Monday, June 11, 2018

NORMAN— An Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse at Norman Regional Health System is preparing for his second hike on the John Muir Trail.

Chris Houck, RN, 36, has been an ICU nurse for Norman Regional for the past 12 years.

Houck has been on numerous hikes, starting out with day hikes then working his way up to overnight hikes.

Houck began thinking about doing the John Muir Trail, a 211-mile trail that runs from Yosemite Valley to Mt. Whitney in California, after watching the documentary, Mile… Mile & a Half. Houck then hiked the John Muir Trail by himself in just 19 days last July. It was still “early season” for the hike and the path had its largest snowfall since the 1980s so Houck had to be careful as he hiked the snow-covered path.

“I hiked eight miles in snow on one of the days. I couldn’t even see the path—I had to just learn it on the fly,” Houck said.

This year, Houck is setting out to hike the trail again. He planned to hike this time with his 16-year-old daughter, Raelee, but unfortunately she injured her shoulder and is no longer able to go with him.

Raelee, a sophomore at Norman High School, often hikes with her dad and watched the documentary with him. She’s been on several day hikes through the Wichita Mountains in Lawton, in Colorado, and New Mexico, all ranging from two to 13 miles. After accomplishing a few of those, she began doing three to four day hikes in Arkansas and Colorado.

“All in all I’ve hiked 10 trips. None are even remotely close to what we were about to set foot on,” Raelee said.

Raelee got injured in March, but she and Houck thought it would be plenty of time for her to heal before the hike, Houck said. Raelee already prepared, measured, dried and shipped her food, and had been training four to five days a week, but she finally decided on June 10 that she wasn’t healed enough to be able to go.

“We left the decision up to her because it’s her body, her future,” Houck said. “I was pretty bummed, but I think she made the right decision. She did the hard part. The hiking is the easy part. I’m just trying to get back into the mindset of a solo hiker instead of having a partner. I’m still looking forward to it—It’ll still be wonderful, still be beautiful—Just bummed she can’t experience it with me, but we’re going to try again next year.”

Houck’s wife, Keri, who also works at Norman Regional, was originally hesitant about Raelee going on the hike, but now she’s sad for her, Houck said. Keri saw how hard Raelee worked and got more and more comfortable with the idea.

“We planned for everything but an injury, and there’s nothing we can do about that,” Houck said.

Houck previously told his daughter his personal reasons for wanting her to hike the John Muir Trail with him were that she’ll soon be an adult and get busy, and he doesn’t want her to miss out; he’s getting older and won’t always be able to hike it, and that she can conquer anything. Houck also warned her that if she chose to accept, she wouldn’t be the same person when she got back—she will have a gained perspective and confidence.

“I have never hiked without my dad. If it weren’t for him, I would have never been introduced to the wonders of hiking. He’s the one who pushed this love of hiking and planned the trips so I can’t even begin to imagine not hiking with him at my side,” Raelee said.

Houck will be setting off on his hike even earlier this year, leaving June 26. Houck said although it’s early season, there has been less snowfall this year so it won’t be as difficult.

Houck also spoke highly of Norman Regional and his manager for allowing him to take long periods of time off work for the hikes.

“As long as I’ve still been working hard and make sure they have plenty of notice, I’m able to take these trips. It’s wonderful that Norman Regional fosters that type of environment—it keeps employees around,” Houck said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to go again and I’m excited. It’s an amazing thing.”