On February 3rd I suffered a concussion. For the first week I labored under the illusion I would be fine… just needed to pop some Advil. By February 12th, I realized I was in for a big temporary change in my life. I took 11 days off work and had a slower, emptier life than I’d had for over a decade. I got stir crazy, being denied most of the things that would have made a normal vacation fun. So on day 8, I got out to hike.
I have the fortune of living 2.3 miles from Taylor Mountain, a 1,800 acre County Park directly adjacent to thousands more acres of timbered land and the Cedar River Watershed. Just like I turned to Cougar Mountain for solace in the early 90’s (more on that in another post), struggling now with my concussion I turned to Taylor Mountain with an instinct below the level of thought.
I started with Holder Creek Trail, pretty much flat and scenic even in winter. It is about a 2.3 mile round trip. The beauty and familiarity of Taylor contrasted with my persistent dizziness and the almost icy rain. (Washington excels in providing rain at all temperatures, including just above freezing.). If I wrapped up my face, my head hurt more. If I didn’t, my nose froze. So I kept it short and had to move really slow. When I went into the Hobart Country Store afterwards to get a drink, the florescent lights made my eyes hurt instantly.
As a 90’s trailbuilder and advocate, I say I still love trails. But the reality of my 10’s life is I don’t get out hiking all that often. In the 6 months before my concussion, I took 28 hikes. In the 3 months since my concussion, I have taken the same number, 11 in the first couple weeks. This is just one clue that like a Trojan horse, the concussion has secreted a number of unexpected boons into the well-armored castle of my life habits.
Hiking on Taylor gave me something positive to focus on. For the first time in a long while I really watched Spring unfold and caught all the tiny transformations happening because I so frequently walked the same trails. And I found myself, at times, going beyond the limits of what I thought I could manage, because I *so* wanted to get to that next vista or landmark.
I had discouraging trips too. I tried to do a big loop down Carey Creek and back up to the old townsite of Webster and then along the Watershed road. I had to turn back because when I paused on the bridge and closed my eyes my head was spinning. I sent Malena a picture by text purportedly to show her the scenery, but more to document my location if I passed out and didn’t come home. When I was able to complete that loop two weeks later, I had a benchmark to measure my progress.
The first day I decided to take the steep hill up Road A, I felt like I was 30 years older. I had to move at a crawl to keep my blood pressure from pounding away my head. I watched, over several months, the climb *so* gradually became easy again.
One of the worst days, only a couple weeks ago, I slept poorly after a difficult week trying to teach my full roster of guitar students. I woke up with a pounding headache. Sleep has been difficult since the concussion, but I knew napping would make it worse. I canceled my Saturday students. It was a beautiful day out, in contrast to my discouraged and piss-poor mood. So of course I went to Taylor. I put on two layers of cheap sunglasses over my prescription glasses because the photo-sensitivity was still so bad and the sun was so brilliant, and hiked up that same hill, Road A, to a place where 5 trails branch off under towering trees, my “Grand Nexus”, about 1.2 miles uphill. I sat down on a big gravel pile and took a 360 degree panorama photo with my phone. I played some Words with Friends. I drank my seltzer water. My head still felt horrible. But it was hard, nonetheless, to be totally angry. Spring had arrived in full force, with one of the first warm and glorious days of 2017. The sky was that absolutely cinematic-perfect mix of blue with big puffy white clouds. There was birdsong, gentle wind and silence. Somehow it seemed like everything was going to be OK.