Sunday, June 30, 2013

Old Crow Man

I just published a book I wrote called 'Old Crow Man' about my third leg and summer hiking across the Brooks Range of Alaska. It's short and sweet. It was the hardest leg, where I hiked from Arctic Village Alaska, to Old Crow Canada in 27 days, then bought an old canoe and paddled down the Porcupine River for a month.

It's on

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Surviving a Stroke

In May, with the flowers of spring and the sunny days, my mother would spend time tending her garden and feeding the humming birds out back. While visiting my brother’s family in Portland she had a major stroke. She started acting drunk and stumbling, insisting nothing was wrong with her. Peggy, my sister-in-law, recognized the symptoms immediately and called paramedics, who got there within ten minutes. They loaded her into the ambulance as the right side of her body started freezing up and dragging. “She looked pretty bad,” my brother said to me later.
     Providence Medical Center was only a mile away, and was one of the best hospitals in the country for treating stroke victims. The doctors were ready for her when she arrived. She was given the highest priority among the patients and hustled into an emergency room. Doctors had to do a CAT scan to find the location of the blockage. After a thorough, yet swift diagnosis, they injected her with a clot-busting drug to open the blocked artery deep inside her brain before the lack of blood caused the affected area to die. It was quite amazing actually what they did for her. Within less than thirty minutes of her initial signs, she had been treated. Response time is crucial for surviving a stroke without any long term paralyses or brain damage, so my dear mother was extremely lucky. Not only had she been a mile from the right hospital, but she had been around people who got her prompt treatment.
     But the drug didn’t get the entire clot, so doctors had to go into her brain and remove it. They stuck a catheter into an artery in her groin and went all the way up with a device I think was called a Merci Retriever. The artery had caved in, creating an occlusion, which was causing the clot to build up behind it. They shored up her artery with a temporary stint and then pulled out the clot the same way they had gone in. Twenty years ago, patients with this kind of stroke would have died or become a vegetable, but my mother, at seventy-two, had a strong heart and blood vessels from walking and eating oatmeal for breakfast every day. They were surprised to find out that she had only been taking one prescribed pill a day when most people her age were taking all sorts of medications. She was the strongest patient on the floor nurses said.
     I dropped everything when I got the call and drove there from Cottage Grove. My father and two brothers were in the waiting room looking somber when I arrived, waiting for her to come out of surgery. We were scared as hell. “Should know something soon,” my brother said. My third brother was on his way down from Seattle. We didn’t know quite what to expect. We knew her situation was critical, but we didn’t know that much about the surgery, just that they had to go all the way up an artery, find a tiny clot in her brain, and drag it back out. I had a bad stereotype fixed in my mind about stoke victims. I envisioned people who had lost the ability to move half their bodies, had droopy faces and slurred speech, or died from complications. In my mind, stroke victims just didn’t live a normal life, and I felt horrible for my mother, a saintly woman if ever there was one. She was always giving and happy.
    My mother and father had been married for over fifty years and had lived in Roseburg, Oregon pretty much all that time, in the same house where I was born. Two of my brothers were born in Roseburg. My parents raised us right on Chinaberry Street when there were only a few neighbors. We played outside for hours, in the fields, on the hills, and in the creek. My mother would call us in just after dark. We always had dinner to look forward to when we were tired and hungry. My mother was the corner stone of our existence. She worried about us and watched over us. Now we were worrying about her.
     The operation was a success. When we went back to see her, she was coherent and moving all her limbs. She was joking and laughing, like the carefree optimist she had always been. My mother would say things like, look at my new puzzle, isn’t this a neat plant, or I won a thousand dollars at Seven Feathers. My mother was a complete optimist among a family of five pessimistic males, and she stood out among us because of this light she had. It was she who allowed us to see the bright side of things, and now it was no different. Except she was lying in a bed and we were standing around feeling gloomy and sarcastic. She hadn’t remembered the surgery or even that she had had a stroke. She still thought she was getting prepared for surgery, but she didn’t seem that afraid, like she knew things would turn out okay. She was always that way. “You already had it,” my brother said.
    “I did. I thought I still had to go in,” she said.
    “They went into your brain,” my brother said, cringing a little. “All the way up your artery.”
    “But now you’re fine,” I said trying to reassure her a little. “Everything was fixed, nothing to it.” Once she heard from the doctor that the prognosis was really good, she got even more positive and happy, smiling and sticking out her tongue – loving life.
     She survived without any long term paralysis or brain injury. Dodged a bullet the doctors said. My other sister-in-law, who passed away over a year ago said she would always take care of my mother when she got old. She had just been offered a high-paying job at Providence before she died, and my mother said, “Maybe she was watching over me like she said she would.”
     My mother returned to Roseburg about ten days after her accident. She was worried about her garden and her dog. When she saw her doctor in Roseburg he told her if this stroke would have happened in Roseburg there wouldn’t have been anyone able to perform the procedure they did in Portland. Luck, or maybe some other higher calling was on my mother's side. It wasn’t her time yet.

Edge of Old Crow Flats

I’m really in it now with no turning back, that’s for sure. The god forsaken brush only gets worse. I have to keep stepping it up a notch when I think I’m already at my limit. It’s like I’m being sucked into an infinite labyrinthine of some lost world from our prehistoric pass, and I don’t try to get out of it because I have to pass through it to get to the present; to get home. The shortest distance to civilization now is to hike directly to Old Crow.
     Still fully confident that I can make it, I refuse to send a message for help on my beacon. I cross a high, exposed pass and get caught in a downpour where there’s no forest to seek shelter, just a few stunted trees clumped together out on the tundra at the base of a mountain. I put on my rain gear, drape my tarp over me and my pack, and wait it out so I can keep hiking when it lets up. Will curls up below my feet, at the base of a two-foot high sodden ledge, where he stays pretty dry because the wind is blowing the rain sideways over him. Following a more southerly route along the border, Spike Mountain is visible about thirty miles southwest, a perfect landmark if I want to hike south to the Porcupine River, or back west to the Coleen River, but it’s shorter to keep going to Old Crow. Besides, I have food waiting that I mailed to myself before I left Oregon, and I plan on gorging myself for two days when I get there.
     After the rain lets up, I haul myself around this mountain on the edge of Old Crow Flats, clawing my way for every inch of ground. The thousands of lakes out there look like light, shimmering patches and the land looks dark and featureless everywhere else. It’s so far across that it gives me the chills thinking what would happen if I got into the middle of that. I have to keep out of there. It’s not of this world.
     I enter another ravine and hike up the other side to get the high ground where there should be less brush. The brush is killing me. Little by little, it’s picking me apart. Will bolts off chasing a moose back the way we came. He crosses the ravine six times faster than I just hiked it, in ten minutes, howling the entire time like the hunting dog he is. He’s a hunter to the bone, bred through the ages for tracking and killing. I watch both him and the moose from my vantage point, the moose trotting and plowing through brush to keep about fifty yards ahead of Will the entire time, like he’s measuring his effort or teasing Will. The moose picks the brushiest terrain to run through so he can throw off the dog, like he’d do if a wolf were chasing him. Will used to run with Jimmy like this when he was alive, and the two of them together charged each other up so much, that it seemed as if they believed they could do anything.
     Soon the moose and Will are too far out of sight, tiny dots and then lost in the twisting foliage and gray expanse of taiga. Soon his howling trails off in the great northern silence and then I’m alone to sit on a grassy hillock, waiting for him to come back. I hope he comes back, because it’s too big of a place to be alone.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Climb out of Devil's Staircase Wilderness

It's a really steep path to get out of Devil's Staircase Wilderness. I have to hike out on all fours, using my arms for pulling and pushing. The climb out of the canyon takes me about 45 minutes. There aren't really any trails, so once away from the creek it's easy to lose your bearings if you're not paying attention. I guess that's why I like it there.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Thunder on the Mountains, Alaska

In 2012, hiking from the Sheenjek River to the Coleen River on my traverse of the Brooks Range.

    I crossed more scorching fields of tussock mounds with horse flies driving me crazy, before reaching Eskimo Lake to camp. In the morning I felt like death’s door, either sick from the bad water I drank, or from dehydration and exhaustion. When I left the lake I felt a little better. I followed Eskimo Creek most of the day in a vaporous rain up toward its headwaters. By late afternoon I crossed some high mountains and started down the other side toward the Coleen River, entering a spruce forest denser than the one along the Sheenjek. The valleys were cloaked in spruce far up the slopes of the hills, and dozens of varieties of wildflowers were in full bloom among the grasses. But it was a titanic expanse of land, and often when I sat to rest on a knoll with my pack still on and the wind whipping across my face, I got baffled about how I could get through it all. The mountains and ravines stretched on as far as I can see, uninhabited and primeval.
     As I started down into the Coleen River system a thunder storm erupted, so I had to hurry toward the valleys into the forest, hoping to find shelter. My breath turned smoke-like as cold descended upon the land, and heavy drops pounded down, splattering off my rain gear and trees. Lightning bolts struck the hills in the distance in deafening bangs and jagged flashes. The place was no picnic. I moved rapidly, nearly jogging at times, hoping to get down out of the hills before I became drenched and cold and stuck somewhere without a decent place to pitch my tent. I slithered by soaked bushes and past spruce trees, with Will hot on my heels. “Don’t run off buddy,” I kept saying. With this kind of cold, there was no time for messing around.
     When I reached the bottom of a creek valley the sky was so thick and dark that I could probably have used a light if I had one. On a raised piece of soil, I set up my tent right before the full brunt of the storm hit. Thunder echoed off the mountains so loudly that I hunched down each time, feeling like I was being fired upon with rocket grenades. Once I was safely inside, rain battered my tent, shaking and bombarding it like rocks. Screw up here and lose your tent to the storm and you’re in big trouble.
     During the night, the temperature dropped close to freezing, causing me to shiver terribly in my sleeping bag. I only had the bare essentials for summer camping so I had to wear all my clothes to stay warm. But I was no stranger to the cold. When I began my journey in 2007 from Kotzebue it was March 20th, and the nights were twenty below zero. Once it got so cold that I lay in my tent in two sleeping bags, fully clothed, shivering for hours, and waiting for the first rays of the morning sun to warm up my tent again.

Monday, April 8, 2013

P soup

I always buy clothes at second hand stores, and love to use the synthetic dress pants for hiking. I used threee-dollar pants for my hike across Alaska. I liked that I got so much for almost nothing and how I could walk so far and see so much by dressing simply, not outlandishly.
     In Portland, when I was applying for one of my first jobs after getting out of the military, my sister-in-law took me out to buy my first suit. Man, I was in and out of there in no time flat, just how brain dead men like myself like to shop. We had all these clothes for almost nothing. She makes these high quality garments out of used clothing that would have otherwise been thrown out. In her own words from her website at where she sells her stuff.  

welcome to psoup handmade! i'm passionate about reuse and i love taking something that's meant to be thrown away after its original intended use and make something entirely new out of it. without compromising quality, you'll find many of my items are made from these strong materials. i also love working with new and vintage materials. please let me know if you have any questions ... and thanks for stopping!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Rat Creek, Alaska

The name Rat Creek, Alaska, makes me think this place is going to be a stink hole, full of sticky mud, slimy grass, dead stunted spruce on the hills, and miles of clouds of mosquitoes, puncturing me for blood in the sizzling sun and stale air. Though, it has all that to some degree, it also has much more, which allows me to see the alluring charm of this remote region. Once past the mouth of the creek half a mile, where I can stash my canoe and start hiking, the mud and grass give way to a gravelly creek bottom and clean, rocky sides that extend up one hundred-meter high hills that are topped with birch, spruce, and aspen. It’s a breezy feeling on top of those hills, not the dull, dead air of the lowland taiga.
     I’m able to stroll up this creek instead of having to struggle and stumble along, wading in mud or side-hilling along steep crumbly banks. It’s restful walking, like a city park. The sun is still hot as hell, but as long as I keep my hat and sunglasses on I’m all right. The air is dry, not debilitating with high humidity like Borneo, and the mosquitoes don’t even drive me mad with rage or frustration like they do out on the open tundra and agonizing tussocks. No, this place is a real blessing, like a New World wood rat with soft, silky fur, not an Old World greasy black rat who lives off filthy human waste. My deep-seated urge is to keep going, ignoring my physical limits for the exhilaration of larger-than-life exploration.
     What keep me from going on up it and across the mountains to the headwaters of the Kandik or the Nation Rivers are the staggering distance and the utter lack of civilization. I’d have to abandon my canoe and hike two hundred miles over these mountains and creek valleys, and I don’t think I have the mental toughness now, since I’ve used most of it up hiking to Old Crow. I’d have to hike by Bear Mountain, Runt Creek, Steamboat Mountain, and Bull Creek; the very headwaters of the Black River drainage, so far out there that I’d truly by on my own.
     I always get like this late in the summer, my body fit but too skinny, and my mind losing some of its mental focus and durability. And with the summer season growing late, I lose a bit of my assurance that I can make it through before the weather turns bitter cold and I starve. On a trek like this one, you got to be as fresh as a cucumber. Alaska is a land of wide-ranging boundaries and a place where travelers who are unprepared, face deadening starvation. Despite the blind idealist I am, I know not to ignore this grim reality, so I turn back.
Up Rat Creek without a paddle

Rat Creek where it enters the Porcupine River

Will walking down Rat Creek

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Potato Creek, Alaska

This is when I was hiking in Northeast Alaska.

The next day, feeling mentally depleted, I only hike half a day. From Potato Creek, rain falling the entire time, I swim in brush for hours, fatigued, cold, and discouraged that I can make it. “What the hell am I doing here,” I keep saying. I want to cry. It’s the worst I’ve felt so far on the trip, like what I’m trying to do is impossible and pointless. People just don’t do it, hiking across this country in the summer.
     Will gets into the habit of running off at least once a day to chase a moose. Not just little jaunts, but hour-long disappearances through the outback where I suspect he’s running hard the entire time burning up precious energy reserves. With all the brush, I can’t hike with him on a leash, and even by scolding him it still doesn’t stop his instinctive drive to give in to the chase with all his heart. All I can do is watch him go, getting thinner by the day.
     Since undertaking this Brooks Range adventure, I’ve learned to get by with almost nothing, just my tent, sleeping bag, a few eating utensil, and the most basic food. It’d be nice to live under a permanent roof so I wouldn’t have to stow all my food and gear every single night before going to sleep like I’m doing here. It’d be nice to wake up with it all laid out on a counter, dry and ready for use, with no fussy digging through my pack every morning to make a cup of coffee. I have calluses - one splitting apart - on the tips of my fingers where I’ve tied and untied items so many times to get things out of my pack and put them back each time I use them.
     I haven’t bathed in twenty-three days and don’t see myself bathing anytime soon. It isn’t that I can’t bathe. I just don’t see the point in going through all that trouble of cleaning myself when I have many other things to worry about – mainly the endless marching. A fenced yard would also be nice so Will could lounge around on the grass under a shady tree without being tied up. I like thinking of him resting on some shady grass after a nice jog, without mosquitoes pestering him. I think he still misses his brother; I’ll watch him sometimes, while he’s sitting on a nearby knoll looking out across the country, stoically, like he’s looking for someone far off in the distance waiting for him to return after a long absence. I think about that a lot, and how I’d feel if I had only one friend in the world, and no one else, who disappeared one day and never came back, and how I’d feel if I didn’t know what happened to him. Sometimes I’ll think about that while I’m looking at Will and get all choked up inside, like I should get him a female Airedale to keep him company. He’d want to fight all the time with a new male and when Will gets old I don’t want a younger male beating him up.   
     I still have so far to go. If there were a trail, I could probably cover the distance in one long day, but instead it will take me at least four because I have to swim in brush. From Surprise Creek I climb steadily up a ridge leading into the Old Crow Range, where I plan to walk the high divide between several creeks, half that drain north and the other half that drain south. The higher I get the more the brush dissipates and by the midafternoon it’s all gone and I’ve reached the crest. It’s a huge stroke of luck really, that I won’t have to descend to cross any major creek valleys all the way there, as far as I can tell – the desperate break I need.

Jimmy, right, two weeks before he died 2012. Will is right.

Will, Alaska, 2013

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Devil's Staircase Waterfall

I finally found Devil's Staircase water fall. It's not to hard to find, just rugged to get to, and not really any trails. The climb out is nearly vertical, using your hands to pull and push as you hike. It's a rainforest, as thick and dense and invigorating as any tropical forest, minus the leeches. You could get lost in there, for real. you either have to hike way up on the ridgelines or in the actual creek bed to get anywhere. Even hard for my dog.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A panic attack story, 'Give Him Nitro'

Give Him Nitro

Not only am I a goddam mouth breather - and I’m not proud of it like I said - but I’m also a bit of a hypochondriac and prone to panic attacks. I’m not sure if one causes the other, and sometimes I’ll wonder if I’m having a panic attack because I’m afraid I have something wrong with me, or am I afraid something is wrong with me because I’m having a panic attack. It’s a crazy escalating effect that goes like this. You panic, you think you’re dying, so you panic more, then breath more, which makes you feel worse and more afraid, so you panic more, almost until the point where you think your heart is going to explode or you pass out. Once or twice I thought maybe my mouth breathing was making me have panic attacks, since it changes the nature of my breathing and when you have a panic attack you hyperventilate and breathe deep like a mother fucker.

     I had my first panic attack when I was ten. I thought my eyes were falling out and was going blind. After over three decades of having them I’ve learned something shockingly new. Amazingly, I can have them while I’m sound asleep.

     Just recently I woke up in the middle of the night, heart thumping, breathing rampant, mouth wide open of course, skin tingling, body shivering, and my mind racing out of control. Since it woke me up I was really freaked out, more than normal, instead of like when I’m already awake and they come on more gradual. Sometimes now I can head those off and prevent them from escalating. I’ve had a lot of practice.

     But this one I had while sleeping was different and caught me totally off guard. I thought I was having an asthma attack, even though I had never had asthma before. No one in my family had ever had any form of asthma, but I was convinced I had it for Christ sakes. I thought my lungs were dissolving or something and soon I wouldn’t be able to breathe at all. I didn’t know what they could do for dissolved lungs; I was certain nothing. The newness of this kind of panic attack convinced me that this time it was real for sure.

     I jumped up with rampant fear, ready to run. I didn’t know where, but I was rearing to go, so afraid that I could have run to the top of Kili - fucking - manjaro. I already had my clothes on because I had been having panic episodes for a few weeks by then and had started sleeping in them so if I had to rush off to the doctor it would save vital time. I headed out the door and got in my car. I was hyperventilating, but I didn’t think that. I thought disintegrating corpuscles were clogging my lungs, making it harder for me to breathe. I thought I’d pass out before I reached the hospital and drive over a cliff or something, but I didn’t. I wasn’t sure how I made the drive without crashing or fainting. When I arrived I got out of my car and lumbered in without hurrying; I wanted to give my brain one more chance to come to its senses, but it never did. “Are you okay?” the clerk asked me.

     “I can’t breathe,” I said politely, which could have been partly from my bad sinus. They sat me right down and called a nurse to come get me.

     “Any other problems?” she asked. Of course I had a whole list of problems: bad sinuses, mysterious pressure in my gut that I was sure was cancer, blurry vision, lack of funds, receding gums, sore back, knees that cracked, and low motivation for starters. But the main one was that I felt like I was wasting my life living in the modern world all the time and I was afraid I’d never accomplish a great adventure, which I thought contributed greatly to my panic attacks. I didn’t like how we all lived in these nifty little houses all lined up right next to each other, like we were all androids kept in these big boxes until we were needed to go do our master’s work and turned on, and off again when we finished for the day. I didn’t like how all our houses looked the same and were so big when the natural areas around them were so small. No, I didn’t like that one damn bit and had spent my entire life trying to figure out a way to sleep under the sky with no house so there’d be more room for natural areas. I didn’t tell them any of this. Instead, I kept it simple.

     “My chest hurts,” I said, feeling like I was making too much of my problem by now. Then, thinking I might be having a heart attack, they really started moving faster. They made me give them an emergency phone number and sign a form, which I don’t know what the hell it said. Then the nurse came in lickity split.

     “You need a wheel chair?” she asked.

     “No, I think I can walk.” Then they led me down a shadowy hall to a room that didn’t have any doors. It just had a wide curtain they slid open and close.

     The nurse made me strip down, and I was a little bashful at first. But I did it quick before I thought about it too long. Then I put on a gown and she had me lie on a bed. Boy, they mean business, I thought. They hooked me up to a cardiogram, put an I-V needle in my arm in case they had to pump me full of life-saving meds, and stuffed an oxygen tube in my nose. I must say I really liked the oxygen. It was blissful, like I was lying next to a cool stream in the summertime with a soft breeze drifting by.

     Then the head doctor came in and gave the nurse a couple of rough orders, which made me think that she was a bit of a tyrant, and I hate tyrants in any form. She gave me a quaint smile, fake as hell, like she was just being polite because she had to be toward the patients. She read my cardiogram on the monitor for a minute and turned to the nurse. “Give him a couple of aspirin.”

     “I already took two before I came here,” I said, which I did sometimes when I thought I might be having a heart attack, you know, to head them off in case they were real.

     “Were they regular aspirin or baby aspirin,” the doctor asked me and how on earth was I supposed to know the difference.

     “I’m not sure,” I said. I wasn’t thinking straight and I didn’t want to think about damn stupid aspirin. I was thinking about dying and wanting to live and not getting to travel around the world and shit like that, not freaking baby aspirin.

     “Were they white or pink?” she asked sneeringly. I wanted to ask her why the hell that mattered, but I didn’t.

     “They were white,” I said. Then she gave me a little condescending lecture.                  

     “Baby aspirin are pink, and adult aspirin are white,” she said in a squeaky sarcastic tone. I wanted to slug her and say who pays attention to the color of aspirin, can’t you see the crippling dread on my face, but I didn’t want to make her mad. She was the one who was in charge of saving me if I were to go down and black out.

     “Give him a nitro,” the doctor said, and then the nurse stuck a little pill under my tongue for it to dissolve, and then the head doctor walked out. 

     “How’s the pain now?” the nurse asked, “On a scale from one to ten?”

     “It’s about the same, a five,” I said. So she gave me another one, and a minute later she asked me the same question.

     “How’s the pain now?”

     “It’s about the same, a four.”

     “Before you said it was a five.”

     “I did? Well it’s about the same,” I said, so she gave me the last nitro that was allowed. Apparently three is the limit. I couldn’t believe she was putting nitro glycerin under my tongue. I wondered about exploding, but that didn’t even scare me like the panic I was having.

     Panic attacks are strange. Sometimes the logic of the person having one doesn’t make any sense, like how I always avoid going to the doctor because I believe he’ll just find something wrong with me. I’d rather not know at all. And if I don’t go then the doctor can’t say if I’m sick for sure. If I do go then there will be a certainty one way or another, and I always assume it will be the worst; that I’ll die and never get to hike in the woods or camp out under the trees and stars again. So I never go to the doctor unless I’m sure I’m going to collapse at any moment and die anyway.

     “How’s the pain now?” the nurse asked again.

     “It’s about the same, a three.” I didn’t know; how could I know when I was in the throes of a panic attack. I was getting cold and shivering badly so the nurse put another thick blanket over me to keep me from slipping into shock. That actually felt pretty good. It was an electric heating blanket that had some weight to it – made me felt cocooned.

     I waited in the bed with the back propped up too high, but I didn’t want to make a fuss and ask the nurse to lower it since I had already told her to raise it. “I can breathe better sitting up,” I had said. But now my back was feeling hunched and tight and I wanted it back the way it was. I hated beds anyway. They reminded me of all that was wrong with the world and how we had become too soft and mindless. At home I was always walking instead of driving because I didn’t like how roads took up so much space and how cars were too noisy and polluted the sky too much – an abomination. I cringed every time I saw a perfectly fine narrow road being made as wide as a fucking football field, so that it would only encourage people to drive more when they should be walking more. Did you know that Americans are the fattest they’ve been in human history and that for the first time children are expected to have shorter life spans than their parents?

     At this point I was starting to suspect I was having a panic attack and that the pain I was feeling was just the tingling and shooting that comes with one. The attending doctor came in to examine me. He looked at my feet and scraped a metal instrument across the bottoms of them. “Any pain in your calves?” he asked.

     “No, they seem fine,” I said, wondering if it was normal for them to hurt or not. Then he looked at my abdomen and thumped on it with a small hammer. It sounded hollow and I didn’t know if that was good or bad. I assumed very bad of course.

     “That looks good,” he said. Then he asked me if I had ever had anxiety and I told him I had - if he only knew. Panic had made me do a lot of bizarre things over the years. Once I stayed up all night because I thought if I went to sleep I thought I’d have a stroke. A panicking brain will try anything to save itself. Then he listened to my lungs and found nothing. He listened to my heart and found nothing. “They sound okay,” he said and continued on and finished the exam. “We’re just waiting on your blood tests. That will tell us everything. Just sit tight and relax.” Then he and the nurse went out and I was alone for a long time growing so terrified about what the results would be that I actually started thinking about sneaking out and leaving so they couldn’t give me the news and I would never be certain one hundred percent that I was dying – just the usual ninety percent that I had lived with off and on for years.

     While I was lying there waiting, this thing on my arm kept inflating automatically every fifteen minutes taking my blood pressure. I was afraid it was going to get stuck in the inflated position and ruin my arm for good, but that didn’t worry me nearly as much as the fear of death, or the fear of my panic attack. I still wasn’t sure which one I was experiencing.

     I was sure my blood was bad, infected as hell with all sorts of diseases; the worse they had ever seen, from aides and cancer to hepatitis and jaundice - all the fatal ones of course. In a matter of minutes I would get the news and it was all I could do to remain in the room. I wanted to run away. I was sure I was a goner. I had so much left to do with my life. I wanted to hike across Borneo. Who was going to take care of my dog?

     Suddenly, the doctor came back through the curtain and looked at me with a straight face, and before I could brace myself he already let the news slide in there. “Your blood looks okay,” he said quickly, without even pausing to give me a serious look.

     “What,” I said with a shocked face, my nose and eyes all scrunched up. What, impossible, I thought. He didn’t even give me a chance to get more worried.

     “Your potassium’s a little low, but everything else looks fine. It all checks out.” He said I was free to go and told me to see my primary doctor, which I didn’t do because I was too afraid. Besides, I didn’t have a doctor, since they’re too expensive and I usually didn’t have insurance. The only reason I came here was because I thought I was going to collapse and be unconscious. He gave me a handout on anxiety, but I already knew everything in it, inside and out, and a lot more that wasn’t in it. Hell, I could have taught a class on the subject. I was an expert on panic attacks. I just couldn’t figure out how to get rid of mine or prevent them. They can come out of nowhere with no warning, in any place or situation, last for minutes or weeks, and be just as debilitating as any real illness. They’re vicious and the literature the doctor gave me still didn’t help.

     “That’s the thing about a panic attack,” I said to the doctor. “When I’m having one I never know I’m having one. I always think I’m dying, for real.”

     “Oh they’re real. I don’t want you to think they’re not. But I think you should see your doctor and get it checked out.” I wasn’t sure why I had to do that when three people had just got done checking me out.

     So the doctor left the room and I was free to go. “I’ll give you some privacy so you can get dressed,” the nurse said. She wasn’t very friendly or personal, just doing her job and not really caring who I was or what dreams I had, or even if I had any. She didn’t act like she had any dreams, or if she had, they had been beaten out of her somewhere along the way in her life, or so it seemed. Before I had my shoes on she came back and started stripping the bed I had lied in, and before I got my jacket on she was done, ready for the next emergency.

     “At least I know my blood’s okay,” I said. For someone with panic attacks, this was a huge stress reliever, like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders. The nurse walked me all the way down the hall to the main desk to fill out a few more forms. Then she told me to have a good night and I left.

     I walked out the door of the hospital alone and into the darkness, shuffling along, baffled that they didn’t find anything wrong with me, but thankful that I was clean slated. It was still a little scary but I felt like I had second chance at life - good as gold. The doctor had told me so. Well, not in those exact words, but close enough. “Everything looks good.” That was what he had told me. It had all checked out, and that was good enough to get me feeling a little normal again, like I had a chance to live a long life and that maybe I could keep hiking in the woods.

     I smiled and then strolled back across the parking lot in the black of night, passing a young woman whom I assumed was on her way to work the morning shift. She kept a wide birth and avoided eye contact. She was quite pretty and I didn’t stare at her too long. I didn’t want her to think I was crazy, even though sometimes I wondered, because no one else in the world seemed like me; someone who would throw away a perfectly good job, move out of their house, and go walk around the wilds of Alaska for months at a time. I wanted to feel good again about those things that were beautiful in life.

     I had been in the hospital a couple of hours so I had to scrape ice off my windshield before I could leave. I started my car, and sat for a couple of minutes until it warmed up. I wasn’t in a hurry now since I felt cured, and since the inside started to feel warm and cozy, I didn’t seem to hate it anymore. Then I put the car in gear and drove home just before the dawn light. I wondered if my panic was gone now, or would it come back tomorrow night, or would it wait a year and give me a lucky break. I needed a long break; panic attacks were really starting to piss me off.




Saturday, March 16, 2013

Devils Staircase

I went looking for Devil’s Staircase. I went searching for it in the Oregon wilderness several times amidst the verdant old growth and steep ravines and I never called up anyone to ask how to get there, since I thought this would give me a good reason to go tramping through the wilderness for days at a time, deep in the heart of the Coast Range, exploring and getting in really good shape while seeing some really giant trees, some five feet in diameter, massive firs that were growing before the first white men settled the region. Instead I was just going off photographs of what it looked like and the general location I found on a vague map.

     Devil’s Staircase is a water fall in the temperate rainforest in one of the remotest corners of Oregon, not an actual religious anti-deity. To get to it you have to drive or walk for several miles on narrow gravel roads that meander along the crest of sharp ridges and then descend on foot near vertical slopes crashing through walls of vine maple and salmon berry for a mile to get to Wassen Creek. And then if you make it to the creek you have to hike in the water since the sides are too overgrown with brush. Then you have to figure out whether to go upstream or down, and whether the water fall is even on Wassen Creek or one of the many nearby tributaries.

     I searched all over, following Wassen Creek several miles downstream, and then hiking over the top of a ridge for two miles to cut a huge bend in the creek, where the thumping of pileated woodpeckers pecking dead trees rang out in the forest like rifle fire. Then in the evening I’d eat some bread and nettles and curl up under a tree to sleep, and then at first light I’d get up and start walking again, over another ridge somewhere.  I probably hiked a lot farther than was necessary to find Devil’s Staircase, probably going where people have never gone before, but you know what, I really didn’t care if I found the water fall or not, since there were a lot more almost as good. I just wanted to be out there roaming around in the forest for two or three-day stretches so I could come back home feeling rejuvenated and worn out from hiking so vigorously and serenely in nature.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Training Time

I started doing a little more training than normal, to help get ready four my planned trek in Alaska in June. My brother and I and two friends are going to hike from the Alatna River to Anaktuvuk Pass. Today I ran for thrity minutes with my dog and then I took my shoes off and ran barefoot for another half hour, to strengthen my arches and the bottom of my feet. Then I worked on my garden and worked on repairing a broken sewage line in our back yard - lovely.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Nature Deficit Disorder

According to Wikipedia, here are some effects on children who have nature deficit disorder.

  • Children have limited respect for their immediate natural surroundings. Louv says the effects of nature deficit disorder on our children will be an even bigger problem in the future. "An increasing pace in the last three decades, approximately, of a rapid disengagement between children and direct experiences in nature… has profound implications, not only for the health of future generations but for the health of the Earth itself."[15] The effects from Nature Deficit Disorder could lead to the first generation being at risk of having a shorter lifespan then their parents.[16]
  • Attention disorders and depression may develop. "It's a problem because kids who don't get nature-time seem more prone to anxiety, depression and attention-deficit problems." Louv suggests that going outside and being in the quiet and calm can help greatly.[14] According to a University of Illinois study, interaction with nature has proven to reduce symptoms of ADD in children. According to research, "Overall, our findings indicate that exposure to ordinary natural settings in the course of common after-school and weekend activities may be widely effective in reducing attention deficit symptoms in children." [17] Attention Restoration Theory develops this idea further, both in short term restoration of one's abilities, and the long term ability to cope with stress and adversity.
  • Following the development of ADD and mood disorders, lower grades in school also seem to be related to NDD. Louv claims that "studies of students in California and nationwide show that schools that use outdoor classrooms and other forms of experiential education produce significant student gains in social studies, science, language arts, and math".[18]
  • Childhood obesity has become a growing problem. About 9 million children (ages 6–19) are overweight or obese. The Institute of Medicine claims that over the past 30 years, childhood obesity has more than doubled for adolescents and more than tripled for children aged 6–11.[16]
  • In an interview on Public School Insight, Louv stated some positive effects of treating Nature Deficit Disorder, "everything from a positive effect on the attention span to stress reduction to creativity, cognitive development, and their sense of wonder and connection to the earth."[15]
  • Wednesday, January 30, 2013

    Rise of the Horse Slaugter Houses

    There are around 37,000 wild horses roaming free on public rangelands, beautiful and majestic right? Not for some. The Bureau of Land Management has increased its efforts to round up some of these horses for sale and adoption. They say there isn't enough forage to support these horses, but they represent only a fraction of one percent of the number of cattle and sheep on public land. There are around 47,000 wild horses in BLM holding pens and some say they can't hold anymore. So how can the round ups go on if they don't have a place to keep them. Ah ha. In comes the rise of the horse slaughter house and the industry of horse meat for human consumption. You see, some stand to make money off horse meat, which is in demand in certain countries. And here is the kicker I think. Wild horses don't cost any money to raise - they raise themselves in the wild. And they're rounded up and held, paid by taxpayers, so for some who have a blatant disregard for animal well-being, see this as an opportunity to make money off free animals, and I mean wild and free, not free for some person to own. For all those wild horses who have been rounded up over the years, where have they gone? The answer might not be as pretty and majestic as you think.