Last summer our travels took us to the Garden of the Gods at Colorado Springs, through the mountains of northern New Mexico to Santa Fe and Bandelier National Monument, north again and across southern Colorado to Mesa Verde at the Four Corners, along the Colorado-Utah state line to Hovenweep National Monument for still more ancient Indian pueblos, on north to Telluride, Montrose, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, via Steamboat Springs up to Rocky Mountain National Park for a week camping with our daughter Sarah and her kids, Nick and Lizzy. (You keeping up with this? Good.) From the Rockies we continued into Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park with expectations that we might give Yellowstone another shot.
Didn’t make it to Yellowstone.
A walk in the park is an accurate description not only of what Shirley and I do but how we feel about doing it. That is, it is easy and pleasant.
Until it isn’t.
At Bandelier, we had walked out to the ancient cliff-side dwellings and climbed 140 feet of ladders to Alcove House. At Mesa Verde, our tours took us to Cliff Palace, Balcony House, Long House, and Spruce House. These activities involved quite a bit of hiking and climbing including up and down more ladders and crawling on our hands and knees through a low, narrow tunnel. At Black Canyon, we enjoyed the Rim Rock Trail and the Warner Point Trail. In the Rockies, we took the trail around Bear Lake and then out to Alberta Falls as well as other, shorter strolls. When we reached the Tetons, we were looking forward to our favorite hike out to Taggart Lake where the spectacular mountains are reflected in the water. Typically, we take a light snack to eat on our lunch rocks and then climb the glacial moraine that forms the bowl on the side of the mountain that holds the lake. Over this ridge, the winding path loops back to the trailhead.
We didn’t do it.
Now, Shirley’s Teutonic heritage has instilled in her an impressive work ethic. (Well, it’s either that or OCD, but “heritage” seems like a more affirmative description.) I, on the other hand, tend to favor Occam’s razor—the simplest solution is best. If there are two ways of dealing with an issue, one that is easy-peasy and one that is close to impossible, I go with easy. Shirley prefers impossible. The easy way is just for lazy people. Once Shirley sets out on a mission, she just ain’t never gonna let up until she succeeds. Quite often I volunteer or get drafted into the effort. (These are the only real options.) When she proposes what I see as an improbable course of action, she says “How do you know it won’t work unless you try?” To which I reply, “Nothing is impossible for the person who doesn’t have to do it.” Then she feels compelled to list all 17 reasons why her strategy (no matter how ludicrous it may sound to an ill-informed person) is not only rational but mandatory. Eventually, I throw up my hands and declare, “You just wear me out!” (We can recite this dramatic dialogue by rote after a half century of practice.)
Another of our numerous little mottos is “Use it or lose it.” That is, the way to stay fit is to stay active. Last summer, though, we found that sometimes when you use it, you just wear it out. Muscles grow stronger by being used, but bones and joints may not. Osteoarthritis sets in and protective cartilage wears out. Painfully. In one of the great paradoxes of life, the prescription for dealing with worn away cartilage is to stay active. (Yep. Go figure.) The theory is that the flexing of muscles during exercise increases blood flow and oxygen to cartilage. Unless, of course, there is virtually no cartilage left so it is just bone rubbing against bone.
Now, confronted with cartilage loss, you might say, “Doctor, doctor, it hurts when I do this.” To which a doctor who properly understands his role in the mini-drama should reply, “Then don’t do that!”
We didn’t take the trail to Taggart Lake in the Tetons because one of us was experiencing a little discomfort. Shirley consulted her most trusted healthcare professional (herself) and diagnosed a touch of sciatica. She was tempted to give it a go anyway because “How do you know unless you try?” But a cooler (i.e., lazier) head prevailed and we settled for driving through Antelope Flats and then taking the loop road through the park.
In recompense, as we neared Moran Junction, there was a herd of bison with the mountains in the background. OK. We could live with that. Stopped at Oxbow Bend, deservedly one of the most photographed sites in the world. Joined other tourists in several of the pullouts along the road to admire the mountains rising abruptly from the valley floor. No foothills at the base of the Tetons, just whango! Up they go with snow fields all sparkly in the sun.
Though the scenery is certainly a major attraction in itself, our preferred way to enjoy a park is from the trails. But that just wasn’t in the cards. After only two days, our shortest stay ever, we decided to pack up and head for home.
Back home, there was physical therapy, a corticosteroid injection, and an orthopedic surgeon who pulled and twisted Shirley’s leg. “Doctor, doctor,” she said, “it hurts when you do that!”
“Then I won’t do that,” he said.
X-rays showed a significant deterioration of the cartilage of her left hip. (“Significant deterioration” means there wasn’t any left.) Doctor said there was a hip replacement in her future. “You’ll know when it is time to wave the white flag,” he said.
I handed Shirley my handkerchief.
Good news: though it is classified as major surgery, hip replacement can be done via anterior access in just a couple hours. Instead of cutting through muscles to reach the hip and thigh bone and then reattaching those muscles afterward, the surgeon makes much smaller incisions and gets to the joint between two muscles. Most patients are back on their feet almost immediately, though some may need a night in the hospital. Shirley was really encouraged when she talked with a woman who said she returned to work in only three days.
Bad news: what the woman forgot to mention was that there might be a scheduling issue. First there would be pre-op testing, and a couple weeks after that would come the surgery and then the post-op and physical therapy. Then stick around town for a couple more weeks just in case there is some unanticipated complication. So, you might be up and moving in just a few hours, but you won’t be going more than a few miles from home.
As I explained last month, our plans were to leave town right after the last of the children and grandchildren went home after Christmas. New Year’s in Florida. Woohoo! Then, a couple weeks later, around the Gulf to Padre Island, on to Big Bend National Park in Texas, Cave Creek Canyon on the New Mexico-Arizona line, a few days in Tucson, and then a month at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument right on the Mexican border. Gradually make our way home by Palm Sunday.
Want to hear God laugh? Tell Him your plans.
Shirley hit what she calls “a little bump in the road.” Actual bumps in actual roads we can handle. Metaphorical bumps are harder on the suspension system. So, instead of getting home just before Easter, we finally would be free to leave just before Easter. Which we won’t do. Bummer.
Now, we haven’t spent a winter in Toledo since 2004. That’s a pretty good run, so we really don’t expect much sympathy from readers. Shirley was filled with excessive concern for the impact her surgery would have on me. Never mind that she was the one hobbling around like Walter Brennan.
For the first time since…well, since forever, her Teutonic heritage did not insist on persisting. Instead, we worked our way through the five stages of grief. Denial: maybe the steroid injection just needs a little more time to work. Anger: reservations at Organ Pipe were hard to get and now we have to cancel. Bargaining: we might still squeeze in a quick trip to Florida before pre-op testing. Depression: Toledo winters are just so gray. Acceptance: it is what it is.
Though we may not be going on any actual walks in actual parks this winter, a positive attitude can smooth out some of the bumps in the road so that even something as horrendous as a winter in Toledo is still a metaphorical walk in the park. Wait. Wait. Is that God I hear giggling?
LeMoyne Mercer is the travel editor for Healthy Living News. There is limited space here for LeMoyne’s photos. You might want to see more at anotherwalkinthepark.blogspot.com. Please leave comments on the site.
Alberta Falls is one of our favorite hiking destinations in the Rockies.