Friday, August 29, 2008

Training Taper

With the our grand hike just barely over a week away, we have been cutting back on our mileage and I on my weekly training. We both still do our weight training, Harley's cardio, and my weekly water aerobics session at Gold's Gym in Redmond. But for the most part the high mileage has been drastically reduced in order to conserve our energy for the big day.

I took the last 2 Mondays off completely as rest days and it was really hard for me. I felt really lazy and like I had become a sedentary couch potato. Although I did have many other things to get done and still need to finish, guilt set in that I had taken a day off from training my body. Further, my dogs were not any help when they layed around on the deck all day and gave me sad eyes.......heart renching and I felt like a bad mom for taking time to do other things I needed to do.

Last week I took 2 rest days off from walking. On one of the days I went to water aerobics and did a long workout on my legs at the gym. On the other days I stuck to about an hour brisk walk and one day I ran.

For this week I went back to Daniel's Ranch to do my hill training and this time I ran it for 45 minutes! It was rainy and getting dark but for a run and a running up a hill it felt much more refreshing than the sweltering heat we had 2 weeks prior. I actually prefer running when it is cooler and then rain feels great! I do not perform well and have a difficult time breathing and tire sooner when it is hot.

Sunday we had a very short training session of 6 miles. I am going according to the training schedule when I did the Seattle marathon. According to the plan we were to training for 1 hour 40 minutes but since we are doing a greater distance, I bumped up our training for longer so we could cover a greater mileage.

This weekend will be an hour and 20 minutes but I will shoot for 4.5 miles which should be about an hour and a half. It is really hard to cut back on mileage after doing such l0ng distances. We are supposed to have 3 complete rest days next week and I will have a difficult time doing that as well.

Because we were doing such a short training session, Harley thought we could carry less things and was opting for just a water bottle instead of his hydropack. Part of training is preparing to carry and use everything you plan to have with you on event day. Thus you gradually end up bringing more as you hike less. If you are a runner for a marathon it is different as they get through the course faster, will get hotter, and need to carry as little as possible (they use a hydration belt and then for marathons there are lots of water stations with gatorade and sport gels. We have no aide so we need to carry everything we need with us just as if you were going to take a long day hike in the back country.)

So after going on about my whole mantra about preparation I made a very stupid mistake. A mile and a half into the trail and I went to take a sip of water but could not find my hydration hose! I was a little confused and thought I must have cramped it into the pack without setting up the hose. My pack was heavy because I had the bottles of water for the dogs so I did not think I was missing anything when I left the house because my pack was heavy.

I FORGOT MY FREAKING WATER!!!!!! I has put the bladder in the refridgerator to keep it cold and then forgot to grab it before I went out the door. Wow! That is not an error I want to make on hike day!

(Why I did not drink the dog water bottles......I had become accustomed to pouring the water the dogs did not drink back into the bottles and did not wash them. Therefore, they were designated dog water bottles and I was not too keen on swaping dog spit with them.)

What did I do? I had to drink off of Harley's hydration pack which is not enough to last us through the whole trek next Sunday. With my facial paralysis, I have a difficult time drinking the water off his too. So it was a good thing it was a short trek.

water I carry: 64 ounces for the dogs and 48 ounces for myself for the first half of the trek. At 15 miles I run out so I will need to switch out the 64 oz. bottles when we drop off the dogs at the 10 mile mark.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Message to Gale


My emails to you are not going through. I did not know how else to reach you and hope that you read this.

Something must be wrong with because some of my family members have the same email service program and all of the emails I sent to them have been returned with a mail delivery failure.

Thank you very kindly for your donation! I have not written hand written thank you notes yet because I am waiting until after the hike next sunday so I can let everyone know how it went.

I don't know how the weather is for you down in Oregon but it has cooled off and become rainy out here. Months ago I looked back at last year's forecast for that date and the temp was in the high 50s. So I have planned to wear and bring layers and my rain jacket. I just got my rain pants yesterday from the REI outlet online. I have to try them on today to see which pair fits.

I do not mind hiking in the rain. As a matter of fact I do better in cooler weather than hotter. When I did the Seattle marathon it was snowing the morning before we started!

However, I am hoping there will not be hard or continuous rain on our journey (my husband Harley and I) because I have not broken in my waterproof hiking boots yet. I have been training in my summer non-waterproof pair. I will have to plan to bring some spare socks with me and if my feet get really wet and it is intolerable, I have my phone to text someone to bring my other pair at a point where the trail can be accessed.

I am wearing Salomans which both Harley and I have found to be incredibly comfortable. My feet are used to the hikes so I have not gotten blisters with the exception of one after the 18 mile hike which I did not even notice for a week. So I figure if I can get through the first half with my one pair of broken in boots, I should be ok with the new ones for the second half if need be. My waterproof pair are virtually the same and the same brand so I am pretty confident about them. I have to remember to bring some Nexcare bandages and stuff for blisters in case we have a problem with them.

So a little over a week to go for the big day! Woo! I am getting a little nervous and excited at the same time.

If Jodi Harrington can weather heat, snow, rain, and a 35 pound pack at an average of 25 miles a day for 6 months straight, I can surely handle 31.5 miles in a day. Right?

Send me an email to know you got this and what your current address is.

Hope your summer has been well! :o)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Little Taste of Freedom

A week ago Friday I had something completely amazing and exhilarating happen to me! For the first time in 4 years or more, I descending a set of stairs without grabbing, touching, or leaning on the handrail! What is even more impressive is that I descending not only one set of stairs without using the handrail but I walked freely down 3 sets of concrete and wood stairs at the Pike Place Market in Seattle among groups of other people passing by!

First let me explain that such a feat has been terrifying for me since I completely lost balance function in 2005. After losing my balance I quickly discovered how painful it was to be falling all the time and as I lost more weight I also lost more cushioning which once protected me. Therefore, the darker the stairwell and the harder material each stair was built of, the scarier the stairway became. If it was a large set of stairs I would stand at the top, take a gulp and hold my breath as if I were about to parachute off a 1000 foot cliff. I clutched the handrail for dear life!

It has been 3 and a half years of constant work. For one, I had to learn to brave going up and down stairs because I live in a house with 3 sets of stairs that I use daily. I cannot get into my house or up to my bed without using stairs. I have been like a cat. It is okay going up but not so okay going down. I had to train myself to accust0m my body and balance to walk up and down stairs again and to overcome my fear. To not do so, would have meant surrendering my lifestyle and leaving the home I love so dearly.

2005 was a hard year, 2006 was building up my endurance again and stamina, and the last year and a half has been for building up my strength again and improving my balance. Since Feb-March 2007, I have been consistently adhereing to a training regimen of weight lifting, water aerobics, and practice on a balance device at the gym. Without it, I do not believe that I would have come this far.

The locker room is upstairs at the gym and even though there is an elevator I refuse to use it. I used it in the very beginning but after a couple months I felt confident to use the stairs and felt I needed to challenge myself and practice.

The stairs are very safe and rubber coated with slighty raised dots for tread. Therefore, I am not as fearful on them and both handrails are within safe grasp. Gradually I built up my confidence and started to not rely on the handrails so much until I was barely touching them. Within the past month, I have practiced letting go and descending the last 4-5 steps where the staircase widens.

Then a couple weeks ago I was able to walk down my deck stairs without keeping both hands on the handrail. I had to stop and think about it at the top but as I neared the bottom the feeling of walking down stairs normally just sort of naturally took over. I was so incredibly happy that I had to do it again about 2-3 more times to believe what happened. Then I cried tears of joy and the release of pain from being restricted over the past few years.

I don't know if you can really understand. Before I lost my abililty I would run up and down stairs without thinking about it, nudge close to the edge of a cliff to peer over the edge (I could not help myself), and freely rollerblade efficiently all over jumping ruts, bumps, and curbs. I could never imagine what this could be like....being restricted from your freedom of what could seem so easy and simple become an arduous task causing you to break a sweat!

When my balance was still very poor, I was taking ASL classes at the community college where there are several young people hustling and bustling about. Everytime I saw someone skimper down the stairs while carrying a large bag or backpack and head turned chatting to a friend or a cellphone propped on the other shoulder, I would become incredibly saddened. I all of a sudden felt very distanced from my youth and like I had become old and feeble while in my prime. It was tough and still is on occassion but I am more adjusted and accepting of it now.

The loss of balance for me has been very hard and caused a deep and long mourning for my older self that skied, rollerbladed, hiked rugged trails and enjoyed the thrill of elevation and challenging hikes, did more shore diving than boat diving (scuba) which expanded my options greatly, was very efficient at slalom waterskiing and even skiied on surfboard behind a boat once, and was able to handle riding my own motorcycle. When the tumor took my balance all these things and my way of life stopped...was cut off cold turkey as if I was put in handcuffs and locked away. It has been very difficult and took a long time to adapt to my new body and the limits placed on it from my balance digression.

Fortunately I have figured out a way get back some of my ability and to maintain it. I would be happy if I can maintain this current state as long as possible. Thus, as my friend who also has NF2 says "Everyday is a training day." Striving to stay healthy and taste the freedom is a way of life n0w.

So if you can relate to what I have been telling you, you can see why something as simple as descending a set of stairs without grabbing a handrail to me can seem a major accomplishment just like reaching the summit of a great mountain. For a moment, I am free again.

Monday, August 25, 2008

John Wayne Trail - our 15 miler

Where our 31.5 mile hike ends at Rattlesnake Lake, the trail connects to another railroad grade trail which continues east across the Cascade mountain range. From Rattlesnake Lake to Yakima it covers a distance of 86 miles.

July 31st SVT trek - Simple Beauty

At the end of July I took in a lovely hike through the agricultural region of the trai one beautiful afternoon.
To see photos of our wonderful stroll, please visit my picassa photo album at this link:
There is an option to view the photos in slideshow format.

I finally found it!

The trail we will be hiking on is an old railroad grade which was used to transport supplies between the cities of Duvall and Fall City. It ends just a short distance from the famed Snoqualmie Falls and one must take a detour on the road to where the trail picks back up again and crosses the Snoqualmie river.

Now when I first reached the first trail end I had no idea where it continued and I ended up at the Snoqualmie Public Works Department. Because it was a weekend, I was locked in the fenced property and could not get back out to the main road.

After emailing the county, I found out that one must take a detour on the main road in order to reach the second part of the trail. So in mid June Harley and I went out to start on the second part of the trail but we never found it. I had forgotten to bring the directions and thought it would be easily marked and not far from where the trail ended. Unfortunately it was not and we ended up missing where it starts again and found access further east from a park in Snoqualmie.

Wanting to find where the trail traveled so I would not get lost on the big day, I went back out on my own midweek hoping the roads would not be so busy. I could not find the original email with the directions but I found a map a friend sent me online and I just memorized the name of the one road to foll0w. How hard could it be, right?

LOL Well to my dismay and the dogs, it was not so simple. We ended up walking at least a mile and a half down a road with no shoulder which surprisingly was more busy than I was comfortable with. It seemed like it was going off into nowhere and I did not want to end up getting lost and walking solely on this road. Further, it was getting really hot and we were mostly in the sun which was not good for the dogs. Therefore, I made the executive decision to turn around and take this other road.

The other road led to a different paved trail which brought us into the town of Snoqualmie within a couple miles. Meanwhile the sun continued to shine on us and the heat got to an exhausting level.

While in the town I came across people riding on a train along our trail. The tracks led to a historic train station where there was an event going on. Some older men were directing pedestrian traffic whenever the train came by. I thought surely they would know the mystery of the missing trailhead but actually they did not. I did get a map from one of them though which they had at the train station.

We got a little relief under a canopy while talking with the men. However, it was not getting any cooler and I imagine it was nearly unbearable for the dogs. Our route back was in the hot sun again so I decided to hunt for an access along the river north of town so the dogs could take a swim and cool off. Yet we only ran into high banks and a fence cutting preventing us from getting anywhere near the river. Where it was fenced was a small park with a faucet outside the bathroom. Now my dogs do not like being sprayed with water no matter how hot it is. Silly beings! Thus I had to drag them each by the leash and try to hold them under the faucet so I could get them a little wet to keep from overheating.

When I got back to the truck I drove around on all the roads near the river trying to pick up the trail again. I finally found a set of stairs which appeared to be to a foot bridge crossing the river. I could not check it out though because I had to get the dogs home where they could get relief from the sweltering heat in their favorite place under the deck. I had parked in the shade but while we were hiking the sun changed position and we came back to a roasting vehicle which had been baking in the hot sun for hours! It was so hot that Jake did not want to go in the back of the truck and jumped out when I stopped to open the window for ventilation.

Harley and I discussed the dillema of needing to hike on the road with no shoulder. He was not crazy about the idea of me going out there on my own to check it out and walk it. But I really had to find where the rest of the trail went so we would know what we were doing and what we were getting into. We agreed that it would be best for me to go out there on a morning during the week when it would be less busy. However, as I discovered weekdays in the summer near a significant tourist attraction (the falls) are not any less busy it seems. Our hike is on a Sunday after labor day so hopefully it will be off season for most tourists and there will be less traffic to be concerned about

On Thursday, July 24th I went back out to this area and I was correct that the stairs I found lead to the continuation of the trail. Yeah! However, it is 2.25 miles between where the trail starts and stops again. Within that stretch we will be required to walk along rural roads with no shoulder which I am not too thrilled about (especially seeing that I am completely deaf and cannot hear cars coming up behind me at all). For this very reason, I need to walk against the traffic but there is no shoulder and I have to just trust that the oncoming car sees us.

Harley suggested having someone pick us up and drive us to the next part of the trail but I just cannot do that. It defeats the purpose of what I am doing. It just not seem right getting a ride in the middle of it. Marathoners don't get picked up in the middle of their run! Perhaps the county parks has a couple orange vests that they can lend us for the day.

At any rate, I will try to walk quickly through this 2.25 mile stretch and be ready to dive into the blackberry infested ditch if it appears as if the car heading my way does not see me!

Here is a map of the entire route from Duvall to Rattlesnake Lake in North Bend:

For SVT enthusiasts also curious where the trail picks up, this is what you must do:

  • Travel south on Tokul road (after coming up the hill from the trail at the tunnel, take a right toward the falls).
  • Before you actually get to the main road along the falls, take your first left on 61st or 66th street. (I cannot remember the numbers. Just take the first road on your left).
  • Within a couple blocks, Snoqualmie Public works will be on your left and the road veers off in 2 different directions (kind of like a Y shape).
  • Go straight and the road you are on will turn into Stearns road.
  • Be careful and watch for huge dump trucks carrying gravel emerging from the Mill on your left (marked 5 miles road) and trucks entering from your right.
  • Follow Stearns road for over a mile and a half passing a pond on your left with a pretty view of the 4000 foot Mt. Si in the backdrop.
  • This road eventually changes into Mill Pond road but you do not know it until you reach the end (the road comes to a T).
  • To your right will be a one lane bridge into town. Go left on Rening road.
  • Within a quarter mile you will see a pull over area on your right with stairs ascending to a foot bridge.
  • That is the rest of the trail! Enjoy! :o)

Longest Training Sessions in July

The sundays in July are when Harley and I peaked with our longest training mileage of 12, 18, and 15 miles. The sunday between our 18 and 15 milers, we had a short practice of 6 miles because Harley was having an ankle problem and we had to cut it early to go buy him a new pair of trail shoes. He ended up choosing a nice pair of Solomans which I also have for trail running. I am wearing Solomans too but a midcut light hiking boot as I need more support.

Here is a funny recap of our 18 miler that I sent out to my email list:

Written July 14th:

It is now less than 2 months before our hike and Harley and I have completed our 2 longest training sessions. A week ago Sunday we traveled 12 miles from North Bend to Rattlesnake Lake and back. I had an excruciating pain behind my left eye which 4 IB Profen tablets did not relieve. I became incredibly nauseated by the time we drove out to the trail. It was our only training day together and I did not want to let anyone down who was counting on me (donors and fellow patients). So despite the throbbing pain and incredible urge to vomit, I decided to tough it out and walk it off which worked! I still had a mild pain but it was at least tolerable. Yesterday we hiked the entire central portion of the Snoqualmie Valley Trail from Carnation to the trail end at Snoqualmie (an 18.5 mile round trip hike!).

It was a very hot day but we hiked on the mostly tree covered portion that followed up along a ridge at a higher altitude so it was fortunately cooler for us. We did pretty good with our water intake (I think I had about 74 oz and Harley’s hydropack carries about 96 oz.). For food we each went through 1 ½ energy bars, a sport gel, and a packet of sport beans. Harley had an apple too but we were still pretty famished when we came home and treated ourselves to roast chicken, macaroni salad, and Remlinger Farm’s marion blackberry pie (THE BEST!!!).

We were both pretty stiff afterward and Harley’s muscles were very sore so I made him take an ice cold bath. We did not have any ice so it was just the coldest water out of the tap. LOL It was kind of shocking for Harley and funny to watch as I reflected on my first ice bath experience after my longest training session for the Seattle marathon in 2006. Back then, I remember I screamed in shock very loudly when I jumped in! This time I could not wait to get in! Of course it helped that it was a hot day too! ;o) Because I am unable to hear, I could not gage just how stunning it was for Harley but the expression on his face gave me a good idea. Why did I not have a camera?

A trick to tolerate the cold that I learned from my mentor for the Seattle marathon is to sip hot tea. Harley enjoyed the last of our lavender tea while I savored the last tea bag of white raspberry decaf by Stash Tea (a Portland company). After a few moments in the cold water our muscles felt great and I stayed in for quite awhile enthralled with my book by Aron Ralston, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place. The author and some friends had been in an avalanche and before I could get out of the tub I just had to find out if they found their friend buried under the heaps of snow.

Harley is slightly sore today but I feel rather great! I don’t feel any more sore than I would if I had gone for a run the day prior. Let’s hope it does not kick in tomorrow! :o)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Back To Practice

After missing 2 Sundays in a row of a long training session, the dogs and I put in a full week of daily practice out on the trail. Monday we hiked 6 miles south of Carnation and back for a total of 12 miles. Tuesday we walked 6 miles on Redmond Ridge, 5 miles back on the SVT, on Wednesday evening (half of it a run), 4.5 to 5 miles on Thursday and Friday and then back up to 6 miles Saturday morning.

Harley and I finally returned to our long training session together yesterday. Our goal was to start between 6 - 7 am and to hike 10 miles. At 5:30 am it looked a little dark yet and we did not get going early enough so we started the hike at 7 am.

My pedometer watch was providing an accurate reading so we traveled a little further than intended. Luckily the trail is lined with mileage markers in the portion where we were hiking so we went by the markers instead. We ended up going further than 10 miles because we had walked at least a half mile before we reached the first marker from where we parked.

Once I hit the 5 mile marker to turn around I wanted to put in a good pace to see how long it would take me to walk 5 miles. I have already forgotten my speed but with 3 stops (one to water the dogs, one to go to the bathroom, and one to pick and eat blackberries) I had exceeded the 3 mph pace I was shooting for.

Since Harley was not within sight behind me, I crossed the road when I got back to the trail head to see how much further the next mileage marker was. It was about a quarter of a mile I figure. I turned around and headed back to the truck to complete 12 miles. With 7 stops, I still completely the distance in under a 3 mph pace. That is slower than when I walked the 2006 Seattle marathon but I am contending with many more issues. First, I need to stop every hour to give the dogs a water break. Second, it is hotter out so I am drinking more water which means I have to go to the bathroom more often. Third, The trail is not a paved road like it is for the marathon course. It is crushed gravel, rock, or dirt substrate. Thus, the terrain slows me down and is more challenging for my gait. Fourth, due to the gravel surface and my occasional habit to drag my feet due to my disorder, I often kick tiny pebbles or debris into my shoes that I have to stop and empty. Finally, I have to carry more water for both the dogs and I so I have extra weight that I am lugging with me.

We have hit some unusually hot weather this past week which Harley and I find more difficult for us. We seem to tire faster, our muscles get sore quicker, we dehydrate faster, and I find it harder to breath. Yesterday was harder on him than our 15 and 18 mile hikes. Afterward, he took a "real" ice bath (meaning I put a huge block of ice in the tub) and later that afternoon he napped while my relatives and I hiked to the bottom of Snoqualmie falls and back. Today I am slightly tired but it is also a grey, raining day. My feet are well adjusted to the hikes and this level of usage so I have only gotton one tiny blister after our 15 or 18 mile hike that I did not even notice for a few days. Harley on the other hand, has virgin feet for this kind of endurance sport. Therefore, even with proper and good quality shoes and socks, he has suffered many more blisters.

Only 19 days now before the big hike! That is 2 weeks and 4 days!!!!!!!

Warning - Unexpected Fire Hazard

We missed our long training practice on Sunday August 10th due to an unexpected hazard which cropped up. Friday morning we awoke to a horrid smell so bad that it made me made me nauseous and gave me a headache. The smell was similar to chimney soot or a very stinky burning rubber such as tires. We search all over and tried sniffing out the location but could not determine where the awful smell was coming from. We unplugged almost everything and were certain it was not coming from our wood stove chimney as we have not used it in a very long time seeing that it is summer. We have a small refrigerator that had formed ice condensation which started melting so Harley was sure it was the source. Therefore, we unplugged it and opened the windows, doors, and ran the fans to get the smell out of the house.
However, the smell did not fully dissipate throughout the day. Later when I went to have some ice cream from in the big freezer, I discovered it was mostly melted. I had just assumed that Harley grabbed a frozen meal to take for lunch and the door did not get shut at the way. So I made sure it was good and closed. Yet, that evening it did not seem like the freezer was getting any colder and the ice cream was still melted. I was convinced that the large freezer broke and that the source of the burning smell came from the large refrigerator.
Sure enough! When Harley pulled out the refrigerator to look at the wiring, the he found a melted and charred element! (pictured above) Fortunately for us, the wiring was far enough away from the log wall and must have exhausted itself before it could catch fire. We live in a log cabin so a fire would have a field day here!
With the freezer being packed to maximum capacity, the food stayed pretty well frozen until we could borrow the neighbors freezer. I went out and bought ice to keep the refrigerator contents cool.
Sunday we had to search around for a used refrigerator which would fit the dimensions in our kitchen. We did eventually find one but there was so much involved with finding it, cleaning it, and fitting it in the kitchen that we completely ran out of time for training. First, the refrigerator was slightly too big. While I thoroughly gave it a detail and cleaning, Harley had to cut and sand the counter so it would fit. We could not get the refrigerator through our sliding glass doors so we had to remove the refrigerator doors and to get it inside. Once that was accomplished, we had to put the doors back on again! After all that work thank God it worked! The kitchen was then a dusty disaster which needed to be cleaned.
Who would have thought a refrigerator would pose a fire hazard?

Friday, August 15, 2008

No Creams, Elixers, or Pills...Just Running To Beat the Clock

Well this is great news! While I am not much of a runner I do try to keep up with a run a week for health benefits. My history with running occasionally has always been in the preparation to train for something else. When in high school, I took up running my senior year to train for cross country skiing in the off season. It carried over on into college and I ran ever so often to try to keep in shape and continued to do so to date.

I am not particularly a huge fan of running but again I do it to train for other sports I want to do. For one, it strengthens my legs and challenges my coordination with balance for activities such as hiking. Secondly, I am able to get cardiovascular exercise which is important for my circulation, energy, and to keep my respiratory system in shape for scuba diving (better fitness = more efficient air consumption).

Wednesday night the dogs and I took in a good 22 minute run (about 2.25 to 2.4 miles) and then walked back. We are experiencing a heat wave and truthfully I do terrible in the heat. So we waited until the evening and ran on the mostly tree covered portion of the trail where it is a few degrees cooler. However, it was still hot for the dogs and I was tired myself so we ran half of the route and walked the other half stopping a few minutes hear the end for the dogs to cool off in the river.

Here is the promising article on Dr. Mercola's website regarding the health benefits of running:

Running Can Slow Your Aging Process
Running on a regular basis can slow the effects of aging. A study has shown that elderly joggers are half as likely to die prematurely from conditions like cancer than non-runners. They also enjoyed a healthier life with fewer disabilities.
The research tracked 500 older runners for more than 20 years, comparing them to a similar group of non-runners. Nineteen years into the study, 34 percent of the non-runners had died, compared to only 15 percent of the runners.
Both groups became more disabled with age, but for the runners the onset of disability started an average of 16 years later.
The health gap between the runners and non-runners continued to widen even as the subjects entered their 80’s.
BBC News August 11, 2008

As always, you can connect to the link for Dr. Mercola's website by clicking on the lighthouse icon in the post title.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The beauty of little details in life

This is one of the reasons I absolutely love scuba diving. I enjoy taking my time and searching around for little creatures such as these. This is a nudibranch which is essentially an underwater slug.
Diving offers me the experience to take life slow and savor all the little details along the way the most pass by or never think about. That is the beauty of being a diver. We are a special group that have sought out a way to further enjoy what life has to offer.
Unfortunately I do not know who the photographer is of this stunning and colorful image. I found it on the Dr. Mercola website which has very informative health information and lots of other good things such as a description of nudibranchs and many more beautiful images. You can visit the site by clicking the lighthouse icon in my post title or by clicking here:

Ahh! Conquest accomplished

Total satisfaction = setting out to do something which you may have doubted could be done and conquering it; wanting something so badly that you put all of your focus and energy to attaining and achieving it.

Above right: Here is a look down from the top. It does not seem like much but for someone without balance it is a major achievement. I could have never truly appreciated my abilities or understand the difficulty for others until I lost mine.

Overcoming the Challenge

Left: looking up the small and uneven rocky incline at the summit of Little Si
I just HAD to get up there at the very top!
Top left: Okay, here we go nice and easy...think it through and watch the footing.
Top right: Almost there! Just a few more steps!

Hello from the top of Little Si

On Saturday, August 3rd, fellow Team Survivor NW friend Jane Braziunas and I hiked to the top of Little Si in North Bend, WA. In the mist behind me looms Big Mount Si (elevation 4137 feet and 8 miles) which I used to hike before losing my balance.
Although smaller with a lot less elevation (elevation gain 1200 feet), this trail was tough and a challenge for me due to the terrain. I used hiking poles to negotiate safe footing and to keep from falling over in many spots. As I explained to Jane, the poles function more for stability for me than an aide to altitude hiking. Even with the immense gains I have achieved in leg strength and balance by lifting weights and using the BOSU device, my legs still quiver like a twig about to snap when I am standing on a hillside
To view more photos of the hike, please visit my picassa albums at the following site:
I was completely estatic to reach this point which is one of my favorite views from the top of Little Si.
A link to a website about the hikes and mountains can be found by clicking the lighthouse icon in the post title. The link brings you to the site for the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce which has maps and a beautiful landscape view of Mount Si.
I will be passing by these two mountains on my low elevation hike on the Snoqualmie Trail September 7th.

P.S. - Thanks Jane! This really meant a lot to me and I appreciated your patience, companionship, and enjoyed hiking with you! I look forward to our next adventure! We will have to visit Wallace Falls which I have not been to in many years. :o)

Friday, August 08, 2008


"The great pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do."

- Walter Bagehot

Living Life

Special thanks to Jane Brasiunas of TSNW for being my hiking companion for the day, my sister Michelle and husband Harley for joining me in the paragliding flight, John Clifford of Free Spirit Paragliding for arranging the flights, my pilot John for a fun and safe flight, Harley's pilot Bob Hannah for helping with my takeoff, Michelle's boyfriend DJ and my friend Skip for coming to videotape us, scuba instructor Mary Beth Ackerman for the fun pool refresher, and my captioner Lisa Hutchinson for volunteering to caption my pre-pool session to review my scuba skills with Mary Beth before going into the water.

Sorry for the brief absence but I was busy finding some time to live escape for a moment from the burdens of NF2 and the possibilities that lie ahead. Of course there really isn't any day where I can just say "No NF2 today". There was a time when I could but that is no longer and my imbalance, visual impairments, and deafness are always here to remind me where I stand.

Yet, being able to pursue and conquer certain challenges/activities I have desperately longed for provides me some form of mental relief and high. Like I said, each day which I partook in each of the activities there was not a day that NF2 or how it has affected me was not mentioned. However, while doing each activity I was able to separate from my have the slight feeling of exhilaration which comes with freedom. Perhaps it is another coping mechanism of compartmentalization which I have been naturally doing in regards to my upcoming surgery. I KNOW that a future surgery is eminent but it has not yet resonated with me. I am separate from it. In the back of my mind I have a small hope that something miraculous will happen and come September I will be told "Wow! Great news! You don't need a surgery! We are totally amazed!"

Well, the reality part of me is saying "It is coming. You don't have the luxury of infinite time. Do things now before it is too late."

So what did I do? With the last month of summer here I did many things all in one week! I put aside my training, thinking of fundraising. doing fundraising, and my normal tasks to just live life. For me that means exploring and experiencing have all my mental focus on that one activity. It was nice and for a little while my life felt almost normal again (not having to worry about all these other issues I have been forced to deal with and to just do something I really want or enjoy).

With my balance showing the greatest improvement since 2005, I was just aching to do some of the hikes I used to be able to do. Again, I am never completely free of NF2 as it has provided obstacles to doing what I want to do. The hike Saturday (which I last did in 2005 before I lost all balance) was very difficult even though it is not a very long hike and the elevation gain is not tremendous (5-6 miles; the pedometer said almost 6.5 but the book said 5 with an elevation gain of 1200 or 1500 feet). Yet the terrain was very challenging with roots, large rocks, steep steps, and rock slabs in places. It took me twice as long to hike it than before just because it took so long for me to negotiate each step with the aid of hiking poles.

I was thinking how it was a much more challenging route than I had anticipated and remembered. But boy did I sure feel a the of power of living when I got to the top! I could have almost cried with happiness and satisfaction of my accomplishment and to be able to experience the view once again. For those of you with children, I imagine it is the sensation of pride and joy you felt when your child was born.

Sunday we finally did what I was wanting and waiting to do for over 12 years. Ever since I hiked Tiger Mountain and saw the lovely parachutes gracefully drifting about the sky, I wanted to be up there too. We had planned on it for my 30th birthday but unfortunately the 911 terrorist attack in the same month caused the government to enforce a flight ban on any sort of parachuting activity within a certain distance from Seattle. Therefore, I planned to go on another momentous occasion which was to celebrate my 15th year of remission. That year is now....15 years cancer free!

So Harley, my sister, and I all took flight! We rode a safari type of vehicle to the top which was really nice and much easier than the hikes I had done to the top of Tiger Mountain previously. When we reached the summit with the take off runway, we were wowed by an absolutely fabulous view better than any I had seen when hiking to the top of Tiger Mountain.

Last summer, on our anniversary, was the first time we hiked Tiger Mountain in 4 years or more! Within that time the small trees grew to be tall trees and now obstruct the pretty view which includes Seattle. It was a nice treat to arrive at such a stunning view so easily and then to float around in the air with nothing under your feet to enjoy it!

Before take off I was a little nervous about screwing up or tripping causing us to crash. The pilots were there to help me and there were only a few steps to sort of run and then we were lifted up and away. We started at about 1500 feet but the wind carries the glider up to 1700 feet so we were able to rise above the runway. My sister brought her video camera and taped us taking off and flying by while her boyfriend DJ and my friend Skip recorded my less than graceful landing. ;o)

The next couple days involved studying and getting all my gear together and assembled for the Tuesday night scuba refresher in the pool. It went great and I passed all the skills with the exception of the fin pivot which I could not perform because my tank kept rolling to either side setting me off balance (my buoyancy compensator device bcd, no longer fits me and is HUGE so my heavy steel tank kept shifting around). Other than that everything went fine and it was nice to be under the water again. Mary Beth (the instructor) and I had fun playing underwater catch with a torpedo shaped toy.

The following is my post on the scuba board about my refresher experience:

I have no exciting dive to tell you but it was thrilling for me to be back in the water even if it was a pool after a nearly 4 and 1/2 year abstinence from diving. I took the refresher and all went well except my BCD was huge once I got under the water. It was interesting to experience in the pool what it is like if you do not have equipment that fits right. I had adjusted my black diamond down as much as possible and it did not seem like it would be that big when I was out of the water. However, once I got into the water my steel compact 80 kept shifting from side to side. I could not perform the fin pivot because each time the tank would eventually shift to either side throwing me off balance. I sure did miss the streamlined fit I once had and easy maneuverability.

Now that I am completely deaf, it is interesting clearing my ears as I can no longer hear it and tend to forget until I get a little discomfort. It is hard to determine when they clear because there is no sound or pop. I just know if when it feels ok again. So that will take some getting used to. With the steel tank making me so negative and the shifting BCD, my focus on ear clearing was distracted and it did not resonate with me until I started to feel a little discomfort.

I was concerned what it would be like breathing under the water and not being able to hear it anymore. This occurred when I tried a rebreather years ago and I did not like the experience. However, my brain is wired to hearing the sound of breathing underwater. It seemed natural and my brain followed suit by inputting the sound. Or perhaps it was the feeling of breathing on the regulator and seeing my exhaust bubbles that created the illusion of hearing. It is a strange phenomena but if I see certain things such as a car drive by, I think I can hear it or if I clap my hands or tap my fingers, I think I hear that too because of the vibration signal traveling through my body. In actuality I cannot hear at all. My brain is accustomed to familiar sounds so it often gathers a memory and inputs a sound which it think is appropriate. For example, I grew up rurally and heard birds often. When outdoors on a nice day and in the wilderness I always hear birds whether they are there or not.

I did find it nice having the knowledge of sign language to communicate underwater. It is very exciting and fun to show your buddy signs more specific then the standard dive signals to say how you feel, what you want them to see, or what you are thinking about. It is very fun! As a matter of fact ,I think it is the most fun I have ever had with sign language.