How Hiking all Summer Prepared me for Brain Surgery in the Fall

Hiking at Hidden Falls in AuburnFall is in the air here in Sacramento!  I’m two weeks out from getting brain surgery, and feeling reflective as I head into the craziest experience in my whole life….but let me back up…

For the last few years, I’ve been battling fatigue, muscle weakness, mixing up words, powerful depression and what I thought was nearly constant tension headaches. I’d get massages to help with the tension, but things got worse. In May of this year, I went to the doctor because I was having pain in my arms when I would roll my shoulders down and back.  It didn’t seem that any of these things were related until an MRI revealed that I had a Type I Chiari Malformation.  Google it up if ya want, but basically, my brain stem presses on my cervical spine and it sucks balls.  I’m all for natural healing, but this was serious and I knew I was going to have to get surgery.

I already had a busy summer and first half of fall approaching so I opted to wait for later in the fall to have the surgery.  It meant I had to pull back for a long time.  I couldn’t lift weights at all without getting a terrible headache after.  This was hard because I had to give up a physical activity that helped me tremendously with my depression. Additionally, I wasn’t able to commit to as many of the things I wanted to go and do. Going to shows and performing had to be scaled back, more weekends were spent resting on the couch, and I had to be very careful about how I decided to spend my energy. I found that healthy food, adequate rest, working from home a couple days a week, and CBD/THC for pain management worked pretty well for me, and I knew I’d get through the summer just fine. My goal was to be as healthy as possible going into surgery so I could recover as quickly as possible.

Chillin at the Yuba RiverEarly in the summer, but after diagnosis, Holly and I took a hike on Independence Trail at the Yuba River in Nevada City.  I was looking for a physical activity, besides dance, that I could do. I wanted something to get me outside more often and easy hiking seemed like a good way to go.  I’d hiked the trail many times in the past during high school and it was predominantly flat so I figured it would be a good time for us. The flat two-mile trail is wheelchair accessible for most of the way in, and then there is a steep decline down to the river at about 1.8 miles in (which also is a naked beach!).  We got to the river and hung out all day. Climbed rocks, sunbathed, and smoked a bunch of weed. Once we were sufficiently adventured out and ready to go, we took the two-mile trail back to the car only to find that we had left the keys on the beach. Total stoner move.  It was hot and we were tired from playing in the sun all day, but we had no choice other than to hoof it back to the beach and get the keys so we could get home.  The keys were exactly where we left them and after an additional 4 miles round trip, we were able to jump in the car and head home.

Now, I thought that the trail was only a two-mile round trip, so once I got home and realized we had done 8 miles I felt incredibly shocked that I was even capable of so many miles in one day.  I was tired and a little sore, but I knew hiking was going to be routine for the rest of my life.  Over the summer I took on additional challenges with hiking including my first solo hike, a hike around Jenkinson Lake, and summiting one of Maggie’s peaks over Emerald Bay (come back for the trail tour next Tuesday!).Maggies Peaks I ended up putting hiking at the top of my list of things I wanted to be healthy enough to do.  My desire to go hiking meant I had to take it easy in other areas of my life and I also had to maintain a healthy diet.  Of course, hiking is amazing for physical fitness, for wasting time with a friend or loved one, and for seeing the beauty mother nature has to offer, but what hiking did for me this summer was give me a sense of calm I needed as I headed to a major life event.  

This year I hiked more than I ever have and I learned a lot about how I handle uncomfortable situations.  On every hike, I’ve lost the trail at some point and had to figure my shit out as I struggle with technology and directions, all while trying to maintain the anxiety of feeling lost in the woods. That’s A LOT.  I had the opportunity to routinely prove to myself that I was going to be ok, no matter what was going on.

I learned that how I chose to react in each moment directly affects the next moment as I build experience in the outdoors.

Success for me includes paying attention to my body and giving it what it needs. I remind myself to drink lots of water, bring band-aids, remember that you like salty food on the trail – not sweet, don’t forget to bring extra clothes to change into after the hike, you are a sweaty, sexy hiking beast.  

With each hike, I continue to build a knowledge base for outdoor adventure as well as an emotional base for my upcoming surgery.  As I reflect on the accomplishments and lessons from the summer I am reassured that I will be just fine with this surgery and recovery.  I’m learning to be even more vulnerable – letting people I trust help me through the procedure and recovery and it is already rewarding.  The peace and the beauty of nature have provided me with an opportunity to tune in with myself and study my emotions in a much more profound way than yoga or meditation ever has. Something about being out in the wild, in a space where real danger exists, but can be avoided if you are present and thoughtful–that is what makes the experience more powerful for me. Learning to be patient, calm, and thoughtful on the trail has become more routine in all aspects of my life.

Edge of Horsetail Falls

Hiking has kept me healthy in so many ways this summer and I’m so grateful to have found something that lights me up and is also a healthy habit.  I fucking love nature.  In fact, I’m already feeling sorry for myself about having to miss my first snowboarding season in thirteen years. I have no idea how I’m going to heal up or how long it will take me to get back to hiking shape and eventual backpacking shape.  I don’t really have to know though.  Not knowing allows me to imagine and put my energy towards assuming I will take my first backpacking trip next summer. I truly believe in the law of attraction – to put it simply energy goes where intention flows. My life is truly nutty right now, but what I learned hiking this summer, and a little help from my friends I’ll get by just fine.

I have a huge favor to ask my Wholehearted Hiking Fam now: Keep me entertained while I’m healing?  Leave me comments and tell me about the things you’ve overcome in your everyday life from your experiences outdoors. Use #wholeheartedhiking on Instagram and tag us so I can follow your outdoor adventures through the winter!  I’ll be posing on our IG story as soon as I can with epic scar photos!

Love,
Kathryn

6 thoughts on “How Hiking all Summer Prepared me for Brain Surgery in the Fall

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