Yes, go girl! Me girl!
They say behind every photo there is a story. Sometimes it is a beautiful, artistic photo. Sometimes it is a mediocre photo.
This is my story, a little story; the beautiful story behind a mediocre photograph.
Most people who have known me for any length of time or have spent any time with me, know that I have a slight handicap. I walk with a limp when overtired or after a long day. When I was 19 years old, I was driving too fast on California State Hwy 78 between Escondido and Ramona. I was driving my sister’s car, a sports car and it didn’t handle the same as my own 52 Chevy. I came around a blind curve, swinging too wide and hit another car head on. Both cars were totaled. The other passenger had minor injuries, and I nearly lost my life and my left foot. My foot and I survived, but since then I have learned to live with a stiff painful joint that has kept me from being athletic; I can’t run because my ankle does not bend. But I have learned to live a normal life, and have never called in sick because of the pain I have experienced. I decided within a year after the accident that I would not take the pain pills I was given, but would learn to live with the pain. I have managed by doing less to avoid the pain.
Last spring something changed for me. After over 40 years of easy living, I started walking, motivated by wanting to see Ramona’s Cedar Creek Falls. We’d had a higher than normal rainfall, and I knew this would be a good year. The only way in was by foot. I figured if I walked slowly, I could get there and back. Two friends knew of my plan, and told me they’d walk with me. About three weeks before the planned hike, I bought some walking sandals and started my training. I walked 20 – 30 minutes before work and noticed my ankle wasn’t hurting any more than it did after a regular work day, but everything else hurt; thighs, lower back, calves–obviously from lack of use.
On a beautiful April morning, we walked the 2 1/2 miles down into the valley to the falls, also known as “Devil’s Punch Bowl.” It was a clear trail and an easy descent. We had to walk through three streams, but the 80-foot rushing waterfalls were well worth the walk. The hike back up was brutal. I wasn’t sure I’d make it; but it was not my ankle holding me back; it was my lungs. I could barely breathe. Even with all my training, I was not ready for such an endurance test.
The next morning I thought I’d be limping to work. The biggest surprise was that in the 40-some years of living with an injured joint, just about everything hurt “but” my ankle. I had turned a new page in my life. Was I even handicapped anymore? Why didn’t my ankle hurt? Was it because I was walking on dirt and not on concrete or hard linoleum floors at work?
So I became a walker. I walked around the neighborhood. My friends took me to Laguna Meadows and Mission Trails. It was a new world for me. I was like a child again discovering the rocks and hills in Kimball Valley. I could walk in the back country again! I took a break during the hot summer months, but with the weather changing, it’s time to begin walking again.
My friends are planning a hike sometime this winter up Stonewall Peak near Lake Cuyamaca. I made a commitment to start walking again. I didn’t have the same amount of daylight as my spring training, so I promised my hiking buddies I would hike or walk three miles on the weekends when I wasn’t working.
Last Sunday, it was time to keep that commitment. My plan was to walk to the mall and back, about 3 miles, up and down a steep hill. At the last minute, I changed my mind. I decided to walk part way up Cowles Mountain, which has a 1593 foot summit, and the highest point in the city of San Diego. It has a 360 degree view at the peak, and is only a few miles from my house. I planned to walk up about 30 minutes and then back down to start my training for the Stonewall Peak hike.
I packed a large bottle of water, my camera and my phone. I had a hat, sunglasses, Chap Stick, a hiking stick and my mp3 player. The Cowles Mountain trail is very popular and safe to walk alone. It is a steep climb, a rocky trail and I took my time. It was wonderful hiking weather, sunny with a cool breeze. I listened to an enjoyable mixture of music: opera, country, Broadway, jazz, show tunes, Five for Fighting. Within 10 minutes I was breathing hard and tripping over the rocks on this steep trail. The hiking stick kept me from falling. Even though I was gasping for air, I knew I made the right choice: I was so happy. This was a better choice than walking on the city street to the mall. Walking on dirt is what makes me happy. I was delirious as I stumbled toward my 30-minute goal. As I got higher up the mountain, the view changed and I began to see Lake Murray. I stopped to snap a few pictures. They are mediocre pictures, as the marine layer from the coast was rolling in. As I walked higher, the view changed, so I took more pictures.
I decided I should walk a little longer than my 30 minutes since I’d taken time out to take pictures, so I kept walking, having every intention of turning around at the 40-minute mark. I walked slowly, enjoying the music, and everyone passed me up. I didn’t care, it was just a training hike.
“How far?” I asked.
“The one mile mark is around the corner, and then there are just a few switchbacks after that.”
She has no idea what she did to me. Almost there? Go to the top? I had set aside about an hour for this walk, did I have time? Could I make it before dark? I had no idea, but bitten with the idea that I might be able to make it to the top of Cowles Mountain, an exciting goal for this beginner, I decided to keep walking. I walked like a tortoise, not caring how long it took to get there, just wanting to make it. I just took one step at a time, listening to the music, enjoying being outside and watching the people coming down. I saw a lady about 8 months pregnant, baby bump fully exposed to the sun and the fresh air. I saw groups of cub scouts and boy scouts. There were family groups with small children. All walking down, laughing and talking and enjoying their Sunday afternoon. What a day to be out among the people. There were lots of big healthy dogs enjoying the walk. Runners jogged up the hill, passing me. Some seniors passed me, walking much faster than I was. I don’t know how anyone can run on this trail, it is so rocky.
I stopped when I was tired or thirsty, for only a few minutes, and then kept walking. I passed the one mile mark and kept walking. It got steeper and I could feel my thighs getting tight, but I kept walking. Walking one step at a time.
When I reached the summit I was giddy with joy. This is a short hike and easy for seasoned hikers and runners. But for me? The mountain peak was always out of “my” reach. It has loomed over my neighborhood the the three decades I have lived here as an unreachable goal, but I had never really tried to walk it. I assumed it was unreachable.
I did it. What a good feeling to master the once impossible.
It took me an hour and twenty minutes to reach the summit and forty-five minutes back down to my car. On the parts of the trail that were not too rocky, I found myself jogging. Me? Jogging? With my crazy stiff gait I was jogging down the hill, filled with such a joy of accomplishment. I even passed someone up, a father and his three-year-old daughter.
What other goals have I assumed were above my ability? How good to get out and try. How enriching to make a goal and keep it. I encourage all of you to look within yourself, and make a little goal, any goal, and then work towards that goal. Maybe you will get to the mountain top too. What mountain are you climbing? You go girl or gent, on your walk to the mountaintop!