After two days of fog and rain with little to no visibility, we gladly welcomed the sunshine back. The town of Trient glowed in the morning as we marched through and down the road, once again to ascend up another mountainside. We found our way to Col de Balme, where we were rewarded with spectacular views of Mont Blanc and our first glimpse of the Chamonix Valley where we had started more than a week before. Our spirits, already high, lifted even higher with the realization of how far we had come and how much we had accomplished.
After a total hip replacement at age 46, I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to hike long distances again. I hoped that I would develop the strength and stamina to do so again. But I also knew from talking to the orthopedic surgeon that artificial joints have a limited lifespan: They usually tell people 15-20 years, which would take me to between 61 and 66. And people don’t usually do as well the second time around.
So I figured that I have a window of time. I’m optimistic that it will be longer than that, but I’m not going to sit around and wait to find out. Instead, I’m going to make the most of what I have today, right now.
Still, I wasn’t sure when we embarked on the trip that my hip would completely cooperate. I got in the best shape I knew how. I went on long hikes with my pack on. I climbed stairs with my pack on. I took strength-training classes. I did squats and pushups.
And then I hoped for the best. We decided from the very beginning that we would take it one day at a time, and that if I could not complete the circuit, we were still in Europe, still together, still having the time of our lives.
Even with all the preparation and optimism, the first few days proved hard. There was breathlessness and vertigo. There was fatigue and doubt. There were moments where I had to take a deep breath and remind myself: “You can do this.”
But at that moment when we ascended over the Col to see the valley beneath us, I felt nothing but an incredible natural high. I stopped looking one step at a time and looked instead at how far we had come, and it felt amazing. I had taken my middle-aged body with its artificial hip and its post-phlebitic syndrome and its scars and wrinkles and signs of wear and tear, and I had pushed myself to attempt this journey. And here we were, nearly at its completion, celebrating the day, blue skies above and dramatic clouds tugging at the snow-capped mountain tops before us. It was a peak experience in all senses of the word.