What does remission look like?

Almost as quietly as Sjӧgren’s Syndrome caused my immune system to creep up, nearly turning my life upside down, I slipped into remission. More importantly – I’ve stayed there for one year. I didn’t even realize when, exactly, I went into remission until last month when Dr. B said, “It’s been a year!” (Cue balloon drop.)

So what does that mean? It means that if my immune system stays beat down for another 12 months, I get to start a painstakingly slow drug taper. Maybe, in another five years or so, if all goes well, I can be medicine free! In the meantime, it means I live.

The last couple of years have felt like war. I was diagnosed in 2014, and I was at rock bottom. In 2015, I was out to prove that my life wasn’t over and I pushed and scraped and fought for every breath for every step I took. Last year, I settled in a bit. When my body stopped trying to kill me, I stopped trying to kill it. We learned to work together again. It wasn’t an easy lesson. I’m stubborn, after all. But after a particularly humid hike, in which I ran out of oxygen, literally brought me to my knees, I realized the only way forward was to accept the things I cannot change.

So, you’ll notice that there aren’t as many posts about hiking anymore. That’s not just because I took a sabbatical over the fall and winter. It is because when it’s hot and humid or too cold, I don’t go – or I just go a short distance. I adopted other, lower impact, outdoor activities. No joke, I garden. It started off with just some flowers on my back patio last year. No matter how hot or humid it was, I could always take care of my little container garden and enjoy bursts of color all around me.  This year, I might have gotten carried away.

Keep in mind, I rent. It’s a relatively private townhouse, but I can’t exactly go tear up the grass or anything. Meticulously arranged between my shared front porch and private back patio, I’m growing strawberries, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, corn (heck, yes! I found corn you can grow in a pot!), and six or seven different varieties of flowers.

What? I don’t believe in doing anything in half measures. It’s going to be beautiful – and tasty.

More importantly, my life is kicking back into gear again. I’ve held myself in limbo for the last couple of years, putting career and educational aspirations on hold while I figured out what I am still capable of. I’m moving past letting an autoimmune disorder (and subsequent lung disease) define everything I do. This is what remission looks like.

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Imma Back!

I may have recently spent a four hour car ride playing Mario Run, and am now beginning to talk like a fictional Italian plumber. Also, I suck at video games. I keep playing but I never get any better! Kind of like blogging … oh, wait. I don’t keep blogging. I just pop in a couple of times a year lately and say I’m going to blog regularly and never actually do. The evidence would suggest I also suck at blogging.

It isn’t that I haven’t had anything to talk about, exactly. My adventures have been just few and far between. Hiking has turned into something I squeeze in here and there at a park near my house so my hound dog can get out and smell something other than our backyard. Marcel Proust said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Well, Proust, I took new eyes to my local park, but I ran out of pairs after about the tenth trip. Between last summer’s overwhelming heat and all the extra hours I’ve been working on weekends, I’ve gone back to a pretty boring routine.

But guess what? Summer is coming. (Take that, Starks.) I’m sweeping away the cobwebs and getting some adventures planned. Because, really, if I don’t start doing something again, my soul is going to wither and die. That’s rather dramatic, I know. But I have a feeling if you’re reading this blog, you know exactly the feeling I’m talking about. Plus, I need something to distract me from graduate school applications. Otherwise, I’ll keep imagining the review board members reading my essay, laughing and then passing it around to other departments so they can laugh, too.

When I planned to start blogging again in the fall, I had about 10 posts outlined, several of them for trips that have still yet to be taken. I plotted routes to Lake Erie, Lake Michigan and a half-dozen other parks and historically interesting spots around Ohio and Indiana. Then I stopped to think for a minute; there are so many interesting things right in my own backyard. And then I thought, “Cassie, why didn’t you think of all these things over the last few months?”

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to polish the old stories that have been languishing in my blogging folder. I’ll work out the kinks on topics such as breathless-friendly hikes in Hocking Hills and how Mammoth Cave changed the way I see the Earth. And then, my friends, we’ll embark on something new.

Craving more adventure between posts? Check out Instagram @BreathlessAdventurer.

Hike 6: Look, Ma! No Oxygen!

I’ve really been sucking at this whole 52 Hike Challenge and blogging thing this year. I can’t seem to get myself in any kind of groove. Basically, if I had a three-day weekend every weekend and zero other family/life obligations, this would be a lot easier. But, my creditors don’t care if working overtime kills my soul, and so I’ve been losing a lot of Saturdays to The Man. Nevertheless, I’ll keep plugging away.

So, depending on the order in which I publish the posts I’ve been working on this sunny, chilly Sunday afternoon, and if you choose to read them all (I wouldn’t), you’ll know that no longer using oxygen is finally on the table. It’s taken about six months of me rarely using Gus other than when hiking, of course, to get Dr. M. to consider this. That being said, with my pessimistic doctor finally on board, I’ve started considering what that actually means.

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The second I saw this guy in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” I knew this is what I have to look like when I’m hiking – oxygen and crazy written all over my face. Except, instead of a huge gun, I have a rabid hound.

Might I hike without my “Mad Max” backpack of oxygen on my back? I decided to find out.

I went to a trail I knew well. Any ideas which one? Yes! Big Bone Lick SP. I suppose I could have walked around my neighborhood first, but, let’s face it. That’s boring. And my dog hates all our neighbors. So I decided to hit the easy-peasy paved trail at Big Bone.

It was great. Sometimes longer distances can start to wear my ol’ lungs down, but this wasn’t an issue, thanks to intermittent stops for my hound dog to inspect a clump of grass. Or a leaf. Or the wind. This path is basically a flat walk around a bog and sulfur spring (peeee-youuuuuuuuu), so I wasn’t expecting anything to be a huge issue.

So, since I was doing so well, why not push things a little? We headed off on a side trail I knew would take us up a slight incline to the bison pen, then dump us downhill before a final climb over a moderate hill back to the parking lot. I know how I usually handle this trail with oxygen, so I had a good baseline on which to compare results.

The inclines got a bit hairy at the end and that last incline got me down below 88 – my danger zone – but I was able to either slow down or stop to get my oxygen level back up again enough to finish the short hike without busting out Gus.

I call it a win.

Shawnee Lookout: Life-sized Timeline

Caption: The lovely featured image of the old log cabin at Shawnee Lookout was taken by Cathy on Flickr. Check out her photo here.

Today, I was supposed to knock out three hikes and make up for some lost time. But, with the temperature in the single digits this morning when I started to head out, I thought I’d rather just curl up with a pot of coffee and get some busy work done. (Hiking in sub-zero temps may be OK with The Real Hiking Viking, but not for Cassie. Though I am enjoying watching his hike progress.) I was going to hike Shawnee Lookout today, but instead I’ll fill you in on some of the history of my second-favorite local park. Then next weekend, we’ll see how my lungs fare on its trails.

Shawnee Lookout spans a beautiful swatch of land between the Great Miami and Ohio Rivers, less than a mile from where the two rivers converge. Of the park’s three trails, the westernmost trail ventures into the point between the rivers, stopping near the floodplain between the two waterways.

I love to hike here, but it’s not really one of those places you can hit up and hope to feel completely disconnected and lost in nature. To me, it’s more of a place where you get a great walk in the woods – and see a life-sized timeline spanning more than 10,000 years.

I’m a long time removed from my seventh-grade Ohio History class, so I’m more than a little rusty on my facts. But, what I culled from dear old Google tells me that there have been more developments in the last 20ish years, so I don’t feel so bad for forgetting most of it. A 2009 study done by University of Cincinnati archeological students showed that Shawnee Lookout could be “the largest continuously occupied hilltop settlement established by any Native American group,” according to an article published in “Science Daily.”  This statement is supported by artifacts found which date back 14,000 years and are attributed to the Hopewell Indians. Some of the more recent studies have shown that the most recent Native Americans to live in the area, the Shawnee the park is named after, are linked to the Hopewell Indians, thus creating this continuous Native American habitation for over 10,000 years.

Let’s take a walk through time.

Miami Fort Trail

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This photo of the valley was taken by Stephen on Flickr. You can view his photo here: https://flic.kr/p/zYKdbD

Even though artifacts have been found in the area that date back 14,000 years, according to the sign at the Miami Fort Trailhead, the oldest part of history you can easily see are the earthen mounds around the park. None are what you might call “plainly visible” because the trails are kept several feet away and trees and brush have been able to grow up around them. Still, several of these mounds are marked along the 1.4-mile Miami Fort Trail as it meanders its way around the mounds and gives hikers some pretty views of the rivers the park boundaries parallel.

Out of the three trails in the park, this one has always seemed to be the most difficult. It starts you out going up a pretty large hill, and then runs you up and over a couple of ridges once you’re at the top. Still, the cardio is worth it for the views you’ll get.

Between the name “fort” and the ridge top location between rivers, I always assumed this was a fortified position used for defense, but that may not actually be the case. Another blogger visited this park in 2010 and wrote that the Hopewell Indians used this hilltop as a ceremonial burial ground, not as a defense post. But a local newspaper published republished Tamara York’s chapter from “60 Hikes within 60 Miles” which said it was used as a strategic spot, so you can decide how you think it was used. I’m not sure if I prefer thinking I’m walking on a fort, or desecrating a burial ground. But since there haven’t been any reports of children in the area being sucked into televisions, I’m guessing we’re safe. (Also, if you’re into history, I’d encourage you to read all of the blogger’s post above. It has more interesting tidbits about the area surrounding the park.)

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This photo of the valley was taken by Stephen on Flickr. You can view his photo here: https://flic.kr/p/zYKdbD

Ancient history and modern day have an interesting juxtaposition along the Miami Fort Trail. On one hand, you are following a marked path along Indian mounds, and on the other you have some pretty fantastic views of the river below – and the power plant belching smoke on its bank. This is the first example of how you can’t quite get away from civilization on this hike.

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This photos was taken by Just Nora from Flickr. You can view her photo here: https://flic.kr/p/4RKMZD

Little Turtle Trail

After tens of thousands of years, the pioneer settlers showed up. On the only road through the park, just past the Little Turtle Trailhead, lies the Springhouse school and log cabin. Neither were originally located in the park, but both were built in the late 1700s and moved to the park in the 1970s to preserve them. Farewell, Shawnee. Hello, Europeans.

The Little Turtle Trailhead is across the street from the parking lot, just next to a playground. Measuring about two miles, this is the longest single trail in the park. Even though the trail takes you up and around a decent hill, the trail is still pretty easy/moderate for most people. Out of the three park trails, I’d rank it a second-most difficult, behind the Miami Fort Trail. The cool things about this trail are the scenic overlooks along the hillside where hikers can see the rivers below. They’re great places to stop, catch your breath and switch out oxygen tanks.

This trail has little else to remind you of the historical significance of the area. There aren’t any marked mounds along the trails and there aren’t many reminders of modern day unless you get a glimpse of something along the river.

But if you want to take a step forward in time, cross the street for the third and final trail in the park.

Blue Jacket Trail

I can’t walk this trail without Treebeard from “Lord of the Rings” coming into my head: “They come with fire, they come with axes…. Gnawing, biting, breaking, hacking, burning!”

Even though you don’t have the (necessary, I’ll admit) ugliness of a power plant wrecking your view of the river, this trail is bisected by a wide swatch of land that has been cleared for power lines to cut through.

You’ll head into this 1.3-mile trail like you’re on a jolly jaunt into the woods, and start on your merry way. And then, BOOM! You’re in a clearing you think is a cute little meadow or something until you look around and realize there are hulking towers on either side of you and electrical wires buzzing over your head. I mean, I’m sitting here with a computer, cell phone, desk lamp, and various batteries charging, but I don’t want to be reminded of how my own materialism impacts the earth when I’m trying to pretend I’m one with nature. But then, maybe it’s a good thing to have that reminder?

Once you get past the power lines, you’re back into the quiet woods. This trail seems to be to be the least trafficked one, maybe because the only views it has are of trees. There are occasional benches, but there’s nothing to look at but woods – which is better than a power line, any day.

 

Out with a bang

So I originally wrote this post in August, the week following this doomed hike. But I wrote it at work (on my lunch break, of course), and emailed it to myself to post – or at least I thought I did. I don’t know where the email went; I don’t know where the document went. Either I dreamed writing it or it vanished without a trace. So I got annoyed, and then got busy and I’m just getting around to telling this story.

Wrapping up my hiking season

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My best hike last year was a 5-mile trek at East Fork Lake SP. It wasn’t much of an elevation gain, but it has been the greatest distance I’ve had post-busted lungs.

Last summer, my hiking adventure hit its peak with the East Fork Perimeter Trail, the day I beat out five miles for the first time since my lungs were declared busted. I didn’t dwell much on how accomplished I felt in my blog post, but I did go on a rant on Instagram that day. I felt fantastic.

The next weekend wasn’t quite the same. I picked two hikes out of “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles”: Blue Licks Battlefield State Resort Park and Kincaid Lake State Park. I wanted to top my distance from the week before, and I thought two, three-mile hikes would do that, and give me a good rest in between to help me make the distance. It was a great plan.

How to not hike a battlefield

Blue Licks is about two hours south of Cincinnati – about 20 miles from Maysville, Ky. – and it was about an hour and a half from where I was living at the time. Kincaid Lake, near Falmouth, Ky., is about an hour south of Cincinnati. My plan was to leave early and time my hikes so I finished before the heat of midday. Last summer was pretty moderate when it came to heat and humidity, but summer had caught up with us by the time I took this hike.

Well, I screwed myself over. I’m notorious for being late for everything, and I was late getting up, late getting out, and late getting started. When I finally got to Blue Licks, it was a reenactment weekend. (Note: If you’re planning to hike a battlefield, check the schedule, especially in the summer.) This particular location is the spot of the “last battle of the American Revolution,” according to the “60 Hikes” book. For someone like me who likes history and hiking, this park could have been a jackpot. But I pulled in and turned right back around. There was little to no parking and I didn’t feel like exposing my breathless hiking to hordes of people.

By this time we’d been in the car about an hour and a half, and lost our first hike. Emme was about as upset as I was, and she made it plain with her whimpering and whining out the back window as we pulled away from the park.

Who needs water?

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Because I’m brilliant, I forgot to bring water on the trail on a hot, humid day. I would normally let my dog drink from the creek, but this one looked disgustingly stagnant.

Even though I’ve forgotten some of the details of this hike, I specifically remember packing water. However, it wasn’t to be found. Halfway through, Emme started whining and looking at my backpack – where she knows the water and treats come from – and I was holding my hands up in the symbol she recognizes as “all gone.” She’d whimper and put her nose back to the ground.

The trail does follow a creek for a while, but it was mostly dry. Where there was water, it was covered with algae and flies. I didn’t want to deal with a sick dog on the way home, so I steered the hound away from that.

Let’s talk terrain 

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I’m ranking this trail a five based on my prior experience. It really isn’t that rugged of a trail, but it has a long, gradual incline that my lungs just didn’t know how to deal with.

For a normal person, this would be easy/moderate. You’re basically hiking down and then back over and around a couple of ridges. Nothing too major. The only people I saw were four women hiking out from the campground. One of them was carrying a Victoria’s Secret bag, and none of them had broken a sweat, if that tells you how easy this trail is for non-broken people. They looked at me funny and cooed over my dog when they passed, the normal response I get when I hike alone. I get it. What young person wears oxygen and what idiot who wears oxygen enjoys hiking?

I had one problem with this hike: inclines. My pack is usually 15-25 pounds, depending on how much water and oxygen I’m carrying. Metal cans containing compressed air are freaking heavy, man. The hills, while not steep, were long. The trail slipped around the hills, making the incline longer instead of steeper. Flotsam and Jetsam (my lungs) don’t like long inclines.

I threw a trail tantrum

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Despite my best efforts to dehydrate my dog, she just kept trotting along, leaving no leaf unsniffed.

I was hot, tired, thirsty and gasping for air. My dog was wimpering for water and I felt like the biggest jerk for forgetting it in the car. There was nowhere to sit – no benches, no downed trees, no nothing – so I flopped down in the middle of the trail, in the middle of the hill, and seriously considered going back. But I had to go uphill either way I went, so I decided to keep going.

My rest didn’t last long. Black flies were out in swarms. I think I even saw a buzzard circling over my head. I flopped down, but I couldn’t stop moving because when I did, the cloud of flies around me landed on all of my limbs. My rest probably lasted a couple of minutes before the flies chased me onward.

The rest of the trail was miserable. I may or may not have let a tear or two fall. It was pretty much all uphill back to the car. I don’t have a fond memory of this place, but that’s not the trail or the park’s fault. I gasped through an entire tank of oxygen on the second half of the trail – about a mile. I typically use about a half a tank for that distance and terrain.

Usually, when I complete a trail that was difficult for me, I get a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment – a huge rush of endorphins that makes me feel like I could climb Everest without oxygen.

I didn’t get that feeling this time.

I was irritated with myself for getting so upset and half-killing my poor dog. Determination, not self-pity, would have made that hill a lot less intimidating. But instead of kicking myself in the butt and going on, I beat myself. That was the last hike I attempted until October, and I haven’t tried anything so ambitious again.

It’s time to change that. I can guarantee you I’ll be hitting this one again very soon, just to prove it’s not the boss of me.

“60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Cincinnati”

I could have sworn I blogged about this before, but I can’t find the post. I’m kind of surprised that I didn’t, because it was one of my favorite gifts in all of 2015.

My friend Karli – you may also know her as The Beatkeeper – got me a bagful of hiking things last year for my birthday. Among them was a book called “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles.” I have the Cincinnati version (because that’s where I live), but there are others for a myriad of of other cities in the country. I highly recommend picking one up.

I’m a serious list person. I love to make them and check things off. So getting a book with a list of hikes in my area was like the coolest gift ever. (Spoiler: She got me another book for Christmas, this one “Travel Listography,” a book in which I can list different traveling bucket list items. It’s basically the best thing ever.)

The book includes hikes in the Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana area (Ohkiana?) and are divided out by state. There’s a map of the tri-state in the beginning with the numbers of each hike in its geographical area.

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I don’t want to share too much information from the book (go buy the book!) but I wanted to give you an idea of how they were set up. Every hike starts with a plethora of basic, necessary information. 

Each hike has directions, an elevation chart, maps of the trails and descriptions of the hike, often including a little history about the park. Even reading about hikes I’ve done a hundred times showed me something new about the trails. I got this before I was aware of the 52 Hike Challenge, and decided I was going to hike my way through this book. Now that I’ve started the challenge, this book will be a fantastic resource.

I wanted to hike every trail in the book, but I probably won’t.  Cincinnati is full of wonderful nature preserves – that do not allow dogs. I tend to boycott parks that do not allow pets. I mean, what’s the point if you can’t bring your best friend? Still, you can see in the picture I have several parks marked out that I plan to visit.

Happy Birthday, America!

The Northside Fourth of July Parade is legendary in Cincinnati. This picture is from a few years ago when I attended.

The Northside Fourth of July Parade is legendary in Cincinnati. This picture is from a few years ago when I attended.

Independence Day is my favorite holiday. It combines all of my favorite things: eating grilled food, drinking homemade Arnold Palmers, shooting off fireworks, playing with sparklers, friendly games of cornhole and wiffle ball, parades and festivals. I mean, what’s not to love?

Every year, for as long as I can remember, my family celebrates at my aunt and uncle’s house in Kentucky. I think one year we stayed in Ohio, but my uncles nearly got the police called on them when they were shooting off fireworks. I was hiding under a picnic table with my cousins.

Watermelon eating contest!

Watermelon eating contest!

Not that shenanigans in Kentucky are any better for us; people are just way more chill about explosions down here. And the cops are usually watching the (technically illegal) fireworks shows. As long as no one complains and no one gets hurt, no one gets shut down.

Of course if you’re setting off bottle rockets and roman candles on a packed neighborhood street and one of those little whirlybird fireworks go spinning down the street bouncing off cars, you may want to pack it up and go inside. (Not that anything like that has ever happened at one of my family’s parties.)

Sparklers are still one of my favorite things!

Sparklers are still one of my favorite things!

These days, so many of my aunt’s neighbor’s put on their own fireworks shows that we don’t really need to set them off. This year, we sat in the backyard craning our necks to see fireworks through the threes on four sides of us, before taking our camp chairs to the front yard to watch the big show. There’s always one neighbor who outdoes all the rest, and he didn’t disappoint this year either. By the time the sun fully set, the streets were so full of smoke it looked like a foggy morning out there.

And yes, we looked like a bunch of goofballs camped out in the front yard. We didn’t care.

Check out this year’s “Best of” compilation below.