Feature in Base Camp Magazine

I am always astonished by the people who happen to stumble across my blog. One such person was Cass Légér, the Editor of Base Camp Magazine. Taken by my life and stories, she reached out and asked if I could write an article about my accident and road to recovery and back to my life in the mountains. I am usually pretty prompt about attending to tasks and matters in my life but, for some reason, when it comes to writing about myself, I put things off till the very last minute. I know exactly why. So much has happened in my life; so much tragedy and joy, so many emotions and feelings experienced. The volume and enormity of these events and emotions are so overwhelming that the idea of attempting to convey even a sliver of it all is almost paralyzing (no awful pun intended).

I am really glad that Cass’s offer forced me to write this little piece. I do not think I find writing to be cathartic. But the process of writing always helps organize my thoughts and notice how I can go from being completely clinical about things to unexpected weeping. Writing for an audience who will quickly lose interest in a verbose, rambling article discussing every single detail forced me to prioritize and be selective about what I wrote about. I hope you enjoy reading the final article.

(Almost) Chile-bound – a hedge pays off

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t like it when:

  • You cancel plans (say, climbing or skiing ones) because of forecasted weather but the weather ends up being favourable
  • Finding out the item/service/commodity you just bought went on sale shortly after your purchase
  • Make the decision to change airline travel plans e.g. because with imperfect information you are quite sure you will miss your connecting flight; don’t get on your original flight; and later find out you could have made your connecting flight, which would have saved you a great deal of trouble.

Fortunately, #3 did not happen today.

This round of travel involves many steps, all tightly interwoven and dependent on each other. Like blocks in an igloo. Or like this engineering marvel: a ring created out of Pringle chips. If you remove one chip, the entire structure collapses.

Getting to my final destination of Nevados de Chillán required:

  1. Flying from Boston to Miami
  2. Catching the connecting flight from Miami to Santiago, Chile
  3. Flying from Santiago (SCL) to Concepción (CCP), Chile
  4. Ground transport from Concepción to Las Trancas

Many steps: BOS to MIA to SCL to CCP to Nevados Chillán.

It was only when I was looking at why the travel time from Miami to Santiago was so much longer than I expected (~9 hours) that I learned just how large Colombia (440,800 sq. miles), Peru (496,200 sq. miles), and Bolivia (424,200 sq. miles) are in size! Texas (268,597 sq. miles) is super dinky in comparison.

Closer up of Chile stops/destination in relation to each other. Note the scale at the very bottom of the image.

As I write this, I should be in Miami by now with plenty of time to spare for my connecting flight to Santiago. But I’m not because I made the decision at the check-in counter to change my flight to be a full 24 hours later (same time tomorrow) based on estimates from non-airline (in this case, I am flying American Airlines) websites (e.g. Google which is based on FlightAware); forecasted weather for the next few hours and tomorrow; and predicting how a ton of flights were going to be backed up. The original departure time was supposed to be 1645 hr. This was pushed to 1730 hr this morning, which still gave me enough time to make the connection. We continued to check flight status right before leaving the apartment, and during the drive to the airport. AA continued to stand by this 1730 hr departure, despite predictions from FlightAware of a delay of over an hour. As of right now, this is the status of that flight:

Original departure time was 4.45p then 5.30pm. The plane still hasn’t taken off.

Of course, so that airlines can minimize the official delay time, the flight has been pushed off from the gate for a long time now, and just sitting on the runway waiting for takeoff, with passengers wanting to gouge their eyes out, I’m sure.

So yes, I can now feel vindicated about my decision, but it really was not clear at the time. Firstly, my SCL to CCP domestic flight was on  a separate ticket with a partner airline that would have been the same airline I would have flown had I kept that leg as an AA reservation. Nevertheless, AA could not make changes here. I did this to save a couple hundred dollars. Maybe the moral of this is to try and have all legs of a journey on one airline.

Before I made the decision to shift my departure to be 24 hours later, I needed to see if I could change my internal Chile flight and what this would cost. Comically, when I called LATAM customer service and tried to do this, the agent told me their system was down for maintenance. WTF. Who schedules maintenance on a fuckin’ weekday afternoon. So I didn’t know what was going to happen there. But I was also sure I was going to miss the connection in Miami so I’d just have to sort that out later.

The next complicating factor was travel insurance would likely not cover the additional and non-trivial expense of having to get a separate private shuttle from CCP to Las Trancas due to my late arrival, if my original flight actually had taken off in time to make my connection.

I might be wrong, but it seems like the pain and inconvenience of travel is rarely conveyed. On the whole, it is a relatively small price to pay for the reward of the destination and experience, but it is still very much a necessary evil to me. The neuropathy in my left leg from the Spinal Cord Injury, inability to sleep at all on planes (sleep is a big issue for me in every day life too), and the back pain from all the hardware holding me together makes me loathe/dread flying or any other kind of transportation that involves sitting for long periods of time.

I’m not thrilled that my layover in SCL is now 7+ hours instead of the original 4 hours as they did not have seats on the same flight the next day (I was told by the organizer that the whole process of disembarking, collecting bags, rechecking bags, and getting onto the domestic flight took them ~3 hours yesterday). But I would have been a lot more unhappy if I was stuck in Miami overnight or Santiago for who knows how long. I was lucky that Scott was there to drive me to the airport, wait with me to see how things transpired, and drive us back; and be able to sleep in my own bed tonight. As Tim (the organizer) said, you’re the best person in the whole group for this to have happened to. Yay, I’ll take one for the team.

In any case, I’ll be going back to Chile for very different reasons and under very different circumstances from 8 years ago when I was in Santiago. It will be an experience, that is for sure.


Quarterly Update – Another Round of Travels Begins

It has been four months since my last post :( Even I do not let so much time pass between posts. March, April, and May were the toughest times of my life; even more so than the process of being pieced back together, and acquiring a Spinal Cord Injury. The physical/health issues I was dealing with had me house-bound for much of March; I was desperate for an answer as to what/why I was experiencing such symptoms. Ultimately it was a self-diagnosis that got treatment going, even though my condition was/is tricky to treat. This period was also a reminder of how woeful our medical system is. Call after call, email after email, going from one specialist to the next, going to alternative medicine practitioners, rinse and repeat…now I am probably as proactive a patient as you can get and familiar with dealing with our health system. But this experience totally eroded me. It is ironic how I live in the Boston area, probably the densest concentration of medical professionals and hospitals in the country, and yet, had so much difficulty trying to be seen by the people I should be seen by. Things reached a nadir in mid-May; I was just done. Fortunately, I have been on an upward trajectory since then, after finally finding some doctors who actually help me.

Given my health issues, entering climbing competitions was the last thing on my mind. Earlier on, I firmly dismissed the idea of competing at the Paraclimbing Nationals competition, held at my local climbing gym. I didn’t just want to show up, and I knew I would feel bad for not being able to climb at my best/well. But upon seeing how fun the routes looked, encouragement from many people, I altered my itinerary and registered at the last possible moment. I actually had a blast, even though the top-rope format usually does not interest me.

A super fun climb. I am actually pushing off a hold with my left arm, not humping the volume. (Source: USA Climbing)

This was actually the first climbing competition where I was not super nervous because I did not have expectations about how hard I would climb, placing, etc. And it showed in my climbing!! I climbed loose and relaxed, having to dyno for many holds (I am very short), entertaining spectators with my moves, and climbing well. In short, I climbed with style.

I ended up placing; not bad for someone in really rough physical and mental shape a month earlier, who did not train at all. Unfortunately, I had to dash off before the awards ceremony because I had a long drive ahead of me to Acadia National Park. Ironically, I am currently climbing at my very best! I am climbing routes at a grade I would usually never touch, and actually climbing – not thrutching or hang-dogging at each clip. It is rather strange. I guess not being injured from overtraining (as in the past) helps.

Tomorrow I head to Lisbon, Portugal for a fortnight. Although the city does not have a rope climbing gym (?!!), and I don’t want to regress in my climbing abilities, I predict I will dig the place. I am glad to be spending a fair bit of time in Lisbon and fully exploring the city and surrounding area. It will be interesting to see how I fare with my Portuguese. Then, at the beginning of August, I head to Chile, and then likely back to Lisbon at the end of August. Given the depths of despair I was trapped in, it feels especially good to be back on my feet, exploring and experiencing new places again.

(N.B. I am trying out using the AP style guide for my blog post title, even though unnecessary capitalization annoys me; probably more than it should :))

Last day: Sugiton and parting thoughts

(Photo: Yves)

(Photo: Yves)

After the very cold and windy experience on La Grande Candelle, I had one requirement for our last morning of climbing: sun. We had a train to catch back to Paris at 1456 hr, so there was a little bit of anxiety when we found the 30 minute approach expressed in the guidebook was really more like an hour, able-bodied or not. The climbing, views, and setting were one of the most enjoyable/spectacular of my entire trip: a fitting end.

Where we were the previous day, from a different perspective

Where we were the previous day, from a different perspective

Sugiton is a very small calanques, with incredible views of La Grande Candelle. Even more so than yesterday’s climb, the views on the approach, route, and especially the top, filled my heart in ways so beautiful and soaring, that it hurts.

Morning calm

Morning calm


I cracked up when I learned from Yves what the A.N.P.E., in Secteur A.N.P.E. (where we climbed) was: it was the Agence Nationale pour l’Emploi, or basically unemployment agency.


How can one ask for a better belay spot (Photo: Yves)

It is pretty incredible to be able to go from a proper sit-down breakfast, doing a route of this quality and in this setting in the morning, boarding the TGV train from Marseilles to Paris (in not too grubby condition!) in the afternoon, be on the Paris subway, and back at the steps of the Eiffel Tower by dinner time.

It is often hard to convey to strangers, and maybe even people closer to me, how much I felt (and sometimes still feel) I lost in my accident including climbing/skiing/mountaineering in remote places, a “simpler” life devoid of day-to-day logistics around my medical issues and more extensive planning around this, being able to pack up in an instant and travel distances to meet someone and embark on an adventure. In spite of various setbacks, I think this winter, this trip has allowed me to reclaim a little, maybe even a lot, of that part of me.

After returning from the IFSC World Championships in Paris in early October, I was admitted to the hospital for complications related to my spinal cord injury. Right after that, the following trips ensued:

  • Mid-late October: ~10 days rock climbing in Utah and City of Rocks, Idaho
  • Mid-November: Climbing in Red Rocks, NV and climbing the hardest trad route since my accident (Cloud Tower, 5.12-) and after nearly dying again in May/June from sepsis
  • 1st half of December: Visiting family in Hong Kong
  • 2nd half of December to late January: A solo road-trip across Canada and the United States to (mainly) ski
  • Late January: Warm weather sojourn in Martinique
  • Late January to mid February: 10 days of skiing and ice-climbing in Chamonix
  • Late February to early March: A little over 10 days rock climbing in the south of France in Les Callanques

Perhaps it was the breathless pace of travel and moving on from one trip to the next, which did not allow me to fully grasp how amazing doing all this is, especially given my accident and disability. Yves said a very nice thing early on in our Callanques trip: I made all this happen. I do not think that is entirely true, because Yves did so much to facilitate and arrange our Chamonix and south of France trips. But, I guess it does take an inner strength, passion, maybe even love of life (even if it is balanced with sadness and darkness) to imagine, plan, and execute the things I did.

My travels need to stop for the time-being, while I deal with practical things like work and making a living. For a number of reasons, there is sadness. But maybe, in spite of physical and emotional setbacks, the last 5 months have taught me that more wonderful things can and will await for me to seize.


(Photo: Yves)

Soaring heart after La Grande Candelle

Morning light

Morning light on the approach to the base of the route (La Grande Candelle on the left, Morgiou on the right)

My heart was soaring after our climb on Secteur du Temple up to La Grande Candelle. Again, very cold, windy conditions made for no other climbers in sight. The views on the approach to the climb continued to make me feel both so lucky to be able to experience places like this, and also sadness that I do not live closer and/or have more time to climb here more.

Continued awe of my surroundings on the approach in

Continued awe of my surroundings on the approach in

Not being able to feel my fingers for the first few pitches made things a bit challenging.

Cold. (Photo: Yves)

Cold. (Photo: Yves)

Eager to get into some sun (Photo: Yves)

Eager to get into some sun (Photo: Yves)

We also got off-route, and put up some kind of variation that made for some spicy, harder, adventure climbing, which I realize feeds my soul in ways other kinds of climbing fail to. Even after I started climbing again after my accident, I never thought that I would be doing this sort of climbing ever again: very exposed, airy, super run-out, leader cannot afford to fall-kind of climbing. Being on lead the entire time was definitely a little taxing, mentally and physically, in retrospect. But in the moment, I found myself very comfortable in this zone, and taking on an “I have a job to do to get us out of here safely” kind of attitude. Yves’ extensive military experience lets us relate a bit on things like this.

The views, the views!

The views, the views!

The last few pitches, where we were off-route, reminded me quite a bit of the high alpine routes in the Sierra Nevadas, even if the former is limestone and the latter is granite. Both are similar in the wind, cold, heights, and exposure; and in both, you have to be careful of loose rock, be extremely focused and precise in mind and movement. It was incredible.


(Photo: Yves)

Our original plan had been to climb the 16 pitches to the top of La Grande Candelle. However, because it had already been so cold and windy on the first 9 pitches on Le Temple, and we knew it would be even windier and colder on the ridge the rest of the way up, we elected to exit the route at this point. Nevertheless, I was not disappointed to finish our climb and find the reverse approach in the daylight; sun, soul and heart singing from some incredible pitches.

The ridge line we elected not to get on because of the cold and wind

The ridge line we elected not to get on because of the cold and wind

Scrambling back down to get onto the main trail again

Scrambling back down to get onto the main trail again


A parting look back

Cham skiing and injury woes

We skied a lot less than anticipated due to what I now know is a bad case peroneal tendonitis, which had first cropped up in January on my skiing road trip, but I thought was just muscle inflammation. Tendonitis sucks because tendons are avascular and take forever to heal. I have dealt with elbow tendonitis from climbing, and also in my knees when I was running a lot in my late teens/early 20’s; so I know the deal. It is going to be 3 months at best, probably longer, for recovery. There are a number of contributing factors in my case: standing on one leg when I ski and asking these tendons/muscles to do so much work stabilizing my full body weight, very high arches that put more pressure on the peroneal muscles AND my foot’s tendency to supinate (roll outwards), not stretching at all on my road trip leading to just solid and tight leg (especially calf and hamstring) muscles. This issue may have been instigated on my early December trip to Hong Kong, where I was walking for a couple of hours a day on many days. A diet that was not particularly nutritious and had a lot of foods associated with inflammation did not help matters either. I hate being so high maintenance (not in the tai-tai way, at least).

The pain was bad enough to cut short the skiing, and walking is painful. But we did get some turns in, in gorgeous weather. It was perhaps the first time this winter I was able to ski with my face exposed.

Aiguilles Rouges

Aiguilles Rouges

I had first learned to ski as an adolescent in Verbier, Switzerland, which borders the Haute-Savoie department Chamonix is in. So this trip to Cham felt a bit like coming full circle (in a very contrived kind of way :)), even though I had never skied in Chamonix before. I am definitely a North America skier by trade, and noticed a number of differences between skiing in Chamonix versus areas in Canada and the U.S.

There are four “altitude ski areas” around Chamonix: Brévent-Flégère, Balme-Vallorcine, Les Grands Montets, and Les Houches. We spent most of our time at Grands Montets because of the more interesting terrain and location and views of the Glacier d’Argentière, les Drus, Aiguille Verte, les Droites, amongst many many peaks. I did not bring any touring gear with me on this trip, so we stayed at the resort the “whole” time.

Les Grands Montets sits right above Glacier d'Argentiere

Les Grands Montets sits right above Glacier d’Argentiere

There had been no new snow for a while before my first ski day ever as a “proper” skier in Europe (!); conditions were pretty icy, and the lower part of the mountain was in bad shape. I was not super impressed with conditions, but was happy to be in very warm, sunny conditions, after all the time spent in really frigid, often low-visibility conditions in Canada and the U.S. on my road-trip. The warm weather did keep the snow that had not been skied off in decent, soft, shape though. But conditions were not good enough to warrant paying the extra to take the tram to the top of the Grands Montets.

One thing I noticed was that people here did not approach me or ask me questions like some do in the U.S., Canada. Maybe it is because of language differences, or maybe it is more cultural reticence to pry. One French skier yelled something to me which I did not understand, and when I apologized for not understanding he said “It is beautiful to ski on one leg like this!” That made my day. Another difference was that I was skiing and riding lift with Yves; whereas on my road trip I was a solo female skier with a curious setup, and that tends to invite conversation.

Yes, I attract a lot of stares with my setup

Yes, I attract a lot of stares with my setup (Photo: Yves Durieux)

A close-up showing how I clip my left leg up to a quickdraw attached to a belt on my waist. Like pin the tail on the donkey

A close-up showing how I clip my left leg up to a quickdraw attached to a belt on my waist. Like pin the tail on the donkey. Except no prizes. (Photo: Yves Durieux)

We were not expecting vastly different conditions the next day, so it was a very pleasant surprise to find great skiing conditions! There must have been some new snow overnight, and/or the direction of the wind had deposited the snow favourably. It was a total blast skiing the same runs we had done the previous day. Temperatures were still extremely mild, though a little colder (a good thing), and with such good visibility, we took the tram up to Grands Montets.

Looking up Grands Montets from the lunch deck

Looking up Grands Montets from the lunch deck

I don’t think I can recall a tram at a US ski area covering such a large vertical distance as the tram here. It was great! I had also never been so jammed in a ski lift as was on this tram. It’s a good thing I wear a helmet as my face is at most people’s chest height.

When you exit the tram, there is a little platform area with a great view of les Drus and the Aiguille Verte.

Aiguille du Grands Montets. It's a lot of steps down from where you exit the cable car down to where you put your ski(s) on.

Aiguille du Grands Montets. It’s a lot of steps down from where you exit the cable car down to where you put your ski(s) on.

Aig d'Verte Grand Montets ridge

Aig d’Verte Grand Montets ridge

It was particularly cool to see such a storied and iconic formation, Les Drus, so close up.

Les Drus and Mont Blanc from the top of the cable car

Les Drus and Mont Blanc from the top of the cable car (Photo: Yves Durieux)

My right leg is even huuuger (in Donald Trump voice) than my left leg these days

My right leg is even huuuger (in Donald Trump voice) than my left leg these days (Photo: Yves Durieux)

About to step in ski and ski down from Aig. des Grands Montets. Yeah, those outriggers are kind of beastly

About to step in ski and ski down from Aig. du Grands Montets. Yeah, those outriggers are kind of beastly (Photo: Yves Durieux)

Because the run gets a lot less traffic than the rest of the resort, the run down and snow was awesome. The views were pretty spectacular too, especially of the 9km long Glacier d’Argentière.

Skiing towards Glacier d'Argentière

Skiing towards Glacier d’Argentière


Getting turns in from the top of Grands Montets

Getting turns in from the top of Grands Montets (Photo: Yves Durieux)

I love that there are so many people who tour/ski out of bounds in Chamonix. But there is also a sadness I feel when I see people with their touring bindings (mostly randonee), ice-axes, and avy packs, because I can’t ski like that any more.

My overall impression of the skiers I saw at the ski resort is that there is a very wide range of ability levels, more so than the US. I’m guessing this is due to all the tourist traffic this place gets. I would say the grading of ski run difficulty is also softer here than in the ski resorts in the US and Canada that I have spent time in; and the snow quality in North America is better. That being said, I loved the mild conditions here, the setting, enclosed cable cars (versus frigid long chair lifts).

Another difference is that people don’t really queue up in an orderly way for cable cars/lifts. You have to be slightly aggressive and just push your way to the front to get on a car. I prefer the pervading system in North America, where on busy days/lifts, you have an attendant calling people out and making sure chairs are filled in a fair and orderly manner.

Despite two rest days from skiing (ice-climbing and a complete rest day), I found my lower right leg issues to prohibit me from skiing on Monday. I found myself unable to control my ski because of the pain, and had to cut our day short. Again, I found myself very upset and frustrated that my injury had reared its ugly head and completely ruined a ski day in Chamonix, especially with a good friend. After another few days of rest, I could only ski a run or two on Friday before having to bail. I felt lousy.

While scrambling to rehabilitate my leg/treat the symptoms upon my return to Cambridge, I visited a PA who gave me his diagnosis, admonished the doctor in Jackson, WY for injecting cortisone into my muscle compartment, and did not want to give me another cortisone shot because it was a) too soon since the last one, and b) there is danger of rupturing the tendon if a cortisone shot is done there. All that can be done is to start physical therapy in March, strengthen, and hope I can be ready in time for a planned ski trip in the Southern Hemisphere in August. I also hope that I can return to Cham in the near future to take fuller advantage of the skiing than I did on this trip. Like with climbing and a lot of things in my life, I just need to put in a lot more work than the average person to keep things functioning and to compensate for my physical deficits. It still feels frustrating to feel so thwarted, and that this winter, which was supposed to be the ski season of a lifetime, hardly went according to plan. It does not always seem fair, but there is not much point in dwelling on that, when I need to get on with things, learn from these experiences, so that I can embark on future trips and adventures.

Despite being frustrated and upset with my injury, life isn't so bad

Despite being frustrated and upset with my injury, life isn’t so bad on the lunch deck (Photo: Yves Durieux)


Peroneus longus muscle – continued injury and pain, and action plan

Today was storm riding day at Jackson.




A momentary respite from the snow and wind


Unfortunately, I was hardly able to take advantage of these epic conditions because of the excruciating lateral lower right leg pain previously experienced in Alta, UT. I thought the almost one week of rest would have fixed the issue, but this was not the case. I found that I could not ski safely on even easy terrain. Every little bump or any kind of pressure/exertion on the outside (right) turn hurt so much that I could not control my boot/ski. I focused on trying to reach the base area safely and went into the boot-fitters therefght to see if they might be able to offer any suggestions. After briefly explaining my situation and skiing setup to the boot-fitter, I decided to schedule an appointment with him tomorrow morning (his earliest opening) thinking that there might be stuff that could be done to my boot around the cuff to help alleviate the pain. I tried using some silicone shin pad protectors, as an interim solution, but they offered no relief (this was before I identified the true cause, so I guess the fact they did not work for me is not a surprise and should not be a judgment of the product’s intended use). I was/am feeling very desperate, and wasn’t sure whether to seek treatment here e.g. get cortisone shots to deal with the pain (this would be a very short-term fix and would not treat this pain in the future, such as when I am supposed to ski in Chamonix in February), call it quits and drive back to the East Coast, or what to do…

This is definitely not simple shin bang. I had initially thought it was a shin issue, but after an internet search for lateral leg pain related to skiing, I am positive it is my Peroneus longus muscle that is hurting so much. This is actually not a common muscle to be injured for skiers (or for runners, or people/athletes in general for that matter). But, this excerpt from the linked Wikipedia article explains it all:

“Taking their fixed points below, the fibularis muscles serve to steady the leg upon the foot.[2] This is especially the case in standing upon one leg, when the tendency of the superincumbent weight is to throw the leg medialward; the fibularis longus overcomes this tendency by drawing on the lateral side of the leg.[2]”

So this really sucks right. My leg pain is due to the very fact I ski on one leg. Having high arches exacerbates this issue : “However, due to your high arches, the bones of your feet including the cuboid tend to be in a more rigid and fixed position. Therefore, your Peroneus Longus experiences extra stress from this lost mechanical advantage because it pulls harder in an attempt to bring the medial arch closer to the ground. Over time, this excess pulling causes strain to the muscle.”

After much calling around, I have made some short-term plans:

  1. Wednesday 8:00 am: Appointment with boot-fitter (I made this appointment before identifying the true issue, but I still hope this might help with pain)
  2. Wednesday 10:00am: Appointment with physiotherapist in Jackson, WY
  3. Friday PM: Appointment with orthopedic specialist to perhaps get cortisone shots

This is not how I wanted to be experiencing Jackson Hole, WY.

Depending on the above, I may have to truncate this big road trip and drive back East. I’ll be even more upset if this issue prevents me from snow-shoeing or walking. I was in tears as I told this to Scott, who responded with, this could happen to anyone Wendy. I know he was trying to console me. But I said, NO, my outriggers wouldn’t have broken if I didn’t have to use them because of my accident. NO, this part of my leg would not be hurting so much and preventing me from skiing if it wasn’t because of my accident and I had to ski like this. I realize this sounds petulant, but I get very upset when something related to my SCI prevents me from just skiing one run, let alone taking advantage of amazing conditions in Jackson Hole of all places. I feel like I am not asking for much. Skiing isn’t the most important thing around by a long shot, but like I said, it seems like yet another thing I love that I cannot do.

I am having a hard time making peace with myself and physical circumstances. And to not be resentful. I have to though, right?? I can’t live a life feeling this way, feeling cheated or robbed, because there would be no joy in that whatsoever. I know pushing through (hard) things is one thing people admire about me; but I am tired. I am just tired.

My good friend George said that at least I am learning valuable information about how my body responds to skiing. This is true. I just wish I was not having to learn this information during what is supposed to be an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime trip.

The short-term steps are just that, short-term to get through this acute stage of the injury. Longer-term plans: I was just told I should consider ankle physiotherapy to stabilize/retrain this process in my leg. Apparently this is a “known thing.”


A study in human and non-human equipment limitations

Limitations/failures, depending on your mood for euphemisms…

I have been struggling. This trip, or at least the last week, seems to have been a study in human and non-human equipment limitations and failures (in very cold weather) :( After the debacle around my outriggers, and to a much lesser extent my stiffer, narrower (96mm) ski, I thought I was ready to move forward with the primary objective of this trip: fuckin’ SKIING, eh??!

Sun on the other side of the parking lot. It was shaping up to be a very cold but clear day.

Sun on the other side of the parking lot. It was shaping up to be a very cold but clear day.


The non-human part

I knew it was going to be very cold today (I did not realize it was not going to get above 0 degF (-18 degC), and it was mostly around -6 degF (-21 degF) when I was out, before the slight wind chill).  I thought I had gotten use to dealing with these cold conditions and I had suited up my usual Himalaya-winter style, and was ready to enjoy skiing in Alta for the first time in many many years. But I did not anticipate the effect all this prolonged exposure to very cold conditions has had, except on my car key battery.

After my usual routine of suiting up like a clown, I inserted my cargo box key into the core to open it. It was not entering/turning. I try the other side/core. No luck. Now my cargo box has been a total champ on this trip. It has withstood very very high winds, and I purchased it based on its ease of operation, opening/closing.

I know the cargo box has been exposed to really really frigid temperatures, especially when you’re driving 80-90 mph on the freeway in ambient air temperatures around 0 degF. I have had the experience of having difficulty inserting and turning car keys in older cars in cold weather. But this was still surprising me. I keep fiddling around, jamming the cargo box key as hard as I can without breaking it (I worried that if I was too rough, the cargo box key would snap and be stuck in the core. I try the following things without success:

  • Breathing into the core, but I knew this was likely going to be totally useless
  • Pour my hot coffee over the car key to try and warm it up and thaw any frozen water that might have entered the core
  • Heat the car key with a borrowed lighter
  • Heat the core lock with the same borrowed lighter
  • Start the car, turn the heater to full blast, heat the car key in the vent, and quickly insert the key into the lock

As I mentioned before, a few days ago, I had my first minor accident where I steered my car into a snow bank. I knew that a ton of snow had gotten into the passenger side rear wheel and that the weather had not been warm enough for this to thaw. So I had been driving around with a bunch of frozen ice jammed up there, possibly affecting how the wheel and brakes work. Thus, I was heavily incentivized to get rid of this snow. I should have known the car washes would not be operational in negative Fahrenheit temperatures, but I still looked for one in Hailey, ID. No luck. I tried self-cleaning with one of those spray wands, but even with very hot water coming out, the temperatures and pressure were not high enough. So I was keen to look for a place to get a car wash in the relatively warmer Salt Lake City area. Before my road trip, as an experiment and also to get rid of Vermont mud/filth, I had taken my cargo box through a car wash in Somerville, MA, to see if the car wash would damage the box and if water would enter the box. The cargo box and its contents were unaffected. So I did not think twice about bringing my cargo box through a car wash here. Well, it turns out that temperatures even in the low teens are enough to possibly affect the functioning of the box. Water must have gotten into the core lock and frozen.

Last resort: Go to the cafeteria, get a cup of scalding hot water, hope it doesn’t get much colder by the time I get to the car, pour hot water over the core. Yes, I knew this water was just going to fuckin’ re-freeze but I had to get my cargo box open. The cargo box opened to my relief, and I took out both skis (my fat ski and my harder pack snow ski and outriggers). As a precautionary measure, I will now keep my skis and outriggers, as well as a thermos with hot water inside the car when I am going to a ski area.

So that made for a very fraught start to the morning :(

This was when temperatures were WARMER.

This was when temperatures were WARMER.

The human part

Well hands were very cold from dealing with wet, but I was ready to ski. I thought that the snow from previous days called for my fatter, softer 109mm underfoot ski. The snow was actually rock solid chunks, although the groomed runs would have been super fun on my stiffer Aura. I wasn’t feeling stellar but thought I just needed to get a few warm up runs in me. I also made the decision that I would give my 109mm ski another few goes but if the snow remained hard and chunky, I would head back to my car to get my 96mm Aura, which ended up being the decision I made.

There are many things about skiing on one leg that a lot of people who don’t ski the way I do don’t think about. Heck, I don’t even think about these things until they rear their ugly, highly inconvenient, heads. Today, three things came together to make me have to cut my day short:

  1. I ski on one leg, but I am not missing my other leg, so I still carry all its weight and my entire body weight pushes against my right shin when I ski. My outside (pinky-toe) edge is the more difficult side for me and I really need to bear down on that outer shin to make good turns on that side. I’ve had some right shin aches and pains before but never a huge deal. I was experiencing some soreness last night but thought it would be fine by the morning.
  2. I ski on a pretty/very stiff ski boot, especially for someone by size/weight.
  3. I have been skiing in very cold temperatures

So while I have not had that many ski days given how long my trip has been, the fact that I have been pushing myself/skiing hard, in a stiff boot whose stiffness has been exacerbated by the very cold temperatures, on one leg has caused my outer right shin to hurt so much that I was openly weeping as I skied today. I am a big, emotional cry-baby, but it takes a lot of physical pain to make me cry. I just wanted to make it back to the car without getting into an accident, which was challenging because I couldn’t exert that pressure on my shin to be in total control.

I know the cargo box thing could have happened to anyone in these weather conditions, and who had to get the snow off around the wheels. But I am particularly upset because yet another ski day was cut short by something related to my spinal cord injury. I am applying heat, external analgesics, will take anti-inflammatories, and was using a compression wrap to try and get the pain and inflammation down. But I am feeling very down and thwarted. I am not even sure there is a solution to this; just “management.” Maybe it is about limiting number of skiing days in very cold weather; skiing in milder temps. Portable battery or car-battery powered hair-dryers. Or staying at home, sitting on the couch all day, and eating bonbons.

Equipment setback and recovery – Sun Valley, ID

I am thankful to Higher Ground, the Sun Valley Adaptive Sports program that helped me fix my outriggers. The person I was supposed to meet did not show up, but after a phone call, the director of operations made sure someone did come by to try and help me. We could not find a stand alone spare spring, but I suggested that we find a broken outrigger and take the spring off that, and that is what we did. Outriggers fixed, yay.

It took me awhile to find the lift area and get my pass, but that happened and I was ready to ski. Finally.

It was a beautiful morning as the sun rose and clouds cleared.

It was a beautiful morning as the sun rose and clouds cleared.

But, WTF, what was wrong with me??! I felt like I could not ski at all! My ski was not holding an edge at times, or hanging on for too long. Was it because I was fat and had been a lazy sod the last 3 days and sitting on my bloody arse? I took a few more runs trying to figure out what was going on. It must have been because I filed my own ski edges the day before and I must have fucked that up. I went to the ski shop in the main lodge to see if they might be able to take a look and do a quick tune. When I brought my ski in and explained what was going on, the ski tech immediately nodded and was like, yep, I see what is going on. I had taken off too much off the base edges, and my side edges were totally trashed (from use and my attempts to fix it as well). He was able to get my ski turned around in 20 minutes so that I did not have to throw away yet another day due to yet another piece of equipment failure.

I took the ski out and breathed a sigh of relief. Yes, it was the ski and not entirely me. Although I was skiing out of sorts today just from sitting in a car all day and eating McDonalds :( I was able to rail on that ski though.

Clouds clearing in the distance

Clouds clearing in the distance


Conditions were dust on very hard crust, so it actually was not that fun skiing. Sun Valley is a good mountain if you want to rail on your downhill and GS turns; I can see why Picabo Street came from here. But the whole vibe and place is not really my scene. It seems like there are a lot of rich douchebags. Not that being rich makes you automatically a douchebag, but I am trying to characterize a particular type of skier. The kind who feels entitled, complains and grumbles about even the most minor of inconveniences. The kind who will knock down skis/snowboards on a rack and not pick them up. I found the town of Ketchum, ID to be extremely dull, and I am generally suspect of ski towns with a Lululemon in them. The highlight of Ketchum will be going to the Pioneer Saloon and eating an Idaho potato that weighs in at over a pound. Seriously.

That being said, I can say in retrospect that despite the shit show on New Years Day and the equipment setbacks with my outriggers and ski, I managed to find a solution and get things back on track. On a big trip like this, stuff is bound to go wrong. I will make use of my second day at Sun Valley that comes with the Mountain Collective pass, and continue on my way to Utah and Wyoming.

I also realize that there are not many people with my physical situation doing what I am doing. That’s probably why Whistler Adaptive was so not helpful for me. A lot of adaptive skiers require more supervision. Whereas I am on this big road trip, managing on my own for the most part, until a key piece of equipment fails and I am a long way from home to get the part fixed/mailed to me. Adaptive programs also tend not to be located in the places I enjoy skiing the most.

New Years Day setback – leaving Whistler, BC for Sun Valley, ID

Well, Happy Fuckin’ New Year. That was how this post initially started, and I’m keeping it there as a reminder of how I found myself feeling dejected, depressed, frustrated, and feeling like all my efforts were totally futile. These are not good feelings have, especially in combination. I had been dealing with some tough personal matters that left me starting the day feeling close to tears. But I still thought I should try and make the best of things and headed out for a day on the hill, even with cold and very windy conditions higher up.

Following the recommendation of my buddy Mike, I parked in the parking lot near the Tube Park so that I could just ski down to my car at the end of the day. I got my shit together, clicked into my ski and started to pole my way across a flat section, before I needed to lower the blade of my outriggers to descend. One outrigger did not lower and I thought, crap, I was experiencing this in Revelstoke a bit but had thought I had fixed the matter. Perhaps snow was stuck or things were a bit sticky; but the outrigger blade still did not lower or flip back up. Shit. This started to trigger a cascade of emotions around my accident, and thinking, Fuck, if my accident had not happened, I would not need to ski with these stupid outriggers and have them break on me. I realize comparing my current situation to my old pre-accident self is not productive but I am just being honest in expressing how I felt.


The part in question is a single steel wire spring. This is what it looks like on the functioning outrigger

Well, I had to find a way to fix this key show-stopper of an issue. I thought Whistler must have an adaptive program with participants using outriggers who could help diagnose the problem, so I called them. No one picked up the phone, so I followed Google’s directions to the 2010 Winter Paralympic Village, where they supposedly are located. The place was pretty deserted and I could not find signs of an office, program meeting location. So I drove back to Mike’s place (where I was staying) to try and see if I could fix the issue myself. I took apart the outrigger and saw why the outrigger was not flipping down/up. The metal spring had broken.


Why my outrigger was not functioning: the spring had broken

Upon more Googling, I saw that Whistler Adaptive had a desk at the Carlton Lodge in the Whistler Village. So I jumped in the car with my broken outrigger and headed over there. The desk was unmanned. I asked around and found out that there was usually only someone there at 9am when lessons started and 3pm, when lessons ended. Okay, it was around 12.30pm at this point. Maybe the ski tuning folks might have some spare wire around and might be able to help me out. So I raced down to the basement to seek their help. The guy there was, not surprisingly, totally unfamiliar with this equipment but was willing to help me out if I could find some steel wire stiff enough, as anything they had was just too flexible. He suggested the hardware store in the Village. So off I went. They only had super flexible 18 gauge aluminium wire but I was desperate and thought, maybe this stuff could work if I put in extra wraps. I realized it would have been super helpful of me to bring my working outrigger with me to show the ski tech guys but, of course, I had left that behind. So I had to drive back to Mike’s place to get it. When I drove back from Mike’s to the Whistler Village, the parking situation had worsened considerably and I could not find a parking spot; and now my keyless remote car entry was saying the battery needed to be replaced. All the time in the cold had just sucked the battery life and I did not know if my car would even be able to start without a functioning car remote. Each of these are minor things, but when it was all compounded and layered upon my current emotional state, I just felt like crumpling into a heap. I composed myself and headed to the hardware store, again, to pick up a battery, and then back to the ski tuning desk.

Well, the wire was just too flexible with too low a yield strength. Fuck. Okay. I suggested, well, can we maybe try and make do with the remaining length of wire, unwinding it, then recoiling it to only have one loop on each side and see if that will work? So we tried this idea. This was the result.


The wire was too short and the bits sticking out need to be seated inside the black plastic

The ski tech guys were very nice and trying their best, but without a stiff enough wire, they could not do anything. So I headed upstairs to make sure I would be there when someone from Whistler Adaptive got there. Around this time I noticed my bowels had decided to malfunction. But I could not leave and risk missing this person(s). I waited until 3.20pm. No one showed up. I called the outrigger manufacturer to see if they might be able to expedite ship me the spare part. They were closed till January 3rd. I was tired of life. Of every thing.

My next stop after Whistler was going to be Sun Valley, Idaho. So I thought I would check to see if they had an adaptive program there that might be able to help me out. According to the internet, they did, and I received confirmation that it was sizable program. So I decided that my plan was going to say F-you to Whistler and drive there first thing in the morning. For good measure, I went by another ski shop to see if they could possibly help me. They could not.

I told Mike my situation and plan, and he kindly offered to pick some steel wire up in Squamish where he was, and maybe try and patch together something that evening. I was wavering, saying, nah, fuck it, but also not wanting to close out the option of a possible fix. So I took him up on his offer. Mike is very handy and managed to fashion a very similar looking piece out of the steel wire he purchased. We reassembled the outrigger together, but the steel wire still had too low a yield strength, and was deforming undesirably! It was not a diameter issue, but a material one. I did not know you could purchase different kinds of steel wire? (I also finally found out why a lower gauge wire is larger in diameter than a higher gauge wire).

I was sad to leave Whistler prematurely, because I wanted to spend more time with Mike. But I did not want to waste another ski day; dealing with this equipment failure would already cost me three full days.

I left Whistler in the dark, so most of the beautiful drive along the Sea-to-Sky highway was in the dark. I did manage to catch glimpses of how beautiful Vancouver is as dawn came upon us. I really want to find a way to live in Canada, especially British Columbia.


Back in the USA.

The drive into Washington was beautiful and seeing the Cascades in the morning light made me think about living in the Pacific Northwest. As I entered Yakima, WA, I found it amusing to see a sign that called the town the “Palm Springs of Washington.”

Driving conditions deteriorated though and became quite treacherous. I was driving 40mph on the 70mph I-84 highway through Washington for about 2 hours. I counted at least 12 over-turned vehicles, a few more vehicle “incidents,” an over-turned 18-wheeler. It was really icy and treacherous.

Monday's drive from Whistler, BC to Sun Valley, ID (well, Hailey, ID)

Monday’s drive from Whistler, BC to Sun Valley, ID (well, Hailey, ID)


A few hours were spent driving in very foggy, low-visibility conditions over a few passes.

I am finding myself back in Idaho after in less than 2.5 months. I must really like this state.


Visibility cleared as I descended into Idaho.

Conditions made for slow-ish driving to Hailey, and after about 14.5 hours on the road, I arrived at my destination with plans in place to fix my outriggers the next day.