After San Francisco, I went on to Santa Cruz. There I had been in contact with David for several months. Like me, David is a former brain tumor patient who still has significant motor and mental limitations from his surgeries. Unlike me, his disability is very visible to him. Nevertheless, he does not let his head hang down and fights his way back into life as best he can. For example, he only learned to read and write at the age of 13 and by the time he is now 28, he has developed a lot and is studying by distance learning. Even though he has a support system for many areas to help him with daily tasks, David pursues his goals and doesn’t let them get him down. What was interesting for me was that I can 100% relate to all of the limitations David had, as I also had them and still have some of them. My limitations are many times smaller and for outsiders hardly noticeable but still present.
A huge learning for me was the three-day hike in Yosemite National Park with David. On this tour, I not only got to know the impressive nature of the national park, but also myself better. Even though David has ten times more limitations than I do, through him I became aware of and noticed many things that the brain tumor and surgery also caused in me. I became aware that in the past I took many things for granted, often treated myself with little care and expected a lot from myself. Now I have realized that cognitively, for example, I need more time for many things and also physically there are simply certain limitations. It’s easier for me to accept that now than it was in the past, and I realize that I’m allowed to be gentler and more patient with myself and don’t have to constantly push myself to the limit. At the same time, I am grateful to see how well I am doing and how well I have managed to fight my way back into life. I am very proud of this and yet I see that I have often done too much and at times totally overwhelmed myself. In addition to these insights, I was able to make another great new experience on the hike. And that was to be there for David, who went to his limits and beyond right at the beginning. To put my ego on the back burner, to walk slowly and to only pay attention to him and to the fact that we both arrive back at the bottom in one piece.
Besides my experiences and learnings on the tour, the hike with David was also very fun and adventurous. Since some unplanned things came up that morning and took much longer than expected, we arrived much later in Yosemite Valley. There we still had to organize our park licenses, bear canisters for food and more, so our three day round trip hike across from the famous Half Dome didn’t start until 1pm. It’s important to mention that camping in the park is outside of Yosemite Valley in the middle of the wilderness off the trails, and the park ranger explained to us exactly where and where we were definitely not allowed to pitch our tents. A bit worried if we would reach our first sleeping spot before nightfall, we hiked off. David insisted on doing everything himself and kept swaying under the weight of the big backpack. To support him I ran directly behind him and could grab his arm if he seemed to support again.
The first kilometers were pretty flat and could be completed quickly. When we arrived at the fork in the road, where it went uphill for more than 1000 meters, I looked at the clock. We still had 4 ½ hours until the sun set. We’ll make it if I help David a little and possibly carry his backpack part of the way, I thought to myself. In the back of my mind, the ranger’s words had stayed with me constantly: No way, but no way should we camp on the slope, because bears like to hang out in this area, and they have already pushed several of the bear canisters down the slope to get to the food. He also said that the bears are like big raccoons, which are first and foremost after the food of the hikers and that we should be careful that they do not succeed. If a bear comes we should call loudly and the animals run away then usually by itself. For me it was clear that we must overcome these 1000 meters of altitude today, and then pitch the tents in a safe place.
After a few turns, the path became much steeper, narrower and rockier, David had to concentrate incredibly to take one step after the other and to take a break after every second turn. Since we were progressing incredibly slowly, I tried to motivate David as much as possible and took his backpack off him for a longer time. Halfway uphill, the sun started to set. Armed with headlamps, we trudged on. David was incredibly exhausted and it was clear to me that we would certainly not make it to the plateau. Since the path was very narrow and steep, we searched in the darkness for a reasonably useful section on which we could spend the night. At some point we had reached a somewhat wider and less steep area, when David completely exhausted and puffing said that he was so tired and could not walk a meter more. As long as he often takes for many things, this time he was quick, unrolled his sleeping mat and, without taking off his shoes, went straight into his sleeping bag. Within seconds, David was asleep. I wasn’t really thrilled with our sloping sleeping spot and jammed the bear canisters into a crevice a few feet away, burying them under whatever boulders I could find.
Back at the overnight place on the narrow path I found that it made no sense at all to build up my tent. Right and left of the sleeping pad was a little space until on the one hand the rock wall or the slope came. So that I could not slide too far downhill I put the backpack at the foot end and slipped into the sleeping bag. I’ve spent the night under open skies several times, but never in the middle of a narrow sloping mountain trail in the middle of bear country. As you can imagine, I was anything but relaxed. Wide awake and pulling a thousand thoughts through my head, I kept watch. This night was beautiful on one hand and scary on the other. We had a full moon and everything was brightly lit. A few kilometers away on the other side of the valley we could see the lights of the climbers on Half Dom, who were setting up their bivouac in the middle of the rock face. It was very windy, the bushes and trees around us rustled suspiciously. Cloud formations appeared and disappeared again. For a while the sky was starry and the next moment big clouds built up. Rain was now still the last thing I could use here. In addition, the wind increased and to the rustle of the bushes came animal noises.
There had to be something in the bushes just a few meters away. I called out loudly and turned on my headlamp. In a moment the noise had stopped and I was a little more reassured. Soon I heard loud noises a little further away and a few small stones started sliding. I startled, turned on the flashlight again and called out very loudly. Again, it was immediately silent. Despite all the shouts, David lay motionless in his sheep sack and slept. This game was repeated again and again until at some point I became incredibly tired and could no longer keep awake. I became calmer, fell asleep and began to dream. All of a sudden I felt something at my feet and got scared. A marten, raccoon or something similar (I was way too tired to see it clearly) was at my backpack trying to gain access. I started kicking to kick the animal away and screamed at the top of my lungs. The animal was completely startled, didn’t know what to do, and all of a sudden David’s screaming still started. I came to, woke up and realized there was no animal on my backpack. David and I were probably screaming like maniacs for no reason at all in the middle of the night on a steep trail away from civilization. When I realized how ridiculous the situation was, I could hardly contain myself from laughing. The idea that our screaming resounded to the climbers on the other side of the valley and these possibly thought that something worse could have happened although I had only dreamed wildly, was hilarious.
After all, the screaming scared away all the animals in the immediate vicinity.
Shortly thereafter, David fell back into his deep sleep and I survived the night. Partly I slept until I woke up from loud rustling. The next morning David, fully recovered, and I, totally sleepy, got up and continued the tour. That evening we reached our sleeping place very early, so we could set up the tent and have a relaxed dinner in peace. I slept like a baby.
The descent on the third day was again a challenge for David. Luckily, a hiker gave us one of his hiking poles and Daniel from Bavaria, with whom we were talking, carried David’s backpack half way downhill. So I was able to take David’s right arm to support him and we arrived before dark, safely in the valley.
Through my contact with David, I realized how important it is to share with others in a similar situation. It helps not only oneself, but also the relatives to deal with the situation better.
I would have wished for that much earlier.
In order to provide sufferers with better information today, I am drawing attention to this with my project and promoting the German Brain Tumor Society.
With every donation, you help not only to further research into the disease, but also to inform people and give them the opportunity to exchange information.