Lessons from Injury 6/25/2006
What a week full of celebrations and life lessons…where to begin? Started back at training on Monday with lifting, step, and a big hike. Tuesday found me running and at the hockey arena. During the warm-up, I made a sharp cut on the ice and I knew immediately that something had happened to my left knee. By the level of pain I could tell it was hurt but not seriously I thought. I played the game gingerly trying not to repeat the move. Wednesday morning I found I couldn’t descend stairs or do a leg press without pain so I got worried…and then I got into action.
I consulted with a colleague who suggested some immediate physiotherapy might help me heal quicker so I called for an appointment. My usual clinic couldn’t see me until tomorrow so I called around until I could get an appointment the same day. I knew I needed someone to order me to take it easy. Jennifer checked me out and declared that I’ll given my lateral collateral ligament a bit of a stretch but it wasn’t badly injured and I wouldn’t have to be out long. “Whew,” I breathed a sigh of relief. She zapped me and ultrasounded me and gave me some exercises and sent me off with the instruction to “avoid doing anything that hurts.” I listened well. Took the rest of Wednesday off.
Thursday, I continued to go easy but by evening, I was itching to move (as well as itching all over from all the pollen flying around town). I saw my bike and wondered if it would be possible to ride. The evening light was gorgeous and a strong breeze lopped the harbour. I jumped on my bike and yahoo-pedaling didn’t hurt. I flashed on all the training I did for Tibet and decided to ride my “Ring the Harbour” route wishing my knee healing with every rotation of the crank shaft.
Friday, I rode my bike up to school, was able to leg press pain free and descend stairs painfree. Jennifer said things were looking good and suggested that I try running again. I tried step class without my backpack (a piece of cake) and got even more hopeful. Saturday I felt ready to try to run and headed off around Quidi Vidi Lake very tentatively and slowly. I had a sense of awareness of my knee but no pain…6 kilometers later, my back was tight but my leg was fine. I stretched out my back and hit the shower.
I had wanted to install my new compost bin for days so headed out back in the dampness. As I reached around to the side, I slipped on the wet boards and thought I was going to fall. I found my feet but jerked by back. I was once again in pain. I dropped to one knee and tried to catch my breath-difficult to do since it hurt to breathe. Being the stubborn being that I can be, I finished installing the bin then came inside realizing that I’d given my back a big pull. The pain was increasing so I took the ice pack and me upstairs for some cryotherapy. During the course of the afternoon, I experienced some of the most significant pain of my life. I tried a variety of things including natural, pharmaceutical, and massage. I went to bed hopeful.
I slept well and woke up painfree. I could tell I was still tight and couldn’t move as well as usual but things were looking up. I rolled carefully out of bed and tried out my feet. They worked. Coming downstairs was fine. Getting dressed was stiff but OK. I decided to give running a try and laced up my shoes. Quidi Vidi was calling over so I headed that way and back and knee cooperated fully and I was able to compete my full long run of 16 kilometers. During much of the run, I contemplated impermanence, disability, and gratitude. After a few days off, I was filled with gratitude for the ability to be moving under my own steam again and grateful for the lessons and new perspectives that my injuries had precipitated.
I was pleased to notice that when injured, I didn’t sink into despair and depression but found determination and resolve rising instead. I also observed myself taking good care of my injuries-seeking out information, support, and treatment to help them heal. I was also grateful for the rest and for the injuries breaking the chain of busyness in my week. The few extra hours I had made a big difference and introduced some spaciousness into my schedule, which I hope to carry forward as I begin teaching again tomorrow. I also noticed a gentle appreciation for my physical abilities, quick healing, and my precious human birth rise to consciousness on several occasions. I faced how quickly such things can shift and change and be lost. Funny to think that an injury can bring gifts…
I had a fun birthday week celebrating with friends and family. I ate way too much yummy food and birthday cake. I luxuriated in thick air, comfort, and fun…a far cry from last year’s birthday. I’ll close with an excerpt from my book about how I spent last year’s birthday. Have a great week-thanks to all for celebrating with me this week.
Having been the first out of the tent and breakfast cook for the previous 22 days, I informed my tent mates that I wanted the morning off to be able to enjoy my birthday cards. As it turns out, I’d had a bit of trouble sleeping the night before so I read my cards in the middle of the night but I re-read them while Yves was out cooking breakfast. He delivered my morning hot chocolate in bed and I thought I could get used to this birthday stuff!
We packed up the tent and met the rest of the group by the ropes. As we were tying in for the day’s travel, the whole group broke into song and the glacier echoed with notes of Happy Birthday. We left camp and traversed around the leading edge of the Harper Icefall and dropped onto the Harper Glacier. We took our first break in a flat expanse that blocked all views of the lower mountain making it seem as there was only one direction to go…up! After the break, the terrain steepened measurably and we crested wave after wave of glacier only to see that another hill awaited us. After several hours of this steepness, we topped out unto another plateau. We made end-runs around several large crevasses, adding many steps to our day. We reached the cache that the group placed the day before and took our second break. We decided to back-carry from this cache, meaning we’d climb back down for it on another day. A big sigh of relief went up that we wouldn’t have to add another 30 or 35 pounds to our backs.
After the cache, the terrain demanded more of us again and it was imperative to find a rhythm within which to climb. I found that it always took my body several minutes to get going again after a break and as the terrain steepened and as we gained altitude, this waiting period became more and more challenging to experience. These moments felt like drowning to me, a sense of panic arose, as I would struggle to keep up with my body’s oxygen needs. I felt like I could easily be incontinent through all orifices and it always seemed like there was no way I could continue to climb feeling like that. What I needed was to settle into the rest step, which matched breathing with stepping. Sometimes the ratio was two steps, one breath; other times it was one step, one breath. This brought the air hunger under control, provided a foundation for deep breathing, and enabled me to climb for hours.
As I climbed higher and higher, I gained more skill in dropping into a rhythm quicker and getting back into one faster after an interruption. I began to expect the drowning feeling, gave myself permission to shit myself if needed, and started to trust that the intensity of the drowning state would eventually pass. I soon cherished my climbing rhythm especially since it was highly meditative and so strongly grounded in the present moment. With my mind paying such close attention to stepping, breathing, ice axe placement, and rope tension, there was no space for daydreaming, for the past or for the future. Each moment was the only thing that existed for hours at a time.
As we passed the 5,200 meter mark, the wind began to pick up and the temperature dropped noticeably. For the first time, we stopped and put on more layers. The last 200 meters of elevation gain to camp felt like thousands as energy stores were depleted by the previous 12 hours of climbing. We arrived at the campsite just as the sun was dipping below the ridgeline and the temperature plummeted another 25 degrees to well below freezing. I put on my insulated pants for the first time. I put on my big down parka for the first time. I struggled to take off my crampons because my hands were instantly wooden. Mike had to zip up my parka zipper because my fingers didn’t work. My head pounded with every breath. This was a dig or die moment.
AJ quickly gathered us together, explained that the next several hours would be miserable, that we needed to find the reserves deep within ourselves and handed out tasks. A few team members began to melt snow for water, many began to level a large platform for all four tents, some probed out the perimeter and the two folks who were really hurting from the altitude bundled up in every piece of clothing they had and slowly walked laps around the perimeter waiting for the safe havens of the tents to go up. I was cold so I knew I wanted to be physical but I wasn’t sure where the energy was going to come from as I hadn’t eaten or had anything to drink in about fours hours.
I will try to help you understand what this moment was like. Imagine being a bit drunk or tipsy while already feeling the next day’s hangover, feeling deeply chilled overall with really cold feet and hands, being able to move two shovels of snow and then having to lean over your shovel out of breath, then having to swing your legs to make the blood go back to your toes through centrifugal force, then having to catch your breath again, then shoveling again, then feeling a bit dizzy and unsteady, then swinging your arms to bring blood to your hands, shovel a bit more. Repeat the above for four hours while really wanting to curl up into a ball in the snow.
My core temperature warmed up while shoveling though my toes continued to feel cold and I feared frostbite. I shoveled until I truly had nothing left. By then, tents were up and it was finally OK to crawl into the security of those nylon walls. It was 10:30 PM. We left Camp Five at 9:00 that morning. Ryan was feeling pretty good so he cooked dinner in the tent vestibule. We each got a half package of half-cooked ramen noodles in tepid water, a positively divine birthday dinner! I was asleep in minutes without writing in my journal. I was probably the only person in the whole wide world celebrating a birthday at 5,400 meters, the highest birthday of my life.
Happy Solstice to All 6/17/2006
This time last year, I was immersed in my climb on Denali ferrying loads up Karsten’s Ridge. We were making our way gradually higher on the mountain. I find myself thinking more of Denali than Everest this month. I’m wondering how this year’s crew is doing and I’m missing the 24 hour sunlight of Alaska. The National Park Service recently published the statistics from last year’s climbing season. There were 1340 climbers on Denali last year. Eleven percent of the climbers were women. There was an overall success rate of 58% with female climbers having a 45% success rate. I was one of 77 Canadians on the mountain and one of 66 women who summited. Our expedition was the only team to summit on our route.
When I deliver a speech about Denali, I often speak of needing to balance between the view of the goal and the footsteps that take you there and also of the balance of looking forward towards the goal and looking back in appreciation of where we’ve come from in getting where we are. So in this anniversary month, I’m spending some time back on Denali appreciating what an accomplishment it was for me, the lessons learned there, and what new views it has prompted.
I’ve just returned from an amazing time in Placentia Bay. It can be a big challenge for me to transition back into urban life from the outdoors. I miss smelling the salt air on every breath, knowing intimately the phase of the moon, challenging my body and mind, drinking in the incredible rugged beauty of my surroundings, and being grounded in the present moment in such a embodied way. Life outdoors can be so simple: sleep, eat, paddle or climb, think, sleep, eat, paddle…the amount of stimulation is reduced and there is more time for reflection and observing my mind. On the other hand, life outdoors can be so complex: fear, doubt, risk analysis, group dynamics, and weather prediction all demand much of me. I’ll send out a complete account of the trip in the next few days. Check out my website for pictures soon as well. http://www.taloeffler.com
Someone recently asked me, “How do you decide to climb Everest?” I replied, “I don’t decide to climb Everest just once. I decide it each and every day.” I decide it when I drag myself out of bed to train. I decide it when I walk through my fear to call a potential sponsor. I decide it when, in the midst of transitioning in from the outdoors, the tasks Everest require of me seem too big, too hard, and impossible. I decide it even when my birthday card from my Oma says “forget about Everest.” I decide it when the bills for training climbs on my Visa card mount each month. I will decide to climb Everest each and every day until I do. This decision-making process is tantamount to keeping the view in sight and helps keep me making footsteps towards the mountain.
Some days the footsteps are bold while other days, they are tentative. The terrain vacillates between easy cruising and steepness that takes my breath away. I am solidly on the path and am doing my best to embrace every moment as part of my road to Everest. I weave lessons from daily life that form the warp of strength and perseverance that will support me on Everest. Like my year on Denali, my year on Everest will demand much of me and I’m glad to have you with me on this path-your belief in me helps bridge the crevasses of doubt and fear that will no doubt rise over and over again. I’m grateful that you are part of the weft of this Everest experience.
I’m back to training on Monday…
I hope all is well with you. Take good care.
The End of the Frugal Realm 6/3/2006
Another week in the frugal realm has passed and indeed, time was very, very frugal. I made most training dates with myself though a few slipped through the cracks as the week wore on and the to do list got longer. I finished my last set of interval runs up the backside of Signal Hill-though I kept my eyes peeled, I saw no dog crap to learn from. Last year, while running the same trail, I’d had quite a revelation when running by the same piece of dog crap over and over again. This time, instead, I imagined climbing through the Khumbu Icefield over and over again.
It’s funny how that now I’ve committed myself, entirely to the Everest path, how everything becomes related to Everest. I fell down while playing hockey and a friend says, “Better to fall here than the Khumbu icefall!” Leslie, the same friend who assigned the brownie Ring of Fire task recognizing that Denali and Denial share the same letters noticed that if one places the letter “N” in front of Everest-one gets Neverest or never rest. I suspect I won’t be resting all that much over the next 10 months as I prepare not only for Everest but also for Elbrus and Acongagua.
Mount Elbrus is the highest peak in Europe, is 5462 meters high, and is located in Southern Russia. I’ll be leaving for Russia on August 26. Aconcagua is the highest peak in South America and the Western Hemisphere at 6962 meters. I’m leaving for Argentina on December 10. These climbs will form the backbone structure of my training program for the next year-giving me intermediary goals and objectives to keep me motivated and focused on training for the long road to Everest. I put down deposits and bought flights for both this week which means this plan is now moving from dream into reality.
I spoke to another school today. This time, I traveled down the Cape Shore to St. Bride’s. I love watching the looks on the high school students’ faces as I start swinging my ice axe around and I love the questions the elementary students aren’t too shy to ask…important things like “How does one go to the bathroom on the mountain?” They presented me with a large card all the students had signed as well as a donation to the Everest fund. I just about melted. I continue to think it’s my responsibility to share what I saw by going up high. This is my favorite quote for describing why I think it’s important for me to keep talking to groups:
“You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.” Rene Daumal
Some folks have asked about T-shirts since last week’s update, I have a few left-they are $25.00 plus shipping…I’ll be placing another order soon. So let me know if you are interested in one…The first batch was beige-the second batch color is yet to be decided-they feature my logo embroidered on the front and “TA’s Road to Everest” on the back.
You won’t hear from me next week as I’ll be paddling in Placentia Bay. A friend and I are sea kayaking from Monkstown to Davis Cove-about 100 kilometers through and around Placentia Bay. We hope to cross to Merasheen and King’s Island if the weather gods shine upon us. Please call in any favors you have with the wind police. I’m eager to become intimate with another piece of the Newfoundland coast.
I continue to breathe a sigh of relief at last week’s decisions and look forward to the many challenges and growth that will come from travels on the Road to Everest. Take good care and catch you after June 14th.