Stumbling– Leaving Green Footprints

“It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong.” -Yvon Chouinard

So far, Green Footprints has gone off perfectly, without even the slightest hitch. New York, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine now all have fifty new Blue Spruce rooted in their soil with a long and fruitful life ahead of them.

But as everybody knows, nothing can go smoothly forever, and the last couple weeks have tested me in ways I couldn’t have expected. It began one morning, planning to begin the next state on the list, Massachusetts, when I rolled out of bed and my left hip collapsed unexpectedly under my weight. Shooting pains lanced through my leg with each step even just walking around, and it became pretty clear that no running was going to be accomplished today. I brushed it aside as a transient pain, and figured I would probably be fine the next morning.

Not so. If anything, by the next day it had grown worse, and I was reduced to hobbling, chopped strides even just walking around. Not to be deterred, I limped my way through the northern Massachusetts woods with my trusty wooden dowel, punching perfectly round holes into the soil to make room for the new little trees.

The following morning brought even more good news. Climbing gingerly into the front seat, I turned the key and listened to the rapid ‘CHE CHE CHE CHE CHE’ of Turtle’s starter turning over—but the ensuing ‘VROOM’ failed to follow. No worries, I thought; it always took a couple tries on damp and chilly mornings, and the forecast for the next few days was showing signs of incoming fall weather, with lower temperatures and rain. After a few more tries, however, the happy roar of an igniting engine still eluded me. I hopped out and began my standard diagnostic runthrough. In order to make any engine start, there are three main components: fuel, compression and spark. Unscrewing the test bolt in the fuel line and cranking the key left me with a gasoline-damp towel; check. I poked around with a test light at each connections of the coil and distributor; check. Not able to check the vacuum pressure until the engine was running, I spent most of the day half-engulfed by the rear engine compartment with my headlamp shining around the comfortingly familiar hoses, wires and fuel lines that criss-crossed Turtle’s innards.

Convinced I could figure out what was wrong myself, I spent the next two days in the chilly rain poking around, adjusting, tightening, and testing, to no avail. On the morning of the third day, I rolled out of bed, limped outside, and stepped out of the van. Doing a double-take, I looked back at the bare ground. My stomach dropped like a 2-ton boulder. I had left the remaining hundred seedlings outside next the van to get some water from the incessant rain overnight, but now they were gone. Frantically, I looked around everywhere; dug in every dumpster in a half mile radius; looked in truck beds of surrounding parking lots; to no avail. They were gone.

I sat on the curb in the soft, misty grey light of the rainy morning, feeling numb. Then angry. Who would steal a box full of trees? I stalked around the parking lot, fuming and hobbling, giving a furious kick with my good leg to the rear bumper of the defunct van sitting with the rear engine compartment wide open. Anger turned quickly to regret and pain, and I sat nursing my sore toes when I noticed that the shake from my tantrum-induced kick had slightly loosened the vacuum hose going to the break booster. Hmm. Nothing that minor should be able to loosen a hose like that. Upon further inspection, I found an inch-long split in the rubber along the backside of the hose that hadn’t been visible without totally removing it, which explained why I had missed it in my previous investigations. Luckily, the hose was long enough that I was able to cut away the split rubber and still have enough to reattach it. I sat tentatively in the front seat, held my breath, and turned the key. ‘CHE CHE CHE CHE CHE VROOOOOM!!’


I slumped in my seat, exhausted, relieved, frustrated, and unsure of what to do next. Luckily I had planted all 50 trees in Massachusetts and had made my way a little farther south; but I couldn’t run, and I had no trees to continue with. So I did some research; found a nursery and a doctor in North Carolina; and made my way south. The doctor diagnosed me with a labral tear, which an MRI confirmed was not the case, but was actually a badly strained lateral quadricep, a torn adductor mucle, and hip bursitis. All of these things happening at once was enormously unlikely, but explained by another thing that had shown up on the MRI; a significant worsening of scoliosis that I had been diagnosed with as a teenager, which among other things, was causing a cyst to form in my spinal cord. Nothing life-threatening, but the scoliosis needed to be dealt with and minimized if I was going to run again.

So for now, I am working with physical therapists for a few weeks in North Carolina, and once I am back to running in a couple of weeks, will be resuming with the surrounding states—Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and Tennessee, to start. I will be using the time I have available to organize the tree plantings with different local organizations and schools, in order to reach directly to young kids and students to spread the message and promote sustainable behavior. Although the setback is a bummer, we’ll continue to fight on to leave our Green Footprints!

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