About the Author: Kellie Stewart is a wife, mother of four, home educator, quilter, watercolorist wanna-be, photography enthusiast, and lover of animals, among so many other things.  She has enjoyed camping for a lifetime using everything from an old, canvas, military tent as a child, for both camping and play, to a travel trailer, and now, a backpacking tent.  She wanted to hike and backpack for many years before actually taking more than a short walk around a mountain lake while the men folk fished. She would like to encourage other ladies, who think they can’t, to get up and hike.

What hurts you may ask?  All of it. It all hurts.  Pain is a part of life that plays a bigger role for some than for others.  I have been in pain most of my life since the age of seventeen. I was diagnosed with arthritis in my twenties, but a close friend of my mother’s had been saying that I surely had arthritis since my early teens.  A particular day at age seventeen stands out to me. I couldn’t get out of my car when arriving home after walking in a walk-a-thon, something I had done many times previously without ill effects. I did not complete all of the testing once the tests for rheumatoid arthritis were negative.  Just knowing it was arthritis without a specific kind was good enough. I had seen others suffer through a myriad of treatments, which probably helped as intended, but also destroyed digestive systems and left other side effects in the wake. No thank you…for as long as possible.  

Now, here I am bearing down through my fifties a bit better some days than some in my thirties.  For years, every time I did something active, I was in all kinds of wicked pain for days or even weeks.  Finally, arthritis was no longer in high gear all of the time because some of the other issues were resolved.  Inflammation is a bear.

A good friend started hiking at roughly the same time that I did.  She and I became hiking buddies. She talked me into all sorts of things like hiking in the bitter cold of winter.  It was frigid on that first winter hike. We knew it was going to be in the thirties. I even remembered to check wind conditions.  We would be cold until we got moving, but it might be okay. We might not die. I might not be able to stand up again if I sat for lunch.  I might have trouble driving home after the hike. She had to really work all her charm to convince me that we could do it. Everyone needs a friend who is a little off her rocker, just enough to talk you into something you know will hurt but be worth it.  Not knowing how Forest Service Road 58 would treat my car, we hired a shuttle driver and took her little SUV to meet him. He’s probably still chuckling over the whole thing, but he didn’t laugh in our faces as we told him what time we thought we would be out and back to cell coverage.  He wanted to know in case he needed to send in a rescue. We were hiking four miles. At our rate it meant we would be back at cell service in about seven hours. Now that your milk has spewed out your nostrils, remember I’m writing this to encourage other newbies. We were slow and fresh recruits.  A slow start is still a start. There was also some drive time involved to make it back out of the back country and a little padding of time to avoid paying for an unneeded rescue.

I’m a planner.  I studied the map.  I studied how fast, or actually how slowly, I had been hiking.  I knew where the only privy was located. I knew the mileage and about how long we would stop for lunch, as well as how long it should take us to make it back to phone service area.  I double checked as we drove into the area to be sure. I read up on cold weather hiking and all that we needed just in case… Just in case I did seize up like an old rusty tractor left in the field too long.  Just in case I slipped because of the pain and sprained an ankle in the process. Just in case I realized I could not do it and decided to sit down and cry waiting for death or rescue.  

My hubby was out of town and none too happy about our plan.  He’s not a worrier by nature, or at least he wasn’t until I started hiking without him.  Oh, I love hiking with him. He’s patient even though my legs are much shorter. He carries most of the weight and takes more if I need help.  He does the cooking when we hike and backpack. He delights in making my lunch on the trail, though he claims he can’t cook at home. Now that I think of it, no wonder he was worried that I couldn’t do it without him.  After all, I call him to kill bugs at home and to catch the mouse that ran in when I opened the door to the basement. He’s also seen me struggle to walk the mall.

When Jennifer and I stepped out of the shuttle car six miles away from her SUV, the weather had changed – drastically.  The wind was howling. I had not yet donned my gloves as I still needed to dig cash from my pocket to pay the driver. In the moments that it took to scrabble that twenty out and put it in his hand, my fingertips already burned with cold.  I was shocked. It had been around 38 degrees and calm on the other side of the mountain. It was now in the low to mid-twenties not taking into account the wind chill factor. Arthritis and frigid temperatures do not play nicely together. Nope.  They wreak havoc. I don’t mind sharing that I was fearful as our shuttle driver sped away around the curve and out of sight. It was like watching Bugs Bunny leaving the scene of his latest stunt, but not quite as funny at the time. I noticed the dry dirt road didn’t allow dust to boil up behind the speeding vehicle.  The dust was frozen to the ground, immovable, just like I would be if I didn’t get going.

We took off as fast up the mountain as we could muster and were happy to warm up in just about thirty minutes.  We were not cold again until we stopped at that one privy. Just in case you wondered, brand new, shiny toilet seats on an outhouse toilet are much colder to the skin than rough, old ones.  It conjured images of Ralphie’s friend with his tongue stuck to the flag pole in the school yard. Our well-practiced hover technique may not work in what feels like arctic conditions while hiking with arthritic knees.  A polar vortex whipping up through the privy floor and right up to the wazoo is not helpful to arthritic hips and pelvis, but it is hilarious if you remain quiet not giving warning to your hiking friend waiting patiently outside where the door should be.  Laughter ensued.

Laughter is good medicine for what ails us whether it is the physical pain of seizing joints, the pain of grief, or something in between.  We laughed a lot. I kept wiping my laughter tears away afraid they would freeze my eyes shut.

We stopped at a magical waterfall for lunch.  Mist was frozen on the vegetation and rocks. Words can’t do justice.  The air was just so clear and crisp. On this day, I realized that I needed a thicker sit pad.  Rocks are not my friends. Cold rocks are my enemies. Those silver folding sit pads all the outdoor stores try to sell us are for staying dry and are not meant to protect our older, argumentative joints.  I did a fabulous, unintentional impersonation of Quasimodo as I tried to get back moving. At least, that’s how it felt. Stiff doesn’t begin to define how I felt that last mile nor how it went as I tried to leave her car and get back into my own later.  Note to self: Take Motrin in the morning, eat all the vitamins, and take more Motrin during the hike. Those little glass jars of essential oils used at home for joint pain are not too heavy. Take them. A knee pad for gardening cut in half to save weight makes a nice sit cushion. 

It took months of moving before that day was feasible.  If I had waited a few more years, it may not have happened.  There is a point of no return. Don’t find that point. Move today.