happen from time to time, and I just chalked it up to hiking above treeline at 6K feet for a few hours (in spite of all the sunscreen applied and floppy hat). I’m also continuing to retain a bit of fluid in my legs – something I really detest, but it is what it is. My body is so full of systemic inflammation anyway, and then add in lymphedema and 3-4 liters of water per day and its not always pleasant. I’m grateful for compression garments, my lymphedema wrap and cooler temps.

That’s all she wrote – have a terrific weekend everyone!

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