Monthly Archives: April 2014

The joy of walking

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that — sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields absoutely free from all worldly engagements.

— Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

In recent days I have been doing quite a bit of sauntering, and as I saunter I often think of Thoreau. I had the privilege of visiting Walden Pond as a teenager. I was underwhelmed by its small size and its decidedly non-wild contemporary setting. It’s difficult to imagine the area back in Thoreau’s day, when he wrote:

I can easily walk ten, fifteen, twenty, any number of miles, commencing at my own door, without going by any house, without crossing a road except where the fox and the mink do. First along by the river, and then the brook, and then the meadow and the wood-side. There are square miles in my vicinity which have no inhabitant.

In my corner of the world, there are still places where it is possible to walk for some distance without seeing a house. I can even walk to some of those places from my own house, although I have to pass by many houses on the way to the trailhead. I wouldn’t want to live in total wilderness or total solitude, so that’s all right by me. Yet, like Thoreau, I do find peace and inspiration in those places that have not yet lost their wildness.

At walking speed I see things that I would have missed while running or cycling. Recently I spent a few moments watching two river otters in full courtship dance. No photos, sorry… while I’m watching something like that, reaching in my pocket for my phone to take a photo is the last thing on my mind.

In an effort to make peace with the place where I fell and broke my arm, I have hiked several miles of the Olympic Adventure Trail. It’s an easy, pleasant, relatively level trail. In several places the trail meanders through recent clear cuts — so it’s not exactly pristine — but those clear cuts open up views southward to the Olympics or northward to the strait and Vancouver Island.

At walking pace I was delighted to find calypso orchids on the OAT! There are at least 100 of them in the first mile from the trailhead. I have never noticed them on this trail before.

I’ve often put orchid photos in this blog, but to refresh your memory here is what they look like. They are tiny flowers, not much more than an inch across.

Calypso Orchids

The other day on the OAT, in the midst of all of these “normal” calypsos, I came across a pair of unicorns.

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Those, my friends, are “albino” calypso orchids! It’s not the greatest photo, but I hope you can see that the outer petals are pure white while the inner petals are muted compared to the “normal” flower. Over the past three years I have inspected hundreds of calypso orchids but I’ve never seen any like these before.

Yesterday we went out to the mouth of the Elwha River. I haven’t been to the mouth since before the dam removal project began. The mouth is now at least a quarter of a mile north of where it used to be! The silt that has flowed downriver from the dams has created a broad, easy-walking silty beach.

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At the water’s edge the river and the tide are joining forces to create small canyons, cutting vertical mini-cliffs through the silt. I took this photo looking straight down. The water here is about a foot below the edge of the silt.

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The configuration of this river delta changes from day to day, but the clear trend is growth of the land northward into the strait. A few hours after I took these photos, I was standing on a high ridge line looking down toward the strait, where I could clearly see the river’s current fanning out and outlined against the saltier water of the strait.

While I deeply miss running (and eagerly look forward to the day when I’m cleared to run again), I’m finding deep happiness in hours of leisurely walking. These are all steps in my journey, and each of them is to be savored. There is no going back, no other way but forward.

By walking one makes the road,
and upon glancing back
one sees the path
that will never be trod again.

— Antonio Machado

Slow and happy — here’s to the joy of walking!

Slowed but not stopped

A habit, once formed, can be a tough thing to break. I like to think that CFL’s and my activity streak is a good habit! I’ll confess that when I first broke my arm I had a tough time motivating myself to get outside and do something. But once I got used to my new temporary “normal,” I stopped feeling sorry for myself over my inability to run or cycle. I discovered that I enjoyed the challenge of finding interesting new ways to move for several miles each day.

During the first several days after my injury I was happy just to walk on a flat paved surface. Together we walked several sections of the Olympic Discovery Trail. I know that trail very well from many hundreds of running miles, but it’s been nice to slow down and share it while engaging in long, slow conversations.

Although I wasn’t able to capture them on camera (I struggle getting off quick one-handed shots), at the Morse Creek bridge we saw three adult bald eagles and a river otter. As a consolation prize I’ll offer you a long, slow look at the shadows on the bridge.

Morse Creek bridge

After five days and 28 miles of this leisurely walking, I was ready to try a bit more.

First up was a short hike to the always-spectacular Sol Duc Falls. It’s only 1.8 miles round-trip on a mostly level trail. Thanks to all the recent rains, we passed several raging streams on our way to the falls. The scale is difficult to capture in a photograph because the trees are so huge, but this stream is about 20 feet across.

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Sol Duc Falls itself was as high as I’ve ever seen it, with four cascades instead of the usual three.

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I must thank CFL for the spiky hairdo he gave me when he put on my headband for me.

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Sol Duc Falls served as a warm-up. That same day we also hiked several miles on a new (to us) and mostly level trail not far from this one.

The next day we chose a trail that soon turned into an impassible marshy puddle. We were disappointed with our low-mileage day, so the next day we covered 12.5 miles on the ODT before rewarding ourselves with local craft beer downtown.

Over the weekend we hit the hiking trails again. On our 11.5 mile meander along the Spruce Railroad Trail, we enjoyed the impossible-to-photograph deep ultramarine blues of Lake Crescent. We also spotted our first calypso orchids of 2014!

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Yesterday we drove way out to the Pacific coast to hike the Ozette Triangle. This trail starts at Lake Ozette and runs west 3 miles through the forest to the beach, then 3 miles south along the beach, and finally 3 miles back through the forest.

I did fine on the first leg. When we got to the beach, I felt like I had just stepped into a calendar photo.

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We stopped to snack and enjoy the view. There were many kinds of waterfowl, including dozens of black oystercatchers with their distinctive whistles. We heard sea lions barking at a near-shore island. We saw several gray whale spouts just beyond the surf line.

We then set out to walk along the beach. At first it was mostly sand and cobbles, but we didn’t get far before we found ourselves stepping from boulder to boulder and scrambling over driftwood logs. I quickly realized that this was going to be too tough to navigate with my arm in a sling. We reluctantly turned back. By the time we got back to the car, we’d covered 7.5 miles, but I was very tired. Still, it occurred to us that we were the oldest people out on that trail that day — by far. I was also the only person out there with a broken arm! So we congratulated ourselves on our attempt.

All told, I’ve walked (on pavement) and hiked (off-pavement) nearly 72 miles in the first ten days since breaking my arm. I may have been slowed by this injury, but I shall not be stopped.

One slow happy step at a time!

 

Good news and bad news

I had good news and bad news from the orthopedist yesterday.

The good news is that I had a very clean break! Just a sliver of separated bone. There is little to no swelling at the break site. There will probably be no ligament damage. I have full feeling everywhere on my arm, and full movement everywhere below the shoulder. Therefore I am already cleared to take my arm out of the sling for moments to hours (whatever feels comfortable) with only a few restrictions:

  • no movement of my arm laterally away from my shoulder
  • no weight bearing activity whatsoever with my left arm
  • if I feel any pain, stop doing whatever triggered the pain.

She encouraged me to walk as much as I like and was agreeable to the idea of a bike trainer (a device that turns your bike into a stationary cycle machine) as long as I don’t use my left arm. I don’t yet own a bike trainer but now I’m looking into getting one! She did warn me that I’ll quickly lose muscle strength and endurance over the coming weeks, and that I should not be looking for another PR when I run (or walk… we’ll see…) the NODM half marathon on June 1.

Now for the bad news.

My arm broke in a way that should not have happened from a “standing fall.” That is, the force of the left forearm hitting the ground is not normally enough to crack the humerus where it meets the shoulder. However, I was running (which added X amount of force) slightly downhill (which added another Y amount of force). You’ll remember from your high school algebra that X and Y are unknown and variable. Maybe it was enough force to justify the break, or maybe not. We don’t have any data on the forces at play in this case.

But I have a history of a previous fracture that “should not” have happened. I broke a bone in my left foot when I missed the last step of a flight way back in 2001. The chronic, lingering foot pain after that accident was the very thing that inspired me to start running in the first place! Now after 5+ years of fracture-free running I may have increased my bone density from the hips down. Everywhere else may be a different story.

Bottom line, the doctor is almost certain that I have osteoporosis. This doesn’t surprise me. I’ve known for years that I have almost all the risk factors:

  • I’m female
  • I’m white
  • I’m slim and always have been
  • I had an early (surgical) menopause
  • I now live at a high latitude where I get little sun exposure for much of the year (I do take supplemental vitamin D)
  • I’ve had a previous fracture
  • A DEXA scan at the time of my previous fracture showed that I already had osteopenia (borderline low bone density)

As for the few risk factors I don’t have:

  • I don’t have a family history of osteoporosis
  • I’ve never smoked.

As I say, this doesn’t come as a surprise. I run, cycle, hike, and walk with a conscious awareness that these activities are good for my bones (and for lots of other reasons). But somehow I’ve never gotten sufficiently motivated to do any weight training or other exercise above the hips.

All of that is about to change. Time to break out the hand weights! Time to start hiking with a heavier pack!

I’m scheduled for a bone density test in a few weeks. I’ll be tested in at least two places (my wrist and somewhere lower) so I’ll get an idea of how helpful the running has been for my bones.

After that, I suppose there will be a treatment plan, which I hope will include an exercise program to limit the damage and keep me as active and healthy as possible. I recently met a runner who took up running after her osteoporosis diagnosis and is doing just fine. So I have every reason to be optimistic.

Meanwhile I’ll start physical therapy on my arm on April 17, which will be two weeks after my injury. I’m looking forward to that!

And later on this misty, mild April afternoon I’ll go for a nice long walk. The activity streak shall endure.

One step at a time!

If there’s a rock on the trail

If there’s a rock on the trail, try to step over it. (If there are lots of rocks, dance your way through them!)

If you trip on a rock, try to regain your balance.

If you can’t regain your balance, try to fall gracefully.

If you go down too fast and hard to fall gracefully, then take your lumps, get yourself up, start running again, and finish the last 0.7 miles of your otherwise-awesome 11 mile trail run.

Then get yourself to the emergency room.

If you follow my running blog, Slow Happy Runner, you’ll know by now that a few days ago I tripped over a rock while trail running and wound up breaking my left arm just below the shoulder. No running or cycling for me for at least 4-6 weeks. Therefore no OAT Run trail half marathon on April 26, no Bikes and Brews group ride in Seattle on May 3. Even my local North Olympic Discovery half marathon on June 1 is looking iffy.

I’ll know more about the recovery prognosis and timeframe when I see the orthopedist tomorrow, but the writing on the wall is pretty clear. My priority now is to heal both quickly and well. As a lefty, I shudder at the thought of not regaining full use of my left arm. Once the bone has healed, I’ll want physical therapy and lots of it!

My right arm is trembling right now from the unaccustomed effort of pecking out letters on the keyboard one by one. Trying to feed myself is a chore. Cooking is nearly impossible. Brewing a batch of beer is out of the question.

I’m committed to continuing my activity streak, which is now at 461 days. I’m still walking daily, although it’s surprisingly difficult to walk several miles, even on a flat paved surface, while focusing on keeping one arm absolutely still in its sling.

Perhaps the toughest part was looking at all the gaps in my calendar after I removed all my planned training runs, bike rides, and brew days. I caught myself this morning wondering why I should bother getting out of bed if I couldn’t run, hike, ride, or brew. I don’t like thinking thoughts like that! So I know I’ll have to watch my attitude. I still have LOTS of reasons to get out of bed! It’s crucial that I find a way to feel happy in the midst of all of this.

Slow happy living, indeed!

On my walk today I made a point of looking for things that I don’t always have time to see when I’m running or riding. The salmonberries are starting to bloom. So is the evil, invasive, but undeniably beautiful Scotch Broom. Small black-and-white butterflies are suddenly everywhere. Parents and small children are out on the trail enjoying slow, wobbly bike rides. Spring has finally reached the Pacific Northwest!

Maybe I’ll make one simple practice — slowing down to observe — the focus of my coming days and weeks. This setback is temporary; meanwhile I still have my health and my desire to make the most of each day.

What did you do with this precious day of your life? And what will you do tomorrow?

One step at a time!