I always thought my body was some sort of defective model. I wouldn't be surprised if it was haphazardly put together at some rinkydink sweatshop somewhere in Asia. My legs, for example, are not structurally sound, clearly a result of faulty engineering. My knees, I suspect, were screwed on as an afterthought. I've always had problems with my knees. They are pure bone. No padding anywhere. It may be one of the reasons why I gave up Roman Catholicism.
My left knee has frozen up a few times before, but, normally, it unfreezes itself after a few minutes. The last time it happened was in Goa, when I walked from Morjim to Arambol and back. It froze when I was almost back at Morjim. I ducked into a nearby shop and, before I knew it, the retail therapy had restored my knee to health.
And then last Sunday happened. Last Sunday, we trekked from Hotel Las Torres to the base of Torres del Paine in the Patagonian mountains of Chile. In total, it's only about 18 km. and it took us a little over eight hours to complete.
Lunch - on the rocks! Jorge and the Mountain Goats: Tovar (American), Nicky (Scottish) and Jim (Scottish). They had been waiting for us at the base for at least 45 minutes!
We had barely begun when my right knee locked. It was as if the screws had fallen off my knees and someone had dug in some knives to keep them in place. I wanted to scream. And I did. I begged our guide, Jorge, for more ibuprufen but he said the one he gave me was strong enough.
I inched my way down the mountain, aided by two walking sticks and the presence of Jorge and Tovar, a 62 year-old Californian mountain goat who decided to take his descent slowly and enjoy the view since he missed most of it on his way up when he rushed past most everything with the two Scottish mountain goats in our group.
I was glad I had already seen the view on the way up because I couldn't stop for anything on the way down. I had to keep moving. If I stopped, I would either lose courage or faint. I had only one thing on my mind: to get the hell off that mountain and back into the safety of the car, roughly about three hours away.
One painful, agonizing step at a time.
We were very lucky with the weather. We had clear skies and very little wind. I still wanted to make it back to the car before nightfall.
On our way down, we passed some climbers who advised me to take at least one more ibuprofen. Jorge relented and gave me another one. I was hoping that it would work, at the very least, as a placebo and get my mind off the pain, but it didn't. With every step, the knives twisted in my knees and jabbed through my legs and spine.
I engaged Jorge and Tovar in chitchat to get my mind off the pain. We laughed a little. I cursed a lot. And I begged my legs to remember how to walk. But they refused to listen.
We found Nicolas and another member of our group waiting at the El Chileno refugio. (The Scottish mountain goats had gone ahead.) Nicolas offered to get me on a horse back to the car, but the whole transaction was taking far too long - and, by then, having gone down the steep, rocky mountain and through the forest, even with my legs threatening to detach themselves from my body, I knew I could make it. I insisted on walking.
If a normal trek to the base of Las Torres takes about eight hours, we only lagged behind by about 30 minutes. (Which was very slow for the mountain goats, considering they had to wait for us at the base for about 45 minutes, and then again at the Hotel Las Torres for about an hour and 15 minutes. Mad mountain goats.)
It's Tuesday now and my knees are almost back to normal. Knowing what I know now, I still wouldn't have missed that trek. I would like to put in an order for a new body without any defects though. Or, at least, a new pair of knees?