Conquering That Which Took Me Down.

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As many of you know, 2012 was off to a bad start after embarking on a solo hike in northern Washington that landed me in the emergency room with a broken ankle.

In case you missed it, here’s the story: To Hike Alone.

A Pacific Northwest Trail and the area where “The Cascades Touch The Sea”, Blanchard Mountain, is a 7 mile hike to gorgeous views of the San Juan Islands and Samish Bay. With a 2000 ft. elevation gain and plenty of switchbacks, it’s a considerable climb to the top. It’s also a training point for those wanting to summit Mt. Rainier.

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Determined to conquer this bastard of a mountain and overcome the fear of falling again, I decided to return exactly one year after my accident.

I’ve hiked much tougher terrain in my years, but I wasn’t hiking Blanchard Mountain just for the sake of hiking. Like last year, I was looking to challenge myself both physically and emotionally. Taking a little more precaution this time, I set out to find some hiking support. Initially it was a team of four women, but in the end, it was just me and my great friend, Sarah.

So in 28 degree weather packed with snow in various places, we hiked to the top in just under 4 hours. While the trail is pretty clear and easy at first, it changes quickly and before you know it, you’re climbing over tree stumps and crawling over slippery rocks and boulders. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t scared, but I did it anyway. While there are other trails that finger off of Blanchard Mountain waiting for me to explore, at this time in my life, having one successful hike was monumental.

Last year’s adventure was a bust, but not this year. I conquered that which took me down.

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As I stated earlier, I was seeking a physical and emotional challenge. Physically, I was testing my stamina and strength. Emotionally, I was eliminating past negativity, hurts, and mistakes.

Nothing makes me happier or brings me greater peace than being in the outdoors — It’s God’s Country. I know 2013 is THE year of new beginnings filled with love, positivity, renewal, and awesome adventures!

AL-MUGHAMARA!

~ Carlita

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On Being Able To Say “Farewell, Seattle”

Dear Seattle,

I never thought this day would come. After five years of fun, risky, wonderful, and life changing adventures, the time has come to bid you farewell. It seems like only yesterday I was telling my friends and family in Texas that I was finally going to take the leap of faith and move here to explore new possibilities.

I fell in love with you upon my first visit back in 1999. The stunning views of the Olympic and Cascade mountains were the most magnificent things I’d ever seen. The ice blue color and crashing waves of the Pacific ocean sent chills down my spine. The smell of evergreens, the Space Needle, Mt. Rainier, the ferries, the bookshops, all these things and more left me yearning to be here. So in August of 2007, after 6 months of prayers, planning, and packing I made my new home here in the Emerald City.

Truthfully, other than the job I had lined up, I really didn’t know what else I’d be doing here. Of course, I was met with much resistance from friends and family who thought it preposterous to move 2,000+ miles away and alone. On the other hand, there were those who supported my decision knowing that I was too creative to be stuck in my one teaching job and too adventurous to be stuck living in the South.

I was destined for bigger and better things.

I know I’m only moving down to neighboring Portland, but you’ve played a very important role in my life journey. I take with me some very valuable lessons — lessons I’ll never forget.

I’ve learned how easily we trick ourselves into believing there’s only one “right” way to live life when in fact, it’s only that way within the context of the bubble we live in. Pop that bubble and you quickly realize your way of thinking is a minuscule ideal in the brain of the planet.

I’ve learned to cope with life without my mom after her unexpected death less than a year after moving here. I’ve learned to let go of my guilt, grievances, and deal with the expectations of my Latino community back home.

Among many challenges including, surviving a concussion from a rafting accident and a broken ankle from a solo hike in the woods, I’ve learned that I’m stronger and more resilient than I’ve led myself to believe.

I’ve learned about social justice issues, the state of arts education, and racism in the northwest. I’ve learned that an ultra progressive person can be just as annoying as an ultra conservative one. Just sayin’.

I’ve been introduced to the importance of recycling, new music, new people, walking up hills, bicycling up hills, lots of rain, and of course the coffee culture.

In just five years, I’ve worked as an emcee, a radio dj, a music programmer, a host at a reputable jazz club, a writer, a teacher, a social media consultant, a vocal coach, and even served as an artist-in-service for an initiative set by Congress.

Whew! I’ve been busy.

I’m sure there are some people reading this letter thinking “it’s not like she wouldn’t have these experiences elsewhere” or “there’s nothing unique about her life experiences.” Well, they’re correct, I’m sure I’ll experience many things similar and different somewhere beyond here, but my life experiences need not matter to anyone else other than me. My time here in Seattle is significant because of where I came from, where I am, and where I’m going in my life journey.The fact is, I’ve undergone a major paradigm shift and as a result, I have a better understanding of the greater purpose in being here.

Seattle, my fair city, you’ve served as the place where I would experience growth and transformation. You’ve given me quiet places to pray, breathe, and meditate my life journey. You provided miraculous sunsets over the coast that left me entranced and pondering adventures beyond the horizon. I’ve reinvented myself surrendering to new possibilities and creating endless opportunities. My survival skills have been tested to the core. I’ve learned what true christianity is all about. I’ve learned to work harder, love stronger, and enjoy each day as if it were the last. Most importantly, you’ve introduced me to the man I love and the reason I’m relocating to Portland.

My life is enriched simply because I took the risk — and for that I’m grateful.

Thank you, dearest Seattle. You hold a special place in my heart. I will visit and return to those quiet places that carried me through many life circumstances, but for now I must I bid you a adieu.

Until next time.

To Hike Alone

Fall seven times, stand up eight. ~Japanese Proverb

One of my favorite things about living in the Pacific Northwest is the scenery. The mountains, the skies, the Puget Sound, all these things and more provide the perfect backdrop to my life. As a traveler and adventurer, I always stay busy hiking or kayaking around the area. 

Just the other day, I decided to reunite with nature and go for a jaunt on Blanchard Mountain in northern Washington. According to my hiking guidebook, the giant boulders, bat caves and fabulous views on Oyster Dome are well worth the steep 6.5 mile hike. Just what I needed to test my endurance.

After a 1.5 hour drive, I parked my car and started my route on the Pacific Northwest Trail just off State Route 11 (Chuckanut Drive). There were a few people along the trail, but for the most part, it was a pleasant and quiet hike. Even though it wasn’t snowing, the 1,900 foot elevation gain certainly made it cold as I neared the top. After a few hours, I decided to take a break near an ice-age interpretive sign by the Talus Trail junction. I climbed on top a boulder to take some photos and greeted a young couple doing the same – their names, Christina and Anthony.

As they went on their way, I sat by myself enjoying the view. I didn’t stay too long as I was losing light and it was getting colder. It was about 10 minutes later when I started my way down off the boulder that I took one step to the left and SNAP! I fell in a split position with my right foot bent 90 degrees at the ankle. The snap was loud and it hurt like hell. I started to yell for help. Fortunately, Christina and Anthony hadn’t gotten too far away and responded. When they arrived, they climbed back on the boulder and managed to get me down, but that was as far as I would go. Walking myself out of there was out of the question.

This was the last thing I needed.

Stranded on a mountain, unable to move. A person’s worst nightmare.

There were a million things running through my mind.

It was rather fortuitous that Christina was carrying a GPS device. She later told me that she was conducting a project for her university class on satellite tracking. Divine intervention, huh? We both tried using our phones to call 911, but with spotty coverage and our batteries draining it was becoming increasingly difficult, so in one short exchange, Christina managed to give the GPS coordinates to a 911 responder.

Anthony, worried about how badly I was shaking, started back down the trail to get some blankets from his car. Christina stayed with me watching over the phones and keeping my mind off the pain with light conversation. It was well over an hour before the first crew made it to us. They bandaged my ankle and started to build a fire. The second crew brought a litter (rescue basket) strapped me inside, and placed my ankle in a vacuum splint. The third crew, which consisted of 15 volunteer firefighters and EMT’s were the people who did the actual grunt work.

  

Let me tell ya’ these guys worked fast!

By this point I was going into shock, and that together with the onset of hypothermia was not a good combination. They placed heat packs underneath my armpits and wrapped me in a waterproof down sleeping bag. After surveying the terrain and calculating how much rope they needed to belay me down the first part of the trail, we started our descent off the mountain. There was a “brake team” in the back and “survey team” in the front, along with the team that carried me on the sides. They took turns, changed positions, rested, and swapped between rope and wheel–all this with headlamps and night-vision goggles.

It was quite the task force and a comical bunch too! Cracking jokes and making fun of the situation at my expense was the best way to keep my mind off the situation, I’m sure. 🙂 When they found out I was alone and managing rather calmly despite the excruciating pain, they called me a “badass!” – A compliment in my book! 😀

Six hours later, around 8 p.m. after the team warded off a bear somewhere in there, I reunited with the first crew again and shuttled in an ambulance to Skagit Valley Hospital. A series of X-rays confirmed that I did indeed break my ankle. An oblique break in the fibula, to be exact. I’ll be out for the next six weeks with a follow up in two weeks to determine if I’ll need surgery.

It’s hard to get around on crutches and as usual, you never realize just how much you take your body for granted until you can’t use it properly. As for me, not being able to walk has certainly made a difference in my daily functions and I’m not even gonna’ get started on the crazy side effects of Vicodin! I’m on my own most days, but thankful for the friends and strangers who’ve sacrificed their time helping me out — just proof of the people worth keeping in your life.

When I think back on it all, I laugh at how I manage to find myself in such predicaments. This experience hasn’t discouraged me from hiking solo again…I mean, this is what I do! I gotta’ live life! Although this does mean I won’t be wearing my Manolo Blahniks for a while.

Bummer.

   

Clinging for Life – PT. 1

Never in my wildest dreams did I see myself tethered to a kayak clinging for life on a Class III rapid. But just three years ago, this was indeed the case. 

It was my third weekend in my rafting guide training on the Wenatchee River. Just as I conquered getting my crew through the infamous “snow-blind” rapid, I found myself falling off the raft in what seemed to be a slow motion replay.

It’s important to note that even the most seasoned rafters get knocked off the boat every now and then, but here are a few lessons to be learned…

Lesson 1: To get through a rapid without flipping the boat you have to plow head-on while paddling.

As much as fear wants you believe that it’s an illogical move, you have to point the raft straight into the wave and just go for it! My angle was spot on and my crew was paddling hard. As I screamed “FOORWAARD!!” a 6 foot wave came straight at us and while we made it through initially, in a split second the wave dropped and rose popping the back of the raft and ejecting me backwards into the river. My paddle was lost and I was being swept away in the opposite direction of the boat.

Lesson 2: If you fall off the boat grab onto the chicken line.

A rapid moves at the speed of light and so does the person caught in one. My crew managed to redirect the boat and throw the safety line. I missed. I started to swim hard but the freshly melted mountain snow made the water painfully cold.

Becky, one of my trainers, had been following us in her kayak and immediately paddled towards me.

Fighting the current wears you out very quickly and my hands were frozen stiff. Bending one finger was more painful than being in the frigid cold water.  At this point, I was really starting to get scared as the only thought running through my mind was that I was going to drown. Becky’s military instincts kicked in as she screamed at me to grab onto the kayak.

This was it. I had ONE chance.

I’m not sure if I was afraid of dying or afraid of Becky, but I managed to grab the front strap of the kayak.  I held on with my head to the side of the kayak, facing towards Becky. As she paddled forward fighting every wave, the currents kept pulling us further apart from the raft. I couldn’t see what was behind me and even though the rest of my body was underneath the kayak, my life jacket kept my head above water.

Becky tried to reassure me that everything would be alright. In fact, with the roaring rapids, she actually yelled at me “DON’T LET GO! HOLD ON DAMMIT! DON’T YOU DARE LET GO!” I began to wonder if she really believed it was going to be alright or if she was just saying that on the brink of my demise.

Before I knew it, the crew grabbed my shoulder straps, counted 1-2-3, dunked me back in the water, and pulled me back into the raft. Keep in mind, the crew is trying to save my life while battling the rapids and attempting to keep the boat from flipping again. That would have been worse.

Lesson 3: Hypothermia is still possible. To prevent this, keep moving.

I was numb, discombobulated, relieved and shaken, but there was no time to waste. I grabbed the paddle and joined the crew as we moved into calm waters. Once we made it to shore, I tearfully thanked everybody still in disbelief of what had happened.

It made me very aware of what could really happen to my clients in the future. How would they react? How would I react? Would I be able to think fast and save a person?

I continued my training, but the story doesn’t end here. Stay tuned for Part 2.

~ Carla

Sometimes you gotta lose in life, but it’s gonna be alright.

Two days in solitude out in the woods of the Pacific Northwest can do wonders for the psyche. The need to be outdoors and one with nature is an absolute necessity in my life. I lose myself in a world of nothingness undisturbed by everyday distractions and return to the hectic life a renewed being. Whenever difficult situations kick me in the butt, I find that solitude coupled with nature, heals my soul.

While this year has been filled with terrific blessings, I’ve been hit with a couple of curve balls lately and it always gets me thinking about life’s greatest mysteries and the reasons why things happen the way they do. Recently loss has been at the forefront of my mind. There’s actual loss and fear of loss and my fear of losing something special and dear to me actually happened only a few days ago. It’s not like I’ve not experienced loss before –I’ve lost family, friends, lovers, and jobs. Heck, I’ve even come close to losing my own life a time or two!

As a matter of fact, a few near death experiences that come to mind are a couple of pretty bad car accidents, severe food poisoning that left me passed out on the bathroom floor, and narrowly escaping the exit door on my church bus after it caught on fire in the middle of the night on our way home from a youth retreat many, many years ago.

Some bigger incidents include the time I suffered a heatstroke and nearly fainted after a 23 mile trek in the Grand Canyon. Another moment was on the Olympic trail when I crashed my mountain bike just a few feet short of a cliff that plunged about 100 ft. straight down into rocks and broken tree limbs. Whew! That one freaked me out, the thought of being impaled by a branch was just a little too gruesome for me. At least with heatstroke I would’ve just slipped away into the abyss. Anyway, I walked away with a cut to my right calf, thanks to the pedal that wedged itself in my leg, massive bruises, and an extraordinary soreness all over my body that lingered for three days.

And if that wasn’t enough, two of the most harrowing and life-threatening moments were during my rafting guide training on the Wenatchee River. The first time I fell overboard, the wind gusts were so strong that the rescue line thrown by my teammates went in one direction while the rapids took me in another. I was saved by one of the trainers kayaking behind us as she paddled fiercely towards me screaming at me to grab the front of her kayak. With the swift rapids and 50 degree water, it was either drowning or dying of hypothermia. EEP!

On another day, with an unusually high water level at 19,000cfs, my team hit a massive wall of water that plunged four of us into the rapids. I felt my body violently spinning and tumbling beneath the waves.  As I surfaced, I was so incredibly weak and disoriented; I couldn’t grab the line on the raft. My teammates, fearing I would drown, grabbed onto my life jacket and held me close to the raft until they were able to pull me in. My head felt like it was going to explode and I was shaking uncontrollably and then came the vomiting…Blech! Needless to say, I ended up in the ER having suffered a concussion and severe whiplash. That ordeal had me in a neck brace for two weeks and six weeks of physical therapy. To this day, I can still feel the stiffness from time to time.

Yep, I’ve come close to losing my life several times and God knows why I’m still here. Yet, I’m reminded that loss, whether physical or emotional is inevitable and that loss is painful because it teaches us to love–to love life, people, family, friends, your dog…whatever. Maybe these reflections on my near death experiences are to remind me that if I can survive those terrifying events, I will survive this recent one. Some losses are bigger than others and some losses are permanent while others are only temporary. I know that my recent loss is only temporary and things have a funny way of coming back around. Sometimes you gotta lose in life, but in the end, it’s gonna be alright.