Hindsight. A year in review, with immense gratitude for those who have walked it with me
Dear Reader: I used to send Christmas letters but gave it up years ago when people didn't respond. These days I'm more curious about what I might have learned by looking over my shoulder as I get ready to head into a brand new year. This is also all about taking credit for getting through some genuinely challenging times, credit that we so often fail to give ourselves. It's long, but so were these last eighteen months.
This review actually begins June '22 because that's when all hell broke loose. I'd started this blog at Walkabout a few months prior, had huge plans, was off traveling. I knew I had surgeries ahead, but felt totally in control and confident that I would navigate those waters.
Walkabout was going to be the future, and Medium at the time was providing, as it had for some years, a livable income. I had this handled. Right?
I was clueless.
While in Africa that summer, Medium pulled the financial rug out from under its top writers for the fifth time since I'd joined in 2018. This time it devastated my finances, and my fledgling company folded flat for lack of income. I could still write but there was very little money coming in.
I rushed home, sure I had to sell the house. In other words, I panicked. We do that sometimes.
I was also sure that the only way I'd survive was to become an expat. The good news, at least, was that a good friend of mine is an expert on living as an expat, so I studied his book and began my research.
But first here we go again:
That began one helluva year-plus. I threw myself into full sale mode, dumping more than 3/4 of my belongings through consignment, boxing everything else up, marching my furniture to the resale stores or selling to friends.
Hundreds of pieces of gear and clothing went to one lucky family whose sports needs and sizes worked perfectly. Including my beloved four-poster bed.
The garage filled up, the house emptied. I started living in a big, echoing place with a For Sale sign in my driveway. I had a couch, TV, desk, chair....and little else but my writing instruments. One plate, one bowl, one set of silverware. Simplicity itself.
I had no idea how much of a gift it was at the time. This wholesale clean-out relieved me of years and YEARS of accumulated stuff. As per George Carlin, my stuff owned me, and the forced dump freed me up in ways I didn't anticipate. It was also hard to see it at the time. But that's why years in review are so valuable.
Then, the surgeries began. First, my left hand. I got an object lesson in abject nerve pain, one I will never forget, which was repeated three more times. July was the first reconstructive surgery for severe arthritis. The CMC joint was removed, and an Arthrex tightrope was installed.
That summer I headed to Colombia, sure that I was going to become an ex-pat there. My hand was wrapped, but I rode, hiked, played anyway, if for no other reason than denial of my condition. Three weeks of heaven, worth every moment.
I followed that with a trip to Thailand where I discovered how ex-pats were overwhelming that lovely country. Went paragliding off the cliffs of a gorgeous island. Finally caught Covid.
Then in November, as a last gasp before foot surgery, I headed to the great Atacama Desert to ride for nine days.
There, I shattered my left kneecap the first day, but did the ride anyway without realizing how serious the injury was. Ohfercryinoutloud, right?
As a reference to non-riders, you have to use your legs, especially your knees, to stay on a horse, especially during steep rises and descents. I won't tell you what that was like but you can imagine, pressing a shattered kneecap into your horse's side nine hours a day then trying to mount and dismount, set up and tear down your tent.
Ten days after being airlifted back home, I had surgery on my left foot, another lesson in nerve pain. I recovered on my couch, and spent the holiday season on a scooter.
Both feet had been crushed by huge horses in 2019, and the only fix was reconstruction. Three metatarsals had to be cleaned out, the arthritic bone scraped away, new material set in and lots of metal. Now three metatarsals were fused, meaning that I'd have to learn to walk and balance all over again.
My doc told me that once I recovered, my feet would be much more stable for all my beast mode adventures. I'm all in!
I slept on my couch or the floor in my empty house. Those were the final months of 2022, as my house languished in a market which had gone mad with sky-rocketing interest rates.
The year drew to a close.
By the time I got to my 70th birthday, I was the heaviest I'd been since 1987. At least I knew, given more surgeries ahead, that the extra weight might actually be helpful, if not to my ego. If nothing else the lack of panic about the shape of my body was a lesson in how far I've come from decades of body dysmorphia. Another gift. Patience, it is what it is right now.
I got my right hand done in early February. Another wait, with lots of PT, for at least a year. Per hand. Didn't realize that, either. But in for a penny, in for a pound.
Each foot surgery set in motion an eighteen-month recovery process for nerves which take forever to regrow. But they do.
In March I took three weeks along the coast to enjoy a little mobility before having my right foot done. While I was among the redwoods I realized that I had put a for- sale on my dream house, so recommitted to staying in Oregon, at least for now.
I am very fortunate I didn't haul off and sell a place that I really truly love because of fear-based, knee-jerk reaction. It's lucky I sat in Stout Grove and came to my senses, being surrounded by the sensual. Panic puts on blinders.
In the meantime, my newly-repaired hands began to develop problems. Cysts formed on the ligaments on my thumb, on both hands. I developed trigger thumb as well, both hands. Who knows why, but this would mean yet more procedures in early summer. Criminy, really?
By early April I'd finished the Big Four: two hands, two feet. I did my best to get used to the metal in my feet and the change in how to walk. It was part irritation, part exploration, part fun, because this was such brand-new territory.
Now I was using Ride Source, which was a brief but wonderful experience in seeing how well Eugene provided for folks who needed rides to work, appointments and the like. That time was a gift. The inconvenience paled against the pleasure of working with the drivers, meeting other riders and learning about systems that I might well need in time.
You could say, to a point, that 2022/3 was a year and a half of learning how to cope while very very old. Some truth to that, actually.
The body has its own timetable, and if I don't honor it, well. I tried to hike on steep hills in March and did so much damage to my right foot that it set me back a full year.
You don't do that twice. At least not at this house.
However, something else was going on. I'd been carrying a very large pain load for a very long time, and it finally hit home. Early one morning during the third week of April, I thought I was having a heart attack, so then this:
I was having a reaction to the incessant pain, not a heart attack. My ticker was just fine, but the stress level was pretty bad. You learn to appreciate the body's language.
In late May I had what was supposed to be a simple procedure, the removal of a suspicious lump of skin on my shin. When the local wore off I quite literally could neither stand up nor walk. Getting to the toilet was quite the laugh as I had to sit on the floor and make every effort to avoid lifting my leg.
I had to create bumpers on it so that it didn't jostle when I slept. That lasted about a week. I am so glad I know something about field dressings.
In May, I had another hand surgery to remove the cyst from my left thumb. Then in June, the other hand. I was forever bundled in bandages and braces.
Just as I was making real progress with hands and feet, the workouts had started, I was watching the extra weight slough off, I took a header off my porch and snapped my left hip.
The hip story was pretty funny if you could ignore the pain part of it. I walked around on that busted hip for three days before I went to the ER for an Xray.
Ultimately they couldn't sort out a way forward, so I went home, packed a backpack with all kinds of things that it turned out I needed (my own meds, my own food, for example) and within a day and a half, was gifted with a quick zip, three screws and a slap on the ass to go home and heal.
The lack of a PCP meant that I had no prosthetics for weeks until Leo Notenboom stepped in and provided the walkers I desperately needed.
My neighbors also showed up and brought food until such time as I was able to drive around on my own. I was beyond grateful for this.
I now have a lending library of gear for the disabled or temporarily discombobulated, but it was above all a real lesson in the holes in our health care. I also learned that I have a wonderful support network and thank you.
However, there's always a pony. Within a few weeks, I started hiking the sand dunes.
All of a sudden there were more places to discover and fun things to do on the Coast.
That inspired lots more laps which I've kept up, and they've gotten more challenging as I add more weight to the workout.
Meanwhile, other things were afoot. I'd been experiencing all kinds of symptoms, mostly having to pee a lot. Unfortunately, like a great many symptoms (including "flu-like), those could be indicative of damned near anything, from the simple (aging bladder and kidneys) to much more serious (diabetes and worse).
Without a PCP, you're left to run to Urgent Care (I did, twice) and the ER (I did, again) to try to get an answer.
Five months later, we might have figured some of it out, but along the way I discovered I was full of shit (thanks to all the pain meds and lack of movement), so some adjustments were in order. I started taking Calm, a magnesium supplement, which has done absolute wonders. A simple fix, I'll take any day.
And along with this, of course. A few weeks after I broke my hip, while using Leo's gift of a walker, we had big fires out east which demanded that all of us create go-bags and supplies just in case. So I'm on a walker, creating a go-bag just in case said fire comes our way, and the above-mentioned constipation ended up causing two massive water damage events.
I hired an unscrupulous water mitigation outfit, which led to a legal conversation, which put the rebuild back months. By the time we started the mitigation process, it was December 14th.
At the same time, just as it was starting to get seriously cold, my HVAC system decided to bow out. From September on, as it got progressively cooler, I schlepped wood inside and waited for the home warranty folks to get around to finding an HVAC company.
Then last week, just as things were beginning to look up, my fridge went out.
Yah. Happily, that was a relatively easy fix. It might have melted all my meat but I learned to stop SHOPPING AT COSTCO WHEN I'M HUNGRY.
As the year timed out, I had this:
And. With all that upheaval, change, demands on the body, this:
-Finally freed of COVID, and having to recover in the house most of the time I've made a bunch of new friends for hiking, coffees, even adventures. I found neighbors to walk with, new friends to laugh with and more distant ones to visit.
-I found a new friend to hike stairs with twice a week.
-Some are coming to see me once I get this godawful mess under better control (now there's a laugh).
-I finally found a stable, and likely also a horse to lease and ride. I'm taking riding lessons to revisit my skills, which happily, haven't gone anywhere. Just got dusty, and my new trainer (Wendy, who is 70) dusted 'em off for me. That's another friend, and as the horse community operates this way, a gateway to other riding friends.
I've waited three years for that. It landed when it was supposed to and not One. Second. Late.
-I found a gear consignment store in town where I can take my OODLES of stuff that I am still offloading. That was a gift.
-I found a delightful handyman who has become a trusted friend, who does fine work and takes care of my house like it's his own.
-The VA finally put me with a talk therapist I thoroughly enjoy, and whose partnership is both helpful and fun.
-New neighbors moved in, people whose politics won't cause me to feel even more isolated in a neighborhood dotted with Trump signs.
-Through friends I have found flat hikes where I can exercise and even ride my bike for miles while my feet continue to heal.
-All the late-in-the-year disasters and emergencies with the house? My grandfather's estate suddenly paid a small dividend- not nearly enough to pay for everything but it's allowing me to subsidize painting the walls, put in flooring and with any luck, fix some very pricey landscaping emergencies which need addressing before an epic rain.
That estate has largely been dormant for decades, so this really surprised all the descendants. Couldn't have been better-timed. My house has at least $50k in deferred maintenance that is now mine to fix.
-I am slowly moving into a new body, with a few fits and starts here and there. My strength is hurtling back from steady gym work. I am building a community of people whose company I treasure.
-I quietly, and in some cases not-so-quietly, ended a number of long-term, one-way, toxic relationships which had never been healthy or rewarding. That made room for all kinds of new people and possibilities. Some friendships went on hold, and some may have just quietly gone away. It's the way of it.
-In early December a trip to Arizona heralded the possibility of a brand-new work opportunity, utilizing my previous adventure work and all the writing and consulting skills I've built. We'll see going forward, but already in January I have meetings lined up with folks who want me to do their adventures and write about it BECAUSE of my age.
-I kickstarted a new newsletter for my new company, which I finally got off the ground. I was juggling all the above while trying to do all the writing for Walkabout and just daily life, so it was a bit of a party for a while.
That's hardly all the news, either. This piece is already oppressively long, like overblown Christmas letters. But it allows me to make a point.
It's been a minute, a lot of pain, a goodly amount of stress, but also an exercise in just moving forward. Accepting what is, find a way through, because at this point and with these physical issues there are no go-arounds.
I have left a great many things at the door of leaving my sixties. As I head into 71, I can't wait to see what's next.
I have missed a great deal that I loved. Much of it is returning. At some point I hope to go back to salsa dancing, which is out of the question right now. If I've learned anything, it's patience.
Looking back far enough I got to remember how things were eighteen months ago, and how vastly all of it is better now. Loneliness is fading away, which is one of the single most difficult aspects of having moved here. Activities are expanding.
There is a lot to celebrate, because I see the renewal.
I hope similarly as you review this past year, you can list the lessons with levity, celebrate the sensational with high-five slaps if only with yourself. You, Dear Reader, especially those of you who have been supportive of my work and who have taken the time to write, not only helped me keep the lights on (literally and figuratively) but many of you wrote, some of us spoke, and that support was a solid safety net during a brutally difficult year and a half.
Ahead is not going to always be clear sailing. It never is. But as I look at the date in the corner of my screen, 1/1/24, I've got nothing but enthusiasm.
Now I gotta go find a new pair of Ariat riding boots, because I now have to sell all my shoes. They no longer fit.
BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. It never stops.
Happy New Year, Re-New Year, and all good things.
Dear Walkabout Saga Reader:
Thank you so much for taking a few minutes out of your life to read my work. WalkaboutSaga is an act of love and devotion, and I hope that you found value in it.
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Such articles take time, resources, research and effort. Even a small amount of support truly helps me keep this going. In challenging times, I recognize that even a small amount is hard. Those who can give, I appreciate it. Those who cannot, I hope my words are helpful.
My purpose is to Move People's Lives. I can do more of that with your help.
However you decide to partake of my writing, again, thank you.