Author Archives: WhelanTrek
Back in November 2010 I decided to get off the couch and start moving. I had gotten the bright idea to trek to Mount Everest and wanted to do it for my 50th birthday. After consultation with my brother and sister decided I needed prep time so targeted 2012, or around my 51st birthday. So I began hiking around Las Vegas. Hike No. 1 2010 was a mountain, well hill really, behind my house. So five years, two knee surgeries, a shoulder surgery, trips to Everest and Machu Picchu, 2 years of Plantar Faceitis, death of my father, and both God parents as well as other important people, later I took that trip again. This time knowing that the health of my left knee had parted ways with the rest of my body. But I needed to try that hill again and kick off my regeneration.
So I got me some new boots that I think may help with the residual plantar faceitis I sometimes feel flare up, as well as the great amount of knee pain I get upon exertion, and set out on REI’s #OptOutside day, the day after Thanksgiving. It was around 40 degrees out and nice and sunny. I took off and the first thing that struck me was that in the ensuing five years, it is clear a lot more people walk through here and ride their mountain bikes as a well worn trail existed where there was one before. Additionally, the monsoon rains over the years had changed the terrain in several spots and made the turn up the sluffy area much more difficult than five years ago.
Either that or I am in severe denial and simply lost the best line of a route. The newly established trail ended up going to the right up a lower ridge across teh wash. I intended to go to the higher bluff on the left. So off trail me and my boots n poles headed. I was incredibly slow, but felt that was more my knee than my overall fitness. That was good feedback. But as I started up steep slippery spots my confidence in my stability waned. The boots were very grippy and performed well. I, on the other hand, did not. I found maneuvering on the steep slope more difficult than it should have been with my left leg feeling like it did not want any lateral twisting or leveraging. At all. None. I tarried on thinking I should simply push for the top as I had fie years earlier. But I also thought that it would be a shame to get hurt because I overshot the limitation of the left leg. And there was still the mile or so, much of which was getting down the steep part, left before this would be over. If you don’t know hiking, coming down can be harder than going up. S
o, I turned back. But not before looking at the views, breathing in the cool clean air and letting the sun wash my face in its warm blanket. Yes, even in 40 degree weather, the sun’s warmth cuts through and warms you.
As I finished up and got back to the car, I could not help feeling both disappointment and satisfaction all at the same time. I had got out on a hike! My new boots seemed to be what I was hoping. The air and sun felt wonderful. But I did not go as far as I wanted. I had issues that weight loss will help with and I need to build my general fitness. But just like that day in November of 2010, shod in new boots then and with new trekking poles in my grips, I had got started.
Back in 2007 when Stacey and I started doing monthly 5k walks, our third one was put on by The Las Vegas Track club called the Turkey Trot. It stands out in my memory because I was lapped by a 84 year old woman. She was nice and encouraging and…well let’s face it, 38 years older than me. I was 46 at the time. Here it is, eight years later and it is turkey trot time again. Stacey lives back east and the 84 year old lady passed a way a few years back. I happened to see her at a few races and then read her obituary. I felt a bit sad, but also inspired that she had spent those 84 years living!
Now I do my 5ks with my great friend Maggie. With Stacey gone it was nice and fortunate to meet her and become good friends. Even better that we hike and walk and even do our adventures together.
This was my third post knee surgery 5k. My goal was to get in under one hour. At the start line we were informed that due to the public works failing to inform the track club of road closure on part of the route, the 5k would be a bit short. I was glad my MapMyFitness app would give me my distance, time and split times as well so I could see what progress, if any, I had made since the Pumpkin Man we did in Boulder City last month. I had done ok in that walk, though my knee was pretty thrashed afterwards.
In my Twilight 5K at Lake Las Vegas I was fresh off a three month hiatus due to knee injury. I had meniscus removed about a week prior to the race. I was still pretty sore and had to use a walking stick for stability. My time was pretty slow. I really hoped to shave a lot off those times month to month. So far, I have!!!!!! Here is a break down: NOVEMBER 5k time was 1:34:46; OCTOBER 5k time was 1:06:50; NOVEMBER 5k was 57:45!! I even had my last mile and partial mile at under 17 minutes, which tells me I have more gas in the tank to use earlier!
After I crossed the finish line I felt rejuvenated. I have not felt this good after a race in about 2 years. My weight is coming off, my diet is excellent and as a result, I am not taken down by a 5k any more. I have 4 months before my knee replacement surgery and I am ready to use it to get as much activity on this old knee as I can before it becomes medical waste. No pain in the now gel filled knee; no joint or back pain; no complete post race stiffness. I was overjoyed by the progress I have made in three months. My overall time is substantially improved as the knee has improved. The biggest real meter is teh time between October and November. I cut 12:05 from last month. That time improvement from November to October does not tell as much given the surgery was a week prior. o looking from October to November makes me see that there has been improved health with better eating and more exercise in between 5k events.
I completed my first month of concerted effort in weight loss and healthy eating with a 16 pound loss, a new gym membership, and a perfect paleo/primal eating habit. It felt very good and though I was happy with the 16 pounds, it came in the first 20 days with ten days of nothing more. So for November, month 2 prior to knee replacement surgery in the spring, I will not step on the scale. I will continue to log everything I eat on MyFitnessPal so that I cannot lie to myself about things. But no scale until December 1, 2015.
I am feeling pretty dang good. No sugar is always a better way for my brain to function and my energy to increase. I have the last two 5k’s of the year scheduled and am hoping to get on the bike as well.
The other night, I was ecstatic to eat…..wait for it…..PIZZA!!!!! I got a recipe for cauliflower pizza crust. It was FANTASTIC! I felt like I was CHEATING it was so good! It only took a few minutes to rice the cauliflower, heat it for ten minutes in the microwave, and add the eggs, cheese and spices. The bake on it was great and it held up structurally. I even heated it the next day for lunch and it still held up and tasted great. So, if you are going grain free like me, this is the bomb! I am also going to make the breadstick version the link above tells about so that I can snack during the football game this weekend. So now my two favorites that I miss on paleo/primal diets are covered: Pasta, where I use zucchini instead, and now pizza crust with the cauliflower. I have made cauli mash and cauli fried rice for a while, but this new crust will enable me to make “tortillas” for tacos and to use as bread for sandwiches as well.
So month two is producing all sorts of results even if I do not know about the number on the scale. I am getting comfortable with the food lexicon I have and not missing the things I thought I would. I get plenty of fiber and lots of good fat as well.
It was monthly 5k time again and we went out to do the Pumpkinman 5k. This is a race by BBSC Endurance. These are fun races for a variety of reasons, You get to choose the charity your money goes to, and there are multiple combinations of events you can do: Tri, Duoatholon, half marathon and more. We signed up for the 5k, and it was a good choice for me. Not ready for anything bigger at this time.
You may remember that in my last race blog, I told you about a very inspirational lady who was really working hard to do these events. She was back at this event and told me she took 40 minutes off her time that night! It is worth going back to read about her! She looked great on this 5k and didn’t even have a rest chair along with her. If that is not inspiring, I do not know what is!
So we started the race and it was pretty uneventful. I have gotten to know just how I will feel in each of the 3 miles on a course and that is a good thing for measuring progress.
The race was in Boulder City, Nevada. That is the town where all the workers who built the dam lived during it’s construction. It has no gambling in it as there was a fear the men would lose all their hard earned money if there were gambling. As we left Wilber Square in Boulder City, we were instantly in a quiet residential neighborhood right on the border of the desert. You would have no idea you were anywhere NEAR Las Vegas by this quiet little town. Old fashioned sprinklers quietly watered nicely manicured lawns surrounding cute bungalows.
As I reached the turn around I felt like I was doing pretty well. The next mile would be a steady uphill and I worked hard as I slowly pushed up the hill. Suddenly I felt a pat on the back and two men passed me running with a smile and a thumbs up. They were wearing Raw Fitness t-shirts! It is great to think how much young people support people who are in far less condition than are they and encourage us to fight on. I cannot even tell you how many “atta girls”, and “you’re almost theres” I got from people as they ran past me. I found that the encouragement prevented me even wanting to check the Map My Fitness app for my progress. I was moving and I was working and it felt good!
I did at last cross the finish line a midst cheers and a few laughs! I was going slow enough for the crowd along the finish strip to see my shirt, which read “EVERYTHING HURTS AND I’M DYING!
As we left the finish line and walked up to have a bench and a cold bottle of water, we met Bonnie Perrish-Kell of Slowpoke Divas. We talked about women “of our age” moving and playing and adventuring. Her site is wonderful! Take a look at it!
After the race, my bum knee was pretty beat up and I found myself hobbling more than I had expected. But then, I guess that is why I am getting a new new one in April. Hot shower followed by ice and Alleve. A routine I am very used to for sure.
I have a real long way to go. I have more work to do than I can even think about. But the good thing is that I only have to think about the small bits of work that build together to make the big chunks of work which culminate in the overall completed goal. And in the end, I have a healthier me with great memories getting there!
People do pilgrimages for a variety of reasons. Some go for the adventure, some for the tradition. There are those who have religious reasons and some with no religious connection at all. There are as many reasons, more reasons even than there are pilgrims doing the walking. Some walk, some ride bikes. Others use public transportation all the way to the destination itself. I have a whole passel of reasons I want to do it. 1) I like to pick adventures that challenge me and are epic…to me. 2) I love the ceremony and tradition of the Catholic Church and want to further get back to my Catholic roots. 3) I have neglected my spiritual side for some time and want to reconnect with it. 4) I want to walk more days than I would have had I not flown out from Base Camp in 2012.
When I was in Nepal, I had my first experience walking day after day
mostly alone (aside from my wonderful Sherpa, Mane who spoke little to no English). It was a wonderful experience, no noise but the sound of my boots to the trail, the wind coming down off the highest mountain on the planet, and the slow, ambling ring of yak bells. The Camino, as most people refer to the Camino de Santiago, will be a mixture of that isolation of Everest; the tea houses of Everest will be somewhat like the villages and Abrugues at the end of the days, and then the culmination at a place I really, really want to see. In the Trek it was Base Camp and sleeping on the Khumbu Glacier. Here it will be the cathedral, the mass, and the thought that the relics of an Apostle just might be there.
I do not pretend to have all the answers. Some would think it silly to flay from Las Vegas all the way to Madrid just to take a bus to Leon and then walk 200 miles. Others think it is sacrilege not to do that. So to each their own. I am excited by the fact that in my 50’s I can continue to battle through health issues and creeping up in years by planning meaningful life adventures for myself. But I also invite all of my friends, with all of their various positions and opinions to follow
along with me. It is 23 months before I set out. And in the mean time I have big things to do: a little knee replacement in April, a couple trips to the top of Mount Charleston, Half dome, maybe another run through the Narrows, a hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back, lots of 5ks, 10ks and half marathons and just a bunch of training. This thing is more internal than external. I read all the time that the walk is very transformative. I felt that in Everest. Look hard enough at the things you do and you can learn new things about yourself.
Getting involved in the Camino de Santiago and various communities associated with it has reinforced the fact that we all judge. Even telling others not to judge is….well…..judging. I have read several posts in the last couple of days in which the poster posits an idea, whether snobbishly looking down on others for using taxis or bag service, or whether simply asserting our way as better than the way the poster has done something….it is all judging. After all, if we read something and draw a conclusion in our mind that we know a better way, or that what they poster has said they did is not up to snuff, we have judged them. Of course no good case of judging would be complete if we didn’t make our position regarding things very clear in our own post. I am guilty too. We rest on the idea that God says “Judge not lest ye be judged”. But does that mean we are never supposed to judge? I say resoundingly NO! We make judgments that God would be very happy with every day: whether to be nice or not, whether to help someone, who to vote for, when to speak or not to speak, what to pray for, and on and on. In a Christian world view that holds to a pretty dogmatic stance that there is right and wrong, it is hard to also apply a layer of in between in appropriate areas. If I am walking the Camino and I see people with lavish luggage who appear healthy laughing it up and taking the last bed in the Albergue whilst I am arriving dog tired, blisters on my feet, back pack nearly worn out…I am likely going to make a very uncharitable judgment. It is human nature to want things to be fair. And it seems people who look well healed and refreshed taking the last bed is not fair. We don’t live in a fair world, we live in a fallen world. Sometimes we just have to understand that and make the best of what we can do rather than grumble about the things we cannot change. After all, our grumbling only effects us, not the “offender”. Not to mention the guys with all the luggage and a ride may have gotten gifts or worked extra jobs to buy nice things for a once in a lifetime trip.
I was in Nepal and was in and amongst the hard working Sherpas. Most were farmers who guided and ported and shepra-ed for extra money. They lived a simple life and people back home thought they were poor. They judged them by an American living standard. But they were not poor and it was sort of ethnocentric and condescending to judge them that way. Here in America it is not uncommon for people to work multiple jobs to better their families. We are not unlike them.
I was in Peru and found myself ill-prepared and unable to do the hike I went there for. One of the people on the tour took me aside and said “I knew when I first saw you that you could not do this hike so just bow out so our hike isn’t ruined.” I was appalled. I had taken most of this body all the way to Mount Everest but he judged me by my looks. Furthermore, I would have done nothing to ruin the hike of anyone else. But these are the things we deal with when we choose to interact with others. Some of it is good and some of it is bad. I did bow out and made other plans during the core of the hike. When we all reunited at the top of Machu Picchu, I had been happy and transformed my misfortune into a wonderful trip anyway. He was miserable, grumpy, and glad to be done. He could say he did it. I could not. But it didn’t seem like he experienced it. I wanted to experience it and will one day. None the less he did achieve his objective.
Not all of us approaches things the same way, and that is ok. We can have an opinion about that, but it does not invalidate the other’s approach. Most especially when it is a matter of ones experience in an activity. Some church people are very demonstrative in their appreciation of God. Others more placid. Does either of them experience God less? Different strokes for different folks. To each their own. There is more than one way to skin a cat. Live and let live. And lastly….embrace the differences…..
No time like the present to go ahead and see if the leg can keep up and do a 5k. So out to Lake Las Vegas we went to do a cool evening headlamp walk Calico Racing put on. It is the first 5k since I messed up the cartilage in my knee on June 3, 2015. Since then I had surgery and learned that at some point soon I will need to have the entire knee replaced. I was thinking in a year, but since have modified that to April 2016. There are a few methods to my madness. For one, my insurance year ends June 30, so with the surgery I just had and the knee replacement in one year, it cuts in half my out of pocket expenses for the replacement. That is because I hit my maximum out of pocket in a plan year. Another is it gives me less time to lose the weight I want and so more motivation to get on it now. I think the goal setting for the weight loss is enhanced by the shorter goal period.
So we got to the park for the walk. It was nearing sundown and a pleasent atmoshphere ran through the crowd. I noticed a woman with a race bib sitting in a camp chair and it occured to me that she was very large. Moreso than me. I felt bad that I thought about her that way. I put the information in the far corner of my mind and got in the back of the crowd to walk. And off we went.
The course was a tiny down hill and then up the entire first half. I had my walking stick and the knee felt just big and numb as it has since surgery. I reached up to test my light for when the sun finally dropped below the horizon behind the Vegas strip. Nothing. I had fresh batteries but had blown the bulb. I continued on anyway, not sure if I would turn around or not. Worried that I was looking for any excuse to quit.
As I topped a rather steep little section it was clear my fitness level was immeasurable. I looked back to see if anyone was behind me and saw nothing. I wondered about the woman in the chair.
My fitness app was working away and my walking stick from Hearst Castle was helping me along as I put one foot in front of the other. The sun was sinking and twighlight was upon us. The lights of the strip were beginning to come on off in the distance.
Soon it was completely dark and I had barely hoofed off a mile before the front runners had doubled back and were on their way in, headlamps bouncing like bright white balls in the darkness. I started to worry about the darkness. Right then, a group of three or four people approached lights and all. Just as we met they were shouting out words of encouragement and the woman closest to me grabbed my arm and put a light in it. I said I would find her and return it at the finish. She looked concerned and just said “keep it” as she disappeared into the darkness.
As I thought about her being my trail angel I wondered again about the woman in the chair.
About that time I could see a stationary becon of light ahead and knew it was the turn around station. As I arrived and took a glass of water, guzzling it down, I felt the going would be easier downhill. As I hugged the tight edge of the pavement so the runners from the longer 10k route could pass, it became clear the light I had recieved was a godsend. The edge was uneven and with the knee acting up I am sure I would have fallen at some point. There are good people in this world. She was good to give me that light. Whoever she is, wherever she is, thank you!
I moved much slower down hill, finding that my knee didn’t like it much. I passed the two mile mark and got just back to the top of that steep spot and saw the lady from the chair. Her walking partner had just sat the chair down and she sat down in it huffing and puffing from the work of getting up the steep section. I uttered some encouraging words and told her I hoped to see her at the next 5k. And I meant it!
Back to the tunnel and up the final stretch. My right calf and left hammie began to cramp. I fought off the cramps and plodded on, crossing the finish line with the worst time I had ever had. 25 minute miles.
But it was the start of getting back in shape. I didn’t bail, I didn’t quit, I didn’t give up. Just before I left, I ran into one of the people I had seen at the beginning with the lady in the chair. This was her third 5k in as many months. The first was well over 3 hours with the second being just over three hours. And she has another next month. It was humbling to hear about her dedication. We can all do this. We just have to want it more than we want our current situations.
After returning from Peru, having not been physically able to do the hike I really wanted to do was demoralizing. I felt I had failed. As much fun as I had, and as wonderful Julio made all of my alternative sites and walks, the simple fact remained that I.Did.Not.Do.The.Inka.Trail. Period. The weight I carried was too much. And I don’t mean the pack.
As 2014 rolled into 2015 nothing much changed. I went through the usual holiday activities and started the new year dedicated to 12 5k walks in 12 months.
They were to be place markers to measure progress between each one. As I headed off to Washington DC for work, I squeezed my May 5k in by doing a selfie stick photo walk through Georgetown and the National Mall. It was great. The business trip I was on was jam packed with walking. I was logging about 17,000 steps a day and I thought “what a way to launch myself forward!”
On June 3 we were taking meetings all over Capitol Hill. We had the Capitol, a meeting with the U.S. Supreme Court Clerk, a meeting at the Senate with Kelli Ayote, and a meeting at the DOJ with Deputy Attorney General Sally Bates. As the day wore on my left knee began to have a feeling as though it were ripping. It worsened. It held me back the remainder of the trip.
June, July, and August there would be no 5ks. As a matter of fact, an MRI revealed a tear in the meniscus. August 27th the knee was scoped and cleaned up. A lot. Left behind was a janky ACL that had been repaired in 1988 and what looked like a shag carpet of arthritis with intermittent bone on bone.
Some friends and I had already started on planning a 2017 walk on el Camino de Santiago de Compostela. I had a Spanish class under way and the walking goal was to go from Leon to Santiago de Compastela. That is 200 miles. And instead of beginning my my goal of over 100lbs. Weight loss with a “good as sorta 54 year old new” knee, I am starting knowing that at sometime between now and September 2017, I will likely need to ink in a total knee replacement. Ugh.
As I lie on my couch with the pups feeling sorry for myself, I decided to watch Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago. I learned about it on the American Pilgrims on the Camino Facebook page. I “met” one of the co-producers there named Annie O’Neil. In watching the pilgrims struggle for their own individual reasons, I was particularly drawn to Annie’s walk. Maybe at first because I was at least familiar with her now. But seeing a normal sized person become nearly debilitated by sever knee conditions, yet for her to push through with no complaints was insuring and redemptive. I no longer felt ashamed of myself for Peru. Instead I felt my biggest failure was not in missing the trail……it was in missing the lesson.
I have a plan now. I always do, but I can only have hope and faith that this time, I can do it. That this time I can keep a promise to myself for all the right reasons.
I trained up to Aguas Caliente where I holed up in a small family owned hotel called Marco Wasi (House of Marco) in the middle of town. Nobody spoke English but all seemed to be ok and up to my room I went. It had been a great day of touring but I was sort of cold from the rain early in the day. I looked forward to my Thursday Night hot shower and some text messages from Seattle to keep me up on the Seahawk v. Packers game. I turned on the water and alas, no matter how long I waited there was nothing hot coming from the spigot. I put on the pajamas, cracked open some hand warmers and threw one in the bed, held the other in my hands to warm up. I could not complain, however because I knew that several miles away from me, on the other side of Machu PIcchu Maggie lie in a tent after a very hard day of hiking down 3009 stone steps in the rain. Steps that wanted to buck her off with every bend of the knee. Steps I was supposed to be enduring with her instead of luxuriating in a hotel room. So I settled in to getting updated scores from Kathlene, Kathy and Sonya and enjoying an old fashioned play by play call of the game courtesy of iMessage and the three of them. Ronald Reagan would have been proud of their exciting delivery of the action!
The next morning I got up bright and early and paced all my things. It was raining and the little girl at the desk walked b]me down to the bus. The steep walks were slick in the rain and I could only imagine what Maggie was enduring coming in on her final leg of the trek. I stopped at the bus and ducked in for a great south American coffee. They served me the steamed milk and the shots of espresso separately so I could pour them in myself. It was a nice time to sit and reflect on teh adventure as a whole. But soon the clock moved and it was time to take the 25 minute ride up the hill to the ruins themselves. IT was a great ride. No harrowing corners but quite safe and really very pleasant.
Once off the bus I simply awaited the arrival of the rest of the team, and most importantly, the arrival of Maggie. I was so concerned to see how she looked, hear how she felt. I had felt so ashamed that I had been cut from the team and had such feelings of having let her down and having deserted her. At the same time, I was so very proud of her for digging in and doing it. AND THERE THEY WERE! Maggie was sitting in the doorway to the restaurant which had not yet opened. She looked tired and wet and ready for some rest. But she smiled and we hugged and if she could make it three and a half more hours, we would be at the buffet eating and drinking and reminiscing. As we walked in to Machu PIcchu in the rain and clouds, it was an ominous eery feeling. We would not be getting all teh classic post card pictures of sunny Machu Picchu. Instead, we would be getting clouds circling around the ruins. Clearing in some spots, getting thicker in others. I am simply going to post seceral of the pictures for you to get the idea:
It was an amazing tour. All sorts of great sights and scenes.
So, as you can see, the grey came in and out around the ruins and it brought you back to a time where you could just feel and imagine the Inca with all his people there to serve him residing here and doing what Inca’s did. Their advanced civilization was amazing. The stone work, all without metal tools, was mind blowing. Carving, hauling, repairing, measuring and all of it with precision. The fact I could step foot on it was an honor as I gazed in awe and in wonderment.
We had done it. Maggie and I had set a goal a year before. While my adventure changed and I did not actually achieve my goal, I was to head home enriched by the things I had seen and the things I had learned from Julio. Maggie did it all. She took each step that the Incas would have taken to get there. She slept under the clouds and she walked through them. Stone step after stone step after stone step. And as we headed to have lunch with the boys before they headed home, I knew what it felt like not to summit, but to have joy for those who did.
It has been a couple days since I could blog so I will catch up on what you have missed. Thursday started with Julio arriving again and heading out toward the Sacred Valley. We went to Moray where there are a series if circles on terraces. The theory is that seeds were tested for flavor on each terrace to determine slight changes.
It began to rain and as we walked down to the bottom it was really slick. Walking up was slicker yet!!! But I got to the top, the rain passed and we headed out to the salt mine.
Now when I think of salt mines i think of deeeeep places in the earth and animals pulling carts of salt up to the surface. But this salt mine derives from a small spring that bubbles out of the side of a hill and people have little pools or sections to add wafer to, let evaporate and then scrape out the salt left behind.
After the mine we had lunch of hamburgers and InkaKola and then it was off to the train where I bid farewell to Julio and headed to Agua Caliente!