Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Happy Birthday, Brother

Today is Joe's birthday; he turns 27. He got hit by a car when he was 14, so this is the last year that he will have spent more of his life without a traumatic brain injury than with one.

Friends who I haven't seen in awhile will often ask me how my brother is doing. I always appreciate the question, though sometimes it's hard to know how to answer. There is no benchmark or control variable to measure against. Compared to what the neurologists said in 2005 when he was in a coma, when they warned that he might not wake up, when they said the might never recognize us or walk or talk again, he's doing great.

I'm so proud of him, and our family, for advocating for his healing and helping him live as normal of a life as possible. He works two part-time jobs which keep him active and responsible. He has gradually learned how to be more socially appropriate, and genuinely cares about people's feelings. 

But he still has frequent seizures, which makes him more vulnerable than any adult deserves. He stays close to home and will probably never drive a car. He walks a lot and takes the bus. He can often feel seizures coming 30 seconds to a few minutes in advance, and that lead time often gives him a chance to call for help or get in a safer position. 
Joe at a cousin's wedding, Sept 2017
He had a particularly upsetting seizure after buying new shoes at Big 5. He was alone, and planned to take the bus home. He woke up at the bus stop barefoot and didn't remember what had happened after leaving the store. He was carrying a shoe box with his old shoes, and a neighbor just happened to drive by and see Joe. The neighbor took him back to the store, and the store associate assured them that Joe had worn his new shoes out of the store. There is no explanation for or reason why Joe would have taken off his new shoes. The only thing we can think of is that they were stolen off his feet during or right after his seizure.

The worse thing that has happened in many years was this past fall when Joe was riding his bike alone along the Burke-Gilman trail in Kenmore, on the north end of Lake Washington. We assume he had a seizure while riding, because he was found on the side of the trail, face-down in a pile of soft soil and dead leaves. A passerby, who must have found him immediately and apparently not breathing, called the paramedics and performed CPR until the ambulance arrived. When they arrived, Joe had no heartbeat and they difibrillated his heart. It restarted, but they were concerned about his airways filled with soil and intubated and sedated him.  
In the hospital they ran all sorts of tests to see if his brain or other organs had been damaged due to the lack of oxygen from the time his heart was stopped. Miraculously, he seemed completely unscathed. He had to stay overnight as they needed to make sure he could breathe on his own. It also took many attempts to bring him out from sedation and extubate, as every time he'd start to regain some consciousness, he'd try to pull the tube out himself. Finally, he was awake and breathing on his own. It was only minutes later, in a scratchy voice, that he started hitting on the nurse. We knew that we was going to be just fine.

Caring for someone with a medical condition is a good reminder of a general life lesson: constantly assess how things are working and adjust as needed. Needless to say, Joe is no longer allowed to ride a bike alone. My parents don't want to discourage the independence, physical activity, and sheer enjoyment of him riding a bike, so now they organize a mentor to always ride with him.

Joe is a kind and humorous young man who makes the best of his situation. He loves any funny greeting cards, stickers, and t-shirts. He likes putting barbecue sauce on all of his food. He writes himself little handwritten notes everywhere and sets himself reminders on his phone. He likes hanging out with his nieces and nephews, even when he has to ask, "Whose kid is that again?" His brain may have been injured, but his heart is big and strong.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Finally, Enchantments in Fall

It's been several years coming, but I finally made it to the Enchantments during larch season. The Enchantments are a spectacular area in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in the central Cascades that are so popular that there is a lottery months in advance to get overnight permits. Since so many people don't get permits (I've tried unsuccessfully for years), it's common to visit the area as an 18-mile day hike. While that's a hefty hike for many people, especially with 5000 feet of elevation gain, that is not the only limiting factor. There are often fires in the area that cause trail closures, or early season storms that affect accessibility.

Larches are a rare deciduous conifer, meaning they make cones and look like evergreen trees, but their needles actually turn orange and fall off in the autumn. The contrast of the yellow/orange foliage in the alpine environment of white rocks and blue lakes is absolutely stunning. But it's a narrow window of a few weeks when the larches are at their peak before they drop their needles, adding to the tricky timing.
Exactly four years ago to the day, I wrote about trying to go in 2013. I made it in 2014 in early September, with the intention of going back for the larches. But then in 2015 and 2016 I was doing research for a hiking book and didn't do any hikes that weren't for my book. Behold, by 2017 my schedule had freed up enough that it was possible!

However, last Saturday when I was planning to go with some friends, the weather was not cooperating, with forecasts of snow and high winds. Instead, I saw a weather window on Tuesday before more snow showers rolled in Tuesday night, and decided to take it! I knew the route and I was fine hiking it alone, envisioning a solitary day of getting lost in thought.
Map from here
One of the other challenges of doing the whole through-hike is that it's a point-to-point route, so it works best to do with friends, bring two cars, and do a car shuttle between the trailheads. Above you can see a rough map of the red trail starting on the left, going up to Lake Colchuck (starting the blue line), ascending the steep Aasgard (aka Colchuck) Pass, passing by numerous high-country lakes the Enchantments Core, and then dropping back down for a loooooong descent from Snow Lakes back to Icicle Creek Road.

Since I was by myself, I decided to wait at the Snow Lakes trailhead for any kind souls already doing a car shuttle, and get a ride to the upper trailhead. I arrived at 5:30 a.m. and waited with hot coffee, listening to Ranchero music on the radio, trying to stay alert. I didn't see anyone for an hour, but finally at 6:30, two cars pulled up.

It was two local men from Wenatchee and one of the guy's two daughters, in their late teens/early twenties. They let me squeeze in as we bumped our way up toward the upper trailhead. Once there, we met two other hikers who were just getting on the trail.

Arriving Colchuck Lake
We all played leap frog as we ascended the first few miles, basically hiking the same pace and passing each other as we took breaks. By the time we came out of the trees and reached the breathtaking Colchuck Lake, we all took a snack break in the same spot and decided to head up Aasgard Pass together. I could have done it alone if needed, but it just felt safer to be around other people. We picked our way around the rim of the lake over the snow-covered boulders, put on traction devices, and made our way steadily up toward 7,840 feet.
Looking up the route to Asgard Pass
The seven of us ended up hiking together the whole way. It was a great impromptu group and nice to have buddies for such a long day. We lucked out with the weather for this time of year--a bit of grey, snow showers, and wind, but for the most part had comfortably cool temps and even some blue skies.
Looking down on Colchuck as we make our way up Aasgard Pass

Pretty waterfalls as it snows
Starting the descent toward Snow Lakes
The group stopped for a snack break
The end of the day was lovely, with golden evening light illuminating bands of larch in the distance. We were still hiking out as darkness fell, and all switched on our headlamps. We finally made it back to the Snow Lakes trailhead around 8:30, exhausted and very content.

Friday, September 22, 2017


Happy equinox! As summer comes to a close, I want to share my theme of the season: #SummerFeels. I made a point to relish any activity that felt quintessentially summery and to dive headlong into whatever would maximize #SummerFeels. Here are some of my faves:
Saw my bees thriving in their hive

Harvested backyard red currant and raspberries
and made a drinking shrub
Swam and paddleboarded in the Clackamas River
Swam with family in my parents' pool
Hung out with nieces eating popsicles
Drank beer after hiking, chilled in the 
ice of a semi-frozen alpine lake
Went climbing in the North Cascades
Descended snow fields in the smoky sunlight
Harvested backyard hops and helped brew fresh-hopped beer
Watched the sun rise over Mount Hood
Hiked at Mount Adams
Ate salsa Gabi made from her homegrown 
tomatoes, onions, and peppers
Grilled corn!

Climbed trees
Watched the total solar eclipse from the Path of Totality


Rode bikes around Vashon Island and
played in driftwood forts on the beach

Ate cabin breakfast of pancakes with wild-foraged huckleberries

Swam in little-visited Idaho rivers
Learned to fly fish

Caught fish to eat for dinner
Packed the car to the brim
Swam in mountain lakes

Harvested and ate forest blueberries

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Bike MS: Deception Pass Classic 2017

My quads are nicely sore and my heart is full from joining last weekend's Bike MS event. It was my first-ever organized bike ride, and first time doing a physical activity as part of a fundraiser. 

Bike MS happens all over the county throughout the year, to raise money for multiple sclerosis research and services for people living with the disease. The ride in western Washington starts in Mount Vernon, goes to Anacortes, over the Deception Pass bridge, and back for a pretty, semi-rural route.
Getting ready to ride
(All photos by Stacy R)
For more details, check out the Bike MS: Deception Pass Classic 2017 website. Here's more details from the site: 

Bike MS: Deception Pass Classic is an unforgettable, two-day journey through Skagit, Whatcom and Island Counties that will take you farther than you’ve ever gone before. What makes this ride so special? As many as 2,000 riders will cruise along scenic figure-eight courses with a start and finish at the Skagit County Fairgrounds. Full meals, generous amenities, stunning landscapes, fully stocked rest stops and spirited festivities are all included.

Your participation will drive MS research forward faster, and deliver services to those who face the challenges of MS every day so they can live their best lives.

I joined as part of a team that my work organized. We had around 20 riders, including current employees, partners, former employees, friends, and family members. Our office manager organized the team, and set up a great team tent for us. A designer from our Creative team had designed our awesome jerseys which we wore proudly, and ended up winning the Best Jersey award that evening!
The whole group before the ride

Lining up at the start line
The ride always takes place in the first half of September, so it's usually pretty warm. But this year, it felt like fall with cool temps, wind, and consistent rain. While riding, I wasn't too cold, but when I stopped at a rest area, I would get chilly. It was incentive to get back on the bike and keep going!

One of the great things about the ride is that you can pick your distance. On the first day, the options are 22, 59, 80, and 100 miles, so it really has something for every ability level. We had some team members ride the high end and low end, but the majority of us found the sweet spot at 59 miles. It was long enough to be challenging and push us, but short enough that a relatively fit person didn't have to do much (or any) training. We stuck together as a group, naturally spreading out and then waiting up at view points or rest stops. It was a fantastic feeling of camaraderie and a shared goal.
Pizza and champagne after the ride

Yeah... we were pretty tired
I already know that I want to do the ride next year. We had an amazing team and exceeded our fundraising goal of $12,000, and it will be exciting to see what 2018 will hold.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

San Juan 4th of July: Stuart Island

My family has a long tradition of holding a big family gathering on Stuart Island in the San Juans for the Fourth of July. I haven't been able to make it out there for the past five years due to general summer zaniness, and trying to get to the mountains as much as possible. For example, last year I was attempting to summit Glacier Peak

But this year was the right time to spent a long weekend out there with family and it was just what I needed. I got to hang with both my sisters, their husband and three kids, and a ton of extended family. It was just what the doctor ordered.
Two nieces: my oldest niece and her younger sister
Arrived at the island just as the sun was setting
New tradition for 4th of July weekend: outdoor family movie on the barn
Family picnic: Salmon BBQ/potluck and badminton tournament
Two nieces in their 4th of July dresses
Niece discovers I'm ticklish
Indoor activity after all the sun and playing outside:
Bingo tournament
Hanging on the bluffs and rocks of Turn Point.
We spotted humpback whales!
Monday evening: the kiddos soak the last of the sun
Bonfire and hot dog roast
My auntie with her great-nieces
Caught the sunrise over the bay, around 5 a.m.
I hope you had a fun, safe, and relaxing Fourth!