058 | Power of Community in overcoming adversity

Adventure plans don't always go according to plan. Listen as Heidi rings in the New Year and how community supports her through the dark spots of adversity.

Many people kick off the new year with fresh goals and set adventure intentions, or maybe have some fresh energy and motivation eager for a fresh start. Our New Years did not kick off in any way, shape or form according to plan.  You may have noticed that I did not publish an episode last week. And I decided to switch things up because the lessons learned from this experience are in alignment with the message of this podcast. I also hope sharing a little bit of our experience demonstrates the power of community and the lessons learned through adversity.

A couple of weeks before Christmas, we realized our holiday schedule was wide open, meaning there wasn’t much scheduled and we were able to get away and do our own thing.  We decided to take the RV south.  If you haven’t explored New Mexico, it is an untourism destination of choice for us. While a lot of amazing things happened in New Mexico, the one thing we didn’t get to do that we really wanted to do was do some mountain biking. My daughter and I had just gotten new mountain bikes. My oldest son is an avid mountain biker, he likes the more technical trails and some of the trails that we saw he was eager to do. So we stopped at a state park in Texas called Palo Duro Canyon State Park, which is home to the second largest canyon in the United States.  I guess the most common instagram feature would be Lighthouse Rock, but overall it is gorgeous. 

We were able to get a campsite that night. It was not warm in Texas, but we had hookups and a furnace and we’re from Wisconsin; temperatures in the thirties and forties aren’t a big deal for us. On December 31st, we were just packing up. We took a hike, came back, had breakfast, packed up the campsite, and we decided we were going to spend our morning biking. I would bike with the three kids down an easy trail while my husband checked out of our campsite and parked the RV further down the trail so we wouldn’t as far of a ride bike. Our intention was once we met up with him the kids could choose to bike the more technical mountain bike trails and/or hike to Lighthouse Rock.  

The kids and I set off on the trail with my daughter leading us and my oldest son rode directly behind her helping to coach her through where to aim for on the trail, when to get her speed up, when to shift etc.  The trail was made of hard sand with some spots washed out making it a bit rugged until you get to a quaint wooden bridge over a crick.  The trail went from from sandy and dry desert looking to red clay.  We biked the S curve in the trail up a small hill, enough that all the kids got off and walked their bike to the top.  We just crossed the 1 mile marker and had about 1.5 miles to go until we met up with my husband.   At the top of the hill the trail took a sharp turn at the top then a fair descent before a hairpin turn to a flat trail at the bottom.  My oldest son decided to take the lead so he could get a feel for the trail. He completes the section with ease.  My youngest son is next and comes in a little bit too fast, grabs his front brake takes an over-handle-bars fall,  but gets up without fanfare and states he is okay. My daughter just learned from her youngest brother, reinforced with coaching from her older brother, not to hit the front brake. She holds both brakes, taking it nice and slow. And then all of a sudden there’s a scream and a splash and the exclamation, “I think I broke my arm!”  I am at the top of the hill with my view blocked .  I can only see my two sons who are up ahead rush to her rescue.  I race my bike down the trail a bit freakishly to find her off her bike, now with my oldest son, in the creek parallel to the trail.  Between the trail and the creek is a 5 foot “cliff” meaning steep drop without any bank. she is in extreme pain, her arms are limp and we can’t figure out how to get her out of the extremely cold creek.

As my sons and I replay the scene and walk through what we think happened, she came down the trail slow took the hairpin turn a little too wide got caught up in the tall grass between the trail and the creek and went over the 5 foot cliff breaking both wrist on impact and then falling and breaking her elbow.   She had a helmet on, was able to stand and walk on her own. While this very unfortunate thing happened, the bright spot happens when you realize the power of community and what happens in the face of adversity on the trail.

First of all, I just want to give a hero shout out to my oldest son who just jumped into this freezing cold water without hesitation to help my daughter. He immediately helped her up.   With his help, we were able to have my daughter step on his bent knees and I was able to lift her from under the armpits to get her out of the creek with this steep embankment that had offered nothing to grasp or step on.  Mind you my daughter had no use of her hands or arms.  While I was tending to her he also was able to get her bike out of the creek.  He was, and continues, to show his sister selflessness, offering support in navigating life as a 9-yo with considerable restrictions.  

Within minutes, a couple had come from the direction that we were headed to. Ironically these were the first people we saw on the trail.  And you could tell by their gear and by their kind of personas that they were into biking and they immediately came and were willing to go get my husband.

My oldest son (who is soaking wet) went with him to get my husband.  When they found my husband he was dumping the RV, you know all hooked up and waiting for things to drain.  It was not ideal. Since he didn’t don’t know where he was going or he just hiked with them back to where the accident happened. The female of that couple stayed with us and just kept my daughter calm and told her stories of different accidents she’s had on her bike.

As we are chatting and waiting for the boys a single woman comes hiking down the trail.  And she said, “this doesn’t look good. Do you need me to call park Rangers? I know all of the EMS people around. Do you want me to make some phone calls?”  At this point we didn’t really know what we were dealing with. My daughter was in extreme pain. Both of her arms were limp. I was simply trying to keep her calm and waiting for my husband.  

In less than 10 minutes, we had this micro- adventure-loving-supportive-community developing around us of people who were willing to help. This was another example of when bad things happen, people show up! I have personally noticed it more while adventuring than in real life.  The hiker mom walked my daughters bike up to the road, and my husband rode my bike back to get the RV. We were able to help her walk back up the trail to the road.   As we are waiting on the side of the road for the RV, vehicles are stopping to check on us, asking, “Who can I call? Do you need some water? Do you need any ice packs? How can I help you? This was the message we heard over and over and over. 

I do want to give a shout out to the Hiker Mom. I never caught her name, but she told me she’s a mom of several trail riders. Her son competes and has done triathlons and she’s been through a lot of booking bones and she immediately looked at me and said, “mom, how are you?”   I was okay. I was still in the moment, but that immediate acknowledgement and recognizing she’s been here, she’s been in this arena before. She knows what I’m feeling. She knows what to expect. She can give me some of that insight. I can’t tell you how reassuring that was for the next steps. She advised us to go to an ER. She had a trauma kit in her car (clearly she’d been through this before). So she gave us water and was willing  to offer us anything in that trauma kit. And that was just the sense of, okay, I’m not alone in this, even though I don’t know this person’s name, she’s been here. She’s been in the arena. There was no judgment. It was a sense of community, a sense of partnership, a sense of empathy. And that just continued throughout this experience. 

That message already began to lift our spirits. I just said to her,  “Look, how many people care about you right now? Look, how many people want to make you feel better? And they want to get you help. I want to let you know, a lot of people are thinking about you and praying and sending good vibes already, even though we haven’t told anybody yet.”  It was helpful because that was the first phase of this accident. It was the initial shock phase when you’re on the trail and this bad thing happens and you’re being rescued and you’re getting to the ER, it starts to sink in.  Those acts of kindness and message of support were already helpful to give her the mindset of, “I have no idea what’s going to happen next, but all these people care about me.”

I won’t talk too much about the ER experience just because our first experience was not delightful. What we did learn through the next 8 hours was that my daughter had four broken bones. Both wrists were fractured and a complex break of her elbow required surgery.  There were plenty of other adrenaline filled moments like my daughter fainting several times thankfully I caught her both times, a rush of nurses coming to carry her to her bed, covering her chest and abdomen with pads to monitor her vitals and the painful search for a IV location.  Given that both arms were broken it’s not a pleasant task for a 9 yo.  They attempted several spots in her feet, but none of them really panned out.  They did their best to split her arms. This entire experience now is filled with adrenaline, a lot of feelings, a lot of emotions. My daughter’s hearing that she has to have surgery for the first time and is scared. I’m scared as a mom. I’m not sure how we’re going to get her to this next hospital. We are 20 hours from home.  Between tears she asks to see her brothers and dad.  We initially were supposed to be transported by ambulance, but there were no ambulances available and it’s now seven o’clock at night, we are all exhausted.  Looking back I was grateful we were able to transport her to the second hospital.  She got to sit by the dog, take a slight rest, and have small creature comforts around her.  

Up until this point I had only told a friend of the family, Hans, because we were supposed to meet up with them later that night. On our way to the first ER I sent a text to let him know my daughter had a bike accident, we were headed to the ER and I didn’t think we were going to make it.  We still didn’t really know anything, we had some x-rays, we were doing our best to manage her pain.  We don’t really know when we’re coming home. We don’t really know what the surgery entails. There’s just all these questions. 

When we arrived at nine o’clock at night and there was an instinct when we sat down in the Children’s Hospital ER that when you know, you know!  I don’t remember exactly what time it was, but I text my husband and said, “I don’t know how long we’re going to be here.  I don’t know what is going to come next. But all I can say is there’s something that I’m feeling right now that’s telling me we are exactly where we need to be right now.” We did not have surgery that night, in fact they needed to take off the splits, redo the x-rays, get an IV placed. We took a selfie at 12:02 AM and sent it to the boys (again in the RV in the parking lot with the dog).   We were finally admitted to a room on the Peds floor and out of the ER, at 3:00 AM. I got  a couple of hours sleep on the little lounge chair that pulls out. The Orthopedic who met with us in the ER came to let us know around 6 AM that we are the first one on the schedule.  My daughter is really nervous about surgery and wants my husband and boys to come in and see her so she can see them. Nurses come in and prep her with IV fluids and clean her up with the surgical wipes bath.  It’s sounding like surgery will be around 8:30 AM.  

My boys are really awesome.   The boys begin quoting the Rookie of the Year movie where Henry breaks his arm and his classmates all say in unison, “ hi Henry, bye Henry” when he enters a room.  We know she is going to be in two long arm casts that go past her elbow.  We start to internalize what this is going to mean.  I am still surprised that my daughter approaches each of these new challenges and learnings with the most amazing attitude. She asks questions.  She busts out whitty moments where you’re thinking like that’s so inappropriate right now, but it’s so needed. She also just comes at it with this place of curiosity. And there was so much that was learned from this nine-year-old in the last two weeks.  One lesson that I as a parent was reminded of was despite the worst case scenario happening, her attitude was carrying us through this.

There’s nothing delightful about this experience. There’s nothing delightful about being in a hospital for four days. There’s nothing delightful about having to go through surgery. There’s nothing delightful about having two arms completely cast it up to your shoulders. And yet her attitude was extremely positive. She was really approaching everything from the glass half full.  This wasn’t her first worst case scenario experience. (You can hear more in the Facing Fear episode), I thought This is really going to mess with her psyche.  I was projecting that she would be done biking, that she wouldn’t be interested. She’d be too scared that this was too traumatic.  I said to her, “it’s okay if you want to sell your bike.” And she kind of looked at me and exclaimed, “it’s a brand new bike. Why would I sell it?”
“Well, I don’t know if you want to get back on your bike.” I replied

And she quickly chimed in,“well, not today.”

I chuckled because here I was already deciding what her adventure future might look like. And I had made the assumption that it excluded biking, but that was not necessarily her vision of her own future. Her vision was much more optimistic than mine. 

Once we shared the news and told family and told friends, people we’re asking, how can I help? Let me know if you need anything.

I am terrible at asking for help. And quite honestly, I didn’t know what to ask for. I didn’t know when we were going to be home. I didn’t know what her limitations were going to be. I just simply didn’t know. It’s easy drift to the extremes with the mindset of  “oh, I got this and I’ll figure it out” or throw your hands up and feel helpless.  I am still in the middle figuring it out, somedays I feel like we’ve got this and other days I throw my hands up.   At the time of recording we’re almost two weeks from the accident. And we’re still learning things, you know, we called last week coming home and people were showering her with coming to see her and give, sending her warrior messages.  We have a friend that sends daily memes that are so funny and just lighten the mood every day. We have other people who have offered them, her clothes, the clothing, cause getting clothing on when you have two broken arms is tricky. We’ve been testing smoothie recipes. Just running the gamut trying to figure out how to sleep, how to get dressed, how to go to the bathroom, how to eat, how to write, how to do school again. Instead of asking for help, I decided to crowdsource suggestions and resources from our network. The power of community!

Another example of community and the power of a network is being connected to people like Hans and Christine from Oklahoma.  If you recall, Hans was the first person I messaged and immediately the prayers came in and they called and said, do whatever, you know, we can change bandages. Please come whenever you’re ready, You always have a place here. I had met these people precisely one time in my life, maybe twice at family weddings. When we were discharged from the hospital, my cousin reached out and said, please go stay with Hans and Christine. It will be the most loving and human experience. I think you need this care and compassion. We did, and arrived at nearly 11 PM at night after getting clothes, pain medicine and lots of pillows to make the ride comfortable.  

I asked several times “If this is too late, please be honest. We’ll figure something out. It’s not the end of the world. 

And they said, “no, no, no, no, please come, please come. We want to welcome you into our home.”

My daughter was able to sleep in a real bed, propped up like a princess with a hundred pillows and she even got milk and cookies upon arrival. It was such a powerful example of community,  of treating a stranger in the adventure community, friends of family members who not only opened their house, but made us breakfast and were willing to find little things like hair bands so we could braid my daughter’s hair. They distracted our boys for a little bit and did something fun, so that my daughter could just have a moment to herself to feel all the feelings from the last couple of days. And it hit hard that day.  The emotions came to a head. We had a really hard time sleeping. We struggled to manage her pain. She was insecure with getting dressed and going to the bathroom. So many things that came to a head as she realized what life was going to be like the next 6+ weeks.  

I can’t tell you what it meant to be with people who care when you’re not home, when you’re away. I want people to know that this is possible. This world doesn’t feel very caring right now.  It doesn’t feel very compassionate. When you are an adventurous family, there’s a lot of critics that like to think you’re doing the wrong thing or like to judge, or  just don’t necessarily see the vision that you have for your future for your family. It can be a very lonely place. And when both the story of the mom on the trail, seeing me as a mom on the trail and the story of Hans and Christine in Oklahoma. Those are people in the arena, who have walked it. They may not have had the exact same experiences, but they can feel it with you and they can support you and they can ask how they can help or they can help without you asking.

I had so many people in my little group that just did it, that just came and shared and sent my daughter things. We felt supported because of my community. I know a lot of you are kicking off 2022 with mixed feelings.  We’re into another surge. It seems like this world is hopeless. But I want to offer you a different story. I want to offer you a story of hope that there are people that will walk alongside you. That will support you. This is the purpose of being in the arena. There are several of you who have already, and I will be reaching out to every single person. If you are interested in getting more involved in this community for adventure families with the goal to turn down the noise on the critics in the cheap seats. Instead ask, learn and share experiences with people who have been there.  People who have walked in your shoes or have done the things that you’re aspiring to. So you can ask them the questions. Or on the flip side, share your experiences and offer a layer of support and say “this was the hard part for me…My family did not understand, I kind of became the black sheep and these are the things I did to help build my network or to create community.” That’s the power of being in the arena.

We just watched the movie Field of Dreams the other day and there is a scene where Kevin Costner is sitting on the bleachers and his brother-in-law cannot see the players.  Nobody sees his vision for this amazing baseball field that he’s creating in Iowa. That’s sometimes how I feel. I have this vision for our family. I have a vision for our own future and the people sitting on the bleachers can’t see the players. They can’t see what’s developing before our eyes. And so this is a place in the arena. If you go to ordinarysherpa.com/arena, it’s a place where you can learn more about the arena.

You can connect with others and get to know and support your own adventure goals and have others that potentially believe in your own vision. If that’s not your thing, and you don’t want to join any group and you don’t need community, or you’re kind of just wanting to support the show and the message of this.

Regardless of what adventures lie ahead or how you kicked off your new year, It is not hopeless. You have 300+  days left. We are really optimistic that that was the worst that could happen this year and we already got it off our list. It’s also given us insights about potential fears we’ve had about long term travel.  So I hope your 2020 to start was not quite as adventurous as ours. I hope you have a delightful experience, not only January 1st, but as you embrace the next 11 months. Thank you so much for being here. 

May this episode inspire you to take a step in the arena and know what matters is not the outcome, but that you are IN the ARENA.

Until next time we are over here rooting you on.  I can’t wait to see and hear what little adventures you are doing, and what bold and brave experiences you are designing for 2022.  Keep that adventurous and festive spirit 🙂

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