Monday, August 15, 2016

Mental vs. Physical

Hiking in the Olympic Mountains

Seven months ago, things were not looking so good. I could not go up stairs without getting a little out of breath due to tumors all over my lungs. I also had cancer in my hip and one of my lower vertebrae. Oh, and my stomach still hurt from my liver biopsy, but that was the least of my concerns.  I was in chemotherapy treatment with no clear idea of when I would be done, and I had no real idea if the treatment was going to be effective.  So what did I do amidst all of these physical challenges and question marks?  I charged full steam ahead and planned an active family vacation of hiking in Olympic National Park and sea kayaking for four days off the coast of Vancouver Island.

I certainly had a few cautious thoughts, and I wasn't at all sure I would even be able to go on the trip like this several months down an uncertain road, but I reasoned that I could always take it easy and scale back if it was getting to be too much, and I had to trust that my health would be improved by the time vacation rolled around. Still, I was a little uncertain if maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew.  

In our first week of vacation, Lanny and Jasper went out on a fishing adventure with our friend, Tony and his son while his wife, Nadine, and I planned some mountain and coastal hiking.  She and I have gone on many backpacking adventures together, but we were preparing this time to mostly car camp with day hikes since I just wasn't sure how much my compromised body could handle.  But I wasn't ready to give in that easily.  I decided to believe that I could do more. So our last minute plans included a 3+ mile hike, with fully loaded backpacks, out to the coast to do some camping at Cape Alava.

And yes, it kind of sucked, just as I kind of knew it would. I know 3 miles doesn't sound very far, but just carry 20 to 25% of your body weight for 3 miles and then tell me how far that is. Trust me. It's plenty far for someone whose sole form of exercise is walking, yoga and biking 5 blocks to yoga.  But even though it was physically hard, it wasn't as hard as I imagined it would be. I took it step by step, and I was surprised at how much energy I had. Over the course of four days, we ended up hiking over 21 miles, with a little more than six of them carrying a full backpack. And the rewards for those efforts were immense with mountains for miles, majestic towering cedar trees in ancient rainforests, and amazing sunsets over the vast Pacific Ocean.

Lanny, Jasper and I continued our adventures by heading to Vancouver Island and taking part in a 4 day sea kayaking trip in Johnstone Strait. I will admit that, as far as camping goes, it was pretty cushy with all meals provided by our fabulous guides, covered tents on platforms, a covered dining area, hot outdoor showers, and a wood-fired hot tub. But it was still plenty active with about 15 miles of kayaking, a few cool rainy days, and leaping off of the rock cliff at camp into the icy cold water so that we could climb back up the cliff and enjoy the splendor of the wilderness hot tub. We were lucky to have a fabulous group of people on our trip to share the experience with, and we saw orca whales, humpback whales, dolphins, porpoises, bears, bald eagles, sea lions, harbor seals, and countless sea stars, jellyfish, anemones and urchins. It was totally worth the tired arms and shoulders, and I kept pace with everyone without too much effort.

I discovered something important on these adventures. We are mostly limited by our beliefs. The mental hurdles are often far more difficult to overcome than the physical hurdles. Yes, sometimes the physical part is really, really hard, but if you believe you can do it, you probably can. If you don't believe you can do it, you will probably never even try.  And you will miss out on so very much if you don't try.

You are so much stronger than you think you are. Believe it.


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