I like to walk these days. Port Heiden has fostered incredible enthusiasm for such a simple act. But it took a little pain to initially spark motivation and passion for walking.
A few summers ago, I dealt with a back injury. It sucked. My spine had acted up before, but that season was the worst.
The symptoms were grim. Consistent shooting pain along the lower back, hips, and left leg. Sleep could only be had for a couple hours at a time. And my left foot started to go numb. I started to think of it as my Ice Foot.
Surgery didn’t guarantee a favorable outcome and I was loathe to exacerbate or create new issues by going under the knife.
Life was bleak. My habits became more reclusive and work suffered as a result. I was buried by this thing that began in my back but felt like it was creeping its way up my leg a day at a time. Joy was lost as sleepless nights begat exhausted days.
It was around that time that I learned of a friend’s harrowing story and how she lived through a plane crash in bush Alaska. Her recovery is a modern medical miracle: she overcame paralysis below the waist from shattered vertebrae and eventually went on to walk again.
But it gets even better. She can not only hike and ski up a storm, she also rows competitively. Her journey even led her to medal in the 2013 World Master’s Games.
Her advice to me was simple: walk more and drive less, since driving and sitting both increased pain levels. Coming from such a strong human who overcame so much, my little Ice Foot didn’t seem so bad.
So I started walking the 2.5 miles to work every day (5 miles round trip) instead of driving. Most of my daily route was through the gorgeous Ruth Arcand Park in south Anchorage, so the scenery made an immediate impact on my daily mood. And it was a huge relief not having to get in and out of the car every day.
Walking every day was weird at first, my feet were frustratingly clumsy after the first mile. And it was occasionally a little tiring. Especially while lugging a laptop.
But by the end of the first week, I felt healthier and the pain seemed diminished. By the second week, sleep came easier, small bits of sensation crept into my leg, and the pain was back to manageable levels. It was gradual, yet I started to derive energy from each walk. The uphill battle continued through most of the winter.
Somewhere in that process, the walk became more than a way to avoid driving and sitting.
It was a daily meditation and reflection. A chance to think through tasks before hitting the office and an opportunity to reflect on the day while wending homeward. It grew confidence and bolstered resolve (especially on particularly rainy or snowy or frigid walks).
And all the while, life got less painful. Also, dollars were saved on gasoline or spontaneous food outings, which was nice.
Maybe it was the stretching, perhaps it the ‘walk more, sit less’ thing that did the trick. Possibly the two combined. Whatever it was, I’m grateful and have continued to perform this ritual each day.
Walking now brings joy and serenity. It is freedom.
It’s that simple.