Colorado – Live by Living retreat

I-70 looks like a fun road to drive, but I was in a rented Mazda , which looks at a hill like I do now, “I’m pretty sure I can make it, but it’s going to be a long, slow haul.”  If I didn’t pay close attention and kep my food to the floor, I’d end up going 40 and pissing off even the truck drivers.  I eventually made it to Leadville, despite my putzy little car and all the stop-the-car-it’s-gorgeous! scenery.  At 10,000 feet above sea level, Leadville is surrounded by mountains that tower above the small town.  If the view doesn’t take your breath away, the thin air will certainly do it.

Saturday morning I met up with the Live by Living crowd: 7 volunteers and 5 participants (nice odds!)  I’d realized the night before that my body wasn’t going to let me hike that day.  Even walking across the Safeway parking lot left me winded.  There was no way a 4 mile hike with 1300 foot climb was in the cards.  So, two of the volunteers and I dropped the rest at the trailhead then drove up a tricky and steep dirt road to the hut.

Uncle Bud's Hut

Uncle Bud’s Hut

The 10th Mountain huts are a series of huts on federal land that are open to the public.  Our hut, Uncle Bud’s, situated at the top of a meadow, provides about a 180 degree view which is dominated by Mount Massive to the south.  Inside, there’s a kitchen, dining area, woodstove, lots of seating, and sleeping for around 20 upstairs.  To the side of the cabin are the outhouses, with windows.  That’s right.  Even the bathrooms have a great view.

Mount Massive

Mount Massive

Saturday was spent waiting for the rest of the group to arrive, getting to know the volunteers and participants, exploring the cabin and immediate area, and, most of all, enjoying the views, the sun, the fresh air.  The volunteers cooked dinner – pasta with chicken and vegetables, a couple of different salads, and, of course, cake to finish.  We spent the evening around a campfire outside.

Ready for the hike

Ready for the hike

On Sunday, I woke up feeling good and ready to hike.  After breakfast, we strapped on our packs and headed up the mountain.  It was slow going for me; both the thin air and my previous breathing issues made it necessary for me to stop every hundred feet or so.  But we made it to our goal of the treeline, and spent a while just enjoying the views.  During the hike, we got some rain – a pleasure for me, since California has been so dry.  Plus, I got to pull out my wet weather gear for a change!   That evening, we held a guided meditation under the stars and nearly full moon.  We followed this up with time spent talking, enjoying the moonlit vistas, and drinking hot tea.

On the trail

On the trail

While the setting was fantastic, what made this retreat truly special were the volunteers.  Their attentiveness and anticipation of our needs was extraordinary.  I felt completely pampered – quite a feat in a cabin with pit toilets and no running water!  The volunteers cooked delicious and healthy meals, plied us with water, tea, coffee, and gave us all emotional support during our hikes.

I can’t say that this retreat changed my life, but it did give me a few days of peace, pampering, and relaxation.  being up in the mountains forced us all to turn of civilization for a while.  to look at the horizon instead of our hand held devices.  To interact with nature and each other.

I plan to go again next year!


Live by Living provides transformative outdoor experiences for cancer survivors and their caregivers.  They offer several retreats in the Rockies each summer, as well as day hikes in the Denver area year round.  You can donate to Live by Living on their website.

Bucket List #34 – Start something

Is it just that I want to leave a legacy or do I want to make connections or do I just want to have fun?  Probably all of the above, but another item that I’m adding to my bucket list is to start something that allows me to give back a little.

Start what?

What is calling to me today is to start a local hiking group for cancer survivors and caregivers.  Seems sort of like a no-brainer, right?  And it serves me – by giving me hiking companions and connecting me with other cancer folk, while also serving the community.  But really, I think I’d get more from it, just in case anyone were to think I was becoming all civic minded and such.

I’m thinking that I could start off with weekly or monthly hikes around the SF Bay Area, with varying difficulties, based on the abilities of those involved.  If it actually took off, maybe I could follow in the footsteps of Live by Living, the awesome group that runs the hiking retreat I’ll be going to in September, and start up some retreats, as well.

What do you think?

Grass Valley Trail and my mom

There are times when I feel as if I could hike forever. A good trail with rolling hills, sun light burning down on me in the meadows and gently filtering in through the leaves in the forests. Earbuds playing my favorite tunes. I can walk and dance and sing all day. Especially when I want to avoid everything else.

Like today.

Yesterday my mom was diagnosed with kidney cancer. It’s the same as I have – renal cell carcinoma. They haven’t staged it yet, but since it hasn’t spread, it is less severe, more easily treated than mine. Perhaps curable, unlike mine.

I feel so helpless. I can’t help her. I can’t help me. I barely have the ability to cope with my diagnosis. How can I support my mom in hers? Who will I cling to like I’ve clung to her? Will we cling to each other, hoping for the best?

I sit on the stone bridge where I’ve stopped for a rest and to write. To help clear the thoughts banging around in my brain. A cool breeze blows through, making the eucalyptus trees creak and the redwoods sway.

I tell myself I can’t go down the road of what ifs, even though I already have. What if it isn’t as simple as her doctors make it seem? What if? I can’t even go further down that path.

So I put the earbuds back in, pick myself up off that stone bridge, and start walking. Down a real path that is lined with trees and wildflowers. That will give me a little more time to escape from reality. Where I can sing and dance and hope nobody sees me trying to push these thoughts away.

A day on the Pacific Crest Trail

Over the weekend I was able to take a short hike on the Pacific Crest Trail.  The trail that I (and countless others) read about in Cheryl Strayed’s book, “Wild,” has spurred many to follow in her footsteps – though perhaps without the heroin use.  I’ve often thought that I would love to try to thru-hike the whole trail from Mexico to Canada, all 2600 miles of it.  And then I wake up and realize that though the will might be there, and the physical ability might be found or developed, I don’t know that I could swing the logistics of walking for many months, probably on my own.

But perhaps it would be possible to plan many shorter trips to see various parts of the trail, north and south.  As I told my brother-in-law this weekend, “Fuck it.  I have cancer.  I’m going to hike.”

Trail head marker

Trail head marker

My sister, her husband, their son, and I got on the trail where it crosses Donner Pass Road, and headed north.  My brother-in-law went on ahead at a run, leaving the three of us to savor the surroundings as we walked at a more leisurely pace, one that was set by my three year old nephew.  “I want to lead,” he said.  And, since his legs are shorter than mine, and since I’m still working on getting back into shape after having my kidney removed, and since, really, I didn’t want to hurry up that hill, I let him lead on.

Nate on the PCT

Following the leader

It was great to get in some practice hiking at elevation (around 7000-7200 feet).  My trip in Colorado will start off at 10000 feet, with an elevation gain of about 1300 feet over 4 miles.  The distance doesn’t phase me, but the elevation makes me nervous.  Showing myself that I can make it up a big, steep hill (which we encountered on the PCT) was enough to ease some of my fears about the September trip.  Even if I had to go slowly.  Even if I had to stop every three minutes, I still made it to the top.  Yay me!

A flat spot

A flat spot

The trail varied in quality.  At times we were scrambling over granite slabs, watching climbers above or below us.  Other times we walked through stands of pine trees, with ponds nearby or ferns at our feet.  And then there was the hill with shrubs along each side, guiding us up the switchbacks.  There were lots of rocks – many more than I tend to encounter hiking around the bay area, and that eased other fears.  My trail runners (Brooks Cascadia) held up just fine with the rocks, big and small.  I don’t think I’ll need to purchase “hiking” boots for my trip.

Wild Flowers

Wild Flowers

I was amazed by how many wildflowers there were on the trail – white, pink, purple, yellow, orange.  The variety astounded me, especially since I’m not used to seeing many around home after May.

We had to turn around entirely too soon; such is life with a toddler.  My sister and I have begun to discuss taking a short backpacking trip later this year, and I intend to drive back up to the Sierras while my kids are in one or another of their sleep away camps, just to get in some more high elevation hikes.  And to hopefully see more of the Pacific Crest Trail, which continues to tempt me with her siren song.



A taste of home

I was raised among the redwoods in the far north of California.  We lived in a standard tract home from the 50s/60s, but looking out my bedroom window, my view was of the trunks and branches of redwood trees.  My sister and I created playhouses in the stumps below our home.  We grew up knowing the soft but rough bark of the trees, and the freedom of running through the forest.

And then we grew up and moved away.

Yesterday I was still far from home, but ensconced beneath another grove of redwoods on the San Mateo coast.  The breakfast fire burned down to embers; Reil did the dishes.  We took a walk down the road and up a trail to find a geocache – a wonderful, fun cache that was suspended from a tree.  Jill and I hiked up and around the hills, through redwood forest, noting the changes in the ecosystems as we passed through.

It was good to be on the trail.  I need the prep for going up hills – September’s climb into the Rockies will be here very soon.

And before dinner, I took a quick drive down to the ocean.  To watch and hear the waves crash on the rocks, feel the setting sun and the cool breeze on my face.  To marvel at the legion of wild flowers along the highway – all yellow and orange this week.  Lupine, poppies, other blooms whose names I’ve either forgotten or never knew.

This wasn’t quite home, but it felt like it.  And all of the stimuli for my senses – the shady groves, steep hills, pounding surf – served to drive away some of the melancholy I’ve been experiencing.  The sadness still remains, but for a short period it had to take a back seat to a little bit of joy.

On the trail again

Recently I went to a writing group for cancer survivors.  The coordinator gave us prompts, letting us write for several minutes after each prompt.  I was surprised to find that much of my writing that day had to do with hiking.

It’s been many months since I’ve been able to take a proper hike – and even more since I’ve taken a proper hike.  Between the cancer diagnosis and subsequent surgery, the job from hell before that, and a long bout with bronchitis, I haven’t been in a place to hike since before Christmas.

God, how I miss the trail.  There are moments on the trail when my heart feels like bursting.  When I look around, amazed by the greatness, the beauty, the power.  When a cool breeze tickles my face, when I’m on top of the world, looking down on everything.  When I feel at one with the universe and all the life it holds.

I feel strong on the trail.  Even when I’m huffing and puffing and stopping every 2 minutes because the path is so steep, I feel strong.  When I get blisters on my feet I feel strong.  When I flop down on the ground, utterly exhausted at the end of a hike I feel strong.

It has been almost a month and a half since my surgery and I feel like my body is almost ready to hike again.  (Apparently, my brain is already ready to go.)  My stamina is up – I can walk 2 miles on flat ground now.  The lingering pain around my incision is gone.

Next week I’m traveling to New Mexico and I am packing my hiking shoes.  It may be a short one, but I plan to hike a trail while I’m there.  It’ll be the first of many more trails in my future.