Standing In A Masterpiece

“They drove, on washboard roads, wearing the finest sweatstained hiking clothes two weeks in the backcountry could fashion. The duo sat, side by side, each donning a smile that would out shine even the brightest of stars. They continued down a seemingly endless dirt road and each knew they were holding tickets to the real  happiest place on earth. The price of admission? A tank of gas and the desire to experience life to its fullest. The memories they were creating would be rooted deep in their core for the rest of days. Between each awkward bump, temporarily making them airborne, bursts of laughter could be heard in the distance. Onwards they drove. His foot on the gas and her hands clutching her chest for support. The setting sun was unlike any she had seen and she seared the vibrant canvas of the sky into her memory. Like a fine wine, nature was painting them a rich and bold sunset that only seemed to get better with time. Pinks, reds, yellows and blues came in ribbons overhead and the further they drove the more they unwrapped. As far as they could see, from the silhouetted mountains of the West to the contoured canyons of the East, the vibrant nature of the evening cloaked everything underneath in an almost surreal disbelief. The pastel pallet of Dusk was thrown to the wind. For this evening was about dramatic effect and nature seemed to be on a trip that would make even a sober person second guess their eyes. The hues of the evening eventually stopped them in their tracks as the trusty green Ranger skidded to a stop. They both stepped onto the gravel road. Dust circled them as if gingerly hugging their sandblasted bodies in appreciation. They stood in the middle of a masterpiece, each transfixed by the beauty of the dying day. Nothing could dampen the energy surging through the landscape. These are the moments we live for with the people we love…when words fall short, emotions run high, and the only sound was the rhythmic joy of their beating hearts pounding the song of the night.”20150921_193142

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9 Years…Strong

11056103_10204370902574170_7873115496043401010_o 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

Day 1: Starting the CDT! 👣

The first day of the CDT! We (Nugio,  iPod,  and myself) got picked up at the KOA in Lordsburg, NM at 7am. Despite being incredibly tired from the Pacific Crest Trail Kick-Off, my spirits were high and my energy levels were topping out.  I couldn’t help but beam with excitement as we walked towards our  CDTC shuttle, a dusty Volvo.  Pounce, a fellow hiker,  took our picture as we piled into the little car on our way to Hachita, NM.

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The road into Hachita, where we would switch to a sturdier car, was as straight as could be.  Only one long meandering left “turn” stood between us and our exit.  We each paid the CDTC 70 dollars to drive us out to the Crazy Cook border, as well as cache water for the first 85 miles.  It was a beautiful and welcome deal! 

When we got into Hachita we switched to an incredibly dirty old blue truck.  We piled our backpacks into the trunk and climbed into the cabin.  I immediately noticed the heaping mound of fresh dirt that had accumulated on the floor board.  As Nug eagerly jumped into the front seat he slapped the dingy old cloth and the inside of our vehicle was instantly engulfed in a thick cloud of golden dirt.  I coughed as we waited for the engine to turn over. 

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Our driver was great!  He gave us a local history lesson as we drove closer to our destination – Crazy Cook.

He taught us about the local copper mines and the saw mill industry that used to be in the area.  I was shocked that this place used to be covered in trees. Looking out onto the barren landscape, I knew shortly I would be longing for the welcome shade of the once plentiful green leafed foliage.

We drove on dirt roads for almost 2 hours.  It was brutal on the vehicle. Everywhere we looked we saw car parts. Everything from oil pans to fenders littered the graveyard like path. The closer we got to the border the worse the road became.  I bounced up and down hitting my head on the roof several times.  With each bump and notch we overcame more dirt happily danced into the cabin.  I wasn’t sure if the air was getting thicker or I was just ingesting a massive amount of dust particles.  Boogers immediately filed my nose making it impossible to breath in through my nostrils.  Every time I opened my mouth the dirt infused air made its way into my body and settled on my teeth creating a nice gritty layer now calling my teeth home. 

The wind was blowing vigorously and only increased the closer we got.  Soon our visibility was only a few hundred feet in front of us.

After hours of jostling around inside our shuttle we made it to the Southern Terminus- Crazy Cook. For the last 20 or so miles we had been following tire tracks from an illegal immigrant. As we approached the flimsy barbed wire gate that separated New Mexico and Mexico the tracks disappeared onto the other side for what looked like a successful illegal crossing. 

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As we got out of the truck we opened the latch to discover our packs looked like they’d been rolling around in the dirt.  Once bright and clean, they like us, now had a brown sheen to them… so much for that shower I had just taken. 

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Our driver dropped us off and took a few pictures of us before departing back to Hachita. 

While we were soaking it all in the three of us were greeted by 4 border patrol agents.  1 in a truck and 3 on quads.  They said they had been following the tracks as well. I tried getting a picture with them,  but they objected.  After a final picture,  Nugio, iPod, and I took our first steps on the Continental Divide Trail at 10:40am April 30th, 2014.

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The three of us at Crazy Cook

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The truck

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Nugio

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iPod

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Me

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Our route on the monument.

The walking was easy,  flat,  and along washes for roughly the first 14 miles. Within the first mile I stepped on an Ocotillo and the thorns pierced through the bottom of my shoe sticking my foot.  Despite the pain,  I was still thrilled to finally be starting the journey North to Canada. 

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Our view

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Ocotillo aka prickly sons a bi….cats.

We made it to the first water cache and ate dinner (cold instant mashed potatoes). We then hiked another ~2 miles before laying out our sleeping bags and falling asleep under the vast blanket of stars…. it feels great to be home. 

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For the wonderful Michael McWilliams!

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Sunset aka where we plopped down to get some shut eye. 

Making My Way South – PCT KO

After all the planning, researching, mapping, prep-work, resupply nightmares, and social media outreach I’ve been engulfed in for the past few months, I’m about to finally start making my way towards the Continental Divide Trail. I couldn’t be more thrilled. The planning aspect of this thru-hike is tedious and often times a chore, but once my feet hit the ground at Crazy Cook in New Mexico I know everything will fade away like the setting sun.

This past week has been hectic to say the least. All the last minuet tasks start jumping out of the wood work. There were 3 days where I only got 4.5 hours of sleep. It’s brutal, but I wouldn’t change a thing. This is all part of the experience and I’m incredibly lucky to be following my passion.

This past Easter Weekend my family threw a “CDT Send Off” party for me. It was incredible having so many of my loved ones and friends there to support me on yet another crazy adventure. You all mean so much to me and I’m truly blessed to be surrounded by such encouragment. Keep it coming! I’m going to need it while I’m out there walking 3,100 miles.

ImageMom and I … “And I will walk 500 miles…”

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ImageLifelong Friends

ImageMy Sister (Me, Aundrea, and Lyz)

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ImageCheers to family, friends, and chasing your dreams!

I would like to thank everyone who has been there for me thus far. My experience wouldn’t be the same without you. A huge shout out to my buddy Michael McWilliams, co-founder of Digs Apparel, for helping set up and manage the visual aspect of my hike. He’s created an Instagram Account: @Sarabloodbank to tell a visual story of my adventure on the CDT. (More platforms are in the works in addition to IG so be on the look out). Mike is an awesome friend to have along on the journey and it just so happens that we both whole heartedly support Traumatic Brain Injury Survivors and raising awareness of this invisible injury. His campaign ‘”#amelonaday”is a movement dedicated to generating cause awareness for Traumatic Brain Injury by way of melons, people, and art.’ This lighthearted take on TBI is right up my alley with spreading positivity. If you follow along on Instagram/etc you’ll be seeing his handy work so be sure to spread the gratitude. Thank you Maz! You continue to impress me.

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Photo on: @digsapparel – Some of his creative genius campaign “Hel-mutt” #amelonaday

I leave tomorrow (4/24) to head down to the Pacific Crest Trail Kick-Off and from there I’m driving over to Lordsburg, NM with my PCT hiking buddies Ipod and Nugio. I’ll update as I get closer to jumping on trail. There’s still so MANY people I need thank!

For tonight I leave you with….

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Dancing with my pack. So thrilled to be sharing this experience with YOU!

Live Out Guest Post: The Most Important Backpacking Traits

In 22 days I’ll take my first steps on one of the most ruggedly beautiful and enticing backcountry trails in the United States: The Continental Divide Trail – a 3,100 mile backpacking trek. I’ve spent the past 2 years exploring and expanding my backcountry resume. In less than 24 months, I’ve logged over 3,500 miles exclusively on our nation’s extensive network of trails. Needless to say, I’m helplessly in love with nature and all things outdoors.

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Many people think that to be able to backpack you must be young, strong, and healthy. This may be true, but not in the sense of the definitions you’ve been taught. A backpacker must possess these qualities, but on a different platform.

The ideal backpacker should be young… at heart. They should know how to let loose and gaze at nature with the wide-eyed wonder of a child. They should welcome the unknown and recapture the freedom that they once felt in their youth.

The ideal backpacker should be strong… with determination. They should know that self-encouragment and positivity are quintessential friends to have along on any journey. They must believe in themselves and have the strength to continue achieving progress.

The ideal backpacker should be healthy… mentally healthy. They should recognize the power that not only their words hold, but also their thoughts. Over 90% of hiking is entirely mental. The other 10% is physical. The mind is a beautiful thing; we have the power to achieve anything we set our sights on. Perhaps J.R.R. Tolkien said it best, “It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit.”

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I found my passion for backpacking after I had gotten diagnosed with cancer at the young age of 19. During that time, I had been through 11 surgeries in 13 months. It was sheer torture – in all sense of the word.

But my health issues go back further. Five years prior to my cancer diagnosis, I sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury. I was in a coma, I had to re-learn how to properly read, I was bedridden for years and was unable to attend my Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years of high school. To this day I have a grocery list of persistent symptoms long enough to make even a personal assistant do a double take. My physical health has never been my “strong suit.”

At 20 years of age, I was tired of having my life being dictated around what I should and shouldn’t do. I was tired of family constantly checking in on me. I was tired of being perpetually sick. I was tired of listening to doctors tell me how to live. This was, after all, MY life.

I decided to set out on my own path. For years I had wanted to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail. So I strapped on my backpack and tramped down the winding trail of exploration, imagination, and overall sheer happiness… and I haven’t looked back since.

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Because of my ever prominent health symptoms, hiking does not come easy for me. On any given day I could have one or all of the following: blurry vision, vertigo, extreme fatigue, complete loss of hearing, numb mouth, and severe muscle spasms… just to name a few. But I’ve made a conscious decision not to let any of these things hold me back from doing what I truly love.

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Backpacking is my passion. I refuse to fall back on the many legitimate reasons as to why some people say I “can’t.” I refuse to be defined by the suffocating constraints that people so readily want to place on me. I was given life so that I could LIVE – genuinely and wholeheartedly. Stephen Covey said, “Live life out of your imagination, not your history.” And as long as I’m living I intend to indefatigably follow his wisdom.

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To me, nature is more than a wild, opulent wonderland.  It is more than the dazzling alpine lakes and the rigidly enchanting peaks. To me, nature is my home. It’s a place where I can be myself without hiding my ailments. It’s a place where I can test my strength and endurance. It’s a place where despite the war sometimes raging inside me, I’m able to stand amidst such grand majesty and everything else simply fades away into the wind.

To me, nature isn’t strictly a place or location, but it exists inside each and everyone of us. Everybody possess the three backpacking traits: youth, strength, and health. But it is up to the individual to cultivate these valuable qualities.

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I challenge you to dream big, despite what others may say.  I encourage you to follow your passion, it’ll take you further than you’ve imagined. I urge you stop making excuses. We have the ability to not only overcome, but also thrive in our environment when we put our mind to it.

When situations seem daunting and you begin doubting yourself, remember the girl who’s walking across the length of the United States despite everything she’s been told she “can’t” do. Remember the girl who looks for the positive things in life, when often times it’s the harder route to take. But most importantly, remember that YOU are capable of anything you set your mind to… because just like hiking, life is also 90% mental and 10% physical. Now take my hand and we’ll roam with a freedom rarely seen.

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Click “Follow” to join me on my journey of Continental Divide Trail… starting in 22 days.

https://sarafry.wordpress.com