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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Mysteries of back pain

Yesterday, my trio of Labradors joined me for a sunset hike. Clouds surrounded, but didn't obscure, the ominous-looking snowy Divide. Early in the hike, the dogs mellowly sniffed pee-mail at a trail intersection. Later in the hike, R and K caught the scent of an animal and began to pursue. In the right photo, their body tension and tail position signal 'pursuit' as opposed to 'relaxed gallop'. This transformation can happen in an instant - I watch for it so that I can call them as soon as they 'get serious'. We later saw a group of about 6 deer who probably triggered the pursuit mindset.

We saw a glorious sunset of pinks and blues. To the east, the almost full moon rose among the pine trees.

The almost full moon prompted my friend to have a 'Moon Party'. Any event, like a party, that involves standing and sitting for extended periods causes back spasms for me. Sometimes, my back pain stays below threshold, and I can have fun. Other times, I can't. It's a mystery to me that I can ride my bike or hike, but I often can't do far less strenuous things. It's also one of those 'limits' that I'm always testing because there's a chance that I'll have fun.

While I was at the party, a discussion ensued about how many of us were presently doing what we had envisioned when we graduated from college. I silently listened to the answers of others but I felt that my story was too complicated to tell.

My life has taught me the humbling lesson is that no one fully controls their destiny. The Russian Roulette of DNA and unforeseeable random events often shape lives. Back pain derailed my career plans but also led me to discover other passions. Without facing a degenerating spine, I might not have learned at a young age that life isn't a fast-track to achieving goals but rather a winding journey of ever-changing plans and passions.

Last night, back spasms forced me to leave the party early. I woke up this morning with residual spasms and feeling disappointed that something as normal as a party presented such a challenge. Like I often do, I looked to my pups for a spark. They can't solve my problems but they can cheer me up with their fun-loving spirits. This morning, R and K play-wrestled, and S served as the self-appointed referee. They made me smile.

When I headed out on my bike, I could feel my muscle spasms beginning to relax as I pedaled easily through a meadow. As the sun finally burned through the clouds behind me, I saw the elk herd, a huge group this year, basking in its warmth. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts unobtrusively watch them, the elder females led the herd away when they saw me.

I climbed up a gulch that my friends and I have always said feels like 'Lionish' terrain, including rocky cliffs with caves and a creek. Indeed, I discovered that a study of radio-collared mountain lions showed that they prefer to hang out near rocks, cliffs, and water. So, somewhere deep in our reptilian brains, my friends and I retain the instincts of a prey animal - knowing when we are most vulnerable. As I wended my way up the gulch, I realized that I forgotten about my back pain and was enjoying the day.

I'll never stop being amazed by the fact that riding a bike makes my back feel better. Spasms dissipate more rapidly from easy pedaling than from a massage. Resting, which is the usual medical advice, is a terrible strategy that only makes the spasms worse. I think that I'll keep on pedaling.


  1. I'm glad you were able to pedal away your back spasms! I know just what ou mean about keeping watch so you can recall the dogs whenever they look "serious" about pursuing something. My problem is that if I am running, I am liable to run into trees or fall down because I'm keeping an eye on the dogs rather than on where I'm going. I can't even imagine what would happen to me on a bike.

  2. That's a good motto for life. Just keep pedaling.

  3. I'm with Dog-Geek. I don't know how you manage to watch the dogs and NOT crash at the same time. :o)

    I'm glad you got the pain back under control.


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