Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Thinking about defiance

"As life gets longer, awful feels softer ... well, it feels pretty soft to me."
- Modest Mouse, "The View"

Today I walked out the front door with my snowshoes in my hands. I passed the row of pansies in my front yard, crossed a dry street strewn with Barbies and tricycles, and brushed a row of bushes now spiny with spring buds. Signs of summer are emerging everywhere ... cruise ships in the harbor; sightseeing buses streaming down the road; dogs prowling the yards; children's voices in the distance. I fought through a tangle of broken branches, wet roots and mud for a quarter mile. Then I strapped my snowshoes on. It may be the middle of May, but there is still enough snowpack for me to move freely across the soft surface of Douglas Island. I hiked for four hours, and then I went to work. I am happy to be back in Alaska.

I went a little higher, and a little longer, than I intended too. On the way home, I started to feel the usual downhill pangs in my knee. So I focused in, taking each step consciously and asking myself a question that has become almost a mantra - "How much does this really bother me?"

It's a valid question. How can I tell the difference between pain and what may be just a gut reaction to habit and precedence? My mom and I talked about my history of injury last week. Every time I bashed or bruised my knee as a kid, I was prone to hobbling around stiff-legged for days. She would eventually tell me to "just walk normal," and I'd usually protest. "But it hurts," I'd whine. "If you don't start using it, you won't know when it doesn't hurt," she'd say.

I decided before I went to Utah that if I had problems, or if any physical aspect of my vacation didn't go well in any way, that would be the reality check I'd need to turn to desperate measures - complete inactivity. No elliptical machine. No snowshoeing. Maybe I wouldn't even go swimming. Because, obviously, after three months, if those things hadn't worked, they weren't going to.

Well, the vacation didn't go well ... at least, not nearly as well as I hoped. I turned to face the reality of my decision, and met my own inevitable, whining protests ...

"At what point do you accept something as chronic and try to work around, rather than away, from it?"

"What if inactivity doesn't work? Better to be moving at 50 percent than not moving at all."

"How much does this really bother me?"

Maybe I can just decide that it doesn't. I'll just tell myself the little pangs and jolts don't bother me enough to stop. Cowboy up, so to speak, and get back on the bike where I'd like to be. I know I'm still prone to stiffening up after cycling, but that's really my biggest struggle. I made a mistake in Utah of the swift introduction of a 45-mile day after months of 0-mile days. But if I took it in slow doses - one 5-mile day, one day off, one 8-mile day, one day off, etc. ... Maybe that would work better than complete inactivity.

Because my alternative, truthfully, is returning to the binge cycle ... last week, several days of rest followed by a deluge of biking and backpacking; this week, several days of rest followed by a four-hour hike with way too much downhill. I'm like a dieter with boxes of brownies in the cupboard. And since I already know I can't resist, I might as well eat them one at a time.