Mar 15, 2014

The twang has gone

I lace up for the first time in six months. It was only a couple days ago, I noticed the difference in my leg. The twang seemed gone. Or is it? Did Dr. Wei-Chi's four-inch needle work? I don't quite know. I'm lacing up to find out.

Frankly I'm a bit reluctant to test the system. It's one of those things like the time of your death, or finding out that your spouse has an Ashley Madison account, or learning that, when the Graduate credits roll, you no longer feel uplifted by power of true love, but rather feel sad that, in Graduate II, Benjamin and Elaine will be immersed in a costly divorce. I might not like the answer.

Surprisingly I am almost as serene as an Om in a shrine. I didn't expect this. It's not like me. After all, if I have a talent, it's for grasping the worst.

I've had not no shortage of help on that score; usually in the form of well-meaning advice. Our friend Connie, who is obsessed with self-improvement, advises that I start Yoga to strengthen my core and eat kale to calcify my bones "otherwise you'll be walking around like Eye-Gore." Or, Swonk, who is always the realist, suggests I take up another hobby "something safe with air conditioning." Even my neighbor Don, who is able to offer advice on any topic, recommends that I learn to ride a llama because "bears love to snack on one-legged hikers."

But as I run through my stretches, it is Angel's advice that is in the front of my mind. "Pain is a learned response," she said. "Your brain will still think there's pain in your leg. It'll be like that for a long time." I've devoted many hours of thought to this aphorism and don't know what to make of it. Has all this leg pain just been mental? Does my brain have a learning disorder? Time to find out.

I decide to test my leg on the neighborhood Crest Trail. There's just enough up and down to cause a problem. I go light: fanny pack, a full Nalgene bottle and sticks.

It's a gloomy, gusty afternoon with dark shadows. There's a chill. It will be cold tonight. I walk carefully past the brown lawns at even pace. I concentrate on each step. Was that a twinge? Was that a tingle in the foot? I try to focus on other things like the ranch-style house with last season's Christmas decorations and the lady with the newly planted xeriscape that reminds me of the dusty front yards outside of Houston decorated with painted tires, toilette planers and rusted jalopies. I wonder if there's a business selling junkers from Houston as art to new-age xeriscapists.

I'm thinking about kickstarting this idea as I push up the hill past the trailhead onto the single track. The left leg is weak, but not numb. Not even a tingle. "OK." I think. "Weak is normal after a 6 months."

I climb. I pass the crosses where the hotshots fell in the fire of '93. A bit more climbing and the city comes into view. It's a grand sweep to the horizon in both directions. There are 15 million down there. Overhead, the clouds skitter by. I breath in the air that has fallen from the peaks above. A gust nearly tears off my hat and sends a pelt of decomposed granite into my face. It doesn't matter. "I could be OK," I think, but I resist this temptation because the 800-foot descent to the bridge lies ahead. That's how it happened before, going downhill from Idlehour.

The trail drops sharply. The switchbacks are deeply eroded, steep and slippery, like walking on marbles down a sliding board. I am careful. At the bottom of the canyon, I pass a debris basin that's bright yellow with Scotch Broom. Then up the next hill and over behind the old homes with delipidated stables that were built when Altadeneans rode into the backcountry. Finally, I skitter down the last steep switchbacks to the bridge.

All that and Nada. Nothing. Not so much as twitch. Not yet.

I sit on the curb in the middle of the bridge at about the place where the hornets swarm. There are no hornets today. I listen to Eaton Creek spill over the concrete dam below the bridge into a shallow pool where the Latinos kids swim in summer. There's no one here today which makes me very happy.

I decide to pull out the stops on the way home. I want to know. I want to know for certain.

I head back up the hill. This time at a strong pace with big strides. I stretch out. I push at the ground with vigor. Soon I'm back up top. Everything seems fine. Then down the hill, past the crosses and back through the neighborhood. Each step seems lighter. I can feel the burden lift. At that moment there's a break in the clouds and the sun pours through and I know I'm now on the other side.

My thoughts race with the possibilities.