I was up early this morning, heading for the local Curves gym. It was my first time there, and, I’m almost embarrassed to admit, my first time trying any sort of gym workout since I was in Germany. There I tried to take advantage of the Nautilus machines at the U.S. Army post gym, but the rheuma was just too severe at the time. There wasn’t a single machine I could use without causing myself excruciating pain. So I gave that up.
I didn’t feel too bad about it. I got a decent amount of exercise anyway — I walked just about everywhere. We had a wire-haired dachshund, Max, who needed his walkies every morning and every evening — and more often on weekends. Nothing like a dog for motivation, right? And rather than drive and fight for parking when I needed to go downtown, I’d ride the bus and then walk and walk, doing my shopping. On Saturday mornings, if the weather allowed, I’d walk the 10 or so blocks to the little store where I bought my coffee, trying to converse with the proprieter in my truly awful German while she put the coffee beans through the grinder for me. Lots of laughter resulted. I walked to a big, nearby park at least once a week, and then walked all over it, following the wide footpaths through the forested grounds. There was a large pond — almost a lake — with ducks, geese and a pair of grouchy, dangerous and beautiful swans. There was the rose garden. The little boathouse where you could buy a cup of strong, delicious coffee and a slice of cake. The towns and cities in Germany, and the other parts of Europe I visited, were made for walking, built before cars came along.
And I walked during and in spite of bad flares in my feet, ankles and knees. Man, it hurt. I limped and gimped. When I was in basic training for the Air Force, way back in 1979, they taught us to march as the instructor counted cadence. After a while (and I learned my right from my left), it was easy. There was a sublime rhythm to marching. To my surprise, I liked it.
When I was walking along the sidewalks and roads in Germany, walking Max or to a bus stop or to a shop I wanted to visit, I used that training to help myself keep on going in spite of the pain each time I stepped on the flared foot or put my weight on the flared knee. “Hup-two-three-four, hup-two-three-four …” over and over I’d mutter the words to myself, setting up a pace, a rhythm. Sometimes (OK, frequently) I’d sprinkle cuss words into the cadence. Doing that helped me vent my anger and frustration at my body, which was doing its best to keep me from moving, to make me miserable.
Today, here at home, I can’t just take a walk. The roads are narrow and twisty. There are no shoulders, just steep drop offs or ditches. Most of the roads aren’t very busy — we’re in a small mountain town — which is nice, but the locals are used to them and tend to drive fast, flying around curves. For a walker, it’s a fright a minute. So if I want to walk, first I have to get into my car and drive several miles to a walking trail. Or I can drive down into town and walk Main Street.
It’s not the same. I miss walking around the German city I lived in for six years. I miss the sidewalks. I miss all the other walkers, of all shapes and ages, because there, everyone walked. Footpower worked well. Here, not so much.
But back to this morning. Curves. I learned how to use each of the hydraulic exercise machines. It’s early evening now and the only part of me that hurts are my hands. I was able to do all the exercises. I enjoyed it. And yes, I had to drive to get there, but I guess I should either just accept that or move to a big city, like San Francisco or maybe New York City. There’d be busses. Places to walk. Other walkers.
I’ll be working out at Curves three times a week. I want to keep my joints moving as much as I can, and I figure the exercise can’t hurt my continuing program of weight-loss. I’ll get stronger, lighter, more flexible. It will be very good for me. Very good for my mind and my mood. And on the days that I have flares, I’ll just skip the machines that irritate my flared joints.
Wish me luck. I’m determined. Counting cadence and cussing a mile a minute.