Author Archives: ChrstnaBergling

About ChrstnaBergling

Colorado-bred writer, Christina Bergling knew she wanted to be an author in fourth grade. In college, she pursued a professional writing degree and started publishing small scale. With the realities of paying bills, she started working as a technical writer and document manager, traveling to Iraq as a contractor and eventually becoming a trainer and software developer. She avidly hosted multiple blogs on Iraq, bipolar, pregnancy, running. In 2015, she published two novellas. She is also featured in the horror collection Collected Christmas. Bergling is a mother of two young children and lives with her family in Colorado Springs. She spends her non-writing time running, doing yoga and barre, belly dancing, taking pictures, traveling, and sucking all the marrow out of life.

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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Pain Makes Me Stupid

I don’t think I realized what a relationship I had with the pain until I was pain free for six days for the first time since 2016. I have had infatuations with emotional pain before, romances with depression, flings with mania. And a former cutter will always have a strange dynamic with physical pain.

After so long, I had just integrated the pain into my daily life. I had just adapted to it. It was unpleasant and I hated it, but it had become the new normal. Steroid shots had given me spotty relief over the years, but those first six days after surgery were the first time I had experienced no hip or hamstring pain since my hip popped out of socket that fateful day. Even if I was immobile and detoxing off anesthesia, it was blissful relief.

It was when I experienced pain again that I was able to see how much it had taken root in my mind, how it had poisoned and deformed the tissue in my brain. Instead of logically thinking that pain is a part of recovery and it is going to pass, I immediately panicked emotionally. My brain descended into a hopeless ramblings about how the surgery did not work, how the pain was back again, how the pain was never going away.

I flinched away from it the way you would recoil from a stove after having been burned.

I know I just had surgery. I know pain to be expected, even if I was spared it initially. I know it is way too early in the recovery process to decide if the surgery was successful or what my body will feel like going forward. I know these things, yet I do not feel them. I feel panic followed by crushing hopeless depression.

I would love to go for a run to clear my mind and bring myself back to sanity, but that might just exacerbate the situation.

Taken from an outside perspective, recovery has been going amazingly well. Once I emerged from the anesthesia haze, I felt great physically. Even now, my pain is less than a tenth of what it was when I checked in for surgery. Last night hurt, but it did not hurt as much and it is passing. If this is improved as I ever get, it would still be improvement.

The brace and the crutches are torture devices. The crutches are supremely inconvenient, mostly in how much they slow me down and how they prevent me from carrying anything. I feel completely useless. But those I could deal with. The brace drives me mad. Sitting in it, sleeping in it. It’s always on me, squeezing me; it’s always constraining and confining me. I want all the things off me. I want to be able to just walk again. But it has already been over a week, so I have less than a week remaining. I can stuff my complaining and make it.

I just hope I remember to appreciate being able to just walk again.

I hope I remember to appreciate every day with my healthy, able body again.

If I can manage to reestablish perspective and deliberately manage my reactions to emotional pain, there is no way I shouldn’t be able to easily translate that to physical pain. It should be easier, but I underestimated the instinctual influence, the way the baser part of my mind takes over when my body hurts.

Onward…

 

Christina Bergling

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Hip Arthroscopy Surgery

Two and a half years after a seemingly innocuous stretch turned into a relentless injury, the corrective surgery is finally done.

It has been a long road. To review, in August of 2016 I was stretching after a dance class. I went easily into the splits; then my hip popped out from its socket. When it did, I would later learn, it tore my hamstring about 20% in the center and also tore my labrum. My hip slipped back into socket that night, but the pain continued.

After a lot of pain and no recovery, I sought the help of a doctor. The pain was so constant and unrelenting that it was affecting my personality, particularly my patience with my children. My doctor referred me to an orthopedic. He was awful. He treated me very condescendingly and dismissively, as if I had stubbed my toe and was being overdramatic. His administration of a plasma injection into my hamstring gave me sexual assault flashbacks.

His treatment did nothing to heal my injury or alleviate my pain, so I moved to a new orthopedic doctor. This doctor I loved. With additional plasma injections, we did finally heal my hamstring, but the pain persisted. A second MRI and steroid injections revealed the remaining issue to be the labral tears in my hip joint. We scheduled surgery about 7 months out based on the best timing for my insane schedule.

Leading up to the surgery was its own rollercoaster. I oscillated between rationalizing to myself that I could live with this level of pain and didn’t need surgery and not thinking I would make it until the surgery. A couple successful steroid injections bridged the months effectively, giving me enough relief to function. However, in the final two weeks prior to the procedure, my pain became horrendously inflamed, back to initial injury levels. It even got worse, driving me from my bed at night for the first time.

By the time I was in the hospital gown tethered to my IV, it was too painful to sit for any length of time. I hadn’t slept in over a week because every position sent spires of pain shooting up from my hip. When the anesthesiologist brought me the consent form, I signed it without even a glance. I was so ready for the situation to change. Surgery might be a painful recovery, but at least it would change the pain from this endless circle to a line that progressed in an actual direction.

From my side, the drugs began to climb into my veins, and the world began to float. When they brought me into the operating room, I saw the large, Y-shaped table on which I would be operated. The anesthesiologist said, “Let’s get hammered.” And I was gone.

I had been prepared for Hell when I woke up. I was warned by a friend, by my doctor, by the nurse, by the anesthesiologist that this was an especially painful procedure, that they would basically pull my hip apart to perform it, that often they struggle to manage the pain afterward. I did not wake up to any of that.

I felt the soreness of my punctured muscles and the tenderness of the sutures, yet that was it. I kept waiting for pain to blossom in my hip joint and flare over my nerves, but compared to all the months before of constant firing, it was alarmingly silent. My exceptionally open hips and extreme flexibility got me into this mess; perhaps it spared me the worst part of the solution. I woke to my customary, post-anesthesia tears yet not even in full sobs like usual, and I could barely keep myself conscious, but that was all.

My husband got me home, and I slept. Even in the restrictive hip brace and the squeezing compression devices, I slept and slept and slept. I made up for not sleeping the previous week. The hip pain never surfaced, but neither did I. The anesthesia stayed threaded through me, holding me down in a choking haze. I rode waves of nausea as pain clenched my head until it felt like it might fracture.

I hated the sensation. I hated the pain, but more I hated the haze in my mind, the way conscious seemed to slip through my fingers like water. So I continued to sleep, lost myself in a blur of twisted dreams and nightmares until I actually surfaced.

All told, a couple days with a blurry mind plus a little headache and nausea and no surgical pain is not a bad surgical recovery at all. Sure, the journey is not over, but this is a decent start.

I went to my surgical follow up. The nurse and doctor were both surprised by my complete lack of pain. The nurse didn’t know what to do with me, and the doctor was pretty pleased. I also went to my first physical therapy appointment. My therapist was equally surprised by my lack of pain and the amount of mobility I have. Instead of working up, it sounds like we will be holding me back to allow it to heal.

At my follow up, the doctor walked me through the procedure and pictures. He considered the surgery very successful. He discovered a surprising amount of inflammation in all parts of the hip joint.

He repaired a larger labral tear than he had anticipated.

I also had bone spurs on both the ball and socket part of my joint, so he shaved and smoothed both of those down.

So, my labral tear has been stitched up and anchored down, and my bone spurs have been removed. From here, everything should be gliding smoothly in there.

My doctor told me it would take 6 weeks to recover from the operation. However, the physical therapist said it is a 12-16 week recovery. I’m glad I didn’t know this beforehand. At this point, the surgery is done, so I will just walk the recovery however long it takes.

I can sit in any position (within the post-surgical guidelines) without pain. I can lay flat without pain. I can stand up in one fluid movement without pain. After over two years, all of that is amazing. I can take that relief and stretch it out into patience for getting back to the rest.

I do hate the brace though. And the crutches. They are so slow and so confining. When I have been fully lucid, I feel trapped and suffocated. But it’s only the first two weeks. I can feel the depression and cabin fever creeping around the edges of my mind. I’m going to curl up on the couch and watch endless horror movies and write blogs and work on my novel. I am going to throw up every sedentary distraction I have against the looming inactivity and boredom. I can do this. I can decide to do this and force my mind into line behind me. I can take control of this from my recovery bed.

So, the surgery happened. I lived, and now, I start my recovery.

 

Christina Bergling

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Unfiltered

My mind is an asshole.

I know this. I have known this since I tried to take my life at age 12. I have stepped up and actually dealt with this since I was 19. And yet, somehow it still manages to surprise me with this truth. Over and over again.

Last Saturday, I experienced one of the worst depressive crashes I have had in years. The degree of depression hearkened back to when I had no idea what was going on in my brain in my late teens or when I was learning how to deal with my bipolar in my early twenties or when I was in Iraq a decade ago.

Years ago, I seemed to figure out how to live with my bipolar, how to balance my life and my mind. It took several therapists, years of experimentation and failure. Finally, with a combination of behavior cognitive processing approaches, an amazing support system, a solid routine, and a high amount of exercise, I seemed to find a way to ride the waves, to level out the sea a bit. It has never been a cure, but it has been pretty effective adaptation.

So effective that I had largely forgot to depths my mind could drop to and what it was like to be raw and unfiltered.

Saturday reminded me. After a night writhing in hip pain on the couch, the depression overwhelmed me from below my exhaustion. It weighed down on me to a heavy and paralytic level I had not experienced in so long. I lay on the couch simply weeping for a couple hours. My husband attempted to counsel me, but I didn’t have words, and I did not want to make eye contact.

My husband has been with me through all stages of this journey. He met me when I was a teenager who was cutting and burning herself. We were friends and casual partners when I was lost and self-destructive. We began our actual relationship after I started dealing with what I am. He was who I came home to after Iraq. He has been with me for half of my life, which has included most of my struggles and traumas. He has seen me that low; he knows the patterns.

He dragged me off the couch, put me in my running clothes, and gently guided me out the front door. Even as I protested that I just didn’t want to through tears. He knew I needed to.

So I ran. Through the crippling pain in my hip and in my head. It took a full mile to be able to make full strides with my leg. It took a second mile to feel like I was actually running. But by the third and fourth miles, I was able to float, to lose myself in the run, to not be in me.

The run helped. It didn’t cure me of the depressive episode; it never does. But it did elevate me out of the dark waters so that I was no longer drowning. I was simply numb. I was still struggling to engage, make eye contact, form thoughts that could be turned into speech. I had zero appetite. Food tasted like sand, but I needed to eat in order to drink a Monster energy drink (my long-time bipolar hack).

The Monster helped. It usually does. It lifted me another level out of the darkness. I could finally interact with people again, which was helpful since I had a baby shower to attend. I was functional enough to help host the party and engage with people, all while being completely honest about how I was feeling and what was happening but without stealing the attention. Interaction with people helped too, helped pull me out of myself.

I made it through the cycle. My husband, running, Monster, and my dear friends substantially abbreviated the episode. But the crash revealed what I was really worried about with my upcoming surgery.

I wasn’t really concerned about the medical procedure or the pain. Sure, those are always worries when going under for surgery. However, the real fear, the true anxiety was the idea of losing my balance, not having access to my crutch. I would survive the surgery. I would get through the pain. My body would heal. The prospect of dealing with my bipolar, my mind unfiltered and unmitigated for six weeks is what truly worried me.

I know that 2-3 days without any exercise cause me to cycle. Nothing like the epic crash of Sunday but depression nonetheless. I know that pain and sickness cause me to cycle. This hip injury has been doing that to me for two and a half years. So the idea of being in pain and unable to reset my brain chemistry was somewhat terrifying.

In the end, I’m not scared of surgery or pain; I’m scared of myself. My crash on Saturday reminded me of what I still am and what I might be facing after surgery.

Logically, I know I’ll be fine. This too shall pass. All of that. However, fearing and avoiding facing the full monster inside me is no different that flinching away from a stove after having been burned before. It’s an instinctual avoidance of pain. Getting a taste of that darkness clarified my anxiety. Yet, as terrible as the sample was, it did pass, and that reminded me that even the lowest depression is only temporary.

I’m sure it will be less than I fear; it usually is. Fear is distortion. I know what I need to deal with on the other side of the anesthesia and am being proactive about redirecting my energy during my recovery.

 

(Note: I could not find the artists for the images in this post. If you are or know the artist, please let me know so I can give proper credit.)

Christina Bergling

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Approaching Surgery

Hip surgery is imminent. I went to my preop appointment yesterday in preparation for my hip labrum surgery the first week of December. I signed all the paperwork and went home with the brace I will live in for 2-3 weeks.

Now, it feels real. Part of me wants to just do it and get it over with, get into the pain so I can put it behind me and actually heal. The other part of me does not want to do it at all and is rationalizing how I can live with the pain as it is now.

But, where have I been since altitude sickness on my last 14er? What have I been doing on my way from summer to surgery?

The altitude sickness may have concluded my pursuit of 14er summits for the year; however, it did not end my hiking. Our little group decided to hike half of Pikes Peak in the beginning of October (as opposed to the full summit last year).

We had a magical, euphoric, perfect fall hike. A chilly fog clutched the trail on our ascent to Barr Camp. Then the sun ignited the autumn colors on our descent back down. It was the perfect weather, the perfect distance, the perfect company–simply the perfect hike.

This hike highlighted a very long and successful fitness run for me. I was running regularly, returning to my normal mile pace (slow though it always may be), building up my distances over 6 miles. I was taking multiple barre classes a month and seeing the results. I had returned fully to belly dance and even had begun performing again.

My fitness cadence was exactly as I wanted it. My routine was solid and balanced, and so my mind was solid and balanced in reaction. Honestly, I felt like myself. And I felt pretty fucking happy.

When I hit that blissful point, I knew it was transitory, as it always is. I knew the pendulum was reaching its full extension to one side and would instantly be arching in reverse. It always does. Every time I feel like I have achieved my goal or am where I want, the situation immediately changes. The rug is pulled out, and I fall directly on my ass to start over. That is my cycle; that is the pattern of my life.

In this case, I thought it was because surgery was coming and I would inevitably have to start over after recovery. I was wrong. A debilitating, month-long sinus infection took me entirely by surprise and derailed me just as effectively.

Of course, I tried to fast and run through it and failed exquisitely. The illness finally bent me to its mercy. After three different antibiotics, two different steroids, and so many weeks, I am finally, physically back to more normal. However, all that progress and euphoria and balance evaporated. To reclaim my motivation in the waning window before I go under the knife, I have had to just accept this limitation. I have had to just do what I can.

I did not do that well or gracefully, but I think I have largely made my peace and moved past my frustration. Though being knocked so completely off balance paired with being so annoyingly sick sent my bipolar cycles into overdrive. It had been a while, and I was woefully out of practice, so that was fun for all involved. But again, I think I have regained myself, or at least control of myself.

So, next up, surgery.

At this point, might as well. Maybe it’s easier to go under and jump into the limits of recovery when I’m already below my expectations. Maybe the fall won’t be as far. Or perhaps it’s worse to have squandered these last weeks before I don’t have a choice. Or maybe it sucks either way. I need to just embrace the suck. I need to just do this and get it over with.

I’m not necessarily nervous about the surgery itself. I might have been earlier, but my salpingectomy (Fallopian tube removal) surgery went so smoothly in January that it actually calmed me. I, of course, cried hysterically after anesthesia. I always do. However, that procedure was also laparoscopic, and I healed near effortlessly. I went on a real run in less than 48 hours. I appreciate that was a far more minor procedure and recovery time, but it still gives me somewhat of a preview to pacify my rampant brain.

I dread only the recovery. Not even the pain. I can deal with the pain. I have been for two and a half years for this injury; at least surgery recovery pain might lessen and lead to actual improvement. It is the physical limitation of the surgery. All the ways I went off the rails by having a sinus infection amplified, the removal of my balance and my therapy.

To combat this anxiety, I am proactively choosing to focus on other things. I have scheduled lazy time with several friends. I plan to fast hard on the couch, and I plan to pour all my time into my writing (which has unexpectedly been neglected for the fast two months).

Until then though… I’m capitalizing on not dying and not being cut open. All the running and all the barre classes. My daughter and I choreographed a horror heavy metal belly dance number I want to get recorded. I am back to cramming as many activities in as possible before spending my holidays relegated to the couch.

Wish me luck! (And expect more frequent posting.)

 

Christina Bergling

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Mt Democrat, Mt Cameron, and Altitude Sickness

After the poor planning and research of our Mt Harvard hike and my poor life choices before our Quandary hike, when we decided to tackle to Mt Democrat-Mt Cameron-Mt Lincoln-Mt Bross loop in one day, I made a concerted effort to learn from past mistakes and prepare properly. In the end, it didn’t make a damn bit of difference.

We started our trek early under perfect weather conditions. I had gone to bed early and slept well. I had put down a bunch of water on our drive out. I had even eaten breakfast (which is something I no longer do). As we took the trail toward Mt Democrat, I felt good.

My ascent was slow and steady, as always. I know I will never be fast uphill. Not running or hiking. Just never. But we made it to the saddle between Democrat and Cameron easily enough, veering off to ascend Democrat first.

After the trail branched, the incline increased dramatically. As it always does when it is too high for any life to grow. The hike started at 12,000 feet, well above treeline, so the entire route was the hard part of hiking 14ers. Yet it was all so much shorter than the previous hikes that started lower that it seemed like it would be easier.

Seemed.

We made our ascent up Democrat at a reasonable pace. One of us was struggling with motivation. I always struggle with incline. However, overall, it went surprisingly smooth and well. Considering how painful the previous ascents had been, Democrat came fast and easy.

We took a quick rest to have a snack and enjoy the view then turned to the descent. Like always, I bounded down ahead like a mountain goat and fully enjoyed the way back. By the time I reached the saddle to take the turn for Mt Cameron, I was feeling great. The same euphoria at the base of every hike coupled with the motivation to move to the next mountain.

Yet this is where my hike began to unravel.

As we regrouped and turned to take Mt Cameron, my struggle with the incline steadily increased. It felt different than muscle fatigue, but I dismissed it. Then a nagging headache started tapping on my forehead. I adjusted my hat, adjusted my pack, drank more water, had a snack. Yet the headache persisted and burrowed deeper until nausea bloomed in my belly.

At this point, things did not feel normal or right. Something inside me kept whispering, something is wrong…something is not OK. But I dismissed it. The headache and nausea increased, and hiking became suddenly daunting. More daunting than usual, more daunting than at my most exhausted. It did not feel like normal fatigue. Instead, it felt like I had absolutely nothing in me. No go, no gas, no juice, NOTHING.

I dismissed it and pressed on anyway. At shameful and unimaginably slow pace, we made Cameron.

Once we summitted and turned to the gradual saddle between Cameron and Lincoln (the slight distance that disqualifies Mt Cameron as an official 14er). I did not feel great, and the headache and nausea did not abate, but I could at least move. I figured I could make it the 300 feet to summit Lincoln since we were already there.

I was wrong.

A few steps up the final ascent to Lincoln, I simply could not. My body had nothing. It felt like I could not breathe. My chest hurt as if something was compressing my lungs. I sat down on the trail, and that was all I had. I shooed the rest of my party on to summit and stayed exactly where I was.

In all honesty, I don’t remember much vividly from when the headache started. I know I stumbled my way up Cameron. I know I sat down on the trail. I know I was struggling to breathe and just wanted to lay down on the rocks and sleep so I stood as I waited for them. By the time they returned (which was not long), I was in rough shape, barely functioning.

We turned to Mt Bross to make an immediate descent. If I could not make 300 feet of Lincoln, I could not make anything but back to the car. Unfortunately, we made a wrong turn. Instead of following the trail that cut across the top of Bross’s stained and scarred face, we wandered down a dead end. With the risk of mine shafts anywhere, we had to turn back around. Trying to ascend again destroyed me. When we returned to the top of the trail, I had to collapse briefly.

Finally, we made it across Bross’s mangled face and began to actually drop in altitude. I continued to struggle. Whenever my heart rate climbed, my headache pounded harder. Whenever the headache increased, the nausea pressed on the back of my teeth. I still could not breathe, but moving downhill, I did not need to fight for it as hard.

However, Bross was a terrible descent. Huge boulders and slippery scree the entire length of the mountain. Everyone suffered. Everyone was miserable.

I refused to vomit as we descended the rocks. I knew puking would make me shaky, and I did not know if I could navigate the terrain with unsteady legs. However, once we finally reached the grass, I sat down and puked my guts out. I wish I could say it made me feel better.

The valley where we started was still gorgeous. My favorite flower (the columbine) was everywhere. I wish I could have actually seen and enjoyed it. I suffered severe tunnel vision. All I wanted to do was lay down in the car.

When we did finally reach the parking lot, I took off my boots and lay down in the passenger seat. The rest of the group had their celebratory beers and make PB&J sandwiches, but I just wanted to die. The ride down the trail was not much better. I had to vomit again when we reached the highway. Then I passed out for the rest of the trip.

Altitude sickness.

It took me about three full days to recover. I felt better after my car nap but still miserable. It was difficult to walk. I got winded just moving around the house. I have lived in Colorado, skied and hiked frequently my entire life. This is the first time I ever remember experiencing altitude sickness.

Maybe it was because I was in Dallas, near sea level a few days earlier. Maybe it was because I was still suffering a lingering cold. Maybe it was because the hike started above tree line. Maybe I wasn’t hydrated enough. Honestly, I have no idea. Altitude sickness can really strike anyone at any time under any circumstances. I can’t say it makes sense in this instance, unless it happened just to punish me for thinking I was prepared.

I feel like I should be super frustrated and disappointed to have made it so close and been taken out. I guess I am disappointed that I did not get to enjoy the hike, that I got so sick. However, I was so utterly miserable that I don’t really care that I couldn’t make the last summit (or two). It was unpleasant enough to overshadow any ambition I had.

Part of me wants to redo Cameron, Lincoln, and Bross. Part of me doesn’t care. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. I’m just relieved that the sickness has passed and I can breathe again.

Christina Bergling

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Mt Harvard and Quandary Peak

In October, we embarked on my husband’s goal of hiking 14ers in Colorado. We decided to press on it this summer. We started off by hitting it hard, doing two 14ers in two weekends.

Mt. Harvard

First, we decided to tackle Mt Harvard. My father, who avidly hiked 14ers at my present age, warned us that it was going to be challenging. While we believed him, we overestimated ourselves and underestimated the snow.

As my father forecasted, the hike began gently. The first couple miles wound lazily up gentle forest switchbacks. Snow began to appear on the edges of the trail or hidden in the shadows of the trees. I was so excited to see snow after such a disappointing and fruitless winter. As we continued to climb, the snow patches thickened into drifts that began to slow us down.

The winding forest trail eventually sprawled into a large valley beset by the breathtaking peaks of the collegiate 14ers. As the sun show brightly in a vividly clear sky, the scenery was sublime, and our spirits bordered on euphoric.

 

As we moved out of the gentle valley, the snow increased. We navigated through drifts that were mostly crunchy on the top, yet when my leg plunged through the surface, the snow came up to my vagina. The struggle started comical but gradually grew more arduous as the drifts grew deeper and wider until we faced long, uphill spans of slippery snow. Anxiety crawled on my skin as my paranoid steps tempted exacerbating my hamstring/hip injury.

At the first ocean of snow, I nearly declined to continue. I did not want to get more hurt, but I decided to give it a try. It was less challenging than I expected, so I pressed on. We broke past treeline and approached the rocky step switchbacks.

As we ascended the large, flat rock islands amidst shifting gravel, I wondered how I would ever descent such terrain without killing myself. I fought the increasing incline with decreasing oxygen and remembered that there is a distinct reason trees do not care to grow that high.

We made it all the way to the final ascent, the last cairn where we could see the summit. I saw a trail of steep and slippery snow and large boulders. Here, I decided to accept my limitations. It felt ridiculous to come so far, to be 1 mile and 1,000 feet short of the summit and stop. Yet my instincts banged and hollered to not risk it. So, for once, against who I am, I didn’t.

While I am exceedingly stubborn and often push my body too far, this 14er pursuit is not my dream. I am a supportive partner who will take any excuse to be active, punish myself, and be outside in the mountains. But it’s acceptable if I don’t make every summit or I’m not there for every hike. I am a tourist and a tagalong here, the support staff doing the planning.

Two of us stayed at the cairn for three hours while the other three continued.

Then, the weather decided to turn on us. The morning sun folded under thick clouds, and a piercing wind battered us. We sat on the cairn, had a frozen dance party, and waited. For a while, we could watch their tiny forms ascend. Then they vanished for what seemed like an eternity. We almost resigned ourselves to migrate lower when we finally spotted them–a red shirt, a white shirt, and a black shirt–hiking and sliding back down.

Only one of us was able to fully summit (my husband). One was 10 feet short. One was 100 feet short. It sounded quite intense at the top, so I made the right decision to stay behind. I am no rock climber. I am uncomfortable with heights.

Since we only hiked up Pikes Peak, Harvard was our first decent of a 14er. Turns out, my body is built for coming downhill, just like running. As we approached the boulder stairs that made me so nervous coming up, the footfalls suddenly made complete sense. My feet, never entirely graceful, just knew where to go. I bounded down the hill like a mountain goat and had so much fun doing so.

The descent was never-ending though. The snow had softened during the day, and we continually plunged through the surface. It was daunting and repetitive, and the miles just dragged on. But many hours after we projected, we made it. We did our group hug in the parking lot and hurried off into the night for real food and sleep.

Quandary Peak

The next weekend, we aimed a little lower. We went up to Breckenridge, stayed overnight, and set out early to attack Quandary Peak. An easier and shorter hike (recommended by my father).

This trail started narrow and quite steep as it climbed up the hill. The switchbacks drew up the side of the mountain quickly. The sun had just broken the horizon, and the temperature hovered in the limbo where I roasted in my fleece but shivered without it.

I, in my infinitely stupidity and relentless affinity for poor life choices, got to carry a pretty severe hangover with me. What could have been a gentle and pleasant hike was instead quite uncomfortable for me. My thighs balked at the activity immediately. Nausea flirted with my throat. I suffered for my foolishness.

After a couple miles in the trees, we arrived at the customary rocky stair-like switchbacks. We also reached the snow, but it did not compare to Harvard. These drifts were ankle-deep rather than vagina-deep. Instead, our unexpected challenge was the wind. By the time we broke treeline, the wind was near unbearable. At points, I had to struggle to move against it.

There always seems to be one factor that we did not plan for on these hikes. Every mountain seems to teach us something new. Don’t underestimate the mountain. Don’t trust trail estimates. Don’t forget your yaks. Don’t forget your windbreaker. Don’t get drunk the night before. So many lessons.

By the time we passed treeline and battled the wind, I thought my hangover had broken. The trail flattened out a bit before the final ascent, and I was feeling good.

I was wrong.

The final ascent of Quandary did not have switchbacks. No, it climbed straight up the ridge to the summit. And it was terrible. At tackling the extreme grade, my hangover resurged over me. Every four steps, I stopped to evaluate my need to vomit. I moved painfully slow up the final ascent. But I did make it.

We crested the hill and enjoyed a nice flat portion before the summit. The wind even finally died down for us to enjoy our celebratory beers.

Then the descent. My favorite part. All the euphoric rush of victory floating on down the mountain.

The snowy descent did make me a little nervous. Again, I did not want to slip and further injure myself. But I found that sliding down the mountain (in established butt trails that didn’t go off the side of the face) was a much quicker and more fun way to get down. Aside from the horrendous stinging of the cold. Worth it.

The descent was pleasant and so much shorter than Harvard. The wind had died down, and the weather was temperate. It was just nice.

We made it back to the car by lunchtime and were able to enjoy the hot tub in Breckenridge before heading home. While Quandary was not as scenically gorgeous as Pikes Peak or Harvard, it definitely was a more pleasant hike overall. If you subtract the idiocy of my hangover.

Currently, we have two more 14ers scheduled for the summer. Perhaps another one or two in the fall. If nothing else, we have made strong strides on my husband’s goal. And I have seen some beautiful things.

Christina Bergling

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