Altitude Sickness
May 11, 2017

It’s boot-hiking season

Boot-hiking season is here! As some of you may or may not know, boot hiking season is one of my favorite times in Killington. When everyone else is getting out their lawn chairs and firing up the grill, I am sharpening my crampons, eager for the time when the lift will not be running, and I can charge straight up Superstar like a Sherpa.

This season is looking to be a barn burner. The first day out, I only climbed half of Superstar because I wanted to be respectful of my back and my poor, unused legs.

As an aside, I learned the depth of this nerve problem this past week when I was getting a massage. My massage therapist alerted me to the fact that my left leg (nerve damage side) is significantly thinner than the other leg. It is not all that noticeable looking at it, but when you grip the quad in your hand, it is indeed significantly smaller.

I do not know if this is a result of actual nerve damage, or if it is a result of favoring that leg. It could just be a result of my natural inclination to push off with my shorter leg, which is also my dominant. I have tried to be conscious of this and work my left leg as much as my right.

That first day up the hill, foreshortened though it was, was an awakening. I am in way better shape than I was last year when my crampons hit the hill. I am sure that the swimming did great things for my heart and wind, but also my legs are just in far better shape due to the cycling and pool walking, no rest days not withstanding. I paused a couple of times on the way up, but that first day I didn’t even break a sweat.

The next two days I powered to the top nearly without pause. I was careful to keep to the left side of the moguls so that my long leg was on the low side, but I noticed that this worked my left leg less (bias?) so I eventually tried not to pay attention.

You may be asking yourself “How is it possible that this guy can have such a wreck of a back but carry a pack with skis up the mountain every day?”

The short answer to that (shorter than the long answer, at least) is that on uphill and uneven travel, the height to which I must raise my knees rocks my pelvis forward, and pushes my shoulders forward, causing the vertebrae missing discs to lever off each other, creating a separation of the rear vertebrae, opening the foramin where the nerve exits the spinal column.  When I am in significant back pain, all I have to do is sit in a chair and slouch, and it offers the same relief.

So, this means that (thank goodness) I can still go out and get great exercise without excruciating pain. I nearly wept with gratitude.

Then of course, I got cocky and went for a walk on pavement, falling victim to the eternal “I’m cured!” that rings out in my head every time I experience 10 minutes without back pain. You would think I would learn by now. But I haven’t, and so I went for an easy walk in good sneakers and it hurt.

Go out and test my mettle by churning up a hill? No problem. Easy walk? Bad pain. See what I am dealing with here? It didn’t make sense until I saw my X-Ray and MRI. Now it all makes sense.

Also, a little more than a week ago I read an article touting the results of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), and how in adults over 65 it actually caused a better, faster, more comprehensive muscle response than in athletes in their 20s (changing up to 400 genes). Further I remembered older research that showed HIIT causing cells to create HGH (Human Growth Hormone), and decided to replace my usual daily pedantic pedal with a cyclonic cycle.

I pedal as hard as I can for 30 seconds and very slowly for 90 seconds, doing that 10 times for a total workout time of 20 minutes. I have long known this to be the most productive form of exercise (my choice was always sprinting, but there won’t be much of that for now), but for a while I was scared of it because of the nerve pain. I am not anymore. It feels good.

I still have to sit down halfway through making dinner, but at least I can get out there and get some real exercise on the mountain. I have finally been eating cleaner and shaving off some weight, too. I did a quick five-day cleanse, eating only certain herbs and a mixture of 500-600 calories/day of coconut oil. This knocked me right back into ketosis (fat burning metabolism) and helped me drop a few pounds without losing muscle mass. It feels good.

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