It all began quite innocently. I play ping pong each Thursday afternoon with my buddy George Derby; we’ve played weekly for the last five years since I retired from the University of New England. Here’s the scene. It’s a warm late May day; I am in bare feet to keep cool and be light on my feet.
An hour into our games, I feel a small ache in my left heel, but play on. Later, after sitting over Red Hook beers, I have to limp to make it to and from the kitchen. While I’m sitting, I twist my ankle up and down, then side to side to keep it loose.
Overnight, I sleep restlessly, even putting a pillow under my left foot to elevate it for some relief. Nothing’s working. You see, the timing of my aching heel is not good at all. Hannah and I fly to Portland, Oregon in two days to hike the waterfall trails in the Northwest. As I awake Friday morning, there is no way I can hike.
Postpone the trip? Why go on a hiking trip if I can’t hike? Though we’d be charged $150 each by Jet Blue to change our tickets, postponing would save the $530 rental car fee and multiple nights in motels.
Fortunately, I have a “go to” friend/physical therapist Corky Thomson to consult. Having been there for my stiff neck and pickleball elbow, she is the one I text at 515A, the day before we are to leave, to see if she has a few minutes to see me. Fortunately, she does.
Once we get together, Corky tests my ankle to see if I have torn my Achilles tendon. Fortunately it appears that I’ve just strained and inflamed it. Recommending ice, 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off all day, she also offers me her favorite Achilles stretching exercise (see its description at the end of the blog) and sends me on my way.
Like past minor aches and pains, this Achilles issue is just another symptom of a 68-year body naturally breaking down over time. It’s no mystery that a lifetime of exercising, thirty years of running, and living the outdoor life may have caused me a few physical problems. Thankfully, stretching to attend to my flexibility can keep me in the game. Oh, and one more thing, Corky adds, No more playing in bare feet. You need the support of sandals or shoes.
Highly motivated with our departure just a day away, I ice religiously and stretch my Achilles. By late in the day I feel 80% and am stunned how good I feel.
Taking nothing for granted, I ice and stretch throughout Saturday, prior to our evening Jet Blue flight to Portland. At Boston’s Logan Airport, I gingerly walk the wide corridors looking for a place that just might fill my Ziploc bag with some ice. Bingo! Camden food co. comes through in the clutch. The smiling clerk takes my Ziploc bag and fills it with three trays of ice.
Right there in the waiting area, I ice off and on for the next 90 minutes. I have no shame. Later, during the six-hour flight to the West Coast, I ice my left Achilles at my aisle seat a good five times more. My seatmates act like this is all perfectly normal. I am not.
Once in the Beaver State, we stay at our niece Corrie’s and nephew Karl’s place in nearby Beaverton (home to Nike). As you may guess, they welcome us, well, like family! A morning of coffee and oatmeal on their back deck sets us up for driving an hour to the northeast past Battle Ground, Washington for the trailhead of Moulton Falls.
With Day Hikes – Columbia River Gorge by Craig Romano (2011) as a guide, we have clear directions and a map for the perfect hike for me; a five-mile round-trip along the East Fork of the Lewis River (yes, that Lewis of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark fame) on a gently inclining terrain with no more than a 260’ of elevation gain.
Icing my Achilles twice while Hannah drives to the Moulton Falls trailhead, I am ready for the first 0.6 of a mile of the wide, paved trail with kids rolling by on bikes. With the East Fork to our left, my pace is slower than usual but steady nonetheless with only minor discomfort. Sweetly, Hannah slows so we can walk together.
Soon the 20’ wide trail, filled with families on this Memorial Day Sunday, turns to hard packed gravel, which is still excellent for bicyclists and easy on this Mainer’s Achilles. High above the rapids, we see riverside cabins on the opposite side as we look forward to getting down to the white water of the rocky Lewis River.
A little over two miles in, we arrive at the trestle bridge spanning the river chasm. Crossing over, we head back down the opposite side of the East Fork for the Moulton Falls itself. As one might expect on a Memorial Day Sunday, families are smiling and loving life on a 67F afternoon in rural Washington, just 40 miles from Portland, Oregon.
With some modest rock scrambling, we position ourselves for one of my favorite couple photos. The Achilles, though slightly sensitive with each step, is safely protected with three socks in my hiking boot; it’s been a good choice to river walk rather than to be climbing a mountain.
With a simple downhill 2.5 miles back to the trailhead, we have a river trail to ease the ever present sensation in my heel. At the car, I deboot and desock, and then ice my foot as Hannah does the Columbus thing – she drives west to I-5 to eventually go east on route 12 to Packwood, WA, the gateway to Mount Rainier.
We all have angels in our lives. Our hiking on this first day in the Northwest is happening thanks to today’s angel – Corky Thomson.
On our way to Packwood, we can’t help but smile at this coffee shop.
Achilles exercise. Stand on a stairway riser as if climbing up. With toes pointing straight ahead, comfortably positioned, let the heel drop until you can feel the stretch. The beauty of the exercise is as you dip for a minute, you have the gravity of your full body weight to make the stretch a good one. Dip for a minute five times, three times per day. For me, it will be a lifetime of such stretching. You see, I want to stay in the game.