Indiana Jones and I have a lot in common. We hate snakes. We often travel to exotic locales. And we somehow get ourselves into sketchy situations that inevitably involve rickety wooden bridges and potentially calamitous falls. One would think I would avoid said bridges with my current walking challenges, namely balance requiring the use of forearm crutches. Yes, one would think.
But when I’m out hiking, enjoying nature’s gifts of fresh air, summer wildflowers and cow-dung landmines, thinking is usually low on my list. After all, my brain is focused on checking out all the pretty blooms while avoiding poo with one of my four points of contact. But shutting off the cerebral cortex, I’ve come to realize when the gray matter is actually running, is not too bright.
Anyway, a couple weekends ago I went up into the mountains to do a stretch of what was once one of my favorite hikes. I hadn’t been on the trail in years, but my sisters—one who is a physical therapist and the other a nurse—convinced me it would be a rollicking fun time. Besides, if I got into trouble I had an entire medical team at the ready. Although I admit midway through the 1.5-mile hike I was wishing my EMT buddy Gio was along as well as cadre of wilderness rescue experts, doctors, and a team of Sherpas to carry the mobile surgical hospital.
The reason for my trepidation? Bridges. Specifically, bouncy wooden bridges the width of my shoulders traversing vast chasms where a single misstep would plunge me over a hundred centimeters into chilly mountain streams riddled with rocks and, I presume, the decaying corpses of previous failed attempts by others with multiple sclerosis. I didn’t remember the trail having this many bridges. Hell, I didn’t remember any bridges. And seriously, what does it take to install a simple handrail? Even the bridges I crossed in the Mekong Delta had railings (granted unusable railings, as you can see, but still).
Fortunately my PT sis Karen was right behind me on each bridge crossing, uttering words of encouragement while amplifying the bridge’s unpredictable bouncy reverb that comes when more than one person crosses at a time. If I were to fall, she was going to be right there, cheering me on to fall softly, because there was absolutely nothing she could have done if I had teetered. What was I thinking?
Exactly. I was thinking about purple aster, Indian paintbrush, scarlet trumpet and… poop. Although each crossing had me tasting my left ventricle, I pressed on fully knowing it meant there would be another one exactly like it—this was an out-and-back hike. And I knew that fatigue would make the return infinitely more challenging. But as you can tell since you are reading this today, I survived. All seven bridge crossings were made successfully, some more than 30 feet long. And for you math majors out there who are concerned about the odd number (“Seven bridges, not eight, Dave?”), one crossing was over dried mud that I traversed through rather than over on the return as I neared the safety of our car’s first aid kit.
While I wouldn’t necessary advise tramping over wobbly pieces of wood missing the occasional plank, I would advise going for it at times. Meet challenges—physical, mental, whatever they may be—head on. Heck, you have MS; you don’t have to live in a bubble like that poor kid David Vetter. Just be smart about it. In my case, I rested and cooled off before each challenging section of the trail to be as fresh as possible (that also tends to clear up my eyesight, which gets iffy with heat). That said, avoid taking unnecessarily stupid risks. You know, the kind that could get you killed. I’ve had to pass on adventures, like this crazy one in Bhutan, when I couldn’t justify the gamble. But if you do roll the dice, it sure doesn’t hurt to have family members in the medical field.