Tag Archives: feeling normal

Susan Speaks: The Mountain, Conquered


Week 32. And I can say I did it. The mountain is conquered.

This year, I didn’t just take my Venturing Crew out to summer camp. Nope. We went full-octane: to the mountain. The mountain in West Virginia, in fact. The mountain where the Summit Bechtel Reserve has been built.

Half-healed, I set foot on one of the BSA’s high adventure bases… and almost let it beat me.

I blame it on a couple of things. We got into camp and it was hot. We were rushed to set up our tents — the tents were up, but the cots were not, and the tents themselves had the windows shut, so they were furnaces — and then join the orientation tour. We saw lots of statues of donors but didn’t get enough information about what activities were open and where things were. Since we were largely relying on the boy, who had been at the 2013 Jamboree, to know where to go, that wasn’t good.

It was rush, rush, rush, and then we were back at the campsite and heading up to the dining tent. It was a fifteen-minute walk, so I’d say it was about three-quarters of a mile. Shorter if you ignored the switchbacks, but between the constant yells to stay on the paths and how steep the grassy areas were, the long way was the best way.

My crew, not thinking, walked at their usual pace.

At my best, I walk slowly. But between the heat, being rushed around, and frankly being overwhelmed by a totally unfamiliar situation — the first time that had happened since the accident, despite the crazy adventures I’ve had over the past 32 weeks — I was walking even more slowly.

And they didn’t notice.

They went into the dining hall before I was near the top of the path. I tried following them in.

To commemorate the first night, a DJ was playing. People were everywhere. I changed my glasses, but I still couldn’t see. Couldn’t see how the room was set up. Couldn’t see my people. Heck, I couldn’t make out much of anything, just the tables directly in front of me.

I tried texting my Crew. They didn’t understand. I got more scared and frustrated.

I fled, intending to grab my stuff and my car keys and really flee.

The mountain began crowing its win.

My guys and girls came and got me. We worked it out. And for the rest of the week, they kept an eye on me. They’d turn around and make sure I was close enough. They’d tell each other to stop and wait. Sometimes, they’d just stop on their own. They rallied, and they helped, and they made sure we sat near doors and that I always knew where things were.

And I declared the mountain conquered.

It tried again to get me, though. Wednesday was both my lowest and highest point after that rough start.

Despite the pinched nerve, despite the concussion (one night at dinner, I proclaimed we were being fed peas and carrots. Which would have been fine if those yellow things had been peas and not corn!), despite it all, I decided I wanted to do the canopy tours with the guys. We harnessed up and… I failed out of ground school.

Two reasons for that: first is that my balance is off. WAY off. Scarily off. And you had to go up and down little wooden steps with no railings to get attached to the zip line. And then, they sent you halfway down the line and made you stop yourself. No problem there. But pulling myself back? No strength in the poor left arm.

If I got stuck, I couldn’t help myself. If I fell off the stairs, bad things would ensue.

I failed ground school.

In 31 weeks, I hadn’t been tempted to cry. Not once, and most of you know what I’ve been through. Even Sunday night, when we got to camp and it tried to kick my ass, I did not cry.

I almost cried after failing ground school.

But thanks to a kind woman, I redeemed myself later that night, during open program. I grabbed the boy and a couple of the others and we jumped on a mountain bike. I told myself I was only doing the absolute easiest route and… dude. That was my personal high point of the week. For those few minutes on a bike, I felt like myself again. I felt like Susan. There were pedals under my feet and handlebars under my hands and a helmet on my head and mud was flying and I wanted to throw my head back and laugh and savor because I felt normal. Finally normal.

The high lasted the rest of the night.

I didn’t chase the high when we had our scheduled session at the more hard-core mountain bike trails, opting not to ride but to hang out and chill instead. I did yoga on the stone sign marking the program area. I chatted and posed for pictures with our new friends from Virginia.

But afterward, when we were hiking back, we stopped at the line for the Big Zip. One of the longest zip lines in North America, my boys had already been down it twice. The rule was that if there was a long line, repeat offenders were bumped, so I had to check: If the guys walk me up there, are they going to ride down with me?

Yes. No one was up there.

We had arranged it beforehand: we’d take the forty-five minute hike up (and I do mean up! I’d love to know the elevation gain) and do it slow. Take an hour, an hour and a half. But dammit, I was getting up that mountain and I was riding that zip line.

My lungs had adjusted by this point, and so had my legs because I’ll be damned, but we made it in forty-five minutes. (It helps that I left my daypack at the check-in point and that one of the other guys carried my water bottle, although the boy kept handing me his, silently reminding me to stay hydrated.)

I had no balance problems on the steps at the launch point. Okay, they were bigger steps, wider than at the canopy tour. And yes, I had a rope already attaching me to the zip line to hang on to.

“Take a step down,” the staff said when my lines were all attached. “Sit down in your harness.”

I did.

“GO!” she shouted.

The boy and I whooped as the release let go. The view was everything they said it would be. The ride was peaceful and gorgeous and if we were really moving close to 60 mph, it didn’t feel like it. And when I saw the boy tuck into a tighter ball to try to pass me, I tucked up, too… and beat my own kid. Handily.

But let me tell you, it wasn’t the same thing as that mountain bike the night before. Not even close.

So, my mountain, The Summit Bechtel Reserve, you tested me. And I won. It was a close fight, but not a fair one: I’m nowhere near healed yet. And yet I won.

Imagine how unstoppable I’ll be once all this is behind me.