When We Lost the Wilderness

We all take it for granted to some extent - the wilderness. Especially those of us who live near it. Rocky Mountain National Park is pretty much our backyard playground, but we lost it and everywhere else when our son came down with Lyme Disease in 5th Grade and went undiagnosed for 13 months with 7 doctors and hospitals misdiagnosing him. Our lives changed dramatically for over four years and adventure stopped for us. We found hope and came to value the wild in ways we never had before.

My husband and I met in Yosemite. He was way into rock climbing and working as a wilderness guide in the Sierras when we met. I had just moved back to California after a year as a ski bum in Colorado. Our marriage and family had adventure in it from the beginning. We have two boys and they both started camping around the age of one. By the ages of 4 and 2, we were taking trips to Yosemite, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. They became Junior Rangers in every park we went to and we taught them our love of adventure, nature and protecting our environment. When they were 8 and 6, we started spending a month near Glacier National Park for the next five summers and spent all our time in the park. We even had the opportunity to take them to Alaska and Africa. We also live in Boulder, so our boys grew up in the mountains and we spent many weekends there. They experienced more than most adults do by the time they were 11 and 9. 

All of that changed the winter of 2010. Our son became horribly ill and went from being a very active, bright and athletic kid to not being able to get out of bed. He could not walk next door and back. His brain stopped functioning normally and he could no longer comprehend what he read or handle math equations. We saw doctors for his back pain, his foot pain, his insomnia, his comprehension and brain functions, etc. It was a horrible time in our lives as we navigated all the medical avenues to find help for our son. After 13 months, we finally found a Lyme Literate Medical Doctor (LLMD) who diagnosed him correctly. After three years under his care, our son was well enough to start adventuring again. It still took another almost two years before he was completely well. He was officially cleared of Lyme Disease and the co-infections he had in spring of 2016.

I wanted to share about this experience for two reasons. The first is that I want to remind us all to be thankful for what we can do and all the awesome adventures out there for us. The Outbound showcases so many of these opportunities right here. There are many people with chronic illness and other issues who do not get to enjoy the wilderness the way we do. The second reason I wanted to write about this is for anyone out there who might have undiagnosed symptoms or is struggling with Lyme. Since my son was diagnosed, I have had at least 20-25 people reach out to me when they realized they might have Lyme or were diagnosed. Friends also directed people they knew to me as I became a huge resource for this. I think it is a very important illness to be aware of in this community - especially since it is carried by ticks and most often these are found in the areas we explore and play in. 

During the first three and a half years of his illness, we had to cancel and re-plan our trips. He did much better at sea level, so we spent time in CA on vacations where we have family that we could stay with and the beach nearby, which was usually good for him on his better days. The hard part for our family was that we hike, backpack, rock climb, camp etc and none of this was an option during this time. Our whole life revolved around his sickness and trying to help him for this season in our life. I have never missed the mountains so much. We could take a drive to them since they are so close, but we could not enjoy them. My husband and I were so exhausted from his care and his insomnia that kept us up most all nights, that we honestly could never make time to get away on our own even. I developed an entirely new and fresh love for adventure and wild places.

Since we have been able to get back to our lives and are doing the things we love, I am constantly reminded about how blessed we are to have gotten through this and to watch our son do the things he loves in nature (climbing leads the list for him these days). Every time we get out - every trip we take to camp or climb - I am so thankful for our adventures and the wilderness. It may sound lame, but the mountains mean more to me. I developed a love of photography as we got back into the wild and I tried to capture every moment. Every mountain. Every river, tree, wildlife encounter. I am in constant awe of the beauty around me. 

Also, I think it is important to educate yourself on Lyme Disease and the co-infections and just pay attention if strange symptoms arise. It isn't something to be scared of, and clearly has not slowed us down at all now. However, know the signs and symptoms because the sooner you get the correct diagnosis and help, the faster you can recover. Happy Adventuring everyone and remember to be thankful for all that you can experience out there. 

Published: December 5, 2016

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Brynn SchmidtExplorer

Boulder

I love wilderness/beaches: photography, hiking, camping, backpacking, conservation and hanging out with my guys while they climb. Mom, wife and co-founder of non-profit organization serving in Gabon and DRC, Africa. F...