Pain: Embrace the Suck (Part 3)


Embrace the Suck

It’s mid-October, I am hiking my last trail. I have set a goal: 20 trails in 2020 -- it was my middle finger extension to the pandemic -- and it was my last hike. Not because it was #20, not because Ice Lake Trail was closed a few days later due to idiot-car-campers walking away from a campfire (burning 600 acres and countless animals' winter nests); not because the season would soon transition to snowshoeing (thankfully, the fire was extinguished by an early snowstorm); but, it was my last hike because it was the final straw to my own back. 

The hike was similar to most hikes in Colorado -- to climb a mountain you must go up. Doesn’t matter if it’s hiking, snowshoeing, or backcountry skiing: to get to the top, to experience the glory, to relish the downhill -- you must embrace the suck. Isn’t that why people pay the big bucks on lift tickets, ATVs and snorkled-monster-tire-bullbar-slider-4X4s? So they don’t have to embrace the suck.

Most trails in the San Juan Mountain Range require you to hike up (at least in part), at an angle equivalent to the highest setting on most elite treadmills: 30-45% over the course of several miles. Your lungs ache, your ass burns, your head cries for more oxygen (which only gets thinner the higher you go). You become the little engine that could: chug - chug - chug - chug; step, push, step, push -- at some point you become automatic -- I think I can, I think I can...I think...I can... that is the point you have embraced the suck. That ephemerial thought of “the only way out is through.” 

Despite my poles, despite my proper hiking boots, and despite my hydration -- my back was done. It had been done several times prior (always calmed with a little rest); honestly, my back deserved a big break. But this time, the break was bad: protruding disc pressing against my sciatic nerve bad -- curl-up into a ball and suck my thumb bad -- take my last oxycodone from dental surgery kind of bad. 

Of course, due to the pandemic, it took several weeks to get into a Back Doc, I got more appropriate pills but no cure. Once you break your back, there really is no coming back. I will admit “breaking my back” may be a little dramatic -- I don’t want to insult those that have severed their spine -- that is a whole different level of suck. Surgery, invasive slicing, only takes away -- it never gives back. I don’t want surgery. It sounds so barbaric. 

So, after three months of PT, injections, insurance nonsense and a whole lotta painful suck, I seem to be on the trail of recovery. I am receiving a form of alternative therapy -- it’s supposed to rehydrate my disc and heal the suck. It seems to be working - but it is not without an hour of painful exercises every morning: inversions, tucking, bridging, threading and Kegeling - and it sucks, it hurts -- but in a hurt so good kind of way -- muscles doing their job kind of way. 

I do it all because I’m not ready to give-up on my body, even though I am one year away from my 50 year-old hill summit. I am not ready to give-up the lung-throbbing, heart-pounding, air-sucking workout. I want to climb the peak and see the cerulean blue glacial lakes again. I am going to go through it to experience it  -- beyond the mind, beyond the body and into the spiritual. It’s like wearing that damn mask -- embrace the suck.