Mount Antero

I am too hard on my body. I don’t mean in the sense of pushing myself too hard physically, though one might argue that I am guilty of that as well. In this instance, I mean the relentless judgement I apply to the flesh doing the work of carrying me around every day.

I had this realization as it dragged me up the side of Mount Antero at a pace I deemed too slow.

When I run ten miles, my pace should have been a minute faster or I should not have taken a breather. When I complete a barre class, I didn’t hold a plank long enough or squat low enough. When I summit a mountain, I did it too sluggishly. When I lose 10 pounds, it should have been 10 more or 20 more. When I grow, birth, and feed two beautiful children, I didn’t rebound and snap back well enough. I could go on in the pathological and cyclical pattern of the thoughts.

As ludicrous as I know the thoughts are, they persist. I had them even as I had the realization that I judge myself far too harshly as my body hoisted me up a 14,000 foot mountain. I cannot roll my eyes hard enough at myself, in that my moment or now reflecting back on it.

But to the hike…

We have not hiked a 14er since the ill-fated (for me) Decalibron Loop in 2018. We managed Cheyenne Mountain last summer, but that is only a 13er so does not exactly count. So this was my first 14er since hip surgery and altitude sickness. We had stayed out of the mountains for most of the pandemic summer but wanted to sneak one in before the season ended (or the world imploded with the way 2020 is going).

We left home when it was still night by my definition to arrive at the trailhead before daybreak. We knew from trail research that we could opt to drive nearly to the summit; however, we did not want to make quite that easy on ourselves. Nor, did we want to start from the base eight miles down. We bounced my vehicle up the rocky trail until it met the stream, leaving us a couple miles before treeline.

Since the trail was “driveable,” it was wide and relatively groomed with sections of small, ankle-testing rocks. Initially, the path just eased straight up the side of the mountain, peppered on the side with campsites.

Once we crested treeline, other peaks emerged in the distance. We had driven through my typically favorite part of the 14er journey in the dark, the meadow in the middle. However, as the Antero trail began to climb the bare hillside, it did offer gorgeous views of peaks bleeding orange with rust. Clouds played in the sky, keeping the temperature low.

The trail, like a mountain road, wound up in long and lazy switchbacks, which are much more boring to hike. The grade was gentle enough. With the cloud cover, I kept thinking to myself how easy the hike felt, which I knew is usually a trap. Like thinking a run could be easy.

When the trail crested the ridge, it opened up the view to all the peaks on the other side of Mount Antero. The trail cut back against the mountain, bringing us along the opposite face. The sun finally decided to make an unwelcome appearance as the clouds below frothed and steamed as if coming off a cauldron.

At this point, we could see what could be mistaken as the top and would ultimately be revealed as the upper parking lot. The switchbacks shortened across the white stones.

Our pace finally slowed. The hike finally did not seem so easy. Altitude and grade began to wear on us. I fell farther and farther behind my companions. Initially, I felt drained, “out of gas.” I kept stopping to eat to perk myself up. It would work at first then burn off quickly. I assumed it was just being out of hiking shape since I had not put boots on a mountain trail since Cheyenne Mountain a year ago.

We pressed, slowly, through the upper parking lot. Past the point of vehicles, the trail went from practically being a mountain road to barely being a trail. Multiple path options spidered through unstable rocks and patches of scree. The first section balanced on a ridge, leaving us largely exposed on both sides. This tightrope walk bridged the parking lot to the final ascent to the summit.

I had felt drained if not weak when we approached and passed the parking lot. As we moved into the actual climbing past the gate, I started to feel decidedly shaky. Whenever my heart rate rose, whenever I had to truly engage my quads to hoist myself up, my head seemed to swim. It felt very reminiscent of when the hike over Mount Cameron went so terrible, and paranoia swelled over me. I fell farther and farther behind, cursing myself.

The trail wrapped around the final peak then turned up to the summit. As I was hiking up, I questioned my sanity; I questioned my ability. I did not think I could make it, and I did not think I could do it ever again. I thought something was truly wrong. Yet when I finally caught up with my companions at the summit, I could not believe that was it. It was a strange contradiction.

At the top, I felt fine. We sat down as clouds enveloped the mountain. All edges around us dropped off into nothing but swirling gray. We quickly enjoyed our brunch and our summit beers before turning back down the trail to beat the impending storms in the forecast.

I had been fantasizing about the descent during the entire ascent, and descending is always my favorite part of hiking; however, I was still not right. I felt wonky, unstable. Whereas I usually prance ahead of my party like a mountain goat across the boulders, I continue to struggle slowly through each step.

I told my husband that my legs were not doing what I told them to do, that they felt shaky. He said he thought I was not trusting myself. That seemed like a reasonable explanation, especially after my swell of altitude sickness paranoia, so I attempted to fall into my usual downhill cadence. I promptly fell.

By some stroke of sheer luck, I landed perfectly in a pocket between many jagged rocks. My hips, my shoulders, and my head all touched down between sharp, hard, and unforgiving edges. After I fell, my hands were numb for probably another thousand feet of descent. I felt better and better as we descended but still just off. When I spoke, it felt like the words came out slow and lethargic, half a sentence behind where my mind was. My hands did not execute tasks well; when my husband needed his hat, I struggled with the zipper of his backpack. I remained wobbly and unsteady.

I believe the altitude affected me again, and I think it happened around 13,500 feet. I believe if we had been attempting multiple summits, as we had on the Decalibron Loop, it would have unfolded the same way. After I got home, I felt normal-ish as long as I did not move. If I walked again, I again had that swimming head and unstable feeling. I did not recover fully until sleeping overnight.

Unfortunately, this may mean that I can no longer summit 14ers. I did fine with the 13,000 feet of Cheyenne Mountain and for the first 13,000 feet of Antero, but I could definitely feel the difference. It was like hitting a wall on the trail. And it is definitely not worth pushing through to risk another experience like Decalibron or to feel so shitty for the second half of the experience and rest of the day. It disappoints me to consider giving up the ambition or cutting off the consummation of the goal and watching the rest of the crew attain it as I wait, but it really feels like my body is saying no.

This hike was a test. My first 14er after hip surgery and altitude sickness. The hip passed. My blood oxygenation did not seem to.

That has to be acceptable. What my body can do, all it does for me has to be acceptable. Maybe I can find a way to summit another 14er; maybe I can’t. That has to be OK. The thousands of feet up to 13,000 are still beautiful, even if I don’t get to see 14,000. Just because the final ascent makes me sick doesn’t mean I shouldn’t hike at all.

Never being satisfied with myself physically has nothing to do with the performance or appearance of my body, but it does prevent me from appreciating and experiencing these things fully. I have gotten to a place of forgiving and accepting myself mentally yet have not been able to translate that to the physical, so I waste chunks of my life on imaginary shit that does not matter, especially in times like these when everything matters more.

So the hike was good, even if it is the last time I look down from the summit above 14,000.

 

Christina Bergling

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Next up… Ketosis!…or not…

I started “dieting” when I was 22 with calorie restriction. I successfully lost 50 pounds then and developed an eating disorder that would haunt me indefinitely. While my weight would only severely yo-yo due to creating tiny humans, in the following years, I have tried probably every diet out there.

I have done:

  • Calorie restriction
  • Caloric density
  • Intuitive eating
  • Inner clean/detox
  • Juicing/smoothies
  • Hormone balancing
  • Whole30
  • Low glycemic
  • Gluten free
  • Low carb
  • Low FODMAP
  • Metabolic profile
  • Intermittent fasting
  • Fast mimicking
  • Healthy/balanced eating

At the end of that all, I had seemed to settled happily on intermittent fasting. I was finally happy and stable for the first time since before I had started to think about these things. Then last year, something happened to my body amidst medication changes, and it never really came back to itself. So it was back to trying (and failing) at all the things.

Nothing has worked, which has left me with one final thing to try (at the direction of my doctor). One thing that I have avoided for all my years of dieting: ketosis.

I have avoided ketosis for multiple reasons. Yes, it is a strict eating regiment. I can do strict. The simplest excuse is that I love fruit, and after giving up so many different foods on so many different diets (cheese for fuck’s sake), I had no intention of relenting my last grip on fruit.

Also, everyone I have personally seen on ketosis does lose weight very well… then gains it right back. Over and over again. I do not need a temporary fix. I need the answer that intermittent fasting was before whatever the hell happened happened.

However, it is what the doctor recommended, so I went into it with the intention of giving it the full attempt for three months. And since I was going to be in it, I might as well report how it.

Month 1: Fuck This

With all the various diets and restrictions I have tried in the past year, so many of the foods included in keto have been off limits. I was excited to eat cheese and bacon and FAT again. This excitement lasted a day, maybe two. Until I actually ate all the fat.

While delicious to eat all the fat (and liberating to not count the calories or the portions), it made me feel gross, the way I might feel after days on a fast food bender. The “keto flu” came and went in the first week (or so I thought), but on the other side, I still felt nasty. I never crossed over into the promised land of when keto is supposed to feel awesome and energizing and clarifying. Instead, my stomach always felt heavy; my tongue always tasted sour; my muscles always were weak and shaky.

What I felt in my first month of keto was rage. So much rage. I was angry and bitchy and unhappy all the time. I wasn’t hungry, but I might as well have been hangry for how irritable I was. I also experienced weird tingling and numbness in my hands/fingers and feet/toes. ALL my workouts were absolute shit, especially my runs, like I was trying to run on an empty tank. After I was active, I would hit an impenetrable wall and be borderline nonfunctional. Most likely, all of this wonkiness and extended “keto flu” was due to an electrolyte imbalance that I could not seem to rectify.

I adapted, somewhat, in my first month. Getting used to the composition and rhythm of the food. The grossness dwindled after the first couple weeks, but I still didn’t feel awesome about the food. It often felt heavy, even nauseating in my stomach. In the second week, I attempted to reintroduce fasting but found it halted my weight loss and tried adding the third meal back in (though that didn’t help). It seemed counter intuitive to need to eat more of such rich, high calorie food.

I just went strict. I followed the meal plan. I spent my entire days on Sundays doing meal prep, cooking things in butter and frying bacon and mixing in heavy cream. I didn’t cheat. I went to Chipotle when I ate out so I could get a bowl with no rice or beans, just mean and cheese and guac. I didn’t deviate.

I committed, and I suffered. I am able to do that. It is moderation I cannot accomplish.

However, the first month was not terribly successful either. In the first two weeks, I lost 8 pounds. In the second two weeks, nothing happened. I didn’t change or eat carbs, so I don’t know why it did not work in the second half, but it was very frustrating to continue to be miserable for no results. What I thought this told me is that I lost water weight in the first two weeks but did not lose any actual weight in the entire first month.

At the end of the first month, what it really felt like what more of the same, just like all the other failed diets. A lot of hope fizzled out into physical discomfort without change.

Month 2: I Can’t Feel My Hands!

My negative keto symptoms seemed to reach their peak as I moved into the second month. The strongest, and most unsettling, reactions seemed to be from an electrolyte imbalance. The most notable and irritating was extremity numbness. At its worst, I would lose sensation in both hands and both feet, especially while running.

In response to all the tingling, I started drinking bullion, taking a magnesium supplement, and adding salt to everything. After about a week, I did start to feel better. Even more that the electrolyte symptoms, I started to feel better overall. It seemed like I might actually be seeing the other side of the keto flu. I might actually be adapting to keto itself. At the end of week 5, I finally went on a run that did not feel terrible. It was still atrociously slow, but it was not a miserable experience.

At the end of week 5, the Coronavirus pandemic panic also broke on the grocery stores. I had the strange anxiety of first worrying about being able to get food, and once I had the essentials, I worried that I would not be able to stay on keto with what I had in the house. There were bizarre tiers of stress in my eating. Thankfully, the stores restocked in the same weekend, and it became a nonissue, but it was a surreal experience briefly. Keto would have quickly died if I had to turn to boxes of ramen or cans of soup.

I messaged my doctor to tell her about my numbness and ask her how to proceed. She had me come in to see her. At this point, I had been on keto for six weeks pretty strictly. However, I had not lost any weight past the first two weeks, and I never started to feel good in any real way. I only experienced negative side effects. So she advised me to terminate the diet. Since I only went on it because she recommended trying it, I complied.

Part of me feels like I should finish the 12 weeks just to finish them, but why? How wrong does it have to be to be wrong? I think I am just frustrated to have the last option still not be the answer.

Another Failure

Instead of a month 3, keto ended at week 6 in another failure, in more negative results. To me, this leads me back to the conclusion that brought me to a medical professional for assistance: something is not right with my body. Something is not functioning how it should be. From what I have been told, strict keto works for almost everyone. The doctor had expected me to easily drop 20 pounds in the first couple months.

If I cannot lose weight, that’s fine. I can live with that. The problem is more that if I do not starve and work myself to death, I gain weight rapidly and my blood sugar climbs. That is not healthy. Or normal. That is what I am trying (and repeatedly) failing to figure out here.

So now I am to return to Whole30, which worked when I tried it before things got all wonky last year. I’ll be happy to eat produce again, not feel gross, and be able to feel my fingers and toes. Maybe I’ll have some fuel during my workouts. I’m also going to layer intermittent fasting back on, simply because I like it and it makes my body feel good.

Here we go again… We’ll see again… I’ll have another follow up with the doctor to reveal lack of progress yet again I’m sure.

 

Christina Bergling

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And I Run Alone

I started running over eight years ago. Though an individual sport, it has always been a group activity for me all these years. Running mates, run clubs, races. Running, for me, has always been decidedly social (perhaps because I am decidedly social).

Until now.

For the first time in all my running, I really only run alone, except for a few anomalies sprinkled here and there. Run club conflicts with my dance class, which I prioritize, and wanes in the dark winter evenings. My running mates continue to run and train for half marathons while I instead work short distances on speed work. And races only happen in the fall and winter, so that season has passed for now.

I have almost always run alone for some of my training, alternating them with social runs. I have done races by myself. I just have never only run alone. I appreciate the balance between being able to focus and dissolve into an audiobook and run only at my pace versus being distracted and encouraged while sharing with other people.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. Life changes. Schedules shift. Things get in the way. I am complacent with these sorts of natural shifts and evolutions. And my relationship with running overall has changed since my hip injury and then again since my hip surgery and recovery. I don’t know if I feel any sort of way about it. I always enjoyed social running, but I am not angry or sad that those situations aren’t currently available. I don’t think they are gone forever, and I don’t think the lack right now prevents me from running.

I wonder if my running circumstances have changed because I have fallen out of love with running or if I have fallen out of love with running because my running circumstances have changed. Perhaps a little bit of both. Either way, it does not really matter.

It is definitely less motivating to run alone. I no longer have the accountability of meeting someone at a place and time, of keeping pace with another body or more, It’s just me, relying on me to get out there and to push myself.

I just wonder if running is my thing at all anymore, if I even love it as I once did. I fought so hard to get back to it after injury and surgery. Now that it has finally been the year and I am finally as recovered as I will probably ever be, I find that it’s not the same to me anymore. Maybe I was fighting for the idea, rather than the reality. The current reality is starkly disappointing.

Switching to running alone could have changed the dynamic. Moving toward working on speed (which I hate) could also have soured the experience. The fact that I have made zero progress in all directions for months is definitely not helping. Run as I might, alone or together, fast or wogging, I only seem to get slower; it only seems to be more of a struggle. And that may be what poisons my affections and infects my high.

If it’s not running anymore, then it just is what it is. Like a dead relationship, I don’t know that I can necessarily reconjure the magic. I can’t force myself back into love. I don’t want it to be the end, and I have no intention of giving up already, yet the thought is starting to blossom at the periphery of my mind, back in the darkness where the answers usually come from.

But if not running, what? I operate on a very simple but delicate balance. Two days or more without a heavy dose of endorphins and the house of cards comes tumbling down. Running has always been the highest and most reliable dose of those endorphins. Better than barre, dance, hiking, or any of the other fitness I do. So, what moves in to fill the void? What slides onto the scale to keep the balance?

I don’t really have any interest in seeking out new passions. I would rather find a way back to my old contentment. Maybe I need to abandon the speed work that has done literally nothing for my pace. It has only stunted my distance.

Right now, I am just coasting. Doing what I have done because it’s what I have done and because I don’t know what to do next.

 

Christina Bergling

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PPYMCA Fall Series

I used to write about my races on this blog. Remember that? Back when running was my primary fixation and I was hitting a 5K, 10K, 10 mile, whatever race a month. Since running has slipped from my focus, so has my documentation of it.

I think I fell out of love with races first. After so many 5Ks, they all start to feel the same. After so much running, I questioned why I was paying for something I could just do anywhere, anytime. The gimmicks became too much. Foam run, glow run. color run, chocolate run. Metals for everything. And the race fees only went up with each creative coupling of running and whatever else.

So I started to race less and less. Then when my hip was injured, it was even less. I found other avenues of fitness. Despite the fact that barre contributed to my hip injury, I shifted my attention to barre and hiking. I returned to belly dance. I spread myself thinner across more interests instead of just running 30 miles a week.

Running has not returned to how it felt before tearing my hamstring and hip labrum. I have worked myself back up to decent condition multiple times. I can have good runs. Yet the relationship is just not the same, not as intoxicating or fulfilling or euphoric. It’s more struggle and frustration than any of the things it used to be.

However, I have always run the local YMCA fall 5K series.

In their simplicity, these have always been my favorite runs. The routes are decent. The prices are reasonable. And the shirts are awesome. They are just enough race to be worth it and not too much race to drive me away.

So, for old time’s sake, let me write briefly about my three races this year.

The series began with the Creepy Crawl near Halloween. This is our gimmick run. We always dress up in some of group Halloween costume. And, true to the culture of our group, these costumes have been escalating. The latest (Mario Kart) incorporated multiple couples and their children. We also tend to win some kind of costume award for our efforts.

Colorado gifted us with a hefty snowfall then some melting and refreezing, leaving a sloppy and slippery course. The route begins at a lake then does an out-and-back down a gravel trail. It is usually decently smooth and fast but not in these conditions.

This particular race was special because it was my son’s very first 5K. He began running at school this year and loves it in a way my daughter never did. His excitement is infectious. He struggled with the distance, but as a turtle shell, he distracted himself by knocking us off the trail. Ultimately, he made it, and I was so proud.

Maybe I have my little runner after all.

The next race/holiday was the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving. I love the Turkey Trot tradition most because I can run off my hangover of Thanksgiving eve and earn the calories I intend to binge with all the festive eating.

However, Colorado decided, once again, to coat the course in ice. The conditions did cut the usually teeming crowd in half, but my running partner and I ran in spikes to be safe. With traction to keep us from busting our asses, the morning was actually quite pleasant. We laid down a decent run before hurrying off the the holiday.

The series concluded with the Jingle Bell. Ironically, of the three, this December run had the balmiest weather. Due to an overbooked day, I had to run and then… run. I was hoping all my recent speed work and intervals would show on this largely flat (until the last half mile) course.

I have been doing speed work for the past couple months, in pursuit of bring my pace down to 9 minute miles. I have recently been able to run a single 9 minute mile (on a treadmill, at sea level). Unfortunately, that progress did not show at the race. I finished in my typical time, at my typical pace, which was more frustrating and disappointing than I anticipated.

Again, I have just kind of fallen out of love with running. And I am frustrated enough with zero progress on weight loss or other fitness. I feel infuriatingly trapped on a perpetual plateau in all things.

Despite this slump I find myself in, I still enjoyed the series. I will still sign up and run the races again. Perhaps if I keep going back, I can recapture some of what I lost with running.

 

Christina Bergling

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Hip-iversary

Happy anniversary, hip surgery!

Today is one year since I had my hip arthroscopy surgery after tearing my hamstring and hip labrum years before. In that time, this blog went from being about running to being about fitness to just being about injury and recovery. Honestly, it was hard to focus on anything else.

I guess I do post about some hiking too, though I did neglect to write about our Pikes Peak descent. I at least mentioned that when I wrote about the madness of October on my author blog.

So where am I a year later? Did the surgery work? Am I recovered?

Um… kind of? Not much has changed since 6 months after.

My pain is SO MUCH better. Before the surgery, I had an unbearable wave of pain every time I transitioned from sitting to standing or the reverse. I would have to grip onto something and breathe through it before settling into the new position. I could not sleep through the night. I would need to get up several times to reset my hip then search for the perfect angle to fall back asleep to then wake up and repeat. I couldn’t hold my kids or have them sit on my lap because the pressure of their minuscule weight made it unbearable. The pain was so intense and relentless that it was detrimental to my behavior, affected my personality.

All of that is gone. That alone made the surgery worth it, even considering the amount I had to pay out of pocket.

What remains is a lingering, nagging, and inconsistent pain. Some weeks, it will persist and build enough to make me think the rehab did not work or I have re-injured it. Then it just vanishes again. Some days, I think I’m almost healed.

But it is never all the way gone. There is always a twinge, an ache when I’m sitting, a movement that lights up the joint. Any hint triggers panic and depression, but on the average, it is much improved.

Just not cured. Just not completely healed.

After a year, I think this is just life now. I think this is as good as it gets. I wish I could go back to that moment when I slid down into the splits and lifted my hands. I wish I could snatch my muscles around my hip before it rolled out of joint. But there is no going back.

I did get back on the slopes this year. I was advised not to ski last season (an epic snow year) by my physical therapist, and it was heartbreaking. I even sat in the lodge drinking and writing while my children skied for my daughter’s birthday.

I found myself so gun-shy, uncharacteristically nervous on the slopes. I have been on skis since I was three; I am rarely shaken by the top of a run (unless it’s an accidental double black diamond). Every turn and bump had me flinching. Would I catch an edge and yank my leg in the wrong direction? Would I jump or bump and slam my hip into joint (as if it would be any more than running)? Would I fall?

Then, once I calmed down, it was glorious. I skied only a couple hours and gently, but I had missed it. It felt good to be back on the slopes, on skies, in the snow. It felt more normal. And I have proven to myself that I can do it again.

At this point, I’ll take better but not perfect. Now, I just have to keep myself from injuring myself again. Because it’s always me. I always push too hard. I get to a good place and drive for more, grind my body until it snaps. I need this hip experience to be my lessen, to temper my impulsive extremism. Injuries will only get harder to heal as I seem to age faster by the day.

Christina Bergling

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Cheyenne Mountain

My last substantial hike was Barr Trail last October. Before that, it was when I got altitude sickness between Mt Cameron and Mt Lincoln on the Decalibron loop. So realistically, it has been almost a year and a hip surgery since I last really hiked. Over the weekend, I finally returned to a challenging trail.

When my husband decided he wanted to start traversing the Colorado 14ers, we began with Pikes Peak, the mountain that greeted us at the end of our street every day. When we returned to hiking after my surgery, we chose another in our backyard, another in which we are always in the shadow. Cheyenne Mountain.

Cheyenne Mountain is not a 14er. At what we assume was the summit of the hike, we were only a little above 9600 feet. However, the trail is rated difficult to extreme on several sites and by the trail signs on the route.

Knowing the length of the hike ahead (and how slow we go on the upper portion of a 14er), we began at 5am when Cheyenne Mountain State Park opens.

The trail to Cheyenne Mountain begins counterintuitively. Not that we could see much of it with our headlamps. We started on the Talon trail, which wanders in serpentine lazily through the meadow in Cheyenne Mountain Park. Instead of moving directly toward the base of the dark mountain with the twinkling towers of NORAD on top, the path lead us out in the grass, looping us to approach the mountain from the south.

As we moved through the valley, the air alternated between frigid and warm pockets. We listened to the helicopters wandering the sky from nearby Fort Carson. The trail is flat for the majority of Talon. When we turned onto Talon North, we finally saw some incline. Though it remained gentle. We slowly climbed to look down on the city and the sunrise.

By the time we were in full daylight, we reached the Dixon trail that would take us up the side of Cheyenne Mountain. In the light, we discovered that the trails are very well marked, with colored signs and distances. In the valley, there are even trail map signs at all intersections.

Once we began to climb, it felt like real hiking. However, it took over 3 miles to just reach the Dixon trail. From hiking Mt Harvard, we knew that a long, steady return hike can be even more daunting than a steep one.

The Dixon trail was touted as the challenging portion of the ascent. The trail wound us up the rolling hills that steadily climb towards Cheyenne Mountain from the south. We could still hear the helicopters and Reveille call from Fort Carson, but those were the only sounds besides our footfalls and chatter. The trail was peacefully vacant.

The views became more picturesque with each switchback. Colorado Springs sprawled out below us as we climbed higher on the side of the mountain.

We began to successively summit each small hill and see the western face of the range. Then the trail would alternate back to the eastern face and city views again.

Dixon trail is relatively mild for the first few miles. I would liken it to Barr Trail south of Barr Camp. It definitely reminded me of Barr Trail south of the Incline multiple times, which makes sense considering it overlooks the same city. After 2.5 miles, the trail changes, and bikes and horses are no longer permitted. It becomes “extreme.”

Past this sign, the mild ascent of the groomed dirt trail transitions into steeper grade peppered with rock staircases. The articles I had read on the trail before made it sound extremely challenging if not perilous. I would not agree. While the grade was intense and I had to take a few breathers, I would not liken it to anything I have seen past treeline. Perhaps the extra oxygen helped. It also did not last terribly long. When we broke into the aspen meadow, I turned to my hiking mates and said, “was that it?”

The top of Dixon opens into an unexpected field. The grass (and spiny thistles) tickled at my shoulders. Here, the trail is not exceptionally worn. If not for the constant stakes and flags (often tied to clumps of grass), it would be easy to think it was not even a trail at all. Barely into the meadow is the famed plane crash from 1957.

We did not know what to expect from the plane crash. After being on the mountain for so long, we did not know how much would remain. On the one hand, some 60 years later, it is surprising any of the wreckage remained. On the other, it is a fresh trail for dedicated hikers, so perhaps there should have been more left undisturbed. Even though the remains were small, it was still interesting to examine up close. We could pick out debris among the vegetation for a good distance as we continued to hike.

Among the aspens, we intersected the Mountain Loop trail. This pleasant walk would bring us to our destination.

We wandered through the sprawling field then among the aspen trees with massive trunks. Their roots pressed up through the dirt of the trail, revealing the network between the entire forest. We were spoiled by the laziness of the trail, such a contrast to the brief steep section we had just completed.

The Mountain Loop is only a mile and a half. After another section of incline and expansive views, we found ourselves at the top.

Locating the top was more challenging than on a 14er. Past treeline, identifying the summit is simple. It is also usually littered with cardboard signs for selfies. We settled on one rock formation before continuing on to locate what we believe was Robber’s Roost. It was as close as we could get to the antennae farm of NORAD without going off the edge or over a fence. So we called that our summit.

After staring at the red, blinking antennae atop NORAD my entire life, it was surreal to see them from an entirely new perspective. They actually looked small once we were so close.

Since the ascent was significantly easier than we had anticipated from our research, we decided to add the Dragon’s Backbone to our descent.

On the Dragon’s backbone, we found the challenge we had been expecting from the extreme rating. We also found even more spectacular views.

The trail began similar to its intersecting counterparts at first, wandering along toward the ridge. After some clear views from the perceived safety of enclosing rocks and trees, the trail becomes much more technical. Despite the clear trail markings and cairns, we still managed to deviate from the path several times and almost crawl across the face of the crags.

The trail narrows, becomes entirely large rock stairs and drops. The trees and surrounding rocks recede so that the path is like walking along a backbone, with one side as the steep fall off the side of the mountain. Navigating it got the heart pumping for multiple reasons. Even at less than a mile, it was the longest part of our journey.

The Dragon’s Backbone dumped us back into the aspen field, and we began our long descent. Aside from the backbone, none of the trails were hard to come down. It was more the relentless accumulation of the miles. The sun baked down on us once we left the trees on the steep park of Dixon. By the time we reached Talon, we and our bodies were just over it.

The hike was no longer challenging, but the last 3-5 miles just dragged on. Our feet hurt. Our legs were tired. Our back were knotted. We were just done.

That feeling lifted when we reached the car and the 16.5 miles were behind us. We were relieved to discover the hike only recorded at 16 miles rather than the forecasted 18.  Another two miles may have pushed any of us over the line.

Cheyenne Mountain is a beautiful hike. Long but much easier than advertised, if you are accustomed to gauging by 14ers and all the suck that exists past treeline. With all the hype of finally being able to summit this famed and familiar mountain, I was surprised to find the trail largely vacant. We encountered one other group of hikers past where Dixon gets extreme, and we only encountered a handful of people in Cheyenne Mountain Park itself.

Perhaps traffic will increase the longer the full trail is open. Mountain Loop could definitely use some foot traffic to fully establish the trail through the field.

It felt good to be back on the trail, and Cheyenne Mountain was the perfect place to start. I love walking to my car, looking west, and thinking, “I was up there.” Just like I do for Pikes Peak. I have now pointed out Dragon’s Backbone to my kids.

If you want to try Cheyenne Mountain, this article on Springs Magazine gave us flawless directions.

This year will ultimately be largely an off year for hiking for me. We are going to descend Pikes Peak (I’m so excited; I love downhill) in a couple weeks, but I don’t know if we will tackle any new 14ers before the fall snows descend. It may just be something we return to next year, more healed and better planned.

Christina Bergling

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Happy 3rd Anniversary

Happy 3rd anniversary, hip/hamstring injury!

Three years ago this morning, I stepped out of a dance class and began doing an extra stretch sequence. I slid my left leg forward into a front splits and was surprised at how effortless it felt compared to the previous time. I was startled to find myself in full splits, seated all the way on the ground. I smirked in my own pride, finally able to lift my hands from supporting me on the floor. I took a deep, satisfied breath and felt my muscles release a little more.

And my hip half dislocated from its socket.

My leg that was sitting flat on the floor managed to fall lower, in an alarming snapping motion. I was not sure what had happened; I just knew it hurt. The pain seized me. I hovered in some awkward calm over my panic. I just kept thinking to myself, This is really bad. I think this is really bad…

As the past three years have shown, it was really bad.

I would eventually learn that as my hip rolled out from its joint, it tore the labrum along the socket and also 20% of my hamstring in the center. I would go through two orthopedic doctors, multiple medications, multiple steroid and PRP injections, and eventually laparoscopic hip surgery.

And here I am, three years later, eight months after surgery.

I often think back to that moment three years ago, when I lifted my hands and felt my muscles relax. I meditate on how that split second has rippled out, how much that inane decision has affected everything. And how much that is like everything in life.

Every decision is a fork in the road. Every decision is irreversible.

Deciding to stretch gave me years of debilitating pain, pain I have not even completely shaken yet. It is something I would have never expected, but isn’t that like so many decisions that change everything?

So, my injury becomes like all other life-altering decisions for me, intended and unexpected. It fades into my shadow as a formative mark on my timeline. The only thing I can do is accept the reality and the trajectory of the journey.

I do not plan on taking any more measures for this injury. Some pain still lingers, but none of the options for dealing with it are favorable. Instead, I am just experimenting with exercise to decode what aggravates it. I don’t want to do more injections, and I will not have additional surgery (especially the hamstring one), so there is no point in continuing with an orthopedic or getting another MRI. Physical therapy might be beneficial, but I have exhausted my insurance coverage for the year.

That leaves me here, three years later, nodding a cheers to the past and moving the hell on.

Christina Bergling

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Over 5 Months Later

Here we are, over five months since surgery.

Four months is when I was supposed to start running again, but I have been running for a month (doctor approved and physical therapy monitored).

This is when I am supposedly “fully recovered,” though there are still lingering restrictions.

My hip is doing well. I would say the joint itself and the repair therein are fully recovered. The surrounding muscles, however, are still working through their discontentment. I can live with muscular pain; muscular pain can be worked and repaired without surgery.

Traditional physical therapy has been largely worthless on me. I’m too flexible to get any stretching accomplished, and the same disposition might also be why I don’t gain muscle strength (discussed most recently with my orthopedics PA). However, we recently added dry needling to my regime.

I did dry needling way back when the hamstring tear was new and my first asshole doctor treated me like a drama queen with a stubbed toe. Dry needling has apparently changed in that couple year window. Previously, the therapist stabbed me in the muscle with the thin needle then pistoned it until my muscle hypercontracted. Super painful. I bruised a lot. Now, rather, the therapist implants the needle into the belly of the muscle and zaps it with a tens unit, causing the muscle to contract by stimulation. Still unpleasant but far less so.

The dry needling is working surprisingly well this time. I see progress in the tissue after each session. The muscles have less knots. I feel less tension. Things hurt less. As I approach the end of my physical therapy program, I think this is exactly where I could hope to be.

There is still pain. Pretty much every day. But it is so much less than before surgery, and it is less than last month and the month before that. On a long enough timeline, this could just be working.

If I can calm down and step out of my own nature and into patience, I can see the improvement. The surgery definitely knocked me completely off mental balance, as I knew it would. I underestimated what it would be like to go back there, but I feel like I’m flirting with recovery on that front as well. My exercise routine is nearly restored; I just need to commit to it long enough to level things back out.

If I ever had any doubts of the effectiveness of my routine and coping mechanisms, this has confirmed that they work and I need them. I guess it’s just not an instant return to where I was. Mentally or physically.

So, I need to take a deep breath, tell myself to shut up, and stay the course.

 

Christina Bergling

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12 Weeks Later

Honestly, I don’t know what the hell is going on.

My 12 week post-op appointment was last week. At that point, I was feeling great, healed even. I was experiencing little pain, just hamstring aches that were improving, and thought it might be what recovered felt like.

I was supposed to see my surgeon, but instead, his PA greeted me again. This was fine, though she was unable to provide any real wisdom or answers on my hamstring pain. She did not seem too acquainted with my file. I didn’t expect her to remember my mediocre case out of her entire patient load, but it would have been nice if she skimmed the highlights before coming in. She examined me and agreed I was healing exceptionally well.

At the end of the appointment, I asked her if I was cleared to run. Without hesitation, she said yes and gave me a plan on how to ease back into it with 1 minute on/1 minute off intervals. I asked very clearly if I still had any restrictions. She said I could not do extreme sports but I could SLOWLY return to any activity.

Naturally, I got home from the doctor, laced up my running shoes, and put in two rough and slow miles of micro intervals.

It felt GREAT! It was slow and awkward and barely a run, but I was out there. I even celebrated by listening to my own audiobook on the miles. My hip got a little tired and achy, but there was no real pain. It felt like I was finally getting back to myself.

The next morning, I went to physical therapist, and my therapist freaked out. He was very nervous about the idea of my running and interrogated me on why I would do that. He said the recovery plan always included waiting 16 weeks (another full month) before any impact, especially running. He resolved to test me out on their anti-gravity treadmill then allow me to continue to follow the doctor’s orders, provided there was no pain.

I haven’t been able to try running again.

The next day, I tweaked my hip. I got a little overzealous dancing, and it hurt. So I stopped. I went to barre for the first time the next day, and it felt fine. It was still a little achy from the previous day. I made modifications and did less. Certain positions aggravated it, so I skipped those. The pain seemed reasonable for getting back into activity and also seemed to be improving.

Then, as advised by physical therapy and as I had been doing frequently the past couple weeks, I spent some time on the massage ball on my hamstring attachment, my hamstrings, and my IT band. I worked it all a little longer than normal, hoping to compensate for tweaking my hip and the new, added activity. Then I stretched it out, like normal.

This made my hip livid. It hurt as bad as it did after I started walking on it after surgery, as bad as it did before surgery. The pain got me out of bed for the first time in weeks.

Cue my panic. I tried to remain calm and rational, but any reemergence of the pain makes me stupid. So I did nothing. No activity. No massage ball. No stretching. The hip still hurt, a lot, but seemed to be improving.

Tonight, I went to my belly dance class. I did not intend to really dance and did sit out or modify the majority of class. I have been attending class since before I could participate again for the social aspect. Mostly, I just stretched. And my hip became angry again. Worse than when I tweaked it. Worse than when I massaged and stretched it. Worse. It got worse.

So, I have no idea what’s going on. Am I supposed to be running or not? Am I recovering or not? Did I hurt it or not? Is stretching the problem? Why does it hurt? Will it ever stop hurting? Will it ever get better? I have no answers. I have had no answers this entire recovery, but now, I have severe pain again.

I can’t go back to the pain all day every day again. I would have preferred no oasis from it. Even dipping a toe back into that misery destroys me. Two and a half years of suffering and desperation and hopelessness surge back over me instantly. I cannot go back there.

I also cannot continue to be inactive. Again, I would have rather not got to taste it again. Having this tease of being able to run (twice) and being able to really dance and go back to barre just to land back here is excruciating. It was all just a tease. My mind is not balanced without exercise. I am not myself without exercise. I have been waiting three months, and it has been rough. The thought of continuing on so stagnant is terrifying, especially since activity now ended in pain.

Or stretching did. Stretching that was fine every week before this.

I don’t know. All I have is the panic. Panic at the idea that surgery didn’t work. Panic at the idea that I hurt myself again. Panic at the idea that my hip might be like this forever. Panic at the idea that I might never ever get to really return to my activities.

Panic is where I am 12 weeks later.

 

Christina Bergling

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Six Weeks Later

Six weeks later, the first phase of my recovery from hip surgery is done. In some ways, it flew by must faster than I expected; in others, it has been brutally slow.

After surgery, it took a good three days to detox from the anesthesia. I did not move from the couch much. I slept a lot. Though I did not take any pain medication because I did not have any pain. Despite the numerous warnings and promises of how miserable recovery would be, I began mine with six days pain free. I didn’t really feel any discomfort until I started moving around.

I did my two weeks in the brace and on the crutches. These were definitely the longest and most irritating days in my recovery so far. I loathed the brace and struggled to keep it on. I also never mastered the crutches.

When pain started with walking on the crutches, I was confused. In a typical case, the patient would wake from surgery and be utterly miserable for several days; then the pain would reduce to an ache as they started moving around. In my case, I woke pain-free for the first time in over two years; then my pain increased as I started to move again. Did that mean the pain was getting worse? Did that mean I was finally aligning with a normal track? I didn’t know. And my doctors and physical therapists didn’t seem to know either since, as always, I’m atypical.

I didn’t let the pain or the crutches stop me. I continued with life and activities as much as I could. The crutches were endlessly inconvenient. I could not carry anything, which is especially challenging as a mother of young children. I moved very slowly, again rough with little kids. I hobbled on through life and physical therapy.

After two weeks, I was liberated. It was near blissful to be free of the brace and the crutches. Again, my pain increased though. It was only a fraction of what I was experiencing pre-surgery, but the pattern was definitely increasing. Yet I still did not know if that was a bad sign. I resolved to just follow the rules and wait.

I also finally got to remove the tape and see my stitches. Then the nurse promptly cut them out. They are tiny little marks that may even vanish in time. Amazing they could do all the repairs to my hip joint through these two small holes.

While I was liberated of the physical restraining devices, I remained held back by multiple movement restrictions. At this point, my brain decided it was an apt time to remind me that I’m still bipolar as fuck. I have managed my cycles effectively for years using routine, exercise, and infrequent therapy. And it has worked. More than I even thought it had been. Once these systems were impeded, I got to fully experience what I have been suppressing.

I knew this was a risk so much so that I made multiple contingency plan to deal with it. I knew my system is what kept the symptoms managed and that when I would not be able to maintain it, I would see some reemergence. Unfortunately, the depression still managed to descend on me before I could enact them.

The prolonged anesthesia detox really derailed me. I planned to focus on writing and tasks and being productive with sedentary tasks. Instead, I experienced some of the deepest depression I have experienced in years.

I surely did not miss it. I was working, mothering, recovering, and I felt like I was drowning. I didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t want to see anyone. Textbook symptoms I know well. It made the holidays a struggle, to feel so weighted and disconnected. I powered through, well I think.

I resigned myself to the suck. I knew I was going to be low. I knew why I was low. I knew I had to ride it out. So I did. I missed out on some festive fun. I ruined some minor moments. Thankfully, it was nothing too traumatic. Mostly because I didn’t resist, and I remained communicative about it.

When I returned to work after the holidays, I was able to snatch at some normalcy. Though I still could not move much, I finally launched into all my productive plans. Working made me feel less worthless. I forced myself back into my new novel (and actually enjoyed the progress I made). I wrote multiple short stories and even some horror poetry. I loaded on the tasks and fixated on them.

And it helped. Even still immobile and devoid of the endorphins I needed, being busy and focused tamed the beast.

The pain also leveled off then began to steadily decrease. My body recovered. I do believe the pain was a large contributor to the depression. Whenever I hurt, the base part of my brain panicked that I was returning to my pre-surgical pain. As that threat dissolved, my control over my mind returned.

As I have reached the six week mark, my movement and activity restrictions have been lifted by degrees.  I can now go for short walks or hikes, belly dance gently, move my hip and stretch however I want, carry moderate weight (read: my four year-old). These minor things make a world of difference. Doing gentle yoga and fully stretching my body was near orgasmic. Dancing , even if it was slow and labored, made me feel like myself.

I am still itching to go for a run or do anything until I hit a sweaty high, but that will come in time.

I am proving challenging for my physical therapists. Atypical, as usual. I hit full mobility effortlessly by my six week check. They cannot seem to provide me stretches that actually stretch me. Especially after they have spent so much time smoothing my hamstring with some bizarre butterknife-like torture device. The exercises also do not challenge me. They don’t hurt; they aren’t hard. Yet I’m not allowed to do more. So we go through the motions with no effort and just wait.

Now, I have six weeks to go. Six weeks until I can run, dance, go back to barre, do whatever the hell I want. If it continues without pain, perhaps it will go even faster than the six weeks I have already pushed through. I’m excited, anxious, but at least waiting is easier with the surge of depression fading behind me.

In the meantime, as a teaser to myself and full activity, Pratique Photography finally edited and released my Pennywise belly dance video. It was nice to see what I was able to do in constant pain so I can plan on what I can do when I’m finally healed. Check it out on YouTube.

 

Christina Bergling

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