- Meet Consumers/Patients
Rick Davis recently hiked across the Grand Canyon to raise money and awareness. His story will kick off our Donor Profile series in a big way. In the future, however, we expect this column will be shorter, and not necessarily focused on a single experience.
Nine years ago, when I was 57 years old, I was disabled by a stroke that weakened my right side, impaired my balance, and paralyzed my esophagus. Initially, I could not raise my right arm and my right leg would not support me. Through physical therapy, I relearned how to walk within a few weeks. After weight training and walking for more than a year, I regained normal strength on my right side. I now maintain muscle tone and strength on my right side through workouts at the gym. The muscles of my esophagus, however, are part of the autonomic nervous system and I cannot improve their functioning at the gym. I will never recover the ability to swallow. For nine years, I have used a G-tube for 100 percent of my nutrition and hydration.
Before my stroke, I enjoyed hiking, skiing, and mountain biking. After my stroke, I used walking and hiking to manage my balance impairment and regain my strength. Each year, I was able to hike longer and steeper trails. I also relearned how to ski at a training center for disabled athletes and even regained my ability to ride a bike. It took nearly four years before I felt I was back to my normal physical abilities. At the same time, I was learning to manage my home enteral therapy more effectively. I learned the best ways to infuse my nutrition on trails, ski slopes, and biking paths. Lacking any sensation of thirst, I had to be diligent about hydration, especially when exercising. Armed with these new tube-feeding skills, and encouraged by the recovery and maintenance of my strength and endurance, I decided to attempt a hike across the Grand Canyon last October. I believed I could do it in one day.
The Big Adventure
It is not an easy hike. The trail between the South Rim and the North Rim is 24 miles long. It descends from 6,680 feet above sea level at the South Rim to 2,400 feet at the Colorado River. National Park rangers, signs, and hiking guides are blunt: “The Grand Canyon has some of the steepest and most rugged terrain on earth.” “If you are not in good shape, you should not even think of hiking down into the Canyon.” “DO NOT attempt to hike from rim to rim in one day.” One sign features a photo of a young, fit man in hiking gear. The caption reads, “Every year, we rescue hundreds of people from the Canyon. Most of them look like him.”
The inner canyon is a hot, dry desert. The steep-sided gorge was carved out by the Colorado River over 17 million years. Summer temperatures at the bottom of the canyon often exceed 110 degrees. The North Rim (at 8,250 feet) is closed because of snow and cold from mid-October to mid-May. It is a place where unprepared hikers can die.
As the volunteer president of the Oley Foundation, I thought it would be cool to do the hike as a fund-raiser for Oley. The fact that an old guy who can’t even eat or drink without a feeding tube would even try such an improbable feat would arouse some interest and encourage my friends to motivate me with their donations. I asked hundreds of my friends, family, and Oley members to sponsor my hike with donations of $10 per mile. My home care company, ThriveRx, was a major sponsor. A ThriveRx dietitian, Paul Armiger, age 36, hiked with me.
Paul and I began our hike from the South Rim at 6:30 a.m. on October 7. It was overcast, with light showers in the forecast. In about two hours we reached the Indian Garden Campground, 4.6 miles down the trail and 3,100 feet below the rim. It is the first of three campgrounds along the trail, and one of seven rest stops with drinking water. At 11:00 a.m. we reached the Colorado River and crossed over the churning rapids on a footbridge. We stopped at nearby Phantom Ranch for “lunch.”
“Eating” on the Trail
Lunch for me was powdered formula mixed with water. I infused this three times during the hike, getting about 500 calories each time. I had infused one liter of formula before the hike, with 1,500 calories; I infused another soon after we finished the hike, with another 1,000 calories. I also infused drinking water at each of the seven rest stops — a total of more than two gallons. Each time I “drank,” I added a rice-based rehydration powder, which replaced electrolytes and supplemented the carbohydrates in the powdered formula. As most readers know, preparing the equipment, flushing appropriately, and doing bolus feeding with a syringe takes more time than eating a sandwich and gulping some water. But I had fun explaining what I was doing to the curious hikers who stopped to watch and ask, “What in the world are you doing?”
From Phantom Ranch, Paul and I began the uphill hike to the North Rim. For the next seven miles, the trail was relatively easy. It ran parallel with Bright Angel Creek and gradually rose from 2,400 feet to 4,000 feet at the Cottonwood Campground, the fifth rest stop along the way. The most difficult part of the trail was ahead. We had hiked 18 miles in ten hours; it would take us four more hours to hike six miles up to the North Rim, 4,280 feet above us.
The sun went down at 6:30. We still had two miles to go, with another 2,200 feet up. It had snowed that morning at the North Rim and the trail was steep and slippery. We used flashlights to follow the trail and avoid the steep drop-offs. Our feet were blistered and our legs were burning. The air was thin; we were breathing hard. The cold was bone chilling. I think Paul realized the hike was a little more difficult than he had thought, but he was motivated to keep up with the old guy. I was motivated by the hundreds of people who had made donations to Oley on my behalf. Both Paul and I had committed ourselves to the hike and we had to finish. We had no other choice.
The last two hours were brutal. But we made it. We slept well that night. The next morning, we looked down into the canyon and ten miles across to the South Rim. It was hard to believe that we had actually hiked all the way across. We had a huge feeling of accomplishment. In total, we raised more than $15,000 for the Oley Foundation.
I’m going to hike across the Grand Canyon again next May. Would you like to come along? See details at www.oley.org.
LifelineLetter, January/February 2010