A little over a week has passed since I got home from the trip. I have slept incredibly well lately and have finally managed to fully recover from my efforts. Now it’s time to write a trip report. This won’t be a typical trip report however. I don’t plan on telling you how tough every step was at 12,000 feet, or how many flat tires we had along the way. I wan’t to talk about the trip highlights and what I will take away from this adventure.
First, here’s a short summary of how the events unfolded. On July 3rd I woke up at 5 am to head downtown for a CBC radio interview. It was an early start to what was going to be a long day, but I thought it was worth it to spread the word a little further before departing. After the interview I rushed home and grabbed my gear, then headed out to meet my team in Langley. 8 of us rolled out of Langley at 9 am and headed for the border. My rheumatologist, Dr. Jason Kur, skipped out of the office to join us for the first 30 km of the trip. It was great to have is support. We rode around 100 km on the first day. By the end my butt was sore and my legs ached, but I wasn’t too badly off. Day 3 was the toughest day on the bike for me. It ended up being a really long day. We rode a total of 145 km and most of the last 50 km was really hilly with some super steep climbs. I limped in to the hotel in Eatonville and felt exhausted and a little discouraged. How was I going to get to Rainier and still feel fresh enough to climb the mountain?!? The next day I woke up and just took it one kilometer at a time. Surprising I felt pretty well recovered. I kept on pushing and we made it to Paradise at the base of Mount Rainier (5400 ft elevation gain) by 5 pm. Time to rest and get ready to climb.
After a day of rest we started our ascent of the mountain at 6 am on July 8th. The weather was absolutely perfect so I couldn’t use this as an excuse. We made pretty slow progress with heavy packs but the pace probably helped me conserve energy. After a few hours my brother Bob realized that his fitness level wasn’t up to snuff for the task at hand. He made a wise decision to turn around and head back. I felt bad for him but really appreciated that he came all the way from California to support me on this. We finally made it to Camp Muir at 2 pm and set up camp. At this point Steve and Andrew decided that they didn’t feel up to attempting the summit. We were now a 3 man team. We loaded up on water and food a lay down until midnight. When we woke up AJ put on his ski boots and realized that the damage caused on the way to camp was too much for him to continue. Now it was only Ashley and I. We deliberated and finally decided to “give it a go”. We slowly made our way up the mountain and just kept on putting one foot in front of the other. By 7:30 am we were at the summit. Wow, we actually did it! It wouldn’t sink in for a little while. Now we just had 5000 feet of down climbing and 5000 feet of skiing left. We made it back to the parking lot where we met the rest of our team and I gave my wife a huge hug. I thought about her with every step I took.
The ride home followed more or less the same route as coming down. This was actually mentally and physically one of the hardest parts of the trip. The ride home isn’t as glamorous as reaching the peak, and it was extremely hard with legs that felt like they had been used as punching bags. Again, I just took it one day at a time and managed to maintain the “schedule” and get home in one piece on July 14th. What a trip!
Now here are my thoughts on the highlights of the trip and what I have taken away from it:
Reaching the summit:
Only 50% of people who attempt the summit of Mount Rainier actually make it. Many are turned away due to weather, but most turn back from exhaustion or sickness. Ashley and I climbed past a number of rough looking climbing teams that had called it a day well below the summit. I managed my pace well and never felt too horrible. I just kept on going and actually made it to the top despite my condition. I was as capable as anyone else on the mountain! Getting to the top I proved to myself that I can still do anything. This disease has changed my life, but it hasn’t hindered me.
I have incredible family and friends:
I couldn’t have done this without amazing support from my friends and family. My Mom spent her vacation time driving around with us bringing drinks and snacks and cooking meals at my sister’s house. She also worked tirelessly to help me raise money. My sister let the whole team crash at her house in Seattle for 2 nights. It was so nice to have a shower and fresh laundry. It was also great to have a fan club – my three nieces. When we stayed there on the way home Zoe (3 years old) came up to me out of the blue and said “Pete, you have a lot of friends”. It was super cute. I don’t think of myself as someone with a lot of friends, but I do have a lot of great friends. I stood on the summit with Ashley who I have know since I was 8. Steve and Sarah pulled us along on the bike (awesome cyclists). Andrew and Christine were a great help logistically, took awesome photos, and took part in most of the trip. My brother Bob spent one solid day cycling with us and was the best pace setter I could hope for. And AJ gave the climbing team some confidence just by being there. Then there is Marie… My wife is the best! She supported me all the way. First, she let me go on this crazy trip, then she insisted on being there every step of the way to support. Thanks to everyone!! Having a support network makes all the difference.
Goal setting works:
I have always been a goal setter. It was instilled in me when I was a competitive swimmer. Goal setting helped me get healthy again. When I was in the intensive care unit in 2010 I almost immediately started setting goals for my comeback. It started with small goals like walking around the hospital ward without help, to getting on the stationary bike for 5-10 minutes, to skiing before New Years (less than 6 weeks out of the hospital). One goal I set was to ride the Vancouver-Whistler Gran Fondo ride that year (10 months out of the hospital). I pulled that one off despite some real obstacles. Goal setting helped me immensely on this trip as well. There were several times when I felt like I wouldn’t be able to finish. Instead of fixating on the summit I focused on smaller goals. I would tell myself that I still had energy to get over the next hill, then see how I felt from there. Small goals helped me manage the big and somewhat overwhelming goal of climbing Rainier after cycling 500 km.
Making a small difference:
So far I have raised around $13,000 for the Arthritis Society. I know this is peanuts in the big picture, but it is something. It’s also hard to tell how well I have “raised awareness” or inspired others. I do have one concrete story though… On our way down the mountain from the summit, Ashley hiked passed a woman who was walking on one of the trails on the lower mountain. She asked him if he made it all the way to the top. He said “yes, we were standing on the top at 7:30 this morning”. This woman was impressed, but told him that she could never do anything like that because she was missing a third of her lung. Hearing this Ashley had to tell her about my story and how I managed to get to the top despite only 60% normal lung function. I think she was amazed by this and quickly asked for information about our expedition. Maybe hearing my story inspired her just a little.
Thanks for following and supporting this trip. It’s been fun and I’m really happy that it was successful. What next? Well, I’m not sure if I will plan any big trips like this in the near future, but I do have plans to head off on a week long backcountry hike in the northern Yukon in late August. I will be joined by my younger brother Tom and my Mom.