Return to walk routine a milestone on road to recovery

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Routine.

It’s a word (and a reality) I typically dread. Although I know full well that certain rhythms keep life ticking smoothly along, most repetitive activities reduce me to agony.

Not so with the Golden Mile.

Walk the Golden Mile

Who doesn’t have a square mile they adore? But mine’s pretty special — and it’s open to the public, to boot. Park your car where you can and start anywhere, but the easiest cross streets to find are Clarence Avenue and Valley Road in College Place (map available at ubne.ws/1jnL0ak). Look east at the intersection, and your journey’s begun at the cow field. I’m sure you can make it from there.

The Highlights: It’s quiet. It’s green. It varies its offerings with the seasons. And we might cross paths on your ramble.

The Drawbacks: Sadly for you, this mile’s probably not just outside your front door, making it less likely to become a cherished routine. But surely there’s a golden mile (or two) lurking near your home as well. Go on, find one! You may create a lifelong, sweet pattern.

I reflect on this — the curious pleasure I feel — as I easy my way down our driveway, hand in hand with my spouse. I am easing everywhere these days — the limited “everywhere” I am allowed, anyway.

I’ve been home from the hospital less than two weeks, and I’ve returned lighter — and more sore — than I’ve been in months. Lighter because several organs (and many worries) have been removed along with the presence of cancer from my body. And more sore for the very same reason. I now sport a scar to make Frankenstein drool, and I’m earnestly trying to imagine life without Oxycodone — tomorrow.

Still, I’m in jolly good spirits as I inch down the road toward the starting line of this mile. Chris and I, and our joyous dog, Josie, plan to attempt the third in a series of daily walks I’ve been prescribed for faster healing. Chris has his hands full, for sure — a keyed-up canine strains against the leash on one side, while a weenie of a wife plods along on the other.

We coast gently past the first in a succession of familiar sights — our neighbor’s exuberant dogs yearning through the fence at us with bright, hopeful eyes — and while Chris restrains Josie, I wave.

“Not today, guys. I can’t throw a ball for a while.”

They fade away, crestfallen, and Josie turns her attention toward the driveway’s end. Somewhere ahead, I hear her hope, there’s bound to be someone to play with!

At last we reach the main road and turn right. Here the street stretches for a bare eighth of a mile before making a sharp left; but today, it looks like a marathon. I gaze at the wall of lilac bushes looming dry and dark, near the corner. Can I make it that far?

We coast along, quietly, Josie sniffing the fresh air and I murmuring shallow nothings to Chris. My mind’s on the task at hand: I plan to complete this mile, not just start it, this day.

I’ve run this mile many times, after all. I’ve biked it with my kids. I’ve toted toddlers around it, sweating as they whined from their perch in my arms. And I’ve walked it with innumerable friends.

But now! I grin as the lilac bushes disappear at our backs. Now I get to conquer this beloved stretch of road from a completely novel perspective — that of a new-lease-on-life, snail’s-pace survivor.

We round the lilac corner and start a gentle downgrade, passing the house with the antique fire truck on the right and giving a nod to a sacred location on the left. Even Josie seems to remember it, and I slow to appreciate the twining mass of blackberry vines that still lures me, long past summer. I peer through their tangle, half expecting to see winter birds picking the last of some hidden fruit from their vines. In my mind’s eye I see the countless berries I’ve harvested here, and feel the hot breath of the horses who share the pasture with this patch as they crane their necks to see inside my bucket. I search for them now, but they must have found a warmer spot for the evening. Maybe we’ll meet up tomorrow.

At the next corner, past the cattails of a dwindling Garrison Creek and the wild rose bushes that scent every spring stroll, we enter a new stretch of wonder. Here Josie really comes to life, for often, she sees cows in the pastures to our right — staring at her with noncommittal eyes that only snap fire if she runs near the fence or taunts them with a predatory woof.

Here we find plant life as well. To our left a vineyard lies still, its rows stretching parallel to the road like a battalion of soldiers at ease. A lone farmhouse breaks the scenery, and then the wild-card field slides by. Sometimes it’s wheat, sometimes it’s onions. We wait, year to year, for the sprouts to reveal the crop. I remember, months earlier, Josie springing into that wheat like a diver into deep water, wallowing in the thrill of her own disappearance.

And now, another corner. Left again, and face to face with two aging border collies who greet us from their retirement grounds at full cry. They’ve been waiting — they always are. Chris needs both hands to keep Josie from jumping their fence, and I walk without him, feeling shaky. But I have no plans to turn back. I don’t want to. This mile’s got its grip on my heart, and I’m determined to savor the trip ... every step of it.

I plod on, content. Together, we watch as the gray sky leaks light ‘til the higher realms reach the color of lead. We pass Garrison Creek again, its waters feeding a yard bearded with fruit trees of every description. Up a hill, around the corner where assorted cats convene feline covens at all hours, and over the last rise, slowly, ‘til we reach our home road again.

“Not much of a sunset, is it?” I ask as we turn in to our own lane at last. “You need a few clouds for a good one.”

I start to feel let down ... then I smile. This walk has been much like the sunset — a quiet finish, nothing flashy. But tonight, it’s the kind of conclusion I’ll cling to. I’ve had plenty of clouds these last months, giving us all enough catch-your-breath moments to last through the rest of the year — and beyond.

And so, my sweet walk now through, I rest easy — not in a fanfare finish, not in a blaze of trumpets and color, but in the gentle acceptance of grace that comes with this God-given healing. And I’ve got a part to play, too. Day in and day out, each step of my journey to recovery must be carefully placed for success. Tonight, I revel in the life I’ve been granted — a life somehow connected to this golden mile, a mile I’m strangely drawn to repeat as I celebrate each new season of living. Truly, it’s a routine I look forward to keeping for years and years ... and years ... to come.

Sarah Coleman Kelnhofer writes from College Place, where she hopes to find and enjoy simple things — like chocolate — in the midst of a life filled with complexities. Contributions to this cause may be milk, dark, or white — and should arrive in childproof packaging. At the back door. Very quietly.

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