This is the third in a series of three articles written by Ryan Rankin about his 10-day solo hike through the Sierra Mountains. To read part one and part two, click here.  

Looking Back on the Hike

While I was able to enjoy a few days of being mentally clear and feeling like I didn’t have many cares in the world, I was quickly snapped back to reality on the last few miles of the trek. I turned on my phone to take a few pictures when unexpectedly email and text message notifications to begin popping up since I was finally able to get reception. I took a moment to pause and genuinely thought about turning around and hiking back to where I started. Metaphors aside, I needed to push forward and finish.

It’s now been two months since I completed the hike. I have yet to find a new activity I really feel passionate pursuing, but I’m not going to rush anything.

I don’t think I’ve fully processed everything yet either. From the great people I met to the scenery to the pain and soreness, there were a lot of emotions packed into those eight days. I’ve looked through the pictures about a dozen times and I still find something new to remember.

upper-hamilton-lake

Upper Hamilton Lake

A Lesson that Took Over 70 Miles to Learn

It was inspirational meeting other hikers. While I was battling my osteoarthritis, other people had their reasons for hiking: the loss of a loved one, a father and son rekindling a long lost relationship, people just wanting to escape society for a few days. Hearing why they wanted to make the journey was very inspiring. We all had our own reason for taking the hike and our own vision of what would make it a success. But while we were on the same trail, we were having unique journeys and being inspired from other hikers’ motivation was a wonderful feeling.

The above paragraph didn’t dawn on me until I wrote this article. While it was hard for some friends and family to understand why I wanted to do the hike, once I got on the trail and met people that I could share similar experiences with, even though we were all brought there for different reasons, there was an added sense of motivation and comfort.

It ended up being a wonderful support system. Sure, not everyone was suffering osteoarthritis, but the fellow hikers understood the physical challenges it took just to walk the trail, so hearing the positive reinforcement and seeing smiles added an extra bit of motivation. That’s what makes up a dependable support system as well. Dealing with OA, or any other chronic pain, in the real world is frustrating. You can talk with friends and family, but until you’ve met with and talked to someone who’s walked the same trail, that’s when it’s really motivating and comforting to share your experiences.

guitar-lake

Me at Guitar Lake

What I’m looking for in new activities

Now that I’ve gotten the hike out of my system, it’s time to get down to finding a new activity. Since the train ride back to San Francisco after the hike I’ve been running through all sorts of options; snowshoeing, swimming, cycling, tying flies for fly fishing, whitewater kayaking and canoeing to name a few.

Thankfully I’m in no hurry to find something new so I can take my time and find a good fit. To help me begin this journey, I’ve made a shortlist of criteria I’ll use to help find a new activity:

  • Low impact, yet still physical: I still want to keep moving regardless of what happens to my ankle. I know my options are limited, but there are a few good options I might be able to pursue if the activities interest me enough.
  • Mentally challenging: I really enjoy learning new skills and now is a great opportunity to challenge myself physically and mentally.
  • Individual or Group: There’s a social component to backpacking that I enjoy. Even though I took the hike on my own, it was great to meet up with people and talk about how their hike was going. In my next activity, having a similar social component would be great.
  • Outside: I just can’t be stuck inside all day. Having to sit inside on the days with my osteoarthritis is acting up is more than enough, so I would like to make up for that by getting outside as much as possible.
  • Longevity: I want to be able to do whatever it is I choose next for a long time and be able to do it no matter how bad my ankle gets.

What’s down the trail, looking ahead

Preparing for and taking the hike provided me with the opportunity to learn a lot about how to live with chronic osteoarthritis, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions. Two months after the hike my ankle feels better than I thought. So much so that I even started researching a new hike for 2017, but then quickly realized how bad of an idea that would be. I still have a hard time coming to grips with the fact that that was last my hike. But this is all part of the process towards acceptance and figuring out what’s next.

shadow

My shadow looking back on the trail at sunrise

After all, learning to live with and properly manage osteoarthritis is a marathon, not a sprint.

To learn more about Ryan, visit his personal blog