After The Crash: Celebrating Life In Death Valley, California

celebrating life

A triumphant Patti Morrow, four months after her near-death accident

It had been four months since my near-death experience. Flying cross-country was challenging enough. Was I really prepared for the obstacles that lay ahead in Death Valley?

Death Valley in California is the lowest place in the United States with the highest recorded temperature (134°F in 1913) in the world. I’d been through extreme obstacles and conquered just months earlier, so this place made the most sense in my mind for celebrating life through travel.

Much of Death Valley can be toured by vehicle, which was great for me. You see, a few months prior while traveling in South Africa with my brother I was involved in a horrible car crash. I don’t remember being hit, and I was in and out of consciousness during most of the rescue. The only thing I remember is hearing the raw anguish in my brother’s voice as he tended to me, his gut-wrenching pleas for medical help when he saw how badly I was hurt, and feeling his hands on my face and a kiss on the top of my head.

Even in my altered state, the agony and torment in his voice broke my heart into a billion pieces and that 10-second memory haunts me every day.

They had to use “Jaws of Life” pneumatic cutting equipment to extract me. Moreover, I sustained a ruptured diaphragm which resulted in my stomach and intestines herniating into my thoracic cavity, a collapsed lung, my left femur being completely severed, six pelvic fractures, a broken wrist, and multiple cuts, bruises and contusions. Multiple surgeries, seven nightmarish bed-ridden weeks in a South African hospital, and months of physical therapy ensued.

But here I was, determined to take on the world again, albeit still with a substantial limp, residual pain, and assisted by a crutch. No complaining from this girl as I re-entered my world of travel. I was well on my way to a 100% recovery. Life is too fantastic and precious to not work hard toward making it all you want it to be.

celebrating life

Dante’s View

The Views Of Death Valley

Death Valley National Park encompasses many spectacular and diversified sights. The panorama from Dante’s View, more than 5,000 feet above the valley floor, is considered to be the most stunning vista in Death Valley.

celebrating life

Ubehebe Crater

 

Looking down 600 feet from the rim of Ubehebe Crater, it’s hard to believe it was created just 2,000 years ago by a loud volcanic steam explosion.

celebrating life

Badwater Basin

 

At 282 feet below sea level, shimmering Badwater Basin is the lowest point in all of North America. With the Black Mountains as a backdrop, you can walk out on the bone-dry, slippery salt flats.

celebrating life

Artist’s Drive

 

The nine-mile, one-way Artist’s Drive, dips, curves and loops through ravines exposing the craggy iridescent yellow, green, coral and blue kaleidoscope of volcanic hills.

But it is Zabriskie Point that will always have a special place in my heart.

Celebrating Life At Zabriskie Point

I didn’t realize it when I was planning the trip, but to fully appreciate the famous sunset view requires a fairly steep, quarter-mile walk to the summit. That may not seem like much, but with my newly-healed pelvic fractures and steel plates and screws holding my left femur together, the incline was daunting from my perspective.

But, I was determined not to miss this iconic viewpoint!

celebrating life

Zabriskie Point

 

So with crutch in tow I judiciously began the ascent, one small step after another. I took, oh, about ten paces…and stopped.

“I’m not going to make it,” I thought to myself. “It’s too soon.”

As expected, the process of rotating my injured left leg up in the hip socket for even the tiniest upward step created a fair amount of discomfort; however, it was the eruption of red hot fire in my chest that stopped me in my tracks.  I had not anticipated that the lung and diaphragm issues, along with fact that I’d been inactive for months, would wreak havoc on my plan and on my body.

But, turning back was not an option.

As I continued to inch my way up I noticed a resting bench about halfway to the summit. Thank you, park rangers!  I sat on the bench for a while to regain the strength and stamina. The journey wasn’t easy, that was for sure; however, I knew once I reached the top, once I conquered once more, it would be worth it.

And I did. And it was. Four months ago I never would have dreamed I could hike flat ground, let along summit a hill let alone a viewpoint peak. But here I was.

I stood at the top, teetering unsteadily in the blustery wind, and watched as the sun sunk into the vibrant labyrinth of badlands. My eyes stung with unbidden tears at this mega milestone and immeasurable sense of accomplishment. Zabriskie Point would have been beautiful regardless, but picturing myself in that hospital bed months before and looking down at my able legs today made it that much more special.

That night, at nearby Furnace Creek Ranch, I had the best night’s sleep since the accident. Whether it was from the physical output or from emotional satisfaction, I don’t know.

What doesn’t kill you truly does make you stronger.

celebrating life

Death Valley. Photo: Malcolm Carlaw/flickr.

Death Valley Logistics:

Getting to Death Valley is easy and accessible from several popular locations. From San Diego, Palm Springs, Los Angeles, you can rent a car for the five-hour road drive, or just two hours from Las Vegas. The natural beauty is astonishing and worthy of a weekend of auto touring and/or hiking. Be sure to take plenty of water – perspiration on a 110°F day will wick away about one liter of water per hour – even more if you’re hiking. Lightweight, protective clothing, sunglasses and hats are also a key to health and comfort.

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Patti Morrow is the founder and editor of Luggage and Lipstick – a travel blog for baby boomer women adventurers, author of the book Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone, and freelance travel writer with bylines in over 30 publications, including The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, International Living Magazine, Travel Girl, CNN iReport, Epicure & Culture, and Ladies Home Journal.  She has traveled throughout most of the USA and around 50 countries and islands abroad, and was recently name by TripAdvisor as one of the “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.”

8 Comments

  1. My motto from this day forward will be “What would Patti do?”. I have admired you since the first day I saw you limping up to the stage in San Diego. As a nurse, I thought you looked like you were in a lot of pain but you made it to the stage. I didn’t know your story until later but at the time I thought, if she can travel I can do it. I really didn’t know your full story until now. You are the epitome of courage and determination. I’m so glad to know you. You are my inspiration.

  2. I’ve often thought of your grueling recovery after your South African car crash many months ago and reading this post was truly inspiring, Patti! Loved your photos of Death Valley and I can see that it’s time to revisit this unique place when next we return to the US for another road trip!

  3. I am so impressed by your determination and recovery. I’m sure no one can ever imagine the pain you went thru, particularly as you went thru recovering and doing physiotherapy. Congratulations on your accomplishment. Reminds us that our little aches and pains are nothing compared to what your injury.

  4. I’d love to visit Death Valley when I next make it to the States. And it’s remarkable and testament to your strength as a person that you went there soon after your awful experience.
    I wish you a full recovery and yes, you are an inspiration to all.

  5. I will think of you often, when I visit Death Valley, when I struggle to climb a difficult stretch, and when I can pause to appreciate an extraordinary view. Great going, Patti, and keep up the good work. It will not be steady progress, but it will be progress.

  6. Since we will be going to South Africa this year, I was very interested in what you had to say about your car crash experience. But I became even more interested in your comments about your “recovery” trip in Death Valley. Way to go!
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