I came downstairs the second morning to find Jesse and Lindsey had written elaborate lists of all the places and they wanted to take me. There was a little bit of talk of a gentle fifteen minute climb up to a look out and checking I would be ok to do it. And I knew I would be. The Sunday morning came and we walked through the woods up a small hill and looked over Little Lake Sunapee. I was fine. It didn’t exactly count as a mountain but I chuckled at another marker of progress - I wouldn’t have been able to do that at the end of April.
Clark’s Lookout over “big” Lake Sunapee, New London, NH
Then later it transpired that we were planning to go up (or at least as far as I felt able to) the trail to the peak of Mount Kearsage, the mountain I’d seen hovering over their clearing in the woods from my bedroom window every day.
We didn’t have a huge amount of time to make our way up or down before the ranger closed the park gates by the time we arrived. I was feeling strong, well and that I was ready to get my heart racing. I've been steadily physically doing more and more for the past month. I gently bounded up the trail through the trees feeling that banging in my chest I have missed so much. My lungs reaching for cool gasps of breath. I almost ran up that bloody mountain! Bouncing from rock to rock up the rough rocky trail. It isn’t a long climb - a short 25 mins or so up. But the most I’ve been able to do since my recovery slipped back over four months ago. From the peak we could see the farm and the hardware store where Jesse works as tiny white specks far below.
At the top of Mount Kearsage with Lindsey and Jesse - this was a team effort, I never would have done this, let alone plotted it without them.
I ate whatever food we had - cashews, an apple, crunch bars. I had no idea if I had just crashed myself with that push. I kept my mind from racing - had I just been irresponsible? Had I just ruined months of discipline in less than an hour? I once dragged myself up a mountain in Mallorca before I really knew how to manage this condition so I had extra reasons to be cautious. We took some photos before we needed to start the descent in time to drive out of the rangers gates by 5pm. I walked back more carefully, my heart still pounding.
I waited four days before posting this... the most common (if defining) symptom of ME is something vastely understatedly called ‘post-exertional malaise’ which can hit even a couple of days after physical exertion. An older me in an earlier stage of recovery would have probably felt as high as a kite for a day or so (adrenaline and endorphins in overdrive) before being nearly bed bound for anything from a few days to a few weeks.
I took it gently. I waited.
Nothing happened. I was only fractionally tired.
I was fine.
In the car on the way home from the summit, I suddenly blurred out, “I just climbed a mountain”. Realising that that had been the thing I had dreamed of doing when I conceived of this trip. This had been the target my physio and I had agreed on back in December... it has taken until now to get here.
I remembered lying in bed, visualing myself climbing mountains and jumping into freezing water below a waterfall for months before this trip was even conceived. I hadn't only seen it, I had felt it all, again and again, night after night. My way out of how trapped I had felt by my circumstances back then. I realised that fulfilling the picture I had kept in my mind of the pool of water below the waterfall was also exactly what I had been doing at Sculpted Rocks the day before. I had learned to let go of those visions when it turned out my recovery was so far behind where I had thought it had been. I had focused instead on being ok with things as they were, always attempting to do whatever my body safely felt it could do. Learning to read the subtle signs of my body so that I could keep it within its limits whilst coaxing it gently onwards. And as anyone recovering from ME will know, that alone isn't enough. I found this only worked because it went hand in hand with a couple of years of navigating my way through a medical maze.
Only a few days before my final flight home. I climbed a mountain and swam in a pool of spring water under a waterfall, just as I had imagined.
The timing of it all feels like a rather beautiful universal practical joke.
An ME/CFS Thriver