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It was springtime in northern New Mexico. The snow was melting off the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, the wildflowers were blooming and the bold colors of chiles rojos y verdes adorned my plate night after night. Our first Backroads Santa Fe & Taos walking tour of the season was infused with that ethereal ebullient light that has attracted many to reflect and interpret its artistic form.

Backroads Trip Leader Angelisa Espinoza bouldering in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Bouldering in Santa Fe

Another trip leader, who was a close friend of mine, and I decided to unwind post-trip at the climbing gym in Santa Fe. Bouldering, a favorite sport of mine, became a frequent pastime between trips. A couple of hours spent on the wall stretched my body and cleared my mind. At the end of the evening, I went to reach for the final hold with my left hand but I lost my grip and slipped, falling straight to the ground. A sound like a gunshot pierced the air as my left ankle popped and shattered. Immediately I went into shock, trying to stand up only to find that I had a compound tibia fibular shatter.

Reflecting back on that moment, little did I know how much this accident would affect my life. I had no idea that I would be in and out of the hospital for nearly two years with a total of six surgeries to repair my ankle. That I would endure an infection so powerful that it threatened amputation. Doctors would say that I could never hike or backpack again, that climbing would be difficult if not impossible, biking would be challenging, and nothing with high impact would be enjoyed again without arthritic pain. But the most devastating of all was that I would never be able to return to the job I loved as a Backroads leader.

Backroads leader Angelisa Espinoza soaking up the sun and culture in Thailand

Soaking up the sun and culture in Thailand

My life has always been filled with outdoor adventure. Before coming to Backroads, I spent a year in New Zealand attending a fly-fishing academy, worked a ski season on the South Island in Wanaka and spent a month traveling in Thailand. Then in 2006 I found my way to Berkeley, California, to a Backroads hiring event. After so much time away from the States, I had a craving to dig deep into my roots and journey to a place close to my family’s heritage: northern New Mexico. In fact, I dreamt about spending my days in enchanting Santa Fe and the mountain town of Taos and begged Backroads to schedule me in that region. And luckily they did.

Leading Backroads trips in Hawaii

Leading in Hawaii

During those years before my accident, I lead trips in New Mexico from the spring to the fall and spent my winters leading in Hawaii. Returning to the Big Island after studying yoga there years before, I fell back in love with it while circumnavigating the entire island on our biking trips. The island amazes me: it’s the most active volcano on earth, houses an extremely diverse ecosystem and contains a 20-mile stretch of delicious Kona bean plantations. On every trip I led, I breathed in the island’s plumerias, puakenikeni and tuberoses, and tasted its local lilikoi, macadamia nuts and kampachi fish. To top it off, I was sharing what I love with guests, making my trip leading experience with Backroads my best job ever.

Remembering my trips with Backroads as I went in for my sixth surgery was heartrending, as I wondered if I could ever return to the beautiful landscapes I once traversed. After my final surgery, I was back in a boot on my left ankle and on crutches for another few months. This time, I was ready for the daunting challenge to overcome all the limitations the doctors warned me about.

With difficulty simply walking, I set roots in Santa Fe for over three years. I believed that New Mexico would heal me wholly. After months of physical therapy, I was able to begin practicing yoga again and I worked with an acupuncturist to help me through the overwhelming healing process. Yoga became the thing I looked forward to the most, as it helped strengthen and empower my ankle to move past the injury. Over time and with encouragement from someone very dear to me, I eventually felt healed and ready to return to Backroads as a Trip Leader. Not knowing fully how my ankle would respond, I took a brave step and told Backroads the truth. They welcomed me back with open arms as the Trip Expert for New Mexico again.

This journey has been one of the most intense challenges of my life. It has expanded my appreciation for the smallest blessings. It is so often that during a trip, I can’t help but think to myself how grateful I am for this profound opportunity to share with others a place that has changed me so much.

Yoga teacher training in Chiang Mai, Thailand

At yoga teacher training in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Yoga has been such an integral part of my healing process. It has built my physical strength and expanded my hope when times were challenging. This year, I am completing a yoga teacher training course in Chiang Mai, Thailand. My hope for this training is to better help others through my own experience with healing and limitations.

It’s now wintertime in northern Thailand and the soft golden light rises and fills the yoga studio where I practice. There is the aroma of frangipani flowers and passion fruit hanging from the vine. When I stand on my left ankle in tree pose, I find inspiration in the tamarind trees towering over the yoga platform–strong and tall and whole, looking up to the sky with gratitude.

 

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Angelisa Espinoza

Angelisa Espinoza

Maybe it’s all of those New Mexican chiles keeping the fire lit in Angelisa’s belly, because this woman is driven. After an accident left her with a shattered compound fibula and tibia on her left ankle, a doctor told her she’d never lead trips again. She spent four years focused on recovering to prove her surgeon wrong—and that’s exactly what she did. Not only is she back leading trips in New Mexico and Hawaii, Angelisa just completed a yoga teacher training course in Thailand. She even runs her own business, Inspire: Handmade Cards by Angelisa, creating one-of-a-kind cards using materials she’s collected from around the world, like seashells and juniper berries. Whether in the bike saddle, on the yoga mat or in the art studio, Angelisa’s greatest passion is sharing her spicy zest for life!
Angelisa Espinoza

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