Why I climb and ski mountains with double knee replacements.
For more than a decade I couldn't walk without pain (much less climb) because Rheumatoid Arthritis ravaged my joints. I had replacement parts installed (Double Total Knee Replacements 20 years ago - and a few other hardware fixes along the way) and started taking a breakthrough biotech drug that gave me a second chance at a physical life. I have slowly been able to regain strength and stamina over the last 15 years, so it is with particular joy that I can climb again! A good climb is also hard to find - work, health and obligations frequently clog up the calendar. But if I don't make time to climb a priority, when will I? I also don't know if my body will let me climb next year, so I make it a priority to climb now - because I still can.
For the exercise?
As I have recovered and rebuilt my capacity to climb, I have come to love the meditation of breathing. The rhythm and cadence of the struggle to escape from gravity frees my mind from all the gobbledegook that fills it up. I often solve problems and find new ideas in this space. It seems odd to my inner 18 year old self, but I have grown to love the climb just as much as the descent. I can climb uphill all day long, but I can't climb downhill for long or my knees and feet swell up and hurt for days. So hiking is out, but if you put me on skis (or wheels) I can soar down a mountain just fine. And yes, I'm sore regardless, but with a little ice and some downtime I seem to keep gaining durability.
For the View?
When the weather shines, the view from a mountain is extraordinary. That is to say - not your ordinary surroundings. Filled with unexpected and interesting delights. Hazards too. Navigating all the unexpected terrain, weather and unknowns keep my senses alive and make the view more cherished. When the clouds are spitting at you, it makes the climb even more interesting. How do I navigate? When do I turn around? Will it clear up? What piece of clothing do I need to put on? How do I make sure I can get home in one piece? Survival is mandatory - the view is not. Those stormy days are epic in their own way, and make the view on a good day even better. And the stories later around the
fire are all the more cozy.
For the Turns? After all, I started skiing in lace-up leather boots, wooden skis and cable bindings - thanks Mom!
Most days the turns are ok - even good. Some days the turns are terrible or its raining and its all you can do to traverse and mountaineer your way down in one piece. Those tough days are best for touring about, rather than hunting for views or turns. But every once in a while - the turns are excellent. Even rarer still, when the sun comes out and the weather is cold it is ecstatic and effortless to motor down the hill with bursts of powder exploding all around you. Giving in to gravity and releasing altitude, but exacting a toll from the mountain in swooping graceful lines. You will never experience a day like this if you don't go and climb the mountain.
My story is really a metaphor. I know that if next year comes and I can't climb and ski in the mountains, I will find some other peaks to explore that don't rely on my cartilage. They will be just as poignant and adventurous - because exploring is what keeps me alive.