I woke up at 5:30 am to start a long, planned-out birthday adventure. My boyfriend and I left the house and drove fifteen minutes to South Mesa trailhead. Just before 7:00 am, we donned our gloves, slung our packs stuffed with chocolate-covered coffee beans and water onto our backs, and hit the trail. The route we chose to tackle for my birthday is affectionately known as the “Sanitosobo” or the “5 Peak Traverse” in Boulder. The trail runs along the top of the five mountains that hug Boulder’s west side: South Boulder (8,549 feet), Bear Peak (8,461 feet), Green Mountain (8,144 feet), Flagstaff Mountain (7,283 feet), and Mount Sanitas (6,863 feet).
I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate my birthday. Spending an entire day outside, bagging five peaks, and accomplishing a great feat sounded like a recipe for celebration.
What I didn’t bank on was the amount of ice and snow still on the trails, even after a week of nice weather. I (foolishly) hoped that the path would be clear for our hike. However, from the very first steep climb up Shadow Canyon, ice littered the trail, forcing me to hike like a gorilla: hunched over, arms hanging close to the ground to catch me if I should slip. The majority of the day was like this. Occasionally, the trail would be clear in the areas that received a few hours of the winter sunshine, but our day was mostly spent navigating the treacherous route.
Around mile 12, the pain began.
We summited four out of the five peaks and were descending towards the trailhead of the fifth and final climb. Blisters were forming on both of my big toes and my shoulders ached. Mere annoyances compared to the sharp stab I felt every time I put weight on my left leg. My shin was killing me, yet I doggedly continued along the trail. The conversation became less frequent as my boyfriend and I struggled to make it to the beginning of Mount Sanitas.
When we arrived, we met two friends for the last ascent (a planned morale boost, to encourage us to finish). As we climbed, I could feel my shin pain progressing with every minute, but I pushed through to the top. I was elated to have made it to the peak of the last mountain. The way down, though, was brutal. I couldn’t mask my pain from anyone in our group. My mood took a downward spiral, and all I could think to myself was, “What the heck were you thinking, Morgan? Why did you do this to yourself?” The pain was almost unbearable.
Because I like numbers (and maybe you are curious), the stats of the hike include a total of 18 miles, 51,000 steps, 9 hours, and 6,000 feet of climbing. The day after, I was a complete mess. I could not pronate or flex my foot without extreme pain. Needless to say, overuse injuries have a special place in my heart right now, since I’m personally battling one myself. My job as a float nurse has placed me in orthopedic surgery for the past few weeks, and let me tell you: I’m not the only Boulderite suffering from an overuse injury. Unfortunately, they are as common as hippies and gluten-free dessert here (which is to say, very common).
Why do we push ourselves so hard?
I can reflect on this question a bit from a personal perspective.
First of all, I’m young. I have a body that can withstand quite a beating and rebound quickly. Second, the feeling of accomplishing something difficult is thrilling, satisfying, and yet – addicting. Third, I live in a location with “Are you up to the challenge?” stamped all over it. I can hop on my bike from my house and climb hills with 7% grade for three hours if I wanted to. I can drive an hour and hike some of the tallest mountains in the continental United States.
The mountainous landscape invites me in as a competitor, nurturing my desire for adventure and challenge. I can be so focused on reaching my goal that I forget to listen to the pains and aches of my limbs. I forget that those messages are important signals to slow down.
What My Orthopedic Patients Taught Me
The long term effects of overuse have begun to sink into my being. The majority of the patients that I see in orthopedics are elderly, suffering from arthritic joints or in need of knee replacements or unable to stand up without the help of stabilizing contraptions. Part of me wants to say to myself, “Oh man, thank goodness this is not me,” but the logical voice inside says, “This could be you in 50 years.”
The truth of the matter makes me realize the importance of taking care of my body now so that future years can be more enjoyable. My last blog dealt with the finitude of life, and of course the body will inevitably break down with the passage of time: however, giving the body rest can be just as beneficial as exercising. Especially with overuse injuries.
I’m writing this blog on the couch, with my left leg elevated and frozen corn icing my shin. It truly stinks to be sidelined for a while. I’m frustrated that I can’t be out on the trails doing activities that fill my soul, yet I know that my body needs recovery. The worst thing that I could do would be to push too hard, cause serious damage, and regret the months of repair and therapy it would take to fully heal.
I suppose the patients that I see in orthopedics have taught me something: take care of your body in order to avoid serious injury in the future. I won’t be in orthopedics forever, so when I move on to different departments (family practice, gynecology, or pediatrics) that involve an aspect of preventative medicine, I can try to impart the importance of healthy balance in the lives of overzealous, outdoorsy, adventure-seeking Boulderites.
Morgan Quist is currently living and working in Boulder, Colorado. Morgan graduated from Calvin College with her BSN in 2018. Morgan’s first job is working in an outpatient setting where she enjoys interacting with patients in an “everyday” context developing her skills. She has realized her job as a nurse is to help people attain their health goals while also helping them understand the limits of the body. When Morgan is not working as a nurse, you can find her in her art studio, trail running, and hiking.