Trekking The Bolivian Inca Trail: Day 3

Trek 3-0

Day three was all about walking along the floor of the cloud covered jungle.

“The trek continues down the Rio Coscapa valley where forests are more developed. The vegetation will be showing more vegetation with lovely larger canopies adorned by bromeliads, mosses and orchids. Bird life is more abundant. After another 6-7 hour walk you will finally reach Chairu at 4,592 ft. (1,400 m). Transfer by car to Coroico. Trip back to La Paz.”

Trek 3-1This photo was taken hours after our 5:00 a.m. wake-up call. We departed from camp in the rain and in pitch blackness, and walked for more than an hour along a narrow path right on the edge of a very precipitous fall–definitely not a place for a slip up!

Trek 3-2A slightly-blurry photo of me (it was still quite dark!) standing in front of one of the many waterfalls that we would pass on the third day of the trek.

Trek 3-3The final suspension bridge of our three-day mountain to jungle trek. Over the course of the three days we descended more than 4,000 meters.

Trek 3-4The sun was starting to come out, but way down here below all the clouds it was hard to tell the time of day.

Trek 3-5The final uphill section of the entire journey!

Trek 3-6Walking in the clouds…

Trek 3-7Ferns, ferns, ferns…

Trek 3-8…and even more ferns!

Trek 3-9The hiking trail quickly disappears into the heavy vegetation. I couldn’t even count the times my head/face got slapped with vines or (wet!) tree branches.

Trek 3-10Nearing mid-day, and parts of the trail continued to get even darker!!!

Trek 3-11I was told that there is normally quite the view behind these plants.

Trek 3-12Humid but cool.

Trek 3-13Finally, towards the end of our trek, the clouds started to dissipate.

Trek 3-14All of the surrounding hills were once again visible…

Trek 3-15…as well as our final destination: a little sleepy jungle town on the crest of a hill. (Center of photo.)

Trek 3-16Celebrating victory as I crossed the “finish line!”

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 trekforhope.causevox.com.

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

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Trekking The Bolivian Inca Trail: Day 2

Trek 2-0
Day two was all about endless tree and plant covered hills!

“Pass through one of the few untouched cloud forest left in Bolivia, protected by the Cotapata National Park. The trail descends through narrow valleys showing more trees, orchids, bromeliads and larger cloud forest trees. Colorful birds and butterflies could be seen. This habitat is home of the Spectacled Bear, rarely seen by visitors. Lunch on the way. After approximately another seven-hour descent, you will reach the San Francisco Camp at 8,528 ft. (2,600 m).”
Trek 2-17:00 a.m. start to the second day of trekking. My shoulders were doing well, but my hips, knees, and calf muscles were still in absolute agony from the steep mountain descent of the previous day.

Trek 2-2My sister-in-law (who became a grandmother the day before we took off on our journey!) crosses one of the many rustic bridges that have been built across innumerable streams.

Trek 2-3The sun starts to peek out over the hills. Due to the lower elevation and tropical vegetation, day two was on average much warmer than day one.

Trek 2-4We walked along wet, muddy stones for hours on end. When the path started sloping down, things got even more complicated. Slowly buy surely, I eventually made my way though this difficult section of the trek.

Trek 2-5It was absolutely fascinating to see all of the green plants along the trail!

Trek 2-6It was right around here where I started to feel like Indiana Jones. (Luckily, there was no giant boulder rolling down the path.)

Trek 2-7Taking a break in front of a small waterfall along the river, way down in the valley.

Trek 2-8I have never seen so many ferns in my life…there seemed to be millions of them, of all shapes and sizes.

Trek 2-9Midway through day two, we stopped at this thatch covered rest area for lunch. We we now officially at the (approximate) midpoint of the entire three-day trek!

Trek 2-10Me crossing one of the numerous suspension cable bridges. By this point I had started to learn the pattern: after coming down a high hillside in order to cross the river on a bridge, we now had to climb back up another high hillside to continue on our journey.

Trek 2-11For hours on end, we had a panoramic view of tree-covered hills for as far as the eye could see. It was quite a sight!

Trek 2-12At a certain point I realized that many of the “bushes” right to the left of the path were actually the tops of trees from way below!!! This was definitely one place where I didn’t want to fall or take a wrong step.

Trek 2-13Entrance to an abandoned mine.

Trek 2-14Yet again, we had to come down another hill, walk across a suspension bridge, and climb back up another hill.

Trek 2-15Success! Our day two campsite, with our tent nestled under a straw roof. After dinner it was straight to bed–we had a 5:00 a.m. wake up call the next morning, and would be trekking down into the floor of the jungle. (We also had no clue that a rain storm would roll in during the middle of the night!)

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 trekforhope.causevox.com.

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

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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 trekforhope.causevox.com.

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 http://trekforhope.causevox.com/.

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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!

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