As I explained in my Running from Weddings article in last month’s magazine, Sterling and I routinely enjoy a weekend of rest and relaxation as we leave the hosting of weddings at Dunrovin to our son, Jake. These weekends recharge our batteries and provide us with much-needed, unscheduled, quiet time by ourselves.
We have been doing these weekends for a number of years now, and in the beginning, I frequently used these little jaunts to get in some mountain hiking, looking for huckleberries, wildflowers, and scenic vistas. However, without really even taking notice, my time in the back country became more and more sedentary as my left knee screamed louder and louder with each step I took. For several years now, my sole mode of transportation into remote areas of Montana has been my horse. I needed my horse to do the walking. Once mounted, my left knee was free to hang loosely and comfortably.
Then, last November, I decided that enough was enough, and I had my left knee surgically replaced. As the very painful recovery period began, I must admit to more than my share of doubts. I knew that it would heal and the pain would subside, but my mind just could not imagine a time when I would be completely comfortable with walking again, much less hiking mountain trails. It didn’t seem possible in spite of the reassurances I received from both my surgeon and my physical therapist.
Hiking and walking have been central to my life for my entire life. Born when girls were not encouraged to do any sort of physical sports, my family were avid back-country hikers, searching for mountain streams and lakes to cast a lure. My parents walked and hiked until the they were physically unable to do so—well into their 80s. Their commitment to walking is, in my opinion, one of the reasons they did live so long despite some serious medical conditions. My trips down from Alaska to visit them as they aged always included a daily walk of 6 to 8 miles. They covered the ground, and they did it with purpose.
My parents infected me with their routine of walking every morning. It has been my own habit for many, many years. As my left knee showed signs of resisting, I relied on periodic shots to provide sufficient relief to enable me to continue. It was only gradually that I began to pull back on the miles covered, the time spent, and the difficulty of the terrain covered. Then suddenly, I wasn’t walking much at all.
My recovery has been equally gradual, equally unnoticed my me. First my morning walk recommenced, short still, but a great pleasure nonetheless. Then I began venturing farther and farther, faster and faster, picking up some of the fitness that I had lost during the sedentary period.
Finally, this summer, during one of our wedding weekends, I took off on a short but steep mountain road and trail to hike to and partly around Storm Lake. Again, at the beginning, I took little notice. I didn’t see it as unusual. But as I comfortably negotiated the terrain, played with the dogs, photographed the wildflowers, and soaked up the mountain air, I began to really appreciate the experience. Here I was again, moving my body on a forest trail, rejoicing in the lack of pain or of the concern that I would pay the price the next day with a swollen knee. No, it all went too well. The steep declines did not give me grief or echo the next day with any pain. As my lungs filled with the clean mountain air, my heart filled with appreciation and joy.
My surgeon has warned me never to run or jump again. It is a small thing to forego for the pleasure of walking and hiking, but still, a small part of me wants to reach back in my memory and relive that last time that I ran freely, without care. Of course, I cannot remember it. It was not a memorable event, but just a natural part of my day–whenever that day was.
Getting older is often about gradual loss, loss of everyday things that are unmemorable in their ease and naturalness. Perhaps it is wise for us to be a little more cognizant of our physical abilities while we have them, to stop and take inventory of all that our bodies give us, and to pause to really feel the joy of these truly simple parts of our beings. We will miss them when they are gone.