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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

I'm not a Crestone Peak statistic

I'm writing about this in January 2018, but this took place in late August 2017.  The details here are how I remember them today.  Time tends to smooth the edges of memories.  And, when you're bouncing down a mountain, even if briefly, your mind blocks some things out to protect you. 

With my near death experiences, I've found that many memories are tough to recall with clarity, yet some other memories of these incidents are crystal clear.  It always seems to me that the things I remember most clearly are really bizarre things to remember clearly.  For example, I still remember what the water in the Arkansas River tasted like when I nearly drowned in a class IV rapid in 2013. 

Views are spectacular from inside the red gully on Crestone Peak

I've experience many close calls in the mountains.  There are a wide variety of reasons for these close calls.  Sketchy conditions, mental exhaustion, physical exhaustion, poor route finding, incomplete planning, gear failing, geology, and even a careless climbing partner.  None of those were the reason I nearly died on Crestone Peak.  The reason I almost became a statistic on Crestone Peak was my own fault.  I just had a short lapse in concentration.  I was involved in a conversation with some other climbers and I only had about 95% concentration on what my feet were doing.  Then I simply slipped.  That's it.  That's all it takes.   Sometimes it's just a split-second lapse in concentration and the next thing you know you are bouncing off ledges gaining speed down a steep boulder filled gully.


My left knee slammed hard onto a large rock.  The rest of my body sort of rag-dolled and hit the first ledge with a glancing blow.  To the reader I will say, there are two interesting takeaways here.  First, glancing blows on rocks still hurt.  Second, in contrast to what you may be thinking, it was actually unfortunate that this was a glancing blow.  If I had just landed solidly on that ledge I probably would've stopped there, which was about three feet below where I was walking when I slipped and found myself airborne.  Instead of stopping, I was granted a glancing blow by the mountain genie.  Then gravity decided to take me on a short but unexpected ride down Crestone Peak's red gully. 

Looking up Crestone Peak's red gully in the morning. 

My brain was still processing what was happening.  It was asking questions and getting no answers.  All incoming sensory information was used in determining my status.  Most of this information was from the senses you don't normally use; things heard, or smelled, or just pain.  It's as if I was unable to use my eyes during the duration of this fall.  The following thoughts all took place in less than a few seconds in my head.

"What the hell?!?"
"Oh shit, this is going to hurt!!"
"What the fuck is happening?"
"Am I still falling?"
"I think I am still moving... am I still moving?  FUCK, I must still be moving"

I finally came to realize that I was probably still falling.  Or maybe falling is not the right word.  Maybe a better word is bouncing, or sliding, or rolling, or tumbling, or some word that is a combination of all of those. 

"Adam!!"  Kate shouted.

I could tell from the tone in Kate's voice that she was concerned, but not overly concerned.

"Well that's mostly good I think.  I must be ok.  After all Kate sounds concerned but not really distressed."

Then I felt myself skid over another ledge.   I was free falling briefly again.  It was just a few feet, but your body knows when it's falling.  This time Kate and Staci screamed almost in unison. 


Now my ears registered that concern had turned to outright fear.  The "holy-shit-I-might-be-watching-my-friend-bounce-down-a-mountain-and-die" type of fear.

"This is officially NOT FUCKING GOOD!"
"You can't fucking die like this."
"Ahhh, the smell of rock fall...not good."
"Don't be a statistic.  Do you want to be yet another dude who died on Crestone Peak?"
"You've been in so many worse situations than this.  The boulder you had to dodge on Little Bear; the rock that you were standing on that broke off the mountain on Capitol;  nearly drowning in the Arkansas river;  the hellish winter day on Mt. Massive;  nearly getting struck by lightning on the Colorado Trail... twice;  And after all that, you are going to let a foot slipping, on your 58th 14er no-less, take you out?"
"Use friction to slow yourself!"

I gave zero fucks about potential for injury at this point.  Friction is usually a bad idea when it's your body vs. a talus filled gully.  Yet, I knew I was about to encounter something worse if I didn't stop myself immediately.  I heard it in Kate's voice. 

"If I bounce over another ledge and gain even more speed then there's no stopping at that point."
"What the hell will my family think?
"Or will anyone even care that much?"

Survival instinct took over fully at this point.  I was already instinctively grabbing for any hold; rocks, ledges, anything to get a grip on.  Now, in an attempt to slow myself, I was also trying to grab the mountain itself.  Digging into the mountain while tumbling uncontrollably involves digging with hands, feet, legs, elbows, knees, chest,  and even my climbing helmet. 

"Holy shit, am I stopped?"

Then as quickly as it had began, it was over. 

"I stopped!
"Get up slow..."
"Is anything broken?  Can I still walk?"

As I looked up, I heard Joel telling me to not get up too fast.  I assume he was concerned about injuries.  My body was so full of adrenaline at this point I could have probably bench pressed a small Toyota.  My heart was racing and my legs were shaking.  I began my self examination, and gladly only found minor injuries.  My legs were covered with bruises and road rash.  I had some cuts, bruising and acute pain in my right elbow.  And there were numerous cuts, scrapes, and bumps on my hands and knees. 

[EDIT 4/2018 - As I prepare for my hike of the PCT, I still suffer with nerve damage throughout my right thigh that was a result of the fall I took on this mountain]

Before I fell, Kate had been walking right next to me.  Now she was about 20-30 feet above me.  Her face reflected my own mixed feelings of terror and relief.

I looked around and discovered that I was a couple feet below where Joel was.  Joel had been ahead of us as we were descending and he had been about 30 feet below us when this all started. 

Then, I finally caught a glimpse of what was probably the root of the reason I had heard concern turn to fear as I was falling.  Just below where I was now standing was a steep drop of about 100 feet which led to yet another series of ledges.  If I hadn't stopped where I had, I would have bounced over that cliff and more than likely would have been the end.

As I calmed myself, we all re-lived the harrowing experience by sharing each person's perspective.  Kate and Staci had been in a position to watch this all happen, while Joel only heard most of it and saw the tail end of it.

Kate and I on the summit of Crestone Peak.

We had all just left the summit of Crestone Peak and were making our way down to the start of the traverse over to Crestone Needle when I had fell.  After some discussion and examination of my minor injuries, I decided my injuries weren't bad enough to stop me from doing the Crestone Traverse.  So we agreed to move forward with the original plan.

The old phrase of "getting back on the horse that bucked you" is certainly the truth when you fall on Crestone Peak and still continue forth with doing the Crestone Traverse.  Strangely, I didn't really have any fear as we were doing the traverse.  That said, after a close call, things are different for a while.  Sunshine feels warmer.  Wild flowers smell better.  Smiles from others seem more sincere and last longer.  A high-five or a hug with a friend has more meaning.  Every caring word you hear is more touching. 

The rest of our day can only be described as unforgettable, exhilarating, and amazing.  Somehow we even managed to make it back to camp the very second a hailstorm hit the area.

Somewhere along the Crestone Traverse, I lead the way as if I hadn't nearly died a couple hours prior.

Joel and Staci crossing a tricky spot on the Crestone Traverse.

Views of the Crestones and the upper South Colony Lake. 
This picture was taken the following day when returning from a climb of Obstruction Peak.

I'm not a Crestone Peak statistic.  So I got that going for me, which is nice.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

My left knee is actively plotting my death

Why am I writing again?

Several years ago when I began this blog, it seemed like a cool thing to do.  I think at the time I thought I could document each adventure I went on to be able to reflect on later. 

The problem is, people change.  People grow.  And with a person who lives with bipolar disorder, sometimes one blog post reflects a extreme mindset vs. the actual person I am.  Anyway, as time went by, I would occasionally re-read something from the past and realize that not only had my writing style evolved, but I read things I didn't like.  Sometimes I would read a post and while there were some things I read that seemed like the real me, some of it seemed self-absorbed.  The short story here is I didn't like the person I was at times.  Sometimes I wouldn't even recognize the person that wrote these posts.  I began to realize I didn't even like that person.  That person was me.

As one reads things they themselves wrote and have negative thoughts, they tend to stop writing.  I began to think, maybe if I just let my blog die, I don't have to face this person I had become.

Well, life doesn't really work that way. 

So here I am, writing again, late at night in January 2018, now determined to write and hike (more on that later) myself to a person I like.  This can only start with me owning the person I am now.  I still believe I am a kind-hearted, passionate person with good intentions.  But sometimes my actions speak louder than my words.  Often these actions that make me appear to be a person I don't like are just rooted in fears I have had for a long time. 

It's time for me to face these fears.  It's time for a new beginning.  I think this is why I chase sunrises in the wilderness so often, they often represent new beginnings for me and are an escape from the darkness.

Sunrise from South Boulder Peak in Boulder, CO

Solitude is ok, isolation sucks... a lot.

Without going into details, much has changed in my life in the past few years.  To me, the summary reads like probably many middle aged people, just slightly worse because of my mental health struggles and some unique circumstances in my life. 

The reality is many probably look at my life enviously, and I get it.  I am not dying of cancer.  I am mostly healthy.  I have a decent job.  All good things. 

Everyone has darkness that lurks in their lives.  Mine is usually rooted in depression, manic episodes, loneliness, isolation, racing thoughts, social anxiety, and restlessness.

Let's just fast forward to the summer of 2017.  I was very depressed and spiraling downwards.  Many relationships in my life had taken a turn for the worse all in the past year or so.  Even though failed relationships is a common theme in my life, I was desperate for someone to connect with. 

My entire life has been one of not letting people in and if I did let them get close, if things started to go bad, I would be the first one to push them away and FAST.  As I got older, I had built so many walls around me and pushed away so many people that I found myself lonely a lot.

This wasn't too bad of a problem in the past eight years or so, because I always had my wife to turn to.  She had never seemed to let me push her away.  However, it hadn't been clear to me until recently, but my behavior had taken a silent toll on our relationship too.  But add in some health problems for my wife and our relationship has seen challenges for a couple years now also. 

In 2008, my wife rode a horse to our tiny wedding in a forest in western Pennsylvania.

In 2013 there was my best friend Billy, who was like family to me.  He cut off all communication with me early in 2013.   It was a result of the incident that left me with my horrific ankle injury that I still suffer the effects of today. 

Basically the night of the incident I lashed out at him in a very cruel manner which I justified to myself at the time was because of the pain I was in. This broken leg, dislocated ankle and three completely torn ligaments happened in a fight between us in a poker game.  I learned that sometimes words can leave scars that heal slower than shattered bones and torn ligaments. 

Billy and I in Vegas during the World Series of Poker in 2006.
In late 2013 my brother Chris, with whom I was close to for most of my life, basically showed me that I didn't mean much to him.  In a series of actions, I was basically told that I was a burden to him without those words being said.  Ultimately I think we had just grown apart over the years and now I was nothing more to him than a guy that could pay for World Series tickets at Fenway. 

My brother (right) and I at game six of the 2013 World Series

In 2015, I left a job I had been at for four years and suddenly all the friends you had from work seem to disappear.  To them I suddenly don't exist.  These are guys I went to lunch with every single week for several years.  Add in the "hey now I work from home full-time" thing and isolation sets in.

In 2016, I made some close friends during a thru-hike of the Colorado Trail.  But thru-hiking friends are odd.  You are so tight and close with these people while on the trail.  You almost depend on each other.  You are family.  Then you finish the trail and everyone scatters across the country and loses touch eventually.

Just a few members of my trail family from the CT.

Into late 2016, after developing a connection with another friend Mark, that friendship just up and vanished into thin air over some common friend drama I still don't understand to this day.  Mark and I were close too, we must've summited a few dozen peaks in Colorado together. 

Mark and I kicking it with a couple PBRs after a grueling day hike of Capitol Peak in September 2015

Fast forward to spring of 2017 and my last remaining close friend decides she's going to distance herself from me, partially for understandable reasons since she was undergoing her own life rebuilding, but partially for reasons I still don't fully understand.  I guess the reasons are probably rooted in something I did or said.  After all, I am the common denominator in all my failed relationships.  I still miss her a lot.  We shared some truly memorable adventures too.

Celebrating on the summit of Cathedral Peak in the Elk Range in April 2017

Lastly, my reason for living for so many years, my daughter, moved 1500 miles away to college.  While I am excited for her, it still hurts.  I miss her every day.  She's also clearly at the point in life where all people were at her age, where her independence means more to her than carrying on a conversation or sharing time with Dad. 

My daughter and I on Huron Peak in October 2011

Oddly enough, my closest friend right now is my own Dad.  He also happens to be the best person I know and he's the best partner I've ever had in a game of spades too.  It's a damn shame he lives 1000 miles away. 

My Dad and I at camp during a thru hike of the West Rim Trail in Pennsylvania in 2017

So here I am, lonely, mostly friendless.  Don't get me wrong, I have a few friends that I talk to irregularly.  These are friends that you talk somewhat infrequently, guys you golf with a couple times a year, or people you have a beer with occasionally, ones you hike with once every few months, or ones you run into in the poker room every once in a while.  I truly appreciate every one of these people, but those friendships don't have the closeness or camaraderie that I long for.  And I am fairly certain the lack of this closeness is my own fault.  I get it now, I don't think I have been a person that I'd want to be close friends with either. 

Take this two-on-a-ten scale feeling of self-worth, add in a healthy dose of mood swings (thanks bipolar disorder!), and I am just completely at my wits end.  I am frustrated with the person I have become.  I am frustrated with where my life is.  I am frustrated with my inability to make or maintain healthy relationships and wonder all the time.  Is it all me?  Do others have this same problem?

Questions I ask myself:  Hike 2660 miles or suicide?

I want to make myself a person that I am proud of, so I decided some time away from my life would be a good idea.  Time in nature helps clear my head and I thought hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2018 sounded like a good idea.  At this point, the idea of starting a hike of the PCT in three months is all that is keeping me going.  It's all that is keeping me alive to be honest.  And go ahead and think I am being overly dramatic or something, but this is just pure honesty talking at this point.

I feel like I need to hike the PCT and if I fail or have to bail off the trail early due to injury or something; that it's almost a death sentence for me.  I just know the hopelessness that awaits me if I have to come back home to Colorado with my tail between my legs not having the time to re-invent myself or make any personal progress.  I understand that even if I hike 2660 miles, there may be no epiphany moment.  There's a chance that there may not be any substantial personal growth.  It's a possibility, I know that, but like I said above, I feel like I am running low on other options.


Umm..  ok but how is your left knee trying to kill you?

I began training in November 2017 and this started with me quitting smoking cigarettes which I picked up for some stupid reason in June 2017 as a way to cope with stress.  Word of advice... don't smoke cigarettes, it's just stupidity at it's finest.

In December my training began to get more real.  A couple hikes a week, cycling again, etc.  Soon I started to feel tightness in my left knee and some dull pain behind my kneecap.  I can hear grinding and crunching cartilage when I extend my leg.  These are all familiar to me.  These are all the same symptoms I had with my right knee before a surgery several years ago.  It also took a couple cortisone shots for good measure before my right knee started working normally again. 

Well, I don't have time to have surgery and recover before the PCT.  So, I am just doing all the physical therapy things I know to strengthen the muscles that support the knee and icing it after long hikes, etc.

The reality is, I may end up limping my way up the PCT to Canada or maybe hobbling with crutches.  I just hope it doesn't get so bad that it forces me off trail because I think I know the ugly future that awaits me if that happens. 

Parting words... f%*k social media.

If you are lonely and reading this I empathize with you.  I really do.  I don't have a magical answer on how to counter that feeling otherwise I would've done it myself.  I can tell you that for a month I deactivated my Facebook account and disconnected completely from social media.  I found myself happier, albeit slightly.  I made the mistake of re-activating my account only to find these dark feelings come back, so now it's gone again.

Lastly, if you are one of the fortunate folks who have someone who you share that closeness with, whether it's a friend, a partner, a parent, a sibling or anyone.  Cherish what you have.  Give that plant water, give it sunlight, and do whatever it takes to keep it alive.