Monday, September 11, 2017

Autumn Rainforest Hiking on the Kenai Peninsula with a mostly healed foot

Walking in hard soled shoes

I've spent most of this summer on my couch, healing from a broken fifth metatarsal, a very minor injury that caused a tremendous amount of suffering and waiting for my whole body and mind. Finally, on September 1st, I got the pins removed and permission from the surgeon to begin putting weight on my right foot again. My immediate reaction was one of liberation, but in the days that followed, rather than jubilation, I felt myself sinking back into discouragement. My summer mood, which is generally optimistic and joyful, had suffered from lack of physical activity, purpose and employment. Even the removal of the pins couldn't take away the fact that summer was now over, and my muscles were shadows of their former selves. I needed to get out on the trails as soon as possible, to rebuild my muscles, tendons and, most importantly, my mental health.

Kelley with Grayling Lake
Last week, on dreary Thursday afternoon, I forced myself out of the house and on a drive to a trailhead, despite my mental distaste for driving anywhere for the purposes of walking. We live in downtown Seward, just one block from the base of the Jeep Trail, which ascends Mount Marathon, which makes it difficult to justify driving to a different trailhead. In any case, I wanted to see Grayling Lake, and I set off driving out of town on the only highway we have, the Seward Highway. My destination was just 13 miles from home, a small parking lot for the trailhead to Grayling Lake. I parked the old junker Rodeo that we drive, leaving the doors unlocked, and throwing on my small running backpack. I was wearing my grey dress clogs, per my doctor's instruction that I wear hard soled shoes to protect my foot against rocks and roots. 

The forest floor
The trail was lovely gravel for the first 200 meters, but soon after crossing the railroad tracks, it turned to slop. It's been raining in and around Seward for nearly a month, and the soils are saturated. Early on, I tried to avoid the slop, but quickly decided it was useless and instead plunged right through deep puddles and mud. The liquid felt icy cold, likely 50 degrees, same as the air temperature. I plodded along slowly and carefully, fully aware of how easily I could reinsure myself. The trail took me through a lush coastal rainforest, moss coating and dripping from nearly every tree. The ground away from the trail was coated in mosses and lichens, mushrooms blossoming through the soft carpet. Blueberry bushes, with the tail end of this year's crop accompanied me along much of the route. Steadily up I climbed, gentle elevation gain that was good for regrowing my calf muscles. And suddenly I was there, at the lake, and feeling accomplished for being able to walk the 1.4 miles to get myself to my destination. The trail continued, and I wanted to follow it. But I reminded myself that I still had to get out, and that I needed to be cautious about how much I push myself. So I thanked my body for taking me safely thus far, and I walked back out, admiring the variety of mushrooms and the greenness of the other vegetation. 

The trail in autumn 

Back at my car, it was still raining, the size of the drops increasing. I felt different, a bit better, and grateful that such a trail, with its accompanying forest and habitat is so easily reachable for me. Later that evening I would go to work at my new job, my legs and whole body sore and weary from the day's walk. I found the sensations of discomfort reassuring, proof that I am regrowing my body, and with it, my spirit will hopefully rebound as well.

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