Is 40-trips-around-the-sun the half-way point? The statistics would say so. Forty seems like prime time for reflection, assessment, and projection. A trail-cairn of sorts marking an unclear route where past, present, and future can be measured.So how does midlife feel? Personally, it feels fine. Considering I’ve endured nagging joint pain most of my life and daily deal with displaced bodily structures from ruptured ligaments that did not re-seat in their original home. That I no longer gulp ‘Vitamin I’ by the handful (haven’t taken any gut-searing and liver-taxing NSAIDs for years now thanks to WAPF-type diet and better movement) is a pretty good sign that I am on a decent track. And good riddance to that stupid chafing stinky knee brace!!!
Work and play smarter, not harder, right? My relationship with pain has evolved over the years. Chronic or recurring pain is no longer something to be masked so that performance can continue, but a signaling that something is out of alignment and needs to be addressed. What’s causing the inflammation in the first place? What’s tight or stuck? What’s weak or even totally offline?
Yoga, meditation, sports, martial arts, and especially improvised and natural movement (also known as play – remember that?) along with study of anatomy, physiology, and rehabilitation have honed my own diagnostic and recovery skills. Let me not paint too rosy a picture as this body has many miles and a few gnarly wrecks, but suffice it to say that I can still keep up with the 20 year olds in many ways. I just take more time warming up and maintaining. Way more.
My Dad, when he turned 40, competed in the all day grind known as Ironman. That literally seems impossible to me as my joints detest the repetitive motion of road running and road biking. Also, I sink like a stone in the water. I’d rather challenge myself in the wilderness. A five day trip carrying 1/3 my body weight up and down thousands of feet out in the elements somehow seems way more doable. And somehow I convinced my wife to come along, again. The dogs too. All troopers!
Gwen and I were able to carve out enough time in our schedule to make it happen without the pre-dawn jump-to-action that typically comes with high elevation destinations or distant trailheads. So, any sleep deprived stress was minimized. The drive was a relatively near 2.5 hours to the Lost Creek Ridge trailhead. The 12 mile 6500 foot total elevation unmaintained trail, however, is steep and winding as it follows the topography of a very rugged ridge. Previous reports said that camping is possible at several points along the way leaving options open for resting weary legs and heads.
The game plan was slow and steady, not unlike a marathon.
A really low elevation trailhead, however, meant climbing out of the deep woods. Up, up, up. Switchback after switchback until dark forest gave way to alder slides, then windswept hemlock patches amongst heather/blueberry/grassy meadow. And the occasional alpine lake.The first of which was Round Lake. Gorgeous with its flanking fall color and clear water, but way too far below to warrant a closer look. Onward past the ground hornet’s nest we had read about. (Gwen was stung on the thumb on the return trip and wondered WTF she had done to provoke it).
Next on the map was supposed to be Sunup Lake. I took a spur trail that lead only to a campsite, but no obvious body of water or higher shelf that might be home to such a landmark. Hmmm…curious! So, we continued roaming past many potential campsites and bolstered by vast views and lengthening sun breaks that warmed our shoulders, although not the brisk air.
Then, the trail passed over the ridge to the north side where the shade left the ground damp and occasionally slick. As the sun threatened to set sooner on the north side, the suitable sites abruptly vanished and it then became a race to make it to the next lake. Hardtack Lake was finally reached just at sundown as a frosty dew fell.
It was a chilly night and though I was not near shivering, I awoke and realized I wasn’t sleeping any time soon, so I pulled Ursula into my bag at about 4 in the morning and we snuggled until the sun made its way down the mountain to the lake. She did not complain.
The next day’s trail sported splintery hoar frost and the occasional icy spot where the autumn sun could not reach, but for the most part tread was decent. First we snacked at Camp Lake and enjoyed the brightest fall color yet.
Then, hoisting our packs for the final push up and over to our trout filled destination, Lake Byrne. What a stunner! This is a mega lake. Rugged. Wild. Remote. Made even more remote by a storm in ’03 that wiped out access roads to easier trails.
The ruggedness and size meant it was difficult to get a good layout of the lake, even from above. So, we headed off around the lake in one direction, then doubled back in hopes of finding a site with better evening sun. Up and over, down and around. We dropped packs and I scrambled/jogged until I came across the perfect spot. One where we could easily take our rods and reels down to the shore and cast for some rainbow or cutthroat.
The next two nights were warmer and the days full of exploration, fishing, stretching, reading, cooking, polar plunging, playing cribbage and otherwise lounging in total serenity. The fishing was great until evening #2, then it was like they had all gone to sleep and there was barely a nibble. Such is the mystery, I guess. I was glad to have upgraded my puny collapsible pole to a 2 piece that could actually cast a fair distance. Though it does make it tough to squeeze through limbs and under fallen old growth timber.
To see one of the most remote volcanoes in the Ring of Fire, Glacier Peak, up so close was very special. And it was really showing off at times.
But soon it was time to head back along the upsy-downsy trail with sneaky Sunup lake as our target eight miles hence. By the time we made it to the junction where Sunup Trail ought to be, I would gladly have taken a few Ibuprofens as the ankle I destroyed in that fateful soccer match back in 2012 was achey-breaky for sure!
And then, spotting a faint bootpath on a sideslope bolstered our hopes of making camp one last night and not having to drop the final 4 mile 4,000 foot descent until our cheese and butter was completely gone. (Yes, I brought butter backpacking for the first time to Bulletproof my coffee and cream-up the rice farina – it was worth every additional ounce!)
Sure enough the trail climbed up just like a mountain goat might. Straight up through the brush until it plateaued onto a shelf. A shelf with a lake, peak views, flat spots galore, fire pit, rocks for sitting, rocks for tables. Serious accommodations! We set up camp. I gathered windfall and set the pit ablaze while we cracked open books, kicked up our feet, and drank tea all evening. I know, pretty wild and crazy…
Intermittent showers through the night became steady morning rain and chased us out of the tent promoting us pack up without one sip of hot coffee. My baby was not going to tolerate one more morning of instant and we were on a mission to find a café with the good stuff at the nearest town! So, down, down, down. Switchback after switchback we descended. “No breaks, Josh.” “No breaks, I just want to get to the car!” was the refrain. No time for assessing tight vs weak. No time to shake out the fascia and reset like a dog after a stressful encounter. Good thing too as the steady at the top of the mountain turned to drenching by the time we had changed into our car clothes. Perfect timing! And how good was that 16 oz Brevé? So good!
I welcome 40 and am excited to be my own most complicated and continuous case study. We all are, or should be. I wish I had started paying attention earlier. Like in grade-school where Physical Education could have been exactly that. Imagine not just dodgeball while singing, “and the shin bone is connected to the…knee bone…” but actually understanding that glute max and VMO work synergistically to help the patella track smoothly in the femoral groove when walking. How much better movers we would all be!