Update from Erik

Posted from Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States.

Sitting, staring, and meditating – while waves rolled in minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, week after week – a calmness like never before oozed over me, bringing with it deep emotional strength.

From November through January, I lived in my rooftop tent at Playa Zipolite on the Oaxacan coast of Mexico.  This quiet time, living on the beach and staring at waves, has changed who I am, how I react to life situations, and how I make decisions; all are now more informed by mindfulness.  Through mindfulness, I now move forward confidently in life, in each decision I make and in choosing the outcome I wish to obtain.  With this confidence, I have come to accept the concept of living a simple life.  While difficult to explain, I can assure you that once you experience the simple life of Latin America, as I did this winter, the visceral cleansing spirit remains with you forever.

While sitting on the beach, staring at the waves for literally hours at a time, day after day, my emotional strength was tempered.  The waves of the Oaxacan Pacific Coast were a constant in my life: rhythmic, soothing, grounding, never ceasing.  Through this constant, the normal frenzied thinking of my mind transcended into a calm, thoughtful place where I gained emotional strength, peace and an acceptance for the path in front of me. Amputation.

After these three months of tranquility, I’m now back in Minnesota preparing for surgery. Maggi, the tent, is suspended from the garage ceiling and Apollo is parked safely below her, here at my house in Saint Paul.  The energy of the 1926 bungalow is amazing, and I know I will feel content and comfortable living here for my 18 to 24 months of rehabilitation.

Although I am now living back in Saint Paul, Joe is not.  Life recently shifted for Joe and me and we have each gone our own way.  This moving apart is essential for me at this point in my life.  Change is not easy but, through change, if we are mindful and open, we can learn from experience and grow to become healthier citizens of this planet.  It may sound odd to some, but I feel fortunate to have faced extreme emotional and physical challenges both past and present.  If it were not for the physical disabilities from my service in the U.S. Air Force, I am confident I would not be as mentally strong and healthy as I am today.

Going forward, I will not be posting updates regarding my surgery or rehabilitation on this website; however, I have a Caring Bridge web site where people may follow my progress.  If you would like to follow along, please send me an email by clicking on the “Contact Us” link at the top of the page, and I will reply with specifics.  I appreciate your kind thoughts and positive energy as I move forward into this next chapter of my life.

Posted in Traveling | 4 Comments

Pause Update No. 5: Big Announcement

Posted from Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico.

One of my new favorite quotes:  “Don’t judge my path if you haven’t walked my journey.” (Anonymous)

If you’ve been following our website, you already know that I have been having considerable issues with my ankle (stemming from previous surgeries) since this past spring.  If not, you can get caught up on my situation by reading this previous post and then this one.  After leaving Pepe in Mexico in June and heading back to the U.S. for medical treatment during the summer, my original plan was to arrive in Oaxaca city in late October and stay with Pepe until early January, when we would then head to the coast for a few weeks.  But sometimes life interferes with plans and alterations need to be made.

During my time in Minnesota this summer, I spent countless hours listening to the professional opinions from medical specialists and obtaining alternate professional opinions.  After spending time talking with close friends and family and spending unending quiet hours with myself, I have made an epic and very personal decision:  I am choosing to have my left leg amputated below the knee.  Although it is the most drastic of all options, the universal consensus is that it will be by far the most beneficial.  Sometime during the first half of 2013, Apollo will be returning north to deliver me into the safe hands of my award-winning orthopedic surgeon in Minneapolis.  After surgery I will remain in the U.S. for a long recuperation time and be propelled forward by my inspiring team of professional amputation rehabilitation specialists.

Yes, this decision is huge.  I have taken the past five months – practically every waking minute without exaggeration – to make this decision.  And now that the decision has been made, I am moving forward and attempting to prepare myself for life after amputation.

To help in this process, Pepe and I have made a decision to alter our November and December plans.  Pepe will remain in Oaxaca and I will spend the next two months living quietly on my own at a charming ocean beach campground directly on the Gulf of Mexico, just a few hours down the mountain from the city of Oaxaca.  Well, although the beach isn’t that far away in miles, it does take a full day to drive to as you wind down the beautiful mountain switchbacks from Oaxaca.  I will be camping in Apollo and Maggi for the entire time, staying in one location, and finding a daily routine of working on strengthening my soul energy in order to prepare for life after surgery.

I will be doing plenty of relaxing and reading, since in my brief time in Oaxaca city it has become more and more uncomfortable to walk long distances, even with my brace and cane.  But I am VERY excited to have the opportunity to not only quietly meditate on my situation, but also to continue practicing Reiki on myself; I have taken three all-day classes while here in Oaxaca, and it has proven to be quite helpful to myself and my ankle.

The next two months are a change of plans from what our original plans for November and December were, but I am extremely excited to do this and am grateful that I have the free time and resources to perform this soul energy strengthening plan.

After discussing this with Pepe, he too is of the belief that my time on my own will be beneficial for my mental health prior to undergoing surgery.  And to be honest, this is something I’ve always wanted to do – although when I envisioned this scenario in my fantasies, it was always in Tibet on a mountain top, not on a Mexican coast, and not because I was facing a surgery that would irreversibly alter my life forever.  Two months is a long time, but I’m confident that this is the right path for me right now.  I will have very limited connection to family and friends, but I will certainly be able to reassure everyone that I am doing fine.

In early January, as we had originally planned, I will pick up Pepe in Oaxaca and together we will head to the Oaxacan coast for a few weeks before making our way back to the United States.

I’m sure there are questions, confusion, concerns, and/or comments.  Please trust me when I say that I’ve been through all of them already on my own and that I am ready for this.

But Pepe and I would both really appreciate your sending any positive energy you can spare to both of us as we attempt to find our way through this ordeal.

Thank you all for your past support as well as your continued support.  Where this leaves “Apollo’s Journey,” as we’ve been calling our drive through Americas, is unknown at this time.  But this change of plans will certainly be its own adventure.

Love and positive energy to you all!


Posted in Pause - Summer/Fall 2012 | 18 Comments

Oaxaca: Reunited!

This gallery contains 36 photos.

Posted from Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico.The reunion you’ve all been waiting for… On Saturday, October 20, Erik and Apollo arrived in Oaxaca, along with our friend Chuck.  They left on the previous Tuesday afternoon, making it to Pharr, Texas, early Wednesday … Continue reading

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Photo Essay No. 3

This gallery contains 33 photos.

Posted from Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico.As Erik and Apollo prepare to head back down to Oaxaca to hang out with Pepe for a few months, we thought we’d share some more up-close-and-personal photos from our trip this year.
Also for your information, … Continue reading

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Pause Update No. 4: El Grito

Posted from Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico.

To view photos from the Independence Day celebration, click here.

I realize that lately our updates are becoming less and less frequent.  I guess the main reason for that is… we don’t want to “bother” (for lack of a better term) our readers unless we have something interesting to share.

I am still loving life in Oaxaca, but lately I haven’t thought of my life as all that interesting – aside from the fact that I’m currently living in another country.  My life isn’t boring, but now that I’m not traveling, it has become much more routine than exciting.  I haven’t yet spent any significant time outside of the city, so my days are occupied with normal things – probably not terribly unlike the things everyone else does as well.  I spend plenty of time with friends and acquaintances as we try to help each other improve in our efforts to learn a foreign language.  I attend a language exchange every Saturday morning where I coach wanna-be English speakers who, in turn, help me master Spanish.  Then during the week I meet some of them informally just to chat.

I am regularly teaching a local woman English as well.  She didn’t even know the English alphabet when we started although could count to ten and knew some basic words, like the names of some colors, etc.  I also have a Oaxaqueño friend who is studying to be an English teacher, so he has written his thesis – in English, of course – and he and I are working hard to edit it.  It’s not as simple as my correcting his word order, spelling, and punctuation.  Sometimes I genuinely don’t know what message he is trying to convey because it has been lost in translation.  This project is taking a fair amount of time.

But otherwise, my life is pretty routine.  I usually cook for myself at home instead of going out because it’s cheaper.  I used my oven for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and the only reason for my relative success (if I may be so immodest) is because I was a fairly competent baker at home. Well, it’s more like half an oven and the temperature dial goes from  -  to  +  which isn’t too much help.  From now on I’ll just use it for roasting vegetables, but no more baking.  I still go to free concerts in the park and walk a lot.  The guy in the mercado from whom I buy my produce recognizes me, the guy from whom I buy my quesillo and butter recognizes me, the woman at the laundromat knows my name… I know where to get the best street tamales, I know where to find the cheapest comida corrida (with beer specials!), I know which ATM charges the lowest fees, I know where to buy actual plain yogurt (instead the stuff that has sugar as its second ingredient), and I know which bakeries to avoid if I need a cake fix.

Even though it’s only temporary, it’s nice to feel that I “belong” somewhere for awhile, which is something you can’t achieve when you are always on the go.

Oaxaca really still is one big party after another.  But the biggest one most recently (aside from the week-long Danzon Conference and the three-day Ice Cream Festival) was the celebration for Mexican Independence Day, which is September 16.  Since September 1 the zocalo has been adorned in red, white, and green lights, and although it’s pretty much a waste of energy and money it looks spectacular.  Also during this month in the zocalo there is a big ceremony complete with music, speeches, and military personnel every morning to raise the flag and every evening to take it down.

On the night of Saturday the 15th, there was a big celebration in the zocalo with concerts, fireworks (of course!) and activities.  Then, at 11:00 p.m., the people gathered for El Grito – the ritual in which someone in authority recites a list of things, each of which begins with “Viva…” (“Long live…”) and is then answered by the crowd crying, “¡Viva!”  (El Grito kind of translates to “The Yell.”)  It is based on the declaration of the Mexican War of Independence cried by a Mexican priest on September 16, 1810.

We hope you’re enjoying the parade!

Sunday featured a parade in the morning and then some various activities, but by mid-afternoon everything around town was mostly quiet because people gathered privately for their own celebrations at home.  The parade (un desfile, which is different from una calenda) was interesting but not that exciting.  Mostly just a lot of people, from school children to covert military personnel, marching directly towards the sun in heavy, sweaty uniforms.  (And no one was running around from marcher to marcher with squirt bottles.  That’s for amateurs.)  This is not the occasion for marching bands, floats, throwing candy, or those tall gigantic people with the swinging arms.  Just marching and displaying.  Pictures of parades usually aren’t very interesting, but you should to check mine out (click here) – I saw some things (mainly weapons) that I’m just not used to seeing.

Hmm… that’s about it.  Erik and Apollo arrive in less than a month to see for themselves all the reconnaissance work I’ve been doing for them in Oaxaca.  I’ve always maintained that one of the things I enjoy most about Oaxaca is its walkability.  But the ease with which I can around the city may be irrelevant for someone with a large leg brace and cane.  So we will take it as it comes.  Erik may need to spend more days at home than I usually do, but that will be just fine.  But – the great news – is that finally I will get to open the bottles of mezcal that I bought at the Feria de Mezcal back in July specifically to share with Erik.  Can’t wait!

Magic and Joe Camper Junior can’t wait to finally break some of these seals!


Posted in Mexico, Pause - Summer/Fall 2012 | 5 Comments

Pause Update No. 4 Photos

This gallery contains 24 photos.

Posted from Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico.As I said in the post (click here to read), photos from parades can usually be kind of… boring.  But some of the things in this parade were things I usually don’t see close up – … Continue reading

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Pause Update No. 3: Erik in the Black Hills

Posted from Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico.


Sporting my new brace and cane at Badlands National Park

As promised, the VA has provided me with a custom-made leg brace. The name brand of the brace is Arizona Brace.  And yes, the company resides in Arizona.  The brace is rather large, hot, uncomfortable, and is much like wearing a leg cast; however, the brace is helping to lift weight off of my ankle joint in addition to adding compression to the ankle, which will hopefully help to reduce pain.  The current plan is that the new brace, the cane, and I will attempt to get along together for the next few months in order to determine whether or not this partnership will be a workable long-term option.

Bison in Custer State Park demonstrating that walking is more fun than sitting in a car

Rather than spending the winter in the cold, snowy, northern hinterlands of Minnesota, in mid-October Apollo and I will be returning to meet up with Pepe in warm, sunny Oaxaca.  If the brace and cane are working well, Apollo’s (and our) journey will continue onward towards South America.  But if the brace and cane are not providing sufficient benefits to maintain a decent quality of life, surgery will be pursued sooner, rather than later.  I think we’ve said this before, but because our travels are about getting out of Apollo and experiencing these wonderful places, including walking, hiking, and scaling pyramids, it’s important not only that I be able to participate in our activities but also that no further damage (read: pain) hinder our ability to continue.

As for the surgical options… they are another story for another day.  Do stay tuned.

Erik (and brace) at Black Hills National Forest

Hiking trail at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park

In an attempt to put the new brace and cane into use, spend time with my mom, and visit my brother, my mom and I recently took a road trip (in mom’s car; Apollo was able to rest for a few days) from Minnesota to the Black Hills of South Dakota. Despite my hopes of doing a fair amount of hiking in the Hills with the new brace in place, I quickly learned that I am able to walk only for a short while, but not without pain and not without using the cane.  Hiking with a totally immobilized ankle inside of a rigged brace was challenging. Seeing other hikers heading out on the trails was, to be candid, frustrating because I wasn’t able to do the same.  But as challenging as this ankle situation is, I work hard to stay positive (thanks, in part, to our 11-day meditation retreat last fall) and I know that everything could always be worse.

The Game Lodge at Custer State Park

Blue Bell Lodge in Custer State Park

Aside from the increased ankle pain, spending time with my mother, brother, and friends in the Hills was great.  When we were not all out eating together at one of the lodges in Custer State Park, we were usually planning where to eat next.  Mom and I were even able to stop at two different locations to do some wine tasting. Yes, there really are wine tasting rooms in the Black Hills!  Who would have thought?

Erik on stage during the lighting ceremony at Mount Rushmore

There was one evening in particular that I will never forget because it was so unexpected and also so meaningful (and, curiously, very relevant considering my current situation with my ankle):  During the nightly lighting ceremont at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, I found myself standing on stage with dozens of other U.S. veterans.  We were all being honored for the time that we served in the U.S. military, my service having occurred in the Air Force during Operation Desert Storm.  In total, there were about 75 armed forces veterans on stage that night.  After being on stage for the lowering of the colors, each veteran stated her or his name, branch of service, and operation/war that he/she served in, if any.  This moment in time has really been my most memorable moment all summer.  It really was a very moving experience and certainly not without a few tears all around.

“Where can I get some of that homemade bread?”

Having been back in the States for over two months now, I have prepared and consumed a lot of homemade bread, both multigrain and rye.  (Meanwhile, poor Pepe is surviving on a store-bought bread called Bimbo that has a frighteningly long shelf life.)  When staying with family in Minnesota or at HQ in Wisconsin, I’ve made it a point to always travel with bread yeast and unique flours.  Although baking bread does require a bit of time standing on the painful ankle, the benefits of baking bread far outweigh most anything.  The process of creating something is therapeutic.

The Needles Mountains at Custer State Park

Up next for me: along with my two new accessories (or accoutrements?), I’ll be visiting friends in Milwaukee, Chicago, and the lake country near Brainerd, Minnesota. In addition, there are several more appointments to attend at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, one of which is with my new orthopedic surgeon, who happens to also be a professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Minnesota.  For this appointment, I’ve been doing my homework and currently have two full pages of questions for my new surgeon, to prepare for possible surgery.  As Alexander Graham Bell once said, “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”

Badlands National Park

Posted in Pause - Summer/Fall 2012 | 10 Comments