Episode 188: Recovery on the Water – Palinor Velasco

Episode 188: Recovery on the Water

Interview with Palinor Velasco

Palinor Velasco has always pursued an adventurous life, even before she found her place in and love for the outdoors. While newly sober, Palinor found healing in climbing and mountain biking, but an accident that affected her mobility made her rethink the levels of risk she’s willing to take on. Luckily for her, having a partner who is also a fly fishing guide got her to try a new way to recreate safely while recovering from surgeries. Fly Fishing became her go-to way of getting outside — and connecting with other women on the water.

This is the third of six episodes hosted by Gabaccia Moreno this year as part of our She Explores host residency program.

Find the episode below, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you stream podcasts.

Transcript available below photos.

Featured in this episode: Palinor Velasco

Hosted & Produced by Gabaccia Moreno

Editing & Additional Production Support by Gale Straub

A Production of Ravel Media

Sponsored by Yonder, Organifi & Danner

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Featured in this Episode

Palinor Velasco

Palinor found healing in fly fishing after a bad mountain biking accident

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TRANSCRIPT

Note: This transcript was lightly edited and created using a transcription service. As such it may contain spelling errors.

Gabaccia Moreno – Narration:

I’m Gabaccia Moreno and you’re listening to She Explores.

Palinor Velasco:

I had my little streamer and I was like, stripping it through this little spot in the river that we’ve been before. And I got to take, and it just like took off downstream. And I was like. And Doug is like rowing the boat and he’s like, don’t lose. I was like, kinda jumped. And I was like, holy cow, that is a big freaking drought. And we finally got into the net. It was the biggest trout I’ve ever seen. I’ve ever seen in person. It was huge. I needed two hands!

Gabaccia Moreno – Narration:

…and that’s how Palinor Velasco caught her biggest trout. I first connected with Palinor through the small virtual world of women who fly fish. She has a way of sharing her story that I have always found refreshing. She’s direct, grounded, and insightful. Naturally, I thought she would be an interesting woman to talk to and learn from.

Palinor Velasco:

My name is Palinor it’s not really my legal name, but it’s what everyone calls me and my pronouns are she her and I’m tuning in from Sonora, California, which is about an hour north of Yosemite national park. You know, I live in the foothills and the mountains. So it’s really beautiful. Lots of bodies of water, which is nice. And we’re a little rural, which I also enjoy. I used to, I’ve lived in big cities and the older I get, the more I want to live in more rural settings, slower pace, you know, it feels good.

Gabaccia Moreno – Narration:

Palinor has always pursued an adventurous life. Even before she had found a love for the outdoors. Throughout time tho, she has reframed and redefined her values and perspective. Be it because of a big life event, or because of personal conviction.

Palinor Velasco:

For many, many years, I was a heavy machinery operator for festivals and I was on the road for 10 years of my adult life. I lived out of a storage unit by choice.

Gabaccia Moreno:

I’ve lived in one of those too,

Palinor Velasco:

Because people were like, oh, you live out of your car. And I’m like, no, I, I choose to live out of my car. And I traveled around. But with festival work, there’s a lot of partying. Like I used to work for burning man. And I was out there for two months out of the year and I kind of drank a lot. I kind of partied a lot. I came to a point in my life where I realized that I drank too much. I didn’t really, I didn’t really identify as an alcoholic, but I definitely had a problem where alcohol had a control over me that I didn’t really like. So I made a decision to stop drinking and I quit stone cold, just quit drinking. And I needed to do something that energy, because I think a lot of people, not a lot of people, but there are people who drink in order to fulfill some kind of like mental challenges, whether it be social or like not feeling confident within yourself for like, not fully confident with like other people and stuff like that.

Palinor Velasco:

And it kind of sucks a lot of energy away. And then when you get rid of that element and then you’re like faced with all your demons, kind of are like, oh man, I don’t even know what to do with myself right now. So I started rock climbing and started meeting people in the rock climbing community. I temporarily was living in Santa Cruz and I joined this group called Santa Cruz, rock climbers, and just randomly met up with a bunch of guys at the rock climbing gym and they became my buddies. And then I started putting more energy into the outdoors. I started hiking more. I also started mountain biking. Cause as fun as rock climbing is, you know, it’s a two person deal. So I started mountain biking as well, which was super fun. And just basically immersing myself into the outdoors, which became a huge part of my life. It got to be the point to where I worked at burning man and other festivals sober for a couple years. I realized that every off chance I got, I would drive to the mountains or drive to Reno and get my mountain bike at my friend’s house and just nail into the outdoors. And I just realized like, you know, I think I’ve grown as much as possible as I could within this kind of environment. And I just need to do something else.

Gabaccia Moreno – Narration:

On her 1 year sober anniversary, Palinor got herself a fancy, aka expensive, Yeti bike. Over the years to come she kept enjoying the trails on wheels and became a better mountain biker. Somewhere in the mix she got introduced to Fly Fishing.

Gabaccia Moreno:

You come from rock climbing and mountain biking, which in my perspective are pretty extreme outdoor sports. And I got to meet you because you started fly fishing and that’s what you mostly do these days. So I’m interested in hearing what’s that story with picking up fly fishing and how you got introduced to it.

Palinor Velasco:

So, so I knew nothing about fly fishing and all I knew about fly fishing was, you know, our river runs through it and this is my own ignorance. And I will fully say this up front. I always thought fly fishing was like something old men did or like old white men specifically. And I just, I knew nothing about it. And I just was never really that interested in it. And then I met my boyfriend. He’s been fly fishing for years and, and years. And he used to rock climb and then he got injured and he got into fly fishing. When we first met, I was like, I have no interest in doing that, you know, but he liked to mountain bike than a climb. So he did a lot of things I like to do. So it was cool. Cool. And we were together for two years before I even decided to try it.

Palinor Velasco:

He guides as well. He’s a fly fishing guide now and our local waters. And he went up and got his raft. He was at his friend’s house up in Redding, California and brought it down. And we went out on the water and it was so hard. I remember that. I remember I cried like a bunch of times because even though I do a lot of what you would consider extreme outdoor sports, I’m not the most coordinated person. And my hand eye coordination was heinous. It was just, I was in the trees. I couldn’t like, I couldn’t figure out what he was telling me. I couldn’t figure out how to mimic his motions. Like it was, it was bad. And then I ended up hooking a trout and I cried because I didn’t know what to do. I look back on it now. And I was like sobbing. It was ridiculous.

Gabaccia Moreno:

Did you just have like a trout on your line?

Palinor Velasco:

It was a big one. It was a big one. I gave the rod to Doug. I was like, I don’t know why I’m crying. And he’s just like, oh my God, I’m sure he was questioning like the longevity of a relationship. And he like rolled it in and I didn’t even want to pick it up because I didn’t know how to pick it up. And I didn’t want to hurt the fish and I’m like crying and we just let it go. You know? So I never got it. And it was a really beautiful trout. It was a beautiful rainbow trout and I was a mess. And after that, I was like, I don’t want to do this anymore. But it was so nice to be on the river though in a boat, something that I had never experienced in that concept before in that way. So I decided to do it again. And we went out a handful of times and it got a little better and I kind of understood a little more what I was doing. Cause I didn’t know anything. Like I knew that and I had kind of thrown in the water the first time and he’s like, okay, men. And I’m like, what the heck is that? What does that mean?

Gabaccia Moreno – Narration:

You’ll hear about mending a lot if you ever pick up fly fishing. Just like with any sport, in fly fishing there are many technical terms to be learned. And we could dedicate a full episode, or a whole podcast even, to telling you about all the definitions to be known. Actually let me drop a few resources on the show notes so you can take a look and maybe spark your curiosity with fly fishing gear. Jargon aside, for Palinor, the healing she needs has often been found in spending time outside. And today, Fly fishing plays the biggest outdoor role in her life after a big life event.

Palinor Velasco:

I don’t mountain bike and rock climb anymore. And I might not ever again. That is to be determined because I got into a really bad mountain biking accident in September of 2019.

Gabaccia Moreno – Narration:

As much as we love to hear about the healing that the outdoors bring, the truth is up playing outside has its own inherent risks. Each activity that we choose to practice or try will have us exposed to different dangers.

Palinor Velasco:

I mean, you really face your mortality on a mountain bike because there’s like nothing protecting you from anything like the helmet, you know, is great, but there’s only so much that we’ll do, you know, and you’re kind of at the mercy of your own skills, whatever they may be. And nature

Gabaccia Moreno – Narration:

Accidents can happen in the most unexpected and trivial of moments.

Palinor Velasco:

There’s a trail that goes along the, the ditch behind my school and it goes directly to my house and I was riding home from school and I wish I was doing something more bad because it would have been like, yeah, I got, I was like going over this huge jump and I injured myself, but no, I was riding home from school along this trail and I was a pre-nursing major. So I had an anatomy physiology book in my backpack that weighs literally 10 pounds. I weighed at one time and I came to a narrow part of the trail and I slowed down and the book shifted and I lost my balance. I fell six feet into the ditch and I fell into water. And then my bike fell on top of me.

Palinor Velasco:

I, I knew something was really wrong and I was also really concerned because I, I had started going back to college when I was 38. I found that I was a really good student and I never thought I was because I was a terrible student when I was younger. I was completing my prerequisites for nursing school. So I was really in to getting A’s and going hard at school. So I remember laying there going like, but I have an anatomy test and a couple of days, like maybe I just dislocated my knee. Like I was trying to like, maybe, maybe I’ll be okay. You know, this scenario, that scenario I could not get out. I could not get the bike off me. I was going to try and crawl down the ditch to like a less steep side and try and claw my way out. And my phone wouldn’t work initially cause it got wet. So I’m just laying in the water for a while. So many ironies at the same time. I know, I know. And I’m trying to get my phone to work. Finally, it got my phone to work, call Doug

Gabaccia Moreno – Narration:

Knowing what she knows about medicine, Palinor had a deep level of awareness around her situation which both helped her not take actions that could put her in further danger but also allowed her to contemplate what was really happening against her thoughts and hopes of the best possible scenario.

Palinor Velasco:

So we ended up calling 9 1 1 and the fire department came, which was really funny because it was the fire department from my college because my college has a fire program and it was like these like 19 year old kids, like running down the trail to save me. And I was like, oh my God, they hauled me out. And put me on a back board, took me to the end of the trail where the paramedic was waiting. They started an IVs, pumped me full of morphine and took me to the ER,

Gabaccia Moreno – Narration:

We’ll hear about Palinor’s recovery and the role flyfishing has played in her physical and emotional healing, after the break.

Gabaccia Moreno – Narration:

We’re back. After her accident, Palinor underwent a first surgery that failed, and other procedures which only made it evident that this would be a long road to recovery. She knew she still needed to spend time outside as she coped with her injuries and a huge sudden change of lifestyle. It’s also important to note that this happened not long before the pandemic hit, so it delayed the care that Palinor needed at the time. Luckily for her, having a partner who is also a fly fishing guide got her to try a new way to recreate safely while recovering. Thus Fly Fishing quickly became her go-to way of getting outside.

Gabaccia Moreno:

What do you think is there about fly fishing that gave you something to look forward to during that time, but also continues to do it?

Palinor Velasco:

It gave me a way to be outdoors, which I really loved. I am not the type of person that likes to just sit around. I like to get out and do things and doing outdoor activities is the way that I relieve stress. I’ve never been a good meditator. I just never really liked yoga that much, but like hiking or like exploring, just being in nature was the way that I moved through things in my life. And at that time I was going through so much physically and mentally that I needed an outlet and fly-fishing became that outlet for me. It became the one thing that I really looked forward to. And the one thing that I almost kind of depended on, it was, it was so good for my mental health that I, I don’t want to say dependent on it, but it quickly became an integral part of my life.

Palinor Velasco:

Fly fishing is still something I can do. Like I’m yeah. I’m at a point now where I can get out of the boat or I can wait on my own, you know, as long as the water’s not super fast, but you know, like I’m still building my strength because my last time I had surgery, I was non-weightbearing for three months, which is a long time to not use the muscles in your leg. Yeah. So it’s going to take me a while to build that, build up that strength, but it’s still the one thing I can do once I got over the learning hump with fly fishing. Once I got over like the crying part and like got into where it was fun for me to learn and grow as an angler is so important because I love to travel. You can fly fish anywhere, you know, like there’s so many beautiful places in the world to visit and to be able to go there and like fish, like, you know, Montana, Idaho, you know, worldwide, like, you know, Russia or places that have such amazing scenery. I mean, you can go there and have this like purpose that takes you in the outdoors. Oh, I agree.

Gabaccia Moreno:

I have Australia on my list to go

Gabaccia Moreno:

And most, I mean like I’ve always wanted to go, but I think since I started fly fishing, I’m like, okay, Australia, New Zealand, you were like the top of the international destination list. Yeah.

Palinor Velasco:

I would love to go to New Zealand. I don’t know about Australia cause like I don’t like spiders and there’s like some massive spiders there. *Laugher*

Gabaccia Moreno – Narration:

The silver linings of Palinor’s accident and her new-found passion for fly fishing extend beyond her home waters. She’s experienced a new evolution of her own capabilities on her day-to-day but also as she eases into fishing new waters and without the support of her boyfriend. She has also started to find something we’ve heard about in previous episodes with women anglers Serene Cusack and Demiesha Dennis. I’m talking about community.

Palinor Velasco:

What I love about social media is connecting with like, that’s how we met, you know, it’s connecting with people via social media. And I went to Colorado finally to see my parents a week ago. And I met up with this woman. Her name is Hannah that I’ve just been talking to on social media. And I went out fishing with her and this other guy Christian for the day. It was such a great experience to be able to like wait into the water on my own after not really being able to walk for like almost two years and just be independent in that way with new friends in a new place. Yeah. I always look back on that is like this independence that I had gained, you know, and like setting up my own rod cause Doug has been helping me and teaching me and that’s the benefit.

Palinor Velasco:

And maybe also curse of having like a guide as a partner because he had helped me so much, but he wasn’t there. So I had to do it all on my own and I had a really good day. And I think, I think I had, I think a lot of it was a fluke, but I don’t know. I caught two beautiful brown trout and I never caught brown trout before because previously the places that you can catch brown trout where we live, I couldn’t hike. Like I couldn’t walk down so I wasn’t able to do it. And then I caught this beautiful, beautiful rainbow that barely fit in my net. Wow. And I met new friends. So that was a really another great day that I’ll always remember. It was like a first, for many things.

Gabaccia Moreno:

Oh, I, I can’t wait to fish with friends. I’m on that same kind of experience as you where like I’m always fishing with my boyfriend or by myself, but I really cannot wait to just have more time on the water with friends. It just sounds so much fun.

Palinor Velasco:

It is. It’s just a good time to me. It’s just kind of like what I always wanted about fly fishing. You know, you go out and you fish, you talk, you have some snacks, you share some drinks. Like, I don’t know. It’s just like, I love community, you know? And I think that’s why I was drawn to like all these kinds of outdoor sports, because they’re all have like this really great community, you know, there’s a rock climbing community and mountain biking communicate. There’s a fly fishing community, especially like a women’s fly fishing community, which is really cool.

Gabaccia Moreno:

I agree. I mean, I think we do a good job as women just, you know, from my little personal experience on social media, we do a good job in like cheering each other up and sharing what we know with each other. Yeah.

Palinor Velasco:

Very much so. I love that. And I appreciate that, you know, during the pandemic, you know, when all we had was social media, I think you just strengthen that. I absolutely agree as we kind of maybe come out this other side into this new world, you know, including you, I have like so many women that I have had great conversations with. Yes. That I would have conversations with. In-person, you know, it’s almost like we go to lunch and have a talk, but it’s on social media. Cause that’s what we have right now.

Gabaccia Moreno:

I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I think I commented this on your post, but I was like, what are you Instagram friends for? If you’re not going to meet when you’re both in the same town.

Palinor Velasco:

Oh, heck yeah. Right now it’s starting to get better and I’m starting to get more mobile. There are tons of women that I’ve had conversations with just in my home state that I want to, you know, finally go meet and go fishing with now that I can walk better.

Gabaccia Moreno:

That’s that sounds wonderful. Um, I’m excited to see your California adventures in fly fishing. Oh yeah. How has your mountain bike injury experience shift two years’ perspective around risk and the outdoors?

Palinor Velasco:

Man? That’s something that I have literally thought about for years now because it has definitely had a huge impact on my perspective now. Um, my mountain bike terrifies me, which is kind of sad to me because I’m actually still paying it off. So it’s just kinda like it’s hung in the garage for the last couple years, just collecting dust and you know, and some people, there are a lot of people who are like, oh, just, you know, when you’re, when you’re better, just get back on like ride that horse again. Don’t let it. And you have power over you, but I’m like, you haven’t been through this. Like I went through hell in the last couple years of dealing with this injury and I admit like I see a therapist because of it because I have PTSD from it. Like I still like I’ll be driving.

Palinor Velasco:

And all of a sudden, you know, I’m crashing, you know, my mind is like I’m crashing into the water again. And I’m just like, what? This is garbage, but it really makes you understand your mortality. And you know, I’m 42. I’m not, I’m not old, but I’m not young. I’m trying to go to school for nursing to be a nurse to help others. And I can’t be out injuring myself all the time. Like I don’t, I don’t want to go through this again. I don’t know if I’ll ever ride my mountain bike again. I’d like to think that maybe just on like really mellow, like rolly trails, it might be fun to go out and get that little cardio and you know, have fun outside. But I just don’t know. I don’t know. Um, and I’m not at that place now to even really entertain that thought and that’s okay.

Palinor Velasco:

Yeah. I will never traditional climb again and I’ll never sport climb again. I know that that much for certain, maybe top roping, just for fun on some super easy stuff, but even then like falling and you know, even though you’re on a top rope, like I just, I’m worried about Andrea and myself again, it’s, it’s been only nine, nine months since my last surgery. So as get stronger and after I get my ligament constructed, my thoughts on this might change. But as of now, like fly fishing and hiking, you know, maybe backpacking once I’m stronger. That’s good for me now. Yeah. And you know, I don’t know what the future will hold. I don’t, but I, you know, I wasn’t Moab like a couple of weeks ago on my way to Colorado to see my parents and seeing everybody with their mountain bikes. Cause Moab was like a huge mountain biking destination. Yeah. It did make me feel a little sad and it did make me consider entertaining the idea of doing it again someday, but never the level that I was at before. Like right. Like I would be on this super green kid trails and that’s where I’ll hang out and that’s cool. I’ll

Gabaccia Moreno:

I’ll hang out with you there. Thanks so much for, for sharing that. I’m curious, in your opinion, what are some of the hardest accessibility challenges in the outdoors for folks who have limited walking ability? Now that you’ve kind of been through that in the past couple of years, you

Palinor Velasco:

Know, it’s interesting traveling around to different places because different states, different counties prioritize the outdoors more than others. For me, the challenge on our local river is like one river. There’s kind of a boat launch, but you can’t really drive down to it, which is weird. And you have to drag the raft. Like you have to like, oh, pull it off the trailer over the pillars that are up and then drag it down. Wow. But there’s a put in, but there’s no pull-out like in the pull-out you have to like bring the trailer down, like sketchy. Like it’s just not accessible. Really. There was no way for me to get out, you know? So, you know, I had this huge brace and it was so hard because then Doug would have to like help me up, you know, and then he’d have to do everything himself, which I felt really bad for.

Palinor Velasco:

I feel like the accessibility for at least for fishing, for people who have mobility issues is getting there. Colorado was great because there was a lot of well-defined parking areas. Well-defined trails. I mean, they didn’t have like handicap accessibility, but there was spaces that were easier for me to work my way down. And I think that’s also just like Colorado putting money into infrastructure, right. For people to go fly fishing. The one thing that I can say that I feel is really important that people who are healing, who do have disability and mobility challenges that fly fishing is an amazing way to like work through a lot of that. If there’s an ability to get into the boat, you know, because like there are a lot of times where I would just sit down, like I didn’t even stand, I just cast it out, which is a little harder sitting down. But yeah, you know, you’re still out there, you’re still doing something. And when you don’t think that you’re able to do anything when you’re feeling so low about yourself, but you can get out there and maybe catch a fish. I mean, it does a huge thing for mental health. Yeah. You know, there needs to be places like this for people.

Gabaccia Moreno:

Yeah. So it’s really more about states catching up to the, to the needs of the people and well, and I think agencies can always make a little bit more effort to make sure there’s access to more people.

Palinor Velasco:

Good. And also for agencies to take pride in their ecosystem, you know, take pride in their river, like take pride in their natural world, you know, because our, our lower river was have a lot of garbage and stuff like that. And it’s just, the river is seen as a lot of just water for like farm irrigation, because for some reason they decided to like plant crops in a desert in California, you know, now they need a lot of water and it’s just, it’s not seen as this beautiful riparian corridor for a lot of people. You know, it’s disappointing that I’m in conservation so important. You know, if you don’t take care of it, it’s not going to be there forever. You know, I think a lot of people see this as just as everlasting resource and it’s not,

Gabaccia Moreno – Narration:

It’s true that our land and water management agencies have a long way to go in accessibility. And the same goes for brands creating affordable adaptive gear. On the conservation front, the negotiations are quite complex. Like Palinor said, the agricultural industry has already taken a toll on some waters while agencies have a hard time keeping up with the demands of public lands use and the stewardship pieces that need to be in place to preserve the outdoor spaces we all share. I agree with Palinor that all of the above need attention.

Palinor Velasco:

A couple of weeks ago, I just graduated from community college.

Gabaccia Moreno:

Yay. Congrats.

Palinor Velasco:

Yay. Yeah. With two degrees, one in allied health, one in public health. And like I said, I stayed in school with the broken leg and it took a village that semester. I broke my leg. It wasn’t just me. It, you know, everyone at my college, my professors, the faculty stepped up to make sure that if I wanted to stay in school, I would stay in school. And I applied to nursing school. They’re letting us know in mid June, the beginning of July on whether we got in or not until then I got a job at my local hospital and I’m just going to be fishing and building my strength back fishing and, you know, hiking and doing my physical therapy. Cause that’s ongoing and just kind of also relaxing some pretty crazy last four years and spending time with my partner and you know, my pseudo steps on. And we have a lot of animals, cats and dogs and chickens and stuff and taking a breather.

Gabaccia Moreno:

That sounds wonderful.

Gabaccia Moreno – Narration:

I’ve learned from Palinor that when one faces adversity there isn’t a need to try too hard to stay positive, or to romanticize about what could’ve been or what will be after it’s all over – but rather what can be more helpful is to sit with the self in every moment of the journey and be patient and open in finding the ways in which one can feel joy.

Gabaccia Moreno:

I know we only know each other digitally, but like, um, I’m just really proud of you and I’ve always appreciated how open you’ve been about your injury and your healing journey. And I’m, I’m pretty sure that that helps a lot of folks. So thank you so much.

Palinor Velasco:

Well, you know what, honestly, I have to say before we get off, that’s the reason why I do it. Because if I can help someone who may be in the same situation, if I can help them see that it’s not all bad, that there are ways out and it will get better than it was worth it.

Gabaccia Moreno:

That’s the power of sharing our stories, I totally believe it.

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