This past weekend while hiking in Sedona, I walked more in a single day than I had since 2009—2.9 miles, over 6,200 gimpy steps. Of course I realize this might not sound like much, especially if you do the math. I mean, it would take me nine full record-setting days to accomplish a single marathon, which apparently any remotely athletic Kenyan can run in under three hours. But with multiple sclerosis doing a number on my legs, it’s cause for a minor celebration, like a Snoopy happy dance (sans dance).
Even though these days I'm able to walk for up to 75 minutes straight with my forearm crutches, my legs afterward turn into floppy rubber chickens—the kind you’d see in an old comedy skit. These two appendages that presumably make me a biped are beyond hosed for the rest of the day. The type of hosing that makes you debate whether or not you should have a beer post epic hike. Yes, a beer would be tasty. Yes, a beer would be frosty cold and a just reward. And yes, a beer would make you eventually have to pee, necessitating you to get off the darn couch and walk to the bathroom. On rubber chicken legs. Honestly, at those times dehydration never sounded so good.
After hiking to exhaustion a few times, I figured I had two options if I wanted to maintain healthy levels of hydration and still enjoy cerveza. One, relocate the hall bath so that it was within arm’s length of the couch or two, find a way to avoid rubber chicken legs. With my wife Laura nixing option one in the clearest of terms (or any variation of option one, aka empty Gatorade bottle), I was left with managing my endurance more strategically.
So to prevent blowing up my thighs just to prove, ostensibly to myself, that I can still motor for an hour at a time (Oh, Dave, you are so strong and manly even with your disease), I swallowed that ego deflation pill and figured out how to dole out my energy output: Force myself to take regular breaks.
Now when I hike, my wife/Sherpa unfolds a small camping stool every 15 minutes and I take a 3-5 minute break. Even if I’m feeling fresh. Even if there is a great vista point a few minutes up the trail. Even if there is a hiker doling out free microbrewed beer a switchback ahead. (Thankfully that particular dilemma has never materialized.) These regular, scheduled breaks help to keep the legs from bonking and to avoid the inevitable implosion at the end of a long (for me) hike.
So how did I manage the record 2.9 miles that day? Deliberately and patiently. I hiked a little over a mile in the morning (3300 steps), and then another mile in the late afternoon around sunset—both hikes in cooler weather as I avoided the midday heat. In between I managed to add nearly another mile strolling around seeking food, shelter, and toilets. Again, no marathon sessions, just steady plodding.
With this disease, we all desperately want to be the hare, to prove to ourselves we aren’t that disabled, we aren’t that restricted by our multiple sclerosis. But as Aesop’s fable dutifully preaches, it’s often the tortoise that enjoys the spoils … and gets to celebrate with a happy dance, albeit a slow one.