A Jackson Hole Half Marathon, and 60 Miles at High Altitude for Taylor

By Laura Edwards

I haven’t gone on a blind run in three weeks, but I keep logging miles for Taylor. If you follow my blog, you know my ankles are trashed. And if you read this post from a couple of weeks ago, you’ll remember that I re-injured one of them trimming my roses. Yeah, trimming roses – not playing soccer or kicking butt in a race. That injury made me wonder, for the first time, whether or not I’d really make it to Nov. 16, the date of the Thunder Road Half Marathon, healthy enough to run 13.1 miles with a blindfold over my eyes.

I had a tough time limping up my mountainous driveway after the latest gardening injury, so logic would say I’d take a couple of weeks off from weight-bearing activity. But instead, I hopped on a plane bound for the Jackson Hole airport at 7:00 the very next morning. After a hasty connection in Salt Lake City and, with deepest apologies to my home state of North Carolina, the best pulled pork sandwich I’ve ever had in downtown Jackson, my husband and I set foot on our first trailhead in Grand Teton National Park by 2:15 p.m. MST. I laced up my ankle braces and my top-of-the-line boots, said a prayer to God, dug my poles into the Wyoming dirt and hiked my first 3.2 miles to and from sparkling Taggart Lake.

Taggart LakeThat night, I set up the two chairs on the porch of our cabin so they faced each other. I went to the laundry cabin for four large bags of ice, came back, plopped down in one of the chairs, put my ugly feet in the other, wrapped my ruined ankles in the bags of ice and stuck my nose in a book for 20 minutes to avoid the funny looks I imagined the resort’s other guests might be throwing my way.

The next day, I didn’t have any swelling, which in my twisted mind means that I’m fine, whether or not I have any pain (I did). So I told John a white lie and picked a trail that would take us past a couple of popular picture-taking spots near the gorgeous Jenny Lake, then beyond the crowds and deep into Cascade Canyon, all the way to Lake Solitude, for a 19-mile roundtrip hike.

The view at Inspiration Point, perched at 7,200 feet over the sapphire waters of Jenny Lake, is enough for most people, and they turn around. When we took a break there for a drink of water and a couple of SHOT Bloks, I could see why.

Inspiration PointBut I don’t like to stop with the rest of the crowd, and while Jenny Lake is the gem, Lake Solitude sounded like the place to be. So we continued on into Cascade Canyon.

Cascade CanyonThough I have the heart and lungs of a marathon runner, I have the ankles of a kid who played every minute of too many double-overtime soccer games when she should have been on injured reserve. My latest injuries – those of the blindfolded running and gardening variety – slowed me down, and as the Wyoming daylight faded, we realized we wouldn’t make it to our lake of solitude. So we turned around early, making our 19-mile hike a 13.1-mile hike. When we reached the car later, I told myself that Taylor would be proud of the miles we’d logged. And even though we didn’t achieve our goal, those miles were good enough for me.

We hiked our Jackson Hole half marathon for Taylor on just our second day out of nine full days in Wyoming. In fact, our “half marathon” didn’t even represent our toughest hike; that would be our journey to a point high above Amphitheater Lake in the Lupine Meadows area of Jackson Hole – a shorter hike at about 10.6 miles, but with an approximate 3,350-foot elevation gain over 5.3 miles to 10,000 feet above sea level.

Amphitheater Lake ridgeIn total, we hiked 60 miles. I dedicated all 60 to my sister. Some of the miles were easy. Some of them were hard. Because of my ankles, some of them were tougher than they had to be. But the rewards, from the wildlife we encountered to the sweeping views we enjoyed to the cleansing effect the mountains had on my soul, made every tough mile worth the effort.

That’s how I hope our fight against Batten disease will be, in the end. Some days it is. Some days we get amazing news or score an incredible (small) victory or witness something powerful in my sister that, like a gorgeous view or a long, invigorating drink of fresh, clean water, gives me strength for the next set of switchbacks up the mountain. Some days Batten disease knocks us down and kicks dirt in our face and rubs rocks in our wounds. There are more of those days. But the good days are so much more powerful that they overcome the bad, even though they’re outnumbered.

I called my parents one night while I was icing my ankles on the porch of our cabin in Jackson. Mom put Taylor on the phone, and I told her about the big bull moose John and I saw in the woods. I told her about his chocolate skin and his huge rack of antlers and how lazy he was, just sitting there chewing on grass in the trees while people took pictures of him. Mom told me that was the first time Taylor laughed all day.

mooseI had so much fun describing that moose to my sister. But I wish she could join me on the trails so I could REALLY share my love of hiking with her. I loved coming up with ways to tell her about the moose, but I wish Taylor could experience things like that for herself.

While I took another trip of a lifetime, Taylor sat at home, waiting for her big sister to call and tell her about sights and sounds and experiences that she can only dream about.

That’s why I hate Batten disease.

That’s why I’ll never stop fighting.

A Leg to Stand On

By Laura Edwards

On June 5, I began training for Charlotte’s Thunder Road Half Marathon with a good friend, Andrew Swistak. Andrew and I could both run a half marathon tomorrow, but on Nov. 16, I’ll run 13.1 miles blindfolded in honor of my little sister, Taylor, who suffers from Batten disease. If you’ve been following my blog for the past month, you know that I twisted my ankle the first time I ran in the dark and that I re-injured it hiking in the mountains of North Carolina eight days ago. The ligaments in my ankles are like old rubber bands, and my worst fear came true not more than 30 minutes after I told Andrew I wanted to give darkness a trial run.

Brooks shoes

But for eight days, I behaved. I swore off running, instead heading to my local YMCA to do free weights and crunches. I stuck a box of extra stroke symposium invitations under my desk at my hospital marketing and PR job, kicked off my shoes and propped up my bum ankle. I sported an ACE bandage, a fabulous summer accessory, and iced several times a day. And when I got home tonight, I said hello to my running shoes. “Oh, how I’ve missed you. Do you have room for a brace in there? We have some catching up to do.”

As I glanced at the clouds dotting the sky, checked the late-night forecast one last time and changed into my neon-colored running shirt, I thought about how my sister, Taylor, can’t beat the symptoms of Batten disease in eight days’ time. I thought about how I trashed my ankles playing soccer because of choices I made, not because of predetermined information in my genes. I thought about how I have wet spaghetti noodles for ankle ligaments, and yet I can still lace up the best hiking boots money can buy, dig my poles into the earth and hike 17 miles round-trip in a day, seeing some of God’s greatest wonders along the way. Taylor can’t hike, and she can’t see. Batten disease ripped my heart out the day I learned its name, but it’s stolen so much more from my sister.

Batten disease wants to steal Taylor’s life. But it hasn’t succeeded yet. Every day, my sister wakes up in her world of darkness, and she finds a reason to smile. I call that courage. Tonight, I’ll summon some of her strength when I wrap my injured ankle and set out into the darkness for blindfolded run number six. And for as long as I’ve got a leg to stand on, I’ll run for her.

I will run the Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded to support gene therapy co-funded by Taylor’s Tale at the University of North Carolina Gene Therapy Center. Donations to this cause are 100 percent tax-deductible. To support my run and our fight to develop treatments for Batten disease and other genetic diseases, click here.

The Journey and the Destination

By Laura Edwards

Yesterday morning, John and I packed up our hiking gear, dressed for a 10-mile-plus hike and drove 120 miles northeast of Charlotte to Pilot Mountain, NC We’re going hiking out west in October and could use a tune-up, took note of the beautiful weather forecast for the day and wanted to get a jump on the surgery I’m scheduled to have a week from tomorrow. There were a lot of reasons to go yesterday.

Just as John and I pulled around the bend of the drive leading into the park office lot on the mountain, his truck shuddered, all of the console lights came on, and the message board announced a transmission fault. We were eight hours from sunset two hours from home on a Saturday with a two-year-old truck that wasn’t fit to put back on the highway. So our 10-mile hike turned into a 10-minute stroll in the woods behind the office as we waited for help to arrive. A little after 1 p.m., we found ourselves scrunched together in the back seat of a tow truck with 266,000 miles on the odometer, the driver and his wife up front with a pack of Camel Lights and a Bojangles paper bag between them. We arrived at our dealership just over the South Carolina line by 4 and pulled a brand new truck off the dealer’s lot into our driveway a few minutes before 5. We traded in our mountain odyssey for a game of tennis on our neighborhood court and afterward were treated to dinner by his parents, who felt sorry for us. All in all, a less-than-wonderful but still halfway-salvaged day. As we unwound at the end of the night, we reminded each other that the drive up to Pilot Mountain, at least, had been fun. Our road trips always are; as John likes to say, “it’s the journey, not the destination, that matters most.”
I’ve had many people remark, phrased in all different ways, about how T’s diagnosis has changed me or how they think this fight into which I was thrust will make me stronger. How all my – our – efforts to help find an answer for Batten disease and save my sister can give me a fuller life. I’d call this road we’re on – this fight we’re fighting – a journey; I have before. I’ve marked each anniversary of T’s diagnosis on my blog for the past three years, and I do understand the path that we’re on, though some days, that path is more well lit than others. But unlike the day John and I spent together yesterday – a day characterized by disappointment and misfortune but not all bad by the time sunset rolled around – I’m not sure I’ll care so much for the larger journey if I can’t reach the desired destination. The destination is the cure; the rest is all icing. But what good is all that icing if you can’t eat the cake, too?