My hiking buddy and best friend read my last post on forest bathing and sent me this text:
“Why do you only write about the wow, and not the other side of wow?”
Well, I usually like to use my Tuesday posts to center on things I am grateful for. But she is right - there is another side to backpacking these days.
Between the two of us we have had
1 broken leg
1 broken foot
2 torn meniscus surgeries
1 torn ACL surgery
1 sublimated lower back disc
1 degenerative cervical disc
1 torn rotator cuff
and a hell of a lot of arthritis.
Which is all to say that we are getting old, body parts are degenerating, and we hurt just getting out of bed each day. Add a 27 pound backpack (for a two night trip) on top of that and you can imagine the moaning and groaning that goes along with hiking 7 miles a day of rocky terrain while climbing a couple of thousand feet in elevation. And coming back down is even harder on the knees. We had to stop and rest. A lot. While slowing down did make the “being present” more focused, it also added more time to carrying the pack.
When we pack, we share a very tiny, low to the ground, two person tent. I used to be able to enter it with catlike grace. Now I awkwardly flop into it, often almost taking the whole tent down with me. But the worst is the getting back out. Crawling on already sore knees I always seem to kneel on a hidden rock or root. Just enough to send a painful howl into the wilderness. And trying to stand up after sleeping on the ground, cramped and cramping inside a tiny tent for hours is something no one should have to witness.
And then there is the very personal problem of toileting in the woods. Where once I could gracefully squat, my knees no longer have that range of motion. I need to either fully undress from the waist down and pee standing up, or find a tree to cling to and hope to squat low enough as not soil myself. Either way, it’s not pretty,
I have made other concessions to age. I now use a walking stick which aids considerably when balance is needed crossing stony creeks and also helps take some pressure off when hiking down hills. I am thinking about using two poles in the future. I have reduced my pack weight to nothing but the bare essentials although I now carry a lot of moleskin for all those areas that blister and swallow an unhealthy supply of ibuprofen to dull the aches and pain. But, in the words of Grandma Gatewood, who was a senior hiking rock star, it takes "more head than heel. Whether you're going 20 miles or 2,000, motivation and consistency is as important as mileage and speed. Sometimes more.” I try to remember that when 80 year old hikers are swooshing past us with ease.
There have been many times when hoisting that pack up or taking one more step are almost too painful to bare, my hiking partner and I would wonder “what the hell are we doing out here, doing this to ourselves?” But then we’d come to another breathtaking vista or get a whiff of rain drenched pine trees, or stand on a mountaintop under a full canopy of stars and think, “oh yes, this is why.” We know that we cannot experience that magnificence without the effort that we have gone through. And there is the the realization that yes, it hurts. But we can still do it. And being able to do something so awesome for the soul, no matter how hard on the body, is not to be taken for granted.
So yes, there is another side to wow. But no matter how stiff I am or how much I ache it is still wow.