Out of the Office: Clearing the trail

One of the benefits of growing old is waking up and, despite having done nothing particularly noteworthy the day before, feeling as if you’ve been hit by a bus.

Wednesday was one of those days. My scapulas were ringed with stinging pain and a bulgy soreness. On the first few steps out of bed, my knees wobbled and cracked. My stomach burned and my head swirled.

Immediately, I thought of the new pathway on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge connecting the Burney’s and Hideout trails.

The trail came about thanks to weeks of work from Student Conservation Association crews and a refuge trail crew, as detailed by Christa Kennedy in the Oct. 29 Refuge Notebook.

I haven’t done the connector trail recently, but I have heard from those who have done it. They talk about the great views available of Skilak and Hidden lakes, but also about all the trees that have already blown down and are obstructing the trail.

That’s trail work for you. Days are spent removing trees and cutting back brush until the trail nears perfection. Random sections that have been vastly improved won’t be noticed by other hikers, but the trail worker walks, and rewalks, them just for the sheer enjoyment of it.

Then nature kicks in. Storms blow through and knock down trees. Alder, devil’s club and other like-minded nuisances reinvade trails seemingly overnight.

Add in winter, and trails get even more fraught. In just hours, snow, rain or a temperature change can turn perfect skiing or snowshoeing into an exercise in misery.

Keeping a body in working order is similarly delicate.

First, there’s the myriad chemical reactions, the breathing and the constant pumping of the heart that merely go into maintaining homeostasis. Then the brain has received input from everything from the visual system to the location of each limb and provide the output it takes to successfully move around in the world.

And we haven’t even gotten to bigger problems the brain must solve. How do I stay employed? Foster successful relationships? What’s the purpose of it all? And will Aaron Rodgers being in COVID protocol, despite being immunized, completely derail the Super Bowl chances of the Packers?

That’s what brings me back to my woeful Wednesday morning.

For the longest time, I thought of pain as something that could be fixed, kind of like a faulty part on a car. Our consumer culture reinforces this. Effortless happiness is often sold as being just one product or pill away.

I’ve found pain is not like this at all. Yes, there are medical interventions that can make a big difference, but I’ve come to think of dealing with daily aches and pains as akin to trail maintenance.

So Wednesday morning, I sharpened my brain by doing some nerve flossing, targeted joint mobility, eye exercises and a relaxed run through the Kenai Eagle Disc Golf Course. I wasn’t fixed, but at least I had cleared a path to making it through the day.

The natural state of trails is not a trail at all. Nature is always trying to claim back a trail, as the deadfall already on Burney’s to Hideout shows.

In the same way, I don’t think our natural existence is one of pain-free happiness. Nature is always tearing away at the miracle that is life. Constant maintenance and improvement is a must.