Lessons Learned from a Ladder


I peered over her Facebook photos and posts with cautious enthusiasm. My friend Beckett, recently getting a clean bill of health after a bout with cancer, was visiting Albuquerque, New Mexico. By chance, I would be traveling with my husband to see family there in a few days.

Two pictures especially intrigued me. One showed Beckett hiking along a relatively flat trail through lovely autumn scenery of different hues of browns and golds. The trail was covered with leaves and the green coniferous trees were highlighted against the yellowing hillside. A second photo showed her looking at the lodgepole ladder she had climbed.  From the top, she saw inside the cliff dwelling of an ancient person who had once lived in this community now called Bandelier National Monument. I immediately messaged her “Do you think I could climb that?” Becket wisely responded with “It’s wonderful, so beautiful” and not with something I would say like “easy peasy, anybody can do this”. I knew I had to go there and try.

Charlie and I planned on taking the shortest hike to the cliff dwellings. It was one and a half miles round trip. Considering that one month ago I had three vertebrae fused in my neck, and I was twelve years into a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, this short hike could have been a huge challenge.  I was an experienced hiker, but  I wore my hiking tights for good luck. At the car, I tied up my hiking boot laces and set my trekking poles to the correct length. We headed up the trail, at a slow but decent stride. My muscles started to remember how to hike. My legs loosened to the familiar feeling and I  took larger steps. The clicking of my poles on the hard surface of the path marked my pace. The sound that had always annoyed me now gave me a familiar comfort.

The trail became steeper as it switch-backed through the sandstone. Sweat rolled down my back and I took off my Davis Phinney jacket. The first ladder appeared in front of me. I glanced at it and turned to walk away. Then I heard a voice inside me say you will feel sorry if you don’t climb it. I handed my jacket and my camera to Charlie and reached for a rung with my hand and, putting my right foot on the bottom rung. Immediately I felt my foot freeze. The voice said you know what to do about this, do it. Looking up, I exchanged feet so my left foot took the weight of my first step. That darn right foot caused me problems on my bike as well as getting into our old camper. Left up, look up, I chanted under my breath until I reached the top and looked inside the tiny cave. I imagined what it would be like to sleep in here, the sandstone warm from the sun hitting it all day and the cold early winter air just outside the opening. I could have stayed but I knew I wanted to see more and started down. Again, my right foot naturally went first and froze and I had to pull it back. Left down look ahead. Looking down would have brought on a panic attack!

The trail narrowed and meandered along the cliffs. Up stairs carved in sandstone, down narrow pathways, I did it all. As darkness was coming I lead the way back to the visitor’s center. Charlie commented on my quick pace. I felt good. It was one of those moments where past meets present. Meds working with the DBS to keep me moving, muscle memory to grab and climb and balance.

Back at the car Charlie handed me his phone. “You have to see this. You have to see yourself climb.” I watched me on the tiny screen. I looked to see that with each movement I had three connections with the ladder, something I had learned who knows where, but a very sensible lesson.

I felt full of joy.   I sang myself to sleep as Charlie drove the rental car west, into the sunset and back to his brother’s house. I woke up thinking about the number three, how it is important in so many things and why it was important today as I climbed the ladder.

Safety is always first and part of this equation. If I hung on the ladder with just two hands or a hand and a foot, I would be “out there”, exposed. Second, when my foot froze, especially at the top, I had to know what I would do. I don’t practice climbing on ladders, so I generalized to other situations where I had developed a solution and it worked. Finally, I looked up or ahead. If I looked down or turned to look back I would surely have panicked. I would have seen there was a distance to fall and gravity would try to pull me back to earth.

I concluded these would be the lessons I learned from the ladder.

Be on alert. Don’t let yourself lose control. Hold on so you don’t end up “out there, exposed”

Practice moving. Exercise. Keep your body in shape. Have some “workarounds” to different situations so that when you need a skill, it’s at your disposal.

Don’t look down and don’t look back. You’ve learned what there is to know from those places already. Keep moving forward.


Published by Carol Clupny, author The Ribbon of Road Ahead: One Woman's Remarkable Journey with Parkinson's Disease

I am a middle aged woman with Parkinson's Disease. When I was first diagnosed I spent a lot of time researching the disease. Seeing a video of a man in the advanced stages of the disease attempting to get out of his chair and then "freezing" as he tried to walk across the room got me off my butt and moving. Great adventures on the Camino de Santiago and with TEAM Pedaling for Parkinson's across IOWA, as well as the day to day adventures of life have lead me to writing. My first novel, a memoir, was published early 2019. It is called, you got it THE RIBBON OF ROAD AHEAD. Living with the degenerative neurological disease Parkinson's, ULTREIA is a word that guides me. I have chosen it as the name of my business ULTREIA BOOKS. It comes from Latin and old French and means "unfailing courage". In the old days, pilgrims would call "Ultreïa" to each other as encouragement "Go up, go further!" Nowadays we would say "You can do this thing". It takes courage to live with Parkinson's. May I face each day with unfailing courage. Ab Here is more about me; I was living an active lifestyle riding horses, hiking, climbing and snow skiing when at age fifty I was diagnosed with Parkinsons. Retiring from my career as a speech-language pathologist I decided to “take to the road” to battle the disease. My first steps, walking out her door to the mailbox, lead to trekking over 1000 miles of pilgrimage trails on the Camino de Santiago in France and Spain. A dusty bike discovered in the garage resulted in four rides on the Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa with the Pedaling for Parkinsons Team. These adventures inspired me to write a memoir The Ribbon of Road Ahead: One Woman’s Remarkable Journey with Parkinson’s Disease. I blogs about my everyday life as a middle-aged woman in the mid-stages of Parkinson’s disease. My honest, humorous, and casual narrative style brings the reader to an intimate understanding of my resilience and acceptance. My blog, sharing the name of my book ”The Ribbon of Road Ahead” can be found at www.ultreiablog.org After completing a Masters of Science in Speech Pathology from Eastern Washington University I received certification in School Leadership and Administration from Lewis and Clark College. I provided speech pathology services and later became a program director completing 32 years in the wide geographic expanse of eastern Oregon. Active in the Oregon Speech-Language and Hearing Association I received honors of the association and the presidential award for work on recruitment and retention of speech and hearing professionals. Il presented numerous papers and projects at local, state and regional professional conferences. I was appointed by Governor Ted Kulongoski to two terms of the Oregon Board of Examiners of Speech Pathology and Audiology, the state’s licensing and consumer protection agency. Since my diagnosis in 2008, I has become active in the Parkinson’s community as an advocate, an Ambassador for the Davis Phinney Foundation and support group facilitator for Parkinson's Resources of Oregon. I was appointed the regional patient representative for the Parkinson's Foundation’s Women with PD TALK study. In September of 2019 the Michael J Fox Foundation selected me to participate in the Parkinson’s Policy Forum in Washington DC. As an attendee at the World Parkinson Congress in 2016 in Portand, Oregon, I presnted a poster session examining the decision making process for patients considering deep brain stimulation. At the 2019 WPC in Kyoto, Japan I presented a poster on vision concerns of women with PD and lead small group discussions. Myr book The Ribbon of Road Ahead has provided many speaking opportunities for Carol. In 2019 and early 2020 she visited 24 support groups in Washington, Idaho, Oregon and California to share her thoughts on living well with the disease. In addition, she has presented talks for The Center on Aging in San Francisco, Parkinson's Place in Las Vegas, Northwest Parkinson's Foundation in Richland WA and virtually through their HOPE online program. In late 2020 I rejuvenated her voice and narrated her book. It became available as an audio book in 2021. As part of this project I read stories over the airwaves on RadioParkies Australia with DJ Madonna and in Great Britain with DJ Johnny Parky. She and her husband Charlie have two adult sons. They live on a small hobby farm in eastern Oregon. Contact Information: Carol Clupny PO BOX 128, Hermiston, OR 97838 caclupny@gmail.com (541) 720-4256

6 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from a Ladder

  1. I think there is something else you’ve learned from this experience: the ability of a mantra (“left down look ahead”) to block out negative thoughts (Aieee! I’m going to fall.) Repeating a rhythm (mantra, poles, breathing) is something I need to work on to keep my pace up.

  2. I’m so glad you made it to Bandelier!!! Seeing YOUR photos on Facebook was incredible!! I knew you would give it your all!! To keep my wits about me on the longer ladders, just like you, I focused on keeping three points on the rungs and not holding my breath!!! Keep on hiking, pedaling, and sharing your stories… it’s wonderful… so beautiful…

  3. Your really an inspiration to the rest of us, i find that i am afraid to try new things anymore.

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