Life on the Edge…(Chapter 6)

We had just left the Happy Isles Nature Center and arrived at the trailhead. The steady incline began shortly afterward and, as I foreknew, I began to lose the lead. I had such a rush from being in front of the group that I hiked faster to try and maintain the lead. That was a bad idea. I was already tired from the lack of sleep and by exerting myself so much at the beginning, I used up what little energy I had in reserve and became instantly exhausted.

I’ll just stick with Ms. Rosemarie, I thought. Rosemarie is a beautiful woman in her mid-70s, who accompanied us on the hike. This was her fourth trip to Half Dome. She was my inspiration. I believed that if a 70-something-year-old woman could do that hike, then why couldn’t I,being less than half her age, do it too?

Rosemarie knew the art of pacing. She steadily walked at the same pace, using her walking stick, and never stopped. I also knew the art of pacing. I had trained for weeks at the gym on the treadmill with the incline as steep as it would go. I practiced my breathing technique as well. However, training doesn’t amount to anything if you don’t utilize the skills you learned.

There I was, keeping time with Ms. Rosemarie, and thinking of my mission to Half Dome. The trek was a mission for me. Other than food and water, my backpack contained another piece of precious cargo. Just as Frodo’s mission in The Lord of the Rings was to take the One Ring back to Mordor to be destroyed, I carried something that I wanted to leave at the top of Half Dome, which represented a piece of me that needed to be destroyed.

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Life on the Edge…(Chapter 5)

First of all, I have a back condition called scoliosis. It’s not some contagious or debilitating disease. It just means that instead of being straight, my spine is curved. It has never hindered me from participating in any of the activities I like to do, but I try not to lift or carry things that are too heavy.

What a normal spine looks like

My spine looks like one of these

Second, I was tired from lack of sleep and my energy level was probably at just 35% or less at the beginning of the 16-mile trek. Come on, let’s say it altogether: C-R-A-Z-Y. Third, the big toe on my right foot was broken years ago and healed wrong, so occasionally, I have pain when I put too much pressure on it, such as when I do strenuous hikes.

When I was in my late teens, I trained in figure skating and also joined a company ballet troupe. Although I was never a skinny girl, I was much smaller than I am now, so I was able to do those activities successfully. Somehow, and apparently without my knowledge, I fractured my toe. My guess is that I must have broken it while dancing en pointe in ballet class, or maybe during one of the tough rehearsals for a production.  Yeah, somebody say, “Ouch!”

My ice skates were too sturdy and stiff for me to have broken a toe that way. To make a long story short, my mom took me to a podiatrist after I had been complaining of moderate to severe pain for a while. I had an x-ray done and the doctor told me that my toe had been fractured at some point and had healed incorrectly, causing the pain. He told me that he could re-fracture the toe and allow it to heal normally, or he could leave it as is and I would experience occasional pain. I chose the latter.

To this day, I still experience that occasional pain in my right foot, but it doesn’t prevent me from hiking or any other exercise. However, the hike to Half Dome was pretty miserable because I had hiked earlier in the week and aggravated the toe. The one day of rest in between didn’t help much, so I tried my best to ignore the pain.

The fourth challenge was that I wasn’t in the greatest shape as I had not participated in the rigorous training schedule that our leaders had designed for Team Half Dome several months prior to the hike. I went on a few more hikes than I normally would and chose some fairly difficult ones to do, but there’s nothing like getting up at 5am to run up and down stadium stairs to get you ready for the Mist Trail and Vernal Fall steps, as well as the dreadful Sub Dome steps.

Mist Trail Steps Leading to Vernal Fall

Steps Toward the Top of Nevada Fall

My fifth and final challenge, which was perhaps the greatest one of all, was that my backpack was overstuffed. Our leaders, who didn’t accompany us on this hike, had told us in our briefing not to fill our backpacks up with too much water because there were people hiking with us that had water filters. We would be able to refill our Camelbaks with spring water along the way if we ran out.

Well, I wanted to be over prepared rather than under prepared, so I packed a lot of food and filled up my 2-liter bladder with water. (For those of you who are non-hikers, the “bladder” I’m referring to is a sack that you fill up with water that fits into a special slot in a backpack with a tube that allows you to conveniently drink water while hiking.)

This Camelbak is similar to the one I carried

In addition to that, I carried an extra liter of water in a plastic Camelbak bottle.  I packed all those things because I didn’t really know what to expect on this hike and didn’t want to be out in the wilderness starving and/or dehydrated. I later discovered why our leaders advised against overstuffing our backpacks.