Nov 27th, 2020
Dear blog readers,
First, thanks for following! My goal in writing this blog has been and always will be to provide positive and uplifting content about my hikes and other adventures. I strive to focus on the beauty of nature and inspiring elements of human-powered travel. But I feel a bit of a departure is in order before I launch into my summer hiking blog series “20 in 20,” briefly explaining how this came about.
I’ll be posting short stories about the 20 14er’s I climbed in 2020 while “stuck” in Colorado. It’s the “stuck” part I struggle with, because it involves disclosing a painful personal experience with a wide and largely unknown audience. It’s my hope that in telling a bit of the story, my own healing process can benefit some, too. If you’d rather just skip ahead to fun stories and pictures about hiking, I completely understand and encourage you to do so. I won’t know any difference:) Either way, thank you again for following.
2020…what a shit year.
It seems fitting that this most difficult year coincided with some of the worst events of my own life. My struggles actually started at the end of 2019 when I developed a life-threatening medical condition that landed me in the hospital for a week. Afterwards, I had debilitating headaches, dizziness, and very low energy for some time. I won’t go into all the details but the good news is that I’m fully recovered with no long-term disabilities. I was fortunately back to hiking and paddling by January, and even able to hike an 80 mile section of the Mountains to Sea Trail, NC in late February.
I had hoped to hike the Hayduke route, an 800 mile journey through southern Utah and the Grand Canyon, in March. Hindsight being 2020 (a cliche with a whole new level of meaning), this trip would’ve had to been canned because of the global pandemic. Given my medical condition, I had already decided to postpone this remote and demanding hike for another year, well before the pandemic hit. This was ok, I reasoned, because I still had another card up my sleeve: the Appalachian Trail.
Having completed the PCT in 2018 and the CDT in 2019, I was on a roll. A southbound AT hike, beginning July 2020, would have given me ample time to recover physically and be the definitive conclusion to my Triple Crown of hiking. Truth be told, the Triple Crown wasn’t even a goal when I first began thru-hiking, least of all doing it in 3 consecutive years. As happens to many serial thru-hikers, I just sort of walked myself towards it, one thru-hike at a time. More and more it became a goal, then just a given. They say you either hike one of the 3 long thru-hikes or you hike them all.
And then…COVID. For me, this crises went beyond the challenges of shut-downs, food shortages, and lost jobs, which are all terrible in their own right. Many lost loved ones during this time, and unfortunately, I fall into this category. I lost my dad to cancer in the midst, which has been the most heart-wrenching loss I’ve ever gone through. Followers of the blog may recall that he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Melanoma in 2019, which led me to abandon the CDT for about a month and half. During that time, he began a treatment which helped his tumors recede and his recovery looked promising. At least for awhile.
We had an inkling that his health was declining again in February. I traveled to Colorado to visit for a few weeks, beginning March 5th…the same day the first case of COVID was diagnosed in the state. Mid-March, it became clear that I would need to stay in CO indefinitely, partly because my return flight was cancelled but more importantly, because my dad’s cancer had returned with a vengeance. This horrible disease and the loss of access to proper care (again because of COVID) would rob him of his life over the next 4 months. During this time, I dealt with all the tough family matters and decisions myself (I have no siblings), all the while feeling isolated, alone, and depressed from so many terrible things going on in the world. It was as if everything bad that could happen, all happened at once.
My only redemption and escape from this darkness was, as always, the outside…nature. The beautiful Colorado mountains, canyons, and plateaus. I went on local hikes and trail runs daily then as the high-country snow melted and lock-downs eased, began to tackle the nearby peaks. I gave up on my intentions to thru-hike the AT and instead focused on hiking as many 14ers as I could escape to over the summer.
My dad passed away early in July. I didn’t even get to see him that last 5 days of his life because visitors weren’t allowed at the hospital. In the end, my mom and I weren’t able to care for him, which is something I will always regret and feel terrible about. All those stories about people dying alone from COVID, their family members not being able to see them ever again…I know what that feels like. It hurts more than anything.
After his funeral, I kind of disappeared into the woods completely, first on a section hike of the Colorado Trail and then on several big tours around the region with my friends, Stellar and Sandy. They had come to Colorado to visit and hike for several weeks and their timing couldn’t have been better. I credit their incredible friendship and support in helping me get through the toughest days after my loss. I don’t know if I could ever express enough how grateful I am to them but I’ll try to do so by honoring them in my stories. Stellar also inspired and facilitated our thru-hike of the Long Trail in Sep-Oct, posts on that to come shortly, as well.
In reflection, I’m not all that disappointed to have lost my bid to finish the Triple Crown this year. As anyone that has ever had to give up on a thru-hike can recite, the trail is still there and <hopefully> will always be there. This just wasn’t a good year to do it…for so many people and so many reasons. In the meantime, I was blessed to be able to travel to some of the most incredible natural areas in the world and do so in the company of treasured friends. The trail always provides and will continue to do so.
Here’s a beautiful little song about hope to end this sad post. Thanks Gillian and to all of you for your support.
Is not an iris or a wild rose
But the little flower of which I’ll tell
Known as the brave acony bell
With a pearly hue and a little known name
But the yellow birds sing when they see it bloom
For they know that spring is coming soon
Where the snow lies deep on the windy hills
And it tells the world “why should i wait
This ice and snow is gonna melt away”
For the troubled times will soon be gone