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Modifying the Path

I’m a backpacker. I’m a hiker, cyclist, bikepacker, paddler, and all around Badass Adventure Woman! Also, according to my recent test results, I’m an asthmatic with a heart issue – a heart issue that won’t get better but will probably get worse, that impacts my ability to do the things that I love, and may very possibly be life limiting. Hearing that was a blow – I’m not going to lie. It knocked me on my backside and took the breath right out of my body. I didn’t believe it at first – I’m Badass Adventure Woman, after all – but then the bottom dropped out and I ended up deep in the pit of despair. I mean I was devastated. I spent a day and a half crying and then a week in full-on “poor me” mode. To be fair, I haven’t had my stamina back since my head injury while hiking in 2019 and being stuck in a hotel room for 6 months in India didn’t exactly improve matters, so I was already not in my best headspace. Add a diagnosis full of “probably and possibly”, and I was circling the drain.

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Thank goodness that’s over. I got it mostly out of my system – at least enough so that I can function and even be my old cheerful self occasionally. Still, things have changed and I need to address how those changes will affect me going forward. Obviously, I’m going to have to rethink and revise some of my short-term plans and long-term goals and make some modifications to my path. Did you notice how I didn’t say that I’m going to quit because of this new wrench life has thrown at me? That’s because quitting doesn’t help. Don’t get me wrong – I did have some “I’m staying in bed and eating Ben & Jerry’s from now on” moments – but they didn’t last. I love the outdoors too much. I love the views and waterfalls that you can only see after hiking on secluded trails, the birds and the wildlife that live deep in the woods, and waking to the smell of brewing coffee on a cold morning while still snuggled in my sleeping bag. I have to figure out how to adjust my lifestyle to still include those things that I love, but to do them in a safe, responsible way in line with my current restrictions. Easy peasy… Okay, not easy (or peasy), but possible. 

So right off the bat, my habit of taking off alone with a 45 pound pack on my back had to change. My tendency to hike more than 15 miles per day is off the table too. And, at this point, it doesn’t look like my goal of thru-hiking the AT (let alone the triple crown) will be happening any time soon. While that’s all terribly disappointing, it’s really only a few things. If I want to go hiking or backpacking now, I can still go! I just can’t go alone and I can’t overpack. I have to bring a patient friend, take it easy, limit my mileage, bring a satellite phone, and stay a little closer to civilization. Fine, those changes are all doable, but what about hiking a long-trail? That can still happen too. I just have to pick one that stays close to towns. The Camino de Santiago springs to mind – and that was already on my list! I still can’t run an ultra trail marathon, but that was only going to happen in my mind while reading something from Scott Jurek anyway. The rest of it is possible though, just with some modifications. 

So, what’s my point? Why am I sharing my sob story? Because I’m not alone – life happens to a bunch of us. How many times have injuries or illnesses made you change your plans? How many times did you push those plans to the wayside and never go back to them? When I worked in hospice, those plans were what I heard about the most. Those were the regrets that people were still thinking about at the end of their lives. If you ignore them, they come back to haunt you, but if you change them up a bit to work within what’s possible, they become proud achievements! Let’s do that instead.

Fine, but how do we do that? First, we get organized. Write down the things that you really love to do or want to try, but can’t due to current circumstances (illness, injury, time, lifestyle or location constraints). Don’t do this all at one sitting. Put it somewhere that you see everyday (refrigerator, desk) and add to it as things come to you. Next, take each item and break them down. What part of it makes it not possible? Can that be modified? Or, can that goal be switched out with something similar and just as satisfying without the problematic portion? Being open to new possibilities and compromises is key here. Think outside of the box. The new options might not be “perfect”, but if they let you get close to your bucket list, isn’t that really the goal? 

Maybe it sounds like I’m oversimplifying things, but I think that’s just because I’ve had a lot of practice. If you know me at all, you know that I’m as accident prone as they get. I’ve had to change things up a lot due to injuries. It almost comes second nature to me, and I think, with a little practice, it will become second nature to you too. That’s a good thing. I’ve found – especially lately – that it’s an important skill to have. It can change your life. Instead of stopping cold – or worse – turning around, you can make a few adjustments and keep on going. My hope is that we (me and you) can continue on, despite the curve balls thrown in our direction and I think that we can get there – by just modifying the path. 

See you on the trail! ~ Val

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