Logan: At 3:15 am on Friday morning, Derek and I left the house and made our way to Logan Airport. He reminded me that the last time we’d both been up that early was when we went to Lahey on April 14th for our dueling surgeries. Fitting that we would get up so early for a trip that was a reward for all of Derek’s hard work recovering.
Derek: Last December, I looked up the results from the 2013 Summit for Life, and hoped I could someday make the trip and the hike. After surgery, in early June, we booked flights with our frequent flyer miles, the same week that I stopped hunching over, and thought I ‘felt normal’, but couldn’t do a push-up. In mid-July, I couldn’t hike 200 vertical feet, and now we were on our first airplane trip since surgery. We were both very excited!
L: When we got to the airport, we realized our habit of arriving early for flights was founded: the American Airlines counter was a hot mess. We try to avoid checking bags as much as possible, but because we were carrying hiking poles and spikes for our boots, we had to. After navigating the extreme lack of organization we were on our way to our gate. For both of us, there was some concern that something would happen on our way to Denver. A flight delay, a missed connection, a lost bag. Leading up to Friday I had an anxiety dream that we left Kathleen at the airport in Denver and didn’t realize until we were already in Aspen.
D: There was such disorganization; it was like opening day at an Ikea; the ‘self check-in bag-check’ wasn’t printing out tickets, so once you checked in, you needed to stand in a 30 minute line just to drop off your bag. There was obviously system breakdown at the AA counter. But, we were treated to a security screening surprise where we didn’t have to take off our shoes or remove liquids from our bags.
L: The first leg of our flight took us to Dallas Fort Worth with a 45 minute layover. A couple of hours into our flight a passenger experienced what appeared to be a medical emergency. The flight attendants asked if anyone onboard had medical training. I began to hold my breath; the last time Derek and I took a flight, a nearly identical situation occurred. It would be a lie to say I wasn’t selfishly concerned we might miss our flight in DFW because of a need to land early. Two nurses made their way to the passenger, a defibrillator was brought out and the situation was well in hand. We made our connecting flight and were on our way to Denver.
D: We also met a nicely bearded man sitting next to us that was on his way to South Korea to board an deep water oil rig ship and ride it to Mauritius for the next 6 weeks. I called his attention to the fact that he would end up circumnavigating the world, and then he mentioned he would be going from winter-to-summer-to-winter again all in just 6 weeks of boating. He’ll also experience one less sunrise than the rest of us!
L: Kathleen found us, we each found our respective checked bags-Yay!-and we were off to collect our rental car and make the four hour trip to Aspen. After a quick taco stop we were on the road and climbing into the mountains. The drive was beautiful, there was a lovely mix of sun and clouds and as we reached the Eisenhower tunnel a few snowflakes fell. There was no time for stops on the way, we had to make it to a dinner fundraiser for the Chris Klug Foundation at 6:00p. At 4:30 we were in Aspen, the sun just beginning to set and the town all lit up for the holidays. The mountain–the locals call it Ajax–didn’t look too daunting, but we would learn later that the view of the mountain from town is deceptive.
D: On our drive, we passed Mount Sopris, with a peak elevation of 12,965ft and a hiking trail with 4300′. The mountain was very impressive, and Logan commented: “If that’s our mountain, I’m not doing it.” It’s likely good that we couldn’t see the top of Ajax from the town with it’s measly 3267′ vertical.
L: Chris Klug’s father is the general manager of the Aspen Square Hotel and generously offered us a reduced rate for the weekend. It’s an all condo hotel and we were all giddy when opened the door to our two bedroom accommodations. There were big fluffy robes and humidifiers in each of the bedrooms, plus a full kitchen and a wood fireplace and we had a view of the mountain from our balcony. After we settled in a bit, we made our way to the conference center to pick up our racer bags. This would be my very first activity that required a number to be pinned on to me to track my time. All of our schwag in hand and our numbers collected, we got ready for dinner. The three of us were positively exhausted from our trip but also starving so we hightailed it to the Hotel Jerome for the Wine and Dine for Life.
D: Traveling with Logan is always exciting because she gets excited about the type of soap in the bathroom, along with the microwave and the knobs on the oven. I care that there’s a bed, a lock on the door, and is relatively clean. This hotel exceeded my expectations.
L: The Hotel Jerome is a beautiful venue, and we made our way to a back reception area for pre-dinner cocktails, which for all of us meant water, water and more water. Kathleen and I mixed it up with Sprite and tonic water just for fun. It’s important to stay hydrated all the time, but especially important at high elevation and when one is about to embark on a 3,267 vertical foot climb over 2.5 miles. The executive director of CKF, Beth, found us and gave us a warm welcome, and then the education and marketing coordinator, Carmen, found us and introduced us to the two Bounceback Award winners. I encourage you all to read about Barbara and David. They are such an inspiration and we were so honored to meet them. We also had the opportunity to speak with several members of the CKF board of directors, who remembered Derek from his Bounceback Award nominations. Derek also wore his custom t-shirt that has a stitched version of his surgical scars so he can show off his scar while keeping his shirt on. Classy. David, who is also a liver transplant recipient loved it, and Carmen took a photo of a smiling Derek showing off his yarn scar.
D: We’re not social animals, so it’s extremely nice that the Chris Klug Foundation people helped us out with introductions. I talked to Barbara (kidney) and David (liver and bone marrow) about drugs, scars, and eating. David was told to stay away from shellfish and raw foods, like sushi, while Barbara stopped being conservative and eats sushi. I don’t think either was partaking in alcohol. We also spoke to some CKF board members whose son passed away and subsequently became an organ donor. It was extremely inspiring to meet both organ recipients and organ donor families.
L: After an hour of mingling, I spied Chris Klug across the room and we tried to figure out how to get a photo of him and Derek. We decided to try again during the dinner portion of the evening. Beth sat the three of us at a very fun table. The woman sitting next to me was an alumna of UNH and a native of Massachusetts so we talked about New England. The couple sitting across from us were recently married and moved to Aspen from NYC and love their life there. Everyone we met was equal parts beautiful, funny and kind. We soon found out that Beth had put us a table with all of her friends, and then she joined us and assured us she would facilitate a photo op with Chris.
D: At this point, our eyes were closing from being too tired, and we realized the 6-9pm dinner was turning into a 6-7pm cocktail hour, with dinner somewhere approaching 8pm. The lack of breakfast and small lunch on the road was catching up to us, and we were really looking forward to eating quickly followed by pajamas and bed.
L: Dinner was delicious, the company was sparkling, and we drank more water. The three of us were mildly delirious and so sleepy but we perked up when Chris introduced the Bounceback Award Winners who told their amazing stories. Then Chris introduced a man who was from Astellas, the title sponsor of the event. Astellas makes the drug tacrolimus, brand name Prograf. It’s the drug that keeps patients from rejecting their transplanted organs. For Derek and I, this man, speaking on behalf of the drug company that makes the drug that keeps Derek alive, was a celebrity. After dessert Chris made his way over to our table. I can’t adequately describe what a thrill it was for both of us to finally meet him. For Derek, this was the man the proved to him that PSC didn’t have to be a death sentence, and that post transplant life could be incredibly active.
D: I’ve looked forward to meeting Chris for a long time, and was not disappointed. He is an incredible person. We were trying to thank him for all he’s done for us, and he was thanking us for making it to Aspen. I was told he was a big guy, and in his biography he was a thin 170lbs before his transplant, and now he’s a thick 200+lbs of muscle. He’s a big guy, but he’s not at all intimidating; he’s extremely nice and genuine.
L: Chris reminded Derek that as good as he feels six months into his recovery, he will continue to feel better as time goes on and he continues to heal. He mentioned that it took several years before his meds were dialed in and now he only takes one Prograf dose in the morning and one at night. Beth took a photo of Derek, Kathleen, Chris and I, and I think all of our smiles almost broke the camera. He told us how excited he was to meet all of us and how glad he was that we were there.
D: I remember him asking me how I felt, and I responded “I thought I was 100% in September, but I feel better since then.” And he replied that I was still recovering and it would take over a year. It’s one thing to hear that from my doctor, but it becomes more real when it comes from a professional athlete who’s gone through a similar experience. His plan was to hike up in less than an hour, and he said, “you’ll hear me coming because I’ll be chatting with everyone.” I made a comment about trying to beat him with my hour head start, and he responded with: “Take time to enjoy the hike.” He definitely wanted to make sure we would have a great weekend and an experience to remember.
L: And then the day of travel and the altitude caught up with all of us. We made our way back to the Aspen Square and collapsed into our beds.
Here is the first batch of photos, there are many more to come! Plus there were professional photos and videos taken at the event that we hope will be uploaded soon.
Part 2 of our adventure will be recapped on Thursday.