Okay, all you pot heads and druggies – sorry to disappoint you, but that’s not the kind of high I’m talking about. The only time I’ve been that kind of high was about 35 years ago when a doctor gave me Tylenol with codeine and I felt like I was floating above my body. I hated that sensation! If you came here to read about fibromyalgia, read on. The travel info is pertinent to the fibro discussion.
The kind of high I am talking about is literal. We’re on vacation in Colorado. We’ve driven from Aspen along the Peak to Peak Highway (fabulous views, a casino town in the middle of nowhere, elevations ranging from 7,000 to 10,000 feet. We’ve traveled from the east side to the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, where some elevations were in the 11,000 – 12,000 foot range. My body really felt the effect of those heights. I had to work to breathe at the highest elevations.
Yesterday, however, it was “Pike’s Peak or Bust.” Talk about being high!! We drove to the summit of Pike’s Peak along a road that would have scared the living daylights out of my mother-in-law. We started at about 7,000 feet at the base and by the time we reached the summit, we were at 14,110 feet!!! I’ve never been that high in my life. And since the road to the summit is the only road we know of in the lower 48 that you can drive to that elevation, I feel I can safely say I’ll never be that high again. As an SFG with fibromyalgia, I can’t imagine myself climbing any higher without a vehicle. Oh, if you haven’t read my prior posts, SFG is “Short, Fat Girl.” (Honesty is my middle name.)
The view from the summit of Pike’s Peak is astounding. It seemed to me you must be able to see halfway to the east coast. Okay, I may exaggerate a bit on that, but there isn’t any other way to get the point across. The summit is the highest point you can get to by car. Yes, there are 31 other “14ers” in the Rocky Mountains, but they are only reachable by hiking. I suspect a lot fewer persons will ever get to those summits. Their heights do not block the view from Pike’s Peak, though. Standing there felt like standing at the top of the world!!
I suppose folks who live in the west, with the high altitudes and wide prairies, get used to the immense expanse of sky. Those of us who live in the east rarely get to experience that. The only time I ever did was when we traveled to the summit of Mt Washington in New Hampshire. At 6,288 feet, it is the highest point in New England. It is also the coldest and has the worst weather of any place on the east coast. We were fortunate to visit on a really clear day (very rare) and could see the coast of Maine from the top. That was my first top of the world experience.
It was also my first experience with altitude adjustment. We all hear about mountain climbers who experience altitude sickness while climbing Mt Everest. Well, anytime you travel in elevation, your body has to adjust to the thinness of the air – lower air pressure, lower oxygen content. The symptoms are altitude sickness may include dizziness, difficulty breathing (shortness of breath), fatigue, nausea, headache, and rapid heart rate. You don’t have to exert yourself to feel the symptoms – you can feel them just sitting. Exertion does tend to increase them, of course. Eventually, your body will adapt to the altitude, but for most people that takes several days. For this girl, it’s taking a lot longer. We’ve been here since last Friday (a full week) and my body still isn’t happy, although it seems to be taking the “lower” elevations (5,000 – 10,000 feet) better.
Since I have had fibromyalgia for over 40 years, I have become a serious observer of my own body and it’s reactions to my activities. I have discovered things that are or are not good for my own good. I have discovered that simple things can set off fibro flares and ostensibly difficult things may not. It’s all so unpredictable, which is the biggest pain of all!
Here’s what I observed when we drove to elevations of 12,000 to 14,000 feet.
- As we drove up the mountains, the only real effect was on my breathing. At about 10,000 feet (in general, the tree line), it felt like more work to breathe. When we drove to 14,000 feet, it became a bit more difficult work. This is while sitting in the car, doing not much but looking out the window.
- We I got out of the car and walked a short distance at those elevations, I really started to feel the lack of oxygen. Walking 20 feet felt like a marathon. I felt like I couldn’t expand my lungs enough to breathe in adequate air.
- Yesterday, at 14,000 feet, after a few minutes of walking, my muscles started to “feel like Jello.” They were shaky, like when you overuse a muscle and it runs out of energy. I felt queasy. I felt a bit light headed, like my eyes weren’t focused quite right. I felt a little better after a light meal.
- They biggest things I observed were coming down the mountains, on all occasions from all different elevations. Those of you with fibromyalgia may recognize the “creepy, crawly” feeling you can get under your skin (most often in your arms or legs – like restless leg syndrome). As we descended, I felt that in my extremities, but also in the muscles in my trunk. It made me feel as though I need to contract all the muscles in my body as tightly as possible to relieve the sensation. Then, continuing along, the muscles started to ache. On the 1-10 scale, these aches are a 5. Also, there were some distinctly different pains in odd muscles – sharper, more like spasms or cramps – in places like the chest wall, the shoulder blade area on the back.
- Perhaps a hour or so after descending, I experienced a wave of fatigue so strong that I would doze off as we drove – something I don’t normally do. After it passed, I felt fine again. Well, as fine as anyone with fibromyalgia can feel.
So I wondered if anyone else with fibromyalgia has these kinds of physical experiences when they go to higher elevations. Is it just me, or does high altitude effect everyone with fibromyalgia the same way? If it does, what does that say about the cause of fibromyalgia? Altitude adjustments have been studied for a long time because of persons who climb mountains without cars. They have learned a lot about how altitude effects the average person who doesn’t have fibromyalgia. Has anyone looked at how it effects those who do have fibromyalgia and why it is different? It seems to me that information could help our understanding of this condition.
Today, I’m back down around 5400 feet at the hotel in Boulder, CO. After a week, this elevation feels better than it originally did. My body is making the adjustment, but at a much slower pace than my husband. Interesting.
I think we’ll be touring a local brewery this afternoon. Maybe there’ll be free samples and I’ll get a different kind of high – after all, my husband is the designated driver.