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  • leepanecki

Regression and Recovery - Part 1

Updated: Mar 26, 2023

I really didn’t want to write anything about the month of July. However, one of the drawbacks about starting a travel blog is being held accountable for continuing the story. I suppose there’s the potential to learn something or find some sort of overarching life lesson from the experience, but to me, it just wasn’t worth going back to that place. Shit was dark. We’ll start with the executive summary:


  • Kathleen and I moved out of the trusty 4runner into a more livable truck camper. While the camper had more than its fair share of problems, it’s been quite the privilege to travel in such a luxurious manner.

  • We immediately skipped straight to Washington state and the Sea to Sky region of Canada. Our earlier attempts had been stymied by late season snow, and we were eager to make up for lost time.

  • After months of improvement, my ear symptoms regressed… badly. Hypersensitivity to sound exploded and was now present in both ears. I have no frame of reference to describe the volume and it’s something that I still have a hard time explaining to other people. It was the loudest thing I’d ever heard, thousands of times a day. My previous solace in biking was also disturbed by the return of constant dizziness.

  • I had my brother and parents cancel their visits, which I had been looking forward to for months.

  • I could not handle living in a small space with another person. The near constant noise was unbearable. Kathleen offered to spend three weeks in Montana as a volunteer for WWOOF, and I took her up on her offer.


Before she left, Kathleen and I trekked up to Whistler for a last ditch attempt at a good week. For those who know, the place needs no introduction, and for me, mountain biking at Whistler was at the absolute tippy top of my bucket list. It’s the most physical. The most technical. The steepest. The biggest. The best. I’ve wanted to go ever since I was a fourteen year old dweeb sweeping floors in a bike shop, listening to the pros rave about its terrain. My balance seemed to be getting worse by the day, and I was convinced that I now had holes in the bone surrounding both of my ears, instead of just the right side. I knew all too well the consequences of such a development - folks with ‘bilateral’ semi-circular canal dehiscence are all but guaranteed balance problems for life, often becoming a full-on disability. This skip to Whistler was an act of desperation, similar to how I binged the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Queen when my hearing started to distort. I wanted these experiences firmly committed to memory before I lost the unadulterated versions forever.


When we arrived, the mountains were obscured by a thick layer of fog, and rain chattered loudly against the thin aluminum roof of our camper. It was a bit like living inside of a life-sized snare drum, so to protect my ears, I wore foam earplugs, along with over-ear headphones in noise canceling mode on top of them. Yet another thank you to the apple acoustics team as I would have lost my mind without the noise cancelation (although, since these were high frequency noises, I should really be crediting attenuation from the badass cushion design). This rain carried on for days, and if that weren’t enough, the region was experiencing a plague of mosquitos that locals described as ‘biblical’. We watched literal black clouds of mosquitos rove around our camper, and with the screen door closed, almost every pore was occupied by a proboscis. In hot summer weather, we’d bundle up in winter gear for quick sprints to the bathroom, only to come back with what looked like chicken pox from mosquitos biting through our clothes. Between my failing balance, hyperacusis, the rain, and the mosquitos, we were stuck - waiting for things to get better in our brand new 7x7 foot box.


After three days of waiting, I couldn’t take it anymore. No matter how bad the experience, I was going to ride Whistler and check that box. I made my way to the park, took the lift up, and fell on the first turn. Descending further I went over the bars coming off of a small drop that I could’ve done with my eyes closed before. I decided to leave the park and try an easier cross country trail. On a wood bridge I slipped off and cracked my helmet against a fallen tree. On a technical climb I looped backwards and sprained two fingers trying to catch myself. My front wheel caught on a root and I flipped over the bars for a second time. I was trashing my body and I just did not care. What use was this sack of shit if I couldn’t exist without constant misery? I’d already got two holes in my head, could a concussion really make anything worse? I might as well break an arm, at least people understand that and won’t think I’m making up symptoms.


I got back to the camper, collapsed into bed, and told Kathleen that the trip was over for me. Being miserable was one thing, but being miserable in a place designed for maximum enjoyment was a whole new low. If I couldn’t be happy in a place I’d dreamed of visiting for years, living in my dream camping rig, accompanied by my amazing ride or die partner, what hope did I have for any future quality of life? I’m a white male American who has been extraordinarily lucky in his professional career, and what did it add up to? Literally beating myself to death in one of the most incredible places on earth. If you don’t have your health, you have nothing.


I will repeat that - if you don’t have your health, you have nothing. It’s a phrase that repeats ad infinitum in my head during my darkest times, when I feel like I can’t escape the noise and imbalance. If there is indeed that overarching lesson to be learned here, it’s that if you do have your health, please recognize it and live accordingly. That doesn’t necessarily mean quitting your job to fly down mountains on a bike - that’s not what I dream about when things get really bad. It’s the small and simple things… Laughing at silly jokes with your partner. Listening to rain fall through an open window. Falling asleep in silence. Maybe someday, taking a walk with my kid. If you can do these things, recognize it, savor it, and enjoy the wealth that you have.


Some glamour shots of the new rig


F350 supercab with flatbed conversion. Gas, 10 speed, 4wd with rear locker. 37x12" tires


Interior, top popped


Two burners, sink, fridge, heat, hot water. 37 gallons total water capacity. Poop outside


Dinette, convertible into a guest bed


Latching side table, with secondary outdoor camp stove


After getting the camper, straight up to the PNW (featuring Mango)


Misty mountain hike with Laura and Glenn


Crouching tiger


Miss mango


"Docked"


Glenn demonstrating how to properly use a van roof deck


If you include the electrical towers, that makes it artsy?


Our go-to PNW camp spot, close to Seattle, MTB trails, and outdoor stores


Flexing for the first time. Stock suspension was no bueno off-road


Posing at the Darrington trailhead, shortly after being buzzed by F-35's


Damn, rainbows. Next to Mt Baker


The only shot I have from Whistler, during a brief break from the rain






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