A One Year Post-Broken Neck Reflection of Why I Started Hiking and Celebration Hike of Mt. Waumbek
On September 15, 2017 I was in a freak accident that fractured my C7 transverse process. In more common terms, on this day exactly one year ago I broke my neck. It was a combination of events involving my unbelievable clumsiness, a trampoline park, and being hit at hockey game that led to my diagnosis, but I was lucky seeing as it could have been much worse. Ultimately, recovery has been a journey to say the least but I've learned a lot about myself in the process.
The first thing I did after my orthopedic surgeon cleared me to return to light activity four weeks after my diagnosed injury was take my dog for a hike. I know a month sounds like a short recovery time for a broken neck, but I didn't ask any questions because I was so glad to be able to take the C-collar off. Up until then I had not been able to drive, work, or even walk my dog and any physical activity was completely out of the question. Being a pretty active person, this felt like a terrible punishment that I resented wholeheartedly. I felt imprisoned in my house, unable to do anything but go to school and sit around. The worst part was that I had just adopted my dog, Lucy, a few months before, and her being so overwhelmed with new experiences made it hard for me to rely on others to help me take care of her. I was lucky to have the support of friends and family during this time to help me with virtually everything. After all of this, hiking felt like the best thing I could do to celebrate taking off the cervical collar.
I grew up hiking with my dad and uncle as a kid, but it had been years since I stepped on a trail. I had been more into running at the time, training for the BAA Half Marathon at the time when the accident happened. My doctor said no running for another month, so I decided to take Lucy to Blue Hills Reservation in Milton, MA for a light hike. It was a gorgeous October day outside with the leaves changing. As I walked with Lucy exploring the trails, I realized how calm and relaxed I felt, a feeling that had eluded me long before my injury. I didn't know it at the time, but this short hike would eventually lead to long backpacking trips and completing the most difficult one-day traverse on the east coast.
As it got colder and I was cleared to go back to all of my previous activities, I put hiking on the backburner for a few months. I focused on getting back to where I was with my half marathon training, but to my dismay it was never the same. I couldn't run more that four or five miles without shooting pain from my neck down to my right pointer finger. I kept working at the half marathon goal for a few months and still aspire to reach it, but after a while I came to terms to the fact that it just wasn't going to happen at the time. Maybe it will in the future, but I needed a different outdoor activity that wasn't as harsh as the pounding on the asphalt.
By then it was winter, and being new at hiking as an adult I didn't want to jump in too deep at the beginning. I started with a quick hike to Lonesome Lake with my dog which went pretty well. Looking across the lake to Franconia Ridge, I thought about how cool it would be to look out at the landscape from all the way up there.
Fast forward to June 16th when I started my 48 with Zealand Mountain. I hadn't done any hiking since Lonesome Lake in February. This was an unexpectedly long hike with a wooded summit, but the views from Zeacliff were amazing and spending time with Lucy in the mountains was so much fun! It was such a nice departure from city life and made me realize how much I missed the mountains. A friend asked me a few days later to do the Pemi Loop, and when she said it would check a bunch of 4,000 footers off my list I agreed. At the time I didn't know what I was getting myself into, but it ended up being an amazing experience that really opened me up to the world of hiking.
Today I hiked Mt. Waumbek with Lucy and one of my friends for #38 on my list and a celebration of being one year post-injury. It seemed appropriate to celebrate with a hike similarly to how I did when I was cleared by my doctor last October. In the past year I've done things that I never could have imagined and achieved much more than I thought possible after I broke my neck. Some of the hikes I'm most proud of are completing a one-day Presidential Traverse, a three-day super extended Pemi Loop, and a solo two-day Owl's Head-Bond loop. I've also become a much more independent person and I've learned a lot about myself in the process.
A year ago today I had a seemingly life-altering injury that has changed my life in so many ways and will continue to do so probably for the rest of my life. It has helped me learn that I can overcome anything that I put my mind to, and I'm capable of much more than I ever imagined. Although there are some things I can no longer do and may never be able to do again, I've discovered a whole new realm of opportunities. I've always been a pretty optimistic person and even though at the beginning it was hard to see the positives, I look back on my experience as a turning point for the better. So it may seem weird but breaking my neck initiated and fostered my love of hiking that grows with every mountain!
#38 Mt. Waumbek (4,006 ft) via. Starr King Tr [7.2 mi, 2500 ft, 4:20]