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From 'Living to Hike' to 'Hiking to Live'

Posted by HikerCass at Apr 15, 2015 12:40 PM |

Many of us live to hike. But what happens when one more could be your last? For many people faced with illness and disease, living to hike becomes hiking to live. Their inspiring stories can encourage you to live the same way, regardless of how healthy you are.

Many of us live to hike. We spend our weekends crisscrossing the state and the nation, visiting national forests, lakes and mountains for one more challenging hike, one more beautiful vista, one more chance to do what we love.

But what happens when one more could be your last? For many people faced with illness and disease, living to hike becomes hiking to live. Their inspiring stories can encourage you to live the same way, regardless of how healthy you are.

Kim Striber
Kim Striber's favorite therapy for her vestibular disorder is hiking.

Kim Striber: Hiking through a vestibular disorder

My name is Kim. I am an adventurer, a world traveler and an avid hiker—and I have a vestibular disorder.

I was raised in Washington. My love for the mountains and the wilderness was inspired at an early age by my father, an outdoor enthusiast. At the age of 16, I completed the Seattle Mountaineers basic climbing course and never looked back. Summiting Mount Rainier and other peaks in the Cascade Range with my father and brother was a highlight of my teen years. I have since raised a family, and my husband, children and I have loved hiking Washington’s trails and exploring its wilderness.

Last year, my pathway in life took a turn when I was diagnosed with a vestibular disorder. My challenges are balance, vision and processing. When I was diagnosed, I wanted to keep hiking, but I first needed to learn to navigate safely around my home, then my neighborhood—and then off I went.

The therapy I have used to retrain my brain and maximize vertical and life balance is hiking. I use a trekking pole or two to walk and hike. My trail in life is different than I ever anticipated, but the trek towards health and balance has been also beautiful and freeing. My hope is that I am able to inform the public about vestibular disorders and that I will inspire and encourage all of us to keep moving.

Wise words: You can't always choose your destination but you can choose which trail you take.

Kim’s top 5 tips for hiking with a vestibular disorder

1. Wear the right boots.

It’s important to wear good shoes that have ankle support and a durable sole. A sturdy platform promotes balance when every step counts.

2. Use trekking poles.

Trekking poles increase stability. Though optional for most hikers, they are essential for those with vestibular disorders.

3. Pack adequate hydration and food.

The energy requirements of the brain and body are increased when it becomes more challenging—and more work—to stay upright and on the trail while in motion.

4. Take frequent breaks.

Hiking is a multi-sensory, stimulating activity that’s excellent for brain retraining. Know your limits, take breaks and allow the environment to calm you down. Stop, relax and enjoy. Also plan for additional rest the next day.

5. Bring a friend.

A companion is an essential resource for safety and navigation. Those with vestibular disorders may have a limited ability to drive, so a ride to/from the trailhead is also really helpful. And because the ability to process conversation is diminished when your attention is focused on the uneven terrain of the trail, hiking with a friend who’s aware of your challenges—and who’s compassionate—is priceless.

Learn more about vestibular disorders and join Kim in her trek to balance here.

Patti McCarthy
Patti McCarthy hiked the Pacific Crest Trail during her fight against breast cancer.

Patti McCarthy: Hiking through cancer

The following is adapted in part from Patti’s book, Hiking Cancer

I am a wife, mother and nurse. I am a Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) section hiker. Now, I am also a cancer survivor. As a nurse, I have had plenty of patients with cancer, but nothing truly prepared me for having cancer myself.

It took 400 days of treatment from biopsy to final chemo treatment. I thought my days of hiking were on hold or gone. But eventually, I found the focus to deal with my cancer and its treatments. It was to continue the PCT.

Through surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, multiple infections, a roller coaster of emotions and chemo brain, my husband and I hiked and hiked and hiked. It was my way of living my life, not cancer. Every cancer survivor’s story is different. This is mine. I hope to inspire anyone sitting around thinking they can’t hike a long distance trail because of some obstacle.

Wise words: Hiking is a passion for me and I would recommend anyone with an illness to find their passion and keep it lit. You need a focus to get your mind off the 24/7 nature of a serious illness. If hiking isn't your thing, any walk in nature is healing. Just seeing the beauty of any trail, smelling the flowers, hearing the birds, all help you to be present in the moment and not mired in the anxiety of illness.

Patti’s top 3 tips for hiking with cancer

Hiking Cancer by Patti McCarthy Hiking Cancer is a raw and honest look at Patti’s 400 days of cancer and how she hiked through them.

It’s also a great resource for other cancer patients who would like to do the same.

The book includes information on section hiking the PCT and preparing for the trail. But where it really shines is showing just how important it is to follow your passion, even if you’re also fighting to stay alive.

1. Plan on needing more time.

I had to remind myself, “This is not a race. If it takes me twice as long as usual to get up a hill, then it takes me twice as long.”

2. Have a supportive partner.

I couldn't have done any of this on my own. My husband was my rock. He also carried some of my stuff. Even though he had concerns about us going out, he recognized how important it was to my recovery.

3. Know your physical limits.

It's probably a good idea to know your lab values and NOT go hiking if your blood counts are too low (a hard lesson I learned in Tehachapi).

Read more of Patti’s story in her book, Hiking Cancer.

More stories

Read even more stories of amazing individuals who have hiked through major physical challenges:

Andy "Astro" Lyons was only 19 when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. What did he do? He hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. >> Read more

Spencer West had his legs amputated just below his pelvis when he was five and was told by doctors that he’d never be a functioning member of society. He has spent his life proving them wrong and in 2012 scaled Mount Kilimanjaro by crawling on his hands for seven days. >> Read more

In 2008, Trevor “Zero/Zero” Thomas became the first blind person in history to complete an unassisted, solo thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Since then, he has gone on to hike more than 18,000 miles. >> Read more or Watch the free documentary (starting at 10:40)

When Paul Stutzman lost his wife to breast cancer, he was mired in depression and loneliness. So he did the only thing he could think of; he quit the job he’d held for almost 20 years, traveled to Georgia and embarked on the Appalachian Trail. >> Read more

In 2014, Sean O’Neill became the first paraplegic to climb Bridal Veil Falls, a frozen waterfall in Telluride, Colorado, that is also one of the most difficult ice climbs in the country. And he did so with ice tools that he designed and built himself. >> Read more

Share your stories

Have you used hiking to improve your health or help you through a major life challenge? We’d love to hear about your experience and tips in the comments below.


RinOfTheWild on From 'Living to Hike' to 'Hiking to Live'

Hi Kim! I have a vestibular disorder and am preparing to section hike the PCT, esp the WA sections, this coming summer. I am wondering if there is any way to connect with you about your experience. I am also an herbalist and have been working through this for over 3 years. Regardless, it's inspiring to see an article posted from a fellow "wobbler" on hiking! Best, RinOfTheWild

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RinOfTheWild on Mar 11, 2018 09:34 PM