10 August 2013

Insulting the Injury

Mother Nature has a way of hijacking your plans.  The originally intended theme for this week’s musings bubbled to the forefront of my gray lobe while I was actively abusing my body in New York’s Mud Zone, the Adirondack High Peaks region, earlier this week.  I’d been thinking of my decision to return whole hog, to whatever level of training I could muster in order to gain whatever conditioning I could before my impending immobility, as well as assure that Sir Achilles looked good and angry when Dr. Foot Doctor went in.  No point in him wondering which part hurts, right?

Having delayed my date with the scalpel because of August’s packed schedule – and part of the reason it became so heavily packed was precisely because of that looming scalpel – it occurred to me that what I was doing was living to the max before an unavoidable deadline.  Thus came to me the theme, “What would you do if they told you that you had only so many days left…”

Now of course what I’m facing isn’t the end, it’s just an interruption.  But knowing it was coming I’d not only jacked up my mileage, but planned a couple significant mountain treks, sandwiched between business travel, college tours with Dearest Daughter the Elder, and a family wedding just to make things complicated.  But Mother Nature doesn’t care about your plans, and she has a cruel sense of humor.  Or perhaps she does know about your plans, and likes to subvert them, or is impatient to just get on with them.  In my case, my plans are to have my Achilles rather brutally stabbed with a Topaz wand to cause bleeding and, hopefully, healing.  This morning Mamma Nat figured she’d get in on the act a little early.  She took it on herself to entirely brutally stab that very same Achilles with one of her finest soldiers as I human-powered my seriously retro squirrel-cage push mower around the homestead.  I can’t say which version of stinging machine it was, but I can say it was the most intense pain I’ve felt in a long time, and a long time it was, lasting till even now.

With mountain trek number two launching at an ungodly hour tomorrow – indeed I should be sleeping now – this was simply an insult on top of the injury I’m already dealing with.  So while I had been thinking about how much living you can squeeze into the time you’ve got, I suddenly found myself dealing with an ironic insult.  And the irony was layered:  Heck, why pay for a doctor and a hospital?  Just let some insipid insect inject insulting injury into the source of your woes, and maybe, just maybe, it will bleed, it will swell, and it will heal!

Cut to reality.  I can only wish for such a miraculous recovery.  More likely, I’m just hoping it holds up while we scale the rockslides on the Tripyramids tomorrow.  Save for this insult, the chances are good, since even in its injured state, it held up to thirty miles and ten summits over two days in the rough-tumble-and-mud-entrenched ‘dacks earlier this week, or in other words, I’m slipping in a segway to the original idea:  Live it up, you’ve got only days…

Hiking significant mountains in the east, significant here being defined as four-thousand-feet and over (go ahead and laugh you folks out west, but just remember, we don’t believe in wussy things like switchbacks or trails graded for horses), generally involves a simple formula:  you go up, you might bounce over a few lumps while up, and you come down.  But my Intrepid Young Hiking Partner hasn’t quite learned those basics.  For him, the formula involves drawing a squiggly line on the map, more or less ignoring those pesky little contours on the topographical map.  OK, I embellish a bit here, in truth he knows well what he's up to, he's simply seriously aggressive with his plans.  And with the hospitality his family offers in their slice-of-heaven Adirondack lair and his enthusiasm for the mountain equivalent of the kill, who am I to complain?

On a perfect Monday morning, sunny and forty-three degrees at the Adirondack Loj (yes, proper spelling), he, I, and a trail buddy we’d met last year set off for phase one of the day, a relatively run-of-the-mill twenty-five-hundred foot ascent of Mt. Colden.  Save for the gale-force winds up top, it was a simple and perfect ascent, with expansive views from the Great Range, to New York’s ultimate summit Mt. Marcy and it’s many nearby siblings, down the amazing plunge to Avalanche Lake, and across to the McIntyre Range, our next target for the day.

Oh, but there was that detail of the plunge between us and the other range.  This was where we tossed out the usual up, bounce the lumps, and down rule, by inserting another complete down and up before even getting to the bounce bit.  Two thousand feet down, and not an easy two thousand feet, but rather two thousand feet of slick steep slabs almost entirely canted diagonally to assure maximal podiatric and quadriceptual abuse (yes, I just turned a muscle into an adjective, call the Grammar Police!).  And that’s not to mention the delightful alpine cliff-side ladder, an Adirondack specialty, strategically placed to make access certainly frightening if not overly technically difficult.  Mentally and physically, we were worn, but that was only phase two.

Phase three brought another nearly two-thousand foot rise in an unreasonably short distance, a relentless climb by any description.  But while I’d been the laggard on the phase two plunge, my body simply despising the shocking abuse of descent, phase three let the runner endurance and more importantly the runner mentality pay off.  Once into a rhythm, the marathoner mind just churns the body onward, damn the insanely steep rock piles, damn the insanely steep slabs, damn the obvious weariness, damn the torpedoes, we don’t quit at mile twenty-three and we don’t quit on the mountain, either.

Reaching the ridge of the McIntyres, with an incredible view of the fresh landslide on Colden delivered by Hurricane Irene in 2011, we finally resumed the basic formula, bouncing over the lump of Boundary Peak to reach Iroquois, before bouncing back over Boundary and ascending yet another half-a-thousand or so to Algonquin, a peak I’d last visited in 1985, some twenty-eight years ago.  This time, it was better, and not just because of the weather, but because twenty-eight years later, I (we, really) still could, even after already climbing that first mountain.  That being said, with a solid five and a half thousand feet of climb under our belts, we were fully spent on the way down, and unanimously elected to eschew our last planned summit for the day since we’d all three already bagged it earlier.

Thoroughly fried, Intrepid Young Hiking Partner and I did what any other hard core hiker would do, and headed out again the next morning.  But fear not, we’re crazy but not stupid, and cut down our planned four major summits to merely two (and a few minor ones along the way).  As we neared the end of this second numbingly wearing trek, Intrepid Partner had elevated his total to forty-four of the Adirondack Forty-Sixers, with plans to finish the quest within a week, and I, who’d never really considered this quest realistic, found myself at nineteen.  Or in other words, hooked.

But more importantly, I relished how much living I was packing into the brief time before the Big Slice on the twenty-third, and pondered how all of our lives could be so much richer, fuller, and more productive if we only remembered that there is a finish line out there, somewhere, hopefully way out there but certainly out there, for all of us.

What would you do if they told you that you had only so many days left…

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