Saturday, February 1, 2020

Getting in shape for hiking… by hiking

So here I am, five months out of cancer treatment and massive weight loss, and I have the bug for hiking in the canyons of southeast Utah (once it stops freezing at night). It shouldn’t be a big deal, right? Hiking is just glorified walking, and I’ve been doing that my entire post-infant life. One foot in front of the other, repeat as necessary.

But I’m out of shape. And I have old man knees. And peripheral neuropathy in my feet. And part of that weight loss was muscle.

I haven’t hiked more than a couple of miles since I was a Boy Scout, when we did a week-long trek up the C&O Canal from Washington DC to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.

The hike up Grand Wash with my sister and brother-in-law back in September revealed I had a lot of recovery and rebuilding ahead of me. Although I feel much stronger now, I still have some work—or working out—to do.

Yesterday morning I left our campsite and strolled up the road to the Palm Canyon trailhead. That was the original goal. Trailhead and back, a couple of miles round trip, a nice and easy restart of my hiking life, pausing along the way to take photos.

The walking felt good. No complaints from my feet, joints, muscles or cardio-vascular system. So I didn’t stop at the trailhead.

Your basic trail

I had been up Palm Canyon once before. I knew the trail changed back and forth between hard dirt, gravel, stones, scree and bare rock. It wouldn’t be a stroll in the park (or, in this case, a wildlife preserve), but it wouldn’t be difficult. The question was whether my body could deal with it.

Watch where you step

I had to watch my foot placement in several sections to avoid slipping, tripping, falling. But my balance was good and my limbs were doing what I asked without trouble.

So I kept going, to the viewpoint for the palms and a little beyond. There the trail got a little more serious. I had left my walking stick behind because it’s awkward when I want to take pictures. Not enough hands to hold things. As they say, discretion is the better part of not falling, hurting oneself and needing to be air-evacced out of there. Besides, I had already surpassed the day’s goal. I turned around.

Walking downhill is less of a cardio workout but more a test of joints. At least it is for me, because I’m not graceful. I land on my heels, with my legs stiff. Thump thud thud thump. Because I don’t trust the muscles in the uphill leg will flex without collapsing. That’s part of getting in shape.

Also, downhill footing is trickier. Or it feels that way. Will the soles grip, or will this grit make them slide and send me sprawling? Is that rock going to tilt and make my ankle buckle?

I made it back to the trailhead without incident. The only challenges from there were washboard, dust and monotony. I might have been only a mile from the Rolling Steel Tent to the trailhead, but it seemed like four coming back. One foot in front of the other, repeat as necessary.

This morning I feel fine. No aches and pains, no blisters, no wounds to heal. A couple of more months of this and I’ll be in decent shape. And southeast Utah won’t be as frigid.

These Keen Gypsum II shoes kept my feet happy


  1. In October I went to Moab to meet friends. Walking along the street I tripped and fell on a raised section of the sidewalk. No harm no foul. Once home I went out to walk a short section of the highline trail near Payson. Taking the high side of a curve in the rutted trail the small rocks started rolling like marbles and I was once again on the ground just a week after the first fall. This getting into shape again can be a bit rough.

  2. So, this is when, for me, a blog begins to take on its traditional a log.

    If you look at 5C's Que Pasa's blog (see side bar list on mine where yours is too), you'll note she too is beginning.

    I'm about to begin again. This is now the umpteenth time, each, thanks to Blogger, nicely documented.

    What's bizarre is how, like cats, it, life, keeps coming up with completely unique experiences...especially for you: like throat cancer and peripheral neuropathy, that necessitates beginnings.

    After a ten-year search I finally stumbled, totally serendipitously, on some clinical-grade acid. After two small test-runs to get a feel for its qualities (it's pure), I'm looking forward to this next "beginning"...a full dose.

    If you can make it up Snow Flat Road to The Twist, you'll be in some of the most glorious hiking country there is. And there's an ATV road to Jacob's Chair that looked (it was raining hard so I could only see a little ways from the highway) as if it might be navigable with your vehicle.

    Good Luck!

  3. May I offer unsolicited advice? Put the camera in your pocket (if it's a point and shoot) and get two hiking poles. We hike a lot in the Tucson area which is full of horrible little rocks that move under one's feet. Poles have saved us repeatedly, especially going downhill on loose rock. Keep your pole tips downhill and put weight on them. Good luck with the return to strength, we're in that boat as well.

    1. I took my big camera, on a strap. But even with a pocket camera/phone I use both hands, meaning I'd need to do something with the walking stick/poles. I've held them under my arm, but that limits movement. I've leaned them against my body, but they always fall over. I've leaned them against a rock, but they fall over. It's just a lot of picking up and putting down.

      I've developed an automatic reaction over the decades. If I'm falling, keep my head and the camera off the ground.

  4. Not since college and a big fatty might come in handy....

  5. It sounds like you have a new lease on life, good for you.

  6. My poles have wrist straps so they hang from my wrists when I'm using my arms for something else.