Join us below as N-ABLE Guide Julienne Dallara shares her personal journey through life’s hills and valleys plus a recent adventure in Yosemite National Park that you’re sure to love!
Personality and pain. Attractiveness and ego. Financial value, self-importance, body image and power. Human worries cascade through my mind on a daily basis, but mountain worries don’t. Not pine tree worries. And hopefully, not mountain lion nor squirrel worries.
Speaking of worrying, I’m pretty sure squirrels don’t have nasty, judgmental voices in their heads telling them that they are worthless compared to their brother squirrel with his far superior acorns. At least, I hope that they don’t.
To escape 58 years of my internal voice, I recently accepted an invitation from the city of Sacramento to spend five days in Yosemite National Park.
A wonderful team of good-natured, able-bodied mountaineers would feed us, organize and help us survive a short week in the mountains. Most of us were in wheelchairs. Most of us couldn’t walk at all. But there were arm bikes and mountains, so I happily said yes.
I was allowed to bring my 22-year-old son along. He had been only 7 months old when I woke up paralyzed one day from Transverse Myelitis, so Nick was familiar with wheelchairs and their inhabitants. He is also familiar with the human tendency to worry about what we cannot control, and to fret about that which is meaningless. He also needed mountains and their lions.
The crisp air and scent of wood smoke hit us and shook us out of our driving stupor.
Before Nick could drop into the magic of Yosemite, a friend of his called with a personal health crisis. As he focused on human pain, I tilted my head back and looked at the circle of tree branches above. It wiped away city cacophony. Watching the last rays of sun on the tips of the mountains brought perspective flooding into my throat and relaxed my jaw. What was I so worried about anyway?
Our group of a dozen folks in chairs contained many who are ex-military, two mother-and-son combinations, a relatively recent amputee and a budding romance. You wouldn’t think these personality types would blend together and get along, would you? Well, they didn’t, not at first…but no one cared!
As Nick’s friend’s crisis averted, he went on to care for the others. Being a caregiver of hearts and minds comes naturally to Nick and helping with wheelchairs is part of his upbringing.
JULIENNE LEVERAGES ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY TO NAVIGATE YOSEMITE
We stayed in the Housekeeping Campground on the Valley floor, surrounded by dirt, rocks and concrete bunkers. I noticed I was the only person in a power chair. Although I did catch a glimpse of some really buff shoulders popping wheelies over the rocks and bumps, I have no doubt that some of my group would have loved to be using a WHILL Model M wheelchair like I was.
Thanks to my WHILL, I could balance a cup of morning coffee while moving along in search of a ray of sunshine simultaneously. As users know, one of the biggest challenges of life in a chair is how to carry hot coffee while wheeling with both hands. There are various techniques, and for me at least, a power chair is one of the least likely to scald your sensitive parts.
Once you clamber onto a low-slung arm bike though, for a little bit of group handcycling, your ego will change its course. As we took off on our cycling adventure, my thoughts turned away from how I looked to “how do I keep pumping up these hills? “
In that moment, my nerve pain and paralysis took a back seat to aching arms and pounding heart. I had thought I was in shape, but Yosemite convinced me otherwise.
There’s a fellowship among humans in any vast national park, as though we all feel our smallness in the big earth at the same time. Except when jostling to pose in front of a waterfall, I was happy to see that humanity is one with nature in Yosemite Valley.
Meet Mark Wellman:
The Man, The Myth, The Belay at the Base of the Mountain
The great mountain man, Mark Wellman, was a leading part of our group. Years ago, he tripped on a mountain and fell into a wheelchair. Not one to be dissuaded, he devised a pully system that allowed him to chin himself up El Capitan here in Yosemite. That same device system is used all over the world today as people of varying abilities are embracing rock climbing, both inside and outdoors.
On one of our camp days, Mark set up that pully system and allowed us to try his form of mountain climbing. Of course, he pulled his own weight, but he set the rig so I was pulling 1/3 of my weight. I was still out of breath when I reached the top of the rope, 30 feet above solid ground.
Anyone who pats Mark on the shoulder may think they are touching a mountain. The man is solid granite. Watching him bike up the trails, I returned to my humanity and was filled with envy. I wanted my body to do that with ease too, like Mark did, but you don’t turn into a mountain by typing all day.
I vowed to spend more time on an arm bike, to get in better physical condition, before returning next year. The buzz, the peace, the perspective of the Earth stays with you, even after that critical voice returns to your head. I can feel it now, even though I am back to my computer.
Leaving the Mountains Outside, Instead of in Your Mind
Yoga practitioners often tell us to focus on our breathing. When I’m being mindful, I notice breathing gets shallow and fast when I’m working, which is most of the time.
I put reminders around my office to encourage me to stop and take a deep breath on a regular basis.
Mark Wellman sells a beautiful poster of himself in his wheelchair, sitting high on a mountain peak. It’s an amazing accomplishment but I can’t help but self-criticize when I see it.
“I’ll bet he doesn’t have to remind himself to breathe” says that nasty, judgmental voice in my head. “Yeah well, I’ll bet he can’t do what I do!” snaps another one of my other voices, defending my fragile, human ego.
Sigh. Time to head back to the mountains. Let’s all keep working to leave them outside instead of in our minds.