It’s May and in a month our plan is to hike the trails at Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in Wyoming, then head south to Arches National Park in Utah. Knowing it’s been a snowy winter in the West after years of drought, I call the ranger station at Yellowstone, just north of Grand Teton, to find out the conditions of the trails.
It seems all the rain we had in southern California in February has been part of the same weather pattern that dumped 600” of snow on the Yellowstone/Grand Teton area. (Normal snowfall for the area is 450” per year. A very snowy winter in Portland, Maine is 100”.) I learn that the trails have 3 to 4 feet of snow and may not be hike-able during our visit during the last week in May. On to Plan B.
One of the great things about flying into Salt Lake City to hike in Wyoming is that it’s an easy pivot to the southeast to hike first in the Arches National Park near Moab, Utah, by the Colorado border. From there we can head to the southwest for a trifecta of National Parks in Utah (Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Bryce Canyon).
But! Days before our departure in late May, our travel and hiking plans are in jeopardy. It all comes under the heading of “It’s a Bitch to Get Old;” who knew after nearly 70 years of daily (read: compulsive) physical activity that I would have tendinitis in my joints! My wild tennis swinging ways when playing pickleball has led to a nasty case of tendinitis of the elbow.
But that’s not why our trip is in doubt. The pain of patellar tendinitis (just below my knee cap) in my left leg has me walking haltingly. The week before we leave, simple walks in the neighborhood have been painful; and what is the point of hiking in the West if I can’t, well, hike in the West?
With our departure for Utah just five days away, I wake by first light wanting to test out my left knee. Walking our neighborhood, I find within a third of a mile that my left knee is pissed off, aching, and whines to turn back. Meekly, I obey.
Able to score a late morning appointment with my long time physical therapist Stephane, I learn my knee is structurally sound, but what is causing the inflammation and pain is perplexing. Could it have something to do with his observation that my right leg is stronger, slightly bigger, and more solid than the left?
When he asks me to touch my toes, it is apparent that my hamstrings are very tight; when reaching for the floor I am still 10” away. I have the flexibility of a log cabin chair. He explains that the more the hamstrings are flexible, the better the quads have a chance to strengthen, helping the patella track along the femur more efficiently.
After 40 minutes, Stephane says if you were my brother, father, or son, I’d encourage you to go on your trip. I’m all in now, for I have a plan to deal with my cranky knee.
One, to keep stretching for 25 minutes before any activity (hardly a sacrifice if it gets me back in the game). Two, take Tylenol an hour before exercise to reduce the pain. Stephane says, a slight amount of pain sometimes creates a reflex inhibition, thus preventing efficient contraction of the quads … this puts you at risk of injury.
Three, and this is new and exciting, use a compression sleeve from the local Rite-Aid Drugstore for my left knee during walking and hiking; the sleeve gives bio-feedback to engage the quadriceps muscle more efficiently and gives you a joint position sense that helps you be aware of protecting the knee.
And finally, always ice after activity. Icing will be a part of my active life forever. And so, Hannah and I will leave for Utah and explore her national parks the Tuesday after Memorial Day.
Arriving at Boston’s Logan Airport for our 645A Delta non-stop flight to Salt Lake City, we have a gift from the universe. Delta offers me two hours of uninterrupted joy in the viewing of La La Land and its message of the power of being encouraging.
The Ryan Gosling character Seb is so relentlessly positive and supportive with Emma Stone’s Mia; reassuring her that her playwriting and performing are fantastic. He is her brass band and Hallejuah Chorus. His encouragement and faith in her are just the push she needs to give it her all to succeed. We can all use a Seb or two in our lives!
However encouraging, or not, that I have been with Hannah, our kids, and my students is a story for them to tell. At this time, what I do have control over, is being Seb to our grandsons, our five kids, my friends, and especially Hannah over my next 20+ good years.
Arriving in Salt Lake City at 10A, within the hour, we are on the road to Moab, four hours away. As I drive southeast, I think about the presents I do and don’t give Hannah.
I give Hannah no flowers, no chocolates. She picks out her own jewelry and clothes. I plan the trips we take, but they are, in fact, gifts she gives me. At home, I wash the dishes whenever I see them pile up, and wash and hang the laundry.
But today on route 6 on the backroads south of Price, Utah heading south to I-70 and Moab, I give her what I can – I let her sleep when it’s her turn to drive. After 45 years together (July 1 is our anniversary), I have learned that the little things are not such little things.
*The four national parks we will visit are, in order, from east to west, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Bryce. By the way, we only go to the fifth, Zion, in the off-season, say late February, early March. 71,000 people visited Zion National Park days ago, this past Memorial Day Weekend!