One of the many things l often felt as a Disabled Veteran is my own personal limitations. For nearly ten years I struggled with degenerative disk disease, levels of stenosis, severe instability of the spine, and mind splitting pain. Always the Cavalryman, never giving up, living by the creed, 'Scout's Out'. With each day and pocket full of Vicadin I’ve pushed forward.
From 1993-2003 I worked in many careers, roughneck, truck driver, medic, salesman, and even law enforcement. Always fighting myself, looking to beat my spinal disease, “I can do it. This will not stop me. Pain is in my head”. Each time I would eventually lose. My old injury would creep back in and violently say hello.
Retreating to some sort of desk job, my heart would wait. Wait until the chance my will would give way to adventure, something exciting; a lesson sure to be a hard pill to swallow. If only I could have seen the future.
October 2003 I woke to a wonderful surprise. My legs were not there. I could not feel them. For months the numbing had become worse; both in my legs and my hands. I lay in bed staring at my feet. “Move damn it, move”, if I had not been alone the look of terror would have been written all over my face. “Oh my God, this is it, I over did it”. Even my fingers were numb.
Once my fingers and hands became alive I rolled off my bed. Calling out to my roommates, to no avail I dragged my body into the living room. Laying there I yelled at the wall dividing our apartment from our neighbors'. Christina was like a little sister. Twenty three, she lived alone with just her five year old son. If anyone could help she could.
Luckily my roommate had left his shoes out again in front of the television. As messy as David was, this time I found myself grateful for the shoes. With all I had inside me I flung the shoe at the wall. Womp, nothing happened. I threw the second shoe. It landed harder and louder than the first. The wall shook in subtle irritation. A distant voice could be heard.
Christina, I called out, Help me. Quickly she came to the door. To her surprise, and my slight smile I lay in the fetal position. A nervous smile shared between the two of us. The site was anything but funny. Chris, with her long blond curly hair and small frame tried to reposition a six foot, 230 lbs man. Opting for trained professionals, she called the fire department and paramedics. Soon I would be carried in the “sitting” position to an awaiting emergency room, and the bad news soon to follow.
Due to an increase in my spinal deterioration the Department of Veterans Affairs would “give” me a disabled retirement. Effective November 1st. 2003 I was done; or as I felt, life over. Slowly, and along with the knowledge I had swallowed the “pill”, depression also set in. Scout's Out, I pushed forward down an unknown path.
August, 2007 my wife and I made a last 'Hoo-ah' trip to Yosemite National Park. I had been told that my previous spinal surgery had not done the trick. My spine could no longer handle even the easiest things in life. One slight move and I could be in an unimaginable condition. What a better way to go out, hike Half Dome Mountain in Yosemite National Park.
If you have never been to Yosemite Valley, all I can say is that God rested there on the seventh day. Regardless of one's spiritual belief, a deep sense of spirit is felt in the Valley of Light. Once rumored and hidden from the white man, millions come to her each year. Maybe that is why I was there? to find something.
Just after a couple of days in her womb my wife and I geared up to hike Half Dome. The nine mile journey up nearly five thousand feet was grueling. Along with my two day back pack, I carried all my camera equipment, back brace and knee brace. Six hours later we reached the base camp in little Yosemite Valley; the next day we would ascend to the top.
To our discouraged hearts, severe rain and lighting forced us back down the mountain. Trying to cut time, we descended down what is known as the staircase; a beautiful trail covering both Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls. The descent was 2.9 miles down three thousand feet. We finally made it back to camp with a swollen and hyper extended knee. Vicadin and my tans unit to the rescue, I would recover.
By morning my wife had a sore throat and was equally bruised and battered from our rush down the mountain in the rain. Still something inside called me. Each day, with the help of my bodily hardware I managed a small hike around the valley.
By Friday my wife had full blown strep throat hidden under her comforting smile. She knew that something inside me had to conquer this valley. Maybe it was not the valley I needed to conquer, but myself. I had to know. The summits around the valley were like metaphors in my life; things unfinished, failed, lost and taken away.
Off in the distance a lone dome loomed. He was guarding the valley. All under him felt his quiet presence; a lone sentinel standing watch, Sentinel Dome. I would meet this still warrior, I would look through his eyes, and he through mine.
Twelve noon I drove up to Glacier Point. Two miles away the guardian waited. Parking my car, strapping on my knee brace, back brace, and clutching my trekking pole, I headed out. My wife was not with me, this was my journey alone. Picking up my pace, I began to forget about all the hardware attached to me.
Around the base of Sentinel Dome are large pine trees and various Sequoia trees. Light could be seen dancing upon rocks and trees as they escaped their cloudy prison. Peace started to overtake me as I climbed higher and higher. I found myself moving rapidly now up the trail, my back the furthest thing in my mind.
Upon reaching the top the view over took me. I had made it, all around me was sky and the earth. The curvature of the earth could be seen. Giant mountains and jagged peaks all about me, I was in the center of my world. My world? what a strange way to think of where I was.
Taking out my bottle of water, I began to drink and replenish what the Warrior had taken to reach his top. Not too far from me falcons glided with ease on the same air I was breathing. Free of pain, free of gravity, and free to live, that was what I seen in them.
There I sat, on top of the world, in complete and absolute peace. The Sentinel was not warring with me; I had been warring with myself. The Dome had been that physical obstacle in my life. I made it, I was on top of the problem, it did not win, I did. As far as the eye could see was an endless sea of earth and sky. In my soul, an endless sea of possibilities waiting to be tapped, not bottled in pain and frustration.
The time had come to depart from my friend. I found myself saddened by the thought of leaving. Here on top of the Sentinel Dome something had died, something was born. I refreshed by this experience. Gathering my camera bag and trekking pole I looked around once more, said goodbye and headed back to my car.
Sunday afternoon, flying over Fresno, California I looked out the window of the plane; there in the distance the same view I seen from Sentinel Dome. Taking my camera out I snapped one last picture. A smile spread over my face, reclining back in my seat; yep, still at peace.
The war is over.