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“Four-Legged Hiker”, Chapter 21 of “Inside and Outside: Messages of Hope from a Lifelong Hiker and Depression Survivor”

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FOUR LEGGED WINTER HIKER IN THE ADIRONDACKS OF NEW YORK STATE

Welcome back to my free memoirs. You can access all the chapters in my first memoir, “Hiking Out”, and all chapters posted to date of my second memoir, “Inside and Outside”, by going to my BLOG and clicking on the appropriate book title at dicksederquist.com  

This Week, Four-Legged Hiker, Chapter 21 (gliding a foot above the floor between rows of empty desks)

Next Week, “The Tin Man”, Chapter 22 (Does he have an oil can?)

Update:

Take this sometime humorous article as a stern warning or at least educated advice if you want to extend your hiking (even walking) career. If you are used to hiking poles, you will even be ready to use them when everyone else around you is using low-technology walkers, you know the ones with tennis balls on the rear legs to allow them to slide on the floor. Of course, by then you will need rubber tips, rather than carbide tips on your hiking poles, to keep them from destroying your hardwood floors and expensive carpets. This, and the follow up story, “The Tin Man”, will give you all the incentive you need to take care of your knees, and all your other parts, so you don’t let them slow you down. It helps to have skilled orthopedic and neurosurgeons  (knee, back, hips, shoulder, hand, etc.) to help you carry on. Bowed, but not stopped. See you around the neighborhood or on the trails.

Four-Legged Hiker

I feel a speech coming on. Listen to your elders. This is a serious message from one who knows. I started this piece near the end of the 2007 winter hiking season.

As a child, I loved flying dreams, often gliding a foot above the floor between rows of empty desks in a darkened school. With age and advancing materials and hang glider technology, my flying dreams became more sophisticated, using a wing in the shape of a shield to provide lift. With a downhill run, I could turn my momentum into a dizzying climb, a stall, and yet another exhilarating plunge. I never crashed, or burned. Maybe this had to do with escapism from my underlying earlier depression (who knows), but it was loads of fun.

My next flying dreams were closer to the ground, where I belong. Although a lifelong hiker, I hate, or seriously dislike, heights and, particularly, edges. In these dreams, my arms became forelegs. I ran on all fours, effortlessly, like a man turned wolf. Somehow, gravity was cancelled, making my bounds incredibly long, only touching all my legs to the ground in preparation for the next flying leap.

Now age has moved me one step closer to my dreams. The crowning insult to my hind legs was a fourth trip over the Great Range in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State with a full pack, first helping my old mentor, Swifty, then my son, my brother and finally my good friend, Larry, become an Adirondack 46er. Loading one’s knees eccentrically, meaning braking and holding back going down hill, is the ultimate challenge and destroyer of knee cartilage. After that trip, I had the third arthroscopy on my left knee. I had graduated to a hiking pole to help with the uphill and cushion the downhill shock, but too late to undo the effects of a lifetime of wear and tear and osteo (that growing old kind of) arthritis. You out there, who turn me off at this point, will regret having done so. I’m here to extend your hiking careers and turn you into believers. The grim reaper of lateral and medial menisci awaits us all.

Following my arthroscopy, my surgeon said I was still a long way from any kind of radical procedure on my knee, but he cautioned me to avoid heavy loads, especially when going downhill. He also said, “We have to get you back out there on the trail. Can you imagine a life on the couch?” I can’t. Hiking saved my life, even though I had to give up a little cartilage in exchange. He also suggested taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication before, during and after each hike.

For the last four years, I have become an avid four-legged hiker. My arms or forelegs are a little short to reach the ground, so you won’t see any calluses on my knuckles. But, you will find me with my two hiking poles, one grasped firmly in each hand. I’ve become incredibly adept at using them, like a natural extension of my body. I virtually ski tour through the puckerbrush. They’re also great for negotiating muddy sinkholes and locating compound fracturing crevasses lurking in the under-growth on a downhill bushwhack.

After a recent snowshoe trip in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, with a lot of trail breaking and plunging in deep snow, my Naproxen Sodium wasn’t working. Getting down to a low seat, especially the kind you don’t want to touch with your hands, was becoming a real challenge. A simple bicycle move, lying flat on my back, was giving me constant jabs. What was I going to say to my orthopedic man this time? “I’m sorry, but I think I need another arthroscopy”? He could have knocked me over with a feather. There was nothing left to “arthroscopate.” He said something like, “You’re down to bone on bone, my friend. You need a new knee joint if you want to continue hiking. Look at the x-ray of your lower leg. It’s moved outward, knock kneed, for the lack of support.”

As of this writing, I’ve made an appointment with the knee replacement team. There is a long queue awaiting the procedure. My surgeon gave me a cortisone shot, which may have helped me a little last weekend snowshoeing with my wife. Half the effort of going uphill is from my arms. I can plunge downhill with my right leg, but can’t brake at all with the left. When I do, out comes an involuntary yelp. I have one more snowshoe trip this season planned with my son, I think mostly on the flat. After surgery, I’m going to be a four-legged walker for a while. I’ll have to remember to put the rubber tips on my hiking poles. Those carbide tips would do serious damage to the carpeting. Heed my advice my friends! If I see you out on the trail, you better be using hiking poles.

Next Week, “The Tin Man”, Chapter 22 (does he have an oil can?)

Dick Sederquist is a retired engineer, engineering consultant, writer, author, hiker, motivational speaker and cancer and depression survivor. Dick suffered an emotional breakdown 35 years ago, realizing that he had been depressed all his life. That started his long journey back to mental health and happiness. Dick writes motivational and inspirational nonfiction short stories and essays for general audiences on many topics including life, family, humor, spirituality, nature, science, his volunteer prison experiences, hiking and travel adventures, depression, overcoming adversity, and what the author refers to as “home improvement”, healing the mind and body we live in. Dick and his wife have been married 50 years; have two grown children and four grandchildren, all part of a close-knit, active, caring and loving family. The whole family believes that the greatest gift in life is helping others.

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