Walk completed August 28, 2011

Thursday, June 24, 2010


In January I was found to have a leaky heart valve. The cardiologist thought it could be treated by a few pills. That didn’t surprise me, because I had entered that decade of life where a daily regimen of pharmaceuticals becomes the norm. Despite the intake of pills, my activities have continued unabated – I work out on the stair climber or treadmill at the gym regularly, and I continued to snowshoe, hike, or cycle every weekend. I wasn’t particularly training for the End to End walk – it’s just what I do.

In late May, I was back in Yosemite for a week of hiking. It was great to be on trails that I hadn’t seen since last fall. But the trails that had previously welcomed me – indeed, had pulled me – now repelled me. I made very poor progress, even while the trails lured other hikers who streamed past me. It was as if Yosemite was jealous of my plan to trade its charms this summer for those of another. Hiking in Yosemite is not for the faint-hearted – trails are long and steep: 2,000 – 5,000 feet elevation gain for a typical day’s hike. Stretches of a thousand feet of gain per mile are not uncommon. But for the first time ever, the trails rejected my every advance. I attributed my heavy breathing to a recurrence of asthma.

I visited my doctor for a prescription to control the asthma, and he sent me back to the cardiologist, who sent me to a cardiac surgeon. I met with the surgeon yesterday, barely a week before my scheduled departure to Britain. It seems that the minor valve leak has worsened. Rather than pumping all of my oxygenated blood through my aorta for circulation to working muscles, my heart is pumping a large volume backwards through my faulty mitral valve. Although not yet at a flow to distract the BP engineers from their current project, the leak means my heart is functioning at very low efficiency.

The cardiologist said the condition will not improve on its own, but there is no present emergency. My strong heart muscle is presently capable of allowing me to lead a normal life – a normal life of shopping at the mall, watching TV, and stamp collecting. But extraordinary activities such as mountain climbing or marathon running cannot be supported by the leakage. If I were to engage in such extraordinary activities, my leaky heart would have to work extra hard to oxygenate working muscles, resulting in an elevated heart rate, ending in failure. Although I didn’t ask where he thought the End to End walk fell in the ordinary/extraordinary scale, he predicted that I had a zero chance of completing the walk under present conditions.

It appears that my choice is between dying of boredom and dying of a broken heart. Boredom can’t be fixed. But my heart’s valve can. Analyzing the problem with the usual risk/reward assessment on which I base virtually all of life’s decisions, fixing the valve sooner rather than later appears to be the right choice. The surgeon did not disagree, because he would rather repair a valve in a strong heart than a weak one, and my heart would probably atrophy if I were to start collecting stamps. Besides, his oldest child is entering college next year and he has tuition to pay.

So it is with great sadness that I must postpone my long anticipated End to End walk until next year. I know that my dashed dreams of doing the walk this summer are minor in comparison to the dashed hopes that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people experience every day, but I am broken hearted nonetheless.

What was intended to be a daily blog of my journey through Britain will temporarily be transformed into a series of periodic reports on the progress of my recovery after surgery – likely to be scheduled in a month or so. For those of you who would rather follow the reports of a JOGLER, tune in next year – same time, same place. In the meantime, I’m hoping that Yosemite will forgive my infatuations with another and welcome me back soon.

© 2010 Ken Klug