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A thorn in my sock…

Once again, pardon my prolonged absence. Life has swept over me the last few months and time has not been my ally. Whist it may not be true for most of you, summer seems a blink of an eye to me and has now passed by. Oh, I know the “official” end of summer is still a couple of weeks away. And I surely know that the weather is still steeped in summer. But, school is back in session for all of my grandkids, as well as my daughter, so we are back to spending our weekdays with Teddy, who is now 13 months old. He is walking and talking (the former more advanced than the latter) and is a bundle of smiles and delight – a pure joy to be around.

I have gotten some serious hiking in, despite the blazingly hot temps we had through most of July and August – not to mention the wicked humidity. I managed a meager 18.7 miles in June, 43.3 miles in July, and 48.9 miles in August. I only have one hike in so far in September but it is a personal best for at least the last fifteen years: a 16.1-mile hike, and done is less than six hours. That puts me in at 153.3 miles for 2022, the bulk of which came in some really strenuous weather conditions, so I am pleased with my efforts.

This weekend is not looking likely for a hike as three of my grandkids will be here through Sunday night for a special long weekend. However, we will not be watching Teddy on Tuesday so perhaps I may sneak in a hike then. I hope that as the weather cools my rambles will grow even longer. I once did a hike that came in slightly over 20 miles sometime around 18 or 20 years ago. I recall it as exceedingly difficult and a bit painful to complete. But that’s the thing about hiking: once you start it you really have no choice but to finish it; especially a hike that’s a loop. But while I as in good overall shape when I did that, I had not built myself up to the distance and I was not in my best hiking condition. I am far older now of course, but I have been building up my stamina since June with tens, then twelves, and a series of fourteen-mile hikes leading up to the sixteen miler. I had more in my tank when I finished, but had run out of trail, so I hope to hit twenty once again this year; certainly will hit eighteen miles.

Speaking of, I had plenty of time to think during all those miles and something occurred to me. Hiking is really just walking, only it is done on difficult terrain: rocks, roots, branches, briars, mud, sand, cliffs, ledges, streams, and rivers. And at the trailhead your steps are quick and solid – long strides with energy and purpose. And after a few miles, while still long and strong, some discomfort may begin to creep in: a toe or heel rubbing, sore arch, or a problematic ankle or knee joint may begin to twinge a bit.

At some point, you are pretty much guaranteed to catch a toe on a rock or a root causing a quick stumble. And you will catch yourself before falling 99% of the time. But it can be somewhat jarring, both to the foot as well as to your rhythm. Once in a while it will result in one foot hitting the inside of the opposite ankle too. But no big deal, just a short-lived ouch and a muddy mark on the leg. The rocks, which dominate the landscape here in RI, can easily cause you to slightly roll an ankle, or at the very least to turn/twist a foot, ankle, or knee slightly.

Dirt, sand, gravel, pebbles, sticks, and all other assortment of forest material begins to accumulate around the openings between your foot and shoe, and over time they begin to travel down inside and rub and chafe the sides of your ankle before ending up inside the shoe under your foot. And occasionally a briar or similarly sharp-ended piece of plant material will stick into your sock and embed itself there, intermittently picking and poking at your ankle.

None of the things I listed above will interrupt your hike for more than a second or two, certainly nothing more than momentary annoyances. But cumulatively; mile after mile, hour after hour, they begin to take a toll on you. They wear you down, slow your step, break your stride, and tire you beyond your miles. A walk of 16 miles and a hike of 16 miles will leave you decidedly and decisively different at the end.

And such is one of the lessons of life. A disappointment here, a loss there; a bit of aging here, a moment of betrayal there; and a failure here, an embarrassment there are all quickly put behind us. Granted, some take longer than others, but they rarely cause us a misstep. But together, year after year, decade after decade, they add up and take their toll. A cloistered life of 60 years versus a life rich in experiences and activity result in two varied endings.

As Hunter S. Thompson said: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

Life is not for the faint of heart, but when all is said and done – better to have some gravel in your shoes and a thorn in your sock. Get out there and enjoy life dear reader. Stay well!!

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