Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Age doesn't have to stop you - but may require some adjustments

The old phrase, "We are experiencing technical difficulties, please do not adjust your sets," was definitely a
Nothing beats a wilderness canoe trip.
familiar one to those who watched any television prior to the age of cable, satellite and high resolution digital TV.

Although cable companies still do experience technical issues, it doesn't seem to carry the same impact it did when there were only a few stations available to watch in any given city or area.

However, the phrase takes on a different meaning when it refers to the human body.

Although it varies in degree from person to person, we all experience "technical difficulties" with our bodies as they age. And although we would rather resist it, we do have to make adjustments.

This was borne home to me last month when a planned canoe trip had to be aborted because of a flare-up of an old knee injury, an event that reared its ugly head right out of the blue at a very bad time.

As part of the 2015 Travel Media Association of Canada conference in Peterborough, Ontario, I'd signed up to participate in one of the pre-tours they offer attendees. Titled, "The Rugged Routes of the Kawarthas," it would see us paddle and portage into one of the newer wilderness parks in Ontario, for three days.

I'd already sustained a wrist injury the first week of May, slipping in a boat in Mexico, but was bound and determined not to let it stop me from participating. It was not broken, just very badly bent (ha-ha), but with a brace and some ibuprofen, I was ready to tough it out, it was just a sprain. After all, I'd developed some bad tendinitis in my left forearm on the second day of a four-day kayak trip in the Everglades, and that didn't stop me...

But you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men.

A week before I was supposed to leave for Ontario, I was warming up in a local pool during a deep water aqua fit class. This is my main form of regular exercise, it works the muscles and joints and provides a good aerobic workout as well - and with little or no stress on the joints. Supposedly.

Well, there I was, just doing a slow bicycling motion I've done hundreds of times, and I felt something go "Snick!" in my left knee. I ignored it and did the class. The knee has already been surgically repaired once after two dislocated patellas; I also hyper-extended it badly playing softball years after that. So it was not exactly in primo condition.

By the next day, it was swollen and I had trouble walking. There went any exercise for the next few days. I got my RMT to work on it a bit - but it's a joint, so hard to do anything with it, given its history. I tried all kinds of lineaments, and analgesics and oils, applying them two to three times a day, icing it twice a day...and there was a bit of improvement, but it was still a bit tight, a bit swollen, and a bit weak. I planned to go canoeing all the same.

However, the day I was supposed to head out to Kawarthas Highland Provincial Park, it was pouring rain. That would mean the portage routes would be slick - and deadly for someone with a wonky knee, even if it was supported by a brace. Because the park's wilderness interior is accessible only by canoe or plane, any accident would probably mean a medical evacuation by air. So, at the last minute, I thought discretion would be the better part of valour in this instance, especially since my ability to travel would affect the others taking this trip.

I felt devastated. I'd been looking forward to this trip for a year. Not just for the trip itself, but the writing and photography opportunities that it would present for me.

Carving my own paddle at the Canoe Museum was great;
paddling would have been greater.

I was able to replace the trip with a three-day paddle-carving experience in the Canadian Canoe Museum. It was a very enjoyable three days, the museum is a wonderful place, I wish I could have spent more time there, actually.

But it was not the same as a wilderness paddle trip.

It had been five years since I had done an overnight extended paddling trip in the wilderness and my soul thrives on those kinds of experiences.

After the devastation came the depression. I envisioned a future with no overnight paddling trips. If my knee gave out in something easy like aqua fit, could I ever risk doing an extended wilderness canoe trip again? If I couldn't do deep water aqua fit - one of the least joint-stressful exercises - what would I do for exercise?

Because of the busy schedule facing me over the next several weeks, I did not have time to ponder that question too much. But when I returned home finally, the thoughts returned with me.

Paddling along a lake at sunset: food for my soul.

The thought of never going on an overnight paddling trip again scared me. I've enjoyed such wonderful experiences on these trips, most of the truly memorable moments of my life have been on these trips. But if my body is breaking down, and makes it dangerous to myself and others to continue doing those trips, it becomes difficult to enjoy those kinds of experiences. The frustrating aspect of all this is the fact that I DO try to exercise regularly, and engage in non-stressful exercises like aqua fit, yoga, some light weight work with bands. But even those seem to present problems, these days.

So after some soul-searching on the matter, I thought, "Well, would there be a way to do these without the stress of something like a portage?"

Obviously, there is always the sea kayaking option, trips where there are no portages involved. But that doesn't allow me to experience some of the inland beauty of nature I so enjoy, having grown up paddling in places like Haliburton and Algonquin Park.

I looked at a map of Kawarthas Park and almost immediately experienced an "Aha!" moment.

There were routes that one could take that would not involve many portages, at all. And some would involve only short portages, not 1200 metre hikes with canoes and gear on one's back.

Another approach also came to me: I associate canoe trips as trips done on a complete circuit, trips where you travel and camp at a different spot every night, eventually winding up back where you start. Those involve hauling all your gear down a portage trail. But what if I paddled/portaged for one day only, to a spot far enough away to be off the beaten track, and then just set up a base camp there, and explored other lakes on day trips, where the only thing I'd need to portage would be a canoe and lunch?

That could certainly work.

While I wish I could still hump down a mile-long portage with a canoe on my back, put it down, then race back to grab the packs at the other end and do it again, given my body's age and mileage factors, that's just not realistic. Yeah, I can exercise (if I can find a way not to hurt myself exercising!) but I do that now. Even with regular exercise, I won't be entering any canoehead races any time, soon. Others my age may be able to do that, but it's not in my future. I have to accept that. And that is not giving up; there is a difference between just giving up and making adjustments according to circumstances.

Views like this from a wilderness campsite
are what make canoe tripping so appealing.
I can still have a full life for my last few decades on this planet. In other words, with a few tweaks, by making a few adjustments, I could still enjoy the wilderness by canoe.

So, my 60-year-old body is presenting me with "technical difficulties." And if I want to continue to enjoy what I enjoy, I just have to "adjust my set."

Adjusting for technical difficulties is what living life is really all about. And the ultimate acceptance of that is incredibly freeing.

Now with the "technical difficulties" out of the way, I just have to make sure I can avoid having to use the "emergency broadcasting system."

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