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Starting from scratch

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Hiking along the West Ridge of Eaglecrest  Scott Fischer
Scott Fischer
Hiking along the West Ridge of Eaglecrest

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao-tzu, Chinese philosopher

Six years and two months ago, I was out for a sunny afternoon bike ride when a car suddenly turned in front of me. I smashed straight into the passenger side, flew up over the roof, hit the trunk and landed flat on my back on the pavement. The damage total was a severely broken forearm that required two metal plates and twelve screws to repair, a broken collarbone and shoulder blade, and six broken ribs. Ouch.

And so I found myself at home a week later, carefully lying on the couch so as not to disturb my broken bones, and wanting more than anything to be able to go outside. My first attempt to get out was a walk around the perimeter of our little yard, which left me completely exhausted. Then over the next few weeks I slowly – oh, so slowly! – began taking short walks from home. A walk down to the end of the street was my next big adventure, followed by longer and longer excursions to the Mendenhall wetlands trail by the airport, which is only one half mile from our house. I spent the remainder of the summer and a good part of the fall going for short walks on flat trails, often having to take frequent rest breaks, and wondering if I was ever going to be able to get back to doing the things I love to do – hiking, bicycling, skiing, and generally being active outdoors.

Despite my doubts, fears, and painful rehab, I kept opening the door and stepping outside. When I was finally able to remove the sling that held my arm in place, I tried going for very slow runs. I was humbled by how out of shape I felt, and worried about my arm and shoulder. Before the accident I was cross country skiing regularly, and doing headstands and backbends at yoga. Was that all behind me now? Was I going to just get old and be one of those people who would talk about what they used to do when they were younger?

I’m not particularly talented. I’ve never won awards for anything outstanding and I’ve never accomplished any notable feats, other than my own little achievements (I am proud of my backbend and headstand skills). But I am persistent. If they ever give an award for persistence and perseverance, I would win hands-down. If getting back to doing the things I loved to do involved persistence and perseverance, then somehow I was going to get there, even if it killed me.

Winter came, and there were times when I thought I was going to keel right over while cross country skiing. As I pumped my arms back and forth classic skiing, the weakened and shriveled muscles of my right side protested and screamed with pain. The scar tissue in my forearm started to break up and caused so much pain at times that other skiers would find me doubled over on the ski track, clutching my arm to my middle and trying to catch my breath. “Are you o.k.?” they’d nervously ask. “Yeah, just taking a little break” I’d gasp out, trying to smile and look reassuring. When they had passed, I’d take up my poles again and push on, waiting for the next spasm to hit further down the track.

I very slowly got stronger, and the pain very slowly started to lessen. I was practicing yoga again, and the postures were coming back to me, one at a time, until one day I pushed up into my backbend with a huge grin on my face. And I found out that once you’ve learned how to do a headstand, you never really forget – kind of like riding a bike. Pretty soon I was back in the mountains, hiking and skiing and doing all the things that I loved to do. And with much more appreciation than I had before.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, that it’s possible for everyone and anyone to be active and enjoy the outdoors, no matter how old or out of shape you think you are. Anyone can start from scratch. As I write this, I am recovering from an extended bout of the Juneau crud and have been patiently waiting for the nagging cough, body aches, and tiredness to pass. I’ve missed a few weeks of hiking, but today I stepped outside and went up to Eaglecrest for an easy two hour hike. It felt wonderful, the fall colors on the mountain were brilliant, and as I headed home I started planning my next outdoor adventure. I haven’t decided exactly which trail I’ll take or which mountain I’ll climb, but one thing I do know is that on my next day off I will most certainly take that first step out the door to get started.

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