On a recent road trip vacation to Utah and Colorado, my wife and I stayed at the country retreat of friends who live on Wright’s Mesa in Southwestern Colorado. At eight-thousand feet, on two hundred acres, with no WiFi or cell service, we spent four blessed nights and days reading, hiking, watching the deer in the yard, listening to the songs of a wide variety of birds.
Hiking with heart history
On one outing with our friend, John, we hiked to the only active geyser in Colorado, on a trail above the west branch of the Dolores River. John is seventy-seven, very fit, but with a history of heart problems that include bypass surgery and replacement of a faulty valve. He has a pacemaker that can be rigged to send data to his doctor. I’m seventy-two, also fit and active, but with three blocked arteries, one heart attack, and two stents in my history. You can imagine the irreverent humor scattered throughout our conversation as we hike.
Unexpected shortness of breath
Unexpectedly, John began to suffer from shortness of breath. It was a first for him in a long time. We stopped several times on the 1.3 mile uphill hike, and each time he recovered enough to continue. Seeing the surreal looking geyser, a boiling aquamarine circular pool about eight feet in diameter, was worth the effort, but I could hear the concern in John’s voice and see it in his eyes. The next day he contacted his doctor. Hiking was shut down for him until further notice, pending test results.
My wife and I went on to Bluff, Utah, where we bushwhacked our way around Natural Bridges National Monument and down Butler Wash to the banks of the San Juan River. There we viewed a huge panel of petroglyphs carved into desert varnish by ancient natives. John, in the meantime, was working on his fishing boat. He couldn’t hike, but he could still catch and release trout. After four days on the mesa and three in Bluff, we headed home to smoky California, tired but happy.
Heart disease is tricky
Heart disease is tricky. Guys like John and me, that is, guys who still think we’re kids, could easily ignore symptoms and push ourselves to the brink of catastrophe. There are times when both of us have pushed a little too far, just to accomplish an immediate goal. But over the years both of us have learned to contact our doctors as soon as symptoms persist.
We’ve found the balance to factor mild adventure into our lives without risking our lives in the process. And, yes, we’re lucky to have wives who understand the importance to us of taking a risk now and then but also, when necessary, letting us know that we’re not teenagers anymore.
Heartbeats, friends, love, adventure, joy. Can’t live without them.