RULES FOR THE DISABLED HIKER

RULES OF THE DISABLED HIKER.  * Recently added- #2

1. Never hike alone. 

2. Keep realistic goals and define your true limitations.

3. Listen to the concerns of others when making your plans.

4. Research trails so you know your hike is across terrain that matches your ability. 

5. Always carry bear spray.

6. Carry a cell phone, whistle, pen, and paper, on your person at all times.

7. Stabilize yourself with walking sticks, canes, & other assisted walking aids. 

8. Make plans and make contingency plans for emergencies.

9. Pass all ideas and insights found along the way onto others.

10. Don't overdo it. Remember, you're out there to have fun.

  These are the basic rules I defined for myself when first deciding to hit the trails again. After losing so much mobility to chronic pain and the full-time job I clung so desperately and preciously to in spite of it. I came to the realization that if I was going to hike again it would need to be fun or the pain would quickly diminish my desire to go out there. I mean if I desired torture there were easier ways to get it than destroying something I loved doing in the process.
  The intention of this particular page is to explore these rules I've defined for myself one by one in the hopes that you too will integrate them into your outdoor adventures. Enhancing not only your experiences but your access to the wilderness as well.
In the coming weeks I'll be exploring each one. But today let's take it from the top, shall we?

{Listed in reverse order as written.

 

4. Research Trails, So You Know Your Hike Is Across Terrain That Matches Your Ability. 

*Read at the following link

Disabled Hiker Rule #4 (link) 

 

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 3. Listen to the concerns of others when making your plans.

Upon returning to the hiking trails, there were a number of naysayers who seem determined to confine my travels to city streets and so-called nature trails that had been cleared of every bump and rock. But I wanted adventure. A chance to touch nature again without the sterilization process that so many wished to impose on me.


However also present were those I like to call 'the go for it crowd '. Composed of well-meaning individuals who often don't fully understand the implications of all they suggest for us. Clearly our purpose most certainly differs from the average hiker.

Whereas most are out there to challenge their stamina if not every muscle in their body, we are out there with the full intention of coming back unscathed for multiple reasons. First, so that we will be able to do it again without our friends and loved ones worrying about us every minute we're out there. And second, so that we can build a little confidence of our own. Not only confidence physically but mentally as well.


If we are truly to listen to the concerns of others when making our plans, it is essential that we find a way to keep all those concerns in perspective. It's essential to not scare easily nor trivialize any of the things that present themselves on any overnight hiking trip. That's when I decided to devise a little game for myself in the hopes of answering those really tough questions 'others' had about me hiking again.


I never really named this game as I was really just making it up as I went along at first. But for now we'll call it The Disabled Hiker Wilderness Stew Game. Because basically, you throw it all in a pot, heat, stir, and serve it up unseasoned and piping hot. Regardless of how good or bad it tastes, previous knowledge will ensure the recipe will get better with time.

To start out with, I began by soliciting and writing down a list of all the concerns that people presented me with. From friends, relatives, and anyone else who cared to offer an opinion. Excluding of course the ridiculous and obscure that often came from people who had never been hiking nor spent a night in the woods in their lives.


Secondly, with the help of my old hiking journals and simple memory, I compiled a short outline of a weekend hike where everything that had ever gone wrong on all of my hiking trip's was compiled into one weekend hike. Adding to it I further included all the mundane things that every hiking trip would not be complete without, from setting up a tent to going poop in the woods. It was important that I leave no aspect of this imaginary adventure unrecognized. I especially added the times when things went really wrong.

Third, I compile both these lists into a single outline of a wilderness vacation that reminded me more of a of a 55 hour long nightmare that included not only 'the concerns of others', but also the concerns laid out over years of my own hiking experiences as well. Ironically... I guess it's true of all good stew's in the pot, that it is difficult to keep the tasting thief from taking a sample long before it is finished cooking. As I added the two lists together, I found myself cheating and I had to constantly restrain myself from problem solving until the outline was finished.

The fourth step then became obvious as I released the bloodhounds of my consciousness on problem after problem. Answering every dilemma as best I could. At first verbally, and then later physically as well. As I said, I wanted to know how I was going to handle everything. Even the little things mattered as those little things can seem awful big when you're in pain and not feeling within normal parameters.


I found a prime example of this in an old trail journal entry from long ago when I had twisted my ankle on the trail. I was in considerable pain especially the morning after.

On this particular occasion I dedicated two full pages of my journal to darkly colored metaphors and line after line of curse words strung together like a tapestry of doom, simply because I had knelt down by the fire to make coffee without grabbing the water that hung on a tree limb only yards away. Yet considering the pain I was in at the moment, it might as well have been miles away.


This journal entry of which I speak became the inspiration behind 'The Hook' featured in episode 2 part 5 of The Disabled Hiker. { DH, ep-2, part-5 video link }

Once I'd stopped patting myself on the back for my ingenuity, it slowly dawned on me that this was going to be an ongoing process. It was also apparent that this process had a unique way of preserving and addressing the concerns of others while directly utilizing my own experience to maximize my preparedness. And where it's true that every problem is in need of that eventual perfect solution. They don't all need that solution right away. For indeed the journey itself is why we're all out there.

By Terry Craig

 2. Keep realistic goals and define your true limitations.

 There is this helpless feeling that washes over you when you finally realize you've bitten off more than you can chew. Suddenly you feel all alone in the universe as a sense of panic begins to swell up inside of you like a building storm. Your mind races. You try to figure out how to undo the situation you put yourself in. Your mind is also scolding you for being so arrogant in your decisions thus far.



 Yup, that was me. Only a week out of the hospital I'd decided to attempt what seemed to be a piece a cake, only to find it would actually turn out to be one of the more scary moments of my life. At the time my mission was to simply walk, by myself, a mere four city blocks and back again to retrieve a newspaper. I mean how hard could it be?

 I was still on large doses of morphine and although my doctors kept telling me to take it easy, I was determined to start exercising in some small way. Unfortunately my perception of small was a little off and I found myself sitting on a curb three blocks from home in excruciating pain and so out of breath I could not have uttered my name if my life had depended on it.

 It was all very surreal. The bright sunlight seem to mix with the traffic noise and the lack of oxygen and the drugs added a confusion to it all that seemed like some nightmarish, Alfred Hitchcock movie, where the hero dies horribly insane, parched and forgotten in the desert. Only this wasn't the desert. It was in the city and virtually outside my own front door in retrospect to the miles I'd covered in the past.

 
 Sometimes we are not the best judge of what is too much or realistic for us to take on. And unfortunately, my past reads like the poster child for overdoing it. So of course I'm a great one to talk on the subject right?

 For years I tried to keep up with people I now believe I had no business trying to keep up with. I would find out the hard way every time I pushed myself.  Despite the drugs, the pain would catch up to me and I would wonder why I was doing this to myself. At times the pain would lay me out flat. I realized I had no foresight.

 I vividly remember two such hikes in particular with my brother-in-law where I had to be extracted early. Both times on the same mountain, the same time of year, and for the same stupid reason. Talk about repeating mistakes!


 My brother-in-law was into endurance hiking. I often put myself in so much pain struggling to keep up with him, I literally set up a chain of events that could have even killed me. Once the pain overwhelmed me I stopped thinking. And so I also stopped drinking as well. I kept telling myself I could stop to drink at the top but by then it was way past too late.

 Most chronic pain survivors will tell you that there is a level of pain that once reached a kind of delirium sets in, a level of pain where you stop thinking rationally. At these times even sound seems to take a physical form that can punch, push, bite, and tear at you. And it's difficult to predict when and where that will happen.

 In my efforts to continue hiking I've had to discover a few tricks of my own such as throwing a lightweight hammock into my pack giving me the versatility to set up camp whenever the pain got to be too much for me to continue, as well as carrying the hammock and my tarp on the outside of my pack so that I can set up quickly.

 If I were to put a finger on this one, I'd say talk to your family, the people who love and know you best, both on your good days and bad. These people are also the best suited for this kind of conversation above any of the experts.



 Once defined, it's not necessary to be stopped by these limitations. Instead use them to help create new tools and techniques adding them to your arsenal. Your toolbox of ingenuity. All the while turning limitations into little more than bumps in the road.

 Realistically, I try to keep one thing in mind above all others. I want to have fun out there. That's it in a nutshell. I don't care how far I go, I don't care how fast I get there, and I no longer want to work that hard at having a good time. So based on that, realistic goals become much easier to find. Remember, it's not out there for you to conquer. You're out there to experience your life and nature.

By; Terry Craig
Assistant Editor; Monica McAghon

 

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 1. Never Hike Alone !

 
For years I hiked alone and without mishap. Although I must admit even while I was doing it there was a strange sensation. One I could only describe as borrowed time. 
Yet by the time I started hiking with my dog S'iyo I was yet unscathed. Soon after though I became less mobile and this changed. I still consider myself lucky for as many times as I've taken a spill since. I still  have not spilled much of my blood on the trails of Pa. 
(Knock on wood.)


Now I know no one in our condition just pulls a hiking dog like S'iyo out of thin air and starts hitting the trails. No way. It took a lot of time and patience. And lets face it. Dogs cant help in all situations. So there is a little foresight that goes into that as well.

When you are dealing with physical challenges it's most important that you take a few things into consideration should you decide to strike out on your own anyway. Most of the time just seeing these realizations in front of you is enough to wrestle the thinking mind from a "I'm going alone Anyway" mentality to a "Who can I ask to come with me" thought process. You don't need someone to coddle you. Heck no! You need someone to be there not because something bad is going to happen, but to be there in the rare instance something does happen. Besides that you are simply looking for someone to share the experience with.



Unfortunately no one knows better than I how hard it is to find hiking partners that are willing to travel not only at our diminished speeds but also to cut distance traveled as well. As it turns out the worst and most common problem facing the lone hiker (physically challenged or not) is and has always been taking a fall. Sadly some of us have lost our graceful ballerina standing and we take double to quadruple that chance of falling. So precautionary thinking on all fronts would only seem wise and playing out all of the worst-case scenarios in your head is a good place to start. Answering all the questions and concerns no matter how ludicrous they may sound long before you hit the trail, soon reveals how interconnected each of these situations can be. Don't be afraid to listen to the fears of others with an open mind. Where it is true you may have to dismiss the odd zombie apocalypse scenario along with being abducted by aliens. You'll find having an answer for these scenarios ahead of time will only serve to prepare you better for whatever happens out there with a calm cool head.
But this is about Never Hiking Alone so let's get back on point.




Photo by Stefanie Statler
As a person dealing with physical challenges it usually only takes a split second when coming face-to-face with a top predator for the thought to pop into your head. That perhaps your limp or your diminished mobility makes you look like an easy target. Contrary to what you're probably hoping I'll tell you. The answer is most definitely Yes. Any animal that looks sickly or lame in the wilderness has been earmarked as possible food. Especially If They Are Alone and unprotected by others. It's important to remember that the act of protecting one another is actually a natural act. For instance, wild geese will not leave an injured party behind unattended. An injured goose dropping out of the flock will always be accompanied by one or two of its peers who guard and protect the injured from predators until it is healed and can return to the flock. Crows and ravens have a similar code of conduct as well. Crows and ravens actually take this one step further by using specific calls that literally mean "I'm injured and I need help fast". So even the wildlife understand the ramifications of being alone when in a vulnerable situation or status. It is the natural way of things. So as your limp or diminished mobility may make 
you a bigger target than you might have expected, it's really the combination when mixed with the fact that you're alone that makes you look like a viable target. Although most hikers don't have to think in such terms. By design all predators are only successful in the hunt a small percentage of the time. Just as nature intended the old, sick, and the lame get recycled, while the healthy, virile, and young, are much to fast to catch and are allowed to continue and procreate. In combination with that all predators will lose interest in pray that shows the potential to harm them. Nothing is more devastating to a predator than being injured by their own food source. Not only does injury diminish the hunters ability to hunt. But also as most top predators will also consider their own old, injured, and lame, as a food source as well, a predator can quickly find themselves on the menu instead of the top of the food chain. It's easy to understand why looking like you will put up too much of a fight can be the perfect bluff.


In view of these things it all becomes clear to see that there are inherent advantages to having some one out there with you. Even if it's just the family dog. Although a human partner can sometimes catch you before you fall and even help you pick up the peaces when you do. Dogs have been known to do phenomenal and unexpected things to aid an injured owner and even total strangers. Even if it was little more than standing watch over them till help arrived it means a lot to someone who is hurt and scared to

have that companion watching and warning them of further danger. Although it sounds rather cliché.
I always make sure I have a paper and pen in my pocket or close by so as a last resort I can write a note and attach it to my dog's collar.  Contrary to the "Go Get HELP Lassie!" part of this cliché. It's not a good idea to send your dog off on a wild goose chase. Sending the dog obliviously down the trail for help and left to his own devices, your dog may be forced to wander quite a ways before he actually comes across anybody. All dogs are very apathetic at sensing both injury and pain. However the longer they are away from you that sense of urgency may diminish over the time and distance he traveled looking for help. So the more you can shorten the distance between you and your rescuers before sending your faithful companion to go get them the better. The other thing to consider in this instance as well is that you could be there overnight. Once again nothing will feel better than having your faithful dog with you at that time rather than out running the countryside alone and facing dangers of his own.

I often ask myself if I will ever hike alone again. In fact I came real close last year. With S'iyo feeling so weak from his heart condition I could not in all good conscience take him hiking with me. He constantly teetered between good days and bad and he refused to take medications without a serious battle. One that I was not willing to wage out in the middle of the woods. And besides, what kind of experience would that have been for him. However after listening to me bellyache about not being able to go hiking all summer long, my wife was more than happy to finally tell me to just load up on bear spray and go anyway. I must admit the idea intrigued me for more than just a few days. But in the end I had to side with the common sense I preach so vehemently here on these pages to never hike alone. Eventually my patience was rewarded when my son took a few days off to accompany me in early August. If it weren't for that I would probably remember the summer of 2013 as the year I kept my pack packed and at the ready the entire summer. Just in case I found somebody to go with me on the fly. 

Sadly S'iyo is gone now. And as I busily train the next generation of hiking dog for the coming summer. I am also building a bond of cooperation and understanding with my new companion. And the fact that I'm not hiking alone is sure to put my old hiking partners spirit at ease.

 Hike on and hike safely.
 Terry
~ The Disabled Hiker ~

1 comment:

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