I am grateful I can walk. I have the blisters to prove it.
I walked a charity 5K on Saturday and hiked 11+ miles on Monday.
Here’s what I did and why I did it.
Who said writers were sedentary creatures?
I don’t talk much about my childhood, except for the good parts of course – the fun parts, like the magical shepherd with the music box in the manger scene at my aunt’s convent, or walking in the early summer mornings over to the sump, pail in hand, to catch frogs.
But there was a darker aspect to my childhood that’s shaped a lot of who I am and how I approach life. When I was seven years old, my mom was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (M.S.). Today, there are effective medications to halt the degeneration of the myelin sheath around the nerves. But in the 1970s, when my mom was diagnosed, there wasn’t much they could do except give her steroid tablets.
My mom died when I was 20 years old, and she couldn’t walk for about the last six or seven years of her life. I remember how she loved to walk when I was a child. She would pack me up in the stroller and we would walk up to church so that she could help clean the altars and tend the flowers. We walked to the stores for shopping: the butcher, the deli, the bakery. She walked with me to the playground and the swimming pool for summer adventures.
I’ve often thought of my mother as I age. I wonder what she felt when she saw her daughters running or dancing or playing and she could not.
I don’t take my health for granted. Good health is a treasure. As a writer, I tend to be seated for most of the day, the only thing moving my fingers flying across the keyboard. I love to garden but it’s just not enough exercise.
Over the past two months, I’ve taken to walking on the High Bridge Trail, a converted railway line made into a trail. My goal was simple: to walk my first 5K.
That goal was realized on Saturday, September 29 when I participated with my church family, St. Theresa of Farmville, in a fundraising 5K walk for the local Pregnancy Support Center.
Then, on Monday, I went hiking with my husband. We go hiking each year. When we were younger, we would take a two to three-week hiking vacation. We were quite fit and loved to hike! I have hiked in Glacier National Park, Acadia National Park, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Rocky Mountain National Park, along portions of the Appalachian Trail and more.
We live close to the beautiful Blue Ridge National Park and have hiked many trails within the park system. Yesterday, we hiked through Rock Castle Gorge on a loop trail that I thought was going to kill us.
I’m not kidding. Nothing in the trail description correctly identified anything with this trail – not the mileage nor the difficulty of it. The trail instructions spoke of ‘steep portions’ as if it were once and done. No sirree, not this trail.
We parked at the 12 O’Clock Knob overlook and began the descent to Rock Castle Creek heading counter clockwise. After walking through a lovely meadow, climbing a stile and walking through an in-use cow pasture, we climbed through several boulder fields then descended along a pleasant trail. As we neared the roaring creek, we encountered a steep, jagged, rocky portion of the trail unlike anything else I have ever hiked. I had to slide down on my bottom so I wouldn’t fall!
From along the creek we wound through beautiful forests, past stands of ancient rhododendron and laurel, and past waterfall after waterfall. Some of the creek crossings had metal bridges but others had to be forded on your own.
One crossing proved particularly difficult. It was a beautiful sheer rock wall with water cascading down the wall and into a pool below, then a shallow stream that rushed over a cascade. There was enough room to cross safely in the shallows but on the other side the trail picked up between two large, jagged boulders with a steep step down to the trail. I forded the shallows okay save for wet feet but put my foot down on the other side between the boulders on what I thought was solid rock. Turns out it was mud. Thick, drippy mud. I slid, right foot first, then landed with a butt-first THUD in the mud. My husband said that when I stood up it looked like I pooped my pants. So much for trying to look nice for dinner out that night…luckily we finished late and were too tired to go to Pino’s for Italian food later that evening.
The trail wound around by Rock Castle Creek, which was a lovely, but tiring walk of about two miles more. We stopped for lunch then proceeded to the old roadway that led to the Austin House, built around 1917. I couldn’t believe how remote it was! The roadway that led to it was rutted and thick with rocks and stones, plus it crossed the creek several times.
Now granted, the creek was running quite high, probably because of all the rain we’ve had in September. But to try to cross that in a cart and horse or an old-fashioned Model T Ford! I could not get over how hearty the Austins must have been to live way out in the woods like that.
We had a grueling 7-mile hike from there back to the car up the mountain and down. Many times we hiked up and then down again, crossed the roaring stream or falls on a metal bridge, and then had to hike up again. Our legs were screaming. Breaks became more frequent. I got dizzy from the exertion. I had to psyche myself into continuing numerous time, and at one point, I lost my temper and yelled at the trail. Yes, I yelled at an inanimate object. That’s how tired I was.
Another boulder field was actually a relief as it gave my screaming calves a bit of a break. All those stream crossings without bridges had taken their toll on me especially my wool socks. Wool socks are great to wear while hiking because they tend to keep feet blister-free. Not when they are wet, however. I could feel my big toe just chafing and rubbing and I dreaded what was going on in the darkness of my good old-faithful hiking shoes.
The final portion of the trail was fun as it led through another large, open meadow. This time we saw plenty of beef cattle and I had to talk a few youngsters out of the trail so we could pass. We also saw monarch butterflies in the meadows and a cloud of yellow sulfur butterflies that was gorgeous.
Finally, another hike along a narrow path, and the blessed sight of the car! As luck would have it, it took us much longer to hike than we thought it would. It was almost 6:30 p.m. and Hubby wanted to press on for home, so we drove the three hours back to home and picked up McDonald’s along the way. A quarter pounder with cheese isn’t my usual fare but I earned those calories, every blistered step of the way.
Today as I am sitting at my desk trying not to fall asleep from tiredness I give thanks for sore calves and knees, stiff ankles and blistered toes. I am grateful for the joy of achieving a goal – walking my first 5K – and seeing my training pay off.
I am grateful I can walk, and see, and take a day off to walk in the woods, blisters and all. My mom didn’t have that choice and millions don’t have that choice. They can’t walk or they can’t hike or they can’t see.
Thank you, God, for my blisters and sore, aching body today. It’s a sign I am alive and healthy enough to take a walk in the woods, blisters and all.