by Rebecca Zook
Vacations mean different things to different people. Some crave pure relaxation, some excitement. I think my husband, Ed, and I were looking for a combination, and over the course of a vacation week, we also learned a bit more about ourselves.
We just got back from the mountains of North Carolina. It was actually a delayed honeymoon (married in December). I rented a cabin in the woods with a full kitchen since eating out is almost impossible for me due to food allergies, and, overall, staying in a home is much more sanitary than a hotel room when you have a primary immune deficiency. Plus, we are both introverts, and this certainly catered to a need for exclusion.
My husband loves to hike and has many stories of previous adventures. I had stressed to him from the beginning of our relationship that due to lung damage from common variable immune deficiency and other issues caused by my various autoimmune diseases, I was limited in what I could do. In our day-to-day lives back in relatively flat Texas, I get physically tired at times, but the diseases don't really slow me down that much. In the mountains, hiking uphill was another story completely. I was shocked at the difficulty I was having - shocked at my inability to catch my breath and at times having to stop every few steps. Ten years ago, I could have sprinted through the forest like a deer and not thought twice about the thinner air or steepness of the trail. I didn't realize the full extent of the damage done. I was emotionally crushed, but I tried to fight back the feelings.
Ed had his own issues to deal with. Our plans were thwarted at every turn. We had a rainy Monday, activities were closed for the off-season and a landslide had taken out the only road that ran completely through the national park. In addition, we had the scary, single-lane curvy road with sheer drops that we were told was open and instead ended in a locked gate (one road closure was blamed on "sequestration"). We are still laughing about that last one. Old friends have accused Ed of carefully planning every second when it comes to activities and that one little hitch would throw him into chaos, and he admits to reacting badly to sudden changes. Our entire trip was last-minute changes.
We had a long list of waterfalls in the surrounding area that we wanted to see. Ed was encouraging as I trudged up the steep trails and steps, but his words made me feel like a 5-year-old: "You can do it!" and "We can go as slow as you need." What I shouldn't need is for anyone to have to prod me along. I started to get annoyed, even though I knew he was only trying to help. At one point, Ed looked over at me and said, "You don't look tired. You look sad." I told him what I was feeling. I was sad. Sad for everything I'd lost. Discouraged. Angry. I wanted to just sit down in the middle of the trail and cry. My pride was the only thing preventing it, barely.
But you know what? As torturous as it was at times, I never turned back. I never gave up. I reached the top of every waterfall we hiked to. I saw amazing beauty - half frozen streams, an owl, deer and wild turkeys. We took more than 2,000 photos in the course of a week, and some will end up as paintings. It didn't matter that it took me 10 times longer than it should have. I didn't give up, and I'm very proud of that. Ed, in turn, learned that he is more adaptable than he thought. The last-minute changes led us on adventures we would have otherwise missed, and he had no problem making adjustments on the fly. Overall, it was probably less stressful not having a firm plan. We did what we wanted when we wanted and didn't need to keep constant track of the time.
We toned it down on our last full day there. I was only up for two small waterfall hikes, but I don't regret any of the pain and frustration. It's just made me more determined to increase my activity level. Road blocks, whether figurative or literal, don't have to be dead ends. We were both able to create detours and keep moving around them.
What have been the road blocks and detours in your journey?