Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Stroke survivor travel: More Day One pleasures and a bit of terror

 Siskiyou Mountain summit, highest elevation on I-5

By mid-morning on Day One of our West Coast jaunt, we were enjoying scenic mountains and entering Oregon. We passed Siskiyou summit where Interstate 5 passes through the Siskiyou Mountains at 4310 feet elevation.

We left the interstate for Oregon's Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway and picnicked beside the Rogue River.

Husband Walter prepares lunch by the Rogue.
Sun sparkling off the rippling water, mountains, forest and quiet created the relaxing décor of our outdoor eatery. A bonus was an apple tree that provided a small, tart apple for dessert. Hubby prefers sweet. I like tart, so he left the apple eating up to me.

Mt. Thielsen
The glacier-sculpted peaks of Mt. Thielsen soared before us and added drama to our drive in mid-afternoon.

We arrived at the trail to Tokekee Falls as shadows lengthened in the late afternoon.

Tokekee Falls, Photo by Walter Skupien
Hubby has a passion for capturing images of water in motion. Since my slow pace would diminish his chance of catching light at the falls, I stayed behind while he headed to the falls. I love the image he captured. My plan was to go as far as I could on the trail and meet him on his way back.

Wooden 12-foot diameter pipeline
But first I wanted to find out about the huge, strange-looking tube that crawled through the landscape near the parking area. Interpretive signage at the trail entrance held answers. The wooden pipeline diverts flow from the North Umpqua River to a hydroelectric plant downstream. It was completed in 1949 and carries water from a 102-acre reservoir located less than a mile upstream of the falls.

An inviting scene
After snapping a few shots of the pipeline and the interpretive sign as background notes, I considered the trail to Tokekee Falls. Before me was a serene scene of level ground and stately trees with afternoon sunlight slanting through the evergreens. The combination created a ghostly but benign-looking atmosphere.

A few steps on the trail and I was thoroughly engrossed in my first independent hiking experience. I had discussed attempting this trail with my physical therapist, and she and techs had been creative about helping me improve my balance on uneven terrain.

Weeks before our trip west, therapist Ashley had arranged firm foam planks, ovals and squares plus sturdy wooden boxes of four to six inches high in a hallway to create my Tokekee Falls trail obstacle course in the Ocean Springs Neuro Rehab Center.

What couldn’t be mimicked were abrupt changes in the pitch of inclines. At one point I misjudged the steepness of an incline and found my gait increasing and my body beginning to pitch forward. In a moment of terror I managed to stop, straighten up, recover and consider options.

Backtracking wasn’t an option. I didn’t have any confidence that I could keep my balance to go back up the steep incline. My first attempt downward made me certain that, even using my usual slaloming zigzag strategy for elevation changes, going down wasn’t a safe option.

Cautious experimentation led me to ease across the trail, off the slippery stone surface and on to the crumbly soil at the trail’s edge. I have never before been so appreciative of good old dirt. The rich, black, cushiony soil was a blessing. Not many steps later the sharp incline eased and I moved back on to the trail, once again safely on my way.

A bit farther, I ran into a combination of exposed roots and jagged rock. I appreciated my therapist and the exercises that she had put me through to prepare me for the trail. Two women returning from the falls appeared and waited patiently for me to pick my way through the obstacles.

“You don’t have far to go to the falls,” one said. “ You shouldn’t have trouble making it the rest of the way.”

Beautiful but treacherous
Right. Obviously she had no previous acquaintance with a stroke survivor. The path soon narrowed. There was a deep gorge and rushing water on my left. The sound of the river accompanied my steps, a musical reminder that I needed to pay attention or I could wind up an unintentional part of the scenery in the gorge.

A few turns later, a flight of stone stairs faced me. Hmmmm. Water and steep drop-off were nearby and no railings graced the stairway. It was time for me to look for a boulder or stump, sit down, rest and wait for Hubby.

I turned from the stairs, took a few steps toward a potential perch and Hubby appeared. He was less than pleased that I had not stopped at earlier challenges on the trail. He was right. But turning back had not been a safe solution. Rehab continues with lessons learned about navigating safely!


  1. i am so glad you made it safe to a place to wait for him. i was scared for you just reading this story. i love that old trail through the logs and the picnic spot is perfect. mother would have loved that. she was queen of picnics. strange way to get water from one place to another..

  2. Gosh, I am so proud of you for doing this. I cheated when we did DC and rode a skooter.

  3. Wonderful description of a great trip. I love the pipeline. You two find some interesting bits of America in your travels. Dianne

  4. Thank goodness you didn't slip and slid. I applaud your preparation, your determination, you spunk, and your independence.

    I love the photos. I love Oregon.

  5. Linda, I'm so proud of you.
    You have wonderful therapists who prepared you for the hike.
    Your getting as far on the trail as you did shows the tremendous progress your body has made and how healing the triumphs are too.
    Thank you for sharing your "adventures".