Sometimes Misogi Chooses You

Hey out there League!

I was excited – thrilled, even – to read about Dan’s planned Misogi. He always adds so much introspection to his adventures and I always enjoy hearing not only how things went, but his thoughts on the process and experience. 

One of my lifetime Misogis is to backpack all of the trails in the BWCA in MN by myself. Mileage-wise, they really don’t add up to that much. A couple hundred miles, with the longest single trail being 65 miles. That’s nothing compared to the Pacific Crest or Appalachian Trails. But it is very remote and rugged terrain. Most often you don’t see another person for days. It is that level of solitude that I crave the most. 

Of the challenges I’ve faced in life, one thing I’ve never had to contend with was whether my body was capable of doing an activity. I’d always been to do whatever I wanted, whether that was hiking, kayaking, swimming, biking, or just exploring off-trail in the wilderness. The biggest challenge for me in completing this Misogi has always been fear. The sounds of the forest change as soon as the sun melts below the horizon. A mouse scratching at your tent sounds like the biggest bear your brain can imagine. Every sound is amplified and sounds scary. Yep, I’m still “afraid of the dark.” At least that kind of remote darkness, alone. As usual, my mind was my own worst enemy! But I was determined to conquer my imagination and looking forward to the 2024 hiking season. 

Initially, I had hoped to hike one trail per summer over several summers. But life had other plans. About 2 years ago, I started suffering from SI joint and glute pain. I worked with PT and a chiropractor. It was all soft tissue pain so I worked on mobility and strength training which carried me for a long time. Until it didn’t. 

A few months ago, I noticed that even short walks were irritating my SI joint, causing pinching pain next to my tailbone. Occasionally, I felt like a fish hook was stabbing me in my glute muscles. The larger muscles would “shut off” and then the smaller ones would engage instead, resulting in quickly fatigued and shaky muscles from trying to carry a load they weren’t intended to. Even a short hike meant I couldn’t trust my leg. Hopping across a single rock in a creek risked my leg giving out and me falling due to the muscle imbalance. My range of motion was only about 50% of normal and I had to spend a long time on the floor stretching to increase it. The final nail in the coffin was one day I was doing walking lunges, and my right leg clunked like a manual transmission being driven by a new driver. It didn’t hurt, but it wasn’t a sound a hip should make.

The x-ray showed “severe right hip degeneration with joint space loss and moderate osteophytosis (fancy word for bone spurs).” Unknowingly, my hip joint had been under enough strain that it wore down the joint cartilage and the femoral head created additional bone to accommodate the injury. My surgeon said it was most likely decades in the making, possibly I had a stress fracture that went unnoticed due to my high pain tolerance or a slight structural variability on that side. The stabbing glute pain was the bone spur. The SI joint pain was due to frequent strain. On the plus side, my left hip and lower back are healthy and the mild pain in those areas should subside with correction to my right hip. I was referred to a non-surgical orthopedic doctor and assumed that meant I could avoid surgery.

I went into the appointment expecting a cortisone shot with PT to keep things moving for a few years. After spending 10 minutes with the orthopedist, he said, “The only real viable answer is total hip replacement.” I was referred to a surgeon.

The surgeon is my kind of guy. He said, “Your hip is pretty messed up. With a hip replacement, you would have no restrictions. If you want to downhill ski, you can. Being that you are in your 40s, you might need another replacement in your 70s, but the way the American lifespan has been going, maybe not.” 

HAHA! That cracked me up. I love a dry sense of humor. His sense of humor put my anxiety at ease. He also does robotic surgery which helps with recovery time due to precise implant placement. I agreed to the surgery which was scheduled for June 3rd. Instead of backpacking, my 2024 Misogi will be recovering from hip replacement surgery. I hope to be hiking in time for fall. 

I spent the three weeks before surgery fine-tuning my healthy practices to support healing. I dropped my occasional bourbon and junk food treat and focused on protein, fruits, and veggies. I ensured I slept well every night and kept moving my body as much as I could. I did a lot of floor sitting and mobility work. Walking for more than 15 minutes at a time caused foot and knee pain and I didn’t want to aggravate those areas so I kept walks short. I focused on full-body strength with a lot of lower-body strengthening such as wall sits, left pistols, supported squats, weighted glute bridges. I did a lot of rows and dips so I could rely on my upper body for extra support. I practiced breathing exercises to calm the anxiety that would occasionally show up.

My surgery was on June 3 and I was home before dinner the same day. I get up hourly to walk for 10-15 minutes around the house. The worst thing you can do is to fall on a new hip implant, so I am taking it easy and focusing on giving my body what it needs to heal – rest, good nutrition, elevation, and ice, and as much walking as I can tolerate. I thought I would miss my normal activity level, but even my brief walks wear me out right now! 

On the plus side, this is the time of year when the biting bugs are the worst so I usually avoid the trails at this time anyways. And at least I don’t have to worry about snow and ice. I look forward to coming out the other side healthier, stronger, and with regained trust in my body. 

Short-term, I am looking forward to being able to drive again and walk for more than 15 minutes. I will be happy when I can get dressed without needing a hook to pull up my pants and to be able to tie my shoes. My husband and I have a mini-vacation planned for late-August, so my next goal is to be able to walk at least 2 miles comfortably by then. Longer term, I plan to focus on strength training and rebalancing the glute and hip muscles. I like a challenge, and this one will take a full year to complete. But I know I will be better for it, and eventually, I’ll be able to plan my BWCA backpacking Misogi.

Failure isn’t an option with this Misogi, but my goal is to maintain a positive outlook and continue relentless forward progress in healing. The biggest surprise has been how fatiguing it is. With 2 of my kids, I had c-sections, and at the time I couldn’t imagine anything more exhausting than taking care of newborns while recovering from surgery. But this, somehow, is even more tiring! Just getting dressed and brushing my teeth makes me sweat and requires a break. After a 10-minute shower, I need a 2-hour nap. Just a few days after surgery, my pain level and mobility are both better than they were before surgery. Being exhausted by basic life tasks has been a surprise, and I suspect it’ll be the most challenging part of recovery for me. I don’t really like forced downtime! 

I am focused on my assigned PT exercises and do them throughout the day. Standing hip abduction, mini squats, calf raises, and gentle mobility. Just 3 days after surgery I am on to my week 2 exercises, which my doctor approved. He said he expected a fast recovery because I was healthy and active. One of the things that stuck out to me was when my surgeon said that healthy muscle tissue makes a big difference not only in recovery time, but restrictions afterward. I have no restrictions because I have healthy bones and muscles. Muscles are a big part of what holds the hip joint together, and when those muslces are healthy and strong, there is less risk of the joint dislocating. Mine was done with an anterior (front) approach so that no muscles needed to be cut. Despite that, the most painful part of recovery is quad soreness because the surgeon has to wrestle the strong muscles out of the way to do the surgery. What pain I have is isolated to my quad muscle. Ice, elevation, and massage have helped a lot. 

Maintaining a positive attitude along with a focus on weekly and longer-term goals has been very valuable as well. Every day I spent time outside on our patio, which is something I look forward to. Several times a day I sit quietly and calm my breathing. Any amount of movement elevates my heart rate, so remembering to consciously slow my breathing helps me recover faster after activity. I am grateful to have excellent support from my family so that I can rest as much as I need to. I look forward to my first real walks so I can build up my distance to be ready for our mini-vacation in August.

I considered whether I have any fears going forward, but I really don’t. The biggest fear had already occurred which was being unable to trust my body in the woods. I can already feel the changes in my balance and mobility so that fear is gone. Now there is nowhere to go but up. I’m not afraid of the ups and downs of surgery recovery as I know it will all carry me forward. 

Recovering from surgery is not what I imagined my 2024 Misogi would look like. Life is like that. Sometimes we choose Misogi. Sometimes Misogi chooses us. It isn’t the most exciting Misogi, but it may be one of the most worthwhile. I will be able to trust my body again while doing the things that matter most to me. It is what will enable me to succeed in future Misogis. 

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