Trekking The Bolivian Inca Trail: Day 1

Trek 1-0Day one was all about the Andes Mountains and the extremely high altitude!

Departure from La Paz until La Cumbre at 15,645 ft (4,770 m). Starting from this location, the trek will continue until the Apacheta Pass at 16,072 ft (4,900 m). After this pass, there will be a spectacular descent for about seven hours from the high Puna grasslands to the cloud forest or yungas, passing the Chukura small village at 12,300 ft (3,750 m) and later arriving to the Challapampa Camp at 9,184 ft (2,800 m). Lunch on the way. Dinner and overnight at Challapampa Camping.

Trek 1-1Drivers, mountain bikers, and hikers make offerings to the mountain gods before setting off on their adventures!

Trek 1-2My sister-in-law and I standing in front of the mountains. As if the extremely high altitude and the amazing views weren’t enough to make our hearts race, we also had to carry our own sleeping bag, clothing, water, snacks, and personal items. Helping us on this journey was a cook who carried the food and cooking supplies, and a guide who carried the tent and the sleeping mats.

Trek 1-3The surrounding mountain peaks are covered with snow year round. I particularly liked the geometric indentations in this mountain top.

Trek 1-4A llama walks along the sun-drenched ground in front of Inca ruins.

Trek 1-5“A Tambo was an Incan structure built for administrative and military purposes. Found along Incan roads, tambos typically carried supplies, served as lodging for itinerant state personnel, and were depositories of quipu-based accounting records. Different types of tambos existed; those that served to lodge the traveling Inca and his entourage (typically wives and state officials), and those that served as relay stations for the chasquis, who were state messengers who ran along state roads.”

Trek 1-6Taking my first break of the day at the Incan rest stop.

Trek 1-7A sheep sporting brightly colored yarn ear tags.

Trek 1-8After hiking for hours through a large mountain valley, I was amazed that we were still higher than the clouds that surrounded a neighboring mountain peak…and that our final destination point was way down in another valley!

Trek 1-9While not always as smooth as shown here, the path on the first day was quite wide. (I almost felt like I was walking the Yellow Brick Road.) By the second day, the only way forward was to walk in a single file.

Trek 1-10Midway through the first day. While I was smiling, my shoulders were already crying from all of the weight they were carrying! (It was right around here where I started ranking things from most important to least important, in case I needed to start lightening my load.)

Trek 1-11Walking *down* into the clouds. What a sensation.

Trek 1-12An indigenous family using a herd of llamas to carry firewood to their amazingly remote village.

Trek 1-13Late afternoon, starting to walk into the clouds. The path continues to get much more narrow and rugged.

Trek 1-14Early evening fog starts to roll in. The path continues to get steeper and steeper, putting more pressure on our already-overworked knees!

Trek 1-15It quickly became increasingly difficult to see, as the sky continued to darken and as the clouds and fog continued to thicken. Still, we walked for more than an hour and a half after this photo was taken. The day’s final adventure before reaching our campsite: crossing a suspension cable bridge (with missing planks and all!) over a roaring river, in almost complete darkness!!!

This trek was not only a celebration of my recent return to good health, it was also a celebration of the hope that resides in each and every person who lives with inflammatory arthritis, and of the will to keep moving.

ShowUsYourHands_badge_125x125Please join me in these celebrations by making a donation to Show Us Your Hands! a nonprofit charity organization that serves to unite and inspire people who live with inflammatory arthritis. 100% of all funds donated will go directly towards community programs, including the Inflammatory Arthritis Community Collage, the Our Hands Can! Photo Book, and community posters.

For more information, please visit

Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!

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Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy’s Trek For Hope

TrekforHopeDuring the middle of August 2013, I will embark on a rural three-day, 60 km mountain-to-jungle trek in Bolivia, South America, with a backpack, sleeping bag, and tent in tow!

“The El Choro Inca Trail dates back to pre-Inca times, but was later integrated into the famous and expansive network of roads known today as the Inca Trail. As trekkers descend from the frosty Andean highlands (15,945 feet above sea level) down into the tropical valley, they appreciate not only stunning landscapes but also witness ancient remnants of Inca engineering.”

This trek is not only a celebration of my recent return to good health, it is also a celebration of the hope that resides in each and every person who lives with inflammatory arthritis, and of the will to keep moving.

ShowUsYourHands_badge_125x125Please join me in these celebrations by making a donation to Show Us Your Hands! a nonprofit charity organization that serves to unite and inspire people who live with inflammatory arthritis. 100% of all funds donated will go directly towards community programs, including the Inflammatory Arthritis Community Collage, the Our Hands Can! Photo Book, and community posters.

For more information, please visit


Listening To My Body

imagesThe joy that comes from waking up each morning not only rested, but with a body that is a tad bit stronger than just the night before, is completely indescribable. (This is a nice counterbalance to another thought that I carried around for the past few years, which is that there is no way to even begin to describe what living with chronic pain actually feels like.) Throw in increased energy levels, healthy weight loss, and a peaceful minds and things get…well, even better!

Which doesn’t mean than I’ve reconnected with the life that I love so much as a result of this pain having gone away, but that I have been able to do so precisely *because* I continue to experience this pain each and every day. Just like the football team coming on to the field, every morning I have to intentionally punch through that barrier of pain and immobility that seems to always be setting in. (I also can’t help from thinking about dust: 1. even the smallest amounts are quite noticeable, and 2. the more it builds up the worse things usually get.) For me, this hasn’t been a journey of “finding out what works.” (It has, and it hasn’t.) It’s been a slightly similar but critically different pursuit that I’ve been able to identify during all the years that I’ve lived with RA: it’s about tapping into the continually shifting set of coping mechanisms that allow me to not only live with the pain, but to go out and lead the life I love.

It’s about what works for me right *now*.

Because what works for me tomorrow might be different than what works for me yesterday…and what works for me today is definitely very different than what worked for me last year.

(As some wise souls have already so concisely stated: the only thing that is constant is change.)

And as much as I’ve been sharing about how the things that I’ve started doing over the past few months have helped me tremendously, I’ve not talked as much about an even higher principle that has helped me even more. While pushing myself to do just a little more today than I did yesterday is important, and while the need to keep moving is absolutely critical, it’s even *more* important to not push my body too far, or to push my body too quickly. (Wouldn’t doing so be, by definition, the meaning of “harm?”)

It’s about listening to my body.

Just like I had to do this past week, when I injured some tendons in my left knee while stepping off a chair. Or when I reached a point Sunday evening when my back tightened up so much that I had to literally had to turn to stove burner off, step away from what I was in the middle of cooking, and go do some gentle stretches for half an hour. (I don’t even want to imagine what might have happened had I decided that I’d just finish what I was cooking, and *then* go exercise.)

A few months ago, I went through a phase that was absolutely frightening. I had entered into what seemed to be an absolute free fall, no doubt partially related to the extreme Prednisone withdrawal symptoms that I was experiencing at the time. There was much more at play, though–there was depression, there was my almost absolute immobility, there was my being away from home and, on many days, completely alone in a huge apartment in the hustle and bustle of Wall Street in lower Manhattan.

There was the fact that one afternoon, on those crowded sidewalks of New York City, and complete stranger came up to me and told me that I could do it, to not give up.

The thought of giving up never really entered my mind, though. (Although at one point I did admit to a close friend that I wasn’t exactly sure how I could keep pulling myself forward.) The friends who encircled me while I was away from my Home (with the capital “H”)–friends dating back to my high school and college times–were able to seen not only what I was going through personally, but there was also able to see the many challenges that seemed to appear with each new day.

The difficulty of not being able to digest food without considerable amounts of pain. The inability to focus in on text on the computer screen, words on the television screen, or signs in the subway station, even though I had just increased my eyeglass prescription a few weeks earlier. (The inability, for minutes on end, to even be able to see anything, as the inflammation reached the cornea of my eye.) The extreme sensitivity to smell that allowed me to identify what detergents had been used to clean the interiors of crowded elevators, SoHo restaurants, and three-level deep subway platforms. Losing the ability to control my body temps. Sudden skin rashes. Nasal allergies. Losing my sense of taste. And the list goes on, and on.

During this time, those around me often repeated the same statement: they were amazed with my ability to keep moving forward, and with my ability to stay so positive, despite all of the major challenges that I was facing. How was I able to stay so determined, many of them asked. How was I able to stomp on and over every obstacle that seemed to fall in my path?

My response was often one of that I didn’t have a choice. I had to do it; there was no other way. (Looking back I now realize that I absolutely had a choice. I could have gotten stuck, or more emotionally depressed. I could have focused on the negatives, instead of the positives. I had many options on how I handled the challenges in front of me, but I’m glad that the only ones that I was willing to take into consideration at that time were the ones that could–and eventually, would–lead me forward, to a better place.)

During my RA “career,” I have previously dealt with severe depression and suicidal thoughts. While I know that depression did play a part in what I recently encountered, I also know that what happened a few short months ago was so much more; it was something so frightening that even my prior brush with suicidal feelings, in the years following my diagnosis, pales in comparison.

You see, earlier this year I reached a point where my body started telling me that it was giving up.

I reached a point where even when I started listening to what my body was telling me, even when I started making as many changes as I could to help my body that was pleading for help, things just continued to worsen. The fear of what was happening to my body was quickly becoming just as paralyzing as my underlying disease. (This experience was, in fact, much more frightening than my previous bout with suicidal thoughts. Yes, at that time, my mind seemed to be giving up–no doubt a scary situation to find oneself in–but now it was my body that was giving up!)

And even though I could not yet see any improvement, I had to stay confident in the knowledge that I had tapped into a new awareness of what it meant to listen to my body.

I continue to listen to my body, as best I can, and you know what?

My body is no longer telling me that it wants to give up.

My body is thanking me. It’s also telling me that it wants to do more than it’s ever done before.

And this is why, at this moment, I am doing well. Not because the pain is gone, or because I am in remission, but because I have learned that my highest priority, from here on out, is to continue to listen to my body, as much as I possibly can.

Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!


What Am I Doing?

ParkI am taking short breaks every fifteen minutes, and longer breaks every hour. I am drastically reducing my sugar intake. I am doing yoga three times a week. I am no longer taking Prednisone. I am walking 20-30+ kilometers a week. I am walking up hills. I am walking down hills. I am cutting back on carbohydrates. I am spending less time at my computer. I am checking in on Facebook less frequently. I am going out every day for fresh air. I am taking Vitamin D supplements. I am eating a primarily antiinflammatory diet. I am tapering down my Methotrexate. I am meditating. I am practicing aromatherapy. I am stressing out less. I am communicating better. I am managing my time and commitments well. I am spending more time with family and friends. I am not touching my phone when I sit down to eat. I am reading books every day. I am playing with my dogs. I am spoiling my hands and my feet. I am eating a lot of ginger. I am drinking a lot of tea. I am drinking less coffee. I am smiling more. I am sleeping regularly. I am going to physical therapy twice a week. I am grateful for any and all advice others may offer. I am sending positive thoughts to people who send me hateful messages. I am wearing a wide brimmed hat to protect my skin from the sun. I am using SPF 100 sunblock. I am no longer declaring “flare days.” I am pushing myself to do 1% more today then I did yesterday. I am listening to my body when it tells me it needs a break. I am thinking happy and positive thoughts. I am looking fear right in the eyes. I am strengthening my hands. I am taking deep breaths. I am sitting in parks. I am taking photos. [See photo above.] I am drawing. I am cooking. I am no longer playing the “what if” game. I am enjoying being able to do what I previously referred to as “chores.” I am taking long, hot baths. I am watching less television. I am reading less news. I am eating more papaya. I am no longer trying to resolve problems the second they appear. I am becoming more patient. I am becoming more thankful and compassionate. I am listening to relaxing music. I am not worrying about bills that I cannot pay. I am eating a small piece of chocolate once a day. I am lighting candles. I am lighting incense. I am looking at mountains. I am looking at the sky. I am enjoying the breeze.

I am living.

Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!


The Tale Of A Superhero In New York City

NYCThe Prednisone withdrawal that I’ve been dealing with over the past few months has been one of the hardest and most frightening things I’ve ever had to deal with. (Who would have know that ‘non addictive’ does *not* mean that you still can’t experience extreme withdrawal symptoms?)

And while I’m not yet at the finish line (but am oh-so-close, with my most recent taper down to 5 mg/day from a previous high of 25 mg/day), I think that things are finally back under control.

Just yesterday, a good friend–someone who inspired me each time we met over the past few months, and who always knew exactly what I was going through–pointed out that this was the first time she had seen me when I wasn’t trembling and when I wasn’t sweating.

She was right.

Now is the first time in a long time, when I can honestly say that I feel healthy. Am I saying I no longer have RA; that I’ve been cured? Of course not. Am I saying that I no longer experience indescribable pain on a daily basis? I’m most certainly not saying that, either. What I am saying is that now that I have to deal with “just”–if you know what I mean–pain of RA (or whatever the doctors do and don’t want to label it as, based upon personal experience) I am feeling more strong, and more empowered, than ever before.

Some people have suggested that maybe I was tapering down too quickly. Maybe I was, maybe I wasn’t…I dunno. What I *do* know is that three months ago, when my dose was at its all-time high (not only in amount, but also length of use–well past the half year mark), I wanted *completely out* of the entire Prednisone thing. It had far surpassed the original goal of trying to take away (mask?) some of the pain, and of allowing me to try to hold on to some semblance of mobility. It was not only, at a certain point, having the complete opposite effect…it was also heightening the effects of my downward emotional spiral (otherwise known as “depression”).

Because when every second felt like I had just drank a six-pack of Red Bull, when I would lay facing the ceiling until the sun came out, night after night, wondering how I was still going, even though I hadn’t slept in days, I knew that things were not right.

I wasn’t just losing control. I had already lost control.

And while I thought that previous tapers that I have gone through were challenging, I soon realized that they absolutely paled in comparison with what I was going through now. As I sat there, knowing that it would take many months to taper off the Prednisone, I told myself that even though I couldn’t (immediately) stop the free-fall that I was in, I could at least start to soften up my “landing” as best I could.

I knew a crash was imminent, and it was frightening as hell.

I also knew that once I reached “rock bottom,” that all I could do is bounce back up.

And I am bouncing. I am bouncing not in a way that is removed from reality, nor overly optimistic. I am bouncing in a way that is allowing me to get even closer to the pain, to accept it even more into my life. This chronic pain continues to teach me that I need to accommodate and respect the pain, when necessary…and also that I need to work right through the pain, when necessary. (The fun part of continuing down this journey: trying to figure out when it’s all about doing something, and trying to figure out when it’s all about *not* doing something.)

My shine is back, as I return to walking distance that I haven’t walked in more than a decade. This has not only been obvious over the past couple of weeks to those who are a part of my personal life, but it has also started becoming increasingly obvious to those who follow the adventures of RA Guy, both here on my blog and on my Facebook page.

Lots of people want to know, what new treatments am I on? What new medicines have I started?

I came to New York City earlier this year, looking for answers…and while, over the past few months, I didn’t find the answers that I was expecting, I did find the answers that I need.

I found out that exercise–and it’s very gradual incorporation back into my life–can have a more profound effect than I could have ever imagined, or even hoped for. (I also learned that Manhattan sidewalks, as intimidating as the can be to a person like me who walks with crutches, do provide quite the workout.)

I found out that certain foods definitely trigger flares for me. I didn’t need any fancy food allergy tests; all I needed was to remove as much as possible and then slowly re-introduce the most basic list of anti-inflammatory food items, in order to find out what was and wasn’t helping my body. (I also found out that food here in the U.S.–even fresh, unprocessed food–is not nearly as healthy as the food that I am used to eating back home in South America.)

I found out that meditation is not something that I need to “make time for.” It’s something I need to DO. (And that Pema Chodron’s books are excellent.)

I found out that stepping away from the computer, and going outside for some fresh air, can be very habit forming. (I simultaneously learned that I really don’t need to check email, Facebook, and so on all the time. Once or twice a day is plenty enough…and on some days, not even that!)

I found out how futile it is to resist change. Life is all about change, and to tap into this is to tap into something powerful. (And that just like pain, change is something that should be embraced, and not feared.)

A couple of weeks from now, I’ll be flying back to South America, from the heart of summer down to the middle of winter. I’ll be flying back to my husband, who helped me every day of this journey, whether it was over the phone, through Skype, and with text messages. I will be flying back to my dogs, whose ears I could see perking up when I spoke to them on video calls. I will be flying back to my rheumatologist, who makes house visits!, and to my physical therapist, who knows my body, and its corresponding aches and pains, almost as well as I do.

I won’t have any new drug treatment options in tow, but I will have all the answers that I was looking for.

Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!