I have always loved the wilderness. I have spent most of my life in the Pacific Northwest and summers meant camping with my family, inner-tubing on the rivers and hiking in the mountains. As I grew older, hiking remained one of the few physical activities that I continued to enjoy just as much as when I was a child. That sense of adventure, the physical challenge, conquering tough terrain and in the end, reaching your destination! I often choose trails that bring me to waterfalls, lakes, or beautiful vistas. I need some sort of pay-off for all that hard work!
When I was first diagnosed with MS I could not get around my house without holding on to walls. I mourned the loss of my hiking days. Then I got better. The balance and walking issues (caused by a brain stem lesion) slowly subsided, until I was almost, but not quite, like before. Most lingering symptoms were, and still are, invisible to others.
I have continued to go on hikes and feel elated when I get to the top, even if the top is only 2 miles, or 1 mile, away. It makes me happy, gives me courage and hope, even if my legs spasm for the rest of the day. It invigorates my spirit, even if it tires out my body.
In addition to shorter trails, I have made several other changes and accommodations to my hikes. That’s the deal with MS. It will keep changing and you have to change with the times or be left behind! I purchased a cooling vest with gel packs that slowly thaw over 2-4 hours, maintaining an even temperature to keep my core cool. It weighs about 12 pounds though. This means I now need a hiking partner to carry my pack, because 12 pounds is enough for me.
I know- a backpack for a 2-mile hike? I have to bring water, I dehydrate faster because I overheat faster and sweat like crazy. I have to carry my inhaler and meds for nerve pain or muscle spasms. I have to carry a snack, in case I get stuck a mile out and need to sit and rest for awhile.
Identification, cell-phone, pocketknife, Kleenex, maybe some pepper spray. Just the essentials. Don’t forget the hiking poles. Because if I do overheat there’s the risk of getting wobbly, a sudden spasm or leg buckle and I don’t want to topple over. When I am feeling steady I can collapse the poles and put them in the backpack. And if I am out there long enough for the cooling vest to thaw, then I can put that in the backpack. Or,as my brilliant oldest son discovered, put the gel packs in a cold river and re-freeze them!
I have to admit, I have landed on my butt a couple of times due to a sudden foot spasm or drop foot. I might have to include a padded undergarment to my list of hiking accommodations. Late this spring I began to have trouble with my right leg and foot in a whole new way. I wanted it to be an injury, so I went to physical therapy. When things got worse and the nerve pain became unbearable I went in for my first ever Solumedrol treatment.
I was angry and did not want to lose my ability to go hiking. For now my leg is doing better, but if that changes, I will just accommodate some more.
There are beautiful paved trails if I need a scooter. There are fantastic cameras with lenses that make things miles away look like they are right in front of you! There are guided tours, where I can learn about all the tiny details around me that I might have overlooked. Yes, I may be angry for awhile, but with a little creativity I will continue to do what I love.
Have you been able to keep doing what you love? How have you made accomodations for your MS that let you stay on a happy and adventurous trail?
If you’d like to purchase a cooling vest of you’re own, click here for the MSreliefmarketplace.com