The words never crossed my lips, but I heard them in my head clear as a bell and cringed. I do not espouse to the implications of the phrase "we're not out of the woods yet" and grit my teeth whenever I hear it used.
But there I sat pondering another long and not nearly as fruitful as I would've wanted day and week of work. I'd been falling further and further behind as deadlines loomed ever larger. My to-do list was not acquiring any checked boxes and each day seemed to bring unexpected issues that required prioritization. My spirits were flagging and my body was threatening to slide as well. Trying to play catch up from home was cutting into my allotted hours of sleep and, even once I did put head to pillow, slumber often proved hard to come by.
Progress had occurred that afternoon but as I made a mental checklist of the week to follow, I recognized that this wave of work had not yet crested.
And that's when my subconscious reached for that preposterous phrase.
At 11 years of age, I moved with my family to a small church-owned campground in northern Lancaster County where my father served as the groundskeeper/chief fundraiser and my sister and I became camp mascots. Though much of the camp's 87 acres consisted of leased farmland and developed facilities, there was also plenty of woodland to be explored.
Into the woods I went and, spiritually and emotionally, I don't think I've ever come back out, not fully, and I have not intention of doing so.
The phrase that I am railing against implies danger, a threat. I've felt neither while under the forest canopy, certainly not like I have in the dark shadows of civilization or in unknown company. People have asked why I'm not afraid of animals or the criminals who are rumored to lurk along well-established trails. To the former, I can think of few native animals worthy of fearing and even amongst those, the likelihood of their taking any interest in me and my crashing about in the woods feels very remote. As to the humans, I don't see any reason to distrust one in the woods anymore than I do on a city street or a suburban parking lot. Which is not to say that I don't distrust them.
The fact of the matter is I turn toward not away from the woods when the weight of the world presses down. And that is where I headed the very next day and much of that weekend. It wasn't until that Monday morning that I realized that my Achilles was not behaving normally.
Before I begin the next sentence, I would like to explain that the sound you're hearing is me knocking the crap out of any and all nearby wood. I have enjoyed several years of relatively injury free existence. I've had numerous dings, bumps, cuts, bruises and oh so many aches, but I've managed to avoid the need for crutches and haven't seen a cast or a protective boot in a good long time. But the pain just above my heel was nothing I'd felt before and, frankly, I was worried.
Not only was I out of the woods but I just might be looking at some extended time away. I laid low that week and work did plenty to fill those idle hours and allow me to pretend that it was the reason I wasn't running. It wasn't.
A short run the following Sunday confirmed that a week without running hadn't diminished my discomfort. I was pretty sure it was time to see a doctor but I decided to reach out to friends to see if they could weigh in. Three separate inquires to trusted to sources with detailed explanations of my recent activities, the appearance of the pain and the symptoms I was experiencing prompted three nearly identical responses that were unwavering in their diagnosis of Achilles tendinitis. A malady probably brought on by a too aggressive switch to minimalist footwear without any backing off of mileage or accounting for the severity of terrain.
I was pretty bummed and wasted energy by childishly feeling sorry for myself. I NEEDED to be able to run to counterbalance the stresses of work. This was, of course, nonsense but I was genuinely feeling low. However, I hadn't just been given opinions, I'd also been gifted some suggestions for stretching and strengthening the tendon while continuing to run, if in a slightly less aggressive fashion than I would prefer.
I've taken the advice and been surprisingly disciplined in doing so. I've set aside my most stripped down shoes for the moment with hopes of easing them back into rotation after I've established a better overall leg strength to better accommodate their use. Thankfully, I'm still in relatively minimalist offerings that continue to allow me to enjoy life away from overbuilt shoes. I've been diligently alternating between ice and heat on my Achilles and am sticking to gentle, controlled stretches that seem to be helping.
I am back on the trail and have been there with the company of dear friends. I'm not sure that they know how important it is for me to be there or how much it means to have them there with me...but it is and it does. Life is good in other ways too with Piper Bea turning two and Lily just days away from her 4th birthday. Lindsay is making high marks in her classes and nearing the end of the semester and her much deserved reward of a week away in Jamaica. I received word that I will get to traipse around the wilds of southern Utah the last week of April, putting some good gear to the test and, with a little luck, getting in some early morning Escalante runs.
All isn't perfect. Work is still demanding and the leg is certainly not 100%. In fact, if it'll make you happy, I'll go ahead and say it.
"I'm not outta the woods yet."