It’s been 11 days since I pulled myself off my cross-Canada walk. In that time, there have been emergency visits to the hospital, medical appointments, blood tests, ECGs, ultrasounds, and medication requirements. I have had my body probed, my dignity shattered, and my freedom restricted for days by a simple catheter.
And yet I am grateful.
I’ve always been the epitome of health, so in the last two weeks, I have learned much about humility. Sometimes we just don’t get to do everything we want to do in life, which is probably a good thing. It makes us appreciate both the simple things and our accomplishments all the more.
I was free from the catheter after four days, but I still wasn’t free from the lightheadedness. Navigating stairs was a challenge. For the first time since I was a boy, I held onto the rails to steady myself on the steps. It was like I was learning things all over again. The simplest things weren’t so easy anymore. The things I took for granted now required my full concentration. I was being forced to live in the moment, whether I wanted to or not.
For a few days after the catheter was removed, I took it easy. Short walks to the coffee shop felt good, even though I thought I might topple over from time to time. It was taking time for the poison in my blood to be removed.
For the last few days on my Canada walk, I was having trouble concentrating. I couldn’t hold a thought or idea for very long before losing my focus. But after a few days of journaling and doing the crossword puzzles at the coffee shop, my concentration was back to normal.
By day eight, I was starting to feel better all over. I walked to the coffee shop and back without feeling lightheaded at all. So I’ve slowly built up my walking distances since then. Yesterday, I walked an easy trail near Penticton with my friend Jean. We were only on the trail for a little over an hour. There was still a bit of lightheadedness, but I never felt like I was going to fall.
Today, though, I wanted to give myself a more difficult test. I opted to do some hiking in Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park near Vernon, British Columbia. Kalamalka Park is a new friend. I have only hiked her trails in the last year, but she has shown me lots of adventures in that time. It was here that I saw my first rattlesnake and my first cougar in the wild. It’s where I saw a family of quail wandering down a trail, the little ones scurrying to keep up with the adults. It was a scene that made my laugh out loud for the sheer joy of it. Isn’t nature a wonderful source of entertainment?
I have experienced the wonderful feelings of peace and freedom in Kalamalka Park, so I came here to see how my body will hold up to some hiking stress. I trust this park to look out for my best interest. I know she won’t let me down.
Kalamalka Lake is covered in a haze from the forest fires that are tearing through the landscape north-east of Kelowna. I could taste the smoke in my mouth and even coughed a little, but after a few minutes of hiking, I didn’t notice anymore. I didn’t think there was any reason to pussy-foot around. If I was going to test my body, then I better get on with it. So right away, I headed straight up the Lookout Trail to the summit of Rattlesnake Hill. I started out slowly, then built up to my normal blistering pace, and then eased off into a comfortable stride at which I could still breathe through my nose.
The pace felt quite slow to me. Normally, I push myself hard to the summit of a hill or mountain. I often can’t help myself; it’s like a competition between me and Mother Nature. And I’ve always loved the high I get once I reach the top, my lungs heaving from the effort, my body covered in sweat.
But today, it was all about maintaining a steady pace and feeling out how my body was coping. Despite having done virtually no exercise for 11 days, I felt surprisingly strong. My muscles, my heart, and my lungs were having no problems dealing with the climb. In fact, it seemed that they were relishing the exercise. But in my head, I could still feel that distant feeling that all was not quite right. It was just a whisper of dizziness, almost like a memory. I never felt like I was going to fall, but I also wasn’t 100 percent either. I stopped a few times to see if I could isolate the feeling of lightheadedness. But whenever I stopped, the feeling vanished.
Near the summit of Rattlesnake Hill, I approached a rocky ledge, over which was a 20-meter drop to the talus below. I stepped within two feet of the edge, planted my hiking poles in some cracks in the rock and lifted my head to the sky. Sometimes just being at the edge of a cliff can cause some people to become lightheaded. But I figured that if I were to collapse, the poles would prevent me from toppling forward over the lip.
I stood there for some time, enjoying the familiar feelings of peace and freedom, looking out over the lake and the trails below. I shook my head a couple of times to try to induce dizziness, but I felt fine. Well maybe not fine, but no worse at any rate.
On the descent, I could still feel that things weren’t 100 percent. But I also felt that if this was the new normal, I could get used to it. I had no trouble navigating the rocks, no trouble keeping my balance on the uneven trail, and no trouble keeping a steady pace. All in all, I am pleased that my body has recovered to the point that I can hike as I wish.
I stopped and sat on a bench by the trail, where I gazed out over Kalamalka Lake, the vineyards, and the town of Clearwater. In the distance, Middleton Mountain loomed over the city of Vernon, but the smoke made it seem like I was peering out at it through a dirty window. There was nary a hint of a breeze. All was still, but for the sound of distant traffic, the sounds of the quail hidden in the grass nearby, and the buzz of bees seeking the nectar of the flowers in front of me.
I may not be able to do everything I want to do in life due to physical, financial, and health limitations. Sadly, I didn’t make it across Canada in 100 days. In fact, I haven’t made it across Canada by foot at all yet. And I may never climb another mountain at breakneck speed.
But still, I get to live the lifestyle I want. I get to be on the trail. I get to be in nature. I get to visit friends. I can fall in love. I can travel. I can spend afternoons in my favourite artisan cafes. I can read books to my heart’s content. I can write. And I get to enjoy peace and freedom.
And as far as I’m concerned, those things make for a fulfilling life.