Tag Archives: recovery

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

christinabergling.com
facebook.com/chrstnabergling
@ChrstnaBergling
chrstnaberglingfierypen.wordpress.com
goodreads.com/author/show/11032481.Christina_Bergling
pinterest.com/chrstnabergling
instagram.com/fierypen/
amazon.com/author/christinabergling
Advertisements

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

christinabergling.com
facebook.com/chrstnabergling
@ChrstnaBergling
chrstnaberglingfierypen.wordpress.com
goodreads.com/author/show/11032481.Christina_Bergling
pinterest.com/chrstnabergling
instagram.com/fierypen/
amazon.com/author/christinabergling

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

christinabergling.com
facebook.com/chrstnabergling
@ChrstnaBergling
chrstnaberglingfierypen.wordpress.com
goodreads.com/author/show/11032481.Christina_Bergling
pinterest.com/chrstnabergling
instagram.com/fierypen/
amazon.com/author/christinabergling

Surgical Options

Now looks like a good time to start over. Again. It seems like I have done nothing but physically start over for the past four years, and (if I’m honest with myself) I think I’m having a small adult tantrum about it.

When I was violently ill through my entire pregnancy, I thought it would get better when it was over. When the birth was rough, I thought it would be fine after I recovered. When recovery stretched out into years, I thought it would normalize eventually. When I pulled my hip, I thought I could run through it and get better. When I tore my hamstring (and apparently my labrum), I thought I would suffer the couple months and be back to normal. When my hamstring finally healed after 18 months and two PRP injections, I thought it might finally be over.

Yet here we are.

Nothing has been debilitating or unbearable, just an endless string of discomfort and inconvenience, of tasting recovery or “normal” just to be shoved back to square one. And perhaps the root of my suffering is the resistance to the idea that this is my new normal, my foolish attachment to how I should be after all these changes.

Maybe this chapter of my life is about a series of physical recoveries, rather than the mental and emotional recoveries in the previous chapter. Maybe life is all just a series of events and recoveries.

Or maybe I’m just whining.

I went to my orthopedic for my steroid injection follow up today. At my previous appointment, they injected steroids into my hip joint to troubleshoot my continued pain. Though my hamstring showed healed, the pain continued as an unusual presentation for a labral tear. The shot helped. A lot. For about a week before its effectiveness started to fade.

Since the shot seemed to indicate the root of the pain, we discussed options. I could do nothing and live with the current discomfort level. I could do maintenance steroid injections until they lost effectiveness. I could do PRP or stem cells to stimulate healing, despite the lack of evidence that the labrum can heal itself. Or I could have laparoscopic surgery.

I found myself torn between the extremes, as always. Nothing or surgery.

Typing it out, my logic does not make any sense, but my instinct was to do nothing. To just continue to deal with it. It seems ridiculous after lamenting the issue for nearly the past two years. It seems like it should be an easy answer to finally fix it. Yet it was the idea of recovery that tempted me to stay with the pain. Though I am known to develop Stockholm Syndrome type attachment to my pain.

I didn’t want to face another lapse, another step back after it took this long to regain this ground, after how many times I already had to retread. Spoiled complaints of the mostly functional. Yet beneath that is the fear.

Exercise and endorphins are the foundation of my precarious little balance on life. It sounds silly to say that two weeks on crutches could be unbearable, but… I know that if I don’t exercise hard enough in 2-3 days, the depression starts to swell and my thoughts begin to twist and contort. I know that it’s just one step back towards that darkness. So the idea unnerves me, and my self-preserving instinct is to just not. To just run through it.

Truthfully, I still want to do that now. Just keep running and tell myself the nerves will give up.

More superficially, I am frustrated to release the progress I’ve made. I’m reluctant to go back to adding miles and shaving off seconds, to rebuilding the muscles and conditioning that abandon me so immediately. I finally got back to where I thought I left. I even just said, foolishly aloud, that I was finally almost there so it must be time for something to send me backward.

With this injury, the universe takes what I say way too fucking literally.

However, after being scolded by at least three people, I know that all of this is my stupid, irrational fear and obsessions clouding an easy and obvious decision.

So, next step, surgery…

 

Christina Bergling

christinabergling.com
facebook.com/chrstnabergling
@ChrstnaBergling
chrstnaberglingfierypen.wordpress.com
goodreads.com/author/show/11032481.Christina_Bergling
pinterest.com/chrstnabergling
instagram.com/fierypen/
amazon.com/author/christinabergling

 


Healed

It has been a while since I posted! Honestly, I was exhausted of posting the same thing (plus I was painfully busy). Trying and failing to lose weight. Trying and failing to recover from my hamstring injury. The same circle for over a year and a half. It had to be as mundane to read as it was frustrating to endure.

However, I can finally say with some measure of confidence that I have progress on both fronts!

Following my latest PRP injection several weeks ago, I returned to my orthopedic for a follow up. While my injury was definitely improved, the pain lingered. My doctor offered further injections, but I requested an updated MRI to see where we were and if any progress was being made. Last week, I had the MRI with additional contrast this time (which I mostly slept through), and today, I got my results.

The MRI revealed that, compared to my previous MRI over a year ago, my left hamstring appears NORMAL. Meaning I have actually healed!

My two hamstrings looked the same on the MRI. All the time and pain and resting and injections have ultimately done something. I had a mini celebration when my doctor told me and then had to struggle to focus on the rest.

So why am I still in pain? The MRI also revealed a tear and some other issues in my labrum. However, I do not present with labral tear symptoms. The pain should be in my groin rather than at my hamstring attachment. So we did a steroid injection into my hip joint as troubleshooting. If it has an effect, it must be an odd presentation of the labral tear. If not, perhaps to physical therapy to work out the last of the pain.

In any case, MY HAMSTRING IS HEALED!

As far as weight is concerned, I think fasting is my answer. I have been fasting (as described in The Obesity Code) since January-ish. I have lost 20 pounds with no rebound. I don’t think or obsess about food. In short, I feel like myself again, physically and mentally.

The fasting suits the binge and purge nature inherited from my eating disorder days but reapplies it in a way that it balances my body’s insulin rather than destroying my mind and body. It just works for me. It is so much simpler and easier than I thought. I am saving a shit ton of money on food, brain power on not having to plan, and soul on not torturing myself by counting the calories in every bite.

FREEDOM!

And it’s working. Slowly and steadily. To the point that I don’t care anymore. I’m just happy.

Some days, the fasts are not easy. Some days, I don’t succeed. But I just let those days fall away and try again the next week. I can have pizza and beer until I’m sated and know that my Monday morning fast will balance me back out.

I think this might be my solution. It was a long and maddening journey to get to both of these points, but I’m happy to finally see them.

PLUS I am running more and faster again. I might even be able to fully get back to that. This is a running blog after all…

Christina Bergling

christinabergling.com
facebook.com/chrstnabergling
@ChrstnaBergling
chrstnaberglingfierypen.wordpress.com
goodreads.com/author/show/11032481.Christina_Bergling
pinterest.com/chrstnabergling
instagram.com/fierypen/
amazon.com/author/christinabergling

 


Back Again

I went for a run yesterday. A real run.

Embarrassingly, I have not gone for a real run in a long time. I have gone for runs, sure. Group runs at various paces for various distances. I have been content to jog and cut off miles, which is very uncharacteristic of me. I have even gone for solo runs. Yet I have been talking myself into keeping them short or slow.

I am not entirely sure what had been happening. I felt gun shy about running. In theory, I told myself I missed it and wanted to return to longer and harder running, yet I would permit myself the excuses for it not to happen. Again, not like myself.

I would say it was perhaps my perpetual hamstring injury, but that has not hindered me from running or exercising in the past 18 months, so why now?

I have definitely been distracted by other fitness pursuits. bodyboss was extremely time-consuming. Then there is barre. I have been practicing a lot of belly dance for an upcoming performance I’m traveling to next month. I also picked up a hip hop class (I am terrible, by the way). So maybe I have just been too distracted.

Whatever the bullshit reasons and excuses, I finally forced myself out for real yesterday. I didn’t permit myself the 2 mile or 3 mile I have been clinging too lately, even though they have come to feel like my comfort zone. I forced myself to do the 5 mile route, with the 2 horrible hills.

And it felt great. It felt just like it always did. It sucked; it hurt; I wanted to die. Then it was the amazing high. It was all so familiar, so comforting, so exactly how I left it. I even ran faster than I have been lately. I even managed to improve after such neglect.

That was comforting. Now, I remember why I need it. I recall it’s place in my life and my fitness routine. There may not always be time to satisfy it, but at least now I can keep in mind why I should try and prioritize it.

After reading The Obesity Code and recovering from mild surgery, I find my exercise addiction tempered. Finally, it is not the end of the world if I can’t fit in a workout every day. Finally, I am not doubling down on workouts multiple times a week. Finally, I am allowing myself rest days. It feels foreign and awkward but also like a relief. I have no intentions of falling off the fitness wagon entirely, so I am hoping this reduction is actually healthy.

In all my questing for the next time and the answer, I am hoping this is actually it. I might have just needed a good run for it to feel right.

Christina Bergling

christinabergling.com
facebook.com/chrstnabergling
@ChrstnaBergling
chrstnaberglingfierypen.wordpress.com
goodreads.com/author/show/11032481.Christina_Bergling
pinterest.com/chrstnabergling
instagram.com/fierypen/
amazon.com/author/christinabergling

 


Ascending Pikes Peak

Yesterday, I hiked my first 14er.

At some point, my husband got the idea to do all the 14ers (mountains with summits over 14,000 feet above sea level) in the state. There is debate; however, the most agreed upon number is 58 14ers in Colorado.

We decided to start local with the mountain that sits along the west edge of home: Pikes Peak.

We started in Manitou Springs at 4:30 in the morning, headlamps and the glowing moon illuminating the lingering night. We parked downtown and made the trek in the dark to the parking lot at the base of Barr Trail.

I have experienced the terminal miles of Barr Trail numerous times descending from hiking The Incline. I have run it, walked it, fallen on my ass on it. I have made my way down in broad daylight and the dark and in every kind of weather. Yet, in the darkness, in the opposite direction, the perspective on the trail was extremely altered. Everything looked different, felt different yet familiar simultaneously.

Immediately, my younger sister and her party took off up the trail. Yet from the first few crunching steps, my husband began lagging. He set a very slow, methodical pace. I assumed it was from his lungs and the altitude (he has a history of pulmonary aneurysm, pneumonia, and altitude sickness). So our small group began a rhythm of hiking up and then regrouping.

As we carved our way up the side of the mountain through the battered trail of switchbacks, the sun gradually began threatening the horizon. Beyond the twinkling city lights below us, day menaced. At one point, the bright moon still lingered over the peak we would climb as the sun broke into the sky opposite it. For the a brief and surreal moment, we cast two shadows on the gravel.

By the time daylight fully broke over the mountain, we had passed both the bail out and the turn off points for The Incline. We were officially in uncharted territory for three out of four of us. The path showed far less abuse from far fewer boots. And the sun ignited fall all around us.

Fall is my favorite season. And fall can be potentially disappointing in a place like Colorado where it is summer then winter then they alternate and then repeat. Most years, it seems like it goes from hot to snow and unfortunately back again. Lazy, meandering transitions like fall in the South amazed me. Yet on the side of Pikes Peak, fall was all around us.

 

Leaves crunched beneath each of our footfalls. The sweet smell of their decay played on the air. A thin razor chill hung on the edge of the air. The sun blazed through the quivering golden aspen leaves around us. It was quintessential fall, and it was fucking euphoric.

As the naked peak began to loom grander and more ominous over us, we meandered along gentle rolling trails through an aspen valley. I caught myself just floating, lost in the mountain air and the seductive scenery. It was undoubtedly my favorite section of the hike.

My husband continued to struggle even through the flat or declining sections. Despite the fact that he is not an avid exerciser, this performance was very uncharacteristic for him. The previous year, he ran a 15K with zero training nearly as fast as I did running 3 times a week and sometimes over 10 miles. I, of course, feared for his lungs again, yet he said his legs were just not working. That it was just a struggle that it should not have been.

We made it to Barr Camp at the halfway point (6.5 miles from the base) and broke for an early lunch. My sister and her party had stayed waiting for us an hour (to make sure my husband was still alive). They broke off again, and we started as well after food, water, and rest.

The trail changed after Barr Camp. The gradual, curving stroll through the aspens began to actually climb the side of the mountain. The switchbacks stretched long to the point of annoyance, where at every crest there was more of the same length of trees.

The trail did not really become hard, but at this point, it did become more boring to me. I was too enamored with the mesmerizing aspen sunrise. Thin gravel carvings between mirrored trees just could not compare. We continued our steady pace of climb and regroup as the sun began to heat the chill off the mountain.

We reached 10,000 feet and kept plugging along.

Treeline proved an elusive mistress. Every row of trees appeared to be the last only for another set of siblings to appear behind them. The monotonous switchbacks just wound back and forth slowly. We could feel the air thinning with each cut across the mountainside.

While the views around us became more pedestrian forest, the views below us grew more impressive. We could pick out the other mountains we knew, Garden of the Gods, the parts of town we lived in, the east edge of town, Kansas itself.

Then treeline and the A frame finally happened.

At this point, we stopped for another legitimate break, taking off the packs that were drawing tension up in our shoulders and knotting in our lower backs. I could tell the instant my body needed calories. My legs got heavier while my head got lighter. I felt like a new person after some energy blocks every time.

The hike became a different trail after treeline. I regretted wishing to get there. The first 10 miles were a delightful easy little stroll up the mountain. The last 3 miles were not.

Looking back, my body is exactly the same with a half marathon (I have officially run 2 and several training distances that long). A 10 mile run is great. At multiple points in my running life, it has been my absolute favorite distance. However, 13.1 miles has always been horrible. I’m great for the first 10 miles; then the last 3 are an absolute struggle every step. Maybe my body just wants to stay under 10 miles.

Unfortunately, for my husband, his entire hike was a forced battle for every step.

The temperature was obviously hotter after treeline, in the direct sunlight, yet the drafts were colder and more abrasive. Though even at the worst of moments, we got impossibly lucky with the weather. The weather was literally perfect. Cool enough with barely any snow toward the top. Finding an October day like this in Colorado is nothing short of a miracle.

The views below were breathtaking, but the scenery around us was barren and mundane. Rocks and boulders stacked forever to the summit.

Our pace slowed and slowed. The air thinned and thinned.

The first mile past treeline was fine. It was slower, but it was not terrible. Not exceptionally steeper. However, the last two miles were hell. I really have no other way to say it.

No longer did three of us wander ahead then wait to regroup. Now, everyone was requesting breaks, taking a step they could not follow through with movement, breathing deep against a dizzy spell. I do not know if it was the altitude or the over 11 miles already stacked on our muscles or that it was the first 14er summit for all of us. Perhaps it was all of the above.

The hardcore people passed us, of course. This is Colorado. People run this route annually for the Pikes Peak Ascent half marathon then up and down for the full marathon. In one of the fittest cities in the country, even a compulsively active person can be proved completely out of shape. We marveled at the fact that any body could perform such a feat multiple times, and one of us removed participating in the event from their bucket list.

We trudged on. That is the most apt way to say it. The steps were slow and heavy. The breaths were deep and labored. The muscles burned. The thoughts revolted. And yet, we trudged on.

The absolute worst part (for EVERYONE) was the very final stretch, horrendously dubbed The Golden Stairs. At this point, we had made our way to the final boulder field approaching the peak. We could hear and see the cog railway moving along the top of the mountain. We could even hear the tourists milling about above us, most likely spectating our sad ascent.

The switchbacks jagged severely and rapidly across the waning mountainside with larger and more fierce rocks to overcome. These 16 “steps” felt like they were never going to end. For an eternity, it felt like we were so impossibly close and so depressingly far from the end. Like we could reach out and touch it yet never actually reach it.

Then it was there. The summit. The end.

We had fucking made it.

Directly at the terminus of the trail, the four of us circled together in a group hug. Some of us may have cried (me absolutely). I said how proud I was of them. And I was. So proud of all of us.

In all honesty, on that hike, our group enjoyed the perfect chemistry. No one got irritated or bitchy, even at our lowest moments. The levity was an appropriate balance. The support was amazing. No one got left behind.

My sister and crew finished a good two and a half hours before we made it to the top. It took us just over 10 hours to go about 14 miles from car to summit. Thankfully, we had two separate pick up cars.

Looking back at the hike as a whole, it was not hard. It was actually quite easy as far as hikes go. Base to treeline was easy. Everything until the last two miles was tolerable. (The last two miles were HELL.) It was just long. So long. Over 13 miles just in up. Yet that all just managed to accentuate the accomplishment.

In the wake, I find myself changed. I have such a completely different perspective on something that has loomed over me most of the days of my life. I grew up in Pikes Peak’s shadow. I have been up the highway to the summit plenty of times. Yet nothing was like actually learning the mountain the way we did with each step, actually experiencing the entire length of something I saw every day, something I ignored many days.

I have had many experiences in my life that utterly shifted my perspectives on everything. Accepting being bipolar. Going to Iraq. This was the first one that occurred entirely externally. It felt like a metaphor, like a physical experience of all the perspective shifts I have experienced on the inside. I was able to see something familiar from an entirely different angle. Everything changed, and everything stayed the same.

I have a pretty decent view of Pikes Peak at the end of my street, and every time I have been outside today, I am just dumbstruck thinking that only yesterday I was up there. Right there at the top. I walked up that entire mountain.

And what is the one thing I have no mentioned? My hamstring. That’s right. I have not mentioned my hamstring because it was a nonissue. It is a nonissue. There were certainly moments of discomfort and tightness along the trail. I did not sit very often because it hurt. Yet my hamstring was not a hindrance. That is a HUGE change from earlier this year when I could cry rolling over in bed or standing up out of my car.

Today I find that I feel like nothing happened. My hamstring does not hurt at all. I am not even sore (though that could be waiting for me in the morning). I must be doing something right with all these workouts. It must be doing something.

But none of that matters as much as the fact that my hamstring does not hurt.

Christina Bergling

christinabergling.com
facebook.com/chrstnabergling
@ChrstnaBergling
chrstnaberglingfierypen.wordpress.com
goodreads.com/author/show/11032481.Christina_Bergling
pinterest.com/chrstnabergling
instagram.com/fierypen/
amazon.com/author/christinabergling