If you asked me to explain it, I couldnít. Describing it, however, is something else again. Six months ago, I was flat on my back in a friendís yard wondering if the EMTís would get to me in time.
After undergoing a stent implant and spending a few days in ICU, I was sent home and told that I could do some mild exercise, but a short walk to the mailbox sent me back to the hospital where the same surgical team ran a tube back into my heart to see if the stent had gotten blocked.
It hadnít, but a lot of confidence in what I could do and might be able to do in the future had gone by the wayside.
If youíve read this column for any period of time, you know that Iím a hunter. Eastern Washington. Hills, ridges, draws, and canyons. Sage brush flats and fast streams.
I couldnít make it to the mailbox and hunting this year looked to be a dream.
So I started walking. To the corner. Then down the street. Then around the block.
When I got back to work, I found a route with a hill or two in it and started using it. The first few times, I had to stop on that hill. Eventually, I didnít.
I stretched the walks from a mile to two and, then settled in at three miles a day.
It worked. I lost 35 pounds, my breathing came easier, and my heart began settling in to match my pace. My doctors said I was doing the right things and to keep it up.
When I first asked about hunting, they said weíd look at the situation later. In August, they told me I could go but to take it easy.
We humans are a funny sort. We understand the warnings and the concern, but thereís an inner voice that keeps asking ďcan we do it?Ē and, so, we try.
Two weeks ago, in hunting camp, I woke up before dawn Ė in that time when the eastern horizon is just the barest bit lighter than the rest of the sky. I dressed quickly and left camp - alone - with all of the gear Iíd need that day - jacket, cap, field pants, boots, extra socks and gloves, water, rifle, binoculars, maps, compass, knife, rope, etc.
Iíd once weighed all of my gear and found that it added up to more than 25 pounds. Nothing that would break a sweat on someone from a straight leg infantry unit, but a bit of a load for a 60-year-old six months out of a heart attack.
Iíd told my friends where I was headed and when I expected to be back. I went because I needed to find out something.
The route I took starts gently for about a mile or so and then climbs into broken rock with lots of deep draws that require some sweat. The steeper hills and ridge lines came next with steady drops into bowls and valleys. Eventually I got into flat sage brush country before coming down through the rocks again and out onto the road back to camp.
Six hours, more than a thousand feet of elevation gain (and loss), and five miles later I was back in my tent. My hands were a bit bloody from all of the sage brush cuts (and the blood thinners they make me take), one ankle was sore from being twisted when a rock gave way under me, and I had a good sized bruise on my shin from the same fall. But I had a smile on my face.
I never pulled the rifle off of my shoulder that day except to sit down and rest or when I just stopped to take it all in.
The smile, though, was from a well-earned tiredness. The smile was from knowing I could still do what I needed to do. The smile was for being in precisely the place I wanted and needed to be.
That night, I split wood, built a fire, drank some good bourbon, told stories, laughed at others, and felt exactly the way someone should feel at that moment.
Alive, content, at peace, and - most of all - confident.
I think you can understand the feeling.
And, more importantly, why I canít wait to do it again next year.