Saturday, August 11, 2012

It's all about spirit.

     I always love watching the Olympics. Seeing world class athletes give their all and achieve things most of us could only dream of inspires me. One athlete in this year's games in particular has left an impression, which I didn't fully realize until I was on my way to a boot camp workout one evening. The August humidity was oppressive, and even before I got out of the car I was aware of how heavy I felt. "It's way too hot to be doing this," I thought, "especially for somebody as overweight as I am." My next thought, from a more positive part of my brain obviously, was, "I bet Oscar Pistorius wouldn't whine about that crap!" 
     If you somehow missed hearing about Oscar Pistorius, he is the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics. Born without fibulae, Oscar had to have both legs amputated below the knees before he was a year old. Now he runs on carbon fiber blades and is known as "the fastest man on no legs." Though some people have protested that his lightweight prosthetics give him an unfair advantage, and he was barred from competition until scientific reports proved otherwise, Oscar has had to overcome incredible obstacles to succeed as he has. Walking, much less running, for long periods of time is painful for amputees, and Oscar trains until his legs are bloodied. He literally has to come from behind in every race, as his prostheses cannot generate the force to push him out of the starting blocks as efficiently as the ankles and calves his competitors have. The list goes on and on, as you can read in any number of articles about him in the Washington Post,  Policymic,  and on NPR.
     Watching Oscar run through all those challenges to place second in his quarter final heat -- running the length of four football fields in about 45 seconds! -- was breathtaking. It perfectly captured for me the Olympic spirit, inspiring me to strive for "faster, higher, stronger" in my own life, whatever obstacles I may face. 


Bright Angel
       It has to be one of the prettiest trails in the world. I recently hiked the Bright Angel Trail from the south rim of the Grand Canyon down to the Colorado River. My doctor had given me Percoset, anti-inflammatories and some other drugs in case I didn't make it down or had problems once I got onto the 8-day rafting/hiking trip that offered spotty satellite cell service. My low back had gone out just a week before, a rare occurrence, but one that unfortunately struck just before the trip.
        My friend had hurt her shoulder and didn't know if she could bear the weight of her pack. We weighed the options, how long it had taken to get this trip set, and how unlikely if we postponed again, that we would make the trip. We opted to take the chance. The day before we left, we scouted the trail from the top, marveling at all the switch backs, the steep vertical descent of the four-to-six hour hike down.
      With an anxious tone, my friend noted the trail just seemed to fall off the cliffside.         "Where does it go?" After she asked the question again, I smiled.
       "Don't worry. 'It will all become clear.'"
        She turned to glare, and the phrase became a joking 'mantra' of sorts along our trip. I reminded her of another trail we had done in the canyon and how the geologic layers and sculptures seem to make the trail disappear into nothing in the distance. You have to walk it to see the rest of the path. 
       We ate a lovely dinner, with a desperate sense of it being our last meal, both of us fretting away. Would we be able to make the trip down? Would we have to be evac'ed by helicopter? Would we have crazy people on the trip? Would we be able to survive the scorching oven heat and sleeping on the ground? How about the rapids? We began laughing at all our creative worry scenarios we were able to conjure. I thought of the Mark Twain quote:  "I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened." 
      The photo above was an early morning shot, with the sun shining through an archway at the top of the trail just before we headed down. After all my fretting about my back, it wasn't a problem. I should have worried about my right knee. It the things you don't worry about that can get you. Mostly, I let go to let the magic happen. I walked through the lit archway, and let the unearthly, surreal beauty of the canyon seep through me, the fiery heat of the stones baking me.
        We did make it to the bottom. I resisted the urge to kiss the ground by the rafts, thankful that my back hadn't seized somewhere along the trail requiring me to crawl back up. As beautiful as the trail was, though, I realize now it will always stand out in my mind as an inner journey of courage. I'm not exactly an adventurous person, and it would have been smarter, especially given my back, to stay home, safe.
        But where's the fun in that? How does it all become clear without walking through a lit archway like that? 


     I was navigating the old-fashioned way with a large, folded paper map as we drove around Lake Ontario last week.  This part of Canada had been settled by British loyalists who fled the United States after the American Revolution.  We were traveling the Loyalist Parkway through picturesque small towns, reading their history in our small guidebook, and looking for somewhere to stop for lunch.
       Suddenly, a large road sign warned ROAD ENDS 5 KM.   Then, after 3 kilometers, ROAD ENDS 2 KM.  Traffic came to a stop.  The driver in front of us got out, lit a cigarette and leaned against his car, looking out at Lake Ontario.
       Don and I looked at each other.  There was no helpful information posted on the road sign.  On the map, it looked like the highway just continued over the Bay of Quint on what I assumed was a bridge.  There was nothing in the guidebook.  
      It was very unsettling, especially since we had been looking for a lunch spot for more than a hour and we were both getting hungry and cranky.   It would be much better to experience the end of the road on a full stomach. 
     The guy in front of us finished his cigarette, got back in his car and traffic started moving again. We rounded the curve and found the answer - a ferry!  And it was free!
     It was an unexpected bit of fun.   In all my adventures, I had never taken a car across a ferry. And so we drove aboard, parked, then climbed out and stood at the railing for the short ferry ride across to Quint's Isle. It was fresh cool lake air on a long, lovely drive.  We crossed the bay and ended up at The Acoustic Grill  in our new favorite town of Picton- eating steak sandwiches and fries with gravy and listening to great new music. 
     The end of the road was not so bad, after all. 



No comments:

Post a Comment