Seeking normalcy after Mt. Haig

In November I fell off Mt. Haig and underwent back and neck surgeries. I’ve started work again, on reduced hours, and am back in the mountains.

After trauma, you get a grace period, a pause from life wherein people treat you with extra care. People bring you food and gifts, and from that care you cannot but feel intense gratitude. Even so it’s things like bathing, trimming toenails, picking up stuff dropped, and other mundane daily tasks that you really need help with. The unglamorous stuff and the bodily stuff; the sort of things you don’t want to impose on others.

“Independence is over-rated at times like these,” said A, carefully. Still, I don’t like being precious; I feel it’s a bit of a burden.

Then once you regain some mobility and that pesky neck brace is removed along with outward signs of disability, you pretend things are normal, treat your body as such before it’s truly ready, and do such a great job at portraying normalcy that you’re no longer The Girl Who Defied Death. Instead, you’re The Girl Who Leaves Work Early and goes home to lie down while everyone else is busy contributing something important to society. The feeling of care disappears. The micro-attention you previously pushed away leaves of its own accord; in its wake it leaves, surprisingly, loneliness.

As Bert set the alarm for 6am he said, attempting to be helpful:

  • You’re doing so well. We need to get you back to a regular schedule. Things will be back to normal in no time.

And I thought angrily to myself:

  • Oh? You know that for sure? And what’s normal? And why the hell should I be jarred out of recuperation rest to get up at 6am because it’s a “normal” thing to do?

It leaves in its wake frustration, constantly trying to explain what’s going on in head and heart, to stop rushing me or deciding what’s best for me. It leaves in its wake anger at unsolicited advice and inadvertent comparisons. It leaves in its wake sensitivity from too much time to think and being forced to listen to incessant mountain chatter from the sidelines, encouraging smile on my face, How wonderful you had a great day out there! Hope to join you soon!

My moodiness is hard on my family and on Bert, I know. The anger comes on so quickly, and tears flow in the blink of an eye.

image
Kananaskis Village trails, my first walk by myself in the mountains post-surgery

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Darcy was on Mt Haig with me. After the accident he’d taken some time off work for emotional processing and he hadn’t done much in the mountains since. One Saturday, about 8 weeks after my surgeries, we decided to get out again to do something low key. Neither of us said anything about the immense pressure to be “normal again”. On a brilliant day we drove Minnewanka Loop, like tourists, stopping at Cascade Ponds to see Cascade Mountain lit up in sun against the snow, watched the elk herd that I’ve seen gazillions of times but of which we took photos anyway, stopped the vehicle at that Mount Rundle lookout over Two Jack Lake, and walked the wind-blown crunchy snow of Lake Minnewanka, small and exposed to the elements yet surrounded by sentinel peaks. It was perfect.

The next weekend Bert and a couple good friends and I hiked Sulphur Mountain as my first “normal again” ascent, celebrating reaching the top of the gondola, 5km and 700m of elevation gain later, with a beer. This we followed with a soak at the Banff Hot Springs, burgers at the terribly overpriced pub on main, and beavertail pastry and Nutella gelato treats. The winter sky clouded over bringing with it a grey chill and icy flecks, still, it was perfect.

The weekend after, it was Prairie Mountain in -23C during a snowfall warning, 6km and 1000m of gain, with Brandon (who was also on Mt. Haig with me) and Darcy. How it happened was that I basically self-invited myself to Brandon’s pre-Superbowl exercise session. Darcy carried my backpack, and we went slow and steady all the while chatting as we rose through treeline, the frost gathering and feathering our eyelashes. How is it that perfection manifests itself in fresh powder and windy ridges?

Brandon groaned,

  • I hate winter.

And I replied,

  • Strong words for a mountaineer, Brandon!

Weekend warrior-ing in our Canadian Rockies; that’s good enough. I am good enough. I’m finally matching Google Maps’ projected commuter walking pace, which I’ll call an accomplishment considering I was barely managing 3kph on the flat not so long ago.

Being in the mountains… It’s indescribable how healing it is, seeing these vistas, spilling sweat to reach them, the camaraderie. I’m not sure what’s next, but it’ll surely hold more of this rock and snow and ice. That’s my normal.

Kindness is like snow; it beautifies everything it covers. -Khalil Gibran

 

 

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