This Labor Day I hiked a trail rated at 100% more difficulty stars in Afoot & Afield than I have ever hiked before. Lack of planning, post-road-trip-stuck-at-home-blues, an obnoxious mini heatwave that drove us to higher elevations than usual, excellent hiking partners and most of all, deeply flawed, but ultimately lovable feet deserve the credit for that one.
I think about my hips and knees a lot when I hike. This summer marked the 20th anniversary of this mostly blissful marriage of lady and machine. The marriage of titanium to bone to titanium back to bone that makes up my legs. The marriage that means that I pass as a biped, that I meet people eye to eye and take myself around the unpaved parts of the planet. I am deeply grateful for this marriage and can’t imagine a different life. However, it can be showy. Sure, the flash of metal is futuristic and even a bit high tech sexy, but it overshadows the contributions of all of my steadfast original bits.
Climbing the steep, gravely terrain of the trail on the way back to the parking lot I ran through the usual systems check of any athlete. Mentally scanning my body for pressure points or pain in order to make whatever slight corrections might save on later suffering. Top to bottom, I was feeling alright.
My ankles and feet are always the most vocal and volatile critics of my love of hiking. Staging protests and occasionally violent overthrows when I pass their comfort zone. Imagine having stubborn old, ‘get off my lawn!‘ men instead of feet. I’ve always thought of them that way. Hiking up the trail this weekend, they were grumbling, but it was a low and manageable grumble, like they’d finally decided to walk away from the fight and just let me win this one.
As this realization crept in, an image sprang to mind. Since my hip and knee replacements I’ve always pictured myself balanced on futuristic robot legs. Never bothering to think of how they made contact with the ground. I have Terminator legs balanced on top of baked potatoes stuffed with dried twigs. The ultimate arthritis feet. My immune system perceives them as a threat to my safety and does it’s best to tear them apart. The same berserker immune system that destroyed my original hips and knees in only 13 years has been slugging away at these feet for over 30 and they keep trudging along. By now, they should have earned some respect.
Yet I get restless, get harebrained schemes, and go charging off asking these tired, lumpy, barely held together appendages to carry me the whole way. No wonder they complain. They ache, they swell, they demand extra rest days, but they’ve gotten me through 13 countries and 16 states despite their lack of flashy surgical intervention. With nothing more than Advil and bullying, they just keep going.
This year I’m starting a tradition. Let’s call it a Labor Day resolution. This year I’m appreciating all of the slow, odd shaped, crunchy, original bits of myself that constantly propel me forward no matter what outlandish thing I’ve asked them to try. This year I’m making a fuss over all of the parts of myself that are too easily and too often perceived as broken. After all, aren’t those the parts that hold each of us together?