Monday, August 27, 2012


We made it!  Jim and I both succeeded in hiking 32 miles in one day!  I wish I could say it was a piece of cake, but it was TOUGH, and there were moments when I wasn't sure I'd make it to the finish line.  A few stats:  14 hours, too many blisters to count, and many muscles that will not be working properly for several days, at least. 

(I will speak briefly about Jim's experience - he would have completed the hike much faster had he not been so kind as to WANT to finish with me.  He's "a little sore" but was able to come back and play the last two games of a softball tournament to help his team win the championship less than 24 hours after finishing the hike, all while I was still trying to get out of the car.  But this is my blog, so I'll tell my story!)

The alarm went off at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday.  We had a quick breakfast and loaded into the vans to head to the starting point.  Around 4:00 we were taking group photos and the first groups were sent off.  There were six groups of five attempting to hike the entire 32 miles, and those expected to finish fastest were sent off first.  We were in group six - apparently we weren't expected to be speedy!  There was a seventh group behind us planning to hike 17 miles. 
Here is the whole gang at the start:

The hike was divided into five sections.  The first section was completed mostly in the dark, our headlamps hopefully illuminating the rocks and roots which were all too frequently encountered.  Spirits were high and adreneline strong for the 7.2 miles of the first section, and our group even caught up with the two groups ahead of us.  Everyone was doing great upon arrival at aid station one.  A few snacks, refilling of water and we were off again.

Then came section two. 

Although section two begins with some of the most beautiful scenery of the hike,

(I can't figure out why this keeps posting sideways!)

it was during this leg that I first began to doubt whether or not I would be able to finish this hike. Some knee issues that I had experienced during a training hike several weeks earlier were coming back strong, and the knee brace I had put on at aid station one didn't seem to be doing much to help.  Any upward climbs and ESPECIALLY any downhill sections brought quite a bit of knee pain with them.  And unfortunately, the Superior Hiking Trail is NOT a flat trail.  Section two had some challenging ascents, which always means descents as well.  I was optimistic that healthy doses of Ibuprofen would ease the discomfort.  Some hiker conversations included the thought that this trail was a bit more rugged than was expected.  At times we were climbing up and over large boulders, which has an element of fun and adventure to it but does make you wonder how much of this you will have to be doing before 32 miles is up.  We were a bit more thankful to arrive at aid station 2, now having done 12.8 miles!

Section 3 was the easiest section of the hike.  The ascents and descents were fairly mild, so knee pain was minimal, and we could move along pretty well.  The only bad memory of this section was when someone coming from the other direction told us we were 3/4 of a mile from the aid station.  After walking for FOREVER after that, we realized he was very inaccurate in his mileage report, which made it seem like a really long stretch.  But we arrived at aid station 3, which, at 17.5 miles, meant that we were more than halfway done with the hike.  I needed some blister care at this aid station - feet were starting to feel it!  A wonderful halfway point surprise was reading a few letters that some family members had written to encourage us on in our hike.  All hikers received hike mail - what a cool bonus of the day, even if it did elicit a few tears! 

I wish I could forget section four but every muscle in my body is reminding me of those next 8 miles.  The brief description of this segment includes "trail climbs steeply" and "steep and rugged descent."  The steep climb goes on and on and on and on.  Climbing for that long and being able to breathe at the same time is not one of my strong assets, unfortunately.  I could breathe much better during the "steep and rugged descent" but it was a killer for my knee, despite another healthy dose of Ibuprofen.  And all of these ascents and descents and level ground sections (I think I might remember a few level ground sections) always had many many roots and rocks to maneuver over and around, and in my case accidentally kick on a regular basis so that my toes were getting very sore! 

Aid station 4, at mile 25.5 was a most welcome sight.  Unfortunately, there were some unexpected issues with the aid station location in that, because of construction, no vehicles could get to it, so when we got there they were out of water and were trying to get some guy with a 4-wheeler to bring some more in.  Upon arrival at aid station 4, Jim and I had actually passed enough people in previous segments so that we were close to the middle of the pack.  Jim was completely out of water, though, and I didn't have much, so we had no choice but to wait for water to arrive.  I didn't sit down, but standing around for a while was NOT GOOD for my knee, which was VERY stiff by the time we set out on the last segment.  I had fleeting thoughts of saying that 25.5 miles was good enough, but I felt like I had a few more miles in me. 

I did have a few more miles in me.  Unfortunately I needed a few more than a few.  If the hike had been 29 miles long, I could have said, "Wow, that was tough, but I finished pretty strong!"  Somewhere around 29 miles, though, I was having more serious blister issues - my blisters were getting blisters - and I think I was having a few electrolyte / salt issues as well.  I popped a few electrolyte tablets in my water pack and then realized I didn't have a whole lot of water left, and Jim was getting low also, but the electrolytes did help some.  With still a couple of miles to go, my knee was telling me it could no longer do much for me on anything other than level, smooth ground.  Have I mentioned yet that there is very little level ground, and far less level, smooth ground?  I honestly had thoughts of sitting down on the trail and calling for some sort of rescue, and I admit that I couldn't help but cry with every step for a while.  By now most of the hikers that we had passed earlier had re-passed us.  I didn't care if I was the last to finish, but I didn't know how I was going to finish at all.

Thankfully, my hiking partner, my amazing husband, was there to get me through it.  For the last couple of miles he let me hang onto him while he pulled me up and over the rocks and steep uphills.  He let me hang onto him and supported my weight, because my knee wouldn't, for the steep downhills and stepping over large rocks and roots and whatever other obstacle threatened to stop me in my tracks.  If he weren't there, I might still be somewhere on the Superior Hiking Trail bawling my eyes out, or having been eaten by a bear.  He is my hero! 

And yet, somehow, after he practically carried me for a couple of miles, I am still FAR more sore than he is!!!!!  He wins the ultimate hiking stamina award for the Rogotzkes, easily.  Now he wants to hike it again next year and see how much faster he can go without me holding him back!  I'm thinking I'd love to be an aid station volunteer! 

But here we are at the finish line - still able to smile!  It took us about 14 hours to complete the hike, and the reports I heard said the fastest finishers finished in about 12.5.   There was a group of about six of us that all finished together.

And yes, Jim is still holding me up here!!

We encountered no large animals, but did see a few traces that they are around.  Several snakes were the only wildlife to speak of that we saw. 

That night we had a celebratory supper, which was CRUELLY up a couple of flights of stairs! I was comforted to see that several others were walking as slowly and awkwardly as I was. 

Here are a few other photos from the hike.  We didn't take many - we were too busy HIKING!

Going UP!

And some of the effects of hiking 32 miles:

my heel

my pinkie toe blister!

It may take a while for my feet to recover completely!!!

Jim and I CHOSE to participate in CureSearch's Ultimate Hike in memory of Anna, and in memory or in honor of all those children who don't have a CHOICE when it comes to battling cancer.  We had several opportunities where we could have CHOSEN to back out or call it quits - an option those kids never get.  We survived our ONE DAY and feel it is an accomplishment, but the true achievers are those who battle day after day, often without complaint, and so often with a smile on their faces.  It is a privilege to undertake a challenge like the Ultimate Hike and raise funds so that someday children and their families may not have to go through the horrors of cancer and its treatments.  It's amazing how many things that we would never believe we are capable of doing that we can accomplish. 

We are so grateful to all who supported us with prayers, good thoughts, and donations.  The Twin Cities Ultimate Hike, as of Sunday morning, was nearing $100,000 raised!!!  WOW!!!!  And in case you wanted to see if we would really do this before donating, now's your chance!  Donations are still being accepted. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Ultimate Hike

Last spring,  I learned about the opportunity to raise funds for CureSearch for Children's Cancer by training for and participating in a 32 mile, one day hike.  The Ultimate Hike. For some reason, this sounded to me like a great idea, and I committed to raising funds and getting ready to put my body to the test, in a major way.  I even got Jim to agree to committing with me.

How hard can it be to walk 32 miles? 

I am now less than 2 days away from this event, and starting to panic JUST A LITTLE.

I have learned a lot about this trail since I signed up to hike it.  It is a single file footpath where one is continually navigating over and around roots and rocks.  There are many ascents and descents with plenty of steepness.  The scenery is beautiful, I have heard - the Superior Hiking Trail lies along the north shore of Lake Superior - but it may be difficult to enjoy the view when watching where each footstep will land.  Oh, and last year's hikers did encounter a bear, and moose are also regularly seen on the trail.  But I am TRYING not to focus on such little details.

I have been training, sort of, all summer long.  Most of my training miles have been on our gravel roads near home.  10 miles, 14 miles, 18 miles here and there, along with regular shorter walks.  It took a while to build the miles, but the hard part is my limited training on rough terrain.  When participating on a mere 23 mile group hike a few weeks back, I realized how tough those hills can be.  And how less prepared I am than most of the others who are doing this hike.  As I struggled to take in a sufficient breath while climbing a steepish hill, my hiking comrades were practically running up the hill while telling jokes and laughing.  I realized then that I will likely be the last to finish the 32 miles, but this isn't a race, and finishing it will be accomplishment enough. 

I just hope I finish. 

Some of the 35 registered hikers have chosen the 17 mile option.  Jim and I are setting our sights on the 32 miles.  I have to be prepared that something could happen and maybe we don't make 32 miles.  But we plan to push on as much as our bodies will allow and hopefully achieve our goals.

The most important reason for this, though, comes because of the funds raised for CureSearch.  All efforts and dollars contribute to research to find a cure.  We are doing this in memory of Anna, and each step is a little easier to take knowing that we are doing this to honor her. 

Donations are accepted through September - visit our fundraising page here

I'll let you know how it went when my muscles are able to accomplish it.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

August 20

August 20.  Not a day I'm particularly looking forward to, and it is almost here!  There are a number of reasons I'm struggling as that day approaches.

August 20 is the first day of school.  Luke, my firstborn is starting fourth grade.  Isaiah will be in second grade.  Every year it seems impossible that they can be old enough for the grade they are going into.  My little boys get less little all the time! 

The start of the school year marks the end of the time period I had set 3 or so months ago in which so much would be accomplished.  There were big plans for this summer!  Plans to camp and have fun and relax and maybe even read books!  I would get caught up on house cleaning and develop a new organizational system before school started up again.  So much was supposed to happen before August 20 rolled around.   Now that day reminds me of how few of those plans came to completion.  Summer was definitely busy, but some of those best-of-intention plans were lost in the busy-ness. 

And August 20 is a tough day because of what it isn't.  August 20 should be the day I send my baby girl off to Kindergarten.  It should include photos of a similing-ear-to-ear five year old in a carefully chosen, perfectly adorable first day of Kindergarten outfit.  It should be the day when I wonder what to do with myself now that all my kids are in school full-time. 

Thoughts of Anna and the "would have beens" are part of every day, but this is a tougher one.  Back to school shopping for the boys was tough because I desperately wanted to go and choose the perfect Kindergarten girl styles.   

We plan to wear purple for the first day of school in memory of Anna and what would have been her first day of Kindergarten.

I will be working as an aide again in the Kindergarten classroom.  I debated if this is a good decision, but I think it will be OK.  It can't make me miss her anymore - I don't think that's possible.  And maybe it will give me an additional connection, as I watch how her classmates are growing and developing and imagine how she would be spending her days. 

On the flip side, I am hoping that the start of the school year can bring some positive changes. This has been a rough summer, emotionally. Some good things were accomplished and some happy memories made, but I've been in a funk or depression that has been hard to pull out of, making it difficult to derive enjoyment even from the happy times, and I know it makes it hard for others to be around me at times.  I'm reminded that I am still in the thick of it when it comes to grieving, and unfortunately life doesn't take a break from throwing so much other stuff at you just because you're dealing with grief.  Some days are just too overwhelming to deal with any of it, yet I go through the motions to get done what is needed, and end up feeling like so little was accomplished anyway.  But with prayer and making use of some available tools I am confident that brighter days are soon to come.  I am working parttime this year so I can focus on some other areas of my life, too.  God is good, his mercies are new every morning, so there is reason to get up and face each day. 

August 20.  Ready or not......

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A smile for the day

We think about Anna each and every day, but some days the memories are sharper than others.  Today is one of those days, as March 21 marks the third year since it was discovered that Anna had cancer.  It can be a tough day, but I wanted to share a little bit of Anna that always makes us smile and even laugh through our tears. 

We miss these giggles and silliness so very much!!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Who needs a spring break in Mexico when you can spend it in the tropical midwest?

We were very fortunate to enjoy a spring break last week with sunshine, warm temperatures, shorts and t-shirts, and especially fortunate that we didn't have to leave the upper midwest to experience it!  Days that feel more like June than March, days of record high temperatures will get no complaints from me!  We had contemplated heading further south in search of early spring warmth, but we are thankful we didn't waste a trip when we could enjoy beautiful weather right here.

We did get away from home for a few days, but not too far - just to the Wisconsin Dells.   Our spring break didn't line up with vacations for extended family, so instead of passing by the Dells as we often do on our way to visit family in southeastern Wisconsin, we made this our destination. It's not the happening place we hear it is in later spring or summer, but we were able to hit a few of the highlights. 

Of course we had to stay at a waterpark hotel.  The Dells is "The Waterpark Capital of the World," after all.  Even I was brave enough to try out most of the slides and rides.

Here are a few of the highlights in photos.

Shots inside the waterpark rarely turn out for me, as clearly evidenced by the second photo, which is better than most of the ones I took.

We did make a few new friends!

And tried out a few of the Dells famous tourist attractions...

Overall, we just had fun spending time together as a family.

If we are lucky, this weather will stick around for a while!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Kindergarten Roundup

Our school recently held its Kindergarten Roundup.  It is always a fun time as the Preschoolers get a sneak peek into what Kindergarten will be like.   As the Kindergarten aide, I got to help with Roundup and witness firsthand those eager little ones experiencing a little bit of life as a Kindergartener.  Some came roaring into the classroom with no apparent apprehension whatsoever.  Others lingered for a while near mom or dad before slowly beginning to explore the world of Kindergarten.  Everyone seemed to enjoy their time, and I imagine they can hardly wait for the next five or so months to pass by. 

I have helped at Roundup night before, but this year was a little different.  The thought never left my mind that Anna would have been at this one.  She would have been one of those five year olds eager to move on to the next step.  I watched those children and wondered which one Anna would have been most like.  Confident, tentative, social, shy...which of those characteristics would have been most apparent?  Which of those other little girls would she have formed close friendships with?  Would she still have her eye on the same little boy she liked to call her "boyfriend" in her brief time in preschool? 

As the years pass by, I don't doubt that I will always be aware of where Anna would have been, and that on occasions such as these I will be full of wonderings about what she would have been like.  But I was surprised, though I probably shouldn't have been, by the intensity of it all that day.  I try to prepare myself for events like these, but the power of the emotions continues to catch me off guard at times.  And I know there is a lifetime of events like this to come.  First days of school, school productions, high school graduation...I will always in my mind and heart see one more face, one more beautiful smile among the rest of the kids. 

I miss you so much, my beautiful Anna, everyday!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Looking Back...

I can't hide from this any longer - I am officially 40 years old.  There are always many things to be said about reaching those milestone birthdays and their bright sides and downsides.  I feel rather ho hum about it.  No major mid-life crisis, but not exactly feeling Forty and Fabulous either.  But I did get to thinking about the 40 years gone by, remembering some high points, trying to forget some of those less-than-pround-of moments. 

I was listening to the 80's station on satellite radio recently, which of course brings me right back to my high school years when those songs were played.  Some say high school is the best time of life.  High school was alright, but I would not want to be a teenager again. College was fun, and I am thankful for the memories, but I was glad to move on from there as well.

If I could go back in time, if I could pick a birthday to relive, I would have to pick my 37th.  These pictures were taken within days of my 37th birthday.  How could I not wish to go back to these days?

I look at her perfect, scar-free tummy here, and can hardly believe that only a month or so later we discovered that major tumors were growing in there.
Such a silly girl, so happy!

Three happy, healthy kids!  Life is good!

This is about the longest her hair would ever get to be.
On my 37th birthday, I was blissfully ignorant.  I was unaware that childhood cancer could affect anyone other than "someone else."  I could live each day happily in the dark about the names and side effects of the chemotherapies that kids get every day, about what life is like on a pediatric oncology floor.  I lived 37 years without knowing that there was a horrible cancer named Rhabdomyosarcoma.  About six weeks later, that all changed.  How much wiser I became!  How much more knowlegeable I have become in the three years since then. 

I must say that my fortieth birthday was very enjoyable.  I enjoyed a day / evening with much of my family (5 of my 7 siblings and their families) and even some fabulous college friends, thanks to the efforts of my incredible husband.  And because of what I learned when I was 37, we also walked in the Milwaukee CureSearch Walk for Childhood Cancer, so that hopefully, someday, others won't have to get the education I was forced to receive.

I am happy to be getting each day closer to heaven, but the next best thing would be to celebrate my 37th birthday once again.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Year Two....

“The first year is the worst.”  That’s what you hear them say while you are going through the first year.  You think it has to be true, because you’d hate to think it gets worse than that.  And by believing it you are blessed with hope, always keeping an eye out for the light at the end of the tunnel that just has to be coming. 

They wait until the end of the first year to let you in on a little secret.  Or maybe it had been said earlier but you are too busy focusing on making it through the horribleness of year one. “Oh, by the way, the second year is harder than the first.” 

I really wanted to believe that it would be better after a year.  Doesn’t it seem like a year is a long time?  Wouldn’t you think that in 365 days you could make the necessary adjustments to live comfortably in a changed life, even a drastically changed life? 

Truthfully, I didn’t believe it would get better.  Could I possibly wake up one day and not miss my little girl as much anymore?  Could my life suddenly feel complete once again, the hole in my heart healed?

In short, I’m living with the difficulty of having entered the second year.  But what makes the second year harder? 

In some ways, I might seem “better.”  I don’t fall apart in public as often as I used to.  I have mostly adjusted, at least physically, to our life as a family of four.  I have been able to let go of some of Anna’s things.  I think that my mind is a little clearer-thinking these days, at least some days, and most of the time I don’t become massively overwhelmed by the little stuff. 

But I feel the expectation, whether internal or external, that I should be healed by now, that my time of mourning should be over, or at least publicly over.  Understanding from others lessens over time when I just don’t feel up to doing something, when I hesitate to make a commitment, when I just need some alone time.  Suddenly I get the impression that grief is now just a lame excuse. 

And I might be guilty of trying too hard to meet those expectations I perceive from others.  I’m afraid to be accused of “playing the grief card.” 

Plus, there’s a big part of me that is just so very tired of being the bereaved mother.  I don’t want to be the one people pity. 

I just don’t want to be the mom whose little girl died of cancer! 

But a year, or two, or ten, or a lifetime of days can’t change that about me.  The insulating shock of much of the first year has mostly worn off, and the reality remains that after two years and three and four, and each year I have left on this earth, I will wake up and continue to miss Anna, and continue to love her just as much as I love my other children, and continue to ache that I can no longer hold her in my arms.  

But always with sure hope, I look for the light at the end of the tunnel, the light from heaven, where I will be reunited with my daughter.   

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Growing Up

"Mom, are you Santa?"

This question, asked of me shortly after we finished opening gifts this year, wasn't completely unexpected.  I was aware of the talk that was going on at school, aware that my kids had heard from others that Santa wasn't real.  At first, such rumblings were met with shock:  "Mom, can you believe that there are some kids that don't believe in Santa?"  A note was written to Santa on Christmas Eve asking for proof for the friends at school that Santa is indeed real. 

In my young adult years, I had decided that I would not do the Santa Thing with my kids. For several reasons I thought it would be best to avoid Santa, mainly because I intended to make sure their attention was undividedly focused on the real meaning of Christmas.

Then I got married and had kids.  Both of us had grown up with Santa, and somehow it just got started with our kids.  Of course it is not our main emphasis of the holiday, but our kids have enjoyed the magic and wonder of it all as they eagerly anticipated what treasures would be left beneath the tree.

I think this is the first year that they started hearing some "Santa's not real" mumblings.  Third grade is about when I learned the truth, so I was expecting it was coming.  But still it was sad to see the disappointment when I truthfully answered that Christmas question. 

I am not overly sad about leaving Santa behind, but I do feel those sad twinges that my boys are growing up, and that some of that wonder, magic and eager anticipation is left behind.