June 25th 2006. Nine years ago, I sustainable a life-altering deliberate elbow to the temple while playing in a water-polo tournament. I was 15. Little did I know how much that single event would change the course of my entire life. I wound up in a coma. I had to attend intensive rehab for cognitive, occupational, speech, and physical therapies. Among MANY things I lost my ability to read, memorize, and my cognitive functions tumbled drastically downhill. Those would become the least of my worries. Since this day 9 years ago I’ve been in pain 24/7. There has not been a single moment where I’ve been pain-free since the blow to my head. I’ve been to every specialist in the US and I’ve tried every drug to try and alleviate my symptoms from my Traumatic Brain Injury all to no avail. After about 3 years immediately following the injury I was tired of merely existing. I had 1 of 2 choices. I could commit suicide in hopes of getting away from pain, or I could battle every day to “fake it till you make it.” With unsuccessful attempts at my first option I began reclaiming my life in hopes of actually LIVING. It’s been the absolute hardest thing I’ve ever had to face. Every day is a struggle but the fight is more than worth it. Living with Traumatic Brain Injury is incredibly difficult. The invisibility of this injury makes it unique in the respect that its “survivors” appear normal on the outside. It’s both a blessing and a curse to look “normal.” Sometimes it would be 110% easier if my outsides reflected the battle that’s constantly raging internally. My injury forced me from a very early age to constantly adapt. Living moment by moment I live the life I am currently blessed with. The gift of planning is something most TBI-ers learn to live without. Our bodies dictate our current abilities and those change drastically day by day and hour by hour. I taught myself, with the tools given to me by UCLA’s Chronic Pediatric Pain Clinic, to appreciate the little things in life. To focus on the small beauties of this world because sometimes that’s all we have. Over the past 9 years I’ve gotten tremendously good at hiding my ailments in hopes of simulating a semi-normal life. Sometimes I cannot hide my symptoms and others look at me with the utmost concern. I spent the first 3 years after my injury 100% reliant on another individual. I needed help eating, bathing, walking, etc. When I first embraced the mentality of “fake it till you make it” I vowed to myself that as long as I was able, I would be self-reliant. Losing your independence is perhaps the worst thing to endure as a teenager. Once I was able to function independently I took it and ran. Many of my friends will speak of my absurd stubbornness, but there’s a reason for it. As much as I hate to admit, my entire life is ruled by my TBI. From seizures and double vision, vertigo and headaches that make you want to shoot yourself, from sharp stabbing pains throughout your body and getting sick at the drop of a hat I’ve learned to fully LIVE my life while I have the ability to. I never thought my life would be the beautiful adventure it is today, but I wouldn’t change a single thing. I’ve met some of the most incredible individuals and I truly value this precious gift we’ve been given. I try my absolute hardest to fully LIVE and be present in the moment. I appreciate the little gifts nature so freely spreads. I hope with all my heart to show others that they can accomplish their wildest dreams despite their disabilities or hiccups. The only constant is change and if these past 9 years have taught me anything it’s that love is the most important gift we all possess. Within ourselves lies the ability to change and focus on positivity. Sometimes it’s easier to see than others but hope and faith will carry you through the hardest of times. Live the life of your dreams, for nothing is ever guaranteed. The happiness of your life is directly related to the quality of your thoughts. Live with purpose and meaning… and don’t ever let ANYTHING hold you back from your dreams. I owe so much to the people in my life that have stayed by my side and help to make this crazy journey better than I ever could have imagined. I’ve accomplished more than I (or anyone else for that matter) ever thought was possible… and that’s a trend I’m going to uphold until the very end. Traumatic Brain Injury is a life-long battle. Raising awareness is key to helping others successfully maneuver their way through their new world. Stay positive and cherish every moment as if it were your last… and above all else don’t ever let others tell YOU what YOU ARE capable of. Defy the odds kids… it’s much more fun
In a little over 3 months I’ll begin my next thru-hike on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). I’ve received an overwhelming amount of family, friends, and followers who ask the age old question: “Why?”
Everyone has their own reason why they chose to spend months on end exploring our rugged backcountry. In fact, there’s a saying among the thru-hiking community – “If you have to ask, you’re never going to understand.” But it’s my hope that you WILL understand and that you’ll be inspired to go out there and follow your dreams; no matter how crazy or difficult they may seem.
I hike for my health. Many of you know that I sustained Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) when I was 15. I was in a coma, I had to relearn basic functions, and I was bed ridden for almost 3 years of my life. I was unable to go outside because the light was “too bright” and I couldn’t listen to music because it was “too loud.” Many of my symptoms have gotten better since then, but my life has been drastically changed because of my TBI.
When you experience as much pain as I do on a daily basis, you realize that no matter where you are, the pain you’re in is going to be the same regardless of your location. I’ve been told by all of my doctors that I MUST work out daily. Physical activity then, is not a suggestion, but a prescription. For me, hiking has wholeheartedly become the only prescribed medical regime that has made my deficits more tolerable.
When I’m outside in nature backpacking I’m still experiencing all the physical ailments that I would if I were inside laying in bed. The only difference is that I’m in a place I love, as opposed to being confined to the tethers that sick people are supposed to be tied to. I would much rather be sick in a place I love, and hold dear to my heart, than to be sick inside a stuffy room, feeling claustrophobic. I try and look for the small things in life and let those keep me afloat on a daily basis. Things such as the sunshine, or how the wind rustles through my hair, or the birds singing. It is out in nature that I am able to find a certain peace. I let the little things in life bring me joy, despite the war raging inside my body. If I was trapped inside, I wouldn’t be able to experience these little joys and let them soothe my pain.
There is no doubt that I’m not the average backpacker. A few of my hiking partners that I’ve allowed to physically walk with me (I’m a solo hiker) have come to find out that backpacking is definitely not “easy” for me. In fact, it’s a grueling task, but I’d much rather be in pain out in nature, than in a town. I’m frequently stopped/brought to my knees because of sharp shooting pains. I often wobble and have to stop because my balance is off. Occasionally, my hiking poles become the same equivalent as crutches; they act like a friend’s shoulder, embracing me as I lean into them. Sometimes my hiking partners hear me let out a short gasp for air. They see the pain in my face as I keel over. I wait, and let the pain that has decided to make its appearance, pass.
My eyes frequently get blurry and I’ll get double vision, but when you’re out in nature it’s not that big of a problem. In the backcountry, I don’t have to stop and explain myself to the people who would see me if I were in town. In fact, I don’t have to explain myself to anyone when I hike, because I am a solo hiker. In town, when all my ailments and symptoms come on, I get weird looks and people are always asking me if I’m okay and what’s wrong with me. When I’m hiking I don’t have to reassure people or explain that these are daily occurrences because of the TBI. I have been living with these inconveniences for the past 7 years, and I’m not going to let them dictate how I live. Everyone has hiccups in life. It’s up to you to rise up and overcome these tribulations.
I hike to test myself both mentally and physically. I want to know exactly what I’m capable of, and then push myself further. I want to continue evolving as not only an athlete, but also as an individual. I want to experience life as it’s happening, instead of rushing by in a car or on a plane.
I want to stand on top of mountains knowing that I got myself there on my own two feet. There’s an incredible sense of accomplishment and belonging when you reach a summit. I get an overwhelming surge of happiness, because despite everything I’ve been through, I don’t let it hold me back.
I hike to live my own life, instead of one that has already been played out by countless others.
I hike to better understand my needs and wants. We live in a world that is constantly bombarding us to buy “stuff,” of which almost all of it is meaningless.
I hike to get a better understanding of the country I live in, and to see the raw, natural part of life that is so easily forgotten in our society.
I hike to experience freedom from technology. In today’s modern world we’re constantly plugged in. We have a multitude of media sources being streamed to us at all hours. We have Facebook, Twitter, the news, the radio, and countless other sources all feeding us an overbearing amount of information. It’s nice to be removed from all the “noise” and to focus strictly on the present.
I hike to be able to share my experiences with others who may not be able to get out there to see it themselves.
I hike to meet people from all over the world and to gain a better understanding of my fellow neighbors.
I hike to develop lifelong friendships with people who share the same enthusiasm for nature as me.
I hike to let my imagination soar and to be open to new thoughts and ideas.
I hike to show others that we are capable of anything we set our mind to. Our dreams can become reality, all we have to do is believe in ourselves and maintain a positive outlook on life.
It is my wish that everyone will take hold of their dreams. It doesn’t matter how big or small they may be. If it’s important to you, go for it! Don’t let anyone decide your life for you. If you believe it’s possible… it is.
Come May 1st I’ll start hiking North from Mexico to Canada. Follow your dreams and passions. I’ve had a lot of people ask how they can help, so I’ve set up this site…
I also handknit beanies and 100% of the profit goes towards my CDT Fund. You can find the hats under the “Shop” tab.
Coming April 2014 I will begin my second thru-hike. In 2012 I thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, and in April I will start off on the 3,100 mile Continental Divide Trail. I’m determined to not let my health issues (Traumatic Brain Injury and Melanoma) dictate how I live my life. I’m intent on showing others that no matter what “deficit” you’re living with, you can still achieve monumental accomplishments! I want to inspire others through my undertakings that you can do anything you set your mind to!
There have been lots of people who want to help out with my undertaking. So I’ve created a page that you can donate to via my backpacking blog. The money will go towards my gear and food. Any donation, no matter how small or big is greatly appreciated! You’ll even receive a postcard while I’m on trail if you email me your address: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow the link to donate!
For those of you unfamiliar with long-distance hiking here’s some info.
The Continental Divide Trail is known in the thru-hiking community as the “King of Trails”. It is considered to be the hardest of the three long distance trails in the United States that make up the Triple Crown of Hiking. To be a triple crown hiker you must hike the entire distance of the Appalachian Trail(AT), Pacific Crest Trail(PCT – which I’ve already done) and The Continental Divide(CDT). There are many differences between all three trails, but a general way to compare them is to say they all scale with difficulty and length(AT–>PCT–>CDT). It’s also hard for me to comment here because I have only thru-hiked the PCT. A good analogy I’ve heard before would be to compare them to education.
|Appalachian Trail (Bachelor’s)||2100 miles|
|Pacific Crest Trail (Master’s)||2665 miles|
|Continental Divide Trail (Doctorate’s)||2800-3100 miles|
The CDT is by far the hardest of the three for many different reasons. The trail is only about 70% complete, so this means you will be road walking in many places on jeep/paved roads. This also means you will be bushwhacking or hiking cross country in many areas because there is no trail. Unlike the AT and the PCT, I won’t necessarily follow along mindlessly on a path, but rather follow a route which I’ll travel near/along. You can in a sense, create your own path. It requires thought and resourcefulness to get where I’ll need to be.
The trail goes through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. I will be backpacking through the Rockies, Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, Gila Cliff Dwellings, the San Juan’s and many other spots I’m thrilled to be calling my home for the summer.
The number of people that attempt to thru-hike this each year is very minimal compared to the PCT. I think something like a dozen people finish the whole trail every season but this is also hard to say. Every season is vastly different and there seems to be more people hiking every year. Another issue is that this trail is not maintained like the AT or PCT. Cross-country travel and checking my maps and GPS will be vital in this thru-hike.
In short, this trail has more extreme conditions, but also a huge pay off. I’ll get to hike in places that have been untouched by civilization. I’ll get to navigate along one of the largest nature features on the planet(if not THE largest). I can hardly wait to be out covering 20-30+ miles every day in some of the most scenic backcountry our nation has to offer.
(Thanks to my buddy “Not So Bad” for CDT info)