Backpacking For Behcet’s Disease Awareness & Suicide Prevention

OK, let me start out by saying that I have Behcet’s Disease (rare autoimmune disease). And yes, I’ve contemplated suicide during a certain stage of my life. So, it was important to me to try to increase awareness for these two causes. 

I love backpacking! I go as often as my schedule allows. I love waking up to the sound of birds, opening my tent door to see the orange of the sunrise over mountain tops and I love the solitude. I let go of all the day-to-day worries. All my problems and concerns seem so small and unimportant when I’m enveloped by nature. 

I also value the hardships that comes with this sort of isolative, physically and mentally painful exercise. I’ve heard only a handful of backpackers discuss the mental exercise that comes with this experience. You see, after a couple days of isolation, your mind starts to rebel. After seeing countless trees, wildflowers, squirrels, your mind wants more. You have no distractions on the trail – no phones, no computers, no television. Your mind starts to become critical of you, starts playing every bad thing that has ever happen to you – basically, starts “stirring the pot”. This is the best! Yes, I know many of you avid backpackers are saying “The best part! Are you crazy?!” But it’s true. It’s an amazing opportunity to practice quieting your mind. The first few backpacking trips I did, I spent a huge part of it struggling mentally. I was frustrated at my thoughts. But after each one, the time of mental agony, reduced. Now I don’t experience the mental struggle at all. I’m able to quiet my mind instantly. To do this, you must go through it, over and over again. It’s the best meditation in my opinion, as I get to move my body and work through the energy. The long-term benefit is by spending time completely alone and working through your inner demons, you know yourself better, are happier and more confident overall. 

I’m grateful for my current treatment for my disease. Now, I need only a small amount of time to prepare for my trips and no longer need to take prednisone just to complete them. I’ve always been active (kayaking, team sports, cycling, hiking) but in 2008, someone just turned the lights out. I started having these episodes Page 2 of 8 where I was so sick that walking across the parking lot felt like an unbearable task. It felt like I was walking in a pool with a heavy wet wool blanket on me. More and more symptoms appeared and eventually in 2011, I was diagnosed with Behcet’s Disease. After years of trying different medication combinations, improving little by little, I now feel the best that I’ve felt since my symptoms started. Never normal, but better. During the time that I was so sick and before my diagnosis, I briefly contemplated taking my life. You see, I was so sick and getting more ill by the minute. Yet, my local rural doctors had no idea what was wrong with me. I had seen countless specialists in my rural area and I was depleted, physically and mentally. By the time, I was sent to the University of Southern California, I had made a deal with myself that if I wasn’t diagnosed by them, I was going to take my life. Fortunately, not only was I diagnosed but I have a sensitive, amazing doctor, Dr. Glenn Ehresmann, that helps me in every way. I also should mention that I could NOT have gone through this without my loving, extremely supportive spouse! 

OK, back to the trip. I drove to Mammoth on a Saturday. It was a beautiful day. I had stopped at the Hot Creek Geological Site and looked at the pools and rocks. Fun! I arrived in Mammoth in the afternoon. I went and picked up my bear canister rental and my permits (already reserved it, but had to pick it up). Then I headed to the Old Shady Rest Campground. I had reserved spot 40. Now, I’m not a fan of the campgrounds within the town of Mammoth. There is no privacy or even the illusion of privacy, but it sufficed. I set up my tent. Then I headed to find some food. I ate at Nik-N-Willies Pizza. So good! Yummy pizza and Caesar salad! Afterwards, I drove to the Mammoth Lakes. It was busy there but of course, beautiful. I started getting a little bit of a headache, likely from the altitude, so I went to bed early. Unfortunately, I didn’t sleep at all. Again, I think this was due to the altitude. 

Got up early the next day and had breakfast at the Good Life Cafe. I had ham & eggs. They were delicious! Next, I headed to Devil’s Postpile to hike to Rainbow Falls. It was another beautiful day, though the forecast showed thunderstorms over the next week. Yes, the week that I’d be backpacking. But in the meantime, I had a great hike to Rainbow Falls. A couple people saw my “Behcet’s Disease” shirt and asked me about it. I was thrilled to let them know what my purpose was. In the afternoon, I started testing some gear Page 3 of 8 and packing my backpack for the beginning of the hike the next day. I did have some gear failures, but found a way around them. 

Monday morning, I got up at 5 am. Grabbed my gear and headed to Agnew Meadow. My trip began! I have hiked the loop using Shadow trail and returning on River trail in the past. So, this time, I decided to take the High trail. The day was overcast. You could see the storm clouds moving in. I hiked for 6 hours before arriving at Thousand Island lake. I found a great spot and set-up my tent. It was afternoon and the clouds were getting darker and darker. I laid on a rock by the lake and just soaked in the beautiful scenery. A handful of hikers asked me about my 46 Climbs t-shirt, and again, I was thrilled to let them know why I was out there! Ate dinner and went to bed early. Not only was I tired, but it was looking stormy. Early in the night, the thunder starts. There were flashes of lightening and some rain. I slept like a baby in this environment. 

Today was going to be an easy day. I hiked to Marie Lakes, just about 3 miles from Thousand Island lake. I arrived late morning. It was overcast. My tent was soaked. I had wrapped it in a trash bag to prevent it from getting my sleeping bag wet. When I took the tent out to make camp, water splashed all over me. I made camp. There were two very curious marmots nearby. I find marmots fascinating. There very large and look so cuddling. You just must beware of your food and to put your poles in a tree, as they will chew right through them. I heard that it was because they wanted the salt off the poles. Apparently, they crave that. The rain, thunder and lightening started again in the afternoon. I huddle in my tent, playing solitaire. I ended up boiling some water for my meal, at the door of my tent, just outside. That way, I could be in the tent and just lean out to cook. It worked well. 

Wednesday morning was sunny to my surprise! The birds were singing and there was a beautiful sunrise. I packed up and started again down the trail. I hiked 4 hours, about 7 miles. I camped a little off the trail. I had seen a bear that day, but the bear just ignored me and kept foraging. It became stormy that evening. There was more thunder, lightening and rain. Not the ideal backpacking setting, but you have to just roll with it. 

On Thursday, it rained off and on. I had to hike 12 miles today, about 7 hours, but I made it to Cathedral Lakes!! It continued to storm, so the view was hampered by this. I talked to some hikers about my mission on Page 4 of 8 this trip. People seemed genuinely interested, which was great! The thunderstorm seemed to keep most of the critters away. So, no issues with bears or marmots. That’s a good thing. 

I completed my backpacking trip and was pleased with the conversations that I had with other people about Behcet’s Disease and Suicide Prevention. I wish the weather would have been better, but there’s nothing that you can do about that. I was outright wet or at least damp throughout the trip. But I slept well and had no major issues. 

I’m proud of my mission and hope there are a few more people that are aware of Behcet’s Disease and ways to prevent suicide! I’ve had tremendous support from all over the world! I’m so grateful for the donations and the words of support that I’ve received from my sponsors. It’s been a truly special experience because of this. I’ve included the list of my sponsors at the end of this article. Thank you to each and every one of them!

~ The End