Twig Adventures

A 2020 update

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 felt a brief explanation was in order as a per-cursor to my hiking blog series “20 in 20,” the short stories about the 20 14er’s I climbed in 2020 while “stuck” in Colorado.  It’s the “stuck” part I struggled with, because it involved disclosing a painful personal experience. It was my hope that in telling a bit of the story, my own healing process could benefit some, too.

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 blood clot in my brain that landed me in the hospital for a week. Afterwards, I had debilitating headaches, dizziness, and very low energy for some time. The good news is that I fully recovered with no long-term disabilities. I was lucky to get 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 hoped to hike the Hayduke route, an 800 mile journey through southern Utah and the Grand Canyon, in April. Given my medical condition, I’d already decided to postpone this remote and demanding hike for another year, well before the pandemic hit. Hindsight being 2020 (a cliche with a whole new level of meaning), this trip would’ve had to been cancelled because of the global pandemic. 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 were all terrible in their own right. Many lost loved ones during this time, and unfortunately, I fell into this category. I lost my dad to cancer in the midst, which was the most heart-wrenching loss I’d ever gone through.  Readers may recall that he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Melanoma in May 2019, which caused me to leave 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 of 2020. 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 (having no siblings), feeling terribly isolated, alone, and depressed from so many horific 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 in early July. I didn’t even get to see him that last 5 days of his life because visitors weren’t allowed at the hospital/nursing home. 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 was profoundly painful and I still agonize over not being there for him in his final moments. All I can hope is that he went peacefully. After his funeral, I kind of disappeared into the woods, first on a section hike of the Colorado Trail and then on several big tours around the region with some friends. I credit this time spent outdoors and in the company of a few others in helping me get through the toughest days after my loss. 

In reflection, I wasn’t 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 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. The trail provides and will continue to do so.

Here’s a beautiful little song about hope and renewal, to end this sad post.

Acony Bell by Gillian Welch

The fairest bloom
The mountain knows
Is not an iris
or a wild rose
But the little flower
of which I’ll tell
Known as the brave acony bell

Just a simple flower
so small and plain
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

Well it makes its home
mid the rocks and the rills
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”

And so I’ll sing
that yellow bird’s song
For the troubled times
will soon be gone

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.