Hiking with Holly, Off Trail Musings

The Backstory…

It came to me a while back that I should write a blog on my/our backstory. When reading my blog posts, most people might not get why these hikes are even that big of a deal. The mileage that we do is not really impressive, especially in the hiking community. In the hiking community, the mileage we do in a day is a mere pittance to what many others can cover, but to us, it is significant. What I write next is not complaining or whining, so please don’t take it that way. It is meant to inspire and encourage. If we can get out there and do something that is hard for us, then I know others can too. Maybe not on the scale to which we are doing it, but by just starting to take the first steps to accomplishing something you have wanted to do for a very long time.

Gannon and I have always loved being active and outdoors, but after 4 years in the Marine Corps, Gannon was pretty much over any form of camping or backpacking. We both continued to be active by pursing our other passions. I was continuing my love of dance by becoming a dance teacher. Gannon ran and lifted weights. We started a family and had 2 boys. They were raised going to the beach in the summer and snowboarding in the winter.

My favorite beach….Oceanside Blvd.
Mammoth 2011
Boarding in Tahoe

In the year 2000, we hit a rough patch in our marriage. I will never forget what the therapist said to us. He told us to get a common hobby to share together. Some marriages fall apart after the kids are gone, because the marriage was all about the kids. The couple had nothing to hold their marriage together when their kids left home. We were both determined from that point on to find something that we both enjoyed doing together that could continue when the boys were grown. Our marriage was not going to fall apart after all these years because we had nothing in common anymore. No way, no how!

Over these last 15 years we have tried many different activities, including wine tasting, which is still one of my favorites! Gannon also loves to mountain bike. I gave that one a good try and failed miserably at it. We still go to the mountains in the winter, but instead of snowboarding, we are back to skiing. Not as cool, but much easier on our bones. Over the years, our bodies just don’t seem to take the beating and keep on ticking like they used to. Old injuries and job related injuries have started to side line us. Several have been significant and are the reason that what we do now is so meaningful.

In 2008, Gannon had a lower back fusion. He had rods, screws, and cages placed into his lower back. Most people did not think he would even go back to his line of work. He recovered well and was back to work in 6 months. He still deals with pain, but has full function of his back again.

It’s hard for me to remember when it all my foot troubles started happening. I was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis and had orthotics made to help when wearing certain shoes. Some years later, I developed pain in my big toes and was told I had Hallux Rigidus. The doctors told me to wear orthotics and do other activities like swimming and biking (that’s when I gave the mountain biking a try). I was told to take Advil and use an anti-inflammatory cream on my feet daily. All the years of dance had really taken a toll on my feet.

Taping my feet before any physical activity

Most of my physical activity stopped or I just did it with extreme pain. If I did do anything that involved being on my feet, I basically could not walk for a couple of days afterwards. This was no way to live!

Then I developed a ganglion cyst in the joint of my left big toe. I was referred to an orthopedic foot surgeon. After X-raying both of my feet, he informed me that once he removed the cyst, we could start working on getting my toes fixed. What? No one has ever told me there was a fix to this! Oh my gosh, this is a miracle!

I had the cyst removed, recovered, and went back to see what we could do. There were 2 options. I could have injections of cortisone for up to 3 times in each toe or surgery. I chose the injection route first. A temporary band aid by having a cortisone injection shot right into each one of my big toe joints. Super fun stuff!

Recovering after my last set of injections in my toes. Headed out to Mammoth for a ski trip in a week.

At the same time, I developed other health issues that were unrelated (or so I thought) and ended up being diagnosed with Fibromyalgia by a Rheumetologist. She told me that most likely it is from living in soo much pain from my feet for all these years. If I had surgery on my feet and reduced the amount of pain I was in, it could also help reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Win, win! Back to the surgeon I went.

Surgery day!!!

On March 20, 2014, I had my right toe operated on. I had a cheilectomy with bio-cartilage put into my joint. It’s really cool new technology that is just starting to be done in toes. Instead of just going in and cleaning up the joint, they also add bio-cartilage to create a good joint again. They also use your own blood to help your body not reject it. At the time of my surgery, my surgeon was the only one in Southern California using this new technique. After 6 weeks of a boot and some self therapy, I was really noticing a difference in my toe. I scheduled the next surgery for November.

My right toe surgery

In the meantime, Gannon’s health started taking a downward turn and was diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus, caused by a hiatal hernia and Gerd. He had to have immediate surgery to fix the problem or he was at serious risk for esophogial cancer. He had the surgery in October 2014. He lost a ton of weight before and after the surgery. When he was all done, he looked gaunt and really sickly. It was scary to see him that way.

Gannon getting ready for his Nissen Fundoplication surgery.

On November 20, 2014 (6 months from the date of my other surgery) I went in to have my left toe fixed. Gannon was still recovering from his surgery. What a hot mess we both were! I spent another 6 weeks in a boot and went to actual physical therapy this time.

Left Toe surgery. Turkey toe nails to be festive!

In February, Gannon and I were cleared by our doctors to start doing physical activities again. During all of our recovery time, we talked about starting to backpack. We always wanted to do it, but needed to wait until our kids were grown and my feet were better. We started training in February and had our big backpacking trip planned for mid July in Mammoth. It was exciting to have something to work towards together. We knew this trip could be the start to something great or the end to any overnight adventures for us! Luckily, it was the start to something great and we cannot wait for the many adventures we have ahead. Neither of us is without pain, but the love of finding that special something we love to do together outweighs all the painful moments.

Our Lake Virginia Selfie.

10 thoughts on “The Backstory…”

  1. Holly I admire anybody who back packs but now I really admire you guys for all you have over come…you rock! Thanks for sharing!


  2. Hi holly. I have hallux limitus bordering on Rigidus in a big toe. I wonder how you’ve gotten along with your bone spur removal and bio cartilage ? Is your rom good ? How much pain do you have ? I have bad gait as I have 50 degrees of dorsiflexion I don’t have lots of pain. Did you get good dorsiflexion back? I love to hike and sboeshoe and walk I’m debating about surgery. I’m in SoCal. Can you tell me what doctor did your cheilectomy and biocartilage. ? Thanks in advance. Tina Schaefer. Pasadena.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Tina. I had a lot of success with my cheilectomy and bio cartilage in my right foot. Great ROM now after a few years. Little pain. It didn’t do as well in my left and I had a Cartiva implant and metatarsalagia surgery done 9 mo ago. Still recovering from that. Slower than I like. Getting my ROM back but still have pain and swelling. I’d say your best bet is the bio cartilage. If I could do over, I would not have done the Cartiva and left the bio cartilage in my left toe. I have good dorsiflexion on both feet now. I am learning to walk normal again as I have been walking on the outsides if my feet for over 10 years. That is now causing other things to flair up (Achilles tendinitis) but once I work through it all, I hope to have a good 5-8 years before I need to think about fusion. My Dr is Keenan Carriero. He is in Encinitas. Carriero Foot and Ankle. Hope you find some relief and success to keep on hiking!


      1. Thanks so much for your fast answer Holly ! I really appreciate it. I considered cartiva but have read about several unsuccessful operations. I really want to have normal rom again. I also broke my left ankle two years ago and have foot pain that I try to ignore and for which there’s apparently nothing I can do as it’s not consistent or ever in same place. Darn. I keep hiking anyway. I’d like to do some of your trips and will read your blog about them.


      2. Thanks soo much. It really sucks to have foot pain as it effects everything. But it’s not going to stop me from doing what I love. At least for now. I am very happy with my right foot and the bio cartilage. If you could ever get that, it’s like new again! Happy trails!


      3. I’m looking for someone around here who does biocartilage. Your great outcome gives me hope that I can walk normally again. We’ve never backpacked yet we just bought a tent and stove and sleeping bags. What backpacking would you recommend as a starter ? We’re 65 and 69 but (besides my crappy feet and husband’s bad heart which he is careful to have monitored and has no restrictions ). Are healthy.


      4. Sorry for my delayed reply. I would recommend Idyllwild. June is a good time to go. Get a permit from San Bernardino NF. Park at the Humber Parking lot https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/sbnf/recarea/?recid=26483 with an Adventure Pass over night. Hike up Devil’s slide and go right at the saddle towards Tahquitz Peak. You can camp dispersed camping in that area and do not need to camp at a specific site. We have done that several times and then went to Tahquitz fire lookout the next day, then back down Devil’s slide. Not alot of miles and a good starter to backpacking. You have to bring your own water as there are no water sources there. Other alternative is to hike on Catalina. It is good year round, but is tough hiking. If you wait till summer, I would highly suggest https://wordpress.com/post/hikingholly.com/1852. This was super, but be prepared for altitude.


      5. Thanks Holly. We’ll try it and I’ll let you know how we do. Any suggestions for first time backpackers ? We’ve done day hikes for many years. Tina Schaefer.


      6. Make your gear as light as possible. Don’t overpack. We tend to pack our fears. The same clothes are fine for long periods of time. For a week, I pack 2 panties, 2 bras, 2 pairs socks. Wear all my same clothes. Let me know if you end up having other questions.


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