We flew into London late two nights ago, and stayed at an inn that resembled a hostel to me more than an “inn” – it was a converted hay loft with very short ceilings and a sit down shower. It was a very nice stay though, and we got off early yesterday morning for the Highlands of Scotland!
We aren’t very experienced yet with driving on the opposite side of the road, and I for one am scraping a lot of curbs still. Once we got into Scotland, the roads got thinner still. Apparently, so did the wall of the tires on our rental car! Late last night, on the way to Spean Bridge, we blew a tire. We spent the morning at National Tyre getting a new front passenger tyre before we could get along on our vacation.
Once we did, what an amazing day it turned out to be! The sun came out and we enjoyed some castle ruins, a couple of local eateries, and then a Land Rover tour of some of the most beautiful areas I’ve seen.
Now, on to Edinburgh for a couple days! Liz and I have already decided we need to come back for a good long hike. Picking the route will be the most difficult part since it all looks so different but is all so beautiful! But that is a discussion for another day…
The last in this series…
Rocky Mountain campsite (beautiful) to Dicks Creek Gap and Hiawassee.
Low Gap Shelter to Rocky Mountain campsite
Includes Unicoi Gap crossing and Tray Mountain details
Merry Christmas to you all, and I hope this note finds you enjoying faith and family through the holiday season!
If we had to condense 2012 into a few simple words, we would say it was a year of transition and new experiences. We spent the year changing things up at work, doing new things at church, and ultimately growing quite a bit in the process. It was hard at times, but we found ways to make it bearable… as you’ll no doubt understand as you keep reading.
When we got back from the Appalachian Trail, we decided it was time to drop out of things for a while and simplify our lives, leaving time for things we truly wanted to do. As our external commitments wound down, we had more time for each other and for building relationships. It’s been good to reconnect this year!
It was a good thing we limited our commitments, because once school started for Liz, we were off to the races! Late last year she was covering classes and labs for people now on sabbatical that had covered for her while we hiked. All very exciting, but very busy! One of the lessons we learned was that you can weave a common thread of relationship despite the busy-ness of life, so long as you are diligent to pursue it.
Along those lines, we also joined a new small group at church. We left our old small group in an attempt to achieve “commitment nirvana” (nothingness on the calendar), but were hesitant about where that put us relationally within our church. We struggled with that decision for a few months until the church did a six week series during which they really wanted everyone in a small group for processing. So we joined a temporary group for that, but at the end of the series we all decided to continue meeting and studying together! It’s been refreshing to be in in a small group and not leading one. The chance to participate without feeling like we were trying to “be the leaders” or something has been nice. Plus, it connected us to some new people at the same time that it re-connected us to some old friends.
This past fall semester found Liz not only moving into the new science building, but also taking on yet another new class at Taylor University. For the first time, she was teaching biology to non-majors: BIO100. To say the least, it was a rocky transition. About 5 weeks into the course, she decided to forget her syllabus and see what her students wanted to learn about biology, rather than listening to her lecture through “the plan.” She was pleasantly surprised to find out what the students wanted to know, and really had a great time preparing exciting new ways to engage with the material! You teachers out there will understand the buzz she got from that transformation in class!
Liz has also taken on the creation of a new online lab course for Taylor, which has been an interesting challenge. How do you successfully run a lab course when the students will be taking classes on their own schedule, out of their homes? Thinking through all of that while changing up her BIO100 course was actually a lot of fun and made for a lot of interesting dinner conversations. J
In November, John decided it was time to leave RealMed – where he’d been employed for 10 years! It was a tough decision to make, but the opportunity that he left to pursue was just too good to pass up. It’s a chance to work with an old friend on some exciting projects, and it’s an entrepreneurial venture, which he’s been missing for years! So there’s a lot of unknown, but a lot of excitement too. He’s really enjoying his work so far, so that’s a great start!
So in the midst of all that. How did we keep our sanity? Quite simply, with lots of vacations. J In late May we travelled with some close friends to Hawaii for two weeks and had an absolutely amazing time. We’re traditionally not people that plan to revisit places we’ve been but on the flight back we had already agreed to go back. There is so much to see and do there, and lots of beautiful places to just sit. That trip was therapeutic for us shortly after the spring semester wrapped up. As summer came to a close, we did a lot more camping than we have done in a while. Well, other than the solid 6 months of it I suppose we did in 2011, but this was CAR camping. This was FANCY. We hit several Indiana State Parks with various friends and loved every weekend of it. We had forgotten how… comfortable camping can be!
So that was our year! For those we had a chance to hang out with, we really had a great time with you. For those we WISH we had a chance to hang out with, you’re on our call list so be ready. If you’d like to be certain you are on that call list, feel free to send either of us an email, give us a call, or contact us on Facebook. We’d love to hear from you! As Bilbo Baggins put it: “I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”
Enjoy your holidays! See you in the New Year!
On April 12th, after spending a zero day in Erwin, TN (one night at Uncle Johnny’s, one night at the Holiday Inn Express), we hiked out in a cold rain. It was tough to leave in the rain, but after spending a zero day in town, we needed to get rolling.
This picture was taken at around noon, maybe a little later. We stopped at the first shelter out of town (5 miles away) for a break because there were some folks we really liked hanging out there. Iron Mike (standing) and Tabasco (maroon jacket) were traveling together and were renowned fire starters. As soon as we took our packs off, they started trying to talk us into staying by promising a big fire. We had left town with Supa Chef and Speedy Gonzalez and were planning to hit the next shelter at least before we stopped for the day.
Chef and Speedy are rock solid in their resolve. Muggle and me? Not so much. With Chef and Speedy already a few minutes ahead of us, we got as far as putting our packs on and taking 10 steps before we said, “Screw it. We’re staying!”, and stripped off our packs and plunked down by the fire.
Mike and Tabasco were dead on, too. Even in the drizzle they got a roaring fire going that burned/incinerated aluminum cans. I think even one of the stumps you see above made it into the fire. We spent the next 6 hours sitting around the toasty fire with Mike, Tabasco, The Conversation (red jacket), his cousin Chopper, and Colonel. Fun group!
I do have to include that we felt AWFUL afterwards for not meeting up with Chef and Speedy that evening. It sounded like they had a pretty crappy evening in windy rain, getting everything wet where we were SUPPOSED to have met them. But the next day we caught up to them (they were, uh, drying their gear over a long lunch). We sat down for a little break to continue drying out. We decided since we were so refreshed from our long break the day before, we could probably put in a few more miles. Just as we started putting on our packs, up walked the Professor. After a long hiatus, it was good to see an old friend.
Hiking day in and day out–it wears on your mind. After you’ve been out a week or so, you and your hiking partner have pretty much said everything you want to say to each other, short of things like “Wow, look at that!” as you pass beautiful or amazing sights along the way. Eventually you find things to occupy your mind. This is an example stream-of-consciousness from our hike on the AT:
OK, so one hour down, 10 to go. Well, actually let’s see… we’ve gone 2 and a half miles so far, so if we keep this pace until lunch that means we will have gone maybe 10 miles, minus time for a snack break which will be maybe 20 minutes? I don’t know I”m pretty tired today, so maybe longer. That would get us to lunch just short of 10 miles. That is about 4 hours from now, but let’s say 4 and a half to be safe. We’re shooting for 20.6 miles, so that would be around 9 hours at this pace, plus lunch. I’m thinking an hour long lunch today, since we didn’t sleep too well last night. So yeah, that’s 10 hours, maybe a few more. Oh, how long have I been zoned out? Where is Elizabeth? Ok, good she’s still back there. She must be alright with the pace since she smiled, but she sure looks beat. I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world. Come on Barbie, let’s go party. What? Where did that come from? That’s the last time I listen to the radio just before leaving town. How long until the next town? I think we left with 4 days of food and we have maybe a day and a half left? Yeah I think so. Elizabeth’s food bag was almost empty this morning and mine was pretty small too. Good. T-minus 1 day until my next burger. I think I’ll try to find one with some kind of special cheese on it this time. Oh wait, it’s a small town so it probably only has a diner so I may not have any options. If we get in late, maybe pizza? I’m getting sick of pizza. Pepperoni is still good though, which is great because pepperoni and cheese is our snack today. How long until snack? Crap. Over an hour. Man I’m tired. And hungry. Oh, drink water. Don’t want to get dehydrated. That stupid Barbie song. Heh heh heh… check this out. “Hey Liz, ‘Come on Barbie, let’s go party!'” “John, DON’T! I HATE that song!” Nice. “Grr… now you’ve got it stuck in my head again.” Heh heh heh she hates that. Oh better be careful, there’s a slippery boardwalk. Under the boardwalk, down by the sea. On a blanket with my baby, that’s where I’ll be. Awesome, new song! Better check on Elizabeth to be sure she makes it across OK. Nope, she’s already wet. How does she always do that? Oh well, we’re already dirty–what’s another layer of mud now? That shower will sure feel good. I love watching all that brown water go down the drain. Oh, and a bed. Soft and warm. I bet NCIS is on too. It’s always on, back-to-back-to-back! These squirrels are going CRAZY today! They are all over the place. So cute. One hour left until snack…
If you know me at all, you probably know that I am an extremely private person. I’ll joke around and have fun, but I’m not really that big on sharing information about myself. However, many of my friends and family have asked about my health and wonder how hiking has effected it and vice-versa. When we were trying to decide if I would be able to physically handle hiking for 6 months, I did a Google search to see if there were others with rheumatoid arthritis hiking. I didn’t find any information. I realize that doesn’t mean there aren’t others, but just in case there is someone out there who wonders, “Can I do this? Have others tried?” I have decided to write a little about my journey.
About 3 1/2 years ago, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). I’d been having off-and-on joint pain for about six years which had been misdiagnosed as fibromyalgia. The pain would usually stay for just a few days then go away for several months. Ironically, after a rather intense backpacking trip in the summer of 2008, the pain came as usual, but this time it never went away. Through a series of strange events, I ended up seeing a new rheumatologist who gave me the news that it wasn’t fibromyalgia after all, but RA. At this point I only had a mild case, so my life changed very little other than taking a few extra medications. Over the next two years, my symptoms unfortunately only worsened–more and more joints were involved and the pain was more intense. My medications were constantly changing as the doctor attempted to find the combination of medications that would force the RA into remission.
We had been planning on hiking the Appalachian Trail at some point and had even been actively making plans to do so. However, we were still thinking a thru-hike might be something we should put off until we retired or at least something we would do later–you know, when life wasn’t so crazy. Even after my diagnosis, we thought at the very least we would wait until after my medications were figured out. But my medications didn’t get figured out. My doctor tried what seemed like every possible combination of drugs, including weekly injections and IV infusions. Nothing seemed to work and my symptoms kept progressing.
We began to think there might not be a later–at least not a later where I would be physically capable of hiking 2000+ miles. In fact, we weren’t sure it was even possible at this point. We had already been paying off debt and saving money for our trip, but we decided to set an actual date for 2 years later. We began telling our employers, family and friends that we were going to be gone for 6 months.
My prognosis didn’t improve any over the next two years; however, it didn’t worsen either. My rheumatologist wasn’t exactly in support of my trip, but she did help me find a new IV medication I could take right before I left that *should* keep my symptoms at bay for 4-6 months. I had my final dose of this medication the day before we left for Georgia. We left on March 5th, hoping that this medication would indeed last for the duration of the trip.
Thankfully, the medication did pretty well. I wasn’t pain-free, but I was the closest to it I had ever been. When we traveled home in June to deal with the business of selling a rental property, I was able to see my rheumy and she gave me a huge dose of steroids to help with some of the remaining pain.
I would be lying if I said the rest of the trip was a pain-free cake walk. I experienced lots of pain–both related to my RA and pain associated with hiking every single day. In fact, if I would not have had the RA pain, I don’t think I would’ve finished the trip. Sounds warped doesn’t it? Well, it turns out I broke a bone in my foot somewhere in southern Maine. It had been hurting for a long time (probably since Massachusetts), but I think it finally went from a simple stress fracture to a full blown break in Maine. It was somewhere around Andover that the pain became so intense I couldn’t walk. I had some pain killers from a past injury that I took to help dull the pain, but it still hurt like the dickens to walk on it. If I hadn’t been so used to dealing with pain due to the RA, I’m not sure I could have continued. So in a way, my RA helped me reach a dream. Kind of ironic, since I thought it would be the RA that kept me from it.
Since we got back, I have seen a passel of doctors. My foot doc gave me an air cast boot, my rheumatologist gave me a shot of steroids and my general practitioner gave me antibiotics. Oh, I also had two cavities. Sometimes, I feel like I definitely got the short end of the stick when it comes to genetics. After some x-rays and scans, it doesn’t seem I’ve done any permanent damage to my joints, which surprised me a bit. I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth here, I’m extremely grateful as well.
I was pretty stoked to see how this RA medication I took right before the hike would perform now that I was back to a normal routine. It did so well when I was traipsing all over the mountains, I thought for sure it would totally knock this disease into remission now that I was home. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. I had a terrible allergic reaction 5 minutes into a 7-hour infusion. So I have been taken off this medication and I’m now waiting while my insurance decides if they will approve the next medication my doctor has prescribed.
Note: please refrain from giving me any unsolicited advice regarding special diets or exercise programs that will get rid of my RA. I promise I’ve tried it. It didn’t work. Nope, not even Shaklee.