The other day, my friends, my boyfriend, and I traveled from New York City, where I live, to Minnewaska State Park Preserve in New York State. And I’m glad that we did — the need to get out of the city is real! I have missed green trees and fresh air, even if our trip involved fleeing from bees and public embarrassment.
We drove through small farm towns, stopping at an outdoor fundraiser for a local library, where we bought tchotchkes and ate hot dogs before continuing up into the flower-spotted hills.
On arrival at the park, we refilled our water bottles and set out on sun-drenched trails. We foraged berries along the way and passed other hikers flushed from July’s unapologetic heat. As we crossed into new terrain, we climbed down some earthen steps and entered Minnewaska’s ice caves system. Leaving the 87-degree weather, we felt as if we’d stepped into a freezer. We heard trickling water echo in the dark, vast space.
I had to keep looking at my feet to avoiding falling, and that hurt my neck. But let’s keep going.
We splashed in puddles of water and crawled through dark crevasses. And that hurt my back. As someone who is claustrophobic and generally “afraid of mortality,” I was pushed out of my mental and physical comfort zone.
Somehow, I found a way to keep going. I trusted my friends and boyfriend, I was confident that we were on an official trail, and I loved the magical experience of discovery. A little adrenaline never hurt anyone! And besides, nature is a gift.
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These were the stairs descending into an ice cave at Minnewaska Park. Today we climbed down these stairs into the icy cool cave chambers, and then wandered in and out of the cave system. Trickling water, cool blasts of air, dark caverns, sunlight pouring through the rock cracks. Spelunking! Yay! 🌱
But by the third hour, my body was calling me to stop. My spine was red-hot, my feet were clamoring, my hips felt like I’d been run over, and my knees, well, forget about them. I was a mess. I was done.
I felt terrible, but as my friends and boyfriend were soldiering on, I tried to keep going. My boyfriend said he’d turn back with me anytime, and I appreciated his offer. Instead, I asked for breaks when I needed to, but I probably pushed myself a little too hard. I’m stubborn like that.
I wanted to be like everyone else: capable, mobile, excited. Except that I’d learned some time ago, when I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, that I wasn’t like everyone else. I was fallible, mortal, achy, breaky, and exhausted easily.
I require more sleep and can’t move around like everyone else. I need moderate movement, but not hours of climbing and jumping. I need air and sunlight and fun — but just enough. I’m the Goldilocks principle, incarnate.
It’s a balancing act, one I get better at each day. And though I ended up in a post-hike flare-up, I was proud of myself for trying, for appreciating my body for what it could do, and for knowing when to quit — even if it takes me a bit longer to recognize my limits.
Interestingly, my hiking adventure gave me some things to reflect upon: gratitude for my life, my body, and the option to go hiking — a choice that many others don’t have. It underscored my dedication to exercise, mental wellness, and earthing. Being outdoors is a beautiful reminder of our place in this world, and being surrounded by nature gives me some much-needed perspective.
But more than that, it reminded me that it’s OK sometimes to be the person who goes a little too hard, has too much fun, and is reckless. And weirdly, I liked that thought. I needed a reminder that I’m still a spark, even if my spine isn’t happy about it. We tell ourselves to be good, to be moderate, to go easy. And sometimes we don’t listen to ourselves — and that’s OK, too.
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