Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Roam If You Want To

I finally ventured out last evening on my first walk/hike in around a month (or since the physical therapist told me to take it easy).  After managing to walk around Camporee this past weekend without too much difficulty, I figured it was time for a little more.  Rather than hit an actual trail, my mother and I opted to walk down a private lane near her house.  It has one long hill but is otherwise flat.  Just enough to test the waters.   As we walked down the hill, we saw two horses running towards us- not in a fence.  Loose horses are always an interesting thing to deal with so I realized this little walk might end up being a lot more adventurous that I had originally thought.  There was a house near by that had a pasture with a gate open.  My mom went to see if the horses were possibly theirs and see about getting them back home.

In the meantime, I had coaxed one over with a handful of grass.  I took off my sweatshirt and used it as a makeshift rope to keep the horse from running off.  I was at least hoping it would keep the horse from running off because I really didn't want to lose my sweatshirt.  Eventually my mom returned and told me to turn the horse loose.  Apparently the owners let the horses out of the pasture to roam where they want to (I know, the B-52's song is stuck in my head now too).  As a horse person, this is pretty much ridiculous.  There are countless things that could happen to a horse when it's pastured let alone wandering aimlessly in areas you have no control over.  But I can appreciate the horses' desire to roam because that's part of what lead to this back packing business in the first place.
We continued on our way and visited a couple more neighborhood horses (who were appropriately paddocked) before turning around to head back.  I was having very little issue with the muscle injury.  There wasn't really any pain involved, just issue with the muscle being tired quickly- a consequence of not being used for a while I imagine.
Eventually we came to the long hill we had to climb to get home.  The photo doesn't do the hill justice, as it looks almost flat, but believe me, it's a big hill.  And I know it doesn't compare to hills out on the AT, but I haven't climbed anything in a month and hills cause the most pain with my injury.
I managed to make it with only a couple of breaks and I was pleased that the problems I had seemed to be due to lack of conditioning.  Once I get my muscle strength built up, I might actually be okay.
Even this morning I felt okay.  My piriformis muscle is a little tight, but it was much better after some stretching, which I plan to do a few times throughout the day. 

Things are looking a little more hopeful.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

State of the Butt Address

So this is what I did this weekend:


I was camping with my son's scout pack for their annual Spring Camporee.  It involves a lot of walking the whole weekend along with camping things like setting up tents, sleeping on air mattresses and walking around with a backpack.  Basically everything that normally makes my hip/butt injury hurt pretty bad.  I was concerned about how it would hold up over the weekend.  I was pleasantly surprised that it barely even ached.  Granted I only had a first aid kit, a bottle of water and a clip board in the back pack, but it was still more than I had in a month.  I made sure I stretched when I could and sat down when I could.  I even felt good enough to try my hand at the rope bridge the boys had to do (not too shabby in my opinion).  So some of my anxiety over this injury is gone and I'm thinking I might be okay after all. In the meantime, I'm continuing all the stretches and exercises from PT and this week I'll try some light hiking but without a pack.  I don't want to over do things and end up worse than before.  
I can do this!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Compression Sack: Round 1

So, my latest purchase at REI was a compression sack for my sleeping bag.  I've been wondering what I should do about the sleeping bag issue because mine isn't really a backpacking bag, meaning it wasn't designed with weight in mind.  Not that it's really heavy, I just know that there are sleeping bags out there that are much lighter.  Packing as light as I can has become more of a focus for me now than it was in the beginning of planning this trip.  My butt muscle injury has forced me to be more attentive in planning out what I'm taking and how much it weighs.  And since I'm trying to keep the cost of the trip down some, if I can get away without purchasing a new sleeping bag, that would be great.  So I went and got my bag and opened the compression sack and laid them out together.  Immediately, I knew I should have listened to the nice REI Salesman and purchased the larger compression sack.  But I, in my infinite wisdom, was pretty sure I could make my bag fit the compression sack in the next size down (also, it was a nice green color).  

So, I commenced stuffing.  I think I managed to get about 2/3 of the sleeping bag in the sack.  And that's it.  So the moral of this story is to listen to the nice REI Salesperson when they tell you what they recommend (they haven't steered me wrong yet).  So, I plan on seeing if my husband's bag will fit in the sack (I doubt it but I'm going to try anyway) and if that doesn't work I'm sure there are some other things I could use it for, like clothes (Though the running joke after our Catoctin hike was that we weren't bringing a change of clothes to save on weight).  I managed to find my Big Agnes sleeping pad so I can get that rolled up and ready and make sure it's good to go, except I'm not 100% certain where it's carrying bag is.  That will be the next adventure.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Hiking Boot Dilemma

I bought these hiking boots back when the trip was born.  I was  in a large outdoor store and was perusing the backpacking merchandise when I mentioned to my husband how I wanted to do this trip.  He jumped on the idea as did my mother who was also in the store with us.  I immediately went to look at hiking boots there and picked these up for $50.  I wasn't too sure about them, but I wanted to get something for the trip so that there would be no way to get out of going. 
So I get these boots and each time I wear them I'm thinking I just don't know if they're going to work.  They were extremely heavy and the area around my ankle was bothering me and then on a hiking trip, I realized that my toes were hitting the front of the boot-and for those not up on hiking stuff- if your toe hits the front of the shoe when you go downhill, you will eventually lose your big toe.  It's apparently very painful.  So I knew I'd need to try a different pair.  So when my mom went to get her boots, I tried on some and decided to get the same ones she was getting: the Vasque Breeze 2.0.  I was surprised how much more comfortable they were than the ones I had.  There was no question I'd have to get new boots.

So I purchased my boots at REI.  In fact 3 of us purchased the woman's boot, my husband purchased the Men's version and my son has the youth version.  It's a nice boot.  I started wearing them to break them in and they seemed a little off.  I discovered that though I asked for a 10 medium width, the boots were a 10 wide width.  I don't usually need a wide shoe, especially since this brand of boot is cut a little wider already.  But, I figured I'd continue to try them out and see what happens .  When we went on our hike in Catoctin (which was more rugged than any of our previous hikes) I felt my feet shifting side to side and felt a couple of hot spots developing on the bottom of my foot.  I knew I'd have to take the boots back and exchange them for the other size.  So yesterday, my brother talked us into going to REI on a spur of the moment trip.  I took along my boots to exchange.  I went and tried on the 10 medium width but my toe was hitting the front of the boot.  Even trying a different lacing technique didn't help.  They didn't have a 10.5 to try on and I was concerned that would be too big.  I have one foot bigger than the other like most people, only my size difference is more significant than most.  Going up a half size would help one foot and be an issue on the other.  So my husband went and got my original pair of boots to put on.  As soon as they were on, they felt good.  I tried the new tying technique and that helped a little.  In the end, I decided (with the help of the excellent staff at REI) that I should stick with the boots I had (the 10 W).  With the use of an insert and/or thicker socks, the width shouldn't be an issue.  Plus, there's always duct tape for those hot spots.  Honestly, I'm not sure why I didn't think of inserts before.  I was already thinking I might get some, and since I used to sell shoes, I already know they can take up room in a shoe to help with fit.  I felt a little silly, but I'd rather be absolutely certain about my boots because like my mom told my brother, they're the most important purchase of this trip.
By the way, my brother refused to try on the Vasque Breeze 2.0 because he didn't want to be like everyone else.  He ended up with a pair of Salomons. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Pit of Despair

Westley: Where am I?
Albino: The Pit of Despair! Don't even think... don't even think about trying to escape. The chains are far too thick. Don't dream of being rescued, either; the only way in is secret. (from The Princess Bride)

I debated whether I wanted to write this post, but since I wanted this journey to be transparent for myself and others, I decided I needed to.  Things in my life became more difficult over the last week or so.  My husband lost his job.  I won't go into those details because they don't really matter, but know it's not because of anything he did wrong.  Anyway, this created a problem for me.  My husband is the one who had the health care.  With no job there is no health care and with no health care there is no way to afford the 6 (or 7 I don't remember) prescriptions I have to fill every month or the regular doctor's visits I have with the regular blood work I get.  It also means no way to afford physical therapy.  Without PT my piriformis syndrome issue can't be resolved and if that can't be resolved I can not physically hike.

If I can not physically hike then there's no possible way I can manage 40 miles on the Appalachian Trail.  Which means, I can't go on this trip.  This is what had me in the Pit of Despair.   

I'll be the first to say depression sucks.  And I'm not talking about the kind of depression where you're just a little sad about something happening, like your hamster died.  I'm talking about the medical illness caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.  I'm talking about depression that changes your normal daily life- interferes with your sleep, your ability to work and your everyday activities.  It steals your motivation and sucks the enjoyment out of activities you normally enjoyed.  For instance, if gardening usually helps you with stress levels and makes you feel better mentally, you can not get out and garden.  Deep down you want to, you might know it will help, but the depression won't let you.  You don't want to go into the garden and work because you don't care (or more accurately don't want to care).  It takes a long time to motivate yourself to do whatever it is you want to do, and if the smallest thing happens that changes your plans, you say "Forget it! I knew I shouldn't have bothered to do xyz! It's not worth it!" 

I want to also add that you should never tell someone who suffers from depression that being happy is a
choice.  For most people I guess it can be, you can choose to laugh things off.  For those with depression the choice isn't yours.  It isn't that you are choosing not to be happy/content it's that being happy is an emotion you can't even muster.  There is nothing more frustrating for me than someone telling me I need to choose to be happy.  Because yeah, I'm choosing to eat my weight in Nutty Bars, sleep all day and not experience anything remotely close to happiness. 

Anyway... back to hiking.  The thought of not being able to do this trip sent me careening into the Pit of Despair.  This trip was more than a fun way to celebrate turning 40.  It wasn't just an adventure.  It was one of the things I had listed as something I wanted to accomplish before I was 40 that I could actually accomplish before 40.  I had accomplished nothing else on the list.  Nothing.  And that made me feel like a failure (here's where I say don't tell me I'm not a failure.  I feel like one and telling me I'm not one is invalidating how I feel- boy I'm up on all sorts of soap boxes today!).  Without going into too much detail, the last decade or so, I dealt with a lot of things.  Things that can be considered emotional and psychological abuse, and things that were extremely high stressors.  Some of the things I dealt with actually had me stop writing.  I haven't written anything other than blog posts in 15 years- and prior to that I was editor of an award winnging college literary magazine and a published poet.  I lost who I was.  I no longer knew myself.  My life was not what I imagined or wanted it to be.  And then, I planned this hiking trip.  Suddenly I was getting passionate and excited about something.  I was going to accomplish something that I wanted to before I was 40 AND it sparked a desire to write a book (also on the list of things to accomplish) that I began working on feverishly.  And then, like that. It was done.  Dreams squashed again.  All because I hurt my butt a year ago and didn't realize it until I hiked with a pack on my back.

It's been a long week for me and everyone around me.  There's been rivers of tears, nasty attitudes, anger, woe and violent out bursts where I throw tennis balls and break glass (just a photo frame, not a window).  I stopped doing my PT exercises because why bother? 
 Then, I had 2 dreams both featuring my deceased grandmother and both occurring on some trail in the woods.  In the first I'm laying sprawled on the trail wailing and my grandmother is standing there holding one of my hiking poles and says "Get up or I'll crack you with this!" and in the second we're on a wooded rocky trail and I'm having a pity party and she's holding my pocket knife- open- and says "Get up and start hiking or I'll crack you with this!" (the I'll crack you with this is something she often said to myself and my cousin- and truthfully, we probably needed some cracking).  If you know me and my paranormal background, you know I believe these weren't random silly dreams but actually visitation dreams.  My grandmother, who I was close to, was telling me in no uncertain terms to knock it off.

So last night I told my husband the hike had to happen.  I have no clue what's going to happen with my injury, but for now I'm going to keep doing the exercises and having my husband work on massaging the area to help work out the knots in the muscle.  I'm going to lay off the training for a bit longer to give the muscle time to heal, and hopefully it will be okay.  And if it's not, I'll push through it.

Because this hike is happening.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Haunted Appalachian Trail: West Virginia

The Appalachian Trail passes through about 4 miles of the state of West Virginia.  In those 4 miles, it goes through the town of Harpers Ferry home to the headquarters of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.  It's considered the "psychological" half way point (the actual half way point is further North in PA).  Harpers Ferry has a rich history in outdoor adventure, but it also has quite the reputation for being haunted.

 Lost Gold
In 1747, Robert Harper visited the area where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers meet known at that time as "The Hole".  Harper ended up purchasing the Ferry service and property from Peter Stephens.  He eventually built a Mill and improved the Ferry.  After losing his cabin to a flood, Robert Harper and his wife Rachel decided to build a home high above the flood plain.  Because workers were hard to come by during the Revolutionary War, Mr. Harper was forced to do most of the labor himself and his health began to fail.  Fearing the bands of thieves roaming the countryside, Mr. Harper told his wife to bury all their gold and tell no one where she had buried it.  Robert Harper died before finishing the house.  Mrs. Harper tried to finish the home she and her her husband were building, but she fell from a ladder and was killed instantly- taking the secret of the buried gold with her.  During the 1800's, Harper House was widely believed to be haunted and was feared by the locals.  Today, people claim to see an old woman dressed in 18th century clothes looking out an upper window gazing at the garden.  Could it be Rachel Harper looking over her stash of gold?

 Everyone Loves a Parade
In 1798, our new nation was apparently in danger of a war with France*.  Troops were sent to Harpers Ferry under General Pinkney and camped on the ridge around the bend of High Street in an area now called Camp Hill.   Because no war ever broke out, the troops were often bored, so every evening they would parade through town with their fifes and drums.  During this time, many of the men developed cholera during an outbreak and died and are said to be buried on the west bank of Camp Hill.  Today residents sometimes hear the sound of fifes and drums and go to the window expecting a parade but no one is ever there.  The music grows louder as it grows closes and then fades away.

*Other information states that the troops were there to aide in the construction of the Armory, canal and river dam.

 Screaming Jenny
In 1833, the railroad came to Harpers Ferry linking the town with the east.  Part of the track passed through the Armory Yard.  There were storage sheds located in the Armory Yard, and once the railroad came though, the sheds were abandoned.  It wasn't long before those who were less fortunate began using the sheds as housing in the cold winter months.  One woman named Jenny who was down on her luck and had no family to turn to, took up residence in one of the sheds.  On a particularly cold evening, she sat too close to the fire and a spark landed on her clothing and set her skirt on fire.  Panicking, she fled the shack and began racing down the tracks towards the station for help. In minutes, she became fully engulfed in flame.  Staggering, she did not notice the lights of an oncoming train.  The engineer, seeing the burning human like form, began frantically blowing the whistle and applying his brakes, but he was unable to stop in time.  Men from the station heard the whistle and the screeching of the brakes and ran to the scene.  They found Jenny's still burning body and put out the fire.  She was later buried in a pauper's grave.  Today engineers do not like coming through Harpers Ferry on misty nights.  They claim to see a ball of fire emitting unearthly screams.  When they try to stop, they never stop in time and feel the telltale bump that means they've run over something.  When they stop to investigate, there's never anything there.  Sometimes at night you can hear the train whistle blowing frantically and you know Jenny's ghost has shown up again.

A Bevy of Ghosts
The Booth House, also known as The Haunted Cottage, was named because of its infamous visitor John Wilkes Booth.  Booth was a nationally known actor who visited Harpers Ferry several times.  He always rented a room at the cottage sometimes inviting a lady friend to join him.  Over the years it served many purposes.  It was rented to families as a single family home and eventually earned the reputation of being one of the most haunted houses in Harpers Ferry.  Paranormal author Vince Wilson rented the home and woke up one night to the sounds of footsteps on the floor above him.  He was able to actually record the ghostly noise.  Many people have experienced paranormal activity at the Booth House.  They report footsteps, strange noises, singing and people talking.  Objects have been known to move on their own.  There have been sightings of shadowy figures and some even report having their hair or clothing tugged. 

To read more detailed information about the Booth House investigation I did, 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Testing the Sleeping Pad

My mom purchased the Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Sleeping Pad for the trip.  I have the Big Agnes Air Core Sleeping Pad that isn't insulated that I used on a trip out to Trout Lake, WA at the UFO Ranch. My pad served me well on my trip.  The temps dropped to below freezing at night and even though it wasn't insulated at all, I was okay (though I was wearing a couple layers of clothing).  So seeing the insulated pad was on sale, I suggested my mom get one for our trip. My pad is a few years old so I'm hoping that they go on sale sale again because I'd like to update mine if I can, plus my husband needs a sleeping pad as well.  These newer ones feature larger baffles on the outer edge that are supposed to keep you centered on the pad.  And it doesn't hurt to have a little insulation either!

The pad arrived, and she finally had a chance to open it up and check it out this weekend.  Apparently, my grandson approves.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Syndrome

I'm not actually referring to the villain in Disney's The Incredibles- though he was a pretty big pain in the butt and interestingly enough, what I'm referring to is, literally, a big pain in the butt.

I posted recently about the hip pain I had on the last hike that I went on and how I was thinking seriously that it might actually end all my training and but an end to my plans to go on a back packing trip. 

I spent two nights not being able to sleep from the pain before finally breaking down and calling the doctor.  So I went, and he poked and prodded and moved my legs this way and that and determined that there was no sign of a bone issue or a joint issue or a ligament/tendon issue.  It seemed I had a silver dollar sized area in the muscle of my butt that was causing the problem.  I was given a prescription of an anti-inflammatory and told to go  try some physical therapy.  While I was glad it didn't seem to be a serious physical problem, I still really didn't know what was wrong and if it would actually be something that would be able to be completely fixed. 

Then just the other day while I was hard at work browsing on Pinterest, I came across something an acquaintance had pinned.  It was something called Piriformis Syndrome, and the area the diagram showed seemed to be in the same area as my pain.  So I checked it out.  The more I read, the more I became convinced that this was finally the answer.
The piriformis muscle is a flat band-like muscle in the butt area behind the gluteus maximus that is used to stabilized the hip joint and rotate the thigh muscle.  So it's used for most major things like walking or hiking.  The sciatic nerve runs through or next to the piriformis muscle and down the leg.  This is the nerve that is involved in that lovely thing called sciatica.  Piriformis Syndrome is actually an uncommon neuromuscular disorder that is caused when the sciatic nerve is compressed by the piriformis.  Inflammation of the piriformis can be caused by a fall or movements that repeatedly stress the muscle.
I actually fell on my hip about a year ago while checking out photo ops for my wedding.  At the time it wasn't that big of a deal.  My butt/hip area was a little sore, but there was no real lasting effect.  Every now and then if I did a lot of standing or walking my hip would ache, but nothing was a problem until recently when I started training for the hike. However, that little fall seems to have been the trigger with the issues that are currently going on.
I had my first physical therapy appointment and I received confirmation that I was probably right about the piriformis problem.  The symptoms I was dealing with- pain going up stairs and on inclines, pain after sitting long hours, pain when working hip abductors and a tingly/nervey feeling in the spot on my hip/butt.  Luckily there are stretches that can help and so I've begun my 3 times a week PT schedule to reach my goal of being able to hike with a 30 pound pack (the physical therapist said I had the most specific goal anyone has ever written down). And as a bonus, the therapist is also going to work on strengthening my non existent core muscles.
So there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it sounds like I'll be able to manage this trip after all.  And as for that hike where I fell and started this whole problem, it was definitely worth it.  On our wedding day, my husband and I hiked up to Cascade Falls in Patapsco Valley State Park for a photo op (we were married at the Park, it was awesome).  And yes, I hiked up to the falls in a wedding dress- that's just how crazy bad ass I am.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


Crepitus is exactly as lovely as it sounds.  It is what they call the sounds and sensations of cracking, popping or grinding bone in your joints.  Most notably in the knees. It's a word I've known for so long I almost think I was born knowing it.  When you damage your knees as much as I have falling off horses, you learn about crepitus. 

On March 15, a group of us headed out to Catoctin to hike one of their 5 mile trail loops.  This hike was going to feature terrain more like what we would see on our back packing trip in October.  It was also the first time I planned on taking along my new pack.  So I threw a few bottles of water and a first aid kit in the pack, laced up my boots, grabbed my hiking poles and hit the trail.

Things were good when we started out.  I had under 10 pounds of weight in the pack, and the pack was pretty comfortable (I have the new anti-gravity Osprey Aura 65L- love it!).  But once we started the incline, things started going downhill pretty fast.  While my knees ached and popped and creaked, it was my left hip that had me limping 5 minutes into the hike.  It began as an ache and increased pain levels as we went further.  Starting at my hip, the pain radiated down my entire left leg.  It had me popping ibuprofen and begging for breaks.  At one point, if I had been with just my mom and my husband, I probably would have broken down and cried.  But with my cousin there, I pushed through.  She and I have slept in a haunted prison, camped at a UFO Ranch and been shot at while investigating a haunted asylum- we're tough.  Just like there's no crying in baseball, there's no crying in hiking (or so I told myself in my head). It wasn't so much the pain that had me emotional, it was the sudden fear at the realization that it was possible I might not be able to physically handle back packing.  It was March 15th, the Ides of March- the day Julius Caesar was warned about.  The day Caesar's own best friend Brutus betrayed him and helped murder him.  And here my own body was betraying me.
Finally, nearing the end of the trail, I let my cousin take the pack and I had immediate relief.  Not all the pain was gone, but it was manageable.  And that really worried me.  The pack and its contents barely approached 10 pounds, how in the world was I going to hike 10 miles a day, for 4 days with 20-30 pounds?

How in the world was I going to manage this trip?