My Latest, Scariest Journey

Hello again, dear faithful reader, Thank  you for hanging in with me.  It’s been a long time (nearly 5 months) since I’ve last communicated.  However, I have a (sorta) excuse for part of my absence:  I just completed the scariest journey of my life. As usual, I wasn’t scared beforehand, but there were plentiful episodes of sheer panic in the “during.”

It has now been 9 weeks since this journey began, i.e. 9 weeks since I had:  back surgery.  Yup, that’s what all this fuss is about, and I now have a brand new back which still requires some babying.

Be reassured, though, for “I can’t believe how well you’re doing” is the ongoing refrain, and the one I tell myself.  My biggest challenge right now:  to not over-do. I have NO PAIN and I have walked (painlessly) 5 miles on our one sunny Spokane day when it was over 50 degrees F – skipped might be a more apt description.

Also, five days ago I snow-shoed 4 1/2 miles!!!! The NO PAIN of course is novel. I did mention how many narcotics I had to take during my Poon Hill Trek in Nepal (they’re over-the-counter there).  For that matter, any other hiking has long been painful.  That includes walking.  The pain ebbed and flowed, I managed it in all the grown-up responsible ways (e.g. yoga, acupuncture), and was motivated to do  my exercises by wanting to avoid surgery.

Then, this summer, I took  my cross country car trip.

Meri's Conistoga Wagon

OH,  IT WAS FABULOUS!!!!!  I’d had not a clue, however, that all that sitting  (over 5000 miles worth) would un-do any and all progress on my back.  After all, during my initial trial car-trip run (in June and July), I had luxuriously, slowly, scenically, campingly, gone down to LA from Spokane and back  (I’ll call that my N-S journey) and pain was not present.

That N-S trip successfully provided a Nomadic lifestyle, while completely divesting me of travel fatigue.  Here are a few scenes that helped revive me:

Crooked River, Oregon:

Crooked River, OR

Crater Lake, Oregon:

Crater Lake

Castle Crags SP.

Castle Crags State Park, CA:

Alpaca's in CA
My very favorite photo:  Alpaca’s near Lake Tahoe

My cross country journey actually began August 3, on Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands near Seattle).  I’d already purchased a Yakima 2-bike hitch for my car, so my 2 bikes were already part of my permanent gear: one bike for me, and one for whomever would join me. Thus my Spokane friend Beverly and I were able to bike around Orcas, where her dear Aunt Mary hosted us – complete with water view:



Returning to Spokane, we detoured to the Seattle Airport to retrieve my newly arriving  (from Berkeley, CA)  friend Esta.  Beverly got dropped off back in Spokane, and after a night’s respite in my soon-to-be-history temporary digs, Esta and I set off on our grand adventure, heading Eastward.  We two had different end points.  Esta:  Detroit suburb of Southfield, MI to visit with her father, then fly home.  Meri:  Maine, then Nova Scotia, then down to NYC, then exotic route homeward.

Why had I chosen to momentarily forego foreign travel  in favor of seeing the USA?  Because I COULD.  Scenery has always been my priority, and if combined with surprises, far better.  A trip last year to Ithaca, NY and the Great Lakes Region had showcased for me that  scenic surprises abound in the U.S.

Ithaca surprises:

Ithaca waterfall                                Cornell Campus

Gorgeous Gorges                                                          Small piece of the vast, multi-layered Cornell Campus

I, who had considered myself well traveled, was totally blown away by discovering gorgeousness in every sense – water views, “gorgeous gorges” (the Ithaca motto),  towns dripping quaint in the hipster manner I prefer (more  coffee shops & gluten-free bakeries, than antique shops).

With the Great Lakes example of how much I didn’t know about my own country, and with my faithful Subaru Outback station wagon awaiting my pleasure, it seemed like a no brainer to hit the road in my own country.  I DEFINITELY was not yet wanting to settle down in Spokane, and after my last 8 months’ away, primarily in Europe and SE Asia, I was (yes, I was) burned out on “foreign” for a while.  I anticipated (correctly) that providing myself the luxury of being able to communicate with everyone I encountered would go far toward reviving me.

It was on that initial N-S trip that I’d stayed with Esta in Berkeley, and when I described to her my cross-country intentions, she was IN.  I recall us sitting at her sunny kitchen table doing planning and computer searches side by side, and knowing then that this was a good thing.

We seemed to simply be on the same wave-length, about timing, wandering, cycling, camping.  And we were!  I’ve  traveled well with others, but have never been as perfectly matched as I was with Esta.

Esta created a journal of our time together.  I’m unable to attach the whole thing (oh, I do wish my computer literate daughter were at my elbow) but here is a sample (compliments of my daughter’s help):


We did not follow a straight line,, and we traveled many “Blue Roads.”

Our route:  (WA-Idaho-Montana-Wyoming-South Dakota-MN-Michigan)

esta route map

However, we also availed ourselves of the Interstates (which I now greatly respect and appreciate).  But if we got tired of an interstate, and knew where we were headed, we’d ask a local if they knew of any alternative interesting routes to where we were going.  Guess what:  they often did!!!  Ah, sweet heart-filling surprises, e.g. finding ourselves where Lewis and Clark had stood, or seeing sod houses straight out of My Antonia.   And the space, ah yes, the U.S.A. is BIG.


Sod House


Yes, BIG!      

AND, I LOVED LOVED LOVED the camping.  This sets me and Esta apart from our peers, for many have graduated to RV’s or pull alongs.  For me, sleeping in a tent provides the sweetest lullaby.  I loved cooking on my camp stove on the provided picnic tables.

My luxury tent:

my tent

Here’s the canape I bought  in Minneapolis, in anticipation of the Upper Peninsula, MI kamikaze mosquitoes:

IMG_0219 (1) 

I even got good at building fires, a task I’d originally thought was beyond me. BUT:  what I did NOT like:  packing up a wet tent (fortunately only had to do that once, and once was enough). And, loving contrast and novelty, Esta and I both luxuriated in our occasional hotel rooms (e.g. in Sioux Falls, SD, and then in Southfield, MI at her destination where I shared some of her visits with her father).

TROJAN HORSE – Sioux Falls is replete with art and parks – quel surprise!


I don’t recall when “IT” started, “it” being:  the pain.  Not a new pain, a familiar historical one, the one that had sent me for an MRI and (much) PT and acupuncture and, and, and, … .   All in the service of avoiding surgery.  It had begun in earnest about ten years’ prior when I was completely unable to walk.  During this trip, that started again – the being unable to walk.  Quel surprise!  As usual, no problem with bike riding, so that modality became my favored mode of exploration.

After saying good-by to Esta at the Detroit Airport, I headed off to Maine via Niagara Falls:


I was heading toward Portland, Maine where I would reconnoiter with another California friend and frequent travel companion (per Turkey and Ecuador): Gina.  She is from Maine and travels there every summer, and she graciously invited me to join her and share in her family & friend reunions.

My pain was getting to the “unbearable” category and via recommendations from Gina’s  friends I arranged a chiropractor appointment in Portland, just in case this was a simple matter of getting out of alignment (it wasn’t, and out-of-pocket chiropractic in Portland, Maine set me back –pun- about $140.  But at least I got a good lumbar support for the car out of it). By the time I got to Maine, I knew I needed to get back home ASAP to get my back treated (my insurance only covers me in WA, OR, and ID).  I anticipated cortisone injections would mask/fix  my pain and I could proceed with life.

Long story short: Maine:  incredible.  Gina’s friends and family hosted me like royalty, and I’d never been there before to see all that glorious coastline, accompanied by lots of sunshine and lots of lobster.

No, not Florida, it’s Maine:



Visiting Gina’s Friends


If in Maine, one MUST visit L.L. Bean’s 

Then:  I bee lined down to NYC with a brief camping stopover in Meredith, N.H.:


At last: my own reunions!

East River view from my cousin’s terrace:


Then:  in a grand show of flexibility, I had my car shipped (on one of those open car carrier trucks) back to Spokane (cost:  $1400, and everything went perfectly).  Here’s Ivan readying my car , in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to put it on truck #1 to drive to truck #2 in NJ from where it will travel to Spokane:


and I flew home (fortunately, I had enough frequent flyer miles).

A day after my arrival back in Spokane, I had my first cortisone injection, which worked perfectly for 1 week, then stopped working.  Second injection:  no effect.  Diagnostic injections:  showed that a different injection procedure would not work.  Hence:  appointment with Orthopedic Surgeon, and Voila:  I am now 9 weeks post the surgery which occurred on December 2.* 

Epilogue:  in preparation for the scariest journey I rented my very own apartment, which I think means I am no longer officially a Nomad. However, my explorations continue, as will this blog.

*Optional Reading – In case you’re curious, this was the source of the pain:  on the right side of my spine where there is a nerve emerging between vertebrae L-3 and L-4. Because my lower back was so squashed, the nerve was 99.9% pinched.  There was a tiny drop of room, and all my exercises were geared to increasing the space and diminishing the pinch.  I was taking the max allowable dose of NSAID’s, and fortunately had some legally prescribed narcs. *In case you’re even more curious, my 5 hour surgery removed & replaced my vertebrae and discs from L3-L4-L5. It is this 5 hour surgery, and the 9 weeks of recovery through which I have now traveled, that define my “scariest journey” referred to above.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s