Sunday, December 21, 2014

Solstice Day

Acknowledge the darkness, appreciate the light.

Solstice Sunrise
Crazy sunrise on the shortest day

Deer in the pre-dawn park. The rut is in full swing.

wind hike
Hike up in a draw out of the wind

sand dunes
Looking down at the valley from Salida's Sand Dunes

solstice storm

Strong snow-smelling wind
Winter's breath from the Divide
Look now toward light

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Cruising to the end of a tough year

I've been through plenty of tough times in my 50 years on the blue marble. Was this year the worst? Hard to have perspective to know. Memories from other difficult years, like the year my marriage failed, are clouded by time. I'm in this year now, and I'm still in the process of climbing out of the hardness and leaving it behind. It will not be my story.

So whathafock happened? Well, actually quite a few suckful things happened in my personal life, but the big thing was a serious injury. I realize looking back at the few posts I wrote this year that I never told the story here on the blog. So here it is.

On May 4 I was in the San Rafael Swell in Utah with my good friend Earl. We were riding motorcycles in the canyons. It was a Sunday, and we'd done a big ride of over 100 miles on Saturday. I was tired. I made a mistake while trying to corner on an easy sweeping left turn in a dry wash. I won't call it an accident. I made a mistake. I blew the turn, went wide into the rocks. Just before I crashed I kicked my right foot out to try to shove me and the bike back to the left. All I did was hurt the leg. It's not easy to kick 300 lbs of motorcycle and 200 lbs of Tom-meat off the course that it's on.

immediately after the crash
This picture was found in a hidden cranny on my digital camera just a few weeks ago. Earl took it when we both thought this would be a funny story some day.

When I landed face down in the gravel I knew I was hurt pretty badly. The knee was screaming, and I clearly had a chest injury. Earl picked up my bike. We talked about the situation a little and Earl asked me if I could ride. I said something like I guess we better find out.

We were an hour's ride from where we were camped. But it took almost two because I was really hurting. When we got back we scrounged up all the pain relief we had between the two of us. I had two advil and Earl had one. I took two and saved the other for later and Earl loaded up the bikes and everything else. We drove the hour to Green River and stopped for lunch. I had a hard time sitting in a chair, and when we got back in the car I leaned the seat way back and just tried to relax.

We drove the 7 hours back to Salida. We went to Earl's house where I got Vicki and we went home. I found a Vicodin from a previous adventure, took it and went to bed. I actually slept. In the morning I started moving around, doing things like cleaning cat boxes with three days worth of produce. While I was doing that I started to have muscle spasms from in-breath. A breath would trigger a spasm which pushed out the air, another in-breath another spasm. It was kind of like a seizure, and very difficult to stop.

I put Vicki in the truck and we went to the hospital. The knee hurt really really bad, but it was the ribcage that was a crisis. When I got to the hospital I told them to never mind the knee and figure out what was up with my ribs. I expected to be there for an hour or two, then go fill a pain pill prescription and go home. The ER doc came back with an X-Ray and told me he wanted to check me to stay. He told me I had a pneumothorax, which is doctor-talk for a punctured lung.

So, let's cut to summary: I had broken 6 ribs, two of them in two places. It was ribs number 3-8, all fractured right where they join to the spine. Probably 5 and 6 had fractures in the middle as well. My theory is that the lung wasn't punctured immediately, otherwise I never would have survived 24 hours without treatment. I think the spasm seizures displaced the fractures, moving a jagged edge up against my lung wall.

That first day in the hospital was super bad. My pain seemed to be escalating. All day long and into the evening, the doctor had to be asked to up the dosage. By nightfall I was on IV dilaudid. For the next 6 or 7 weeks, narcotic pain meds would be part of every day.

I was in the hospital for three nights. When I got out, my sister Meg arrived to stay with me for a week to take care of me. My memories from those weeks in May when I was heavily medicated are hazy and unreal.

My knee was sore, but I was so medicated that I could kind of ignore it when I walked around. When I finally got off the pain meds (no easy task folks) the knee became more of an issue. So I went to an ortho, expecting that I had torn meniscus that would need a scoping. Nope, fractured tibial plateau. The ninth fracture, which I had been walking around on without crutches or cast for nearly two months.

So I had the darkness of lonely days spent whacked out on narcotics, watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Netflix. Then I had the darkness of trying to get up, go to work without any pain pills clouding my judgement and function in life. Nobody likes to hear a whiner whining, but people, that was a very difficult time. I could barely stand to sit at my desk, but worse than that my ability to bring any energy to my work was limited. I felt like crap because I felt like crap, and also because I really didn't feel like I was earning my paychecks. And I really needed to start bringing home paychecks again because I had not worked for a month.

My ability to enjoy weekends during June and much of July was severely limited as well. I couldn't walk for more than a couple miles, both because of pain and because I would get tired. I couldn't ride a bike. Pedaling really irritated the knee pain. I didn't even ride my townie bike to run errands for most of the summer. I actually rode the motorcycle, because it was easier than getting in and out of the truck and didn't drink so much gas.

It was isolating, boring, frightening, and sad. I was depressed. I wallowed in sadness and self-pity for much of the summer. It really took willing myself to feel better to get past it. I just had to put a different goddamn expression on my face in the morning, go to work, and get on with it.

Right now? A week before the winter solstice, a time of year that usually depresses me because of the darkness and the cold, and I'm in good shape. Very grateful. I've mostly healed. My knee actually has recovered enough with no intervention that it isn't limiting me from doing the things I want to do. The only thing my ortho forbids is running. Which is fine, because I only run when I'm being chased.

I'm enjoying playing in the snow with Vicki on snowshoes or fatbike. I'm enjoying relationships with friends that were taken to another level by the help and support they provided when I desperately needed it. I'm enjoying work, and I think I'm earning my paychecks again.

I'm kind of re-inventing myself, and I'm energized. I seem to have moved beyond the era of endurance mountain biking. I'm riding, but I'm just not thinking about doing dirt hundies or 24 solos. That stuff has been an obsession for a decade for me. Maybe I'll get back to it, but I did lots of that stuff. Not sure that my mission in life is to wear out mountain bikes. So maybe my path will be to do something else. Or lots of something elses. The years of endurance riding weren't very diverse. Or very social. Now I'm going to do lots of other things, and enjoy a wider spectrum of life.

This year is not my fucking story. In the years that come I'm committed to finding my joy. I will treat 2014 as a symbol of why we should be grateful. I lived through that shit, came out stronger. My body took a hit, but it's not the first time.

Thank God we heal.

old monarch

Here's to finding beauty, joy, and companionship in 2015 and beyond. Thanks to the people who helped me through the darkness. You will always be special to me.