It’s been a whirlwind of a week, and I suppose it’s 1) a sign that I’m busy 2) staying active and 3) focused on doing, which I think are all pretty good things. Highlights include registering for my graduate courses, sailing past my +7-month Transplantiversary, a second COVID vaccination and an epic, long weekend with Christine, hiking to the highest peaks and high alpine forests of the East Coast.
The low point remains the death of a close family friend, which I learned from my folks on Thursday. I broke down and sobbed. I so admired H – our conversations ranging from the ethics of mountaineering, big wave surfing to adventure travel – my backpacking and his love of downhill skiing. We shared a love for mountains out West, the endless views and breathtaking ranges resonating deeply in both of our cores. He understood me. In 2010, after my first DVT/PE (blood clot that traveled from my right leg, through my heart and lodged itself deep within my lung), he listed kindly while my fears of falling asleep and never waking up came pouring out – and I hugged him tightly when he said he felt the same as I did after he left the hospital for his own medical stuff. I didn’t feel alone in my fears, and he helped me understand that I wasn’t the only one. With H, I felt validated and accepted, never judged – he just listened and we talked, conversation flowing easily as it can with old souls. Over the years, every time I returned to visit my folks, I always made an effort to stop at the big house up the street, to see H & V, to let them know that I was OK and to make sure they were, too. I will forever remember him, see him in the mountains I climb, when I see a classic car driving down the street, think of him whenever I see surfers bobbing in the waves awaiting their next set, and whisper thanks for his friendship in the high places out West we both so loved.
Ok – I’m crying, again.
It felt surreal to purchase a card for his family – cruel, even. He was such a good, kind person and it makes me sad that he’s gone, that the world is a little less bright without him in it. One day I’ll send that card – I want them to know how much I loved & admired him, how wonderful he made me feel in times of my own darkness. And that I’m grateful for his friendship – forever.
Otherwise I’m doing alright, doing well. I’m excited for grad school in the fall, though the redundancy of logging into my student email, in order to log onto my departments’ Teams page, so I could get our Zoom meeting link was not lost on me. In classic style, my log in attempts started 3 minutes before the 10 am Zoom session, and I was thankfully only 4 minutes late. But it made me feel a new sense of connection with and empathy for what so many young students have worked with during the pandemic; I’m privileged, in the sense that I’ve got my own computer, a bit of savvy with it, a quiet place to work and reliable high speed internet. Not everyone has that. But the department meeting went well and I’m fired up for my August 23 start!
The other exciting thing, aside from consuming raw brownie batter and more berries than I can count, in that I’m now fully vaccinated against COVID. I had a very sore arm and felt a bit run down the day after; given what I’ve been through and how important this vaccine is, it’s not a big deal.
Christine coming into town was, simply put – wonderful, a great reminder of enduring friendship and our shared love of big mountains. It was a packed Memorial Day weekend involving hikes at some of the most beautiful ranges in Southeastern Appalachia. Grayson Highlands State Park contains both the Virginia state highpoint and wild ponies – the 3-hour drive from Asheville was long, but in the end worth it. We hiked 12.5 miles through beautiful cedar & fraser fir forest, islands of pines in their own Mountain kingdoms, tagged Mt Rogers (VA highpoint), and spent hours chatting as we followed the white blazes of the Appalachian Trail.
Sunday was similar, though we chose the Roan Mountain range, with three peaks on the Carolina Mountain Club’s “South By 6000” Challenge. We parked at the 5400-foot Carvers Gap, and followed the AT once again as it traced the spine Appalachia, hopscotching between North Carolina and Tennessee. It was 38 degrees when we parked at 6:45 am and we spent a misty day hiking another 12.5 miles through clouds.
The weather passed and Monday dawned a new day with bright sun and promising skies. We parked 300 feet below the highest peak on the East Coast, and reached the summit of Mt Mitchell shortly after sunrise. Our hike along the Black Mountain Crest Trail was – rugged, arduous but beautiful. At one point, a 45 minute mile seemed generous; Christine and I prefer cruising at 3 mph on clear trails, so this was a thing. Plus, after months of not doing technical hiking and just going through Transplant, this is something I just haven’t done in a while & I felt clumsy at. But I shook off the rust, and step by step we went, crossing one of the highest ridges East of the Mississippi. I was thankful for good weather and long views, especially after hiking through the clouds the previous two days. Ultimately, we hiked 10 miles round trip, hitting 7 peaks along the crest – and gaining something close to 3600 feet (go go Gadget Quads!) We bid farewell in the parking lot and then I decided to bag a few more peaks in the area, two of which were in the SB6K list.
And as it was Memorial Day, I thought about my 17 years as a military spouse, the incredible people I’ve met, and the friends who lost their lives in the service of this country. We Will Never Forget.
Naturally I started this post Tuesday & it is now Wednesday. Clearly there wasn’t a rush before, so it’s all good.
Physically, how am I doing? I’m OK – hiking with Christine over the weekend was really good for me. First, I adore and love her, but second, I was doing something that I love and was able to be at a level that I just haven’t been in my own. It was hard, I spent up to 7 hours on my feet moving, constantly moving, but I was ok. I did it. Yesterday, Daniele from the NIH reached out to see how I was and I mentioned the endurance and distances we did, but I also mentioned my fear of making myself sick, or bringing on Graft vs Host Disease as a result of doing too much. She commented that while it’s great to find balance, enjoyment in exercise and movements just as important. I took that as permission to push my body a bit more, open the throttle, if you may. I just need to trust myself.
Aside from a bit of residual fatigue, I’m good! Skin is behaving for the most part- I still use my rosacea medication 2x per day and while my facial skin feels tight, I’m not breaking out or needing any topical steroids. I still wear my floppy hat, even for short runs around my gyms’ parking lot. My dermatitis remains managed, with the help of Desonide cream, so no flaky bellybutton or chest here. Eyes are doing better, even with increased contact lens use, although the bright bright sun still makes me wince. I’m thankful for eye drops. Internal systems are all a go – heart & lungs gradually getting stronger, GI system is settled (in spite of raw batter and such), and overall I can’t complain. I still get a bit of lymphedema in my right leg, so compression socks will be a forever thing for me. Thankfully, movement and a “mostly” as-in-80-%-of-the-time-paleo-healthy-food-ingestion diet helps to keep me from retaining fluid. The other 20%? I’m human and enjoy my snacks/treats. Plus, in the end, it’s just carbs, fats & proteins,
Ok – congratulations if you’ve made it this far! Happy June and enjoy your day!