Walking to the store doesn't sound like much unless you live where I live, or someplace similar. The nearest grocery store to us is over five miles away.
Tano and I were reading this week about La Salle, the French explorer who set out to see the entire Mississippi River. We were blown away by this man's determination and courage in the face of hardship. At one point, in need of essential supplies, he turned around and backtracked one thousand miles...on foot. It seems that every paragraph we read began with things getting worse, and ended with La Salle determined to go on, undeterred by the incredulous hardships he faced.
We have no concept of hardship like this. Our lives are so filled with labor-saving devices and comfort. We live fairly insulated lives. So today, the boy and I decided to go for a long walk, in hopes of feeling just a tiny little bit of hardship. We decided to walk to the store to buy a few groceries.
At ten o'clock, bundled from head to toe and with backpacks on our backs containing lunch and water bottles, we headed out into the cold. It was nearing twenty degrees then, and would reach the mid-twenties by late afternoon. It was cold, but we were prepared and didn't feel it...at first.
The narrow, winding two-lane highway that connects our little dirt road to the rest of the world has no sidewalks, not even much of a shoulder, and has a posted speed limit of sixty-five miles per hour. It's really not a good place to go for a walk. Instead, we walked in the deep gullies that follow alongside the highway, where the locals ride their quad-runners to save on gas or just have fun. We found the walking more difficult than we'd anticipated. Quads running the gullies when the ground was soft and muddy had left deep, uneven ruts, and then the ground froze for winter and the misshapen mud was frozen in place. The snow plowed from the highway above filled the gullies, melted in a recent partial-thaw, and then froze into jagged ice over the rugged and uneven frozen quad tracks. The ice made walking difficult, even in the smooth areas, and we struggled to keep from falling.
It was really a mess for walking, but we were up for the adventure. We passed the miles in wonderful conversation, discussing anything and everything that came to mind. It was very pleasant, despite the treacherous terrain.
For most of the walk, we were down in gullies in wooded areas, but the last mile was out in the open and the wind began to pick up a bit. We began to get cold--very cold. As we walked up the last hill toward the intersection that passes for "town," the chill seeped into our tired legs and our muscles and joints began to tighten up as we shivered. Tano's ankles were bothering him quite a bit, as his pull-on boots were somewhat loose fitting and hadn't provided him much support on the hard, uneven ground. My hips began to ache with every step. We were anxious to reach the store.
After purchasing a few groceries, loading them into our backpacks and eating a quick lunch in the warmth of the store, we headed back outside. The cold felt worse than before--much worse. We hadn't warmed up in our short time in the grocery store and were still chilled through. We shivered uncontrollably and couldn't muster up the energy to talk at all. My hips hurt so that every step was very painful. We were still five miles from home.
On our way out of town, only a quarter mile from the store, we stopped at a restaurant. We had to get warm before we could move on. We must have looked like vagabonds entering the restaurant, with our heavy coats, hats, gloves, boots and backpacks. After a half hour of sipping hot cocoa, we were completely warm again and headed back outside.
Tano's ankles and my hips felt quite a bit better once we were warm and we set out cheerfully, once again chatting and laughing. But the rugged terrain took its toll much more quickly on the return trip. With two miles to go, we were both in quite a bit of pain, and snow was starting to fall.
We discussed hardship and what it can accomplish in a person's life. We discussed pain and suffering and what we would choose if we could have three wishes granted. We had wonderful conversation, and I was again amazed at the way my son's deep-thinking brain works, but we had to stop for short rests frequently. Each time I would stretch while Tano removed his boots and massaged his ankles. Each time, it was hard to get going again and the slick ice made it more difficult to maintain our footing.
Finally, as I watched my son grimacing in pain with every step, I offered to walk up a road to a house nearby and ask to use their phone to call Daddy to come get us with a car (I hadn't brought my cell phone so we wouldn't easily have that option). But the boy was undeterred; he would make it home on his own power. And although my hips were hurting so badly that I could barely lift my legs to take each step, and I could feel that I was straining a muscle from adjusting my stride to compensate, I was glad he refused my offer. I wanted him to have an adventure to remember.
When we finally rounded the turn onto our little road, we faced the steep climb up our icy hill. It took every last bit of our strength and determination to climb that hill without falling. As we approached the yard and our two goofy dogs came barking out to meet us, we knew that the family would hear their noise and perhaps look out the window to see us approach, so we redoubled our efforts to try to walk normally, heads held high.
Ten and a half miles over frozen terrain in January. We had done it.
In the privacy of the kitchen, as we put away our groceries, I smiled at him and he smiled at me. I opened my arms and he hugged me fiercely.
We had done it.
He pulled himself away at length and looked into my eyes. We grinned, but said nothing; there wasn't anything either of us could think to say that could adequately sum up our feelings.
We had done it.
After volunteering for a hot bath (volunteering!), the boy felt fine--good as new. I am a different story. My right hip is still very inflamed and I have indeed pulled a muscle in my left leg. I will walk gingerly for a couple of days, but it will be worth every ache and pain. It was a wonderful day, one that neither of us will ever forget.
He wants to do this every Saturday. Yeah, right.