Sunday, October 9, 2011

Entry #5 - Colorado

-- It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.
-- Edmund Hillary

For those of you who don't know, my family has a cabin in Estes Park, Colorado which is a nice retreat in which we can relax and enjoy the mountains. This location is becoming a yardstick for measuring my progress.

I went out to Colorado with Erin and her family the week before I met Marty. This trip typified years of Colorado vacations I enjoyed. The term "enjoyed" is relative because, in truth, I was not getting the full experience because of my limitations. Again, bear with me now as I list them. Once again, I am trying to make a record of what it was like so I can remember more reasons why I never want to regress.

I thoroughly love the mountains. I think it is in the Riley DNA. We have been taking annual family vacations there for my whole life. It is a part of our history. I don't think there are many trails in the park we have not traveled. We have climbed several of the mountains. So my enjoyment of our trips there is partly nostalgia and partly a "coming home."

Being overweight and unable to hike, climb or breathe made it so I was unable to get the full experience. Hiking with the family was definitely out. Hiking the shops of Estes was extremely difficult and I was forced to go from bench to bench just to be with the family. Most days, I simply stayed at the cabin and tried to convince myself that seeing the gorgeous views of the mountains out the windows of the cabin was sufficient for me. The shower in which I was the most comfortable was in the basement. That meant stairs. What a catch 22! I was unable to unload luggage or groceries. I would constantly ask my nephews to fetch things for me because it was too difficult to move. The family always wanted me to feel involved so they would invite me to go with them on the shorter hikes. But I hated this! I was forced to face my inability to do the hike and then sit at some location for long periods of time and wait for them to return, laughing and joyous, from the entertaining hike they had enjoyed. Picnics are also popular but since sitting at a picnic table was out, so my weight problems were once again brought to the fore front. Fun events like Go-Karts and the Big Slide were impossibilities. I was the watcher of purses. Plus the rickety benches at these locations were always in danger of being crushed as I sat on them and waited for the family to be finished. Most times, I would simply get mad. Mad at myself. Mad at them for making me think about it (unfair and irrational). Mad at life in general. However, this particular trip was during the height of my depression and I spent a lot of time weeping and wallowing in my "poor me" attitude.

I could still carve out fun. I tried to tell myself that seeing them enjoy themselves was a blessing. Playing with the kids is also fun. But in the end, I was simply a spectator. I had to sit on the sidelines and observe the fun and try to remember how fun it was when I could participate.

-- Keep close to Nature's heart ... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.
-- John Muir

After a few weeks of working out, we went back to the cabin and I was eager to see if anything had changed. Granted, many things were the same. One can't make a complete turn around in a few weeks. It took me years to get this big, so it will take time to recover. However, I found many victories in this trip. I had the stamina to help unload the car. The stairs at the cabin were no longer a big deal. I was still winded after climbing them, but I recovered quickly. And most important to me, I was able to participate in some of the hikes. Several days, I climbed the mountain on which the cabin sits. The handicap accessible trails were easy to do. I even managed a long hike around Bear Lake. It isn't particularly challenging in terms of hills, but it is at 9000 ft above sea level so oxygen is scarce. I'm surprised my family survived with me sucking up as much of it as I was. I was ecstatic! This was the kind of progress that could really motivate me.

I returned to Omaha on a Rocky Mountain High (so to speak). I was eager to tell Marty the
stories of how things had gone. I was still a long way from where I wanted to be, but so much more was possible even after this short amount of time. I was so excited that I wanted to share my fortune with others. I wanted to help others start their own journeys towards better health. I am sad to report that none of the loved ones with whom I spoke have started this process.

This leads me to one of my biggest dilemmas. How can you get someone to understand what this can do for them? How can you get them to understand the amazing feeling of accomplishment one gets? I know that if I could get them to understand how it feels and how relatively easy it is (difficult, but not impossible like many of us large people think before we try), they would eagerly begin their own journeys.

I have to temper myself because I feel a sense of urgency to get them started. I think to myself that if I had just started my own journey 3 months, 6 months, or a year earlier, I would be much farther along. This makes me wish I could get them all to start now. Time waiting is time wasting. However, I must understand that no one can start until they are ready. All I can do is let them know it is possible and hope they find it within themselves to try. Perhaps this blog can help. Maybe reading about how much it has helped me will allow them to see what they could achieve. That a few weeks of effort can change their entire life for the better. This is my fervent hope.

Oddly enough, we were only back in Omaha for a week before we went back to Colorado. I know, I know, I lead a rough life. :) But this time, I went to Colorado with a cocky attitude. This time I was going to rock it. This time I was going to really push myself. This attitude lead me to participate in the great Death March of 2011. :)

We were there a week and I was still pleasantly surprised with my progress. I loved being able to participate in 60-70% of the activities where I used to only enjoy 10-20%. In hindsight, it is rather humorous to know that I was actually getting mad at my father for the way he was planning the hikes. He knew I wanted to hike to the Pool, but he kept putting it off to later in the week. I was eager. I wanted this to be the new start of my hiking career. An actual hike on a non-handicap accessible trail that went somewhere scenic. I was getting frustrated because I was sure I would just knock it out of the park and be ready to do other hikes. So, every hike my family took without me was a hike that, in my mind, I was not getting to enjoy. As it turns out, I am glad I didn't.

So Dad finally planned the hike to the Pool on the day before we were to return to Omaha. I was so excited. Dad, Rich, the kids and I set out on the trail. I set the pace. My pace was really, really slow, but I was not discouraged. Slow and steady wins the race. I was going to do this! After a good chunk of time, I was starting to get really tired. My feet were beginning to feel the effects of all the rocks on the trail. My legs were feeling the effect of carrying 500 pounds around at high altitude. So I asked Dad how much farther it was to the Pool. He said about another mile and a half. No problem! One foot in front of the other! I would go slow and would be tired, but this was still a possibility. Then ... I hit the wall.

Once again, I asked him how much farther. He told me it was only a bit farther to the Arches (a beautiful rock formation along the trail). Then it would be another half mile from the Arches to the Pool and that half mile would have the steepest elevation gain of the whole hike. Dad suggested that we not go to the Pool and turn around at the Arches. My legs said "The man speaks sense. Listen to him." It was shortly after this moment that I made a frightening revelation. Even if we turned around at the Arches, that would represent the halfway point and I knew for a certainty that I was more than halfway tired. At this point, I was taking many breaks. I would hike several yards but then find a rock to sit on to rest my legs and feet. Finally, I said to Dad, "I think I better turn around now." Dad said that I was really close to the Arches and I should press on. I am so glad he did because I think I would have considered it a bigger failure if I hadn't made it to a scenic location. Dad sent Rich and the kids ahead to find out how much farther it was to the Arches. As I continued to plod on, I kept thinking to myself, "why aren't they back yet? That means it's far." But just as all hope was almost lost, Jake came back and said we were almost there. About ten minutes later, I was at the Arches. I had made it! Half my brain was jumping for joy, the other half was saying, "How are we going to get back?"

I allowed myself to enjoy the moment. It really is a gorgeous location. I sat on a rock and ate a granola bar and drank some water. I marveled at the kids running around on their young, spry legs. I guess my pace had not challenged their youthful bodies (big surprise). Eventually, it was time to start back towards the car. It wasn't long before my pace was so slow that Dad had Rich take the kids ahead at their own pace while he stayed with me.

I was really beginning to think I wasn't going to make it. Every part of me hurt. I was now going only 4 to 6 yards between breaks. I began to hate the moments where the sitting rocks were really far apart. That meant I had to trudge longer before the next break. I kept
apologizing to Dad because I was going so slowly. To my surprise, he was loving it! I was moving so slowly that he was able to really soak in the scenery. He said he was seeing things he had never noticed before because he was normally trekking on through at a normal pace which didn't allow him to really admire all the beauty around him. It is a good thing my father is the kind of man who, in the words of John Denver, finds grace in every step he takes. He gets invigorated by the beauty of the mountains. And I was certainly giving him every opportunity to really commune with nature. We had perfect weather. It was an absolutely beautiful day for a hike.

At some point in this death march, I pointed out to Dad that I was unsure if I could make it back to the cars. He pointed out that I had no choice. They couldn't carry me out. We were silent for awhile and then Dad chimed in with the quote of the trip. "Well Kev, you picked a beautiful day to die." If I hadn't had one foot in the grave already, I would have died of laughter. Now I am going 3 or 4 feet between breaks. All of a sudden, Jake shows up. He told me that I was almost there. Jake, you have never looked so beautiful to me. You were an angel of mercy. To wrap this up, I did make it back to the car. 2.1 miles in 3 hours. Not exactly a rock star pace, but one that completed the hike. I promptly sat down in the passenger seat and started mentally evaluating the experience.

At the Arches, I remember being really disappointed that I would not make it to the Pool. I was not delusional enough to believe I should have pressed on, but it felt like a failure. However, after the hike, I realized this was a huge accomplishment. I was the guy who had a hard time walking from the car to the couch and now I had just complete a 2 mile hike across rugged terrain at high altitude. It wasn't the return to greatness that I had hoped, but it did show me that I was well on my way. Soon I would be able to hike all my favorite trails again. All I had to do was keep at it. I really thought I would pass out into a long nap when I returned to the cabin. However, I was so jazzed about what I had just done that I was high as a kite. I wasn't moving much, but I was really awake.

-- I feel like I'm on top of the world. Honestly, I feel like I've climbed a very giant mountain, and I'm just standing right on top with my arms wide open and breathing rarified air.
-- Shania Twain

I look forward to my next trip so I can further check my progress on the Colorado scale. Maybe I can make it to the Pool. Maybe there are other hikes I can do. All the possibilities are there as long as I continue to make progress. Perhaps one day, I can do some things I've always wanted to do like climb Longs Peak. That is a far off goal, but a worthy one.

-- Well Kev, you picked a beautiful day to die.
-- William Riley

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