Day 44: A shot at hope…

“When the world says ‘Give up’, Hope says ‘Try one more time’.” -Unknown

The day started off in a hopeful way… another run on the Alter-G treadmill.   I arrived at PT with my usual happy and cheery disposition but under this façade was churning an uncertain and questionable feeling  I could not shake.  I tried to bravely tuck away those feelings in order to get going on the treadmill.  I had the gravity adjusted, I knew what the running plan was for the morning and I soon began the run.  At first, it felt good to get these legs running, to feel my pulse increase from my quad and calf muscles doing exactly what I was requiring from them with little pain.  

I usually get to PT at 7, right when they open.  Frequently there are no other people rehabbing.  Lately however, but there has been a patient that has made me question exactly what I am doing and whether I am chasing dreams while not realizing that the dreams I wish for, are just that… wishes….  It is always hard to admit to yourself that the very thing that breathes life into your spirit really may be taken away and there is nothing you can do but watch it fade.

On this morning, a new patient arrived.  He is a runner who obviously had some minor injury as he has been walking on the “regular” treadmill.  I have seen him a couple of times and yet it is hard to walk by him as I wonder what he must think… “Why is this woman constantly on the anti-gravity treadmill?”  On this morning, I was running at a pretty good clip, with 80-90% gravity and then he looked over and gave me a quizzical look and that was all it took for me to regurgitate those feelings of question and uncertainty…  Wondering if this is as good as it will get… It was at that moment that I had to fight past the knee pain, overcome the doubts, and focus on the future…  

Today presented another opportunity to help this knee and I wasn’t going to let anyone take that hope away, not a look, not a thought, not reality… I still have wishes and I am not ready to give up on them now!  I finished a 7 mile run on the Alter-G and as I finished, I walked past the patient. He looked over at me and I gave him a smile and wink, maybe just to say, it isn’t over just yet! 😉

My next stop was back to South Lake Tahoe for a PRP injection to the left knee.  I have been told this really is the last non-surgical hope to help resolve the knee pain.  Essentially the PRP stands for plasma rich plasma.  How it works is that blood is drawn from the arm and spun down so that the rich plasma which has growth factors intended to help heal the arthritic areas of the knee, is injected into the knee joint.   Studies are showing some promise with this medical treatment, but nothing definitive has shown that this will work.  I was told that I should notice a difference in about a month if it is to help. That said, this is my last and final treatment before being referred to a surgeon for a partial knee replacement.  I am too young to want to have the replacement and I am willing to try anything that might help minimize the pain and allow me to maintain some semblance of physical activity.  But reality is that I know if this doesn’t work, the next step is surgery and a modification of all my activities moving forward.

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dr8I arrived at the Dr.’s office hopeful, prepared and a little anxious as well.  My blood was drawn and I was told that there would be a ten minute wait until the procedure would begin.  I sat in the room and for the first time felt empty with thoughts.  I have been in this procedure room before. This is the first time I found myself truly seeing the pictures on the walls that I have seen before but never noticed.  Julia Mancuso, Liz Lyles, Olympians, professional athletes… all thanking Dr. Finoff at Tahoe Orthopedic for retuning them to their lives, their passions, their love… My eyes began to water just a bit as I sat wondering for a moment, “Could that be me?”  “Could this injection give me back what seems to fade away day by day?”

 I took a couple pics not really knowing why, but feeling compelled to do so, almost as if it were a piece of tangible hope I could hold onto.  The minutes went by and the procedure was to begin.  

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I was positioned on the bed, knees bent, a sterile field made and the ultrasound to my left.  Dr. Finoff pulled the first needle out and numbed the area, then he removed fluid on the knee and before I knew it, the PRP was injected.  

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The procedure was minimally invasive.  A Band-Aid was applied, care instructions given and I was out the door.  I remember walking out and taking that first breath of mountain air and thinking “Please let this help”….

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As I drove away, I reviewed in my mind the events of the day… the Alter-G run, feelings of my dreams fading, seeing all the Olympians and professional athletes having their dreams restored, the procedure and what my current thought about what my reaction should be at that very moment.  I debated feeling helpless with staying positive.  I was internally arguing over giving up instead of going on.  I contemplated a new life of restriction with potential change that could bring about a better life with just different activities.  It was at that minute that I came to only one conclusion… the choice is mine how to react, what to think and how to be.  Not knowing when my last day will be, I have vowed to make this life full, meaningful, enjoyable and to appreciate and experience all that I can as if it were the last!  

The answer is clear.  I will move on with my head up, my spirit strengthened, maintaining my body in the best shape I can for the adventures ahead. I will change what I can and accept what is as the truth, but never compromising the determination to live each minute to the fullest and always smile.  The runners may have to be exchanged for walkers, the bike may have to be sold, but the spirit stays…. Always hopeful, always determined, always smiling… 

Learning that sometimes life is just too uncertain to predict the course it will take… knowing that sometimes staying positive and remaining strong is all we can do to prepare… wondering what tomorrow will bring…

 

Day 43: Flower power…

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“The Greater part of happiness depends on our disposition not on our circumstances”

-Martha Washington

 

 

 

 

 

The day was long and busy as usual.  I was in need of a new perspective and finding my smile… some way, somehow…  I remember that my physical therapist had recommended a running/walking trail but I never did get around to exploring it.  So, I decided today to take on something new and this was going to be the adventure.

The walk to the recommended trail began where I parked my car.  The route had me winding through a neighborhood with old trees and quiet streets.  It was reminiscent of my life back in the Midwest.  There was a man mowing his lawn and a couple people I passed on my walk that were happy to respond to my evening greeting.  In Reno, the trees are mostly small except in the older parts of town, so the sight of majestic trees is something to behold.  This neighborhood had tall mature trees that sheltered me from the evening sun and the sound of the leaves in the breeze was music to my ears.  As I walked, there was much on my mind.  I was contemplating a potential move, work stresses, and the hopeful thoughts for a resolution to the knee pain that seems to be ever-present these days. I was trying to remember what life was like before I had the constant knee pain and when I could return to those days of walking without that unwelcomed guest.  Definitely many thoughts on my mind without any clear plan on how to accomplish a homeostatic state.

I was checking my GPS for where the entry to Anderson Park was, and I looked up and found the trailhead right in front of me.  At first, I felt unimpressed as it appeared to be very ordinary compared to the glowing recommendation that was made to me… or so I thought.

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I continued for about 3 minutes until I was greeted by the happiest daisy wildflowers that grew alongside the trail. The setting sun was in a position highlighting their happiness as if to remind me that what I was focusing on was neither important enough to remember or significant enough to focus on.  These daisies seemed to come alive as they danced in the setting sun’s last rays.  I stopped, took many photographs and just reveled in the beauty.

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The trail went through a pasture of grass that would flex and bend when the breeze came through.  In the distance I could hear the sound of horses playing and the scent of horse manure would occasionally waft by.  Before I knew it, I had forgotten all about what compelled me to leave life’s stresses for a little bit and get lost on a new trail.  It was a short 3 mile walk, but it gifted me with visions of daisies that helped erase the stresses of the day and replace them with a canvas of art that no man could create.

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“Where a flower blooms, so does hope” –Lady Bird Johnson

Flower power never felt so good… Wonder what tomorrow will bring…

 

Day 42: A few of my favorite things…

“Choosing to be positive and having a grateful attitude is going to determine how you’re going to live your life.”

Joel Osteen

 

As of last week, I decided to take at least one day to rest and today not only did I rest but I wanted to use my time to reflect on things I am grateful for.  So often is the case that we find ourselves complaining about the things that don’t go right in our lives that today, I decided to try and focus on the things in my life that I am ever grateful for!  Today, I am sharing that small list with the world…

 

My list of people, places, things and feelings to be grateful for…

-My family and close friends in my life that I love and love me….

-My close friends that I trust and trust me with the very important feelings, details and plans in and of their lives.  For the support that we give each other and the smiles and laughter that we share…

-The sun making my day warmer and brighter.

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-The ability to walk and stay active.

-Jet….

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-An incredible sexual passion, desire and pleasure.…. Seriously, one of life’s most awesome gifts!

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-Chocolate, the saving grace of most stressful days.

-Nature and all the beauty I have been lucky enough to record so I can remember moments that made me smile…

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-Coffee… You keep me going when my mind and body are feeling lazy…

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-My iphone… you do so much for me, my day would be lost without my way to communicate!

-My grey robe, I am comforted just by slipping you on and getting comfy after a long day.

-The sound of wind through the aspen trees… you lull my mind into a state of rest and relaxation.

-The ability to swim like a dolphin… getting wet and enjoying it!

-Enjoying every breath taken and every new experience to be had.

-Music, my heart sings when I hear you!

-Any body of water, but Lake Tahoe is a treasure I am ever grateful to be near.

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-Daisies… They just seem so happy!

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-Weather changes… because not every day can be sunny and they remind me that change is important and good… and there is nothing like the anticipation of a good storm or a walk in the rain/snow…

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-A tree changing colors in the fall… you are a photographer’s dream!

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-My Buddha statue that sits in front of me every day and reminds me to do nothing less than smile…

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-Every person I meet each day, you teach me something new whether I want to learn or not.

-My five senses that make me feel alive!

-The ability to smile… burns more calories than crying!

-Peanut Butter… what is not to love about this rich indulgence?

-Seeing the sunrise and sunset

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-My pillow for letting my head rest when the day is over…

And so the day was spent resting my mind and body, enjoying a couple sweet indulgences and relishing the feeling of being alive and healthy enough to enjoy every minute not knowing when the last day will be.

If I had more hours in a day I could not list all the things I am grateful for, so each week I will add to my list and nourish my spirit with humility and appreciation for this thing called “Life”… feeling ever grateful to be here… Wondering what tomorrow will bring!

Day 41: Finding courage at the end of the line….

 

“The only use of an obstacle is to be overcome. All that an obstacle does with brave men is, not to frighten them, but to challenge them.”

-Woodrow Wilson

 

Some adventures are meant to test the spirit in the true face of fear.   We all have fears whether we have the courage to admit them or not.  Some of those fears may seem rational, others could be viewed as hard to imagine.

Fear of death seems to be the greatest motivator for avoiding situations that take risk.  Ahhh risk….  Can we live a life of meaning if there is no risk taken?  Of course you can, but wouldn’t it be just a little bit spicier if on occasion you stepped off the platform and did something daring… even just once?   Perhaps that is the best part of this Quest… Giving myself the permission to walk on the wild side, to explore things that some wish they would, but give every excuse not to… to say I overcame those fears and conquered… to be able to live this year as if it were the last and leave nothing on the table!

And today, my Quest takes me to the zip-line at Heavenly ski resort in South Lake Tahoe.  I have never zip-lined before but gosh, it sure sounds like an adrenaline filled experience!  The zip-line involves a 525 ft. descent, with a length of 3,300 ft, all the while overlooking Lake Tahoe…. Really, can it get any more awesome than that?  Well, I was about to find out.

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I arrived at the resort and made my way to pay for my ticket.  I had to take the Gondola to the top of Heavenly where the base camp is set for their adventure park.   I purchased my ticket for the Gondola and the zip-line and my time slot was 3 pm.

 

 

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I had 2 hours to grab a bite to eat and relax my nerves.  I decided to avoid eating for obvious reasons, but indulged in a beverage of the non-alcoholic kind.  As I sat at a wrought iron table overlooking a bed of wildflowers, the gondolas flew overhead, one after another…  A band was playing just feet away and I found myself lost in their songs.  The band called the “Whiskey Mojo Trio”, I would come to find out, play at Heavenly on a regular basis and the lead singer had a smooth country voice similar to Buddy Jewel…  I am a lover of all types of music and it was a pleasure to enjoy the bass played well and that smooth voice singing “Ring of Fire” had me in a tranquil trance… The conversations of people sitting around me faded into the background and I was just lost in what seemed like a private concert… it was indeed, heavenly.

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I had to reluctantly leave my little bit of heaven and head to the Gondola for the ride up for the adventure that lay ahead.  I stepped into the enclosed Gondola and off I went… up and away.  Every second that passed, the view became even more incredible.

 

 

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I reached the first stop and stepped off to take some pictures.  I could begin to feel how thin the air was getting and there was a noticeable slight breeze beginning to emerge.  Numerous pictures taken, my spirit seemingly ready for ride to unfold, and I returned to the Gondola to resume the trek to the top.

 

 

As I arrived at the top of the mountain, I made my way to the zip-line check-in.  I was told that they were running behind schedule and to return in 30 min.  I was fine with that plan as it would give me a little more time to prepare.  I found an Adirondack chair that was calling my name as it sat lonely in the sun.  I sunk into the chair and rested my head back and let my skin warm in the sun’s rays.

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At that next moment I could hear the zip line streaming overhead and that is when I swallowed hard at the first sight of exactly what I was about to endure… Endure?  Conquer?   Possibly enjoy?  It was then that I saw that the two that had just finished the adventure and I realized that they had indeed survived!  Yes, they survived!  My mind tried to convince my spirit that this was all going to turn out just fine.  Or was it?

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I returned to the check-in and was weighed and added to the waiting group of 5… we were escorted onto a chair lift taking us even higher!  As we rode the lift, I quickly realized the shorts and light sweater I was wearing were not enough to keep me warm.  I caught a glimpse of snow below and the breeze was now quickly becoming a steady wind.  I reminded myself that I am tougher than a little cold and wind and besides, won’t it make the ride more interesting?

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I stepped off the chairlift and saw several people milling around the zip-line launch area.  Our zip-line guide escorted us past the curious on-lookers to the walkway at the launching platform.  It was in that first glimpse of how high we were that the realization of what I was about to embark on hit me like a hurricane force wind!  OMG…. “Whose idea was this again?” I asked internally…  “When did I sign up for this tour of duty and why?”  I found myself engaging in an internal dialogue… “Okay, you can do this… you’re a recreational pilot for goodness sake…. You’ll be strapped in, you won’t go that fast and the last two survived…  Just don’t look down and whatever you do, don’t try and think, just breathe, feel, and enjoy!”  At the end of the dialogue, I think I wanted to get sick as my stomach had this heavy feeling to it.  I then heard a countdown and a loud bang and then a scream!  The two before me had been launched and off they went down the zip-line and before I knew it they called for me to go next!

I took a deep breath and walked up onto the deck with trepidation. Out of nowhere, I heard something that seemed to be a message from the spirits. It was one of my favorite songs playing in the background… “Somewhere over the Rainbow/What a wonderful world” by IZ Israel…. I couldn’t help but smile big… it was a sign that it was going to be ok….

Somewhere Over The Rainbow/Wonderful Life

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I quickly befriended the staff doing the launching, I was harnessed , fit with a helmet, strapped into the zip-line chair and with a smile and a wink communicated I was ready… the countdown began and at the sound of “1”, the chute door opened and I could feel that sinking feeling in my stomach for just a couple seconds. It quickly faded and there in front of me was an incredible heavenly view that was all mine from some 8,000 ft. above the earth… The glorious blue lake, the mountains, the sun, the pine trees touching the sky… indeed as close to heaven as I will be for hopefully some time!

The ride felt like it ended before it had begun.  I was quickly removed from the zip-line chair and cables and walked to the exit.  The ride was indeed exhilarating, but I had wished it would have lasted longer. Isn’t that the case with most good things?   As I made my way to the Gondola to head down the mountain, I had a gentleman come up and ask how it went and if I enjoyed it.  I responded that it was fun but I would have preferred to have gone a little faster and that perhaps parachuting should be next on my list.  He responded that he has done a lot of parachuting from planes and helicopters.  Asking what branch of service he was in, he responded “Navy”… he had served in Desert Storm and Kosovo.  He was thanked for his service and I walked away with just that very short conversation feeling as if that was the courage that I needed to be reminded of today… That was real strength, real courage, real determination…. A real qi person that should be admired and shared with the world.  In hindsight, I wished I had an hour to sit and chat with him, but we both had to get going… but maybe that was all I needed for today.  Just a quick reminder that having the courage to go down a zip line isn’t really courage at all… just a choice I had made on that day.  How many people had passed this man on this day and never knew the sacrifices he made so that people like me had the freedom to wake up and decide to take on a fun adventure like zip-lining?

Zip-lining: $50…. Gondola ride: $39……Facing my fear and enjoying a glorious view from above:  Heavenly……  Having my freedom to do these Quests ensured by courageous servicemen like the one I met today:  Priceless!!!!

“Freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it.”

Pericles

Ever grateful for another courageous person met… wondering what tomorrow will bring…

 

 

 

Day 40: Dying to swim…

 

“An insatiable appetite for glory leads to sacrifice and death, but innate instinct leads to self-preservation and life.”

-Jose Marti

 

 

I have been plagued with wind and cold weather precluding me from taking on the open waters in an alpine swim.  Some days I waited patiently and other days I made the long drive to no avail in hopes that I could dip these fins in the water and swim.  On this day, the weather was perfect, leaving no reason to resist training an hour away at Donner Lake.

I awoke in the morning anxious to slip into my Speedo, pack my bag, indulge in a breakfast made for champions and hit the road on a mission to get wet.  The kayak was positioned in the car. My spotter, present and accounted for, was barely conscious. However, he did promise to do his job as diligently as possible.  We were on our way by 7:00 am and I remember the ride being remarkably quiet.  The spotter was sleepy, and I was concentrating on the task at hand.

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I swam Donner Lake often last year as I trained in earnest for the Donner Lake Triathlon that never came to be.  I would spend 3-4 days a week during the month of June climbing to the Donner Summit from lake level on my road bike and then going for a lake swim.  I had built up amazing endurance training at 6200-8000 ft. which put me miles ahead of my sea level competition.  So much so, that in my first and last triathlon, I stunned myself by placing first.  I can only attribute that victory to the high altitude training I put this body through.

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4EE5F315-3D1C-4AEC-83DF-653319888E38Unfortunately, I sustained a hip stress fracture from the constant rigors of training just 2 days before the triathlon, but the fracture wasn’t confirmed until a week after the race.  Needless to say, it was the open water swims following the hip fracture that saved this triathlete’s spirit from being crushed.  One day last summer, I got the bug to just go swim.  I had woken up very early and convinced my spotter that this was the day to take on the lake and win.  He thought that I was overly ambitious and a bit crazy…. I showed him!  I swam across the lake and then back.  All along the swim route, I passed fishermen and paddle boarders that couldn’t believe my determination.  My response was the same to all, “If you can’t run and bike, you swim!” And swim I did… 6 miles… and ended with one big smile…and quite the appetite!!!  I knew at that moment that Donner Lake was my second home as I could recite verbatim where every rock, plant and old tree trunk lay on the lakebed.

On this day, I arrived at my home away from home, with anticipation and a growing bit of anxiety.  I felt strong enough to take on an open water swim, but there was an unmistakable hesitation. There was something in the back of my mind that I simply could not shake or comprehend at the time.  It was that voice I heard, the one of caution that we either heed or regretfully disregard.  I made my way down the dusty forest trail to the lakeshore.  As I got closer to the lake, I listened intently for the sound of waves so I could be prepared for a cancelled swim.  Alas, as if someone lifted a pine needle curtain, the lake was in full view in front of me.  Breathtaking….  I subconsciously took one long deep breath of the pine scented air in an attempt to capture the magic that this lake holds for me.

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As my spotter readied the kayak, I methodically took off my shirt and shorts revealing my bright blue/fluorescent orange Speedo.  I could feel the chilly 43F air temp quickly absorb any heat that radiated from my body.  It was obvious to those who saw me that I was indeed chilled.   I then worked to get my wetsuit on, properly positioned my swim cap and grabbed my tinted swim goggles.

ds11My goal today was to go halfway across the lake and back, approx. 3 miles, since this was my first open water swim of the season.  I took my first step into the water and decided it was cold as usual, but seemed to feel warmer than the air temp.  Indeed, I would come to find out the water temp was 50F.  I warmed my legs up in the water, but felt a twinge of uneasiness as I noticed my teeth begin to chatter. This was something I had never experienced in the water before.  My spotter was next to me and asked if everything was fine. Feeling as though my judgment had been questioned, I quickly answered “Yes, let’s do this…”  Off we went.

I placed my face in the frigid mountain water and felt that initial surge of attention-getting cold pierce through my skin.  I brought my head above the water and conceded that it was definitely cold.  Defying the water temp and still fighting the chattering of my jaw, I forced my arms to start their stroke. As I made my way through the water,  I was surprised to see that the memories of the lakebed had changed a bit, or I just didn’t remember the details now as clearly as before.  Hmmm….  With every stroke I felt less sure of myself, my breathing, the route, the boaters, the paddle boarders, my mission….  I stopped about ¼ of the way and grabbed ahold of the kayak… I had never done that before and my spotter immediately asked what was wrong.

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I responded that I didn’t know, but it didn’t feel right.  He asked “What doesn’t feel right?”, and I could not think clearly enough to determine the cause.  I simply said, “I have to go back to shore.”  He quickly said, “You know what you’re doing, let’s take it back.”  With that vote of approval and support, I turned the swim around and noticed that my teeth were chattering more than before and I could feel a hint of nausea starting to make itself known.  With that nauseated feeling, I decided I had to focus hard and make it back to the beach.  I made sure to keep the shore in my right-sided view. Stroke after stroke I worked to keep my body making forward progress to the beach.  Finally, I had the campsite in view and made my way to the shallow waters.  I noticed my legs felt heavy, my feet and hands were numb, and as I stepped out of the water the nausea came over me like the wave of a passing speedboat.  I stood on shore knowing what needed to be done, but it was as if time was moving in slow motion.  I couldn’t get the wetsuit off fast enough and suddenly I couldn’t control the head-to-toe body shivers that felt more like convulsions.

My spotter immediately recognized what challenge I faced as he quickly helped to remove the wetsuit. I couldn’t move quickly enough and just kept shaking.  In a matter of a couple minutes that felt like hours, my wetsuit was off and I was wrapped in a large towel and sat on a rock in the sun.  The nausea became worse and the shivering was uncontrollable.  I suddenly started to feel a sense of confused concern and asked for more layers.  I sat with two jackets on and a large towel. Still the shivering continued and the nausea would not subside with a headache now starting to emerge.  Finally, we made our way to my SUV and turned the heat on to +85 degrees with the seat heaters placed on the high setting.  The anxiety increased as I felt like I was fighting a losing battle.  My lips, fingers, feet were blue and my core skin temp was cold.  A sense of panic started to invade my mind as the nausea became even worse.  I sat in the vehicle with my eyes closed doing everything I could to control the shivering.

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Finally, after approx. 20 min in the heated vehicle, the shivering subsided but the nausea and headache were ever present and my skin felt cold to the touch. I looked forward and caught a glimpse of the monument that sits in the Donner State Park. The park is named for the Donner Party, a group of Irish pioneers in the 1850s who made the bad decision to ignore advice and cross the Sierras too close to winter time. They became snowed in, were starving, and resorted to cannibalism to survive. The monument is a tribute to them and all the brave souls that crossed the vast western United States in search of better lands and a more prosperous life. Many lost their lives as they made the trek on horseback, in covered wagons and by foot. The temperature extremes alone tested the human body and stressed the spirit. Some made it, some were unable and succumbed to the rigors of the journey. All had the courage to seek a better life, persisting through harsh conditions and eventually the very strong persevered and saw their dreams become reality. It was through this journey that they learned from other’s mistakes, to become wiser, stronger and more able to accomplish their mission.

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As I looked at this monument, I was reminded of how important it is to trust our instinct. If we feel something is not right, and at the first sign of question or trouble, it is always important to heed those inner warnings. Like the Donner Party, we are not invincible. We are not created with super powers, and as much as our bodies can convince our spirit to continue toward our intended goal, our gut is usually always right.

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Today, I arrived at a lake I had swum so many times before when I had been conditioned to take on long distance swims at a high altitude. I ignored that very important instinct that speaks louder than words, is more trusted than any friend, and was created to keep us alive. I have never had hypothermia exposure and high altitude sickness before, but today, the Quest was chosen for me… a lesson that an open water swim is not something this dolphin is dying to do!

Checking my ego at the shore and wondering what tomorrow will bring…

Day 39: Digging up courage…

 

“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”

Marcus Tullius Cicero

 

 

 

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I have been to Virginia City several times. But each time I go, I always experience something new in a place that is so old. Today was no different.  After having the courage to make the harrowing drive up Geiger Grade to this City, I was in need of a new adventure.  I decided to visit the town and the cemetery at the edge of the city.  I have been to both for brief visits. On this day, I was armed with my camera and my mind was eager to take in the experience and not rush in this timeless town.

Virginia City, as I mentioned in my previous post, is an old mining town that dates back to the mid-1800’s.  It was a mining dream for prospectors. The ground and rocks around Virginia City yielded $400 million in silver and gold finds—an incredible fortune in those days. The town boomed with the discoveries and became the most industrial city in the western U.S.   Schools, stores, entertainment, and business grew on this dusty, windy mountaintop. But the mining life was a hard life. It involved going 3000 ft below the earth’s surface in 100 degree temperatures to mine… many died in this mining community. Some of their spirits are said to still walk the wooden plank storefront walkways and hotels as they refuse to leave the historic town called Virginia City.

The town had its own thriving red-light district. As you can imagine, these young miners needed a release from their stressful and hard laboring days.  This is also known as the “Birthplace of Mark Twain”. Virginia City is where Samuel Clemens first used his pen name.  Mark was a reporter for the local Enterprise newspaper after failing as a prospector.  He would soon come to be known as one of America’s greatest authors, perhaps because he had the courage to leave behind one dream and follow his true passion for writing.

The town had its own opera house among other places of entertainment.  It thrived as the boom for gold and silver went on.  Just like all mining towns, it began to fade.  As soon as the mines were stripped, the ladies of the night stopped stripping for the men and the town dwindled in population.  At the top of the boom, the population was reported at over 15,000 and today less than 1000 keep this town alive. But “trace” gold, leftovers from the boom that were undiscoverable back in the old days, have once again brought miners back to the town.

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Today, the horses have been replaced by motorcycles and cars, and the roads have been paved; But the history remains very much alive.  As I parked my car on the narrow street I looked down the road at the old storefronts and saloons, all lined up one next to the other.  It was as if I was looking at a glimpse of history untouched.

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Wooden plank walkways lined the way with wooden barrels used for garbage cans.  As I walk along the creaking and uneven wooden planks the scent of old wood is obvious.   The doors to the saloons pushed open with music playing and people sitting at the bar stools.  As I peered into “The Bucket of Blood” saloon, there were many wearing cowboy hats and clinking glasses, laughing and just enjoying life with what seemed not a care in the world.  I did see some current off-duty miners socializing as well, which quickly reminded me that while some things change, others do not.  I continued on my way and tried to think back to how the people in the community coped with the heat… no air conditioning… dry, dusty, windy conditions up in Virginia City… They definitely would have been “roughing it”!  I walked around and stopped in a store or two and the old musty wood scent permeated each place I visited.  The fire station sits at the beginning of the street. This is important since nearly all the buildings were constructed of old wood and the dry conditions had already caused great fires in the history of the town.   Another fire would most certainly decimate what remained.

At this point, I decided to make my way to pay my respects at the cemetery that sits at the edge of town.  Actually, there are 13 cemeteries all together, but only one portion is open to the public.  I have been to this cemetery before, but never with the intention to fully absorb what I was seeing and to be able to take in the true meaning of the site.

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As I walked up to the old cemetery, there was an unmistakable calm… no wind, no sound, nothing.  I walked in and slowly and respectfully took some pictures and thought about the gravesites I was seeing.  I thought about the young 30-something-year-old woman that had died and the children that were laid to rest as well.  What did they die from?  What a long and horrible procession from the church just a couple of miles away to the cemetery… How sad and distraught their families must have been.

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I stood and just thought about life back then and the struggles that these people faced.  Less than ideal healthcare, difficult environmental conditions, dangerous working conditions, just to name a few…  It was at that minute that I heard from across the valley, the bells of St. Mary’s Catholic Church.  The sound echoed in my ears.  And following that gentle and musical interlude, was the sound of a train–the V-T Railway.  The train was the lifeline of the community; I can only imagine how many became accustomed to that daily sound.

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I walked around and continued to take pictures and the quiet and calm had returned again.  I made it to the end of the cemetery where I had not been to before.  There at the highest point was a grave marker that struck my eye, a simple cross with a hat on it.  I thought about how important that hat may have been to the man that was laid to rest there.  Did he wear that hat every day?

Did everyone know him because of his personality and the hat?  I stopped and looked around and thought what a beautiful place to be laid to rest… atop a hill with a view… It was at that moment that I thought about courage and all the people laid to rest there. They fought to live and carved their life out of rock and dirt. But in the end, they were laid to rest on these grounds.  I thought about the military men, the miners, their families, those simply wanting a better life, a more prosperous life.  I stood there thinking about the Quest for courage I am on and the courageous stories I am convinced the souls of the cemetery could tell.

I looked up to the sky and simply asked that all the good spirits that surrounded me help guide me to find courage on this Quest…  to help infuse me with a little of their courage to continue the Quest in their honor and in respect of all those that have passed before me… It was at that exact moment that I could clearly hear the wind shift and power through the valley.   Within seconds I could feel the force of the wind move through me as I tried to brush the hair out of my face.  I felt a sense of understanding and approval from those I could not see, but knew were there.  I closed my eyes to intentionally absorb this sense of support and energy…  It was in that moment that a smile emerged as if there were a newfound clarity that I could not deny.

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I began my walk back and just as I reached the end of the cemetery, there was an old gravesite where only a spider kept this long-rested soul company.  I took some pictures, said a quick prayer and turned to walk away, leaving the past behind me and looking forward to the future…   Wondering what tomorrow will bring…

Day 38: Making the Grade…

“Always do what you are afraid to do.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

The Quest today was a drive–but not just any drive.  It was a drive that drives me crazy with fear.  I am not used to fearing things like heights or a tough drive.  But this rocky, desert mountain road is precarious. In my region, it is common to see newspaper headlines declaring “Another fatality closes Geiger Grade”.  There is no doubt that the ride up Geiger Grade is a real cliffhanger.

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Geiger Grade is a winding, twisting narrow road that leaves Reno and heads up to Virginia City, an old high desert mining town that dates back to the mid-1800’s and has been preserved to reflect the time period.  The entire town is so well preserved the United States Government declared Virginia City a National Monument. Visiting Virginia City is always a treat–when someone else drives!   I have been plagued by the fear of driving this road for the entire time I have lived in this great state.  I have a hard time placing all those fatal headlines in the back of my mind and taking on this feat.

Today is a new day… this airplane pilot has handled some stressful and downright scary situations.  A drive is hardly something to fear.  So, today….  I decided to take on Geiger Grade!

Here are a couple of interesting facts about Geiger grade:

-The climb is about 2,083 feet and extends for about 8 miles

-The first part of the climb is about a 9-10% grade

-The second part of the climb is about a 5-6% grade

– Greg LeMond would ride this road as part of his cycling training for the Tour De France.

Here is a video clip of a motorcyclist driving this route from Reno to Virginia City.   Make sure to pay attention to the partial views over the guardrail.

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So, if LeMond can do this on a road bike, why can’t I do this in a car?!  With that thought, I looked to my inner pilot and decided it was time to take this historic flight path and drive into the wind!  I made sure to have plenty of music to occupy my mind during those hairpin turns and views from way above.

As I approached the grade, I had forgotten about the challenge that lay ahead as the sun was prominent in the afternoon blue sky.  It was a windy day and all I could think about was what things I was eager to see in Virginia City.  I do enjoy visiting this very old town.  I always feel as if I have stepped back in time and can’t help but envision what life was like for those pioneers who traveled on horse and by wagon to get to this city of hope and fortune seeking.

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As soon as my mind began to wander, I could feel my breathing increase as it was apparent how much thinner the air was at this higher altitude.  The straight road started to twist and climb and my SUV unfortunately provided a great view over the guardrail and down the incredibly steep mountainside.  Had I not been driving, the views would have been breathtaking…. Well, you could say they were just that, “breathtaking”…. perhaps more so for the person driving as I had to remind myself to breathe and stay focused.   I did stop a couple times to take some pics at the overlooks and it allowed me enough time to settle my nerves, catch my breath and remind myself to enjoy the scenery.   Just when I thought I couldn’t get higher, or the turn wasn’t that tight, I went higher.  I was more than hugging the road; I was holding on to the road for dear life!  I repeatedly reminded myself that I have experienced worse. This mountain road is no problem… but my mind wanted to counter that claim and I had to use every ounce of focused energy to ignore the doubts.  Alas, I had reached the Geiger summit. I took a big, deep breath out of relief, but also because I wasn’t accustomed to being at an altitude of  6200ft.   I really needed to breathe deeply.

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The remainder of the ride to Virginia City was tolerable and the worst was in the rearview mirror…  I had done it… In the many years I have lived here, I have refused to drive up that Grade by myself and always requested someone else to drive.  Today, this pilot was in command of her own vehicle, climbing higher, taking on her fears and tossing them over the cliff… today, I conquered Geiger Grade and lived to tell about it….. Wondering what Virginia City will bring….

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Day 37: One “O” is never enough…

 

“Everything that is new or uncommon raises a pleasure in the imagination, because it fills the soul with an agreeable surprise, gratifies its curiosity, and gives it an idea of which it was not before possessed.”

-Joseph Addison

 

 

A friend of mine recently made me aware of a potentially toxic preservative, TBHQ, that is placed over Reese’s peanut butter cups.  Ironically, this chemical is not used in the peanut butter cups sold in China… go figure!  In any event, peanut butter cups are one of my unquenchable indulgences.  I can make one last oh-so-long, but I must have another to follow… and how difficult it is to stop at just two.  Well, now on the heels of this scary news regarding the preservative, I’ve had been to abandon one of my most sinful simple pleasures leaving my Serotonin levels at an all-time low and my heart yearning for a replacement!

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Enter today: The limited edition Reese’s Peanut Butter Oreo cookie!  Yes, you heard me correctly… just when you thought the simple Oreo pleasure couldn’t get any better, the Oreo cookie has been transformed into an eye-popping, mouth-watering satiable delight!

 

On this day of the Quest, I remember anxiously grabbing the package in the store and quickly turning the package over to reveal the nutritional content… “Nutritional content”, I thought?   This is a Quest; there are no rules for Quest nutrition!  But with a quick glance of the calorie and fat content, I swallowed hard and it only took a mere ½ second to forget about the fright I had just seen.  A couple miles of running, swimming and walking should absolve me of all edible sins, I thought!  There is nothing like the mind justifying a quick delicious indulgence of the Oreo kind.

o2When I arrived home, I gently placed the bright blue package on the counter as if it were a fragile item needing special attention.  I then took two fingers and lifted the tab on the package and slowly but deliberately opened it. I fell into a trance as my olfactory senses were dancing with delight!  The scent of the Reese’s peanut butter sent my tongue to lick my lips as I eagerly anticipated that first taste and bite of this indulgence.  My mouth watered at the thought of the half chocolate filling and half peanut butter that would give it the perfect balance of sweet and salty flavor.  I anxiously reached for one cookie and brought it up to my mouth for the first bite.  The scent of Reese’s still had me in a trance but make no mistake, I remembered every second of this sweet treat.  It took one bite for me to melt… reminding me of the feeling of a Reese’s peanut butter cup melting in my hands on a hot day and having to lick my fingers to taste the melted chocolate evidence of my guilty pleasure.

The taste was just as I had hoped it would be. It was the perfect balance of flavor. The soft chocolate and Reese’s peanut butter cream with the hard cookie crunch left me in a melted state that would take time to rebound from. But alas, another Oreo moment of bliss was still waiting and I could feel the Serotonin levels rise by the second, confirming that life is short, and I wasn’t going to just stop at one!

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Having found a replacement to my abandoned desire of the peanut butter kind, and enjoyed yet another satiating simple pleasure…  left in a such a state that all I can do is smile and wonder what tomorrow will bring…

 

Day 36: Archers do it with a quiver…

“The key to success is to focus our conscious mind on things we desire not things that we fear.”

-Unknown

 

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Today this Sagittarius knew exactly what she desired, so she decided to take on a new challenge. Aim for the bull’s eye, breathe evenly and shoot… Yes, archery was the adventure of the day!

wa2I arrived at Wasting Arrows, an archery center close to home.  I know very little about archery and so I decided to take a lesson.  I walked through the door and noticed two men who had an outdoorsy look about them standing in the lobby area.  Like me they were patrons, but unlike me, they appeared comfortable with what they were about to embark on.

The young lady checking me in had me sign a waiver, had my bow and arrows picked for me and I was then led to the open range.  I had serious apprehension at this point. As soon as I walked into the range, all male eyes were on me, not for those reasons, but because a chick with her hair done up and her nails painted and who obviously knew little about archery, was entering into their world.  The instructor was  female, and I would come to find out that she had just graduated high school and was about to head out to Africa to track and tag lions!  Now that takes courage!  In any event, she was very patient, thorough and encouraging. She certainly helped put me at ease with this new experience.

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I was given a target about 10 yards away, standard for newbies.  I was shown how to hold the bow and grasp the shaft of the arrow and place it properly to ready myself to shoot.    I straddled the line, my left arm extended straight, my three fingers grasped the firm bow string and I was told to pull hard.  I could feel the 20 pounds of tension as I pulled back on the string.  My fingers gently touched my right cheek as I steadied my arm and held my aim.  In a half a second I released my grip and hit the target on the first shot…no, not the bull’s eye, but I hit the target! I was told later, that the men watching were surprised that this “chick” that had never held the shaft of an arrow in her hand before, could perform so well.  Not being satisfied with that first shot, I eagerly tried again.  I enjoyed the power and feel of the bow.  Pulling back on the bow string and holding the aim was addicting. I was anxious to see how close I could get that arrow to that sweet spot.  Arrow after arrow I came ever so close and losing track of time… until, that moment of glory!  Not one bull’s eye, but three!!!  What an exhilarating feeling to watch the arrow as it left my bow and hit the target… it was quite an intense and fulfilling feeling of accomplishment!

 

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With each shot I took, the men around me respected me more. Finally, as my hour lesson came to an end and I handed over my bow and arrows, one of the men came over and asked if I had enjoyed the experience. With a smile and a wink, I said, “Most definitely!”

 

 

Today, this Sagittarius knew exactly what she desired. With one bow, one target and too many arrows to count, I earned respect from people I had never met. On a mission to waste arrows, I hit that perfect sweet spot that put a smile on my face. Mission accomplished… wondering what tomorrow will bring!

 

Day 35: Falling in Love…

 

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

-Albert Einstein

The day has taken me up to Lake Tahoe, a pristine alpine lake but only a 25 min drive from where I live. I had an orthopedic appointment to re-evaluate this knee and since I was up at the South part of the Lake, I decided this is where my Quest should take me.

It has been a complicated day.  I have sorted through some details regarding my knee and the reality is that my insurance company is changing and so my intention to have my knee replacement in Indiana will no longer be an option.  Finances will preclude me due to my new insurance plan.  With that being the case, I will have to stay local and hope that the right physician is picked to do the partial knee replacement.   And so I had an appointment with my regular orthopedic and he is offering one more option to hold me over until I have the approval from my new insurance plan to do the partial knee replacement.  Either way, he has conceded that despite the fact that I am younger than the average knee replacement patient,  the partial knee replacement is my only option to be able to live a pain-free life.  I felt a sense of relief knowing that my physician wants me to be pain-free and still able to remain active.  As I left the office, I had one thing on my mind, it is time to go on a Quest and leave all the knee, insurance and pain issues behind and find my smile.

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I requested the help of Siri to take me to Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe. With what seemed to be an enthusiastic voice; she navigated me on our journey.  The first stop along the adventure was a place that I chose for the name… “Inspiration Point”… I felt in need of some serious inspiration.   As I arrived, I was shocked at how crowded the area was… teeming with visitors of all ethnicities as I could differentiate the many languages that were being spoken.   As I made my way through the masses, I found a spot along the viewing wall that was empty, as if it were waiting for me to stand at its edge and appreciate the amazing view.

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I walked up and with one delightful long sigh, I felt grateful to be able to see this outstanding natural sight.  I have been to Lake Tahoe many times but it seems just when I think the view couldn’t get better, another view seems to top it.  And there I stood quietly…. Trying to comprehend the beauty and process how fortunate I am to be able to explore.  I remember thinking, “I am very lucky to be going on this Quest. It has taken me to places like these… places many people will never see… and it’s just a drive away.”  I gave my camera a workout.  The pine trees were vibrant bright green and contrasted with the deep rich blue of the lake and subtle overcast sky.    I then just closed my eyes and took a deep breath as if to memorize the scent of the pine.  A cool mountain temp soothed me and my smile emerged. This was merely a short stop as the Quest’s real adventure lay ahead.

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I called on Siri again to direct me to Eagle Falls at Lake Tahoe and with that determined voice she led me back onto the highway but failed to mention the harrowing drive that would ensue.  The 35 mph speed limit on the two lane mountain rode quickly went down to 25 and then as I turned the corner, it went down to 10 mph with hairpin turns ahead.   I noticed that the road was literally on the edge of a very steep cliff with no guardrail.  It was then that I looked ahead and noticed the road had Lake Tahoe on one side and Cascade Lake on the other.  But there were no guardrails and just precarious cliffs on both sides.  I am a pilot and heights do not scare me, but other drivers and their unpredictability can give me quite a fright.  I breathed deeply and I could feel my pulse increase and my eyes widen and I carefully and slowly made my way across this stretch of dangerous road. Within minutes, I had made the drive safely and arrived at the falls.

I have never seen a natural waterfall before.  I would love to frolic in one, but this is not the one to do that in.  Today, the Quest is about seeing my first waterfall. The water that feeds this fall is melted snowpack, so the temperature is not ideal for playing.  I paid my recreation and parking fee, received a map and began to approach the falls. I walked down the path to the lower falls and arrived at a set of rock stairs that were steep and hard to climb, but nothing would stop me from seeing my first waterfall.  I made my way down the steps and had to scramble over rocks.  And there it was…the top of the lower portion of Eagle Falls with rock that met the edge of nothingness.  I sighed in disbelief at the beauty water could display.  The sound was soothing, the water over my sandals was shockingly cold, and the view was priceless.

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A tree stood precariously with its roots overreaching the edge of the cliff and I decided this was a perfect place to rest my spirit and just think.  I spent about 10 minutes just recording the view in my mind, listening to the rushing water and wondering where the rest of the year-long Quest will take me.  I have spent the past couple weeks exploring different and new places and now I was coming to the point in my Quest where I felt comfortable taking on new adventure. But the next step needs to begin soon…. Nourishing my spirit and soul…  I sat atop the mountain and thought about all the things I want to accomplish and the change I want to be a part of….  Finding people with courageous stories and making sure their acts of valor, however great or small, are shared.   With just a blink of my eyes, I acknowledged to the spirits that may have been watching that I was ready to start preparing a voyage to find courage among us and share stories with the world.  With that thought, I stood up from the gracious tree that lent me a seat with a stunning view, and I made my way back up the 7 stone steps onto a path that led me upwards…. To the upper Eagle Falls.

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The sky was overcast now and the air temp was a cool 56 degrees and the winds were increasing.   At this point I could feel my hunger increasing.  Out of the corner of my eye I caught a large arachnid presence that was doing exactly what I had wished, indulging in a most delicious meal.  He quickly scurried back into a corner of the web and I simply admired him from afar.

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I followed the signs to Eagle Falls and before I knew it, I was climbing up more stone stairs. Just when I thought I had reached the top, there were more stone stairs to climb.

 

 

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At one point, my knee started reminding me that this is not part of the prescribed physical therapy. I dug deep to find the courage to overcome the knee pain and see the falls. I just kept climbing.

 

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I reached the overlook at the top and there was no one, not one visitor beside myself to share the view with…. It was all mine…. Well, sort of… a little chipmunk decided to cautiously come out from a rock and sit beside me as if to take in the view with me….but he soon realized I had no treats, and he scurried away.  At this higher perch, I was once again awestruck by the panorama before me. There were endless pine trees, the color of the blue lake in the distance, the clouds that made formations in the sky, the scent in the air and feeling of the breeze through my hair…

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Feeling complete again, I made my way down and to the falls.  I approached a walking bridge that crossed just above the falls.  I could feel the power of the water as it rushed without hesitation over the rocks that lay at the edge… the white water flowed down to the ground below as if it were in a race to the finish.

 

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The water flowing down the mountain just in front of the falls appeared tranquil. There were people frolicking in the waters before the edge.

 

fall26I have to admit, I did take a moment to dip my toes in the ice cold waters.  As I sat on a rock with my toes bathed in ice, I felt a unique sense of complete reassurance that this next phase of the Quest might be more meaningful than the previous 4 weeks.  That thought left me feeling not only reassured but excited as well.  Again, I picked myself up and made my way back down the many stone steps.

 

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As I walked, I thought about the rushing water that made its way over treacherous rocks before falling to the ground below in an act of natural courage. Like the water, I am ready to flow where the Quest takes me. I can’t help but wonder what courageous people I may meet and what new challenges lay ahead, so that my soul can be fed by the wisdom I hope to gain from others.

Falling in love with nature and wondering what tomorrow will bring…