Adventurous Life – Adventure Blog
A Hikers Journey. From hiking to the top of mountains, to surgeries and epidurals, to making my way back to the top, living adventures, and starting AdventurousBug as Co-Founder and CEO. "Don't let your limitations limit you." Anna Marie Angeloni
PT to Training
Short recap: When the first doctor said “Live with it”, my first thoughts included a few words that, let's just say was something like, “What the f....?” You get the point. This all started in 2009, after too many times trying to convince him of reality, I kicked him to the curb and in 2012 demanded another doctor. I knew there was something more serious than a common ailment. Trader Joe's felt like the largest store on the planet, thank goodness Costco wasn't my taste I would have collapsed at the stand dishing out tiny size bits of Cheese Whiz and Ritz Crackers. I am sure I would have taken some down with me purely for survival purposes. My morning had gotten really jacked up, when leaving my bedroom I was dragging and pulling myself along the furniture and door jams just to be able to reach my kitchen. I mean seriously coffee is important. I hadn't slept through the night in over a year do to extraordinary pain and endless cramping. Driving was out! Being that I live in Los Angeles driving is the only way to get around well. The bus was my best friend even though trying to reach it would bring me to tears. In the end I found the right doctor, we started surgeries I discussed earlier and now I am far better because of him.
I won't get into the five medical conditions you can read more on my introduction post, but I had fun with different colors of casts, who knew you could have stripes! Crutches giving me beautiful sores, side note: “Dear crutch makers, really isn't there a better way?” I have had wheelchairs and canes that have no design qualities, no “bling” as my Aunt would say. My L2 L3 L4 all became a disaster. Now I know what sciatica is, wholly shit do I know! This shouldn't even be a “thing”!
You have to know something about me. Before all this happened I ran 6 miles a day, spin cycled 3 days a week an hour each class, weight trained 1.5 hours a day M-F, walked 1 hour a day during lunch breaks and on the weekends I hiked average 8-14 miles. When things began to get bad I had to substitute my runs with swimming. By the end of 2011 these activities began to drop off my list. Running was my first clue, it took me years to actually like running that when I got stuck on a run and couldn't make it back I knew something serious was happening. But hiking was my biggest loss, it was like losing part of myself. I have been an outdoors person as long as I can remember, losing this was devastating. Not hiking solo was sad enough but losing hikes with my group of hikers I had bonded with, just plain sucked!
Well here is the part of the story that has taken up the bulk of my years, Physical Therapy (PT). The PT room is like Cheers, everyone knows my name. I have spent so much time recovering and getting ready for another surgery that they should give me a timeshare at Kaiser. Heck my own on call PT therapist would be great too. I have had many PT therapists that some even give me hugs when they bump into me while I am off to see another. Honestly I am so tired of PT that it has become a different kind a pain, a pain in my $%&. I have become so educated on the skeletal system that I think I could pass a class on how it is all connected.
Year after year I went into PT getting healthy one small accomplishment at a time. But nothing of any significance for my taste. I wanted to be back on a mountain so fast that each time I would push myself too hard and was flat on my back for weeks, sometimes a month or more. Then when I did start getting a little better I was under the knife again. It is hard to get better, both physically and mentally, when you know you are just going to go right back in. Also chronic back problems are not just completely debilitating but man does that pain make you miserable, and cranky! Being stuck in bed unable to move sucks.
I would go into PT with annoyance, dread and slightly irritated. It was basically the same variations of exercises year after year and I got bored, just plain sick and tired of PT I mean it is 2020 now folks I have been doing this for far too long! But just a few months ago my attitude changed, I can't explain what happened or what it was but a light went off. As another surgery looms ahead something shook my soul. You see years before this happened I wanted to hike the Appalachian Trial, The Pacific Crest Trail and the most exciting I decided I would climb Mt. Whitney when I turned 50, it had a nice ring to it. Well I am now 52, and Whitney she is still there. Over these years I traveled the world from bed with National Geographic writing down all the places I want to see, and some I would like to hike. During all this time I thought well those big hikes won't happen now. I did start easing back into hiking a few years ago, testing the water as it were. My thinking was I can't do the big stuff but I can do little hikes, better than nothing. The pain of going down anything with loose gravel feels like walking on broken bones, and Whitney she is a gravel monster. As I began to ease back into hiking, my weakness was clear, the pain in my hips, back and feet flared up like a shot with each step. I hiked up to the famous Arch in Arches National Park in Utah, only to be escorted down ever so slowly as my ankles swelled so large and the pain in my feet was beyond excruciating. I kept pushing to do what I use to do and also tick things off my National Geographic list only to push too hard and end up in bed.
But then a few months ago I was headed to yet another PT appointment when I figured out what my issue was. I have had enough of PT, plain and simple. I was done with it. When I say done I mean I wasn't even doing the work anymore it had become tedious, day after day for years so I pretty much stopped or did very little, which hurt my chances of getting stronger. Sitting with my most recent PT Therapist I told her “That is it I am done with PT can we call it Training?” All the things I want to do, hiking, cycling, running and swimming each athlete has a set back, some worse than others and they always “train” to get back to where they were or at least were they can be. And that is what I want to do, train. And just that simple word and with her support we have changed it, we changed those exercises I am tired of and incorporated them into my yoga practice. And when my back went out again she said “take your training to the pool.” So I did.
I learned that it is a mind set. When I have done so much “PT” it was hindering me from the big picture because I have done it for so long. PT became my albatross, training is helping break it. I am taking baby steps, hiking places I never thought I could. The natural wild beauty I have seen in the United States has been some of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. I wish I could bottle it up and show the world. I am venturing into places more now than ever before and it is not easy, I am in a shit load of pain at times, but I am a hiker that is who I am. I no longer hike just for the beauty and serenity it always gave me but for how grateful to know I can. So I put Mt. Whitney back on my list. Some how I will get up that mountain and come right back down without the pain I once envisioned but with the success and strength I am training toward.
After all I wrote about in 2018!
"I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than trees." - Henry David Thoreau
Whitney Wait For Me
Happy 2018! Yippeeee "Mount Whitney when I am 50!" Or at least that was the plan, until my body told me otherwise. When this whole surgery thing started (see introduction post) I thought two surgeries okay I can do this and my goal was I would be on top of Mount Whitney at 50. My doctors less optimistic of any long hiking goals. If you aren't familiar with Mount Whitney it is located in the California Sierra Mountains and she is no spring chicken at 14,505 feet. Then a third surgery.... Okay three behind me I should be good to go. I have two years to get ready, I can do this, my doctors now even less optimistic, mostly because my spine and back took a major hit during all this. Confession I only told my doctors hiking, I never told them Mt Whitney for fear they would think I was bonkers or try to talk me out of it. Then yep wouldn't you know it 2017 with news of another major surgery, but first a small surgery to end the year, why not.
With the big one still in the cards I first sat on this idea with a bullet point list of questions for my surgeon, because quite frankly I am tired of them, who wouldn't be. His answers left me no realistic option. Mt Whitney would have to wait, again. Besides by summer of 2017 hours of any hiking was not possible without pain and loss of feeling in my left foot joined by blisters and pain in the right. I knew something was still wrong and tried to ignore it. The back, well that was another matter, I hadn't yet trained with heavy weight on my back, which again doctors are not recommending. And my back well it ain't great. This was made more clear after a recent camping trip with friends when I came back, I had such pain in the left toes, foot and calf. What made me more nervous is this pain was similar to the pain years ago when this whole thing started, not good. That afternoon I was couch bound. So what to do? Make new goals, smaller goals, and push Mt Whitney farther out. Besides who wants to get rescued from Search and Rescue no matter how cute the guys are.
What I have learned from all of my experiences and the people I talk to is we all have something. Some far more difficult then our own issues, some physical, other's mental. But each one of us has a story, a story of defeats, challenges, successes. It is life. I hiked with cancer survivors, veterans, people with immune diseases, others with new hips or knees, and some that have never hiked before. One thing we all share is we walk the path together. I used to be the one far ahead but now I sometimes sit out sections while others go on. There is something special and real about walking or hiking in nature, as if all the world's troubles stop for a moment. I have hit some new goals I didn't think I could do, but I have done it with help from my fellow hikers, and I am okay with that.
I am reminded of a hike on Watchman Trail in Zion over the Thanksgiving Holiday. It is a busy trail, close to the campsites so a lot of foot traffic and hiking poles. I was making my way around rocks going down hill, which I still struggle with, when a pole caught my eye. The pole was unlike the others, it was white with red tip. Looking up I saw a blind child, probably about twelve or so, his face had a large smile, his eyes darting back and forth as his body swayed, he wasn't just blind but it was clear he had a mental disability. Two adults each holding one of his elbows guided him as he moved his foot forward slowly up Watchman Trail. In that brief moment I witnesses something amazing, a family teaching their child that he can put one foot in front of the other and with his cane maneuver the trail, however slowly. Best of all they were teaching him that trails are possible. He clearly was the happiest child on Watchman.
I will put off Mt Whitney once again, perhaps my new motto will be "Mount Whitney when I am 60!" I don't know, but what I do know is that I will Summit Mt Whitney one day and that boy will be on my mind when I sign my name at the top and perhaps his name will be there too.
Sequoia Writer's and Artist Retreat
Learning how to make charcoal pencils from what the Earth provides. Hover over the images to learn the steps. : )
April 4, 2017
Drought, Rain, then Poppies
Years of record breaking drought in California has played havoc on our state and the very popular Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. This reserve is a wonderful place to see flowers including our state flower, California Poppy, also known as the flame flower, la amapola, and copa de oro (cup of gold), the California poppy grows wild throughout the state. Native Americans in California valued the poppy as a food source and for the oil extracted from the plant. For six years I have gone here in the hopes to find even just a handful of the wild California Poppies and an assortment of other lovely wild flowers, and finally this year we had a "good" bloom. It may not be the best on record but I will take it.
September 7, 2016
If you ever thought of taking a road trip but were too intimated, afraid or felt you can't afford it. Let me tell you, don't let anything stand in your way. I did a cross country on a budget and tented it most of the way. I did get tired of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and baby wipe showers however, but hey I wouldn't trade sleeping in the van, or tenting and a couple of times staying in cheap places for anything in the world. It is worth finding a way to see the world, even if it is just a few days on the road. It can change your perception of what time really is. The days are longer and the experiences memorable. I have some physical limitations healing from my last surgery (three to date) and actually needed to be assisted getting off Arches in Utah and assistance in other places. I did what I could and experienced things I had written in my Bucket List journal when I was laying in and out of bed these past four years. I joke that "I traveled the world in bed", and I did thanks to National Geographic, Travel Documentaries and Nature programs but now it is time to experience what I saw on my little Asus computer screen. Been hiking and exploring nature since I was a little child and I will continue until I am an old child. With sore, tattered and reconstructed parts nature still calls and I will continue to answer.
May 19, 2016
Not An Option
People use to ask me, “Why do you hike so much?” My response was always the same: “Because maybe one day I won’t be able to.”
I had three big dreams years ago, this is two of them. One was starting a business where women could get together, build relationships, and build their lives into what they wanted and the second was to hike the Appalachian Trail one day, thanks in part to “Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson. Within two years my body started to ache and my active life style of running, cycling, hiking, scrambling, weight training and lunch times walks started to slowly drop off my “Ability to Do” list, until the one day it came crashing down, my right arch collapsed in spin class. This one doctor telling me, “You just have to learn to live with it.” My condition got so bad that simply walking from one room to another in my tiny apartment became a challenge, pulling myself along my furniture to get to the kitchen. Driving to work was no longer possible, driving in general was out, shopping was out, as was all my physical activities. My feet would cramp so bad that they would turn inward into strange shapes, the pain intolerable. I could no longer sleep through the night. Walking on these two things that held me up all these years was like walking on broken shattered feet. Looking at them and cursing them with every vulgar language one could muster at 7am. And “this” is what the doctor said I would have to learn to live with, as he stood there in his white coat? I said, “Not an Option.”
I was so annoying to this doctor with consistent emails and calls because I would not settle for his diagnoses he referred me to another doctor, a specialist in the field, a ‘rear foot’ specialist to be exact. Who knew there was such a person? Turns out I had multiple medical conditions in my feet, the result of a birth defect I never knew I had, an extra bone in each foot that was now protruding out from my ankles right above my arches, pushing into my tendons and nervous system. He said he can do surgery but warned it is a surgery that is not easy, it is a long process and one that “of all the surgeries this is the one you wouldn’t want done” if anything is to scare a person from signing the consent paper the option not having surgery was far worse, bone fusions in feet, knees, hips and back eventually…which he really doesn’t recommend as a viable choice. I agree, who wouldn’t?
Yeah no thank you so after a nearly 2 years in pain and worsening condition in August 2012 the first surgery took place. 3 surgeries, 5 epidurals in the spine, my spine took a massive hit from years of surgeries,and nearly 4 years later I am slowly developing the strength and abilities to get around again. For the third surgery I even got a bone graft, and upon being released the nurse handed me a card to thank the donor’s family if I wished. I always thought about kidneys, livers and so on being donated, never realizing someone’s bone can help change a life, I immediately filled out the card to thank them and when it was time to renew my license I got over the heebie-geebies and checked the donor box on my DMV paperwork.
I had more casts, crutches, wheelchairs, canes, boots and braces that the manufacturers stocks probably increased. I think my bed has a permanent mold of my body at this point. Reminding me of an episode of the Simpson’s when Homer, after lying in bed all day, pries himself out to the sound of suction releasing and all you see is the shape his large body left in the mattress. Note to self: buy a new mattress. Before my third surgery I asked my doctor, “Can I hike again?” He said maybe not, I responded sharply, “That is not an option.” At my last visit with him again, “Can I hike again?” He said he wasn’t sure especially because of my back. I asked my back doctor, “Can I hike again?” He said he wasn’t sure especially because of my feet. Well at least they were honest.
One thing that kept, well two things that kept me strong is first and foremost it is not cancer. I watched my aunt die from cancer she and I were the best of friends. She fought something far greater than me. I am sure she would have traded a lifetime of surgeries and crutches to have more time with family and friends. And second, it is something news anchor and cancer survivor Robin Roberts I heard say in an interview and is the title of her book “Everyone’s Got Something.” I have seen stroke patients while I am in physically therapy with all their focus and energy try to move their wrist, I sat in the waiting room next to chemo patient, I have seen children being pushed in chairs to Physical Therapy because they have MS, I have seen so many struggles and heroes while in physical therapy. They remind me, I can climb that mountain again one day, even if the doctors are less optimistic than I am. People have bigger struggles then me and I have seen them accomplish great things. I continue in rehab from my third surgery. My back pain is chronic, if I am lucky I have one or two “good days” that it doesn’t hurt and put me on the floor. So my goal is to start small and do little walks in nature, and with the passing of time I will be on top of a mountain again because I can see it, because I am putting it out there. I am still me and I was never one to listen to authority just ask my father, and after all it is just a mountain.
Oh my PT alarm just went off on my phone, time for my second PT exercises of the day. This Blog is dedicated to the trails, the open road and what is over the next mountain.