The Story Of THE DISABLED HIKER
I believe I fell in love with the wilderness on the first day I set foot into the woods as a boy. So when asked what got me into hiking or what I love about backpacking, it can be a lot like asking a person what they love about breathing or being alive. It's not something that is easy to put into words.
After suffering a series of spontaneous pneumothorax due to Blebs disease, the surgeries needed to repair my lung left me with severe nerve damage throughout my sternum and ribs. Although the doctors and pain management specialists I saw could offer no explanation for the intense and growing pain I was experiencing, they began trying everything in the medical arsenal to treat it. I've had Tens units, peripheral nerve blocks, spinal nerve block, on three separate occasions I was told by pain management that I'd exhausted all their options and there was no other medications to try. And despite all this... the pain persisted and even continued to grow.
Over the years that followed, piece by piece my life would be disassembled before my very eyes.
Slowly at first... and then later in leaps and bounds.
As a family man it was hard to see the look on their faces seeing me in such pain. And knowing their feelings of frustration and helplessness only led me to hide and deny my pain even more in an effort to protect them from its effects beyond my own body. But as you can imagine... those effects are also cumulative.
Even though I was still working at the time I started backpacking more and more, if for nothing else to escape and be alone with my darkness. But something unusual and unexpected happened whenever I went out. That is, that I actually felt better. In fact, I never even bothered looking for that darkness. My depression didn't disappear but it became something I could put aside even as the pain raged on.
Working on setting up camp... gathering fire wood... setting about the needs of the camp and even the hike itself... all gave me a sense of priorities that pain and depression actually held a pretty low position on. Not that either was gone... and not by a long shot. But by using the distraction and priorities all around me I was able to find a place in my head where I could finally think.
And I felt driven to do it as often as I could.
As well, being out there for days at a time, I began to notice the calming and therapeutic effects the Earth herself seemed to have on me. And I suppose looking back on it now, it was no small irony that It was also around this time that I took part in my first Inipi or Sweat Lodge Ceremony and noticed those same effects.
Soon after making these discoveries, I purchased and began training my first hiking dog, Shiyo, who added yet another aspect to getting me out in the woods again. Siyo learned in just a few seasons how we were a team and we would continually watch over each other. And eventually it would be Siyo who would even save me from several dangerous mishaps on the trail. Up until Siyo I was mostly hiking with other people who were healthier than i was. And as my pain worsened over time more often than not i felt I was holding them back.
There's an easy way to tell when this happens to you... it's that constant prodding you get that says...
"Can't you GO Any FASTER?"
I started GOING solo instead.
After Shiyo passed, I began training my present canine friend
TaSunka Wotagla as not only a hiking dog, but also as a service dog as well. Especially as my condition continued to deteriorate.
But I have no intention of stopping any time soon.
Since those first episodes we've added so much... from adaptive friendly equipment reviews to DIY projects to adaptive hiking advice... and even touching on survival and bush-craft a bit.
TaSunka has been with me for 3 episodes now... and he's turned into a great hiking dog, service dog and a really trusted companion.
And together we have miles and miles to go.
With the exception of one other adaptive backpacker, Siyo and I spent a lot of time together hiking the northern third of the PA Appalachian Trail.
After being laid-off and with a worsening chronic health condition, I found it impossible to get work and even more so after my family asked I stop driving due to intense dizzy spells I'd developed. Finally, I was forced to go on disability to survive.
Because my progressive medical condition put me in a category ineligible for college funding, my wife suggested I write a book about all the modifications I'd made to my hiking equipment as well as the many inventions I'd created over the years. But although I liked writing, it was never one of my stronger art forms.
So after about a year of kicking around a few ideas, I decided on doing a video instead. I think it was 2009 when Siyo and I set out with a little hand camcorder to record episode 1 of The Disabled Hiker. But after I returned it sat around on my computer for almost 1 year before I did anything with it.
Once I edited it and put it up on YouTube I was surprised at the encouragement I got to do another... and then another. I was shocked that so many people living with challenges seemed to want to try it who had never considered backpacking or camping before. So I committed myself to doing one episode a year at that point. That is, until Siyo took the journey (i.e. - passed away). It was hard for me. But the survivor in me said what it always does after crisis or great loss... 'so what next?'
As I've always felt this inner connectivity between all things in nature... so too did I see the roll that art played in expressing and communicating this connection to others. Even in all its many and varied forms art connects us in such subtle ways that often we are unaware of its impact until after our encounter with it... regardless of what ever art form "it" happens to be.
Among those art forms I found the same need to explore as I found in the woods among the trees and wild places there.
There I found no right or wrong... no conforming to style or expectation... but instead works of pure unfettered and instinctual art created from the heart and soul which all of us possess, yet few of us tap into today.
And so began my lifetime of art expression. Writing music and playing guitar, drawing, painting and charcoal, leather-craft, tool making, woodcarving, Slate etching, stone carving, video and film making, writing... I even had a magic act for a while. Yup... I got pretty good with sleight of hand tricks too.
So... art was and still is as big a part of me as the wilderness is.
Before The Disabled Hiker
IN PAIN EXPEDITIONS
As a way of dealing with pain,
often I will play little mind games that some say resemble meditation. Such as imagining my pain as a turbulent ocean and by calming the waves with my mind I can somewhat diminish my pain. Or one that takes a bit more practice is by imagining pain as a wall that is impregnable, yet by imagining I can become transparent I can now pass through it leaving my pain trapped on the other side.
But beyond these therapeutic imaginings... are the comic ramblings of the mind. That which is purely cerebral ranting but are based in comedy and laughter... one of nature's greatest gifts to mankind.
In Pain Expeditions was exactly this. A way of relieving stress and anxiety by addressing those fears with a comedic yet often over the top response demonstrated in the older video named "Messin With My Migraine"
Originally when conceived in my mind, these imaginings were much like the cartoons of old. You know... the ones they don't play for the kids anymore?
So I urge viewer discretion for the young ones when watching the following videos
... and enjoy.
IN PAIN EXPEDITIONS with Pain InDebutt Rabbit
Messin With MY Migraine
Featuring: ~ Pain InDebutt Rabbit
~ Vlad Hasghdugiogathwapltifumph
~ Sara & Daisy Dog
Directors: Terry Craig & Shawn Fernsler
Featuring: ~ Pain InDebutt Rabbit
~ TaSunka Wotagla
~ The Wobbly Man
Directors: TaSunka Wotagla
NOTICE THAT THIS IS COMEDY:
The video/videos featured in the section are meant for satirical purposes only and only as a means for comic relief.
Though sometimes depicting cartoon like violence, these video depictions and simulations are fictitious and intended to be metaphorical in nature as well as in the ways portrayed in the videos of dealing with one's own pain and anger.
They are NOT meant as a demonstration of actually dealing with one's own pain, medical condition nor as a way of expressing anger.
The Disabled Hiker does not condone violence in any way and we wish to inform and assure our viewers that no animal or humans were harmed in any way during the filming of these videos.
Umm, okay... stuffed rabbits didn't do so well.
And yes, this means my wife has often found me in the toy aisle searching frantically for replacement - stunt-rabbits - let's call them.
As is portrayed in the videos... the rabbit featured here... (i.e.: Pain InDebutt Rabbit) is meant as a physical apparition or manifestation of "Pain" itself and not as a depiction of anyone living or dead or in the toy aisle.
Nor is the character of Vlad Hasghdugiogathwapltifumph
who we dreamed up as a faceless "anyone" who might be in pain and being driven a bit mad by it IS also not meant as a a depiction of anyone living or dead... or in the toy aisle.
As for the Wobbly Man... he's living I think.
HEY That's ME!
Conceived of as part of a previous project (In Pain Expeditions) Pain Rabbit, as we called him then, is now being adapted for use by TDH as a comic relief entity here at TDH and is meant as a way of making us laugh at a time when laughing... well, can be the last thing on our minds.
Yet often just the medicine we need.
Love, light & laughter to you all.