There's a test called the sit-stand challenge that's supposed to predict your life expectancy. Against my better judgment, I suggested to Tom that we try it. It sounded easy: just lower yourself to the floor from a standing position, and then get back up again without using your hands, arms or knees. Subtract points for every body part needed to complete the maneuver. If you can do it perfectly, you will live to a ripe old age. If you do it badly, curtains.
Tom went from standing to cross legged on the floor and then back up again in one smooth, scissoring motion. How could something so dumb and effortless tell you anything as important as how long you’re going to live? he scoffed.
Then he looked down to where I was writhing on the floor. I'd made it halfway down before toppling over like a tub of organic fertilizer. My elbows swept the floor, I rolled from side to side. I kicked at the air. I struggled to right myself, still trying to do the no-hands thing.
I once heard someone say that as soon as he turned 60, his knees started talking to him. My knees were screaming at me, a long string of vile curses.
What’s up with you? Tom did the test again, as if watching him would make the difference.
So Tom will be a widower, and much sooner than I thought, considering that I’m younger and female. After a respectable interval he'll mosey down to the local senior center, where he’ll meet a silver-haired babe who can do sit-stand without a hitch, and together they'll bob up and down into the happily-ever-after. He’ll take her on our favorite trails. He’ll tell her how nice it is to hike with someone who can keep up.
But here’s the mystery: my knees don’t hurt when I hike. How can knees that carry me painlessly up and down mountains and ridges every week be the harbinger of my early death? What happened to use it or lose it? I'm using them, but I'm losing them.
It's when I don't use them that I feel them most. The fact is, I sit way too much: in the car, at work, in my comfy chair with my knitting and my Netflix. When I get up after too much time on my keister, my knees are cooked.
Wrist to wrist, Tom said, extending his arm. That’s what we say when one of us needs a boost, as in climbing over a boulder. We get a good solid grip on one another’s right wrist before the one above pulls the one below up and over the rock. I love doing this, whether I’m the puller or the pullee. It’s like a dance move, our bodies in elegant equilibrium at the critical moment before the final hoist. Sometimes, at the end of our picnic, when it’s time to get back up on our feet for the return trip down the mountain, one of us will ask the other for a wrist to wrist. It’s a small but significant luxury, like having someone wash your hair or pump your gas.
So I grabbed Tom’s wrist, he grabbed mine, and gently pulled me back to my feet. My knees were still communicating, though more softly now, and I talked back. Maybe they just need a pep talk. I plan to live a long time, I tell them, and I’ll be needing your support. So be good girls and carry on.
I’ve told Tom he should remarry if I go before he does, and, after my performance on the sit-stand test, I told him again. I even said he should take his new love on all our favorite trails. But, though I didn’t admit this, there is one I’d prefer they leave alone, and that’s our favorite trail, beautiful, balsam-scented Indian Head in the Catskills. It’s not just a mountain. It’s my Valhalla, where my forever-hiker shade will dwell.
Meanwhile I’ve been working on my rusty hinges and can now sit-stand with the assistance of only one hand. That’s earned me a few demerits. But I accept them, and every mile I put on life’s odometer, humbly.
Trailhead: Platte Cove, on Platte Clove Road (Route 16) southeast of Tannersville, N.Y.
Blazes: Take the loop trail starting with teal (Long Path) for .95 miles; to red (this is both the Devil’s Path and the Long Path) for 2.8 miles; then blue (Jimmy Dolan Notch) for 1.6 miles; to red (Devil’s Path again) for 1.45 miles; then back to teal (Long Path) for .95 miles.