Use it or Lose it!

October 25, 2017

A thousand years ago (well, to be more precise, it was 35 or 36 years ago) I was in a conversation with a classmate in Seminary. We were in our second or third (of three) years, and while I can’t clearly recall what led into the conversation, I do have a very accurate recollection of a snippet of the dialogue.

John was a second-career student (that means that he had been out of school, and worked in the “real world” for a while, and was now in Seminary. I asked him what he had done before Seminary, and he shared that he worked for NASA. Curious if not fascinated, I asked him what he did, and he said that he studied the effects of weightlessness on muscle tissue.

At this stage of the game I was a mid-twenties young man, in fairly good shape (as I am today—I tell people that “round is a shape!”), active, fit, and exercising regularly, running quite a lot at the time. As such, I was very interested in what NASA had learned, so I asked him.

“Use it or lose it,” John said. “The minute you stop using a muscle, it begins to atrophy.”

That advice, if that’s what it was, has stuck with me for a long time.

I had arthroscopic knee surgery in 1993, and within a month of the surgery, I was back at the YMCA working out. A friend asked which knee I’d had surgery on, and when I said it was the left one, he said, “That’s what I thought; your left calf is smaller than the right one.” In other words, the calf muscles had atrophied, because they had not been used as much.

Fast-forward to earlier this year, when one of my knees was hurting a fair amount. I kept plugging away at normal activities, but it bugged me enough that I went to see my “knee guy.” (By the way, I am a walking orthopedic referral agency—if you need one, call me!)

Mark had some X-rays shot, then he came in and talked to me. OK, he asked a lot of questions and listened to me, then manipulated the knee some. He said he could feel some inflammation in it, then looked back at the X-rays.

“I don’t see any narrowing of the joint as I expected,” he said (Mark performed arthroscopic surgery on this knee in about 2009.) “And I don’t see any arthritis in it.” I asked if he wouldn’t need an MRI to see that, and learned then that arthritis shows up in an X-ray better than in an MRI.

“Chuck, I think this is abuse. If you want to do whatever you’re doing, keep doing it; because if you quit, you won’t be able to.”

In other words, “Use it or lose it.”

So I’m riding my bike, running some, going to a boot camp every week, and doing the best I can to ignore those nagging pains. When they get to be too much to ignore, I employ my “spit on it, rub some dirt in it, and keep on playing” philosophy. At 60, I’m not as strong as I used to be, I’m sure not as fast or as quick as I used to be, but—as I tell my F3 buddies (F3 is the boot camp—Google it)—“there’s no quit in me.”

 

You know, it’s not just my body that this applies to—or yours, for that matter. It is my soul, and yours, as well. This is why I get up at 4:30 five days a week, and darn early the other days of the week. I don’t want my soul to atrophy, either.

In his great book The Kingdom Within, author John Sanford shares this:

When I was a boy, we spent a month each summer in an old farmhouse in New Hampshire.  The house was 150 years old when it first came into our family’s hands and had never been modernized.  As my father was the minister of a modest-sized Episcopal church, we were always short of money, and so for a long time we lived in the house quite simply, without the benefit of modern plumbing or electricity.  Our water supply during these years was an old well that stood just outside the front door.  The water from this well was unusually cold and pure and a joy to drink, and the well was remarkable because it never ran dry.  Even in the severest summer droughts, when other families would be forced to resort to the lake for their drinking water, our old well faithfully yielded up its cool, clear water. old well

          Eventually the day came when the family fortunes improved, and it was decided to modernize the house.  Electricity now replaced the old kerosene lamps; an electric stove took over from the ancient kerosene burner; and modern plumbing and running water were installed.  This necessitated a modern well, and accordingly a deep artesian well was drilled a few hundred feet from the house.  No longer needed, the old well near the front door was sealed over to be kept in reserve should an occasion arise when for some reason the artesian well would not suffice.

          So things stood for several years until one day, moved by curiosity and old loyalties, I determined to uncover the old well to inspect its condition.  As I removed the cover, I fully expected to see the same dark, cool, moist depths I had known so well as a boy.  But I was due for a shock, for the well was bone dry.

          It took many inquiries on our part to understand what had happened.  A well of this kind is fed by hundreds of tiny underground rivulets along which seeps a constant supply of water.  As water is drawn from the well, more water moves into it along the rivulets, keeping these tiny apertures clear and open. But when such a well is not used and the water is not regularly drawn, the tiny rivulets close up.  Our well, which had run without failing for so many years, was dry not because there was no water but because it had not been used.

          The human soul is like this well.  What happened to the old well can also happen to our souls if the living water of God does not flow into us.

 

So step away from your tablet, get out from behind your desk, get off the sofa, and get some exercise. Then get on your knees, and exercise your soul.

Use it, or lose it, folks.

 

 

 

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500 Down, 1700 to go.

October 18, 2017

Only about another 1700 miles to go

 It was several years ago—probably about six years ago—that Hazen Dempster (aka “Gadget”) commented to me that he wanted to hike all of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. That comment lodged in my brain, and bounced around for a while.

          As my 55th birthday approached, wanting some kind of a challenge to take on in light of that “milestone” (hey, I rode 100 miles on my bike on my 50th birthday, so I needed to do something around 55), I decided to try and thru-hike the Georgia section of the Trail. Look back to entries from 2012 to see how that turned out—not so good.

          I eventually was able to finish the Georgia section, and once that was done, thought, “Why not North Carolina?” I chewed off the first 20 or so miles on my own, invoking the wrath of Gadget, so we set a week to finish North Carolina—which we did in 2013.

          Succeeding states and sections fell beneath our feet—the Smokies in 2014 (where we picked up Fitz Wickham (“Sawmill”) and Chad Sartamalaccia (“Pippin”), then we jumped ahead to the Roan Highlands in 2015, walked from Tennessee into Virginia in 2016 (where James Norongolo, aka “Splash” became a part of what we were now calling the “Lost Mountain Boys.”) 

          For the record, we were neither lost, nor from the mountains, nor were or are we boys, but it seemed to fit.

          Along the way, I’d managed to nibble away about another 50 miles from a gap that we created when we jumped ahead in 2015. Yes, I felt the ire of the rest of the gang, so this year we decided to tackle the gap we had between the northern border of the Smokies and Indian Grave Gap outside Erwin, TN.

          It was a challenging itinerary, forcing us to take on average about 15 miles per day over some fairly challenging terrain. The first day called for a 19-mile day; we told ourselves we’d done days that far and long before, and since we’d arranged for the first eight miles to be essentially a day hike (carrying very little), we thought we could handle it.

          We were wrong.

          The climb out of Erwin Tennessee was more than a challenge; it was a killer. Add the heat of the time to the mix, and we were withering by lunchtime, spreading out along the trail. As evening started moving in, we realized we would not make out planned stop for the night—we pulled up about three miles short and camped.

          Telling ourselves we’d make the miles up the next day, we were later breaking camp than we wanted, and difficult climb followed by treacherous descent followed by tough climbs and equally hard descents wore us down. Sawmill strained a knee, and it became obvious we were not making the planned stop for the night. Fortunately, we’d met a brother and sister who offered to give us a ride into Hot Springs, NC if needed, and we took them up on it.

          We regrouped, taking a zero day in town, admitting that our planned itinerary was too ambitious given our (ahem) advanced ages and fitness levels, and the heat and dry conditions (water was really scarce at points) worked against us, as well. Sawmill got a rental car and drove home, the remainders were shuttled to where we’d pulled out on Sunday, and started hiking. When we reached the spot we’d planned to spend Sunday night, we realized we would have all made it in the dark, if we’d ever gotten there. AT vista 9.28.17

          We plodded on, meeting and chatting with South-bound through-hikers, and making the best time we could. It was hot, climbs were difficult, I won’t mention the times we walked off-trail or thought we had, but I will mention the fact that more and more people told us about the scarcity of water. We managed.

          Fifteen miles north of Hot Springs, NC, Pippin pulled out, to be able to get home to sick babies, and prepare for his grandfather’s funeral, and to try and let his ankle that he had rolled too many times to heal. He had covered the trail into Hot Springs before, so it was not a problem.

          The dregs of us pushed on, for the better part of that Thursday, camped near the top of Rich Mountain, and made our way into Hot Springs in time for lunch on Friday.

          Tired, sweaty, footsore, bedraggled, and no doubt smelly, I had closed a gap, and Gadget was about 35 miles away from having closed one. Chuck & Hazen 9.29.17

          As we sit outside Bluff Mountain Outfitters, we have hiked close to 510 miles of the AT together. Only another 1700 to go. At this stage of the game, we’ll be about 77 when we finish the Trail!

          You get to know a guy fairly well when you walk 500 miles with him. I can’t think of another hiking partner I could trust more!